Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI is asking all of the faithful to pray "invoking Mary, Mother and Queen of Africa," as his accompaniment on his first apostolic voyage to Africa next March 17-23. Speaking before the praying of the Angelus, from his window above St. Peter's Square, he said that he is departing "with the awareness of having nothing else to offer and give to those I will meet except for Christ and the Good News of his Cross, the mystery of supreme love, of divine love that overcomes all human resistance and makes it possible even to forgive and love one's enemies."
The pontiff will visit Yaoundé (Cameroon), to present to all the bishops of the continent "the 'working document' of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in October . . . at the Vatican." He will then go to Luanda (Angola), in "a country that, after its long internal war, has regained peace and is now called to rebuild itself in justice."
"With this visit," the pope explained, "I intend to embrace by extension the entire African continent: its thousands of differences, and its profound religious spirit; its ancient cultures and its laborious journey of development and reconciliation; its serious problems, its painful wounds, and its enormous possibilities and hopes. I intend to strengthen the Catholics in their faith, encourage the Christians in their ecumenical efforts, and bring to all the proclamation of peace entrusted to the Church by the risen Lord."
After this, referring to one of the readings for today, the Third Sunday of Lent, taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians - in which Paul asserts that he proclaims Christ crucified, "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:23-24) - he stressed that he has nothing else to "offer and give" other than the "Good News of his Cross." And he added: "This is the grace of the Gospel that is capable of transforming the world; this is the grace that can renew Africa, because it generates an irresistible power of peace and of profound, radical reconciliation. The Church, then, does not pursue economic, social, and political goals; the Church proclaims Christ, certain that the Gospel can touch the hearts of all and transform them, thus renewing persons and societies from within."
During his visit to Africa, Benedict XVI will celebrate his name day (St. Joseph, March 19). The pope is also entrusting his pilgrimage to him: "Saint Joseph," he said, "warned by an angel in a dream, had to flee with Mary to Egypt, in the northwest [sic] of Africa, in order to protect the newborn Jesus, whom Herod wanted to kill. This fulfilled the Scriptures: Jesus trod in the footsteps of the ancient patriarchs, and, like the people of Israel, he returned to the Promised Land after being in exile in Egypt. I entrust to the heavenly intercession of this great Saint the upcoming pilgrimage and the populations of Africa as a whole, with the challenges that mark them and the hopes that animate them. In particular, I think of the victims of hunger, of disease, of injustice, of fratricidal conflicts, and of every form of violence that unfortunately continues to afflict adults and children, without sparing missionaries, priests, religious, and volunteers."
After the praying of the Angelus, the pope greeted the university students and professors in Rome for the "Pauline Jubilee of the Universities," promoted by the Congregation for Catholic Education and by the Pontifical Council for Culture and organized by the Vicariate of Rome. "I hope," the pontiff said, "that pastoral work may be developed in all the particular Churches, for the formation of young people and for the elaboration of a culture inspired by the Gospel. Dear university [students and teachers], I encourage you and I accompany you with my prayers."
After the many greetings in the various languages, Benedict XVI addressed the Girl Scouts, the members of the Associazione Italiana Guide e Scouts d'Europa Cattolici, who filled St. Peter's Square almost to capacity. "Dear girls," the pope said, "always say your 'here I am!' to God, like the Virgin Mary; say it with your hearts, and you will be rays of light for the world. Thank you for coming!"