"It is true... that many international conferences have been held for Africa, for universal brotherhood. Fine things have been said and sometimes positive actions have been accomplished, we must recognise this. But it is clear that words, intentions and desires are greater than achievements, and we must ask ourselves why this is." - Pope Benedict XVI
VATICAN CITY, 18 NOV 2011 (VIS) - This morning, during his flight to Benin, the Holy Father responded to a number of questions put to him by Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. in the name of the journalists accompanying them on the papal plane.
Explaining why he chose Benin to launch the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Africae munus", which is addressed to the entire continent of Africa, Benedict XVI said: "There are a number of reasons. The first is that Benin is a country at peace, both externally and internally. Its democratic institutions work; they were created in a spirit of freedom and responsibility, and therefore justice and commitment to the common good are possible and guaranteed. ... The second reason is that, as in most African countries, there are a number of religions, peacefully existing one next to the other. There are Christians of different denominations, ... Muslims and traditional religions, and these different faiths live in mutual respect and share responsibility for peace and reconciliation, both internally and externally. ... Inter-religious dialogue is a factor for peace and freedom, and it is also an important aspect of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
"Finally, the third reason is that this is the country of my dear friend, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, and I had always wanted to come and pray one day over his grave. Truly he was a great friend to me. ... To visit the country of Cardinal Gantin, a great representative of Catholic Africa, of humane and civil Africa, is one of the reasons I chose to come here".
Another question put by Fr. Lombardi referred to the growth of Evangelical and Pentecostal movements in Africa. They "present an attractive faith, a simplification of the Christian message which lays great emphasis on healing and mixes their own rites with those of African tradition". How, he asked, can the Catholic Church react to this challenge? In his reply the Pope noted that the phenomenon also exists on other continents, especially Latin America and Africa. Such communities are characterised by a lack of institutions, an easily understandable message, and "a participative liturgy which lays emphasis on the expression of feelings and local culture, and on syncretic combinations among different religions. In a way, this guarantees their success but it also leads to instability. We also know that many return to the Catholic Church, or migrate from one of those communities to another.
"We must not imitate such communities", the Pope added. "Rather, we must ask ourselves what we can do to give fresh vitality to the Catholic faith. One point, is certainly a simple, profound but comprehensible message. It is important that Christianity should not be seen as a difficult, European system, ... but as a universal message that God exists, that He is concerned with us, knows and loves us, and that religion produces collaboration and fraternity".
Another vital factor is that "Church institutions should not too cumbersome, that the initiative of the community and of the individual should prevail. I would also draw attention to the importance of a participative but not a sentimental liturgy. Liturgy must not be exclusively based on the expression of feelings, but characterised by the presence of the mystery, into which we enter and by which we allow ourselves to be formed. Finally, I would say that it is important not to lose sight of the universal aspect of inculturation. Indeed. I would prefer to speak more of 'inter-culturality' than of inculturation; in other words, of the meeting of cultures in our shared truth of being human in our time. Thus will we grow in universal fraternity, not losing the great gift of catholicity which makes us brothers and sisters all over the world, a family which collaborates in a spirit of fraternity".
The third question put to the Holy Father focused on the Church's specific contribution to building lasting peace in Africa, in light of peacekeeping operations and reconstruction initiatives in various African States.
"It is true", said Benedict XVI in his reply, "that many international conferences have been held for Africa, for universal brotherhood. Fine things have been said and sometimes positive actions have been accomplished, we must recognise this. But it is clear that words, intentions and desires are greater than achievements, and we must ask ourselves why this is. One fundamental factor, I believe, is that renewal and universal brotherhood call for sacrifice; they require us to abandon our selfishness and to exist for others. This is easy to say but difficult to achieve. ... Only by love, and belief in a God Who loves us, can we achieve this, daring to lose our lives, daring to give ourselves because we know that we will gain by it".
The Holy Father then went on to explain why he believes that Africa can bring faith and hope to the rest of the world. "Humanity", he said, "is undergoing an increasingly rapid transformation. The last fifty or sixty years in Africa, from postcolonial independence to our own day, have been a very trying and difficult time, with many problems some of which have still not been overcome. ... Nonetheless the freshness of the 'yes' to life which exists in Africa, ... its enthusiasm and hope, show that it possesses a great store of humanity, a freshness of religious feeling and hope. ... Thus I would say that the new humanism in the young soul of Africa, despite the problems which exist and will continue to exist, are proof of its great stores of life and vitality for the future".
PV-BENIN/ VIS 20111119 (940)