|The Church as a leaven of reconciliation
On Sunday morning, 4 October , 15
years after the First Synod for Africa, the Holy Father presided at the
celebration of the Eucharist in St Peter's Basilica for the opening of
the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops on the
theme: "The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice
and peace: 'You are the salt of the earth.... You are the light of the
world' (Mt 5:13, 14)".
Concelebrating with the
Pope were 244 Synod Fathers. The multi-national Liturgy was celebrated
in Latin and Italian, the Readings were in French and in English, the
Gospel in Latin, the general intercessions in Swahili, Portuguese,
Aramaic, Hausa and Arabic and the Offertory hymn was sung in Kikongo.
The following is a translation of the Pope Benedict XVI's Homily, which
was given in Italian.
Venerable Brothers in the
Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Brothers and Sisters,
peace to you! With this
liturgical greeting I address you all, gathered in the Vatican Basilica,
where 15 years ago, on 10 April 1994, the Servant of God John Paul II
opened the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.
The fact that today we are here to inaugurate the Second one means that
it was indeed a historic event, but not an isolated one. It marked the
arrival point of a journey that subsequently continued and is now
reaching a significant new milestone in the process of assessment and
relaunching. Let us praise the Lord for this!
I address my most cordial
welcome to the Members of the Synod Assembly who are concelebrating this
Holy Eucharist with me, with the Experts and with the Auditors, and in
particular to those who come from Africa. I extend a special greeting to
the General Secretary of the Synod and his collaborators.
I am very happy to have
with us His Holiness Abuna Paulos, Patriarch of the Orthodox Tewahedo
Church of Ethiopia, whom I warmly thank, and the Fraternal Delegates of
the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. I am also glad to greet
the Civil Authorities and Ambassadors who have wished to take part in
this celebration; I greet with affection the priests, the men and women
religious, the representatives of organizations, movements and
associations, and the Congolese Choir which, together with the Sistine
Chapel Choir, is enlivening our Eucharistic Celebration.
The biblical Readings of
this Sunday speak of marriage. However, more radically, they speak of
the design of Creation, of the origins and hence, of God. The Second
Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews confirms this design, where it
says: "For he who sanctifies", namely Jesus Christ, and "those who are
sanctified", that is, human beings, "have all one origin". "That is why
he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb 2:11).
Thus the primacy of God the
Creator visibly stands out in both Readings, with the eternal validity
of his original imprint and the absolute priority of his lordship, that
lordship which children can welcome better than adults; for this reason
Jesus holds them up as a model for entering the Kingdom of Heaven (cf.
Now, recognition of the
absolute lordship of God is certainly one of the salient and unifying
features of the African culture. There are of course many different
cultures in Africa but they all seem to agree on this point: God is the
Creator and the source of life. Now life
as we well know
is essentially expressed in the union between the man and the woman and
in the birth of children; the divine law, written into nature, is
therefore stronger and pre-eminent with respect to any human law,
according to Jesus' clear and concise affirmation: "What therefore God
has joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mk 10:9).
Thus the perspective is not
primarily moral: it concerns being, the order inscribed in creation,
Dear brothers and sisters,
in this regard
beyond the first impression
today's liturgy of the Word appears
particularly suited to accompanying the opening of a Synodal Assembly
dedicated to Africa.
I would like to stress in
particular certain aspects that emerge forcefully and call into question
the work that awaits us. The first, already mentioned: the primacy of
God, Creator and Lord. The second: marriage. The third: children.
As regards the first
aspect, Africa is the depository of a priceless treasure for the whole
world: its profound sense of God, which I have been able to perceive
first hand at my meetings with the African Bishops on their ad limina
visits, and especially during my recent Apostolic Visit in Cameroon
and Angola, of which I retain pleasant and moving memories. It is
precisely this pilgrimage to Africa that I would now like to recall,
because during those days I opened this Synod Assembly in spirit by
presenting the Instrumentum Laboris to the Presidents of the
Bishops' Conferences and the Heads of the Synods of Bishops of the
Eastern Catholic Churches.
When Africa's treasures are
mentioned one immediately thinks of the abundant riches of the territory
which have unfortunately become and continue to be a cause of
exploitation, conflict and corruption. The Word of God, instead, makes
us look at another patrimony: the spiritual and cultural heritage, which
humanity needs even more than raw materials.
"For what does it profit a
man", Jesus was to say, "to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?"
From this viewpoint Africa
constitutes an immense spiritual "lung" for a humanity that appears to
be in a crisis of faith and hope. But this "lung" can also become ill.
And at this moment at least two dangerous pathologies are infecting it:
in the first place, a disease that is already widespread in the Western
world, in other words practical materialism, combined with relativist
and nihilistic thought.
Without discussing the
genesis of such sickness of the spirit, it is nevertheless indisputable
that the so-called "first" world has sometimes exported and is exporting
toxic spiritual refuse which contaminates the peoples of other
continents, including in particular the population of Africa. In this
finished at a political level
has never really ended. But, precisely in this perspective, a second
"virus" should be pointed out that could strike Africa too, that is,
religious fundamentalism, combined with political and economic
Groups that relate to
various religious affiliations are spreading on the African continent;
they do so in the name of God but according to a logic opposed to divine
logic, in other words, not by teaching and practicing love and respect
for freedom but rather by intolerance and violence.
As regards the subject of
marriage, the text of chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis has recalled the
perennial foundation that Jesus himself confirmed: "Therefore a man
leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they
become one flesh" (Gn 2:24).
How is it possible not to
recall the wonderful cycle of catecheses that the Servant of God John
Paul II dedicated to this subject, based on a particularly deeply
studied exegesis of this biblical text? Today, in proposing it to us
again at the opening of the Synod, the liturgy offers us the
superabundant light of the truth revealed and incarnate in Christ with
which it is possible to consider the complex topic of marriage in the
African ecclesial and social context.
On this point too, however,
I would like briefly to mention a thought that precedes any reflection
or indication of a moral order, and which is nevertheless still
connected to the primacy of the meaning of the sacred and of God.
Marriage, as the Bible
presents it to us, does not exist outside the relationship with God.
Conjugal life between a man and a woman, and hence the life of the
family that results from it, is inscribed in communion with God and, in
the light of the New Testament, becomes an icon of Trinitarian Love and
the sacrament of Christ's union with the Church. To the extent in which
it preserves and develops its faith, Africa will be able to draw on
immense resources for the benefit of the family founded on marriage.
Furthermore, by including
in the Gospel passage the text on Jesus and the children (Mk 10:13-15),
the liturgy invites us from this moment to bear in mind in our pastoral
concern the reality of children who constitute a great and unfortunately
often suffering part of the African population.
In the scene where Jesus
the children, even indignantly opposing the disciples who sought to keep
them away from him, we see the image
of the Church which in Africa, and in
every other part of the earth, expresses
her own motherhood especially to the
smallest ones, even when they are not
yet born. Like the Lord Jesus, the
Church does not see them principally
as recipients of assistance
less of pietism or exploitation
rather as people in every sense, who
through their own way of being show
the main road by which to enter the
Kingdom of God, the road, that is, of
unconditional entrustment to his love.
Dear Brothers, these indications that
come from the Word of God fit into
the broad horizon of the Synodal Assembly that is beginning today and
that is the follow-up of the former
to the African
continent, whose fruits were presented to Pope
John Paul II, of venerable memory, in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. Although the first duty of
evangelization remains valid and timely, there is need of a new evangelization that takes into account the rapid
social changes of our epoch and of the
phenomenon of world globalization.
The same can be said of the pastoral decision to build the
Church as God's family (cf. ibid., n. 63).
In this broad wake comes
the Second Assembly whose theme is: "The Church in Africa at the service
of reconciliation, justice and peace: 'You are the salt of the earth...
You are the light of the world' (Mt 5:13, 14)".
In recent years the
Catholic Church in Africa has experienced great dynamism and the Synodal
Meeting is an opportunity to thank the Lord. And since the growth of the
ecclesial community in all fields also entails challenges ad intra
and ad extra, the Synod is a favourable moment for rethinking
pastoral activity and renewing the thrust of evangelization.
In order to become the
light of the world and the salt of the earth it is therefore always
necessary to aim at the "high standard" of Christian living, in other
words, at holiness.
Pastors and all the members
of the ecclesial community are called to be holy; the lay faithful are
called to spread the fragrance of holiness in the family, in the work
place, at school and in every other social and political context. May
the Church in Africa always be a family of authentic disciples of Christ
where the difference between ethnic groups becomes a cause and an
incentive for reciprocal human and spiritual enrichment.
With her work of
evangelization and human advancement, the Church can certainly make a
great contribution in Africa to the whole of society which,
unfortunately, is experiencing poverty, injustice, violence
and war in various countries. The vocation of the Church, a community of
people who are reconciled with God and with one another, is that of
being a prophesy and a leaven of reconciliation between the different
ethnic, linguistic and even religious groups, within single nations and
throughout the continent.
Reconciliation, a gift of
God that men and women must implore and receive, is a stable basis on
which to build peace, an indispensable condition for the authentic
progress of people and of society, in accordance with the project of
justice wanted by God. Open to the redeeming grace of the Risen Lord,
Africa will thus be illuminated increasingly by his light and, letting
itself be guided by the Holy Spirit, will become a blessing for the
universal Church, making its own qualified contribution to building a
more just and fraternal world.
Dear Synod Fathers, thank
you for the contribution that each one of you will make to the work in
the coming weeks, which will be for us a renewed experience of fraternal
communion that will redound to the benefit of the whole Church,
especially in the context of the Year for Priests.
And I ask you, dear
brothers and sisters, to accompany us with your prayers.
I ask it of those present:
I ask it of the cloistered monasteries and religious communities
scattered throughout Africa and in other parts of the world, of the
parishes and movements, of the sick and the suffering: I ask all to pray
that the Lord may make this Second Special Assembly for Africa of the
Synod of Bishops fruitful. Let us invoke upon it the protection of St
Francis of Assisi whom we are commemorating today, that of all the
African Saints and, in a special way, that of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother of the Church and Our Lady of Africa. Amen!