.- Speaking to a group of bishops from South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho concluding their "ad limina" visit, Pope Benedict reaffirmed Church teachings on priestly celibacy, as well as abstinence and fidelity to prevent AIDS.
Speaking in English, the Pope noted how Catholics represent a minority in Africa, and that, for this reason "it is essential that the bishops promote the crucial work of catechesis in order to ensure that God's people are truly prepared to witness by word and deed to the authentic teaching of the Gospel."
Benedict XVI gave thanks to God for "the many priests, religious and lay men and women who have given their lives to" the "noble task" of evangelization in Africa over the course of last century.
The Pope went on: "Even though your region still needs more priests, one cannot help but thank God for the large number of vocations to the priesthood you are currently witnessing in Sub-Saharan Africa."
The Pope said, "It is your grave responsibility to help them develop into men of the Eucharist. Priests are called to leave everything and become ever more devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. "
"I encourage you, therefore,” he continued, “in your ongoing efforts to conscientiously select candidates for the priesthood. Likewise, these young men should be formed with great concern to guarantee that they are prepared for the many challenges they will face."
"A world filled with temptations needs priests who are totally dedicated to their mission" and who serve others "as Christ did by embracing the gift of celibacy," Benedict XVI highlighted.
In that regard, "Bishops should assist them by ensuring that this gift never becomes a burden but always remains life-giving. One of the ways this can be achieved is by bringing ministers of word and sacrament together for continuing education, retreats and days of recollection," the Pope said.
Benedict XVI stressed how "family life has always been a unifying characteristic of African society," but expressed concern that "the fabric of African life is threatened by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and a contraceptive mentality, all of which contribute to a breakdown in sexual morality."
After explaining how he shared the bishops' "deep concern over the devastation caused by AIDS and related diseases," the Pope said, "I especially pray for the widows, the orphans, the young mothers and all those whose lives have been shattered by this cruel epidemic."
The Pontiff urged the bishops "to continue your efforts to fight this virus which not only kills but seriously threatens the economic and social stability of the continent."
"The traditional teaching of the Church has proven to be the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. For this reason, the companionship, joy, happiness and peace which Christian marriage and fidelity provide, and the safeguard which chastity gives, must be continuously presented to the faithful, particularly the young," he concluded.