Why shouldn’t an African country show the rest of the world the way? Benedict XVI’s open-ended question on leaving Benin does not challenge only the continent he has visited twice in less than three years. He immediately explained that it is a matter of living authentic fraternity, founded on the family and on work. So the Pope made use of his last Discourse in Benin to repeat his strong encouragement to Africa and reprimand all who continue to exploit it with ill-concealed forms of neocolonialism or who end by ignoring it. This is what occurred in those media which minimized or neglected the Papal Journey, against the advice of their own correspondents who witnessed to its newness and importance. Perhaps some of the media considered the event uninteresting because it was condom and abuse free, themes that seem to have become indispensable ingredients for being informed about the Catholic Church.
Benedict XVI’s Visit to Benin and his Apostolic Exhortation, Africae Munus , which he signed in Ouidah, make an important contribution to worldwide coexistence and offer real support to the commitment of the Catholic Church. She is not of course foreign to the continent which gave refuge to the Holy Family fleeing persecution, and on which Christianity has very ancient roots — as the case of Ethiopia shows — and as the Pope underlined several times, recalling the importance of the School of Alexandria, evoking the ancient African Christian authors who wrote in Latin. Above all he once again repeated to the journalists on the flight for Cotonou that in the 21st century Gospel proclamation on the continent must not come across as a difficult, European system, but as a universal message, both simple and profound, “that there is a God... who knows us and loves us, and that concrete religion stimulates cooperation and fraternity”.
This message is the same as that of the Exhortation Africae Munus, a document which is a fruit of synodal collegiality, and in which Benedict XVI has coupled realism and hope. These two concepts marked the entire trip and especially the important Address at the Presidential Palace in Cotonou, where the Pope did not hide the serious problems of the continent — that unfortunately still continue to exist today, but are naturally not exclusive to Africa — and yet he ably and energetically contested the reductive and disrespectful negative opinions that are commonly bandied about.
In this way, he was able to denounce scandals and injustices, corruption and violence, and above all, to look with optimism to the future. “Benedict XVI’s African hope”, was the headline in La Croix that effectively summed up the meaning of the entire Journey.
And the hope of the Pope, a true friend of Africa, was well expressed in both his moving and very noisy Meeting with children — who represent the future of the continent — and the Homily of the concluding Mass on the Sunday of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Commenting on the Gospel description of the Last Judgment, the Pope recalled that it is the Lord of the universe and of history who sets humanity free from fear and ushers it into a new world of freedom and happiness.
St. Peter’s Square
April 24, 2019
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