BANGUI, Central African Republic — During the final Mass of his first visit to Africa, Pope Francis called the Christians of Central African Republic (CAR) to be missionaries in their nation, bringing renewal amid the suffering of civil strife and hope for eternal life.
“Christians of Central Africa, each of you are called to be, through perseverance in faith and missionary commitment, artisans of the human and spiritual renewal of your country,” the Pope said Nov. 30 at Barthélémy Boganda Stadium, on his last full day in CAR.
“Dear Central Africans, may you look to the future and, strengthened by the distance you have already come, resolutely determine to begin a new chapter in the Christian history of your country, to set out towards new horizons, to put out into the deep,” he said.
Pope Francis arrived Sunday in CAR, the final stop of his Nov. 25-30 tri-nation visit to Africa that included Kenya and Uganda. It also marks the Pope’s first time in an active war zone, with new deaths reported daily. Central African Republic is an active war zone, following the December 2012 uprising that led to the overthrow of the president. About 6,000 people have died in the conflict, with hundreds of thousands more displaced.
The last pope to visit CAR was St. John Paul II in 1985, as part of a larger trip to Togo, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Zaire and Kenya.
Looking to the ‘Other Shore’
Pope Francis centered his homily on the day’s first reading, which demonstrates St. Paul’s “enthusiasm and missionary drive” with the words: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15).
These words inspire gratitude for the faith received, the Pope said, while also inspiring “us to reflect with amazement on the great missionary effort which — not long ago — first brought the joy of the Gospel to this beloved land of Central Africa.”
“It is good, especially in times of difficulty, trials and suffering, when the future is uncertain and we feel weary and apprehensive, to come together before the Lord,” he said. “To come together, as we do today, to rejoice in his presence and in the new life and the salvation which he offers us.”
Pope Francis reflected on how the Lord invites his people to “another shore,” which refers to eternal life.
“Looking towards the world to come has always been a source of strength for Christians, of the poor, of the least, on their earthly pilgrimage,” the Pope said.
“Eternal life is not an illusion; it is not a flight from the world. It is a powerful reality which calls out to us and challenges us to persevere in faith and love,” he added.
A Call to Conversion
However, in working towards eternal life, Christians are called to transform their lives and the lives of those around them, the Pope said.
“Those who believe receive the very life of Christ, which enables them to love God and their brothers and sisters in a new way and to bring to birth a world renewed by love,” he said.
Pope Francis called on Christians to give thanks to God for giving them strength and inspiring in them solidarity, generosity and joy, even amid physical and spiritual suffering, violence and fears for the future.
“Let us thank him for his gift of courage, which inspires us to forge bonds of friendship, to dialogue with those who are different than ourselves, to forgive those who have wronged us and to work to build a more just and fraternal society in which no one is abandoned,” he said.
“In all these things, the risen Christ takes us by the hand and guides us,” the Pope continued.
“I join you in thanking the Lord in his mercy for all the beautiful, generous and courageous things he has enabled you to accomplish in your families and communities during these eventful years in the life of your country.”
Nonetheless, Pope Francis stressed that Christians have not yet arrived at their ultimate destination and are in need of a “renewed missionary zeal.”
“All the baptized need to continually break with the remnants of the old Adam, the man of sin, ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil,” he said.
“How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable.”
A Year of Renewal
Pope Francis said the Year of Mercy is an occasion for Christian communities, which are “called to holiness,” to ask forgiveness for their “all-too frequent reluctance and hesitation in bearing witness to the Gospel.”
Just a day before, Pope Francis opened the holy door of Bangui’s cathedral — the first time a pope has opened a holy door outside Rome. The Jubilee of Mercy does not begin until Dec. 8, but the Holy Father decided to open the holy door as a sign of prayer and solidarity with the country.
“Each of us, in his or her heart, can ask the crucial question of where we stand with Jesus, asking what we have already accepted — or refused to accept — in responding to his call to follow him more closely,” he said at the Nov. 30 Mass.
The “Good News” of the Gospel resounds especially in difficult times, and does so in the CAR, the Pope said.
“It resounds in our hearts, our families, our parishes, wherever we live,” he said. “It invites us to persevere in enthusiasm for mission, for that mission which needs new ‘bearers of good news,’ ever more numerous, generous, joyful and holy.”
“We are all called to be, each of us, these messengers whom our brothers and sisters of every ethnic group, religion and culture, await, often without knowing it. For how can our brothers and sisters believe in Christ, St. Paul asks, if the word is neither proclaimed nor heard?”
Pope Francis called on Christians to follow the example of the apostles in hoping for the future, knowing that Jesus is accompanying them to the “other shore,” which is “at hand.”
“He is risen from the dead,” he said; “henceforth, the trials and sufferings which we experience are always opportunities opening up to a new future, provided we are willing to follow him.”
The Pope concluded by asking for the intercession of Mary, “who, by sharing in the passion of her Son, now shares in his perfect joy; [may she] protect you and encourage you on this path of hope.”