Pope Benedict XVI has signed his apostolic exhortation Africae Munus, a teaching document which charts a future for the Catholic Church in Africa.
“Africa, land of a New Pentecost, put your trust in God! Impelled by the Spirit of the risen Christ, become God’s great family, generous with all your sons and daughters, agents of reconciliation, peace and justice!” the Pope said at the signing ceremony in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the southern Benin city of Ouidah Nov. 19.
The document contains the Pope’s conclusions following the Synod of African Bishops, which was held in Rome in 2009.
After a brief moment of Eucharistic adoration, the Pope explained what he hoped the 2009 synod had achieved. He also explained his hopes for his new exhortation, which were presented to the bishops of the continent at a Mass in the city of Cotonou Nov. 20.
He told the African bishops that the synod had benefited from Pope John Paul II’s 1995 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. That document stressed “the urgent need to evangelize” the continent and viewed evangelization as an activity inseparable from the work of human development.
The earlier document also developed the concept of the Church as “God’s family,” something that had borne “many spiritual fruits” for the Church and for the activity of evangelization in African society as a whole.
Increasingly, he said, the Church is called to see herself “as a family.”
This, for Christians, means being “a community of believers which praises the triune God,” and which celebrates “the great mysteries of our faith.” It also means to “enliven with charity” the relationships between
individuals, groups and nations above and beyond ethnic, cultural and religious differences.
This love is not confined to Catholics, but is offered to everyone in Africa. Pope Benedict said the Church is open to cooperation with “all the components of society,” including other Christian groups and non-Christians, including Muslims.
The principal theme of the synod, the Pope explained, was reconciliation with God and neighbor.
“(A) Church reconciled within herself and among all her members can become a prophetic sign of reconciliation in society within each country and the continent as a whole.”
Touching upon the continent’s slave trade history, the Pope said the Church is now impelled to “combat every form of slavery,” including those forms which undermine peace and justice in present-day Africa.
“Peace is one of our greatest treasures,” he told those gathered in the basilica. To attain peace, “we need to have courage and the reconciliation born of forgiveness, the will once more to live as one, to share a vision of the future and to persevere in overcoming difficulties.”
The attainment of peace with both God and neighbor leads men and woman to work for greater justice in society. Justice according to the Gospel, he said, means “above all doing God’s will.”
It is this “fundamental resolve” to do God’s will that spawns “countless” initiatives aimed at promoting justice in Africa and the welfare of all its peoples. He particularly noted the most disadvantaged in society, such as those in need of employment, schools and hospitals.
Pope Benedict concluded his address with a rallying cry: “Africa, Good News for the Church, become Good News for the entire world!”
After the address, he signed the apostolic exhortation and imparted his blessing on the congregation, after which he departed by car for the city of Cotonou.
During his visit to Benin on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of young African aspirants to the priesthood that the first purpose of their time at seminary is to pursue holiness.
“Without the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function,” he said during an address at the Seminary of St. Gall in the southern Benin city of Ouidah on Nov. 19.
“The quality of your future life depends on the quality of your personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, on your sacrifices, on the right integration of the requirements of your current formation.”
The Pope addressed a gathering of hundreds of priests, religious, seminarians and laypeople gathered in the courtyard of the seminary building on the second day of his visit to the West African country, which presently has nearly 500 seminarians.
He encouraged the seminarians in his audience to place themselves “in the school of Christ” to acquire virtues which will help them to live the ministerial priesthood as “the locus of your sanctification.”
The Pope told them that for a priest to be a credible witness to “the service of peace, justice and reconciliation,” he must be “a humble and balanced man, one who is wise and magnanimous.”
“(A)fter 60 years in priestly life, I can tell you, dear seminarians, that you will not regret accumulating intellectual, spiritual and pastoral treasures during your formation,” he added.
Pope Benedict also gave particular advice to the other groups assembled at the late morning gathering. He gave particular focus on how each, in their own way, can help build an Africa based on “peace, justice and reconciliation.” These are the three themes of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the future of the continent.
He told priests that the “responsibility for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation,” fell to them in a special way, as they are called to be “men of communion” by dint of their ordination and celebration of the sacraments.
“As crystal does not retain the light but rather reflects it and passes it on, in the same manner the priest must make transparent what he celebrates and what he has received,” he told them. “I thus encourage you to let Christ shine through your life.”
He recommended they live in communion with their bishop and brother priests and show “a profound solicitude” for each of the baptized, giving “great attention” to each person.
Being “modeled on Christ” means they should never substitute their priestly being with the “ephemeral and at times unhealthy realities which the contemporary mentality tends to impose on every culture.”
Addressing the vowed religious, the Pope said that poverty and chastity make them “truly free to obey unconditionally the one Love which, when it takes hold of you, impels you to proclaim it everywhere.”
This “thirst for God,” and “hunger for his Word,” is transformed into service of those who most “deprived of justice, peace and reconciliation,” as the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and
obedience transform religious into “a universal brother or sister of all,” helping them to “walk resolutely on the way of holiness.”
The lay faithful, for their part, are to find holiness “at the heart of the daily realities of life,” where they are to be “the salt of the earth and light of the world.”
This mission, explained the Pope, means creating families “built according to the design of God and in fidelity to his plan for Christian marriage” so that they become “true domestic churches.” He particularly encouraged parents to have a “profound respect for life” and to “bear witness to human and spiritual values” before their children.
“By having love and forgiveness reign in your families, you will contribute to the upbuilding of a Church which is beautiful and strong, and to the advent of greater justice and peace in the whole of society.”
Finally, he praised the work of catechists, who number more than 11,000 in Benin. They make an “outstanding and absolutely necessary contribution to the spread of the faith through fidelity to the teaching of the Church.”
He concluded by encouraging all those gathered to have “an authentic and living faith,” which is the “unshakable foundation of a holy Christian life” and is “at the service of the building of a new world.”
Many new converts to Catholicism in Benin still retaining aspects of their traditional African religions. The Pope said that love for the Church and the sacraments are an “efficacious antidote against a syncretism which deceives” and help new Christians rightly integrate their culture into the Christian faith.
Prior to the papal address, Pope Benedict prayed at the tomb of his friend, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who died in 2008. Cardinal Gantin was the first African to head a dicastery of the Roman Curia.
He worked alongside Pope Benedict for many years in Rome. Yesterday the Pope described him as “a great friend” and “a great representative of Catholic Africa, civilized and human Africa.”
Pope Benedict XVI also spoke of his prayer life as he encouraged the children of Benin in their love for Christ.
“The day of my first holy Communion was one of the most beautiful days of my life. It is the same for you, isn’t it? And why is that?” asked the Pope.
“It’s not only because of our nice clothes or the gifts we receive, nor even because of the parties! It is above all because, that day, we receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time!”
The Pope addressed over 800 children gathered at St. Rita’s parish in Benin’s largest city, Cotonou. His talk followed a visit to a nearby shelter for abandoned, sick and malnourished children run by
Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. There the children sang and danced for Pope Benedict.
His meeting with the children at St. Rita’s began with Eucharistic adoration. He told the children that Jesus, “who loves us very much, is truly present in the tabernacles of all the churches around the world.” Therefore, he said, “I ask you to visit him often to tell him of your love for him.”
Moving onto his own prayer life, he explained that “when I receive Communion, Jesus comes to live in me,” so “I should welcome him with love and listen closely to him.”
“In the depths of my heart, I can tell him, for example: ‘Jesus, I know that you love me. Give me your love so that I can love you in return and love others with your love. I give you all my joys, my troubles and my future.’”
As a model of youthful piety, he held up the example of the 19th-century Ugandan martyr St. Kizito who “was put to death because he wanted to live according to the baptism which he had just received,” said the Pope. “Kizito prayed,” he said, because “he realized that God is not only important, but that he is everything.”
Prayer, he told the children, “is a cry of love directed to God our Father, with the will to imitate Jesus our brother.” So, just as Jesus went off to pray by himself, the Pope too “can find a calm place to pray where I can quietly stand before a Cross or a holy picture in order to speak to Jesus and to listen to him.”
Alternatively, he told them, “I can also use the Gospels,” so that, “I keep within my heart a passage which has touched me and which will guide me throughout the day.”
Even just staying with Jesus “for a little while,” helps “fill me with his love, light and life!” he said.
He told them that this love which is received in prayer should call them, in turn, to give it “to my parents, to my friends, to everyone with whom I live, even with those who do not like me, and those whom I do not appreciate enough.”
“Dear young people, Jesus loves you,” said the Pope, urging the children to ask their parents to pray with them. “Sometimes you may even have to push them a little. But do not hesitate to do so. God is that important!”
Finally, he said he entrusted each one of them to the Virgin Mary who can “teach you to love more and more through prayer, forgiveness and charity.”
Pope Benedict XVI completed his three-day visit to Benin with a firm prediction that Africa can give a great Christian witness to the rest of the world.
“It is a continent for which I have a special regard and affection, for I am deeply convinced that it is a land of hope,” he said at his departure ceremony at Cardinal Bernardin Gantin Airport in the city of Cotonou, Nov. 20.
“Here are found authentic values which have much to teach our world; they need only to spread and blossom with God’s help and the determination of Africans themselves.”
Pope Benedict spoke after a farewell address by President Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin. The president and other civil leaders listened as the Pope explained his hope that his new apostolic exhortation Africae Munus can “greatly assist” Africa’s flourishing.
“I entrust it to the faithful of Africa as a whole, to study carefully and to translate into concrete actions in daily life,” said the Pope.
He told President Yayi that the multireligious Benin is a good example of the possibility of “harmonious coexistence within the nation and between church and state” and is proof that mutual respect “not only aids dialogue, but is essential for building unity between individuals, ethnic groups and peoples.”
The Pope noted that “fraternity” is the first of three words on Benin’s national emblem. He said this shows that “living in unity as brethren, while respecting legitimate differences, is not something utopian.”
“Why should an African country not show the rest of the world the path to be taken towards living an authentic fraternity in justice, based on the greatness of the family and of labor?”
Before boarding his chartered Alitalia flight back to Rome, Pope Benedict thanked God for three days spent “in joy and friendship” with the people of Africa. He encouraged the entire continent to be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”
“May God bless you all, through the intercession of Our Lady of Africa,” he concluded, proclaiming in the local language of Fon. “God bless Benin!”