VATICAN CITY, JUN 17, 2003 (VIS) - This morning John Paul II received prelates from the Conference of Bishops of Burkina Faso and Niger who just completed their "ad limina" visit.
At the beginning of his speech in French, the Pope referred to his concern "for the stable and integral development of peoples" and the difficulties "of survival. The difficult climatic conditions of the region of Sahel and the growing desertification keep peoples in an endemic poverty that engenders instability and desperation." The Holy Father thus appealed to the international community to help these peoples to achieve a "more serene future."
"Despite difficulties related to the instability of the life of local populations, the missionary vitality of your diocesan Churches has expressed itself in multiple ways. I thank you for the celebration that marked the centenary of the evangelization of Burkina Faso."
The Holy Father underscored that "evangelization is an essential mission of the Church. Proclaiming the Gospel cannot be done fully without the contribution of all believers." After recalling that he wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Africa" that "inculturation is a priority and a necessity on the path of particular churches," he said: "The pastoral ministry of inculturation that you have accomplished in your dioceses is bearing fruit, in particular in the life and testimony of the founding Christian communities."
Speaking about lay people, the Pope urged the African bishops to help them "to have an ever-more lively consciousness of their role in the Church and to honor their mission as baptized and confirmed Christians."
After emphasizing that "Christian families are called to be a powerful cell of Christian witness," John Paul II recalled "the example of numerous families that heroically live fidelity to the sacrament of Christian marriage, in the context of civil legislation or traditional customs that are detrimental to monogamous marriage. Given the dangers that afflict the African family of today and its foundations, I urge you to promote the dignity of the Christian family."
John Paul II then spoke about the difficulty that priests encounter when caring for and forming Christian communities, citing "the distance between parishes, the network of highways in bad conditions and the reduced number of apostolic workers. I thank you," he said, "for your generosity in serving Christ and His Church and I know how much you want, with the means at your disposition, to give them everything that is necessary for their spiritual health and their material needs." He invited the prelates to "always show, ... as you already do, the solidarity of your local Churches with neighboring countries, that often need pastors, by sending them priests and lay missionaries."
Referring to the formation of candidates for the priesthood, the Pope underlined the importance of a "serious spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation, necessary for the exercise of the priestly ministry that must be associated with a solid human and cultural formation. It is very important to insist on the emotional maturity of candidates, necessary for the call to celibacy."
The Holy Father went on to recall that in Burkina Faso and Niger "Christian communities live in the midst of societies characterized by the predominance of Islam and by values that are not your own. I am glad that, as you said, the relationships of Catholics with followers of Islam are marked by respect, esteem and coexistence." The Pope invited the bishops to "cultivate dialogue ... so that fear of others disappears, a fear which is born out of the profound ignorance of the religious values that encourage this dialogue."
John Paul II, in parting remarks to the prelates, expressed the desire that "in the face of the scandal of poverty and injustice ... the Church may continue to carry out its prophetic role and be the voice of those without a voice, so that the human dignity of the whole person is recognized and all initiatives are promoted that seek to develop and ennoble human beings in their spiritual and material existence."
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