.- Twenty thousand people gathered on Wednesday morning in St. Peterâs Square to participate in Pope Benedict XVIâs weekly General Audience. The Holy Father told them of the highlights of his trip to Africa and emphasized that his message to all Africans was that true hope of peace and reconciliation can only be found in the Word of God. Pope Benedict told the faithful that with his visit, he had "sought to embrace all the people of Africa, and bless them in the name of the Lord," beginning with Cameroon, a country with "a profoundly religious soul which unites the numerous ethnic groups that inhabit it."
In Cameroon, "more than a quarter of the inhabitants are Catholic, and live together peacefully with the other religious communities,â he explained. âFor this reason, John Paul II chose it to promulgate the exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, after the first synod assembly for Africa.â
âThis time,â he added, âthe Pope went there to deliver the Instrumentum Laboris [working document] for the next assembly, the theme of which will be 'The Church in Africa, instrument of reconciliation at the service of justice and peace.'â
He went on to mention his meetings with bishops in Cameroon and Angola, to whom he "reaffirmed the vital importance of evangelization, which is first and foremost the responsibility of bishops, highlighting the collegial dimension based on sacramental communion.â
âI also encouraged them to promote the pastoral care of marriage and the family, of the liturgy and of culture, also by putting lay people in a position to be able to resist the attacks of sects and esoteric groups."
The Pope then recalled that he met with representatives of the Muslim community at the Vatican embassy in Cameroon, where he reiterated the âimportance of interreligious dialogue and of collaboration between Christians and Muslims.â
Turning then to consider the second stage of his African journey in Angola, he recalled how that county, "having emerged from a long civil war, is now committed to reconciliation and national reconstruction."
Reconciliation and national reconstruction, however, cannot hope to be successful if they come about "at the expense of the poorest who, like everyone else, have the right to share in the resources of their land,â he said.
"This is why, with my visit, the primary aim of which was to confirm the Church in her faith, I also sought to encourage the ongoing social processes."
"In Angola there is a palpable sense of something my venerated predecessors oft repeated: everything is lost with war, everything can be reborn with peace,â the Pope recalled. âBut great moral energy is required to build a nation; and here, once again, the Church has an important role, [she is] called to play an educational role, and working to renew and form people's consciences."
âAfrica is a very young continent, but too many of her sons and daughters, children and adolescents, have suffered serious wounds that only Jesus Christ can heal by infusing the power to love,â Pope Benedict proclaimed.
In Angola, "I paid homage to the women for the service that so many of them offer to faith, to life, to human dignity,â he recounted. âI recalled the full right of women to be involved in public life, without compromising their role in the family, to be carried out with the rest of society, and, above all, with their husbands and fathers."
Pope Benedict XVI then explained that the message he gave to women and families also extends to everyone. âI told the African people that if, like ancient Israel, they base their hope on the Word of God, in the richness of their religious and cultural heritage, they can truly build a future of reconciliation and stable peace for everyone."
The Pope concluded by issuing an invitation to "pray for the people of Africa, who are so dear to me, that with courage they may face the great social, economic and spiritual challenges of the present time."