11/20/2011, 00.00
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Pope calls on Africans and their Churches to promote reconciliation, peace and justice

At the end of his visit to Benin, Benedict XVI handed the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Africae Munus-Commitment to Africa’ to the continent’s bishops. “The Church exists to proclaim this Good News! And this duty is always urgent!” The papal document calls for the defence of families, women, children and life. It calls for respect and care for AIDS patients but also a change in lifestyle. A dialogue with other religions, including Islam, whilst respecting the principle of religious freedom is at the centre of its message.
Cotonou (AsiaNews) – Reconciliation, peace, justice, concern and care for those who are hungry and thirsty, foreigners, the naked, sick or imprisoned, those who suffer or are outcast are the tasks and hopes Benedict XVI left Africans, especially the African Church, at the end of his trip to Benin where he handed the continent’s bishops’ conferences, the Apostolic Exhortation ‘Africae Munus’ (Commitment to Africa), which contains all the conclusions and proposals, re-elaborated by the pope, of the Synod of Bishops for Africa held in the Vatican in 2009.

Perhaps some 50,000 people crowded Cotonou’s Stade de l’Amitié to take part in the Mass celebrated by Benedict XVI together with more than 200 African bishops and about a thousand priests

The faithful came from Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire. Readings were in different languages: Bariba, English, Portuguese, Mina, Yaruba and Dendi. At the end of his homily, the pope offered his greetings in the Fon language.

The day dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe also marked 150 years of evangelisation in Benin. The two themes come together in Benedict XVI’s address.

“Jesus, the Son of Man, the ultimate judge of our lives, wished to appear as one who hungers and thirsts, as a stranger, as one of those who are naked, sick or imprisoned, ultimately, of those who suffer or are outcast; how we treat them will be taken as the way we treat Jesus himself. We do not see here a simple literary device, or a simple metaphor. Jesus’s entire existence is an example of it. He, the Son of God, became man, he shared our existence, even down to the smallest details, he became the servant of the least of his brothers and sisters. He who had nowhere to lay his head, was condemned to death on a cross. This is the King we celebrate!”

“Without a doubt this can appear a little disconcerting to us. Today, like two thousand years ago, accustomed to seeing the signs of royalty in success, power, money and ability, we find it hard to accept such a king, a king who makes himself the servant of the little ones, of the most humble, a king whose throne is a cross. And yet, the Scriptures tell us, in this is the glory of Christ revealed; it is in the humility of his earthly existence that he finds his power to judge the world. For him, to reign is to serve! And what he asks of us is to follow him along the way, to serve, to be attentive to the cry of the poor, the weak, the outcast.”

Jesus “introduces us to a new world, a world of freedom and joy. Today, so much still binds us to the world of the past, so many fears hold us prisoners and prevent us from living in freedom and happiness. Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past! Our faith in him, which frees us from all our fears and miseries, gives us access to a new world, a world where justice and truth are not a byword, a world of interior freedom and of peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. This is the gift God gave us at our baptism!

“[E]veryone who has received this marvellous gift of faith, this gift of an encounter with the risen Lord, feels in turn the need to proclaim it to others. The Church exists to proclaim this Good News! And this duty is always urgent! After 150 years, many are those who have not heard the message of salvation in Christ! Many, too, are those who are hesitant to open their hearts to the word of God! Many are those whose faith is weak, whose way of thinking, habits and lifestyle do not know the reality of the Gospel, and who think that seeking selfish satisfaction, easy gain or power is the ultimate goal of human life. With enthusiasm, be ardent witnesses of the faith, which you have received! Make the loving face of the Saviour shine in every place, in particular before the young, who search for reasons to live and hope in a difficult world!

“One of the first missions of the Church,” he said during the Angelus at the moment of the handover of the Africae Munus,” is the proclamation of Jesus Christ and his Gospel ad gentes, that is the evangelization of those at a distance from the Church in one way or another. I hope that this Exhortation will guide you in the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus in Africa.”

The 130-page’Africae Munus’ looks at the future as well. The formal handing over to the Churches of Africa was the central aspect of the papal visit. Dedicated to reconciliation, justice and peace, the Exhortation is divided in two parts. In the first, the structures of the Church mission to the continent are analysed. The goal is bring about reconciliation, justice and peace with the focus on evangelisation. The second part defines the areas of the Church’s apostolate, in particular education, health care and social media. Throughout the text, hope is the prevailing theme, based on an awareness of the continent’s intellectual, cultural and religious heritage but also of the contemporary challenges it faces.

Based on a quest of peace, the reconciliation advocated by the Church is with God and one’s fellow man. Even though the building of a just social order is political in nature, the Church has a duty to prepare the minds of men and women by educating them about divine justice, which is based on love. Living the justice of Christ means ending the plundering of the goods of the earth by a minority to the detriment of entire peoples. This is unacceptable and immoral. It also means ending the many bloody conflicts that conceal the interests of those who should be pursued in justice. It also means focusing on subsidiarity and solidarity, animated by charity and founded on the Beatitudes. Hence, “preferential attention is to be given to the poor, the hungry, the sick, ... to the stranger, the disadvantaged, the prisoner, the immigrant who is looked down upon, the refugee or displaced person” (AM 27).

The Exhortation goes further. It calls for the defence and protection of the family, threatened by a distorted view of marriage, the debasement of motherhood, the trivialisation of abortion, the easy access to divorce and the relativism of the new ‘ethics’. Similarly, it also calls for the defence and protection of women, who have an invaluable task in society and the Church, and children, who are threatened by intolerable conditions (child-soldiers, children forced into labour, children ill-treated on account of physical or mental handicap, children said to be witches or warlocks, albino children, children sold as sex slaves). Finally, the document calls for opposition to abortion, drugs, alcoholism, and diseases like AIDS. In the latter case, people living with the disease deserve love and respect as well as solutions that “provide everyone with access to treatments and medicines.” At the same time, there must be a change in attitudes and ethical approach.

Dialogue plays a central role in the promotion of reconciliation, not only with other Christians, but also with traditional religions and Islam. Muslims are sometimes aggressive but, according to the pope, it is important to respect Muslims. In the sense, the Church must be open to engage others in dialogue whilst upholding the principle of religious freedom.

The Exhortation ends with a strong plea for hope. Calling on Mary to intercede in order to clear a path for the continent’s evangelisation, the pope called on everyone to “become ever more an apostle of reconciliation, justice and peace” and on “the Catholic Church in Africa [to] always be one of the spiritual lungs of humanity”.
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