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An extended hand

Benedict XVI’s Journey to Benin will live on and the images and words of the Pope on his return to Africa will long be remembered. He first went to the African continent to present the preparatory document of the Synodal Assembly in Yaoundé and this time he has returned to sign the final Apostolic Exhortation. “Given at Ouidah, in Benin, on 19 November, in the year 2011, the seventh of my Pontificate” is the solemn formula. It may be read at the end of the text, a true and proper magna carta which with realism and hope delineates the future of one part of the world which is all too often exploited and, at the same time, the task that the Catholic Church is called to carry out there.

Indeed, realism and hope are the keys to reading the document and the Papal Visit to this country, which of course is not a large one and is marked by poverty and yet, above all, is youthful and vital. Youth and exuberant vitality were immediately evident in the very warm welcome on the part of the people of Benin — who spilled into the streets to celebrate and greet the Pope — and on the part of the authorities, beginning with Thomas Yayi Boni, the President of the Republic, who is a Protestant Christian.

Then in her description of Benedict XVI as “A genuine friend of Africa”, on behalf of Benin’s institutions Grand Chancellor Koubourath Osseni, a woman and a Muslim, referred to a perception that is common and widespread, and not only among Catholics.

Yes, the Bishop of Rome is a true friend of Africa, a country respected and loved by the Catholic Church. These sentiments are expressed on every page of the Apostolic Exhortation, a document not only addressed to the great continent which is moving forward and renewing itself, but also to the whole world. Its words invite us to not fear modernity but to experience it with courage, rooted in tradition. In line with the Catholic presence which in these regions dates back to the very earliest Christian generations. The memory of the Fathers of the African Church, the call to the contemplative life — embraced in the first centuries but also in the 20th century — and the hope of renewing the theological and intellectual tradition of the school of Alexandria are thus significant.

Modernity and tradition are therefore mingled, as in the Latin chants, with African rhythms which today repeat the successful experiment of the Missa Luba , more than half a century ago, to demonstrate the Christian maturity achieved. This is affirmed by the Exhortation Africae Munus which Benedict XVI signed surrounded by cardinals and bishops of the continent. The Document contains guidelines that are valid for the entire Catholic world, in reaffirming that the role of the Church is not political but is above all educational in the religious sense, in order to proclaim Christ, our precious treasure.

Although the consequences of this proclamation have important political implications: reconciliation, justice, peace and patient dialogue between religions so that the hope, evoked by the Pope and symbolically expressed by an extended hand, may not be extinguished.

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July 18, 2018

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