Pope Benedict said Nov. 23 that during his trip to the country of Benin this past weekend he saw that Africa is “a reservoir of life and vitality” for the Church and its future.
In keeping with tradition, the Pope offered his assessment of the Nov. 18-20 visit to Benin at today’s general audience, which was held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall because of a winter rain storm.
“In Africa I saw a freshness in the 'yes' to life, a freshness of religious meaning and hope, a holistic vision of reality where God is not confined to that positivist perspective which, in the final analysis, extinguishes all hope,” he said.
“This tells us that the continent is a reservoir of life and vitality for the future upon which we can rely, upon which the Church can rely.”
Pope Benedict told attendees at the audience that during his three-visit, he and the Church in Africa had “lived together a touching experience of faith and renewed encounter with the living Jesus Christ.”
The Pope visited Benin to deliver his Apostolic Exhortation about the future of Christianity on the continent, “Africae Munus” (The Commitment of Africa). It was written in response to the conclusions of the 2009 Synod of African Bishops in Rome.
He explained that when he visited the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Ouidah in Benin on Nov. 19, he “placed the fruits” of that synod “at the feet of the Holy Virgin,” who is venerated in that church.
The Pope said his document invites African Christians “to inner reconciliation in order to become joyful instruments of divine mercy, each contributing to the common good with his own spiritual and material wealth.” This spirit of reconciliation should also extend to the “socio-political and economic life of the continent," he said.
The Pope handed over his Apostolic Exhortation during Sunday Mass at the Friendship Stadium in the city of Cotonou, where he was joined by over 200 African bishops and a congregation of over 80,000.
He said he hoped “the faithful will find the fundamental guidelines,” in the document, “to lead and stimulate the journey of the Church in Africa, which is increasingly called to be ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘light of the world.’”
One particular memory he picked out was his meeting with young people at St. Rita’s church in Cotonou, where he had explained how he prays. That talk followed a visit to a nearby shelter for abandoned, sick and malnourished children run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. There the children had danced and sang for the Pope.
On that evening, Pope Benedict said he “truly tasted the joy of life, the delight and enthusiasm of the new generations who represent the future of Africa,” and witnessed “how love and solidarity can cause the power and affection of the risen Christ to be present, even in weakness.”
The Pope also explained that his journey had allowed him to visit the tomb of his late friend Cardinal Bernardin Gantin as well as to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Catholic missionaries in Benin.
Overall, he believes that “the joy and the apostolic zeal” he experienced “is a sign of sure hope for the future of the Church” in Benin.
“My trip,” he concluded, was also meant to serve as an appeal to Africa to “concentrate every effort on announcing the Gospel to those who do not yet know it, to renew the commitment to evangelization, to which each member of the baptized is called by promoting reconciliation, justice and peace.”
He then commended the Church in Africa to “Mary, Mother of the Church and Our Lady of Africa.”