For Pope Francis, family and culture are key to evangelization

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Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday general audience on Nov. 5, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Speaking to the bishops from the Republic of the Congo on Monday, Pope Francis encouraged them in their ministry to families, urging the need for evangelization of peoples and cultures alongside inculturation.

Mentioning the importance of forming the laity for their apostolate in the socio-political sphere, Pope Francis said May 4 in the Vatican that “family pastoral ministry is an integral part of this accompaniment.”

“The reluctance of the faithful to embark on Christian marriage reveals the need for profound evangelization, which involves not only the inculturation of faith, but also the evangelization of local traditions and culture.”

He thanked the bishops for their contributions to the Synod on the Family, adding that they will not fail to benefit from better adapting pastoral care of families to their local reality.

The Congolese bishops were in Rome for their ad limina visit, which occurs every five years.

Pope Francis noted the elevation in the Republic of the Congo of one diocese in 2011, and the creation of two new dioceses in 2013, as evidence of “the vitality of the Catholic Church in your country, and of the zeal with which its pastors engage in the work of evangelization,” better serving Catholics as well as reaching out to those who have not yet heard the Gospel.

The Pope urged the bishops to keep the living conditions and sanctification of their priests at the heart of their concerns, saying, “continuing formation is indispensable, that they can always better serve the people of God and give them spiritual accompaniment as is fitting, notably through dignified liturgical celebrations and through homilies which nourish the faith of believers.”

Turning to the flourishing priestly and religious vocations in the country – 45 percent of Congolese are Catholic – Pope Francis praised the bishops' apostolic zeal, adding that “the immense pastoral needs of the local Church require rigorous discernment, so that the people of God are able to count on zealous pastors who edify the faithful through their testimony of life, especially in relation to celibacy and the spirit of evangelical poverty.”

The Pope then turned to the economic challenges facing some Congolese dioceses: the Republic of the Congo had in 2014 an adjusted per capita GDP of $5,100.

“Some dioceses have great difficulties because of the lack of material and financial resources locally available. I am aware of the magnitude of the problems and the worries related to this situation in the heart of a pastor. Therefore, I encourage you to resolutely engage your dioceses in embarking on the path of autonomy, a gradual takeover of control and solidarity between the particular Churches in your country, following a tradition that dates back to the first Christian communities,” Pope Francis said.

“In this respect, you must be careful to ensure that economic aid to your particular Churches in support of your specific mission does not limit your freedom as pastors or obstruct the freedom of the Church, which must have a free hand to proclaim the Gospel with credibility.”

With respect to mutual aid and solidarity among local Churches, Pope Francis encouraged the Congolese to look to fellow Africans before seeking help from outside their continent: these values “must also be reflected in the promotion of the missionary spirit first within Africa,” he said.

Speaking of the Church's role in the Republic of the Congo's public sphere, Pope Francis said ecclesial communion should be manifested in “the exercise of the prophetic dimension of your pastoral charge. It is important that you can, with one voice, use strong words inspired by the Gospel to guide and enlighten your fellow citizens in every aspect of community life, in difficult moments for the nation or when the circumstances require it.”

Such cohesion “not only will allow you always to defend the common good and also the good of the Church in any circumstance,” he advised, “but will also support your efforts in facing the many pastoral challenges, including the proliferation of sects.”

A “profound evangelization” is another key challenge identified by the Pope, which he said “necessarily supposes special attention to the concrete conditions of life for the populations; that is, ultimately, to the development of the human person.”

He noted the importance of the Church's commitment in the Republic of the Congo to education, healthcare, and refugees.

“As pastors, continue to ensure that your social ministry is increasingly carried out in the spirit of the Gospel and perceived as a work of evangelization, and not as the action of a non-governmental organization,” Pope Francis admonished.

Related to this, he noted the continuing wounds rooted in the country's 1997-1999 civil war, saying that “the Church, strong in the Gospel of Jesus, has received the mission of building new fraternity anchored in forgiveness and solidarity. You, pastors, continue to be models and prophets in this sense!”

Pope Francis concluded his address by noting with gratitude the recently opened Divine Mercy shrine in Louvakou, in the Diocese of Dolisie: “I welcome it, and I hope that this sanctuary truly becomes a place where the people of God come to strengthen their faith, particularly during the upcoming extraordinary jubilee of Mercy, as well as other pastoral initiatives you undertake.”

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