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Papal Message to Envoy for Laity Conference in Africa

If "we see the heart of African peoples, we discover a great wealth of spiritual resources"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 5, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the message Benedict XVI sent to Cardinal Stanis?aw Ry?ko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The cardinal is the Pope's representative at a conference for the laity under way in Yaounde, Cameroon.

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To the Lord Cardinal Stanis?aw Ry?ko,

President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

I am happy to address my cordial thought to you, Venerable Brother, to the Cardinals, to the Bishops, to the Priests, to consecrated persons and, in a special way, to all the lay faithful gathered at Yaounde, from September 4-9, for the important Congress of the Catholic laity of Africa, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity with the support of the Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, on the subject: "Witnesses of Jesus Christ in Africa Today. Salt of the Earth ... Light of the World (Matthew 5:13.14)." The subject recalls deliberately the postsynodal apostolic exhortation Africae munus, which has as a sub-title the same quotation mentioned in Saint Matthew's Gospel: "You are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world." Consigning personally this important document to the Bishops of Africa at Cotonou on November 20 of last year, I wished to offer some theological and pastoral guidelines for the Church's journey in the Continent.

Your Congress appears as a significant stage to carry out what the Holy Spirit inspired in the Synodal Fathers during the Second Special Assembly for Africa, held in October of 2009 at Rome. At Cotonou I expressed the hope that the Exhortation Africae munus serve as a guide especially in the proclamation of the Gospel, through the commitment of the whole People of God. It is because of this that I learned with satisfaction of the initiative of the Pontifical Council to convoke a Congress dedicated to the African lay faithful, called in a special way in our times to ever more intense work in the Lord's vineyard (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, 2).

During my trips on the Continent, I affirmed on several occasions that Africa is called to be the "Continent of Hope." These were not circumstantial words, but indicated the luminous horizon that opens to the look of faith. Certainly, at first glance the problems of Africa appear grave and not easy to solve, not only because of the material difficulties, but also because of the spiritual and moral obstacles that the Church also encounters. It is true, moreover, that even the most valid traditional values of African culture are threatened today by secularization, which causes disorientation, lacerations in the personal and social fabric, exasperation of tribalism, violence, corruption in public life, humiliation and exploitation of women and children, the increase of misery and hunger. Added to this also is the shadow of fundamentalist terrorism, which recently has set its sights on the Christian communities of some African countries.

If, however, with a deeper look we see the heart of African peoples, we discover a great wealth of spiritual resources, precious for our time. The love of life and of the family, the sense of joy and of sharing, the enthusiasm of living the faith in the Lord, which I was able to observe in my African trips, are still imprinted in my heart. Never let the dismal relativist and nihilist mentality, which strikes various parts of our world, open a breach in your reality! Receive and spread with renewed force the message of joy and hope that Christ brings, a message able to purify and reinforce the great values of your cultures. Because of this, in the encyclical Spe salvi, I wished to present the Sudanese Saint Josephine Bakhita as a witness of hope (cf. no. 3), to show how the encounter with the God of Jesus Christ is able to transform profoundly every human being, even in the poorest conditions - Bakhita was a slave - to confer on him the supreme dignity of child of God. In fact "through knowledge of this hope she was "redeemed," she no longer felt a slave, but a free daughter of God" (Ibid.). And the discovery of Christian hope aroused in her a new, uncontainable desire: she felt she had to extend the liberation that she had received through the encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, that it had to be given also to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope, which was born for her and "redeemed" her, she could not keep for herself; this hope had to reach many, it had to reach all" (Ibid.).

The encounter with Christ gives the impetus to overcome even the difficulties that seem to be most insurmountable. It was the experience of Saint Bakhita, but it is also the experience of so many young Africans - thank God, the great majority of the population - who are called to live today in the faithful following of the Lord. To render Africa the "Continent of Hope" is a commitment that must guide the mission of the African lay faithful today, as also the Congress itself that you are holding.

In this perspective, your gathering constitutes a significant moment in the preparation of two ecclesial events of universal importance, now upon us: the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization and the "Year of Faith." At Cotonou, on consigning the Exhortation Africae munus, I reminded that "all those who have received the wonderful gift of faith, the gift of the encounter with the Risen Lord, also feel the need to proclaim it to others" (Homily during the Holy Mass at the "Stadium of Friendship," Cotonou-Benin, November 20, 2011). The mission, in fact, springs from faith, gift of God to be received, nurtured and deepened because "we cannot accept that the salt become insipid and the light be held hidden" (Motu proprio Porta fidei, 3). The priority of the faith naturally has a more logical than chronological meaning. In fact, the reception of this divine gift goes hand in hand with the impetus for the proclamation of the Gospel, in a sort of "virtuous circle," where faith moves the proclamation and the proclamation reinforces faith: "In fact, faith grows when it is lived as experience of a love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy" (Ibid., no. 7). Truly, "faith is reinforced by giving it!" in keeping with the unforgettable words of Blessed John Paul II (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, 2).

Finally, I would like to recall some words of the Servant of God Paul VI, faithful interpreter of the Council: "for the Church, to evangelize is to take the Good News to all the strata of humanity and, with its influence, to transform from within, to render new humanity itself" (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, 18). In this work of transformation of the whole of society, so urgent for the Africa of today, the lay faithful have an irreplaceable role: "Through her lay members, the Church is rendered present and active in the life of the world. The laity have a great role to play in the Church and in society. [...] In fact, the lay faithful are "ambassadors of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20) in the public place, in the heart of the world" (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus, 128). Women and men, young people, the elderly and children, families and entire societies, the whole of Africa today awaits the "ambassadors" of the Good News, faithful laity from the parishes, from Living Ecclesial Communities, from Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, enamored of Christ and of the Church, full of joy and gratitude for the Baptism they have received, courageous agents of peace and heralds of genuine hope.

Entrusting the Congress to the solicitous and maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, as the prayer of your Congress recites, is "Our Lady of Africa, Queen of Peace and Star of the New Evangelization," I willingly impart to all the participants my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, August 20, 2012


[Translation by ZENIT]

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