In Africa "the celebrations of the Eucharist were authentic feasts of faith" characterised by "a sense of holiness, by the presence of the mystery of the loving God moulding ... each individual gesture" - Pope Benedict XVI, recounting his apostolic trip to Cameroon and AngolaVATICAN CITY, 21 DEC 2009 (VIS) - Today in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father held his traditional meeting with the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and members of the Roman Curia and of the Governorate of Vatican City State, in order to exchange Christmas greetings.
Opening his address, the Pope recalled two events that marked the year 2009 - the conclusion of the Pauline Year and the beginning of the Year for Priests - affirming that both St. Paul and the saintly "Cure of Ars" demonstrate "the broad scope of priestly ministry".
"The year now drawing to a close passed largely under the sign of Africa", said the Holy Father. In this context he mentioned his apostolic trip to Cameroon and Angola where, "in the meeting with the Pope, the universal Church became manifest, a community that embraces the world and that is brought together by God through Christ, a community that is not founded on human interests but that arises from God's loving attention towards us".
In Africa "the celebrations of the Eucharist were authentic feasts of faith" characterised by "a sense of holiness, by the presence of the mystery of the loving God moulding ... each individual gesture", said Benedict XVI. He also recalled his meeting with African bishops in Cameroon and the inauguration of the Synod for Africa with his consignment to them of the "Instrumentum laboris".
His visit to Africa likewise "revealed the theological and pastoral force of pontifical primacy as a point of convergence for the unity of the Family of God". And, when the Synod itself was celebrated in Rome in October, "the importance of the collegiality - of the unity - of the bishops emerged even more powerfully", he said.
"The Vatican Council II renewal of the liturgy took exemplary form" in the liturgies in Africa while, "in the communion of the Synod, we had a practical experience of the ecclesiology of the Council".
Referring then to the theme of the 2009 Synod - "The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace" - the Pope described it as "a theological and, above all, a pastoral theme of vital relevance. Yet", he said, "it could also be misunderstood as a political theme. The task of the bishops was to transform theology into pastoral activity; in other words, into a concrete pastoral ministry in which the great visions of Holy Scripture and Tradition are applied to the activities of bishops and priests in a specific time and place".
The problem of "a positive secularism, correctly practised and interpreted", which was the focus of the African bishops' concerns, was "also a fundamental theme of my Encyclical 'Caritas in veritate'", published in June. That document "returned to and further developed the question concerning the theological role - and the concrete application - of Church social doctrine".
On the subject of reconciliation, which "the Synod attempted to examine profoundly ... as a task facing the Church today", the Pope noted that "if man is not reconciled with God, he is also in disharmony with the creation. ... Another aspect of reconciliation is the capacity to recognise guilt and to ask forgiveness, of God and of neighbour", he said.
"We must learn the ability to do penance, to allow ourselves to be transformed, to go out to meet others and to allow God to grant us the courage and strength for such renewal. In this world of ours today we must rediscover the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation". In this context, the Holy Father described the fact that people are confessing less than they used to as "a symptom of a loss of veracity towards ourselves and towards God; a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace".
"If the power of reconciliation is not created in people's hearts, political commitment lacks the interior precondition necessary for peace. During the Synod, the pastors of the Church worked for this interior purification of man, which is the essential preliminarily requirement for creating justice and peace. But such interior purification and maturity ... cannot exist without God".
The Holy Father then turned his attention to the pilgrimage he made in May to Jordan and the Holy Land. In this respect, he thanked the king of Jordan for "the exemplary manner in which he works for peaceful coexistence among Christians and Muslims, for respect towards the religion of others and for responsible collaboration before God".
The Pope also thanked the Israeli government "for all it did to ensure my visit could take place peacefully and securely", and for having enabled him "to celebrate two great public liturgies: in Jerusalem and in Nazareth". He likewise expressed his thanks to the Palestinian Authority for its "great cordiality" and for having given him the opportunity to celebrate a "public liturgy in Bethlehem and to perceive the suffering and the hopes present in their territory".
"The visit to Yad Vashem represented a disturbing encounter with human cruelty, with the hatred of a blind ideology which, with no justification, consigned millions of human beings to death and which, in the final analysis, also sought to drive God from the world: the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the God of Jesus Christ". Thus the museum is, "first and foremost, a commemorative monument against hatred, a heartfelt call to purification, forgiveness and love".
The Holy Father also mentioned his September trip to the Czech Republic where, "I was always told, agnostics and atheists are in the majority and Christians now represent only a minority". In this context he noted how "people who describe themselves as agnostics or atheist must also be close to our hearts, as believers. When we speak of a new evangelisation these people may perhaps feel afraid. ... Yet the critical question about God also exists for them. ... We must take care that man does not shelve the question of God, the essential question of his existence".
In closing his address, the Holy Father again mentioned the current Year for Priests. "As priests", he said, "we are here to serve everyone. ... We must recognise God ever and anew, and seek Him continually in order to become His true friends".
"This is my hope for Christmas," he concluded, "that we become ever greater friends of Christ, and therefore friends of God, and that in this way we may become salt of the earth and light of the world".
AC/.../ROMAN CURIAVIS 091221 (1100)