Earlier this morning, Pope Benedict met with prelates from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau on Africa, with whom he stressed the need for harmony and strong faith formation in an area often wracked by violence, poverty and being home to a diverse religious population.
The Holy Father told the Bishops, who had just completed their regular “ad limina” visits, that the great variety of human and ecclesial situations in these particular Churches often makes it difficult to harmonize pastoral activities.
Despite this, he stressed that "the ties of communion are essential for an ever-greater apostolic fruitfulness and in order to carry out the mission received from the Lord."
"Walking alongside their people," the Pope said, "bishops must guide, encourage and coordinate evangelizing action, that the faith may grow and spread among human beings. In this way, the Gospel must take full root in the cultures of your peoples."
He also pointed out that "in order to remain faithful to baptismal commitments, each individual must receive a solid education in the faith, so as to be able to face up to the new phenomena of modern life, such as growing urbanization, the unemployment of many young people, material seductions of all kinds and the influence of ideas of varying provenance."
Benedict went on, recalling what he called the generous collaboration of priests in the work of evangelization. He particularly called on the bishops to initially and permanently form these priests so as to render them "humanly and spiritually balanced, capable of responding to the challenges they must face, both in their personal and their pastoral lives."
He also called for "a solid spiritual formation to fortify their intimate life with God in prayer and contemplation, and to enable them to discern the presence and action of the Lord in the persons entrusted to their pastoral mission."
Admittedly, the Pope said, the Church in this part of Africa "expresses her love for others in a very visible way, with her commitment to social development", embodied in numerous ecclesial structures at the service of the poorest.
Likewise, he pointed out how many non-Christians, especially Muslims, collaborate in this service.
"Efforts”, he said, “made towards a meeting in truth of believers from different religious traditions will contribute to achieving the real good of people and of society."
"It is vital," the Holy Father added, "that fraternal relations between communities be rendered more profound, in order to favor the harmonious development of society, recognizing the dignity of each individual and allowing everyone the free expression of their religion."
Before closing his address to the bishops, Pope Benedict noted the current tensions in Guinea-Bissau and recalled the efforts of the local Church there "to promote dialogue and cooperation among all the elements of the country."
He called on all the prelates - "through the word illuminated by faith, constant witness of faithfulness to the Gospel and generous pastoral service" - to continue to be "sure points of reference and guidance for all your countrymen."