Benedict XVI: Apostolic trips, his love and hopes for Africa.
Festus Tarawalie – Vatican City.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called on Catholics in Africa to strengthen their faith and hope in God and to be artisans of unity and reconciliation during his apostolic trips to Africa.
Embracing all African people
The first visit in 2009, the 11th international trip of his pontificate, took Benedict to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, from the 17 - 20 March and then to the Angolan capital Luanda from the 20 - 23 March 2009. Benedict would later say that his visit was limited to the two countries but “intended to embrace in spirit all the African peoples and to bless them in the Lord’s name” (Gen. Audience 1 April 2009).
Speaking about Cameroon, Pope Benedict said he chose to go there first because the “country sums up many features of the vast continent of Africa and first and foremost its profoundly religious spirit which all the very numerous ethnic groups that populate it have in common” (Welcome address, 17 March 2009).
Benedict XVI then spoke about some of the continent’s challenges and what Africa needs going forward.
Instrumentum Laboris - Second African Synod
High on the agenda of the visit to Cameroon was the promulgation of the Instrumentum Laboris or working document of the Second African Synod during Holy Mass celebrated on the feast of St Joseph, 19 March.
Before presenting the document to the bishops of Africa, he offered the example of St. Joseph and the Holy Family of Nazareth as a model for African families.
The humanizing action of Christ’s message
Another high moment of the Apostolic voyage in Cameroon was the Pope’s meeting with the sick at the Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger Centre for disabled and disadvantaged youngsters in Yaoundé. He referred to it as “a powerful sign of the humanizing action of Christ’s message.”
Benedict, in his address, remembered the many people in Africa who suffer from diseases such as Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis. He encouraged the Church’s efforts to comfort those suffering, reiterating the total respect for life from conception to its natural end.
The Pope offered the example of Simon of Cyrene, an African who helped Jesus carry his cross, as a model of how we can be close to the world of suffering.
He told his audience they were not alone in their pain, for Christ is close to all who suffer. “He reveals to the sick and infirm their place in the heart of God and in society”, Benedict XVI said.
God chose Africa as a place of refuge
In a meeting with the Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (19 March 2009), Pope Benedict XVI recalled the intimate bond between Africa and Christianity. He said the continent was blessed by Our Lord Jesus himself.
“At the dawn of his earthly life, sad circumstances led him to set foot on African soil. God chose your continent to become the dwelling place of his Son. In Jesus, God drew near to all men and women, of course, but also, in a particular way, to the men and women of Africa”, Benedict XVI said. “Africa has received a particular vocation to know Christ. Let Africans be proud of this!” he added.
Unity and reconciliation
Benedict XVI expressed the hope that “Africa will be able to find the strength needed to face its (sometimes) difficult daily existence, and thus it will be able to discover immense spaces of faith and hope which will help it to grow in God.”
He reiterated this at his first General Audience after he visited Cameroon, saying: “In the midst of the unfortunately numerous and tragic conflicts which still afflict various regions of that continent, the Church knows she must be a sign and an instrument of unity and reconciliation so that the whole of Africa may build together a future of justice, solidarity and peace, putting into practice the teachings of the Gospel.”
Pope Benedict XVI in Angola
From Cameroon, Pope Benedict flew to Angola’s capital, Luanda, for the second leg of his apostolic trip in the first quarter of 2009. On 22 March, in a meeting with the Southern African Bishops under the association of the Inter-Regional Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA), he revisited and reiterated his message of peace regarding the violent conflict that had marked the history of Angola. Later, Pope Benedict re-echoed his message of forgiveness, reconciliation, hope and new life in Christ during Mass.
“Look to the future with hope: trust in God; reconciliation is the fruit of inner change,” Benedict XVI said while speaking in Portuguese, Angola’s official language. The Pope called on all the faithful to realize that the Church, in Angola and throughout Africa, is meant to be a sign before the world of that unity to which the whole human family is called through faith in Christ the Redeemer.
All is lost with war; all can be reborn with peace
n Angola, a country that witnessed many years of civil conflict, Benedict XVI, in another encounter, repeated what his predecessor John Paul II had said: “all is lost with war; all can be reborn with peace.” However, in rebuilding a country, he said, the role of the Church is important. “She is called to carry out an educational role, working in depth to renew and form consciences”, said Benedict.
Benedict XVI in Benin
Two years after the Second African Synod in Rome, Benedict XVI returned to Africa. This time, he visited the West African nation of Benin. The main purpose of the 18 - 20 Nov. 2011 visit was to present the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation or final document, which was the fruit of the Second African Synod.
Among other reasons, Benedict chose to go to Benin to pay homage to Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, a native of Benin and former Dean of the College of Cardinals with whom he worked for many years in the Vatican.
Benin is “the country of my dear friend Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. I have always wanted, one day, to pray at his tomb. He was really a great friend … a great representative of Catholic Africa and of African civilization at its most humane,” Benedict told journalists accompanying him on the visit.
Africae Munus - the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
The high point of the apostolic visit to the Republic of Benin was the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Africae Munus, Latin for the Commitment of Africa. After the signing ceremony at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Mary of Ouidah, Pope Benedict went on to meet with children at St. Rita Parish. He revealed to the youngsters that the day of his first Holy Communion was one of the most beautiful days of his life. He told them to take the young Ugandan martyr, Saint Kizito as a model for their lives.
Benedict’signature document on Africa is seen as a strong endorsement and reaffirmation of the resilience of Africa and its people. Africae Munus is an invitation to believe in Africa.
Speaking about Africans, Pope Benedict said,
“I see no need to dwell at length on the various socio-political, ethnic, economic or ecological situations that Africans face daily and that cannot be ignored. Africans know better than anyone else how difficult, disturbing and even tragic these situations can very often be. I pay tribute to Africans and to all the Christians of that continent who face these situations with courage and dignity. Rightly, they want this dignity to be recognized and respected. I can assure them that the Church loves and respects Africa” (AM, n.4)
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