Pope Benedict XVI has signed his Apostolic Exhortation “Africae Munus,” a teaching document which charts a future for the Catholic Church in Africa.
“Africa, land of a New Pentecost, put your trust in God! Impelled by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, become God’s great family, generous with all your sons and daughters, agents of reconciliation, peace and justice!” the Pope said at the signing ceremony in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the southern Benin city of Ouidah Nov. 19.
The document contains the Pope’s conclusions following the Synod of African Bishops held in Rome in 2009.
After a brief moment of Eucharistic adoration, the Pope explained what he hoped the 2009 synod had achieved. He also explained his hopes for his new exhortation, which will be presented to the bishops of the continent at a Mass in the city of Cotonou tomorrow morning.
He told the African bishops that the Synod had benefited from Pope John Paul II’s 1995 Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa.” That document stressed “the urgent need to evangelize” the continent and viewed evangelization as an activity inseparable from the work of human development.
The earlier document also developed the concept of the Church as “God’s Family,” something that had borne “many spiritual fruits” for the Church and for the activity of evangelization in African society as a whole. Increasingly, he said, the Church is called to see herself “as a family.”
This, for Christians, means being “a community of believers which praises the triune God,” and which celebrates “the great mysteries of our faith.” It also means to “enliven with charity” the relationships between individuals, groups and nations above and beyond ethnic, cultural and religious differences.
This love is not confined to Catholics, but is offered to everyone in Africa. Pope Benedict said the Church is open to cooperation with “all the components of society,” including other Christian groups and non-Christians, including Muslims.
The principal theme of the synod, the Pope explained, was reconciliation with God and neighbor.
“(A) Church reconciled within herself and among all her members can become a prophetic sign of reconciliation in society within each country and the continent as a whole.”
Touching upon the continent’s slave trade history, the Pope said the Church is now impelled to “combat every form of slavery,” including those forms which undermine peace and justice in present day Africa.
“Peace is one of our greatest treasures,” he told the basilica. To attain peace, “we need to have courage and the reconciliation born of forgiveness, the will once more to live as one, to share a vision of the future and to persevere in overcoming difficulties.”
The attainment of peace with both God and neighbor leads men and woman to work for greater justice in society. Justice according to the Gospel, he said, means “above all doing God’s will.”
It is this “fundamental resolve” to do God’s will that spawns “countless” initiatives aimed at promoting justice in Africa and the welfare of all its peoples. He particularly noted the most disadvantaged in society, such as those in need of employment, schools and hospitals.
Pope Benedict concluded his address with a rallying cry: “Africa, Good News for the Church, become Good News for the entire world!”
After the address, he signed the apostolic exhortation and imparted his blessing on the congregation, after which he departed by car for the city of Cotonou.