Yaoundé (AsiaNews) - Bringing the Gospel to those who are far away from it, and forming the laity in such a way that they are able to transform society according to the teachings of Catholic social doctrine. These are the fundamental mandates that Benedict XVI gave this morning to the bishops of Cameroon, during an encounter at the church of Christ-Roi in the Tsinga neighborhood of Yaoundé. On his second day in the country - which he called "little Africa," in that it sums up the characteristics of the entire continent - the pope first went on a ceremonial "courtesy" visit to President Paul Biya at the Palais de l’Unité, and then to his meeting with the bishops, accompanied by a celebratory crowd thronging the route of the popemobile.
In the Pauline Year, Benedict XVI's remarks on the journey of the Church of Africa naturally began from the "woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!" in the Letter to the Corinthians (1 Co. 9:16), calling missionary activity "a priority" and "an urgent necessity," which summons the bishop to a commitment that is above all personal, in that he is "the catechist par excellence."
In a country where Catholics are about one fourth of the population, mission must be fostered through "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."
Special attention should also be paid to the care of priests, and in their formation. They must be "loved, listened to, and offered comfort in their trials." At the same time, the bishops must "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." This also presupposes "serious discernment" among the many young people in the country who, like those all over Africa, want to become priests.
Evangelization requires that the Good News permeate society. This is the specific task of the laity, to whom the pope dedicated particular attention, beginning with those who work directly in mission, meaning the catechists. "Through their work, an authentic inculturation of the faith is taking place. Their human, spiritual and doctrinal formation is therefore indispensable."
The transformation of society is, therefore, the specific task of the laity: "they are empowered to proclaim the Gospel and to serve others, both individuals and society at large. I therefore strongly encourage you," Benedict XVI told the bishops, "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, 75). 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."
The pope, finally, did not conceal two "challenges" arising from modern society, represented by the situation of the family and that of the sects. In both cases, the answer comes from intensified evangelization. In regard to the family, "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."
Likewise, "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."
The pope's second day in Africa is scheduled to include, in the afternoon, his first public gathering with the celebration of Vespers - which will also have an ecumenical flavor - in the basilica dedicated to Mary Queen of the Apostles.