Pope urges further missionary efforts from African bishops

.- Meeting with bishops from Burkina Faso and Niger on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged advancement on the countries' history of more than a century of evangelization. He urged them to continue building on existing missionary work and inter-religious relations.

Benedict XVI met with the bishops, whose countries share an episcopal conference, on Saturday as part of their “ad Limina” visit to the Holy See.

In his address to the group, he urged them to continue to promote evangelization in a “new missionary push” so that the Gospel is “fully received and faithfully lived” in the countries. He called them to stick to the roots of the faith so as to avoid the return to “old practices” that are incompatible with the Jesus’ teachings and to “resist calls from a world at times hostile to the evangelical ideal.”

The Pope went on to encourage them in their missionary efforts regarding the “sister-Churches” of Africa.

In an interview with Fides news agency last week, the President of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Seraphin Rouamba, spoke about the bishops' efforts to circulate missionaries to Niger, Chad, Mali and even to Europe.

Historically, the archbishop said, “people have come from abroad specifically to ring the Gospel” to the area “and to communicate the richness of faith.”

“Now we want to send our missionaries abroad,” he said.

Burkina Faso celebrated the 100-year anniversary of evangelization in the country in the year 2000.

On Saturday, Pope Benedict praised the bishops in their commitment to “combating the evils that impede the population from reaching true development” and recognized the solidarity of the people in response to floods in Sept. 2009 as well as in sending assistance to Haiti, “in spite of their (own) great needs.”

Promotion of the interior renewal of the priestly ministry during the Year for Priests, increased involvement of lay faithful and better formation of catechists were additional points in the Pope’s address. He touched also on the importance of developing educational institutions and giving them responsibility in the Church and society for being “true witnesses of the Gospel.”

Alluding to the peaceful inter-religious relations that normally exist in the countries, the Holy Father asked the bishops to “deepen the bonds of esteem and friendship” to teach new generations that the “fundamental value of respect and fraternity will favor mutual comprehension.”

Referring especially to Muslim-Christian relations, he hoped for the continued reinforcement of relations so as to “progress peace and justice and promote the common good, refuting every temptation of violence or intolerance.”

Archbishop Rouamba told Fides that official statistics estimate that 19-20 percent of the population in Burkina Faso is Catholic, while more than 60 percent is Muslim. Many of the remaining percentage follow traditional religions.

In conclusion, Pope Benedict XVI entrusted their dioceses to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary and imparted his Apostolic Blessing on the bishops and all those under their direction.

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