.- Pope Benedict XVI’s new apostolic exhortation on Africa aims to encourage the dynamism of the Catholic Church and to prepare for upcoming decades of evangelization, a Vatican official has explained.
Archbishop Nikola Eterović, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, said that in “Africae Munus” the Catholic Church in Africa “reaffirms her commitment to evangelization and human development” so that “the entire continent may become a vast field of reconciliation, justice and peace.”
“In this way … the Church contributes to forging the new Africa, which is increasingly called to become the ‘spiritual lung’ of humankind,” he said in his official summary of the exhortation issued on Nov. 19.
The new apostolic exhortation is a continuation of Pope John Paul II’s 1995 exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa,” the archbishop said. That earlier document “gave great impetus to the growth of the Church in Africa developing, among other things, the idea of the Church as Family of God.”
“Africae Munus,” whose name means “The Commitment of Africa,” is Pope Benedict’s response to the 57 propositions offered by the Synod of African Bishops which met in Rome from 4 to 25 October 2009. Their discussions were based on the theme “The Church in Africa, at the service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace.”
Pope Benedict signed the exhortation on Nov. 19 in Benin and presented it to the bishops of Africa on Sunday.
Archbishop Eterović said the new exhortation aims to reinforce an “ecclesial dynamism” and to outline a program for pastoral activity for the coming decades of evangelization.
The first part of “Africae Munus” addresses the basic structures of the Catholic Church in Africa and how they serve the three key aims of the synod, reconciliation, justice and peace, especially through the Church’s mission of evangelization.
The second part of the document deals with the Catholic Church’s contribution to African society through education, health care and social communications.
In terms of practical conclusions, Archbishop Eterović said, the Pope stresses the need for the continuation of evangelization “ad gentes,” that is “the announcement of the Gospel to those who still do not know Jesus Christ.”
However, the Pope also calls for an increased emphasis on “new evangelization” of those African peoples who are nominally Christian but “may have distanced themselves from the Church or who do not behave in a Christian fashion.”
African Christians, and in particular the clergy and consecrated persons, are also called upon to support the new evangelization of secularized Western nations. “This is an exchange of gifts,” said the archbishop, as Western nations are the “countries which once produced missionaries who went forth to announce the Good News in Africa.”
The Pope’s exhortation asks the African Church to generate more causes for the canonization of saints because they are “exemplary heralds of justice and apostles of peace.”
The exhortation prioritizes strengthening both “the bonds of communion” between the Holy Father and the bishops of Africa, and the bonds among African bishops themselves.
To this end the Pope says it is important for the bishops to give effective support to the Symposium of Bishops’ Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) as “a continental structure of solidarity and ecclesial communion.”
The Pope calls for a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist and he endorses the Synod’s idea of a continental Eucharistic Congress.
Similarly, there is to be greater promotion of the sacrament of penance, Archbishop Eterović noted. The exhortation suggests that each year African countries celebrate a day or week of reconciliation particularly during Advent or Lent.
There may also be a “continental-wide Year of Reconciliation” to “beg of God special forgiveness” for both “all the evils and injuries mutually inflicted in Africa” and for “the reconciliation of persons and groups who have been hurt in the Church and in the whole of society.”