Yaoundé (AsiaNews) - Hope, rejection of violence, reconciliation. These are the great needs of the Church and of African society evoked today by Benedict XVI - who also recalled the injuries of the "dominion of money" and the drama of children who are abused or forced to become soldiers - on the day on which he presented to the presidents of the Churches of the entire continent the Instrumentum Laboris, or preparatory working document for the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, which will be held in October at the Vatican. This, the pope said, "reflects the great dynamism of the Church in Africa, but also the challenges that must be faced, which the Synod will have to consider." The presentation, which was the main reason for the pope's trip to the African continent, was the highlight of the day, which also included a significant meeting with 22 representatives of the Muslim community in the country.
To the Muslims, who make up about 22% of the population (of which one fourth is Catholic, 22% animist, and the rest Protestant), Benedict XVI substantially repeated the concepts expressed in his "lecture" in Regensburg on the relationship between faith and reason. "My friends," he said, "I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason, which is itself God’s gift and which is elevated by revelation and faith. Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it. We are called to help others see the subtle traces and mysterious presence of God in the world which he has marvellously created and continually sustains with his ineffable and all-embracing love.
"Genuine religion," he continued, "thus widens the horizon of human understanding and stands at the base of any authentically human culture. It rejects all forms of violence and totalitarianism: not only on principles of faith, but also of right reason. Indeed, religion and reason mutually reinforce one another since religion is purified and structured by reason, and reason’s full potential is unleashed by revelation and faith." Relations with Islam are the focus of an entire chapter of the Instrumentum Laboris, which states that "in certain places, coexistence with our Muslim brethren is sound and good; but in others, mistrust on both sides impairs serene dialogue: the conflicts caused by mixed marriages are proof of this." And furthermore, "the intolerance of certain Islamic groups generates hostility and fosters prejudice. Some of the current doctrinal positions concerning Jihad are also not helpful."
The director of the the Vatican press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, called today's meeting between the pope and Muslims "cordial and friendly." The Muslim representatives, he said, welcomed the pope with "affection," also telling him "you are not alone," a clear reference to the media controversy in recent days on the lifting of excommunication for the four Lefebvrist bishops.
The pope certainly did not feel alone this morning, among the 60,000 faithful who filled all of the spots in the stadium "Amadou Ahidjo" in Yaoundé - and thousands more who had to stay outside - for a Mass accompanied by the wonderfully tender songs of the African liturgy. The Mass was celebrated at an altar in the form of a large hut erected on a boat, and, on the feast day of St. Joseph, the pope wished "a very happy feast day to all those who, like myself, have received the grace of bearing this beautiful name."
Benedict XVI also used the figure of this Saint to talk about the family - fathers, mothers, children - and about that trust in God of which Joseph was and remains a model. "Dear fathers and mothers here today," he asked, "do you have trust in God who has called you to be the fathers and mothers of his adopted children? Do you accept that he is counting on you to pass on to your children the human and spiritual values that you yourselves have received and which will prepare them to live with love and respect for his holy name? At a time when so many people have no qualms about trying to impose the tyranny of materialism, with scant concern for the most deprived, you must be very careful. Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular, place themselves at risk if they do not recognize the True Author of Life! Brothers and sisters in Cameroon and throughout Africa, you who have received from God so many human virtues, take care of your souls! Do not let yourselves be captivated by selfish illusions and false ideals! Believe – yes! – continue to believe in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – he alone truly loves you in the way you yearn to be loved, he alone can satisfy you, can bring stability to your lives. Only Christ is the way of Life.
"Just as on other continents," he continued, "the family today - in your country and across Africa - is experiencing a difficult time; but fidelity to God will help see it through. Certain values of the traditional life have been overturned. Relationships between different generations have evolved in a way that no longer favours the transmission of accumulated knowledge and inherited wisdom. Too often we witness a rural exodus not unlike that known in many other periods of human history. The quality of family ties is deeply affected by this. Uprooted and fragile members of the younger generation who often - sadly - are without gainful employment, seek to cure their pain by living in ephemeral and man-made paradises which we know will never guarantee the human being a deep, abiding happiness. Sometimes the African people too are constrained to flee from themselves and abandon everything that once made up their interior richness. Confronted with the phenomenon of rapid urbanization, they leave the land, physically and morally: not as Abraham had done in response to the Lord’s call, but as a kind of interior exile which alienates them from their very being, from their brothers and sisters, and from God himself. Is this an irreversible, inevitable development? By no means! More than ever, we must 'hope against all hope' (Rom 4:18).
"Sons and daughters of Africa, do not be afraid to believe, to hope, and to love; do not be afraid to say that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that we can be saved by him alone." And "if discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Joseph, that descendant of Abraham who hoped against hope; if exasperation or hatred seizes you, think of the love of Joseph, who was the first man to set eyes on the human face of God in the person of the Infant conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Let us praise and thank Christ for having drawn so close to us, and for giving us Joseph as an example and model of love for him."
Finally, the pope had particularly powerful words for young people. "To all the young people present, I offer words of friendship and encouragement: as you face the challenges of life, take courage! Your life is priceless in the eyes of God! Let Christ take hold of you, agree to pledge your love to him, and – why not? – maybe even do so in the priesthood or in the consecrated life! This is the supreme service. To the children who no longer have a father, or who live abandoned in the poverty of the streets, to those forcibly separated from their parents, to the maltreated and abused, to those constrained to join paramilitary forces that are terrorizing some countries, I would like to say: God loves you, he has not forgotten you, and Saint Joseph protects you! Invoke him with confidence."