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Pope sees hope in 'youthful' African culture

Catholic World News - November 18, 2011

“There’s a freshness, a ‘Yes’ to life, in Africa, a youthfulness that’s full of enthusiasm and hope,” Pope Benedict XVI told journalists accompanying him on his November 18 flight to Benin.

Following his usual practice, the Holy Father spent some time with reporters during the trip, answering questions that had been submitted in advance. The director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi, chose questions on the challenge posed by Evangelical Protestant groups, the search for peace, and the Pope’s relationship with the late Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, as well as a broader question about Africa’s many grave problems.

“Naturally Africa has great problems and difficulties, like all humanity has great problems,” the Pope replied. But he added that the “freshness” of Africa’s spirit was cause for optimism.

That fresh approach, the Pope continued, extends to religious affairs, insofar as Africans are comfortable with spiritual questions. “There’s not a rigid positivism, that restricts our life and makes it a little arid, and also turns off hope,” the Pope observed. “I would say there’s a fresh humanism in the young soul of Africa, despite all the problems that exist.”

Regarding peacekeeping efforts, Pope Benedict said that the subject would be addressed in some detail in his apostolic exhortation, Munus Africae, which he will formally release on November 20. But he offered a short preview of his thoughts, saying that the quest for peace “demands going beyond egoism.” Peace will come, he said, when individuals, communities, and nations see each other as members of the same human family: children of God.

Asked to analyze the success that Evangelical groups have enjoyed, especially in African and Latin America, the Pope said that they feature “a message that’s simple, easy, and understandable,” while “giving little weight to institutions.” That approach, he remarked, “also implies a lack of stability.” Catholics should learn from these groups, the Pope said, that a clear and simple proclamation of the faith is attractive. He observed:

Christianity doesn’t come as a difficult European system, one which someone else can’t understand or realize, but as a universal message that God exists, God matters, God knows us and loves us, and that in concrete, religion provokes collaboration and fraternity.

“Second, it’s important that our institutions not be too ‘heavy,’” the Pontiff added.

[John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter produced a quick unofficial transcript of the Pope’s session with reports, which was conducted mainly in Italian.]

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