.- 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.
“Without the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function,” he said during an address at the Seminary of St. Gall in the southern Benin city of Ouidah on Nov. 19.
“The 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.”
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 “in the school of Christ” to acquire virtues which will help them to live the ministerial priesthood as “the locus of your sanctification.”
The Pope told them that for a priest to be a credible witness to “the service of peace, justice and reconciliation,” he must be “a humble and balanced man, one who is wise and magnanimous.”
“(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,” 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 “peace, justice and reconciliation.” 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 “responsibility for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation,” fell to them in a special way, as they are called to be “men of communion” by dint of their ordination and celebration of the sacraments.
“As 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,” he told them. “I thus encourage you to let Christ shine through your life.”
He recommended they live in communion with their bishop and brother priests and show “a profound solicitude” for each of the baptized, giving “great attention” to each person.
Being “modeled on Christ” means they should never substitute their priestly being with the “ephemeral and at times unhealthy realities which the contemporary mentality tends to impose on every culture.”
Addressing the vowed religious, the Pope said that poverty and chastity make them “truly free to obey unconditionally the one Love which, when it takes hold of you, impels you to proclaim it everywhere.”
This “thirst for God,” and “hunger for his Word,” is transformed into service of those who most “deprived of justice, peace and reconciliation,” as the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience transform religious into “a universal brother or sister of all,” helping them to “walk resolutely on the way of holiness.”
The lay faithful, for their part, are to find holiness “at the heart of the daily realities of life” where they are to be “the salt of the earth and light of the world.”
This mission, explained the Pope, means creating families “built according to the design of God and in fidelity to his plan for Christian marriage” so that they become “true domestic churches.” He particularly encouraged parents to have a “profound respect for life” and to “bear witness to human and spiritual values” before their children.
“By 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.”
Finally, he praised the work of catechists, who number over 11,000 in Benin. They make an “outstanding and absolutely necessary contribution to the spread of the faith through fidelity to the teaching of the Church.”
He concluded by encouraging all those gathered to have “an authentic and living faith” which is the “unshakable foundation of a holy Christian life” and is “at the service of the building of a new world.”
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 “efficacious antidote against a syncretism which deceives” 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 “a great friend” and “a great representative of Catholic Africa, civilized and human Africa.”