The invocation of the Holy Spirit introduced the work of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, inaugurated in St Peter's by a Eucharistic celebration in which Latin chants were interspersed with hymns from the African continent.
On both these occasions Benedict xvi chose to speak of the primacy of God, commenting on the biblical Readings of Mass and reflecting on the hymn Nunc, sancte, nobis Spiritus, whose authorship tradition attributes to St Ambrose.
The Pope went straight to the root of the essential, underlining the absolute importance of the divine plan, expressed in the creation of man – “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” – and recalling how the coming of the Spirit who descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost is not an event of the past but must be prayed for, as the words of our liturgical tradition recall, “ nunc ” (now).
Today, however, the recognition of God's lordship which characterizes the African cultures is threatened – Benedict xvi stated, mincing no words – by a brand of colonialism that is not prepared to die and is exporting to Africa two dangerous trends. On the one hand is the practical materialism that weighs on Western society and on the other, religious fundamentalism that uses God's name to mask intolerance and violence.
And just as God's primacy is contained in the original plan of marriage, according to Christ's words, it is recognized every time the Spirit is invoked – every day, in morning prayer, with the words of the Ambrosian hymn – so that he may recreate the Church and the world. And show clearly that the Church is not a product of human organization but rather the result of human collaboration with the divine plan.
The Pope delved deep in his meditation explaining in perfect continuity with the Christian tradition of the first centuries – just like a Father of the Church – how the descent of the Spirit must be implored with every fibre of the human being, in such a way that each person may understand in God's light not only his or her own shortcomings but also the evils of the world.
He is not a God who is distant but on the contrary dwells in our hearts, as Benedict xvi tirelessly repeats.
And he always recalls that recognition of God's primacy entails the urgent need to communicate it to the world and, at the same time, the need to put charity to our neighbour, both universal and practical, into practice in accordance with the Gospel Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Once again, therefore, the Pope amazed everyone by returning to the essential. In other words he spoke of God in relation to a continent forgotten by the international news – perhaps precisely because it is exploited – or called to mind solely because of economic and social problems.
And one might well ask how much coverage the clear and gentle teaching of Benedict xvi – whose Journey to Africa this year was upset by a prejudicial and unfounded dispute about the fight against AIDS – will be given by the media which have often been responsible for representing him in a disparaging or even hostile manner, as the Cardinal President of the Italian Bishops' Conference did not fail to point out to representatives of the European Bishops' Conferences.
In spite of all, however, the Pope and the Church know well that they are not just one group among many, closed into their own interests. On the contrary, they are aware that they are called to the universality of love. To make room for the primacy of that God who, in words dear to the Greek Fathers, desires the divinization of the human being.
St. Peter’s Square
Nov. 19, 2019
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