S. John Paul II Homil. 303
304 “I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice . . . and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations” (Is 42,6).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We have entered Holy Week, and our thoughts turn to our Lord Jesus Christ in the great victory of justice that is his during these holy days.
In his Passion, Death and Resurrection, Jesus accomplishes the mission to which his Father calls him. He conquers sin and restores humanity to the justice of God. Through the offering of himself in sacrifice, Jesus brings about a new covenant in his own blood, and he becomes for ever the light of the nations.
In commemorating the events of Holy Week, we do much more than just recall Christ’s suffering and glorification. We actually celebrate his life and share in his victory. The saving power of his Death and Resurrection enters our lives. And Jesus becomes for each of us, and for all of us, light and salvation.
If we accept him, then through his Paschal Mystery he will dispel all the darkness of our lives, and he will take away all fear from our hearts.
And today, in the words of the Psalmist, we proclaim the power of the Lord: “The Lord is my light and my salvation” (Ps 27,1). We proclaim Jesus Christ as the suffering Servant and the very Son of God. In his Passion, Death and Resurrection, we proclaim Jesus as the light of the nations and the Savior of the world!
Uhuru Park - Nairobi (Kenya)
Sunday, 18 August 1985
“Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest” (Jn 12,24). Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ; beloved Pilgrims from all the continents of the world,
1. These words were spoken by the Lord Jesus as he thought of his own death. He himself first of all is that “grain of wheat” which “falls on the ground and dies”. The Son of God, of the same substance as the Father, God from God and Light from Light, was made man. He entered into the life of ordinary men and women as the son of the Virgin Mary of Nazareth. And finally he accepted death on the Cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. Precisely in this way the grain of wheat dies and yields a rich harvest. It is the harvest of the Redemption of the world, the harvest of the salvation of souls, the power of truth and love as the beginning of eternal life in God.
305 In this way the parable of the grain of wheat helps us to understand the very mystery of Christ.
2. At the same time, the grain of wheat that “falls on the ground and dies” becomes the pledge of bread. A man harvests from his fields the heads of grain which have grown from the single grain and, transforming the collected grains into flour, he makes bread from it as food for his own body. In this way Christ’s parable about the grain of wheat helps us to understand the mystery of the Eucharist.
In fact, at the Last Supper, Christ took bread in his own hands, blessed it and said these words over it: “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you”. And the broken Bread which had become in a sacramental way his own Body he distributed to the Apostles.
In a similar way he brought about the transubstantiation of the wine into his own Blood, and distributing it to the Apostles, said: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all men so that sins may be forgiven”. And then he added: “Do this in memory of me”.
3. This is how the mystery of Christ remains among us through the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The mystery of the Redeemer of the world who gave himself up for us all, offering his Body and Blood in the Sacrifice of the Cross. Thanks to the Eucharist the words of our Redeemer are fulfilled: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you” (Jn 14,18).
In this Sacrament he is always coming to us. We are not orphans. He is with us!
In the Eucharist he also brings us his peace, and he helps us to overcome our weaknesses and fears. It is just as he had foretold: “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14,27).
And hence, from the beginning, the disciples and witnesses of our Crucified and Risen Lord “remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Ac 2,42).
They remained faithful “to the breaking of bread”. In other words, the Eucharist constituted the very centre of their life, the centre of the life of the Christian community, the centre of the life of the Church.
Thus it was at the beginning in Jerusalem. Thus it has been everywhere, wherever faith in the Gospel together with the teaching of the Apostles has been introduced. From generation to generation it has been so among different peoples and nations. Thus it has also been on the African continent since the Gospel first reached these lands through the missionaries, and since it produced its first fruits in a community assembled to celebrate the Eucharist.
4. Today this community united in Christ extends over almost the entire continent. This community of seventy million people is a great sign of fruitfulness of the Eucharist; the power of Christ’s Gospel has been revealed in Africa. From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is praised on African soil. Sons and daughters of Africa faithfully transmit the teachings of the Apostles, and the Eucharist is continuously offered for the glory of God and the well-being of every human being on this continent. The authentic living of Religious Life and the existence of millions of Christian families are proof that the grain of wheat has yielded a rich harvest to the glory of the Blood of Jesus and to the honour of all Africa.
306 5. Another expression of the maturity of the Christian community and of the growth of the Church is the fact that for the first time an International Eucharistic Congress is taking place in the heart of the African continent: the whole world praises God for the Forty-third International Eucharistic Congress in Nairobi.
Today this Congress reaches its climax. By this “Statio Orbis”, Africa, united through its Bishops, gathered about the Successor of Peter, proclaims before the whole world the saving truth of the Eucharist.
This Congress is like a great reflection of that first Christian community in Jerusalem which was “faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Ac 2,42).
The mystery of the Eucharist is joyfully proclaimed by the Eucharistic Congress before the whole Church and the whole world.
In the message which this Congress announces to the world there is a strong and clear echo of the words of Christ: “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever” (Jn 6,51).
6. The message of the Eucharistic Congress contains within itself - just like the very mystery of the Eucharist - an invitation to love. At the first Eucharist, on the evening before he gave his life for us on the Cross, our Saviour said to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples (Ibid.13, 34-35).
The love of Christ that is received as a gift must in turn be given as a gift. Christ’s love poured out upon us abundantly in the one bread and the one cup must be shared with our neighbour: with the neighbour who is poor or homeless, with the neighbour who is sick or in prison, with the neighbour who belongs to a different tribe or race or who does not believe in Christ.
7. Christ’s invitation to love, addressed to us once more in this Eucharistic Congress, is meant above all for the Christian family.
It is as if the Lord were speaking to each member of the family. Wives, love your husbands just as Christ has loved you. Husbands, love your wives “just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy” (Ep 5,25). “Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord - that is your duty . . . And parents, never drive your children to resentment but in bringing them up correct them and guide them as the Lord does” (Ibid. 6, 1. 4). Take as your model the Holy Family at Nazareth: the purity and loving tenderness of Mary, the fidelity and honesty of Joseph and his generosity in daily work, the humility and obedience of Jesus.
And Christ’s invitation to love is especially relevant in the practice of conjugal love. The exclusive and unbreakable union of husband and wife expresses itself best in mutual self-giving. Couples who continually seek to love and support one another share in a special way in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. They reflect like a mirror the ever faithful love of God for his people. Married love is fruitful, with a fruitfulness that is shown especially in children. And every child brings a renewed invitation to love with still greater generosity.
8. To feed and clothe and care for each child requires much sacrifice and hard work. In addition, parents have the duty of educating their children. As the Second Vatican Council says: “Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs” (Gravissimum Educationis GE 3).
307 While married love is exclusive in its most intimate expression of self-giving, it is also marked by the power of generously welcoming children and of reaching out in care and service to members of the extended family, to the local community and to society as a whole. The Christian family fulfils a key role in small Christian communities and in the life and mission of the Church. While no family is without sin and selfishness and the tensions which these provoke, yet by the power of the Holy Spirit these can all be forgiven and overcome, and the family can contribute to the Church’s task of reconciliation, unity and peace.
9. Christ’s invitation to love, addressed to the Christian family, is seen in a new perspective when considered in the light of the first reading of today’s liturgy. The Lord says to his people through the Prophet Hosea: “I will betroth you to myself for ever, betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love; I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness” (Os 2,19-21).
The Christian family is called to be a sign in the world of God’s faithful love for his people. But in order to be so, the Christian family is first of all invited to receive and be filled with God’s love. For the family is designed by providence to be a community in dialogue with God. That is why prayer and the sacraments should enjoy a place of prominence in family life.
Most important of all is the Eucharist, in which Christ’s covenant of love with the Church is commemorated and renewed, and in which a husband and wife find strength and nourishment for their own marriage covenant.
The Sacrament of Penance offers members of the family the grace needed for conversion and for overcoming whatever divisions sin has brought about in the home. “While they discover in faith that sin contradicts not only the covenant with God, but also the covenant between husband and wife and the communion of the family, the married couple and the other members of the family are led to an encounter with God, who is ‘rich in mercy’, who bestows on them his love which is more powerful than sin, and who reconstructs and brings to perfection the marriage covenant and the family communion” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 58).
Prayer is essential to the life of every Christian, but family prayer has its own special character. Since it is a form of shared prayer, it has to be shaped and adapted according to the size and make-up of each family. Few activities influence a family more deeply than their prayer together. Prayer fosters reverence for God and respect for one another. It places joys and sorrows, hopes and disappointments, every event and circumstance, within the perspective of God’s mercy and providence. Family prayer opens the heart of each member to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and helps the family to be more united in itself, yet more ready to serve the Church and society.
10. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of Life. It fills the human soul with divine life, and it is the pledge of eternal life. Through the Eucharist Christ always speaks to us those words which he said on the eve of his Passion and Death: “There are many rooms in my Father’s house; . . . I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too” (Jn 14,2-3).
The Eucharistic celebration lifts us out of the routine of daily life. It directs our spiritual gaze forwards and upwards. The Eucharist helps us here and now “not to lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection” (He 12,2). It also helps us to keep in mind the finishing line of the race which we began in Baptism, the real purpose of our life, our ultimate destiny. Christ wants us to be with him for ever in eternity; he wants us to enter once and for all into his Father’s house where he has prepared a place for us. The Eucharist increases our desire for this fullness of life and unity in Christ which we shall find in heaven alone. And the Eucharist is a sure promise of our achieving it.
11. Dear Brothers and Sisters, dear Cardinal Otunga and all my brother Bishops and priests, beloved men and women religious, dear parents of families, children and young people, single people and the elderly, all of you who are taking part in this Eucharistic Congress by your presence here physically or spiritually: the Church of Jesus Christ which has taken root throughout the earth offers to the world with joy and gratitude, through my ministry as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter, the Eucharistic message of this Congress.
The Church sees in this Congress a particular result of all her missionary and pastoral labours since the beginning of evangelisation on the African continent, and for this result she gives thanks and praise to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, drawing from the young and lively faith of Africa, the whole Church desires to renew her missionary zeal just as the Second Vatican Council manifested it twenty years ago; for the Church is by her very nature missionary!
308 May Christ in the Eucharist, as “the grain of wheat” fallen on the soil of Africa, bring forth in his body the Church a rich harvest for eternal life!
Saturday, 17 August 1985
“There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. The mother of Jesus was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited” (Jn 2,1-2).
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. The principal theme of the Eucharistic Congress in Nairobi is the Eucharist and the Christian Family. And it is a great joy for me to proclaim this truth to the young couples who are being married and to the many other young people present here today. The reading from the Gospel of Saint John helps us to enter into this theme and to understand its full meaning.
Jesus was present at Cana in Galilee with the newly-married couple. He had accepted their wedding invitation. He was with them. He was for them.
The Eucharist is the Sacrament in which Jesus Christ is with us today in a very special way. He is in our midst, offering in an unbloody manner the same Sacrifice that he offered on the altar of the Cross, giving his life for the salvation of the world. In this most holy Sacrament Christ is with us to the end of time, and he is for us.
2. According to Saint John, the first miracle of the public messianic activity of Jesus took place at Cana in Galilee. And in his presence there we can see a distinctive Eucharistic aspect.
In a certain way Christ’s presence at the feast of Cana prefigures the Eucharistic Supper. At the same time it also directs our Christian consciousness to the Sacrament of Marriage. Jesus is present with every newly-wed couple; he is in their midst as they commit themselves to each other for life in marriage. Jesus reaffirms God’s plan for marriage as the most fundamental human institution, going back to the very beginning of human history.
309 In the book of Genesis we read: «God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it’» (Gn 1,27-28). Right from the beginning, God created them “male and female” and destined them to form a communion of persons which would be fruitful. “He calls them to a special sharing in his love and in his power as Creator and Father, through their free and responsible co-operation in transmitting the gift of human life” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 28). United in God’s sight and enjoying his special blessing, man and woman were to rule over the created universe. And thus we see that the institution of marriage coincides with the creation of man and woman in the beginning.
3. On one occasion, in a discussion with the Pharisees, the Lord Jesus not only repeated the teaching on marriage found in the Book of Genesis, but he reconfirmed it with particular emphasis. He said: “What God has united, man must not divide” (Mt 19,6). Therefore the mystery of marriage instituted by the Creator “in the beginning” of the existence of the human race, as the foundation of the future, is reconfirmed by Christ. He places on it the seal of the Gospel, the seal of the New Covenant in his blood (Cfr. Luc Lc 22,20).
That is why in every age the Church continues to teach the unchanging truth, that marriage is indissoluble. When couples freely receive this Sacrament, as they are doing this afternoon, they establish an unbreakable oneness. Having become a new creation in the waters of Baptism, they are able in marriage to be a living sign of the ever-faithful love of Christ for the Church. Their love for one another, their conjugal love, can last until death, not because of their own strength or merits but because of Christ’s grace at work within them.
4. The fact that we find Jesus of Nazareth with the newly-wed couple at Cana in Galilee right at the beginning of his messianic activity speaks most eloquently. It is like a prophetic declaration that henceforth he wishes to be with all couples who through their married vows become ministers of the Sacrament of their life together. He is present with them through his grace. This grace is the saving power of God, his gift, which makes human life - and in this case married life - worthy of man, worthy of the children of God.
5. Very significant also is the actual miracle performed at Cana, the first sign of the messianic Kingdom. Jesus changes water into wine. In so doing he transforms and ennobles the drink which will be offered to the wedding guests. What is even more eloquent is this: the truth of the Gospel and the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage transform and ennoble all married life if the couple follow this truth faithfully, if they collaborate with this grace!
6. Above all, what is ennobled is conjugal love, that thoroughly human love which is united to the divine, and which is for the good of both husband and wife. It “leads the spouses to a free and mutual gift of themselves, a gift proving itself by gentle affection and by deed. Such love pervades the whole of their lives” (Gaudium et Spes GS 49). It is a love such as Saint Paul describes in the First Letter to the Corinthians, which we have listened to in today’s liturgy: “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes” (1Co 13,4-7).
7. The fruit of faithful love is a communion of minds and hearts. The love of Christ on the Cross has overcome the divisions caused by sin, and married love which has been ennobled in Christian marriage shares in the power of Christ’s unifying love. Every married couple therefore, and all Christian families, are given the grace and responsibility of becoming a community of persons. That is why I said in my Apostolic Exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world: “Its first task is to live with fidelity the reality of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community of persons” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 18).
Just as the Christian life requires continual conversion, so married life requires the couple to make constant and generous efforts to deepen their conjugal communion. By God’s design there exists a natural complementarity and attraction between man and woman. But these still have to be developed and fostered by loving attention to each other’s needs, and above all by recourse to the graces received in the Sacrament. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and Love, is poured out upon the married couple in a special way in the Sacrament, and he will help them in their desire to overcome personal shortcomings and selfishness and to achieve ever greater communion in Christ.
It is also important to recall here that “such a communion is radically contradicted by polygamy: this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 19). In the Old Testament, polygamy was sometimes tolerated. But in the New Covenant Our Saviour restored marriage to its original state as a communion of one man and one woman.
8. Together with this task of fostering a communion of persons, husbands and wives also fulfil a vital role in the service of human life, in particular through that special honour and duty which is theirs of bringing children into the world and educating them.
The vocation of marriage requires great sacrifice and generosity on the part of both husband and wife. And the fullest sign of this mutual self-giving is expressed when the couple willingly accept children and bring them up in the knowledge and love of God. As the Second Vatican Council teaches: “While not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to co-operate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour, who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day” (Gaudium et Spes GS 50). That is why anti-life actions such as contraception and abortion are wrong and are unworthy of good husbands and wives.
310 9. Because families play such a crucial part in society and in the Church, and because of the many threats and obstacles to stable family life today, the preparation of young people for marriage is more necessary than ever before. It is important to stress the interpersonal nature of marriage, built on a solid appreciation of the dignity of both man and woman and their natural complementarity. Young people planning for their future need to be made aware of the continual effort required to foster this unique interpersonal relationship, which rests on mutual respect and truth, open communication and a willingness to listen to the mind and the heart.
Perhaps there was a time when the family and local community prepared young people for marriage quite well, but in many places today little preparation is provided. Thus, it should not be too quickly assumed that young men and women are already aware of the basic requirements for a well-ordered family life. They may in fact have great fears and doubts about whether they can live up to the Christian ideals of marriage. They should therefore be carefully instructed concerning the grace of marriage, the role of the Sacrament in the mission of the Church, and its relationship with the other Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. Important too is a proper understanding of the nature of sexuality and responsible parenthood, including the methods of natural family planning and the reasons for its use.
In this context, I would like to repeat what I said to the Bishops of Kenya at the time of my previous Pastoral Visit to your country: “Be assured of my solidarity with you in this great task involving the diligent preparation of the young for marriage, the repeated proclamation of the unity and indissolubility of marriage, and the renewed invitation to the faithful to accept and foster with faith and love the Catholic celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage. Success in a pastoral programme of this nature requires patience and perseverance and a strong conviction that Christ has come to «make all things new»” (Ap 21,5).
10. The Eucharistic Congress in Nairobi - the second International Eucharistic Congress on the African continent, the first in the heart of Africa - is a great invitation to the Banquet of the Lord. In this Banquet is renewed the mystery of our Redemption through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, and all of us are united in Christ and through Christ with one another as brothers and sisters: children of the same Father.
At the same time, this Eucharistic invitation to the Paschal banquet of our salvation should recall in a particular way the Sacrament of Marriage, which is ordered towards the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist is found the source of life and holiness for everyone, in particular for husbands and wives and their families, for the young couples who are being married today and for all the young people of Kenya.
11. Today then all those taking part in the Eucharistic Congress in Nairobi have been invited to Cana in Galilee. Reflecting on the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee, all husbands and wives and every family can fully realise that Jesus Christ, Jesus in the Eucharist, is with them, among them and for them. Jesus is present through his apostolic Church just as at Cana he was present with the Apostles. He is present in a special way through the mediation of Mary, Mother of Christ.
It was Mary who asked her Son to perform the miracle of changing water into wine. It is she who now asks her Son to sanctify human love; she asks him to grant married couples the grace of true conjugal love, - love which is faithful until death and which becomes for both parents and children the great gift of human life.
It is also she, Mary, who says to all husbands and wives and to all families: “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2,5). Dear brothers and sisters, dear spouses and parents, dear young people of Kenya: receive Jesus into your communities! Receive the Redeemer of the world! Listen to Mary, for Mary will lead you to Christ!
And it is Christ who offers to you, the youth of this land, the wonderful gift of the Eucharist. It is he, Jesus Christ, who proclaims to you the truth of marriage and human love. It is he, Jesus Christ, who offers you, young people of Kenya, the fullness of life, eternal life, in union with the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
311 Bamenda Airport (Cameroon)
Monday, 12 August 1985
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Praised be our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
In his name we are gathered to reflect on the theme of the family) and to celebrate the mystery of love and life.
I greet the Bishops present here, from Cameroon and from other countries. A special greeting to the priests and the men and women religious: those from Cameroon itself and those who have come from other parts of the world to serve the Church here!
I express my appreciation to the civil authorities for their presence. I am deeply grateful for the generous welcome I have received from everyone.
I greet all for you, brothers and sisters in Christ, especially the lay people from the Archdiocese of Bamenda, from the Diocese of Buea and from the Diocese of Kumbo. My visit is meant for this Ecclesiastical Province, and for all who are here today in a spirit of friendship and good will. I would like to meet each one of you, and to listen to the words of your hearts. I know that you are happy to receive the Successor of Peter in your midst, and that you are closely united to the See of Peter. May this always be a sign of our total acceptance of the Gospel of Christ!
1. Today Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel, saying: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Mt 19,4). Herein lies one of the most profound truths regarding God’s plan for the human race. Male and female complement each other as qualities of persons having unique physical, psychological and spiritual gifts that make up the individuality of each one.
He who made them is God, our Creator, the Blessed Trinity from whom all good things come: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gn 1,31). Among the “good things” which he made, the institutions of marriage and the family exist “from the beginning”. This is the theme of our liturgical celebration: God’s plan for marriage and the family “from the beginning”.
Marriage is the covenant about which Saint Paul speaks to us: “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and to the Church” (Ep 5,32). The marriage covenant, which unites a man and a woman in an unbreakable bond of life and love, reflects the new and everlasting covenant which unites God and his People “in Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom who loves and gives himself as the Saviour of humanity, uniting it to himself as his body (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 13).
312 2. The Pharisees ask Christ a question about marriage: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (Mt 19,3). This question goes to the heart of the marriage covenant. Is married love a unique bond which implies unity and indissolubility? Or is it a lesser bond which can be changed or broken according to circumstance? The answer given by Jesus is a direct reference to God’s plan as it is evident from the beginning”. “The two (man or woman) shall become one flesh” (Mt 19,5). No matter what other considerations have arisen in the course of time, “from the beginning” it has always been true that what God has joined together man must not put asunder.
The answer which Christ gave to the people of his time he continues to give to all people in every age, and in all countries and continents. He gives it again here today in Cameroon. This answer says that marriage is a permanent and unbreakable covenant between a man and a woman. As such, marriage is also the “sacrament” of Christ’s unchanging love for his Church.
For the specific context of Africa, the Bishops of this continent, gathered at Yaoundé in 1981, expressed this important aspect of Christian marriage in a recommendation of the Sixth General Assembly of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar: “Having become new creatures, African Christians will live their marriage and family covenant as a sacramental manifestation of the union of Christ and the Church, transforming these basic human realities from within”. Yes, it is in Christ’s love that married couples and families share when their life is rooted in the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage.
3. Christ’s reference to “the beginning” leads us back to the Book of Genesis, from which the first reading of this Eucharistic celebration is taken. “Then God said: ‘Let us make man in our image . . .’ so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gn 1,26-27). The original image is the image of eternal God, the communion of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The image of God in man reaches a particular richness in the communion of persons existing between a man and a woman within the marriage covenant, a communion which God has willed “from the beginning”. Married life affirms human dignity through a special interpersonal relationship. Whenever married life and family life are hurt through personal selfishness or damaged through material and social inadequacies, it is the fundamental dignity of human beings, dynamically oriented to grow in the image of God, that is dishonoured. Both men and women are called to live in dignity: both reflect equally the likeness of God.
The words of the Responsorial Psalm apply to each of God’s sons and daughters: “What is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god; with glory and honour you crowned him, gave him power over the works of your hand, put all things under his feet” (Ps 8,4-6). These words extol the dignity of every human being. The image of God who is love is deeply reflected in the permanent and unbreakable communion of life and love which is marriage. Many of your traditions and customs emphasise the dignity of marriage and family life in African society.
The Second Vatican Council recognised that the Church is enriched by “the treasures hidden in the various forms of human culture” (Gaudium et Spes GS 44). The Church therefore respects and promotes what is most noble in these social customs. At the same time, fulfilling her mission to make known “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ep 3,8), the Church calls upon all societies to uphold the wisdom that is “from the beginning” and in this way to defend and strengthen the dignity of all God’s children.
Your Bishops are zealously facing the important task of “incarnating” the Gospel message in African life and culture. In bringing the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family - a teaching that is universal and permanent in its validity - to bear on the realities of African traditions, your Bishops and the Holy See work together, sustained by a shared desire to remain ever faithful to Christ and to the living tradition and Magisterium of the Church. If the Church in Africa remains united in the same doctrine and in a concerted response to the challenge of inculturation, she will be strong and effective in guiding married couples and families to live according to God’s plan in truth and holiness of life.
4. The Responsorial Psalm points to another aspect of man’s unique dignity. God calls on man to be responsible with him for the whole of creation: “You gave him power over the works of your hand” (Ps 8,6). In fact, as the Book of Genesis indicates, God invites man and woman as a married couple to share in his own creative work: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1,28). The transmission of life, so highly valued in your African traditions, and the love which you have for your children - are these not a special part of the “glory and honour” which the Psalm attributes to man? Yes, your glad acceptance of your children as God’s gift to you stands to your glory and honour!
But today there is a powerful anti-life mentality. It is more widespread in developed nations, but it is also being transmitted to the developing nations as if it were the compulsory path to development and progress. On this point I would like to repeat what I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio: “The Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God’s goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life she sees the splendour of that “Yes”, that “Amen”, who is Christ himself. To the “No” which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living “Yes”, thus defending the human person and the world from all who plot against and harm life” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 30).
5. This does not mean that the Church fails to recognise the grave problems posed by population growth in some parts of the world, or the difficult situations sometimes facing couples in the responsible transmission of life. With respect to the moral aspect of these serious questions, I wish to express particular encouragement to your Bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders who are responding to the recommendation of “Familiaris Consortio” to make a more decisive and more systematic effort to make the natural methods of regulating fertility known, respected and applied” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 35).
In a letter to priests, Archbishop Verdzekov has emphasised “our duty and our grave obligation to proclaim the integral teaching of the Church on Responsible Parenthood through systematic catechises, and to help our Christians to live that teaching. For how can our Christians live according to that teaching if they have never heard it?” (Epistula Archiepiscopi Verdzekov ad Sacerdotes, die 12 iul. 1982). The good work being done by the Family Life Association of Cameroon at the parish, diocesan and provincial levels can also help many couples to live their sacramental union in fullness and harmony.
313 6. The family is a special community of persons. In the family, parents are bound to each other by the marriage covenant; children are God’s special gift to parents, to society and to the nation. The joy that you experience in your children is like the joy that Jesus felt when he called them to be near him: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Lc 18,16). To the children and to the young people of Cameroon I would like to say that Jesus calls you to love your families. Strengthen them with your joy and trust and obedience! It is up to you to help make your families centres of love, peace and holiness!
Traditionally, the extended family has played an important part in strengthening family life and in deciding the way family questions are faced and resolved. Where changing economic and social conditions tend to weaken the constructive role of the extended family, the whole Christian community, as a community of human and spiritual solidarity, eager to observe the Gospel commandment of love, should feel impelled to offer concrete support to families in need, and to promote in public life adequate programmes of assistance and subsidiarity.
But the actual members of the family, especially the parents, are mainly responsible for the quality of family life. Some of the important virtues required for a happy and holy family life are listed in the text of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians which we have heard read in the Liturgy of the Word: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another, and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3,12-13). The revealed word of God teaches us that the path to all human well-being is the path of forgiveness and love!
Dear families of Cameroon: I wish to leave you this message: learn to build your family life on love! Do not give in to the forces which weaken and destroy the unity, stability and happiness of your families. Do not follow the path of selfish materialism and consumerism which have produced so much suffering in other parts of the world and which you too are now beginning to experience. Do not listen to ideologies which allow society or the State to take over the rights and responsibilities which belong to families (Cfr. IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 45).
Families of Cameroon: make every effort to preserve the spiritual and ethical values of marriage and family life. They are the only effective safeguards of the dignity of the individual. These values are necessary if your society is to offer conditions of justice and progress to all its citizens.
“And above all these, put on love” (Col 3,14). Within this love, the relationships of authority and obedience, of education and learning, of freedom and responsibility, which make up such a great part of the daily life of families, will find their natural expression. Through compassion and kindness and patience, and the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of others, may your families live in a climate of love like the family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
7. At this point I appeal to the civil authorities of all Africa, and to all who have public responsibility for family life: I ask them to work to ensure the implementation of the Charter of the Rights of the Family which the Holy See has drawn up on the basis of the fundamental rights inherent in the family as a natural and universal society. The Charter reflects the values which are already enunciated in the declarations of the various International Organisations with competence in this field: values which are inscribed in the conscience of every man and woman.
The Church wishes to collaborate with all those whose task it is to formulate and implement family policy. The Church’s intention and mission is to serve the family and proclaim to this generation and to the generations to come God’s plan that exists “from the beginning”. The future of society is threatened wherever the family is weakened. The well-being of individuals and of society is safeguarded where customs, laws, and political, social and educational institutions contribute to the strengthening of marriage and the family. For the good of mankind the family must be defended and respected.
8. And now, in union with the entire Church in Cameroon I wish to say to each family what Saint Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col 3,15).
May this wish become our fervent prayer during this Eucharistic celebration, which we offer to the Father in union with Christ his Son. May peace - the peace of Christ - be upon all the families of Africa and of the whole world!
S. John Paul II Homil. 303