.- Meeting with a group of prelates from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Ghana, Pope Benedict XVI said today that despite many economic and social struggles in the African country, that the Church continues to shine forth as “a beacon of hope” for Christians.
During his address, the Holy Father told the bishops--in Italy for their “ad limina” visits--that they "have all come to Rome, this city where the Apostles Peter and Paul gave of themselves completely in imitation of Christ. ... The gift of self to the other is also at the heart of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”
“Those who receive this sacrament”, he stressed, “are configured in a particular way to Christ, the Head of the Church."
The Pope went on to praise recent efforts in Ghana "to deal with the scourge of poverty and to strengthen the economy,” but pointed out that “Notwithstanding this laudable progress, much still remains to be done to overcome this condition which impedes a large portion of the population.”
“Extreme and widespread poverty”, he said, “often results in a general moral decline leading to crime, corruption, attacks on the sanctity of human life or even a return to the superstitious practices of the past."
The Pope said that in the midst of this tenuous struggle however, the Church "shines forth as a beacon of hope in the life of the Christian, ... by helping the faithful gain a better understanding of the promises of Jesus Christ," and forming them "to deepen their Christian faith and thus enable them to take their rightful place both in the Church of Christ and in society."
In this light, he particularly praised the work of the country’s catechists, although noting that they "are often impeded in their task by a lack of resources or hostile environments."
He also invited the bishops "to ensure that these evangelists receive the spiritual, doctrinal, moral and material support they require to carry out their mission properly."
Observing that in Ghana, "young people constitute almost half of the population,” Benedict stressed that “A solid catechetical foundation…will strengthen them in their Catholic identity and give them the necessary tools to confront the challenges of changing economic realities, globalization and disease. It will also assist them in responding to the arguments often put forward by religious sects."
The Pope went on to highlight "the Church's task to assist Christian families to live faithfully and generously as true 'domestic churches',” reiterating the bishops' own concern "about the proper celebration of Christian marriage in Ghana.”
“While Christianity”, he said, “always seeks to respect the venerable traditions of cultures and peoples, it also seeks to purify those practices which are contrary to the Gospel."
He said that "For this reason, it is essential that the entire Catholic community continue to stress the importance of the monogamous and indissoluble union of man and woman, consecrated in holy matrimony. For the Christian, traditional forms of marriage can never be a substitute for sacramental marriage."
Pope Benedict also addressed the question of the priesthood, saying that it "must never be seen as a way of improving one's social standing or standard of living. If it is, then priestly gift of self and docility to God's designs will give way to personal desires, rendering the priest ineffective and unfulfilled."
The Holy Father closed his address by encouraging the bishop’s efforts "to ensure the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and to guarantee proper priestly formation for those who are studying for the sacred ministry."
He also pointed out that this year will mark 500 years since the arrival of missionaries in northern Ghana, saying, "It is my special prayer that missionary zeal will continue to fill you and your beloved people, strengthening you in your efforts to spread the Gospel."