.- During his visit to Benin on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of young African aspirants to the priesthood that the first purpose of their time at seminary is to pursue holiness.
âWithout the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function,â he said during an address at the Seminary of St. Gall in the southern Benin city of Ouidah on Nov. 19.
âThe quality of your future life depends on the quality of your personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, on your sacrifices, on the right integration of the requirements of your current formation.â
The Pope addressed a gathering of hundreds of priests, religious, seminarians and lay people gathered in the courtyard of the seminary building on the second day of his visit to the West African country, which presently has nearly 500 seminarians.
He encouraged the seminarians in his audience to place themselves âin the school of Christâ to acquire virtues which will help them to live the ministerial priesthood as âthe locus of your sanctification.â
The Pope told them that for a priest to be a credible witness to âthe service of peace, justice and reconciliation,â he must be âa humble and balanced man, one who is wise and magnanimous.â
â(A)fter sixty years in priestly life, I can tell you, dear seminarians, that you will not regret accumulating intellectual, spiritual and pastoral treasures during your formation,â he added.
Pope Benedict also gave particular advice to the other groups assembled at the late morning gathering. He gave particular focus on how each, in their own way, can help build an Africa based on âpeace, justice and reconciliation.â These are the three themes of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the future of the continent, Africae Munus, which was published today.
He told priests that the âresponsibility for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation,â fell to them in a special way, as they are called to be âmen of communionâ by dint of their ordination and celebration of the sacraments.
âAs crystal does not retain the light but rather reflects it and passes it on, in the same manner the priest must make transparent what he celebrates and what he has received,â he told them. âI thus encourage you to let Christ shine through your life.â
He recommended they live in communion with their bishop and brother priests and show âa profound solicitudeâ for each of the baptized, giving âgreat attentionâ to each person.
Being âmodeled on Christâ means they should never substitute their priestly being with the âephemeral and at times unhealthy realities which the contemporary mentality tends to impose on every culture.â
Addressing the vowed religious, the Pope said that poverty and chastity make them âtruly free to obey unconditionally the one Love which, when it takes hold of you, impels you to proclaim it everywhere.â
This âthirst for God,â and âhunger for his Word,â is transformed into service of those who most âdeprived of justice, peace and reconciliation,â as the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience transform religious into âa universal brother or sister of all,â helping them to âwalk resolutely on the way of holiness.â
The lay faithful, for their part, are to find holiness âat the heart of the daily realities of lifeâ where they are to be âthe salt of the earth and light of the world.â
This mission, explained the Pope, means creating families âbuilt according to the design of God and in fidelity to his plan for Christian marriageâ so that they become âtrue domestic churches.â He particularly encouraged parents to have a âprofound respect for lifeâ and to âbear witness to human and spiritual valuesâ before their children.
âBy having love and forgiveness reign in your families, you will contribute to the upbuilding of a Church which is beautiful and strong, and to the advent of greater justice and peace in the whole of society.â
Finally, he praised the work of catechists, who number over 11,000 in Benin. They make an âoutstanding and absolutely necessary contribution to the spread of the faith through fidelity to the teaching of the Church.â
He concluded by encouraging all those gathered to have âan authentic and living faithâ which is the âunshakable foundation of a holy Christian lifeâ and is âat the service of the building of a new world.â
Many new converts to Catholicism in Benin still retaining aspects of their traditional African religions. The Pope said that love for the Church and the sacraments are an âefficacious antidote against a syncretism which deceivesâ and help new Christians rightly integrate their culture into the Christian faith.
Prior to the papal address, Pope Benedict prayed at the tomb of his friend, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who died in 2008. Cardinal Gantin was the first African to head a dicastery of the Roman Curia. He worked alongside Pope Benedict for many years in Rome. Yesterday the Pope described him as âa great friendâ and âa great representative of Catholic Africa, civilized and human Africa.â