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Pope Benedict in Africa: the theme is hope

Catholic World News - November 21, 2011

“Do not deprive your peoples of hope!” Pope Benedict XVI exhorted a group of African political leaders on November 19, the 2nd day of his weekend visit to Benin. That message reflected the theme that resounded throughout the Pope’s trip, in which he repeatedly expressed his hope for Africa’s future.

"When I say that Africa is a continent of hope, I am not indulging in mere rhetoric, but simply expressing a personal conviction which is also that of the Church,” the Pontiff said. He explained that he had not come “to analyze the realities of Africa like a curious ethnologist,” and he stressed that “the Church does not propose any technical solution and does not impose any political solution.”

Instead, the Pope said, his essential message to Africa would be “a message of hope, hope which generates energy, which stimulates the intellect and gives the will all its dynamism.”

In his meeting with political leaders the Pontiff also underlined the importance of inter-religious dialogue. He condemned the exploitation of religion as a pretext for violence, and urged genuine inter-religious exchanges. “Inter-religious dialogue when badly understood leads to muddled thinking or to syncretism,” the Pope warned. “This is not the dialogue which is sought.” Productive dialogue requires the participants to know and respect their own fundamental beliefs, he said: “I can only come to a knowledge of the other if I know myself.”

Later on Saturday the Pope visited the tomb of his friend, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, the former prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, at the seminary of St. Gall at Ouidah. Speaking to priests and seminarians there, he exhorted them to “let Christ shine through your life.” In a message particularly directed at seminary students, the Pope warned that “without the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function.”

Still later on Saturday the Pontiff visited a home for needy children, run by the Missionaries of Charity. He asked the children to pray for the Church, instructed them in prayer, and suggested: “Ask your parents to pray with you.”

On Sunday, November 20—the feast of Christ the King—the Holy Father presided at a Mass concelebrated with more than 200 African bishops at a soccer stadium in Cotonou, the capital of Benin. With 30,000 people in attendance, the Pope formally released his apostolic exhortation, Africae Munus, concluding the work of the 2nd African Synod. As he concluded his visit on Sunday evening, at an airport ceremony before his departure, Pope Benedict issued a challenge especially to the nation of Benin: “Why should an African country not show the rest of the world the path to be taken towards living an authentic fraternity in justice?”

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