Audiences 2005-2013 18029

Wednesday, 18 February 2009 - Bede, the Venerable

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Saint we are approaching today is called Bede and was born in the north-east of England, to be exact, Northumbria, in the year 672 or 673. He himself recounts that when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the Abbot of the neighbouring Benedictine monastery to be educated: "spending all the remaining time of my life a dweller in that monastery". He recalls, "I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture; and amidst the observance of the monastic Rule and the daily charge of singing in church, I always took delight in learning, or teaching, or writing" (Historia eccl. Anglorum, v, 24). In fact, Bede became one of the most outstanding erudite figures of the early Middle Ages since he was able to avail himself of many precious manuscripts which his Abbots would bring him on their return from frequent journeys to the continent and to Rome. His teaching and the fame of his writings occasioned his friendships with many of the most important figures of his time who encouraged him to persevere in his work from which so many were to benefit. When Bede fell ill, he did not stop working, always preserving an inner joy that he expressed in prayer and song. He ended his most important work, the Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, with this invocation: "I beseech you, O good Jesus, that to the one to whom you have graciously granted sweetly to drink in the words of your knowledge, you will also vouchsafe in your loving kindness that he may one day come to you, the Fountain of all wisdom, and appear for ever before your face". Death took him on 26 May 737: it was the Ascension.

Sacred Scripture was the constant source of Bede's theological reflection. After a critical study of the text (a copy of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate on which Bede worked has come down to us), he comments on the Bible, interpreting it in a Christological key, that is, combining two things: on the one hand he listens to exactly what the text says, he really seeks to hear and understand the text itself; on the other, he is convinced that the key to understanding Sacred Scripture as the one word of God is Christ, and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and New Testaments as "one" Sacred Scripture. The events of the Old and New Testaments go together, they are the way to Christ, although expressed in different signs and institutions (this is what he calls the concordia sacramentorum). For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses pitched in the desert and the first and second temple of Jerusalem are images of the Church, the new temple built on Christ and on the Apostles with living stones, held together by the love of the Spirit. And just as pagan peoples also contributed to building the ancient temple by making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, so too contributing to the construction of the Church there were apostles and teachers, not only from ancient Jewish, Greek and Latin lineage, but also from the new peoples, among whom Bede was pleased to list the Irish Celts and Anglo-Saxons. St Bede saw the growth of the universal dimension of the Church which is not restricted to one specific culture but is comprised of all the cultures of the world that must be open to Christ and find in him their goal.

Another of Bede's favourite topics is the history of the Church. After studying the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, he reviews the history of the Fathers and the Councils, convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in history. In the Chronica Maiora, Bede outlines a chronology that was to become the basis of the universal Calendar "ab incarnatione Domini". In his day, time was calculated from the foundation of the City of Rome. Realizing that the true reference point, the centre of history, is the Birth of Christ, Bede gave us this calendar that interprets history starting from the Incarnation of the Lord. Bede records the first six Ecumenical Councils and their developments, faithfully presenting Christian doctrine, both Mariological and soteriological, and denouncing the Monophysite and Monothelite, Iconoclastic and Neo-Pelagian heresies. Lastly he compiled with documentary rigour and literary expertise the Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples mentioned above, which earned him recognition as "the father of English historiography". The characteristic features of the Church that Bede sought to emphasize are: a) catholicity, seen as faithfulness to tradition while remaining open to historical developments, and as the quest for unity in multiplicity, in historical and cultural diversity according to the directives Pope Gregory the Great had given to Augustine of Canterbury, the Apostle of England; b) apostolicity and Roman traditions: in this regard he deemed it of prime importance to convince all the Irish, Celtic and Pict Churches to have one celebration for Easter in accordance with the Roman calendar. The Computo, which he worked out scientifically to establish the exact date of the Easter celebration, hence the entire cycle of the liturgical year, became the reference text for the whole Catholic Church.

Bede was also an eminent teacher of liturgical theology. In his Homilies on the Gospels for Sundays and feast days he achieves a true mystagogy, teaching the faithful to celebrate the mysteries of the faith joyfully and to reproduce them coherently in life, while awaiting their full manifestation with the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we shall be admitted to the offertory procession in the eternal liturgy of God in Heaven. Following the "realism" of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person "not only a Christian but Christ". Indeed, every time that a faithful soul lovingly accepts and preserves the Word of God, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ anew. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments the Church "reproduces herself" or, to use a more daring term, the Church becomes "Mother of God", participating in the generation of her children through the action of the Holy Spirit.

By his way of creating theology, interweaving the Bible, liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different "states of life": a) for scholars (doctores ac doctrices) he recalls two essential tasks: to examine the marvels of the word of God in order to present them in an attractive form to the faithful; to explain the dogmatic truths, avoiding heretical complications and keeping to "Catholic simplicity", with the attitude of the lowly and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom; b) pastors, for their part, must give priority to preaching, not only through verbal or hagiographic language but also by giving importance to icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends that they use the vulgate as he himself does, explaining the "Our Father" and the "Creed" in Northumbrian and continuing, until the last day of his life, his commentary on the Gospel of John in the vulgate; c) Bede recommends to consecrated people who devote themselves to the Divine Office, living in the joy of fraternal communion and progressing in the spiritual life by means of ascesis and contemplation that they attend to the apostolate no one possesses the Gospel for himself alone but must perceive it as a gift for others too both by collaborating with Bishops in pastoral activities of various kinds for the young Christian communities and by offering themselves for the evangelizing mission among the pagans, outside their own country, as "peregrini pro amore Dei".

Making this viewpoint his own, in his commentary on the Song of Songs Bede presents the Synagogue and the Church as collaborators in the dissemination of God's word. Christ the Bridegroom wants a hard-working Church, "weathered by the efforts of evangelization" there is a clear reference to the word in the Song of Songs (
Ct 1,5), where the bride says "Nigra sum sed formosa" ("I am very dark, but comely") intent on tilling other fields or vineyards and in establishing among the new peoples "not a temporary hut but a permanent dwelling place", in other words, intent on integrating the Gospel into their social fabric and cultural institutions. In this perspective the holy Doctor urges lay faithful to be diligent in religious instruction, imitating those "insatiable crowds of the Gospel who did not even allow the Apostles time to take a mouthful". He teaches them how to pray ceaselessly, "reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy", offering all their actions as a spiritual sacrifice in union with Christ. He explains to parents that in their small domestic circle too they can exercise "the priestly office as pastors and guides", giving their children a Christian upbringing. He also affirms that he knows many of the faithful (men and women, married and single) "capable of irreproachable conduct who, if appropriately guided, will be able every day to receive Eucharistic communion" (Epist. ad Ecgberctum, ed. Plummer, p. 419).

The fame of holiness and wisdom that Bede already enjoyed in his lifetime, earned him the title of "Venerable". Pope Sergius I called him this when he wrote to his Abbot in 701 asking him to allow him to come to Rome temporarily to give advice on matters of universal interest. After his death, Bede's writings were widely disseminated in his homeland and on the European continent. Bishop St Boniface, the great missionary of Germany, (d. 754), asked the Archbishop of York and the Abbot of Wearmouth several times to have some of his works transcribed and sent to him so that he and his companions might also enjoy the spiritual light that shone from them. A century later, Notker Balbulus, Abbot of Sankt Gallen (d. 912), noting the extraordinary influence of Bede, compared him to a new sun that God had caused to rise, not in the East but in the West, to illuminate the world. Apart from the rhetorical emphasis, it is a fact that with his works Bede made an effective contribution to building a Christian Europe in which the various peoples and cultures amalgamated with one another, thereby giving them a single physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith. Let us pray that today too there may be figures of Bede's stature, to keep the whole continent united; let us pray that we may all be willing to rediscover our common roots, in order to be builders of a profoundly human and authentically Christian Europe.

To special groups

I offer a warm welcome to the pilgrimage group from the Diocese of Arlington led by Bishop Paul Loverde, and to the School Sisters of Notre Dame taking part in a programme of spiritual renewal. I also greet the many student groups present. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially the visitors from England, Ireland, Sweden, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace!

Lastly, I address a greeting to the young people, the sick and the newlyweds.Dear young people, prepare yourselves to face the important stages of life with spiritual commitment, building every one of your projects on the solid foundations of fidelity to God. Dear sick people, always be aware that by offering your sufferings to the heavenly Father in union with those of Christ, you are contributing to building the Kingdom of Heaven. And you, dear newlyweds, make your family grow every day by listening to God so that your reciprocal love will continue to be sound and open to welcoming the neediest.

And my cordial thanks to you all. Thank you for your patience, in the wind and with the cold. I thank you all.

Saint Peter's Square

Wednesday, 11 March 2009 - Saint Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, we shall reflect on a great eighth-century missionary who spread Christianity in Central Europe, indeed also in my own country: St Boniface, who has gone down in history as "the Apostle of the Germans". We have a fair amount of information on his life, thanks to the diligence of his biographers. He was born into an Anglo-Saxon family in Wessex in about 675 and was baptized with the name of Winfrid. He entered the monastery at a very early age, attracted by the monastic ideal. Since he possessed considerable intellectual ability, he seemed destined for a peaceful and brilliant academic career. He became a teacher of Latin grammar, wrote several treatises and even composed various poems in Latin. He was ordained a priest at the age of about 30 and felt called to an apostolate among the pagans on the continent. His country, Great Britain which had been evangelized barely 100 years earlier by Benedictines led by St Augustine at the time showed such sound faith and ardent charity that it could send missionaries to Central Europe to proclaim the Gospel there. In 716, Winfrid went to Frisia (today Holland) with a few companions, but he encountered the opposition of the local chieftain and his attempt at evangelization failed. Having returned home, he did not lose heart and two years later travelled to Rome to speak to Pope Gregory ii and receive his instructions. One biographer recounts that the Pope welcomed him "with a smile and a look full of kindliness", and had "important conversations" with him in the following days (Willibaldo, [Willibald of Mainz], Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. Levison, pp. 13-14), and lastly, after conferring upon him the new name of Boniface, assigned to him, in official letters, the mission of preaching the Gospel among the German peoples.

Comforted and sustained by the Pope's support, Boniface embarked on the preaching of the Gospel in those regions, fighting against pagan worship and reinforcing the foundations of human and Christian morality. With a deep sense of duty he wrote in one of his letters: "We are united in the fight on the Lord's Day, because days of affliction and wretchedness have come.... We are not mute dogs or taciturn observers or mercenaries fleeing from wolves! On the contrary, we are diligent Pastors who watch over Christ's flock, who proclaim God's will to the leaders and ordinary folk, to the rich and the poor... in season and out of season..." (cf. Epistulae, 3,352.354: mgh). With his tireless activity and his gift for organization, Boniface adaptable and friendly yet firm obtained great results. The Pope then "declared that he wished to confer upon him the episcopal dignity so that he might thus with greater determination correct and lead back to the path of truth those who had strayed, feeling supported by the greater authority of the apostolic dignity and being much more readily accepted by all in the office of preacher, the clearer it was that this was why he had been ordained by the Apostolic Bishop" (Othlo, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. Levison, lib. I p. 127).

The Supreme Pontiff himself consecrated Boniface "Regional Bishop", that is, for the whole of Germany. Boniface then resumed his apostolic labours in the territories assigned to him and extended his action also to the Church of the Gauls: with great caution he restored discipline in the Church, convoked various Synods to guarantee the authority of the sacred canons and strengthened the necessary communion with the Roman Pontiff, a point that he had very much at heart. The Successors of Pope Gregory II also held him in the highest esteem. Gregory III appointed him Archbishop of all the Germanic tribes, sent him the pallium and granted him the faculties to organize the ecclesiastical hierarchy in those regions (cf. Epist. 28: S. Bonifatii Epistulae, ed. Tangl, Berolini 1916). Pope Zacchary confirmed him in his office and praised his dedication (cf. Epist. 51, 57, 58, 60, 68, 77, 80, 86, 87, 89: op. cit.); Pope Stephen III, newly elected, received a letter from him in which he expressed his filial respect (cf. Epist. 108: op. cit.).

In addition to this work of evangelization and organization of the Church through the founding of dioceses and the celebration of Synods, this great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished. Boniface himself has left us an important intellectual corpus. First of all is his copious correspondence, in which pastoral letters alternate with official letters and others private in nature, which record social events but above all reveal his richly human temperament and profound faith.
In addition he composed a treatise on the Ars grammatica in which he explained the declinations, verbs and syntax of the Latin language, but which also became for him a means of spreading culture and the faith. An Ars metrica that is, an introduction on how to write poetry as well as various poetic compositions and, lastly, a collection of 15 sermons are also attributed to him.

Although he was getting on in years (he was almost 80), he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: with about 50 monks he returned to Frisia where he had begun his work. Almost as a prediction of his imminent death, in alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to Bishop Lull, his disciple and successor in the see of Mainz: "I wish to bring to a conclusion the purpose of this journey; in no way can I renounce my desire to set out. The day of my end is near and the time of my death is approaching; having shed my mortal body, I shall rise to the eternal reward. May you, my dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the maze of error, complete the building of the Basilica of Fulda that has already been begun, and in it lay my body, worn out by the long years of life" (Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46). While he was beginning the celebration of Mass at Dokkum (in what today is northern Holland) on 5 June 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Advancing with a serene expression he "forbade his followers from fighting saying, "cease, my sons, from fighting, give up warfare, for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day, the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!'" (ibid. , pp. 49-50). These were his last words before he fell under the blows of his aggressors. The mortal remains of the Martyr Bishop were then taken to the Monastery of Fulda where they received a fitting burial. One of his first biographers had already made this judgement of him: "The holy Bishop Boniface can call himself father of all the inhabitants of Germany, for it was he who first brought them forth in Christ with the words of his holy preaching, he strengthened them with his example and lastly, he gave his life for them; no greater love than this can be shown" (Othlo, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., lib.
1P 158).

Centuries later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvellous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk. This word was the pillar of the faith which he had committed himself to spreading at the moment of his episcopal ordination: "I profess integrally the purity of the holy Catholic faith and with the help of God I desire to remain in the unity of this faith, in which there is no doubt that the salvation of Christians lies" (Epist. 12, in S. Bonifatii Epistolae, ed. cit., p. 29). The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will. In a letter to Pope Zachary, he said: "I never cease to invite and to submit to obedience to the Apostolic See those who desire to remain in the Catholic faith and in the unity of the Roman Church and all those whom God grants to me as listeners and disciples in my mission" (Epist. 50: in ibid., p. 81). One result of this commitment was the steadfast spirit of cohesion around the Successor of Peter which Boniface transmitted to the Church in his mission territory, uniting England, Germany and France with Rome and thereby effectively contributing to planting those Christian roots of Europe which were to produce abundant fruit in the centuries to come. Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface's courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God's word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.
By comparing his ardent faith, this zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

To special groups:

I offer a warm welcome to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean. I also greet the many student groups present today. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially the visitors from England, Denmark, Vietnam and the United States, I cordially invoke God's Blessings of joy and peace!


It was with deep sorrow that I learned of the murders of two young British soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland. As I assure the families of the victims and the injured of my spiritual closeness, I condemn in the strongest terms these abominable acts of terrorism which, apart from desecrating human life, seriously endanger the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland and risk destroying the great hopes generated by this process in the region and throughout the world. I ask the Lord that no one will again give in to the horrendous temptation of violence and that all will increase their efforts to continue building – through the patient effort of dialogue – a peaceful, just and reconciled society.
* * *

Lastly, my most cordial greeting goes to the young people, the sick and the newly weds. Dear young people, may the Lenten journey that we are making be an opportunity for authentic conversion so that you may attain a mature faith in Christ. Dear sick people, participating lovingly in the very suffering of the Son of God incarnate, may you share from this moment in the glory and joy of his Resurrection. And may you, dear newly weds, find in the Covenant which Christ made with his Church at the price of his Blood, support for your conjugal bond and your family mission.

Saint Peter's Square

Wednesday, 1st April 2009 - Apostolic Journey to Cameroon and Angola

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As I announced last Sunday at the Angelus, today I am pausing to speak of my recent Apostolic Journey to Africa, the first in my Pontificate to that continent. It was limited to Cameroon and Angola, but with my Visit I intended to embrace in spirit all the African peoples and to bless them in the Lord's name. I experienced the traditional warm African welcome which I met with everywhere, and I willingly take this opportunity to express once again my deep gratitude to the Episcopates of the two countries, to the Heads of State, to all the Authorities and to all those who in their various capacities did their utmost to ensure the success of my Pastoral Visit.

My stay in Africa began on 17 March in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, where I immediately found myself in the heart of Africa, and not only geographically. In fact, this country sums up many features of that vast continent and first and foremost its profoundly religious spirit which all the very numerous ethnic groups that populate it have in common. In Cameroon more than a quarter of the inhabitants are Catholic and live peacefully with the other religious communities. For this reason, in 1995 my beloved Predecessor John Paul II chose the capital of this very nation to promulgate the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, after the first Synodal Assembly dedicated, precisely, to the African continent. This time, the Pope went there to present the Instrumentum Laboris of the Second Synodal Assembly for Africa, scheduled to be held in Rome next October and whose theme will be: "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)".

At the meetings I had with the Episcopates two days apart respectively of Cameroon and of Angola and São Tomé e Príncipe, I wished, especially in this Pauline Year, to recall the urgent need for evangelization which is primarily incumbent on the Bishops themselves and stressed the collegial dimension, based on sacramental communion. I urged them always to be an example to their priests and to all the faithful, and to take an interest in the formation of the seminarians who, thanks be to God, are numerous and of the catechists who are becoming more and more necessary to the life of the Church in Africa. I encouraged the Bishops to promote the pastoral care of marriage and the family, the liturgy and culture, so as to enable lay people to withstand the attack of sects and esoteric groups. My affectionate wish was to strengthen them in the practice of charity and in the defence of the rights of the poor.

Then I am thinking back to the solemn celebration of Vespers in Yaoundé in the Basilica of "Marie Reine des Apôtres", Patronness of Cameroon. It is a large, modern church that stands on the site where the first evangelizers of Cameroon worked, the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. On the eve of the Solemnity of St Joseph to whose attentive custody God entrusted his most precious treasures, Mary and Jesus, we glorified the one Father who is in Heaven, together with the representatives of other Churches and ecclesial Communities. In contemplating the spiritual figure of St Joseph, who dedicated his life to Christ and to the Virgin Mary, I asked the priests, the consecrated people and the members of ecclesial movements to respond ever more faithfully to their calling, living in God's presence and in joyful obedience to his word.

At the Apostolic Nunciature in Yaoundé I had the opportunity also to meet with the representatives of the Muslim community in Cameroon. Reaffirming the importance of interreligious dialogue and collaboration between Christians and Muslims to help the world to open itself to God. It really was a very pleasant meeting.

One of the crowning events of the Journey was without a doubt the promulgation of the Instrumentum Laboris of the Second Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, on 19 March, the day of St Joseph and my name day in the Stadium of Yaoundé at the end of the solemn Eucharistic Celebration in honour of St Joseph. It took place in a harmonious atmosphere among the People of God, "with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival" according to the Psalm (Ps 42,4 [41]) of which we had a real experience. The Synodal Assembly will be celebrated in Rome, but in a certain sense it has already begun in the heart of the African continent, in the heart of the Christian family that lives, suffers and hopes there. For this reason the fact that the publication of the "Working Document" coincided with the Feast of St Joseph, a model of faith and hope like the first Patriarch, Abraham, seemed to me to be fortuitous. Faith in the "God who is close", who revealed his loving Face in Jesus, is the guarantee of a trustworthy hope for Africa and for the whole world, a guarantee of a future of reconciliation, justice and peace.

After the solemn liturgical assembly and the festive presentation of the Working Document, at the Apostolic Nunciature in Yaoundé, I was able to meet with the Members of the Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops and to live with them a moment of intense communion: we reflected together on Africa's history in a theological and pastoral perspective. It was almost like a first meeting of the Synod itself, in a brotherly discussion between the different episcopates and the Pope concerning the prospects of the Synod of reconciliation and peace in Africa. Christianity, in fact and this was evident has put down deep roots in African soil from the outset, as is attested by the numerous martyrs and saints, pastors, teachers and catechists who flourished, first in the north and later, in subsequent epochs, in the rest of the continent: let us think of Cyprian, of Augustine, of his mother, Monica, and of Athanasius; and then of the Martyrs of Uganda, of Josephine Bakhita and of the many others. In this season, which sees Africa working to consolidate her political independence and the construction of the national identities in a now globalized context, the Church accompanies Africans, recalling the important message of the Second Vatican Council, applied through the first and now, the Second Assembly of the Synod for Africa. In the midst of the unfortunately numerous and tragic conflicts which still afflict various regions of that continent the Church knows she must be a sign and an instrument of unity and reconciliation so that the whole of Africa may build together a future of justice, solidarity and peace, putting into practice the teachings of the Gospel.

A powerful sign of the humanizing action of Christ's message is certainly the Cardinal Léger Centre in Yaoundé, destined for the rehabilitation of disabled people. Its founder was the Canadian Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, who chose to retire after the Council of 1968, to work among the poor. At that Centre, which he later handed over to the State, I met numerous brothers and sisters in situations of suffering, and shared with them but also drew from them the hope that comes from faith even in situations of suffering.

The second stage and the second part of my Journey was Angola, certain aspects of which make it another emblematic country. In fact, Angola has emerged from a long civil war and is now involved in the work of national reconciliation and reconstruction. But how could this reconciliation and this reconstruction be authentic if they were achieved at the expense of the poorest people who have a right, like everyone, to have a share of the resources of their land? This is why, with this Visit of mine whose first purpose was obviously to strengthen the Church in the faith, I also intended to encourage the social process that is under way. In Angola what my venerable Predecessors repeated more than once is really tangible: all is lost with war, all can be reborn with peace. However, in order to rebuild a nation great moral energy is required. And here, once again, the role of the Church is important; she is called to carry out an educational role, working in depth to renew and form consciences.

St Paul is the Patron of the city of Luanda, the capital of Angola. This is why I chose to celebrate the Eucharist with the priests, seminarians, religious, catechists and other pastoral workers on Saturday 21 March, in the church dedicated to the Apostle. Once again St Paul's personal experience spoke to us of the encounter with the Risen Christ, capable of transforming people and society. Historical contexts change and it is necessary to be mindful of this but Christ remains the true force of radical renewal of man and of the human community. Therefore to return to God, to be converted to Christ means going ahead toward the fullness of life.

In Luanda, to express the Church's closeness to the efforts for the reconstruction of Angola and of so many African regions, I wanted to dedicate two special encounters respectively to youth and to women. With the young people, in the stadium, it was a celebration of joy and hope, unfortunately saddened by the death of two girls who were crushed by the crowd at the entrance. Africa is a very young continent but too many of its sons and daughters, children and adolescents, have already suffered serious wounds that only Jesus Christ, the Risen Crucified One can heal by imbuing in them, with his Spirit, the strength to love and to work for justice and peace. I then paid homage to the women for the service that so many of them offer to faith, to human dignity, to life, to the family. I reaffirmed their full right to be involved in public life, but not to the detriment of their role in the family, a fundamental mission to be carried out in responsible sharing with all the other members of society, especially with the husbands and fathers. So this was the message that I left to the new generations and to the world of women, extending it later to all at the great Eucharistic assembly on Sunday, 22 March, concelebrated with the Bishops of the countries of southern Africa, with the participation of a million of the faithful. If the African peoples I told them like ancient Israel, base their hope on the Word of God, rich in their religious and cultural heritage, they will truly be able to build a future of reconciliation and stable peace for all.

Dear brothers and sisters, how many other considerations I have in my heart and how many memories come to mind as I think of this journey! I ask you to thank the Lord for the marvels he has worked and continues to work in Africa thanks to the generous action of the missionaries, men and women religious, volunteers, priests and catechists, and in young communities full of enthusiasm and faith. I also ask you to pray for the African peoples, very dear to me, so that they may be able to face courageously the great social, financial and spiritual challenges of the present time. We entrust everything and everyone to the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, Queen of Africa, and of the African Saints and Blesseds.

To special groups

I welcome all the English-speaking visitors present today, including the school and university groups from Denmark, England and America. As Holy Week draws close, may your visit to Rome be a time of deep spiritual renewal. Upon all of you I invoke God's abundant Blessings of joy and peace.

Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. In the imminence of Holy Week in which we retrace the moments of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ, I would like to invite you to pause in intimate recollection, to contemplate this supreme Mystery from which our salvation flows. You will find in it, dear young people, a source of joy and you, dear sick people, comfort in feeling the suffering Face of the Saviour close to you. I hope that you, dear newlyweds, may move ahead with trust on the common path on which you have just set out, sustained by the joy of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

Saint Peter's Square

Audiences 2005-2013 18029