“Courage, rise up!” is also the leitmotif of the Synod’s final Message (Cf, “Synod Message: Africa, Rise up and walk!” in AsiaNews.it, 25 October 2009). It is an invitation to the people of the continent, “to the brothers and sisters of Africa who are suffering from poverty, disease, injustice, wars, violence and forced migration,” who are “the Heavenly Father’s the favourite children.” It is also an invitation to the Church in Africa to offer the “faith in Jesus Christ, when it is well understood and practiced, as guidance that can lead men and women as well as peoples to liberty in truth, or, to quote the Synod’s three key words, to reconciliation, justice and peace.” In fact the theme of the Synod was “Church in Africa to serve reconciliation, justice and peace: “You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world’,” (Mt 5:13 14).
In his address, the Pontiff emphasised how the Church is “salt” and “light”, a place where a fraternal continent can be built. “The Church is the Family of God, in which there can be no divisions along ethnic, linguistic or cultural lines. [. . .] A reconciled Church is a powerful lever for reconciliation in single nations and across the African continent as a whole,” a land that is defined by its many “religious, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and social affiliations.”
In their commitment, the Church and Christians are like priests whose commitment is “not primarily ritualistic any more but is instead existential.” Such a commitment entails making “ancient sacrifices” and “fully partaking in the human condition of one’s age, bearing witness to all of God’s love” so that we can “sow hope.”
For the Pope, the Church carries this message of salvation in its commitment to evangelisation and human promotion. In that regard, he referred to Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio, whose ideas came from missionaries in order to promote “development that was respectful of local cultures and the environment,” and whose “rationale appears today, after more than 40 years, as the only way to help African peoples break free from the slavery of hunger and disease.”
For practical purposes, this rationale is that of the social doctrine of the Church, highly praised by the synodal Fathers during the three weeks of the assembly, reaffirming the teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI himself. Quoting Caritas in veritate, the pontiff stressed the urgency of “renewing the model of global development so that it is able to include ‘within its range all peoples and not just the better off’ (39). What the social doctrine of the Church has always said based on its own vision of man and society, is required today by globalisation (cf. ibid). The latter, it must be said, should not be seen fatalistically as if its dynamics were the by-product of anonymous and impersonal forces acting independently of human will. Globalisation is a human reality and, as such, it can be changed according to one or another cultural perspective. On the basis of its personalist and communitarian views, the Church relates to this process in terms of relationships, brotherhood and sharing (cf. ibid, n. 42).
“As it offers the bread of the Word and the Eucharist, the Church is committed to operate with all means at its disposal to ensure that no African goes without his or her daily bread,” the Pope said. “For this reason and together with the primary need for evangelisation, Christians must be active in human promotion.”
In concluding, he said, “In such a demanding mission, you, pilgrim Church in Africa of the third millennium, are not alone. The whole Catholic Church is close to you in prayers and factual solidarity. From Heaven, African saints are by your side; through their lives, which in some cases entailed martyrdom, they demonstrated their total faithfulness to Christ.”
During the celebration, members of the Nigerian community of Rome and the Ethiopian College sang African chants.
At the end of the Mass, Benedict XVI moved towards the parvis in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Before the Angelus in a square overflowing with pilgrims, he stressed once again the values of the recently concluded African Synod, highlighting the “missionary drive” of Churches in Africa, “which found fertile ground in many dioceses, and expresses itself by sending missionaries to other African countries and continents.”
The Holy Father also said, “A Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East is set for next year”. It will address the difficult situation of that region’s Churches and communities.
After the Marian prayer, Benedict XVI mentioned that Don Carlo Gnocchi was beatified today in Milan. “He was a good educator of boys and young people first,” the Pope said. “During the Second World War, he served as chaplain in the Alpini elite mountain troops and shared their tragic retreat in the Russian Campaign, avoiding death by a miracle. After that, he decided to devote himself to charity work. In post-war Milan, Don Gnocchi worked to ‘restore the human person’ by helping and training orphans and the disabled. He gave all of himself and on his death, he donated his corneas to two blind children. His work continues today and the Don Gnocchi Foundation is a leading provider of assistance to people in need of rehabilitation, of all ages. As I greet Card Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan, I rejoice with the Ambrosian Church and make my own the motto of his beatification: ‘Close to life, always’.”