10/04/2009, 00.00
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Pope: the spiritual treasures of Africa under attack from materialism and fundamentalism

At the opening of the Synod for Africa, Benedict XVI highlights the value of the continent as a spiritual "lung” for humanity, but also the risks it is running faced with the first world’s cultural colonialism and exploited by religious fundamentalism, politics and economics. The primacy of God, marriage and children the most pressing challenges for evangelization. From the continent where in nearly 30 years the Church has tripled in size, the pope demands holiness that brings reconciliation and peace to society.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Africa, the continent that generally only makes the news for its material resources, wars, poverty, famine and ethnic conflicts, is now in the limelight because of its "spiritual and cultural resources, both "an immense spiritual 'lung', for a humanity that is in a crisis of faith and hope”. These resources risk being polluted by "practical materialism" and "religious fundamentalism" that require a new missionary commitment of the Church. This positive and realistic outlook was at the heart of Benedict XVI message delivered in his homily for the opening of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops on: "The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace . 'You are the salt of the earth ... You are the light of the world '(Mt 5, 13-14)”.


The Mass in St. Peter’s basilica was attended by 239 Synod Fathers and 55 priest collaborators at the Synod as well as thousands of faithful from around the world. The celebration was animated by a Congolese choir who together with the Sistine Chapel choir performed the songs of the liturgy.

The pope, who visited Cameroon and Angola in March, began by restating the ideal unity between this synod and the first one that was opened 15 years ago by Pope John Paul II in preparation for the Jubilee of 2000 and immediately stressed 'one of the salient and unifying traits of African culture" that being its "recognition of the absolute Lordship of God. "

The "treasures of Africa," the pontiff said,  of course include the "resources that are so abundant in its territory and which have sadly become, and sometimes continue to be, a cause of exploitation, conflict and corruption", but above all “mankind needs” its "spiritual and cultural” heritage “even more than its raw materials”.


But this "spiritual lung" that Africa is for a mankind "in crisis of faith and hope," risks "infection" from "two dangerous diseases": "First, a disease that has spread throughout the Western world, namely practical materialism, combined with relativistic and nihilistic thinking”. "The so-called 'first' world - explained Benedict XVI - at times has exported and is exporting spirituality toxic waste, which infects the population in other continents, including in particular those in Africa. In this sense, colonialism, which ended at a political level, never completely ended”.

The second "virus" is "religious fundamentalism, mixed with political and economic interests. Groups claiming different religious affiliations are spreading in Africa; they do so in the name of God, but according to a logic that is the opposite to that of God, they do not teach and practice love and respect for freedom, but intolerance and violence.

Parallel to the theme of the "supremacy of God" for the pope, the work of the synod must focus on two themes: that of marriage and children.

Faced with the multiple ways in which the marriage is experienced in African cultures, often marked by polygamy and the humiliation of the women, Benedict XVI says that "marriage as the Bible presents it, does not exist outside of our relationship with God".   This focus comes before "any kind of moral reflection or indication”. Thus, "to the extent that preserves and develops its faith, Africa can find huge resources to donate to the benefit of the family founded on marriage."

The third aspect that the synod should pay attention to is "the reality of childhood, which is a large and unfortunately suffering part of the African population."

The African Church, said the pontiff, "manifests her own motherhood particularly towards the smallest children, even those not yet born. As the Lord Jesus, the Church does not see them primarily as recipients of care, lesser still as vessels for pietism or exploitation, but persons in their own right”.

For the pope, to address these challenges, the Church in Africa must implement a "new evangelization, which takes account of the rapid social changes of our time and the phenomenon of worldwide globalization," becoming "light of the world and salt of the earth," as the title of the Synod suggests.

The commitment of the Church in Africa is among the most fruitful: from 1978 to 2007, the number of Catholics in the continent increased from 55 million to 146 million. For the pope, in addition to numbers, "we need to focus increasingly on the 'high standard' of Christian life, that is holiness. Pastors,  and all members of the ecclesial community, are called to be saints, the lay faithful are called to spread the fragrance of holiness in the family, workplace, school and all other social and political spheres. May the Church in Africa always be a family of true disciples of Christ, where the difference between ethnic groups becomes a motive and stimulus for mutual human and spiritual enrichment".  

"The vocation of the Church - he continued - a community of people reconciled with God and each other, is to be a prophecy and a ferment of reconciliation between different ethnic, linguistic, religious groups and even within individual nations and throughout the continent. Reconciliation, is a gift of God that men have to plead for and accept, it is the stable foundation on which to build peace, a prerequisite for true progress of mankind and society, according to the design of justice willed by God.  By the redeeming grace of the Risen Lord, Africa will be ever more enlightened by his light and, guided by the Holy Spirit, it will become a blessing for the universal Church, contributing their own and qualified to building a world more just and fraternal world”.

At the conclusion of his homily, Benedict XVI asked the "cloistered monasteries and religious communities in Africa and spread all over the world, parishes and movements, the sick and suffering" to accompany with prayer the work of the Synod fathers "so that the Lord render fruitful this second Special Assembly”.


Benedict XVI returned to speak of the African Synod also in the reflections before the Angelus from the window of his study overlooking St Peters Square.

He explained that the synod is not a "study conference", or "programming assembly". "We hear reports and speeches, we confront ourselves in groups, but we all know that we are not the protagonists: it is the Lord and his Holy Spirit, who guides the Church. The most important thing for everyone is listening: listening to one another and everyone, listening to what the Lord wants to tell us".

As in the Mass, he again recalled the "extraordinary human wealth" of the African continent and added, "Currently, its population amounts to about one billion people and its total fertility rate is the highest in the world . Africa is a land rich in human life, but this life is marked by so many, who unfortunately, sometimes suffer grave injustice and poverty. The Church is committed to overcoming this with the power of the Gospel and the concrete solidarity of many institutions and charitable initiatives. "

After the Marian prayer, the pontiff also spoke of "conflicts" that "threaten peace and security of the peoples of the African continent." In particular, he said he had followed in recent days "with concern the serious incidents of violence that have shaken the people of Guinea. I express my condolences to the bereaved families, I invite the parties to dialogue, reconciliation and trust that no efforts will be spared to reach a fair and equitable solution. "

Finally, he urged university students to join him and the Synod Fathers in a recitation of the Holy Rosary "with Africa and for Africa", on the afternoon of Saturday, October 10th.  The prayer, led by the pope in the Paul VI hall will be followed via satellite by students in some African cities.

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