.- With President Paul Biya’s words of welcome echoing in his ears, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his first papal speech on African soil today. Saying that he comes “as a pastor,” the Pope used his first speech to speak to all of Africa about how the Gospel offers hope to “a situation of great hardship and injustice.”
A diverse audience including government representatives, lay Catholics and leaders of other religions listened as Pope Benedict XVI said in French,“I come among you as a pastor, I come to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith. This was the role that Christ entrusted to Peter at the Last Supper, and it is the role of Peter’s successors.”
Recalling that Africa’s Christian history began with the Africans who heard Peter’s preaching at Pentecost and extends all the way to today, he remarked how fitting it is that "Peter’s successor should come to Africa, to celebrate with you the life-giving faith in Christ that sustains and nourishes so many of the sons and daughters of this great continent!”
Benedict XVI then summoned all the Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful of Africa to take this “moment of grace” as an opportunity to “rededicate themselves to the mission of the Church to bring hope to the hearts of the people of Africa, and indeed to people throughout the world.”
“Even amid the greatest suffering, the Christian message always brings hope,” he encouraged, as he turned to the problems facing Africa.
In the face of these sufferings, the Pope held up St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese girl who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, as a “shining example of the transformation that an encounter with the living God can bring to a situation of great hardship and injustice.”
The Holy Father stressed that “in the face of suffering or violence, poverty or hunger, corruption or abuse of power, a Christian can never remain silent,” but must proclaim the Gospel “loud and clear.”
“Here in Africa, as in so many parts of the world, countless men and women long to hear a word of hope and comfort. Regional conflicts leave thousands homeless or destitute, orphaned or widowed. In a continent which, in times past, saw so many of its people cruelly uprooted and traded overseas to work as slaves, today human trafficking, especially of defenseless women and children, has become a new form of slavery. At a time of global food shortages, financial turmoil, and disturbing patterns of climate change, Africa suffers disproportionately: more and more of her people are falling prey to hunger, poverty, and disease. They cry out for reconciliation, justice and peace, and that is what the Church offers them. Not new forms of economic or political oppression, but the glorious freedom of the children of God. Not the imposition of cultural models that ignore the rights of the unborn, but the pure healing water of the Gospel of life. Not bitter interethnic or interreligious rivalry, but the righteousness, peace and joy of God’s kingdom, so aptly described by Pope Paul VI as the civilization of love.”
In addition to the proclamation of the Gospel, the Pope lauded the Church’s efforts to “carry forward her mission of healing and reconciliation” through free care for AIDS patients and education.
Pope Benedict then highlighted Cameroon as “a land of hope for many in Central Africa” because it has embraced thousands of refugees from war-torn countries, has a government that “speaks out in defense of the rights of the unborn,” has “shown the world that patient diplomacy can indeed bear fruit” in negotiations with Nigeria and is a land of youth.
The Holy Father closed his first speech by praying that the Church in Cameroon and throughout Africa “will continue to grow in holiness, in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace.”
To read the full text of Pope Benedict’s speech please visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=806