Speeches 2005-13 17039
Q. – Your Holiness, we are grateful for your presence with us today; there are about seventy of us preparing to make this journey with you. We offer you our best wishes and we hope to be of service to you, by enabling many others to take part in this visit. As usual, we want to express our thanks to you for this conversation that you have granted us; we have prepared for it by collecting, in the course of recent days, a certain number of questions from our colleagues – about thirty have been received – and then we chose the ones that seem likely to put together a fairly complete picture of this journey and to be of interest to all. We are most obliged to you for the responses that you will offer us. The first question comes from our colleague Brunelli, from Italian television, who is here on our right:
Q. – Good morning. Your Holiness, for some time, and in particular in the wake of your recent letter to the Bishops of the world, many newspapers have been talking about the “isolation of the Pope”. What do you have to say about that? Do you really feel isolated? And what are your feelings, in the light of recent events, as you make your way towards Africa with us?
A. – To tell the truth, I must say I find this myth of my isolation rather amusing. I do not feel alone at all. Every day I receive scheduled visits from my closest co-workers, from the Secretary of State to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, etc. Then I regularly see all the Heads of Dicastery, and every day I receive Bishops on their Ad Limina visits. Recently I met all the Bishops of Nigeria, one after another, and then it was the Bishops of Argentina … We have had two Plenarie in recent days, one with the Congregation for Divine Worship and one with the Congregation for the Clergy. Then I talk to my friends, another whole network – recently my year group from my seminary days came from Germany for the day so that we could talk together … So isolation is not a problem, I am truly surrounded by friends in a splendid collaboration with Bishops, co-workers, and lay people, and I am grateful for this. I am going to Africa with great joy: I love Africa, I have made many African friends from the time when I was a professor right up to the present; I love the joy of the faith, this joyful faith that is found in Africa. You know that the Lord’s command for the successor of Peter is “to strengthen his brothers in the faith”: I try to do so. But I am sure that I myself shall return strengthened by them, having so to speak “caught” something of their joyful faith.
Q. – The second question is from John Thavis, Rome Bureau Chief of Catholic News Service, the news agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Q. – Your Holiness, you are travelling to Africa during a global economic crisis that has also had repercussions on poor countries. Moreover, Africa at the present time has to respond to the challenge of a food crisis. I want to ask three things: is this situation going to be touched on during your visit? Will you be asking the international community to tackle Africa’s problems? And thirdly, will you be speaking of these problems in the Encyclical that you are preparing?
A. – Thank you for the question. Naturally, I am not going to Africa with a political or economic agenda, which would lie outside my competence. I am going with a programme that is religious, to do with faith and morals, but this too has an essential contribution to make to the problem of the current economic crisis. We all know that a fundamental element of the crisis is the ethical deficit in economic structures. It has been understood that ethics is not something “outside” the economy, but “inside”, and that the economy does not function if it does not include the ethical element. Therefore, speaking of God and speaking of the great spiritual values that constitute the Christian life, I will try to make my own contribution, which should also help to overcome the present crisis, and to renew the economic system from within, which is where the real crisis lies. And of course I shall be appealing for international solidarity. The Church is Catholic, that is to say, universal, open to all cultures and all continents. She is present within all political systems and thus, for Catholicism, solidarity is an internal and fundamental principle. I should like to make an appeal first and foremost for Catholic solidarity, while also extending this to include the solidarity of all those who recognize their responsibility within today’s human society. Obviously I shall be speaking of this in the Encyclical too: this is a reason for the delay. We were almost ready to publish it, when this crisis broke out, and we looked at the text again so as to respond more fully, within our particular competence, and within the social teaching of the Church, but with reference to the specific details of the current crisis. In this way I hope that the Encyclical can also be an element that helps to overcome the difficult situation of the present time.
Q. – Your Holiness, the third question comes from our colleague Isabelle de Gaulmyn from “La Croix”.
Q. – Holy Father, good morning. I will ask the question in Italian, but perhaps you could kindly answer in French … The Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops has asked that the quantitative growth of the Church in Africa should also become a qualitative growth. At times, the leaders of the Church are thought of as a wealthy and privileged group, and their conduct is not consistent with the proclamation of the Gospel. Will you invite the Church in Africa to make a commitment to an examination of conscience and a purification of its structures?
A. – I shall try, if I can, to speak in French. I have a more positive view of the Church in Africa: it is a Church that is very close to the poor, a Church with suffering members, with people who need assistance, and thus it seems to me that the Church is truly an institution that still functions even when other structures no longer function, through her system of education, health care, assistance, in all these situations, she is present in the world of the poor and the suffering. Naturally, original sin is also present in the Church; there is not a perfect society, and therefore there are also sinners and shortcomings in the Church in Africa, and in this sense, an examination of conscience, an interior purification is always necessary. I would think of the eucharistic liturgy in this context – we always begin with a purification of conscience and a new beginning in the Lord’s presence. I would also say that, more than a purification of structures – which is always necessary as well – a purification of hearts is needed, because structures are the reflection of hearts. We do what we can to give new impetus to spirituality, to the presence of God in our hearts, both to purify the structures of the Church, and also to assist the purification of the structures of society.
Q. – Now a question from the German journalists here with us: Christa Kramer, representing Sankt Ulrich Verlag, would like to ask this:
Q. – Holy Father, safe journey! Father Lombardi asked me to speak in Italian, so I shall put the question in Italian. When you speak to Europe, you often speak of a context from which God seems to be disappearing. In Africa it isn’t like that, but there is an aggressive presence of sects, there are the traditional African religions. What, then, is the specific content of the message of the Catholic Church that you would like to present in this context?
A. – Very well, first we all recognize that in Africa the problem of atheism scarcely arises, since the reality of God is so present, so real in the hearts of the Africans that not to believe in God, to live without God simply isn’t a temptation. It is true that there are also problems with sects: we do not proclaim, as some of them do, a Gospel of prosperity, but a Christian realism. We do not proclaim miracles, as some do, but the sobriety of the Christian life. We are convinced that all of this sobriety, this realism which proclaims a God who became man, therefore a profoundly human God, a God who suffers, also, with us, gives meaning to our own suffering through a proclamation with a broader horizon, which has more future. And we know that these sects are not very stable: at any given time, it may be all very well to proclaim prosperity, miraculous healings, etc., but after a while, it becomes clear that life is difficult, that a human God, a God who suffers with us is more convincing, more real, and offers greater help for life. It is also important that we have the structure of the Catholic Church. We do not proclaim a small group that after a certain time becomes isolated and lost, but we enter into this great universal network of catholicity, which is not only trans-temporal, but above all, it is present as a great network of friendship that unites us and also helps us to overcome individualism so as to arrive at this unity in diversity, which is the true promise.
Q. – Now a further question from a French speaker: our colleague Philippe Visseyrias from France 2:
Q. – Your Holiness, among the many ills that beset Africa, one of the most pressing is the spread of Aids. The position of the Catholic Church on the way to fight it is often considered unrealistic and ineffective. Will you address this theme during the journey? Holy Father, would you be able to respond in French to this question?
A. – I would say the opposite. I think that the most efficient, most truly present player in the fight against Aids is the Catholic Church herself, with her movements and her various organizations. I think of the Sant’Egidio community that does so much, visibly and also behind the scenes, in the struggle against Aids, I think of the Camillians, and so much more besides, I think of all the Sisters who take care of the sick. I would say that this problem of Aids cannot be overcome merely with money, necessary though it is. If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help [by responsible behaviour], the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering. And so these are the factors that help and that lead to real progress: our twofold effort to renew humanity inwardly, to give spiritual and human strength for proper conduct towards our bodies and those of others, and this capacity to suffer with those who are suffering, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.
Q. – And now, one last question which comes from Chile, because we are very international here: we also have the correspondent from Chilean Catholic Television with us. And we give her the opportunity for the last question: Maria Burgos …
Q. – Thank you, Father Lombardi. Your Holiness, what signs of hope does the Church see on the African Continent? And do you intend to give Africa a message of hope?
A. – Our faith is hope by definition. Sacred Scripture says so. And therefore, anyone with faith is also convinced of bringing hope. It seems to me, despite all the problems that we know well, that there are great signs of hope. New governments, new openness to cooperation, the fight against corruption – a great evil that must be overcome! – and also the openness of the traditional religions to the Christian faith, because in the traditional religions everyone recognizes God, the one God, but he seems somewhat distant. They are waiting for him to come closer. It is in the proclamation of God made man that they recognize that God truly has come closer. Then, the Catholic Church has so much in common: let’s say, the cult of ancestors finds its response in the communion of saints, in purgatory. The saints are not only the canonized, they are also our loved ones who have died. And thus, in the Body of Christ is accomplished exactly what the cult of ancestors somehow intuited. And so on. Thus there is a profound connection here that truly gives hope. And interreligious dialogue is also growing – I have now spoken with more than half of the African Bishops, and they have told me that relations with the Muslims, despite the problems that can be identified, are highly promising. Dialogue is growing in mutual respect and cooperation in common ethical responsibilities. Moreover, there is a growing sense of catholicity which helps to overcome tribalism, one of the great problems, and from this comes the joy of being Christian. One problem with the traditional religions is the fear of spirits. One of the African Bishops said to me: people are truly converted to Christianity, they become fully Christian once they know that Christ really is stronger. There is no more fear. And this too is a growing phenomenon. Thus, I would say, with so many elements and problems that are not lacking, there is a growth in spiritual, economic and human resources which give hope, and I should like to highlight these elements of hope.
Q. – Many thanks, Your Holiness, for the time that you have given us and for what you have said. It is an excellent introduction for following your journey with great enthusiasm. We will make every effort to spread your message over the whole continent and to all our readers and listeners.
Distinguished Representatives of the Civil Authorities,
My Brother Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thank you for the welcome you have extended to me. And thank you, Mr President, for your kind words. I greatly appreciate the invitation to visit Cameroon, and for this I want to express my gratitude to you and to the President of the National Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Tonyé Bakot. I greet all of you who have honoured me by your presence on this occasion, and I want you to know how pleased I am to be here with you on African soil, for the first time since my election to the See of Peter. I warmly greet my brother Bishops as well as the clergy and the lay faithful who are gathered here. My respectful greetings go also to the representatives of the Government, the civil authorities and the diplomatic corps. Since this country, like so many in Africa, is approaching the fiftieth anniversary of its independence, I wish to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations and good wishes that your friends all over the world will offer you on that happy occasion. I gratefully acknowledge too the presence of members of other Christian confessions and the followers of other religions. By joining us today you offer a clear sign of the good will and harmony that exist in this country between people of different religious traditions.
I come among you as a pastor, I come to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith. This was the role that Christ entrusted to Peter at the Last Supper, and it is the role of Peter’s successors. When Peter preached to the multitudes in Jerusalem at Pentecost, there were visitors from Africa present among them. And the witness of many great saints from this continent during the first centuries of Christianity – Saint Cyprian, Saint Monica, Saint Augustine, Saint Athanasius, to name but a few – guarantees a distinguished place for Africa in the annals of Church history. Right up to the present day, waves of missionaries and martyrs have continued to bear witness to Christ throughout Africa, and today the Church is blessed with almost a hundred and fifty million members. How fitting then, that Peter’s successor should come to Africa, to celebrate with you the life-giving faith in Christ that sustains and nourishes so many of the sons and daughters of this great continent!
It was here in Yaoundé in 1995 that my venerable Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, promulgated the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, the fruit of the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome the previous year. Indeed, the tenth anniversary of that historic moment was celebrated with great solemnity in this same city not long ago. I have come here to issue the Instrumentum Laboris for the Second Special Assembly, which will take place in Rome this coming October. The Synod Fathers will reflect together on the theme: “The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: ‘You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world’ (Mt 5,13-14)”. Almost ten years into the new millennium, this moment of grace is a summons to all the Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful of the continent to rededicate themselves to the mission of the Church to bring hope to the hearts of the people of Africa, and indeed to people throughout the world.
Even amid the greatest suffering, the Christian message always brings hope. The life of Saint Josephine Bakhita offers a shining example of the transformation that an encounter with the living God can bring to a situation of great hardship and injustice. In the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent. The saving message of the Gospel needs to be proclaimed loud and clear, so that the light of Christ can shine into the darkness of people’s lives. Here in Africa, as in so many parts of the world, countless men and women long to hear a word of hope and comfort. Regional conflicts leave thousands homeless or destitute, orphaned or widowed. In a continent which, in times past, saw so many of its people cruelly uprooted and traded overseas to work as slaves, today human trafficking, especially of defenceless women and children, has become a new form of slavery. At a time of global food shortages, financial turmoil, and disturbing patterns of climate change, Africa suffers disproportionately: more and more of her people are falling prey to hunger, poverty, and disease. They cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace, and that is what the Church offers them. Not new forms of economic or political oppression, but the glorious freedom of the children of God (cf. Rom Rm 8,21). Not the imposition of cultural models that ignore the rights of the unborn, but the pure healing water of the Gospel of life. Not bitter interethnic or interreligious rivalry, but the righteousness, peace and joy of God’s kingdom, so aptly described by Pope Paul VI as the civilization of love (cf. Regina Coeli Message, Pentecost Sunday, 1970).
Here in Cameroon, where over a quarter of the population is Catholic, the Church is well placed to carry forward her mission of healing and reconciliation. At the Cardinal Léger Centre, I shall observe for myself the pastoral solicitude of this local Church for the sick and the suffering; and it is particularly commendable that Aids sufferers are able to receive treatment free of charge in this country. Education is another key element of the Church’s ministry, and now we see the efforts of generations of missionary teachers bearing fruit in the work of the Catholic University for Central Africa, a sign of great hope for the future of the region.
Cameroon is truly a land of hope for many in Central Africa. Thousands of refugees from war-torn countries in the region have received a welcome here. It is a land of life, with a Government that speaks out in defence of the rights of the unborn. It is a land of peace: by resolving through dialogue the dispute over the Bakassi peninsula, Cameroon and Nigeria have shown the world that patient diplomacy can indeed bear fruit. It is a land of youth, blessed with a young population full of vitality and eager to build a more just and peaceful world. Rightly is it described as “Africa in miniature”, home to over two hundred different ethnic groups living in harmony with one another. These are all reasons for giving praise and thanks to God.
As I come among you today, I pray that the Church here and throughout Africa will continue to grow in holiness, in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace. I pray that the work of the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will fan into a flame the gifts that the Spirit has poured out upon the Church in Africa. I pray for each of you, for your families and loved ones, and I ask you to join me in praying for all the people of this vast continent. God bless Cameroon! And God bless Africa!
Dear Brother Bishops,
This meeting with the Pastors of the Catholic Church in Cameroon gives me great joy. I thank the President of your Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Simon-Victor Tonyé Bakot, Archbishop of Yaoundé, for the kind words he has addressed to me in your name. It is the third time that your country has welcomed the Successor of Peter. As you know, my reason for coming is in the first instance to meet the peoples of the beloved African continent and also to present to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences the Instrumentum Laboris of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. This morning, through you, I would like to offer affectionate greetings to all the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care. May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus be with each one of you, with all the families of your great and beautiful country, with the priests, the men and women religious, the catechists, and all who are engaged with you in proclaiming the Gospel!
In this year dedicated to Saint Paul, it is most opportune to recall the urgent need to proclaim the Gospel to everyone. This mandate, which the Church received from Christ, remains a priority, for there are countless people still waiting to hear the message of hope and love that will enable them to “obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rm 8,21). Together with you, dear Brothers, it is your entire diocesan communities that are sent out to be witnesses of the Gospel. The Second Vatican Council emphasized that “missionary activity flows immediately from the very nature of the Church” (Ad Gentes AGD 6). In order to guide and inspire the People of God in this task, the Pastors themselves, first and foremost, must be preachers of the faith, leading new disciples to Christ. The proclamation of the Gospel is the particular task of the Bishop, who can say, with Saint Paul: “If I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1Co 9,16). To strengthen and purify their faith, the faithful need to hear the words of their Bishop, the catechist par excellence.
In order to undertake this mission of evangelization and respond to the many challenges of today’s world, besides holding formal meetings, which are necessary in themselves, the Pastors of the Church must be united by a profound communion with one another. The quality of the work accomplished by your Episcopal Conference, reflecting well the life of the Church and of Cameroonian society, enables you to search collectively for answers to the many challenges which the Church has to face and, through your pastoral letters, to give common guidelines to assist the faithful in their ecclesial and social life. A lively awareness of the collegial dimension of your ministry should impel you to bring about among yourselves a variety of expressions of sacramental fraternity, ranging from mutual acceptance and esteem to the various manifestations of charity and practical cooperation (cf. Pastores Gregis ). Effective collaboration between dioceses, particularly with regard to better distribution of priests in your country, cannot fail to promote relations of fraternal solidarity with the poorer dioceses, so that the proclamation of the Gospel should not suffer through lack of ministers. This apostolic solidarity should also extend generously to meet the needs of other local Bishops, especially those of your continent. Thus it will appear clearly that your Christian communities, following the example of those that brought the Gospel message to you, are likewise a missionary Church.
Dear Brothers, the Bishop and his priests are called to maintain relations of close communion, founded on the one priesthood of Christ in which they share, albeit in different degrees. The quality of the bond uniting you with the priests, your principal and irreplaceable co-workers, is of the greatest importance. If they see in their Bishop a father and a brother who loves them, listens to them and offers them comfort in their trials, who devotes particular attention to their human and material needs, they are encouraged to carry out their ministry whole-heartedly, worthily and fruitfully. The words and example of their Bishop have a key role in inspiring them to give their spiritual and sacramental life a central place in their ministry, spurring them on to discover and to live ever more deeply the particular role of the shepherd as, first and foremost, a man of prayer. The spiritual and sacramental life is an extraordinary treasure, given to us for ourselves and for the good of the people entrusted to us. I urge you, then, to be especially vigilant regarding the faithfulness of priests and consecrated persons to the commitments made at their ordination or entry into religious life, so that they persevere in their vocation, for the greater holiness of the Church and the glory of God. The authenticity of their witness requires that there be no dichotomy between what they teach and the way they live each day.
In your dioceses, many young men are presenting themselves as candidates for the priesthood. We can only thank the Lord for this. It is essential that serious discernment should take place. With this in mind, I encourage you, despite the organizational difficulties that can sometimes occur at the pastoral level, to give priority to the choice and training of formators and spiritual directors. They must have a personal and profound knowledge of the candidates for the priesthood, and must be capable of offering them a solid human, spiritual and pastoral formation so as to make them mature and balanced men, well prepared for priestly life. Your constant fraternal support will help the formators to accomplish their task in the love of the Church and her mission.
From the earliest days of the Christian faith in Cameroon, men and women religious have made an essential contribution to the life of the Church. I join you in giving thanks to God for this, and I rejoice at the development of consecrated life among the sons and daughters of your country, giving rise also to the expression of distinctively African charisms in communities that originated in your country. In fact, the profession of the evangelical counsels acts as “a sign that can and should effectively inspire all the members of the Church to fulfil indefatigably the duties of their Christian vocation” (Lumen Gentium LG 44).
In your ministry of proclaiming the Gospel, you are also assisted by other pastoral workers, particularly catechists. In the evangelization of your country, they have played and they continue to play a key role. I thank them for their generosity and their faithfulness in the service of the Church. Through their work, an authentic inculturation of the faith is taking place. Their human, spiritual and doctrinal formation is therefore indispensable. The material, moral and spiritual support that they receive from their pastors, so that they can accomplish their mission in good living and working conditions, also serves to express to them the Church’s recognition of the importance of their commitment to proclaim the faith and foster its growth.
Among the many challenges facing you in your responsibility as Pastors, the situation of the family is of particular concern. The difficulties arising from the impact of modernity and secularization on traditional society inspire you to defend vigorously the essential values of the African family, and to give high priority to its thorough evangelization. In developing the pastoral care of the family, you are eager to promote a better understanding of the nature, dignity and role of marriage, which presupposes an indissoluble and stable union.
The liturgy occupies an important place in the expression of your communities’ faith. In general, these ecclesial celebrations are festive and joyful, manifesting the fervour of the faithful who are happy to be together, in Church, giving praise to the Lord. It is therefore essential that the joy expressed in this way does not obstruct, but rather facilitates dialogue and communion with God, attained through a genuine internalization of the structures and words of the liturgy, so that these express what is taking place in the hearts of believers, in true union with all the other participants. The dignity of the celebrations, especially when they take place in the presence of large crowds, is an eloquent sign of this.
The spread of sects and esoteric movements, and the growing influence of superstitious forms of religion, as well as relativism, constitute an urgent invitation to give new impetus to the formation of children and young adults, especially in university settings and intellectual circles. In this regard, I would like to encourage and pay tribute to the work of the Institut Catholique of Yaoundé and all the Church institutions which have as their mission to make the word of God and the teaching of the Church accessible and comprehensible to all.
I am glad to know that the lay faithful in your country are becoming increasingly active in the life of the Church and of society. The numerous lay associations flourishing in your dioceses are a sign of the Spirit’s work at the heart of the people of God, and they contribute to a renewed proclamation of the Gospel. I am pleased to highlight and to encourage the active involvement of women’s associations in several areas of the Church’s mission, which shows a genuine recognition of the dignity of women and their particular vocation in the ecclesial community and in society. I give thanks to God for the eagerness of the lay people in your country to contribute to the future of the Church and to the proclamation of the Gospel. Through the sacraments of Christian initiation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they are empowered to proclaim the Gospel and to serve others, both individuals and society at large. I therefore strongly encourage you to continue to offer them a solid Christian formation so that they can “fully exercise their role of inspiring the temporal order – political, cultural, economic and social – with Christian principles, which is the specific task of the laity’s vocation” (Ecclesia in Africa ).
In the context of globalization with which we are all familiar, the Church takes a particular interest in those who are most deprived. The Bishop’s mission leads him to be the defender of the rights of the poor, to call forth and encourage the exercise of charity, which is a manifestation of the Lord’s love for the “little ones”. In this way, the faithful are led to grasp the fact that the Church is truly God’s family, gathered in brotherly love; this leaves no room for ethnocentrism or factionalism, and it contributes towards reconciliation and cooperation among ethnic groups for the good of all. Moreover, through her social doctrine, the Church seeks to awaken hope in the hearts of those left by the wayside. So it is the duty of Christians, particularly lay people with social, economic and political responsibilities, to be guided by the Church’s social teaching, in order to contribute to the building up of a more just world where everyone can live with dignity.
Dear Cardinal, dear Brother Bishops, at the conclusion of our meeting, I would like to say once more what a joy it is to be here in your country and to meet the people of Cameroon. I thank you for your warm welcome, a sign of the generosity of African hospitality. May the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, watch over all your diocesan communities. I entrust to her the entire people of Cameroon, and with all my heart I impart to you an affectionate Apostolic Blessing, which I also extend to the priests, men and women religious, to the catechists and to all the faithful of your dioceses.
Speeches 2005-13 17039