Benedict XVI's journey to Africa, the introduction of Chinese into the already multilingual Holy See website and the proclamation of a forthcoming Year of the Priesthood confirm the most obvious characteristic of the Church of Rome: namely, its catholic, universal outlook. They demonstrate once again – and in unexpected ways – a clear and historically well-founded aspect of Catholicism, though it is not always recognized as such.
And this was also recently shown by the desire to portray the Church, the Pope and the Roman Curia according to polemical and offensive stereotypes, or through totally false and thus misleading images.
The reality is quite different. This is well-known not only to a great deal of Catholics but also to many others – just as numerous as the Catholics – who look to Christ's Church with respect and trust, despite the weaknesses, inadequacies and shortcomings of many of her members. And this is the case on all the continents, where situations, needs and hopes vary.
Everywhere, however, the priority of Catholics must be to make God present, as Benedict XVI once again wrote in his Letter to the Bishops, which will live on as one of the most authentic and exalted of the documents of his papal service.
While the Holy See is also opening to China through its website – thereby implementing a desire that the Pope has expressed clearly and respectfully since the beginning of his Pontificate – Benedict XVI is visiting two important countries in Africa, Cameroon and Angola. Symbolically, it is a tribute to the whole continent and it is no accident that the Bishop of Rome will be using the three languages most widely used for communication (French, English and Portuguese), thus addressing all the peoples of Africa.
His journey will then serve to introduce the Second Special Synodal Assembly dedicated to Africa where Christianity has very ancient roots in some regions – especially in Egypt and Ethiopia – and an important missionary history. It was on these foundations that the Church was established on Africa's soil and during the 20th century was able to develop characteristics of her own. And the Pope is returning here as a witness of Christ, to bring the Good News once again and the possibility of reconciliation. He is following in the footsteps of Paul VI, who visited Uganda 40 years ago, and of John Paul II, who visited as many as 40 African countries in 20 years.
Nor is Benedict XVI alone on this journey. He is accompanied by the prayers of a great many of the faithful who, especially in these past weeks, have been and are close to him.
And the Pope himself recalled the journey into Egypt of Joseph – the Patron of the universal Church and his namesake – who sought refuge in the same country with Mary and the Infant Jesus to save them from persecution; thus he places his Visit and the whole of Africa under St Joseph's protection.
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