Catholic bishops from African nations paid tribute to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who died on Dec. 31, eulogizing him as a leader of the Catholic Church who served with “great self-sacrifice.”

In a tribute shared with ACI Africa, a sister publication to CNA, on Jan. 2, the first vice president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) said that the Church in Africa and Madagascar received with “great sadness and deep emotion the news of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.”

“This great servant of God who returns to the Father’s house in all serenity during the octave of the Nativity knew how to be, throughout his pontifical ministry, a great witness of the new evangelization, servant of love in truth (Caritas in Veritate),” Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu said in the one-page tribute.

Writing on behalf of Catholic bishops in Africa, Ambongo said the late pope “served the whole Church with great self-sacrifice and has worked tirelessly for justice, peace, reconciliation, and dialogue between cultures.”

“The people of Africa know that Benedict XVI treated them in a very special way during his pontificate,” the local ordinary of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo added.

He recalled the role the late pontiff played in the realization of the Second Special Assembly for Africa, saying that Benedict “convened the Second Synodal Assembly for Africa in order to give the Church of God on the African continent a new impetus charged with evangelical hope and charity.”

Ambongo added that Benedict XVI invited Africa to “trust in itself in order to stand up with dignity. He saw in her the spiritual lung for a humanity that seems to be in crisis of faith and hope.”

The Congolese member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, who serves as the president of the Justice, Peace, and Development Commission of SECAM, said that members of the Church in Africa and Madagascar are making “a fervent prayer to the Lord that he may welcome this faithful servant of the Gospel into his kingdom of peace and light.”

“In the name of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) and in my own name, I pay homage to the Church in Africa and Madagascar to the one who carried Africa with fervor, conviction, and generosity,” the first vice president of the continental symposium said in the tribute shared with ACI Africa.

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On Dec. 31, the Holy See announced that the funeral Mass of the pope emeritus will take place on Jan. 5 in St. Peter’s Square beginning at 9:30 a.m.

You can view the funeral live on EWTN here.

Pope Francis is set to preside over the Mass, which, in keeping with Benedict XVI’s wishes, “will be carried out under the sign of simplicity,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The late former pontiff will be buried in the crypt under St. Peter’s Basilica.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Africa. It has been adapted by CNA.