The Bishops of Benin, a country in western African situated on the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea, completed their “ad limina” visit with Pope Benedict XVI today at Castelgandolfo. During the meeting, the Holy Father encouraged the prelates to continue to speak out for justice and human rights and to work for the proper integration of the faith with the culture of their country.
The Pope began his address by noting how, over recent years, the bishops had "shown great evangelical courage in guiding the people of God through numerous difficulties, ... showing pastoral concern for the great questions facing society, especially in the field of justice and human rights."
After encouraging the African prelates "to develop an authentic spirituality of communion," both among themselves and with their priests, the Holy Father called on priests to maintain "an intense spiritual life."
Referring then to the influence of tradition on social life, the Pope highlighted the need "to stimulate the best aspects of tradition and to reject its harmful elements, which cause damage, and nourish fear and exclusion.” Benedict XVI counseled the bishops that the faithful must be formed properly so that they can make good judgments about what is compatible with the faith.
This integration of the native culture and the tradition of the Church should also affect their liturgies, the deepest expression of culture. Pope Benedict noted that their liturgies are “enthusiastic and animated liturgical celebrations [that] have a pre-eminent place” in their society. “They are an eloquent testimony of the faith of your communities at the very heart of society. For this reason, it is important for the faithful to participate in the liturgy fully, actively and fruitfully."
The pontiff also warned the prelates that they should guard against the practice of mixing incompatible African religious traditions with the Christian faith. He told them that the cure for this is better seminary training for priests and improved formation of those priests who are already ordained.
The Holy Father also had some words of praise for the bishops. He recalled how the bishops had publicly defended, "courageously and in various circumstances, the values of the family and of respect for life" against "ideologies that propose models or attitudes opposed to an authentic concept of human life. I encourage you," he added, "to continue this commitment, which is a service to the whole of society."
Having encouraged the bishops, the Pope then emphasized how the need to form young people and prepare them for the life-long commitment of marriage should be one of the bishops’ pastoral priorities.
Benedict XVI concluded his talk by expressing satisfaction for "the atmosphere of mutual understanding that characterizes relations between Christians and Muslims" in Benin. "In order to avoid the development of any kind of intolerance and to prevent all forms of violence, it is necessary to pursue sincere dialogue, founded on an ever greater mutual understanding, especially through human relationships, agreement on the values of life, and mutual cooperation in everything that promotes universal wellbeing. Such dialogue also requires the training of competent individuals to help people know and understand the religious values we share, and respect differences faithfully."