.- Catholic parishes in Africa and around the world have to evangelize all people, not just those who are presently Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI has told the bishops of Benin.
“In no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the ‘ordinary maintenance’ of those who already know the Gospel of Christ,” he told the bishops gathered in the chapel of the apostolic nuncio’s residence in the city of Cotonou Nov. 19.
“Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community. The Church, therefore, must reach out to everyone.”
The Pope’s address came at the end of the day on which he signed his apostolic exhortation on the future of the Church in Africa, “Africae Munus.”
In it he stressed the need for evangelization “ad gentes,” to those who have never heard the Gospel. He also emphasized the need for a “new evangelization” of those who are nominally Catholic but have drifted from the Church.
“I encourage you to persevere in your efforts to share missionary personnel with those dioceses experiencing a shortage, whether in your own country, in other African nations or in distant continents,” he told the bishops.
There are an increasing number of African priests undertaking missionary work in Europe.
The Pope recalled how 150 years ago, on April 18, 1861, the first missionaries of the Society of the African Missions disembarked at Ouidah in Benin, “thus beginning a new page in the proclamation of the Gospel in West Africa.”
He called for a similar spirit of evangelization from Catholics in Benin today, among both clergy and laity guided by “the crucified and glorious face of Christ” so that they “may witness to his love for the world.”
“Apostolic zeal, which should animate all the faithful, is a direct result of their baptism,” he said, “and they cannot shirk their responsibility to profess their faith in Christ and his Gospel wherever they find themselves, and in their daily lives.”
Bishops have “the mission of leading the people of God” and so have a particular responsibility to ensure laity, seminarians and priests are adequately formed for the task.
“I therefore invite you to help your priests and faithful to rediscover for themselves the beauty of the priesthood and of the priestly ministry,” he said.
Meanwhile it is “absolutely necessary” to provide “solid human, intellectual and spiritual formation” to seminarians that will equip them with “a personal, psychological and affective maturity” for the duties of the priesthood.
Again echoing a key theme of “Africae Munus,” the Pope called for sacred scripture to play a significant role in evangelization. Any encounter with Christ must be “solidly rooted in openness to and meditation on the Word of God.”
Scripture is a “source of constant renewal” and its rediscovery can unify the faithful and be at the heart of every church activity.
The Pope concluded by entrusting the dioceses of Benin and the episcopal ministry of each bishop to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, praying that “she may watch over the people of Benin!”