AFRICA, THE ETERNAL FATHER
Pope John Paul II
Once again St Peter's Basilica was filled with the songs, rhythms and movements of
Africa at prayer as the concluding Mass of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of
Bishops was celebrated on Sunday morning, 8 May 1994. Presiding in the Holy Father's name was
Cardinal Francis Arinze, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue
and one of the Synod's Presidents Delegate, who was joined in the concelebrated liturgy by
over 300 Synod Fathers and their assistants.
Here is a translation of the Holy Father's
Italian-language homily, which was read by Cardinal Arinze.
1. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love"! (Jn
Christ said these words to the Apostles in the Upper Room the day before his death on the
Cross. These words later showed their full power in the Resurrection, which became the
beginning of a new mission: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you"
Today we must return to that beginning. We must present ourselves in faith
before the Father who "loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our
sins" (1 Jn 4: 10). Love is from God. It is not that we first loved God, but it was
God himself who loved us (cf ibid.). He has loved us with an eternal love in his Son, and
in the fullness of time he sent this Son into the world, so that through him we might have
Love gives life. He who loves is born of God and God dwells in him (cf. 1 Jn 4:7).
Therefore, whoever loves knows God, because he bears God within himself. He knows him who
is Love. He knows the Son, and through the Son he knows the Father and abides in the
2. This is the eternal beginning of the Gospel and of evangelization. Throughout
the Synod, by means of prayer, we were every day in contact with this "eternal
beginning". Today we wish to give special thanks to God for this. We wish to give
thanks, because this "eternal beginning" became in due time the historical
beginning of the evangelization of Africa, of your countries and of your peoples.
This happened for the first time during the apostolic age, when the deacon Philip
baptized an official of the Queen of Ethiopia. Christianity spread very rapidly along the
coast of the Mediterranean throughout North Africa, which was then part of the Roman
Empire. In the rest of the vast continent the Gospel arrived later, in the 16th century in
some areas and, finally, in the course of the last century.
Church in Africa Is fresh, vital and strong
The Churches in Africa therefore, in terms of historical chronology, are young. And
youth also means freshness, vitality; it means a great reserve of strength and
a readiness to face trials and struggles. Youth signifies growth and coming to maturity.
And if this process is accompanied by crises, it is usually a question of crises of
growth, from which people normally emerge more mature.
All this has been the subject of our work during the Synod. In its phase of reflection
and discussion, the Synod has taken place here, in Rome, near the tomb of Saint Peter. Now
we await the right moment to transfer its fruits to your continent. We have in fact
decided that the concluding part of the Synod will be held in selected places in
Africa, in order to familiarize the People of God of your Churches with the
conclusions reached by the Synodal Assembly, and to begin to introduce into the life of
the Churches of Africa the decisions taken.
3. The liturgy today recalls an event from the Acts of the Apostles, which can be
understood as the first step in the mission of the Church "ad gentes". Here
Peter himself - the Apostle near whose tomb this concluding celebration of the Roman phase
of the Synodal Assembly is taking place - this Peter is sent by the Holy Spirit to the Roman
centurion Cornelius. The centurion is a Gentile. The first Christian community in
Jerusalem was made up mainly of people coming from Judaism. It had not yet been possible
to carry out the command of Christ to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Gospel
to all nations: there had not yet been time. Peter accepted with a certain hesitation the
Spirit's command to enter the house of a Gentile. Nonetheless, when he went there, he
observed with joyful surprise that this Gentile was waiting for Christ and Baptism. We
read in the Acts of the Apostles: "And the believers from among the
circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit
had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and
extolling God" (Acts 10:45-46).
We thank God, for all the missionaries' labours
Thus, in the house of Cornelius in a certain sense the miracle of Pentecost was
repeated. Peter then said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in
every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.... Can any
one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we
have?" (Acts 10:34-35, 47).
Thus there began the mission of the Church "ad gentes", of which the
principal herald would be Paul of Tarsus.
4. Perhaps a surprise similar to that of the first Christians at the pouring out of the
Spirit on the Gentiles also accompanied the missionaries who first reached the heart of
Africa. We remember well the dates of that beginning. With great emotion I visited, during
my stay in Angola, the ruins of the first church, built there five centuries ago
when the feet of the missionaries touched those shores for the first time. It is known
that the first missionaries received a cordial welcome in Africa and the then sovereign,
Dom Alfonso I Mvemba-Nzinga, sought contact with the See of Peter. His son, Dom Henrique,
became the first Bishop of that newly converted people.
Today, on the occasion of the conclusion of the Roman phase of the African Synod, we
wish to offer God heartfelt thanks for all the missionaries who ventured on to
African soil to carry there the Cross of Christ.
5. The great epic of the missionary proclamation in the Africa of modern times, begun
with such promising results, nonetheless very soon had to undergo severe trials, such as
the murder of the heralds of the Gospel or their expulsion, the suppression of orders or
religious congregations, in addition to the tribulations caused by disease and by the
hardships of travel and climate. But this did not stop the spread of the Gospel. Indeed,
in the last century we witness a kind of competition in generosity by many new institutes
founded with the specific goal of bringing the Good News to the continent of Africa.
How can we not recall, among others, Cardinal Massaia, Vicar Apostolic among the
Galla, the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Society of the African Missions, the White
Fathers called to Algeria by Cardinal Lavigerie? And also: the Priests of Cernache
do Bonjardim, the Verona Fathers, known as the Comboni Missionaries, the
Consolata Missionaries, together with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the
Montfort Missionaries. And still others: the Society of the Divine Word, the
Scheut Fathers, the Mariannhill Missionaries, and the Society of Saint
With gratitude we also remember the great energy expended in Africa by the Franciscans,
Dominicans, Benedictines and Jesuits, these were later joined by the Vincentians,
Redemptorists, Salesians and Pallottines. Likewise the Brothers of the
Christian Schools did not fail to add their effective contribution to the education of
whole generations of Africans.
Africa is indebted to many religious Institutes
But the principal novelty of the evangelizing enterprise in Africa has surely been the
extraordinarily important part played by the religious congregations of women. In this
regard we should remember above all the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of
Cluny, present in Senegal under the direction of Blessed Anna Maria Javouhey, from the
beginning of the 19th century. Outstanding later were the White Sisters, the Comboni
Missionary Sisters, the Sisters of Mariannhill, the Benedictine Missionary
Sisters, the Sisters of the Precious Blood and the Consolata Sisters - to name
only some of the institutes which sowed throughout Africa eloquent testimonies of
holiness, generosity and evangelical fruitfulness.
It is above all to the remarkable commitment of the religious institutes that the
Church in Africa is indebted. The organized and harmonious activity of the congregations
must not however make us forget the individual missionary figures who distinguished
themselves by their proclamation of the Gospel: Fr Goncalvo da Silveira, martyr for
the faith as early as the 16th century; the Malawi catechist Kasian Gama de Lituhi, the
physician Hadrian Altman; Blessed Joseph Gerard of Lesotho; Bishop Hirth and
his successor Henry Streicher, Saint Justin de Jacobis; Charles de Foucauld; the
Servant of God Edel Quinn; and Blessed Clementine Anuarite, the Malagasy Blessed
Victoria Rasoamanarivo, the Sudanese Blessed Josephine Bakita, as well as Isidore
Bakanja, whom I had the joy of proclaiming blessed in the course of this Synodal
Among the great figures just recalled there stand out, in addition to the missionary
men and women from abroad, the generous sons and daughters of the continent of Africa
itself, in whom it is impossible not to admire the fruitfulness of your young Churches. A
sign of this fruitfulness is also the witness given by the new religious institutes now
emerging in Africa itself.
6. Dear brothers, if we have been able to meet in Rome, during this past month, in
order to celebrate the African Synod, we owe it to that great missionary epic of
which your continent has been the theatre, particularly during the last two centuries.
Today, with gratitude to divine Providence, we wish to call to mind all those who -
through the ministry of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and with the
labour of their whole lives and sometimes even with the blood of martyrdom - have
contributed to the "implantatio" and the growth of the Church in Africa. The
seed which they have sown has borne abundant fruit: you yourselves are an eloquent witness
of this, my brothers in the Episcopate, sons of the African peoples, together with your
priests, who now carry on your shoulders a large part of the task of evangelization. This
is witnessed to by the many religious vocations which have joined to help the missionary
congregations or which have come together in new institutes founded on African soil,
as it were taking into their own hands the torch of total consecration to the service of
God and of the Gospel.
Africa, the eternal Father loves you!
With deep feeling Pope Paul VI canonized, during the Council, the Uganda Martyrs. All
were African; and we can add that among them there were sons not only of the
Catholic Church but also of the Anglican Communion. Other causes are reaching their final
stages. The Church in Africa must furnish and write its own Martyrology, adding to
the outstanding figures of the first centuries such as Cyprian, Athanasius and Augustine
the martyrs and saints of our own day. In the Church, in fact, the call to holiness is
alive, and the holiness of the sons and daughters of the Church confirms the holiness of
the Church herself: in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium the Second Vatican
Council highlighted this with great forcefulness. We believe in a Church which is
"holy". This is truly the Church of Christ, the Catholic and
Apostolic Church. In this Church we live the mystery of the Communion of Saints, and await
the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in God.
7. "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go
and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15:16).
Near the mortal remains of St Peter today our fervent prayer goes up to ask that the
fruits of the Synod of the Church which is in Africa, the first in its history, will
abide and multiply. We shall again ask this of God in the various places of the African
continent where the concluding celebrations of this Synod will take place. We shall
experience the joy of the People of God, which brings such fresh vitality to every
liturgical celebration. This People of God has also shown singular initiative and
great creativity in the various stages of the preparations for the Synod. May they now
rejoice in its fruits and undertake, together with their Pastors, the task of embodying in
their lives the resolutions of the Synod.
Africa, the eternal Father loves you,
Christ loves you!
Abide in this love!