.- Two days into his visit to Cameroon, Pope Benedict assessed the state of the Church in the country by meeting with the nation’s 31 bishops. Praising the high number of vocations and the involvement of the laity, the Holy Father offered ways to respond to the erosion of African family values, the spread of religious sects and proper celebration of the liturgy.
On Wednesday morning after celebrating Mass in private at the chapel of the apostolic nunciature, the Pope paid a courtesy visit to the country's president, Paul Biya.
Following his meeting with the president, the Holy Father traveled by car to the Church of Christ-Roi, where he met with the 31 bishops of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon.
The Pope began his speech by recalling that the Church is celebrating the Year of St. Paul and noted that the saint’s example reminds Catholics of the "urgent need to proclaim the Gospel to everyone." This need should cause bishops who have a larger number of priests to share them with poorer dioceses "so that the proclamation of the Gospel should not suffer through lack of ministers," Benedict XVI said.
He also offered advice to bishops in their role of shepherding priests. "The quality of the bond uniting you with the priests, your principal and irreplaceable co-workers, is of the greatest importance. If they see in their Bishop a father and a brother who loves them, listens to them and offers them comfort in their trials, who devotes particular attention to their human and material needs, they are encouraged to carry out their ministry whole-heartedly, worthily and fruitfully."
While on the topic of priests, Pope Benedict shared his joy with the fact that "many young men are presenting themselves as candidates for the priesthood. Nevertheless, he emphasized the need to ensure that "serious discernment" takes place and to facilitate this by giving priority "to the choice and training of formators and spiritual directors."
The Pope pointed to numerous other bright spots within the Cameroonian Church, such as the long history of missionary and religious involvement in the country, the dedication of catechists or teachers of the faith to bringing the Gospel to the local culture and the growing number of lay organizations, particularly those that promote the dignity of women.
The Church in Cameroon also faces "many challenges," Pope Benedict noted, saying that the family is particularly of concern as modern society collides with its values.
He praised the bishops for vigorously defending the "essential values of the African family" and placing a high priority on evangelization with an emphasis on promoting "a better understanding of the nature, dignity and role of marriage, which presupposes an indissoluble and stable union."
Pope Benedict also addressed another area in need of attention – the liturgy. The Pope observed that in general, the "ecclesial celebrations are festive and joyful, manifesting the fervor of the faithful who are happy to be together, in Church, giving praise to the Lord." However, it is "essential that the joy expressed in this way does not obstruct, but rather facilitates dialogue and communion with God," he cautioned.
One phenomenon the Pope noted that is present throughout Africa is the spread of non-Christian religious movements, superstitious practices and relativism. These constitute "an urgent invitation to give new impetus to the formation of children and young adults, especially in university settings and intellectual circles," he said.
The Holy Father drew his message to a close by exhorting the bishops to be defenders of the rights of the poor, to call forth and encourage the exercise of charity, thus caring for the "little ones." With Africa being prone to tribal divisions, he stressed that this calling "leaves no room for ethnocentrism or factionalism, and it contributes towards reconciliation and co-operation among ethnic groups for the good of all."
"So it is the duty of Christians, particularly lay people with social, economic and political responsibilities, to be guided by the Church's social teaching, in order to contribute to the building up of a more just world where everyone can live with dignity."