Sunday, March 29, 2009

Looking Upon the Holy Face of Jesus and Following the Way of the Cross

Homily of Pope Benedict XVI
Mass at Santo Volto di Gesù Parish in Magliana

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 29, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In today's Gospel passage, St. John refers to an episode that occurred during the last phase of Christ's public ministry, just before the Jewish Passover, which was to be the Passover of His death and Resurrection.

While Jesus was in Jerusalem, the Evangelist recounts, some Greeks, proselytes of Judaism who were curious and attracted by what He was doing, approached Philip, one of the Twelve who had a Greek name and came from Galilee. "Sir," they said to him, " we wish to see Jesus." Philip in turn went to Andrew, one of the first Apostles very close to the Lord and who also had a Greek name, and they both went and "told Jesus" (cf. Jn 12: 20-21).

In the request of these anonymous Greeks, we can interpret the thirst to see and to know Christ which is in every person's heart; and Jesus' answer orients us to the mystery of Easter, the glorious manifestation of His saving mission.

"The hour has come," He declared, "for the Son of man to be glorified (Jn 12: 23).

Yes! The hour of the glorification of the Son of Man is at hand, but it will entail the sorrowful passage through His Passion and death on the Cross. Indeed, only in this way could the divine plan of salvation, which is for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike, be brought about.

Actually, everyone is invited to be a member of the one people of the new and definitive Covenant. In this light, we also understand the solemn proclamation with which the Gospel passage ends: "and when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12: 32), and likewise the Evangelizist's comment: "He said this to show by what death He was to die" (Jn 12: 33). The Cross: the height of love is the lifting up of Jesus and He attracts all to these heights.

Very appropriately, the liturgy brings us to meditate on this text of John's Gospel today, on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, while the days of the Lord's Passion draw near in which we will immerse ourselves spiritually as from next Sunday which is called, precisely, Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Lord's Passion. It is as if the Church were encouraging us to share Jesus' state of mind, desiring to prepare us to relive the mystery of His Crucifixion, death and Resurrection, not as foreign spectators, but, on the contrary, as protagonists, involved together with Him in His mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection. Indeed, where Christ is, His disciples called to follow Him, to be in in solidarity with Him at the moment of the combat, must also be in order to share in His victory.

What our association with His mission consists of is explained by the Lord Himself. In speaking of His forthcoming glorious death, He uses a simple and at the same time evocative image: "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12: 24).

He compares Himself to a "grain of wheat which has split open, to bring much fruit to others," according to an effective statement of St. Athanasius; it is only through death, through the Cross, that Christ bears much fruit for all the centuries. Indeed, it was not enough for the Son of God to become incarnate. To bring the divine plan of universal salvation to completion, He had to be killed and buried: only in this way was human reality to be accepted, and, through His death and Resurrection, the triumph of Life, the triumph of Love to be made manifest; it was to be proven that love is stronger than death.

Yet the man Jesus, who was a true man with the same sentiments as ours, felt the burden of the trial and bitter sorrow at the tragic end that awaited Him.
Precisely because He was God-Man He felt terror even more acutely as He faced the abyss of human sin and all that is unclean in humanity, which He had to carry with Him and consume in the fire of His love. He had to carry all this with Him and transform it in His love.

"Now is my soul troubled," He confessed. "And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?" (Jn 12: 27).

The temptation to implore: "Save me, do not permit the Cross, give me life!" surfaces. In the distress of His invocation, we may grasp in anticipation the anguished prayer of Gethsemane when, experiencing the drama of loneliness and fear, He implored the Father to take from Him the cup of the Passion.

At the same time, however, His filial adherence to the divine plan did not fail, because He knew that it is for precisely this that this hour had come, and with trust He prays: "Father, glorify your name" (Jn 12: 28). By this He means, "I accept the Cross" in which the name of God is glorified, that is, the greatness of His love.

And this prayer also anticipates the words on the Mount of Olives: "Not my will, but Yours be done." He transforms His human will and identifies it with the will of God. This is the great process on the Mount of Olives, that which should be realized in every prayer we make: to transform our selfish will, to allow it to be transformed, to open it up so that it may be transformed to the divine will

The same sentiments surface in the passage of the Letter to the Hebrews proclaimed in the Second Reading. Prostrated by extreme anguish because of the death that was hanging over Him, Jesus offers up prayers and supplications to God "with loud cries and tears" (Heb 5:7).

He invokes help from the One who could liberate Him, but always remaining abandoned in the Father's hands. And precisely because of His filial trust in God, the author notes, He was heard, in the sense that He was raised from death, receiving new and definitive life. The Letter to the Hebrews makes us understand that these insistent prayers of Jesus, with tears and cries, were the true act of the High Priest with which He offered Himself and humanity to the Father, thereby transforming the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is the demanding way of the Cross that Jesus points out to all His disciples. On several occasions He said, "If anyone wants to serve me, let him follow me." There is no alternative for the Christian who wishes to fulfil his vocation.

It is the "law" of the Cross, described with the image of the grain of wheat that dies in order that new life may germinate; it is the "logic" of the Cross, recalled also in today's Gospel: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."

"To hate" one's life is a strong and paradoxical Semitic expression that clearly emphasizes the radical totality which must distinguish those who follow Christ and, out of love for Him, put themselves at the service of their brethren. They lose their life and thus find it. There is no other way to experience the joy and the true fruitfulness of Love: the way of giving oneself, of self-giving, of losing oneself in order to find oneself.

Dear friends, Jesus' invitation rings out with particular eloquence at today's celebration in this Parish of yours. Indeed, it is dedicated to the Holy Face of Jesus: that Face which "some Greeks," of which the Gospel speaks, wished to see; that Face which in the coming days of the Passion we shall contemplate disfigured by human sins, indifference and ingratitude; that Face, radiant with light and dazzling with glory that will shine out at dawn on Easter Day. * * *

Dear brothers and sisters, let yourselves be elightened by the splendour of the Face of Christ * * * It is important to put always personal and liturgical prayer first in our life. I am aware of the great commitment you devote to catechesis to ensure that it lives up to the expectations of the children, both those preparing to receive the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation and those who attend the After-School Prayer and Recreation Centre. You are also anxious to provide a suitable catechesis for parents, whom you invite to take a course of Christian formation together with their children. In this way you seek to help families to live the sacramental events together, educating and being educated in the faith "in the family," which must be the first and natural "school" of Christian life for all its members. * * *

I would like to say a special word of encouragement to you, dear young people: let yourselves be attracted by the fascination of Christ! Fixing His Face with the eyes of the faith, ask Him: "Jesus what do you want me to do with you and for you?"

Thus, keep listening. Be guided by His Spirit, fulfill the plan He has for you. Prepare yourselves seriously and build families that are united and faithful to the Gospel and be His witnesses in society. Then, if He calls you, be ready to dedicate your whole life to His service in the Church as priests or as men and women religious

I assure you of my prayers; in particular I am expecting you next Thursday in St. Peter's Basilica to prepare ourselves for the World Youth Day, which as you know, is being celebrated this year at the diocesan level, next Sunday. We shall remember together my beloved and venerable Predecessor John Paul II on the fourth anniversary of his death. In many circumstances, he encouraged young people to encounter Christ and to follow Him with enthusiasm and generosity.

Dear brothers and sisters of this parish community, may the infinite love of Christ that shines in His Face be radiant in your every attitude, and become your "daily life." As St. Augustine urged in an Easter homily,

"Christ has suffered; let us die to sin. Christ is risen; let us live for God. Christ has passsed from this world to the Father; let us not be attached to this earth with our hearts but follow Him in the things of above. Our Lord was hung on the wood of the Cross; let us crucify concupiscence of the flesh. He lay in the tomb; buried with Him, let us forget past things; He is seated in Heaven; let us concentrate our longing on our desires to supreme things."

(Discourse 229/D, 1)

Heartened by this knowledge, let us continue the Eucharistic celebration, invoking the motherly intercession of Mary, so that our life may become a reflection of Christ's. Let us pray that all those whom we meet may always perceive in our gestures and in our words the pacifying and comforting goodness of His Face. Amen!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me acccording to your word."

Today, March 25, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, in which we reflect upon Mary's fiat, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me acccording to your word," and upon the mystery of God coming down from heaven and merging Himself with Man, making Himself small and becoming flesh in the temple and virgin womb of Mary the Immaculate.

Why celebrate the Annunciation today, March 25? Well, that date was fixed in ancient tradition and it is based upon a widespread belief in Judaism at the time of Christ that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception. By the time of Tertullian, scholars researching the various dates of Passover had concluded that Jesus died on the Cross on March 25. Additionally, some Jewish scholars had calculated that the date of Creation was March 25, and it made sense to believe that Jesus became incarnate on the same day as Creation. Hence, the tradition arose that Jesus was conceived on March 25 and, therefore, the date of the angel Gabriel's annunciation to Mary was determined to be March 25.

And if you add nine months to the date of conception, March 25, you get December 25. It turns out that the fixing of Christmas Day on December 25 is not an arbitrary decision, nor is it based on the widespread modern belief that the date was picked in order to displace the celebration of a pagan festival on that date. Rather, the date of Jesus' birth was determined by reference to Jesus' conception which, in turn, was calculated by determining His crucifixion and death.

Ave Maria, Gratia Plena

Marriage and spousal love are central to understanding the nature of God and of Man. These two themes and images are echoed throughout salvation history. Beginning with the Trinity, a loving communion of persons that is both unitive and fruitful, continuing with the social/spousal nature of Man, who is male and female, intended likewise to live in a loving communion with each other that is both unitive and fruitful. These themes and images are reflected in the relationship of Jesus the Bridegroom to His Bride, the Church, two become one. So, it is no surprise that Mary's encounter with the angel Gabriel, and her resulting fiat, should also be understood in spousal terms.
We reflect on Mary as a young woman, receiving the Lord's summons to dedicate her life to Him in a very particular way, a way that would involve the generous gift of herself, her womanhood, her motherhood. Imagine how she must have felt. She was filled with apprehension, utterly overwhelmed at the prospect that lay before her.

The angel understood her anxiety and immediately sought to reassure her. "Do not be afraid, Mary .... The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Lk 1:30, 35). It was the Spirit who gave her the strength and courage to respond to the Lord's call. It was the Spirit who helped her to understand the great mystery that was to be accomplished through her. It was the Spirit who enfolded her with His love and enabled her to conceive the Son of God in her womb.

This scene is perhaps the pivotal moment in the history of God's relationship with His people. During the Old Testament, God revealed Himself partially, gradually, as we all do in our personal relationships. It took time for the chosen people to develop their relationship with God. The Covenant with Israel was like a period of courtship, a long engagement. Then came the definitive moment, the moment of marriage, the establishment of a new and everlasting covenant. As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel's message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said Yes.

In fairy tales, the story ends there, and all "live happily ever after." In real life, it is not so simple. For Mary, there were many struggles ahead, as she lived out the consequences of the "yes" that she had given to the Lord. Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart. When Jesus was twelve years old, she experienced every parent's worst nightmare when, for three days, the child went missing. And after His public ministry, she suffered the agony of witnessing His crucifixion and death. Throughout her trials, she remained faithful to her promise, sustained by the Spirit of fortitude. And she was gloriously rewarded.

Dear young people, we too must remain faithful to the "yes" that we have given to the Lord's offer of friendship. We know that He will never abandon us. We know that He will always sustain us through the gifts of the Spirit. Mary accepted the Lord's "proposal" in our name. So let us turn to her and ask her to guide us as we struggle to remain faithful to the life-giving relationship that God has established with each one of us. She is our example and our inspiration, she intercedes for us with her Son, and with a mother's love she shields us from harm.
--Pope Benedict XVI, July 20, 2008

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Juliana!!

The very special and oh-so-precious Juliana Wetmore recently had her sixth birthday. I know that she did not ask to be so, but she really is a model of grace and strength and dignity for all of us. Would that the world could see her as God sees her, would that the world could see her with God's eyes, for they would see the beautiful princess that she is.

May the Lord, Mary, and Joseph watch over her, her sister Kendra, and her mommy and daddy, embracing them in their loving arms always.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary
Protectress of Africa

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Protectress of Africa, you have given to the world the true Light, Jesus Christ. Through your obedience to the Father and the grace of the Holy Spirit, you have given us the source of our reconciliation and our justice, Jesus Christ, our peace and our joy.

Mother of Tenderness and Wisdom, show us Jesus, your Son and the Son of God. Guide our path of conversion, so that Jesus might shine his glory on us in every aspect of our personal, familial and social lives.

Mother, full of Mercy and Justice, through your docility to the Spirit, the Counselor, obtain for us the grace to be witnesses of the Risen Lord, so that we will increasingly become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Mother of Perpetual Help, we entrust to your maternal intercession the preparation and fruits of the Second Special Assembly for Africa. Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Our Lady of Africa, pray for us!


A Fond Papal Farewell to Africa

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Farewell Ceremony

4 de Fevereiro International Airport of Luanda, Angola
Monday, 23 March 2009

* * * I thank God that I have found the Church here to be so alive and full of enthusiasm, despite the difficulties, able to take up its own cross and that of others, bearing witness before everyone to the saving power of the Gospel message. She continues to proclaim that the time of hope has come, and she is committed to bringing peace and promoting the exercise of fraternal charity in a way that is acceptable to all, respecting the ideas and sensitivities of each person.

It is time to say goodbye and to set off once more for Rome, sad at having to leave you, but glad to have known a courageous people determined to begin again. Despite the problems and obstacles, the people of Angola intend to build their future by travelling along paths of forgiveness, justice and solidarity.

If I may be permitted to make one last appeal, I would ask that the just realization of the fundamental aspirations of the most needy peoples should be the principal concern of those in public office, since their intention – I am sure – is to carry out the mission they have received not for themselves but for the sake of the common good. Our hearts cannot find peace while there are still brothers and sisters who suffer for lack of food, work, shelter or other fundamental goods. If we are to offer a definite response to these fellow human beings, the first challenge to be overcome is that of building solidarity: solidarity between generations, solidarity between nations and between continents, which should lead to an ever more equitable sharing of the earth’s resources among all people.

From Luanda, I broaden my gaze to include the whole of Africa, confirming our appointment for the coming month of October in Vatican City, when we shall gather for the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to this continent, where the incarnate Word in person found refuge. I ask God to grant His protection and assistance to the countless refugees who have fled their country, and are now at large, waiting to be able to return home. The God of Heaven says to them once again: “Even if a woman should forget the child at her breast, yet I will not forget you” (Is 49:15). God loves you like sons and daughters; He watches over your days and your nights, your labours and your aspirations.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, friends from Africa, dear Angolans, take heart! Never tire of promoting peace, making gestures of forgiveness and working for national reconciliation, so that violence may never prevail over dialogue, nor fear and discouragement over trust, nor rancour over fraternal love. This is all possible if you recognize one another as children of the same Father, the one Father in Heaven.

May God bless Angola!
May He bless each of her sons and daughters!
May He bless the present and the future of this beloved nation.
May God be with you!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Dignity of Woman

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Meeting with Catholic Movements for the Promotion of Women

Santo António Parish of Luanda
March 22, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"They have no more wine," said Mary, begging Jesus to intervene so that the wedding-feast could continue, as was only right and fitting: "As long as the wedding guests have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast" (Mk 2:19). The Mother of Jesus turns to the servants and implores them: "Do whatever he tells you" (cf. Jn 2:1-5). Her maternal mediation thus made possible the "good wine," prefiguring a new covenant between divine omnipotence and the poor but receptive human heart. This, in fact, had already happened in the past when -- as we heard in the first reading -- "all the people answered together and said: 'all that the Lord has spoken, we will do'" (Ex 19:8).

These same words well up in the hearts of all gathered here today in Saint Anthony's Church: a building which we owe to the commendable missionary efforts of the Capuchin Friars Minor, who wanted to provide a new Tent for the Ark of the Covenant, the sign of God's presence among his pilgrim people. To them, to those who work alongside them, and to all who benefit from their spiritual and social assistance, the Pope imparts his blessing with warm words of encouragement. I greet with affection all those present: Bishops, priests, religious men and women, and particularly the lay faithful who consciously embrace the duties of Christian commitment and witness that flow from the Sacrament of Baptism and also -- in the case of spouses -- from the Sacrament of Marriage.

Moreover, given the main purpose of our gathering today, I extend greetings of great affection and hope to all women, to whom God has entrusted the wellsprings of life: I invite you to live and to put your trust in life, because the living God has put his trust in you!

With gratitude in my heart I also greet the leaders and facilitators of ecclesial movements that have made the promotion of Angolan women a priority. I thank Archbishop José de Queirós Alves and your representatives for their kind words and for drawing attention to the aspirations and hopes of so many of the silent heroines among the women of this beloved nation.

I call everyone to an effective awareness of the adverse conditions to which many women have been -- and continue to be -- subjected, paying particular attention to ways in which the behavior and attitudes of men, who at times show a lack of sensitivity and responsibility, may be to blame. This forms no part of God's plan. In the Scripture reading, we heard that the entire people cried out together: "all that the Lord has spoken, we will do!"

Sacred Scripture tells us that the divine Creator, looking upon all he had made, saw that something was missing: everything would have been fine if man had not been alone! How could one man by himself constitute the image and likeness of God who is one and three, God who is communion? "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18). God went to work again, fashioning for the man the helper he still lacked, and endowing this helper in a privileged way by incorporating the order of love, which had seemed under-represented in creation.

As you know, my dear friends, this order of love belongs to the intimate life of God himself, the Trinitarian life, the Holy Spirit being the personal hypostasis of love
. As my predecessor Pope John Paul II once wrote, "in God's eternal plan, woman is the one in whom the order of love in the created world of persons takes first root" (Mulieris Dignitatem, 29). In fact, gazing upon the captivating charm that radiates from woman due to the inner grace God has given her, the heart of man is enlightened and he sees himself reflected in her: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh" (Gen 2:23).

Woman is another "I" who shares in the same human nature. We must therefore recognize, affirm and defend the equal dignity of man and woman: they are both persons, utterly unique among all the living beings found in the world. Man and woman are both called to live in profound communion through a reciprocal recognition of one another and the mutual gift of themselves, working together for the common good through the complementary aspects of masculinity and femininity.

Who today can fail to recognize the need to make more room for the "reasons of the heart"? In a world like ours, dominated by technology, we feel the need for this feminine complementarity, so that the human race can live in the world without completely losing its humanity. Think of all the places afflicted by great poverty or devastated by war, and of all the tragic situations resulting from migrations, forced or otherwise. It is almost always women who manage to preserve human dignity, to defend the family and to protect cultural and religious values.

Dear brothers and sisters, history records almost exclusively the accomplishments of men, when in fact much of it is due to the determined, unrelenting and charitable action of women. Of all the many extraordinary women, allow me to mention two in particular: Teresa Gomes and Maria Bonino.

The first, an Angolan, died in 2004 in the city of Sumbe after a happily married life in which she gave birth to seven children; she was a woman of unswerving Christian faith and exemplary apostolic zeal. This was particularly evident during the years 1975 and 1976 when fierce ideological and political propaganda invaded the parish of Our Lady of Grace of Porto Amboim, almost forcing the doors of the church to close. Teresa then became the leader of the faithful who refused to bend under pressure. Teresa offered support, courageously protecting the parish structures and trying every possible means to restore the celebration of Mass. Her love for the Church made her indefatigable in the work of evangelization, under the direction of the priests.

Maria Bonino was an Italian pediatrician who offered her expertise as a volunteer in several missions throughout this beloved African continent. She became the head of the pediatric ward in the provincial hospital at Uíje during the last two years of her life. Caring for the daily needs of thousands of children who were patients there, Maria paid the ultimate price for her service by sacrificing her life during the terrible epidemic of Marburg hemorrhagic fever, to which she herself succumbed. She was transferred to Luanda for treatment, but she died and was laid to rest here on 24 March 2005 -- the day after tomorrow is her fourth anniversary.

Church and society have been -- and continue to be -- enormously enriched by the presence and virtues of women, and in a particular way by consecrated religious who, relying on the Lord's grace, have placed themselves at the service of others.

Dear Angolans, since the dignity of women is equal to that of men, no one today should doubt that women have "a full right to become actively involved in all areas of public life, and this right must be affirmed and guaranteed, also, where necessary, through appropriate legislation. This acknowledgment of the public role of women should not however detract from their unique role within the family. Here their contribution to the welfare and progress of society, even if its importance is not sufficiently appreciated, is truly incalculable" (Message for the 1995 World Day of Peace, 9).

Moreover, a woman's personal sense of dignity is not primarily the result of juridically defined rights, but rather the direct consequence of the material and spiritual care she receives in the bosom of the family. The presence of a mother within the family is so important for the stability and growth of this fundamental cell of society, that it should be recognized, commended and supported in every possible way. For the same reason, society must hold husbands and fathers accountable for their responsibilities towards their families.

Dear families, you have undoubtedly noticed that no human couple, alone and on its own strength, can adequately offer children love and a genuine understanding of life. In fact, in order to say to someone, "your life is good even though you don't know what the future will bring," there needs to be a higher and more trustworthy authority than parents alone can offer. Christians know that this higher authority has been given to the larger family which God, through His Son Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, has established within human history, namely the Church. We find at work here the eternal and indestructible love which guarantees to each of us that our life will always have meaning, even if we do not know what the future will bring. For this reason, the building up of every Christian family takes place within the larger family, the Church, which sustains the domestic family and holds it close to her heart, giving it the assurance that it is protected, now and in the future, by the "yes" of the Creator.

"They have no more wine" -- Mary says to Jesus. Dear women of Angola, accept Mary as your advocate with the Lord. This is precisely how we see her at the wedding-feast of Cana: a tender woman, full of motherly care and courage, a woman who recognizes the needs of others and, wanting to help, places those needs before the Lord. If we stay close to her, we can all -- men and women alike -- recover that sense of serenity and deep trust that makes us feel blessed by God and undaunted in our struggle for life.

May Our Lady of Muxima be the guiding star of your lives. May she keep all of you united in the great family of God. Amen.

"Be Witnesses of the Holy Truth that Sets Men and Women Free!"

On this day, Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Pope Benedict celebrated Mass before an assembly that some estimate to be upwards of one million people!

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Laetare Sunday Holy Mass

Cimangola Square in Luanda, Angola
March 22, 2009

Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). These words fill us with joy and hope, as we await the fulfillment of God's promises!

Today it is my particular joy, as the Successor of the Apostle Peter, to celebrate this Mass with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ from throughout Angola, São Tomé and Príncipe, and so many other countries. With great affection in the Lord I greet the Catholic communities from Luanda, Bengo, Cabinda, Benguela, Huambo, Huìla, Kuàndo Kubàngo, Kunène, North Kwanza, South Kwanza, North Lunda, South Lunda, Malanje, Namibe, Moxico, Uíje and Zàire. In a special way, I greet my brother Bishops, the members of the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa, assembled around this altar of the Lord's sacrifice. I thank the President of CEAST, Archbishop Damião Franklin, for his kind words of welcome, and, in the person of their Pastors, I greet all the faithful in the nations of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Today's first reading has a particular resonance for God's people in Angola (2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23). It is a message of hope addressed to the Chosen People in the land of their Exile, a summons to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Lord's Temple. Its vivid description of the destruction and ruin caused by war echoes the personal experience of so many people in this country amid the terrible ravages of the civil war. How true it is that war can "destroy everything of value" (cf. 2 Chr 36:19): families, whole communities, the fruit of men's labor, the hopes which guide and sustain their lives and work! This experience is all too familiar to Africa as a whole: the destructive power of civil strife, the descent into a maelstrom of hatred and revenge, the squandering of the efforts of generations of good people.

When God's word -- a word meant to build up individuals, communities and the whole human family -- is neglected, and when God's law is "ridiculed, despised, laughed at" (2 Chr 36:16), the result can only be destruction and injustice: the abasement of our common humanity and the betrayal of our vocation to be sons and daughters of a merciful Father, brothers and sisters of His beloved Son.

So let us draw comfort from the consoling words which we have heard in the first reading! The call to return and rebuild God's Temple has a particular meaning for each of us. Saint Paul, the two thousandth anniversary of whose birth we celebrate this year, tells us that "we are the temple of the living God" (2 Cor 6:16). God dwells, we know, in the hearts of all who put their faith in Christ, who are reborn in Baptism and are made temples of the Holy Spirit. Even now, in the unity of the Body of Christ which is the Church, God is calling us to acknowledge the power of His presence within us, to reappropriate the gift of His love and forgiveness, and to become messengers of that merciful love within our families and communities, at school and in the workplace, in every sector of social and political life.

Here in Angola, this Sunday has been set aside as a day of prayer and sacrifice for national reconciliation. The Gospel teaches us that reconciliation, true reconciliation, can only be the fruit of conversion, a change of heart, a new way of thinking. It teaches us that only the power of God's love can change our hearts and make us triumph over the power of sin and division. When we were "dead through our sins" (Eph 2:5), His love and mercy brought us reconciliation and new life in Christ. This is the heart of the Apostle Paul's teaching, and it is important for us to remind ourselves: only God's grace can create a new heart in us! Only His love can change our "hearts of stone" (cf. Ezek 11:19) and enable us to build up, rather than tear down. Only God can make all things new!

It is to preach this message of forgiveness, hope and new life in Christ that I have come to Africa. Three days ago, in Yaoundé, I had the joy of promulgating the Instrumentum Laboris for the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which will be devoted to the theme: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. I ask you today, in union with all our brothers and sisters throughout Africa, to pray for this intention: that every Christian on this great continent will experience the healing touch of God's merciful love, and that the Church in Africa will become "for all, through the witness borne by its sons and daughters, a place of true reconciliation" (Ecclesia in Africa, 79).

Dear friends, this is the message that the Pope is bringing to you and your children. You have received power from the Holy Spirit to be the builders of a better tomorrow for your beloved country. In Baptism, you were given the Spirit in order to be heralds of God's Kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace (cf. Roman Missal, Preface of Christ the King). On the day of your Baptism, you received the light of Christ. Be faithful to that gift! Be confident that the Gospel can affirm, purify and ennoble the profound human values present in your native culture and traditions: your strong families, your deep religious sense, your joyful celebration of the gift of life, your appreciation of the wisdom of the elderly and the aspirations of the young. Be grateful, then, for the light of Christ! Be grateful for those who brought it, the generations of missionaries who contributed -- and continue to contribute -- so much to this country's human and spiritual development. Be grateful for the witness of so many Christian parents, teachers, catechists, priests and religious, who made personal sacrifices in order to pass this precious treasure down to you!

And take up the challenge which this great legacy sets before you. Realize that the Church, in Angola and throughout Africa, is meant to be a sign before the world of that unity to which the whole human family is called, through faith in Christ the Redeemer.

The words which Jesus speaks in today's Gospel are quite striking: He tells us that God's sentence has already been pronounced upon this world (cf. Jn 3:19ff). The light has already come into the world. Yet men preferred the darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil.

How much darkness there is in so many parts of our world! Tragically, the clouds of evil have also overshadowed Africa, including this beloved nation of Angola. We think of the evil of war, the murderous fruits of tribalism and ethnic rivalry, the greed which corrupts men's hearts, enslaves the poor, and robs future generations of the resources they need to create a more equitable and just society -- a society truly and authentically African in its genius and values.

And what of that insidious spirit of selfishness which closes individuals in upon themselves, breaks up families, and, by supplanting the great ideals of generosity and self-sacrifice, inevitably leads to hedonism, the escape into false utopias through drug use, sexual irresponsibility, the weakening of the marriage bond and the break-up of families, and the pressure to destroy innocent human life through abortion?

Yet the word of God is a word of unbounded hope. "God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son ... so that through Him, the world might be saved" (Jn 3:16-17). God does not give up on us! He continues to lift our eyes to a future of hope, and He promises us the strength to accomplish it.

As Saint Paul tells us in today's second reading, God created us in Christ Jesus "to live the good life," a life of good deeds, in accordance with His will (Eph 2:4-10). He gave us His commandments, not as a burden, but as a source of freedom: the freedom to become men and women of wisdom, teachers of justice and peace, people who believe in others and seek their authentic good. God created us to live in the light, and to be light for the world around us! This is what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel: "The man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God" (Jn 3:21).

"Live," then, "by the truth!" Radiate the light of faith, hope and love in your families and communities! Be witnesses of the holy truth that sets men and women free!

You know from bitter experience that, in comparison with the sudden, destructive fury of evil, the work of rebuilding is painfully slow and arduous. Living by the truth takes time, effort and perseverance: it has to begin in our own hearts, in the small daily sacrifices required if we are to be faithful to God's law, in the little acts by which we demonstrate that we love our neighbors, all our neighbors, regardless of race, ethnicity or language, and by our readiness to work with them to build together on foundations that will endure
. Let your parishes become communities where the light of God's truth and the power of Christ's reconciling love are not only celebrated, but proclaimed in concrete works of charity.

And do not be afraid! Even if it means being a "sign of contradiction" (Lk 2:34) in the face of hardened attitudes and a mentality that sees others as a means to be used, rather than as brothers and sisters to be loved, cherished and helped along the path of freedom, life and hope.

Let me close by addressing a special word to the young people of Angola, and to all young people throughout Africa. Dear young friends: you are the hope of your country's future, the promise of a better tomorrow! Begin today to grow in your friendship with Jesus, who is "the way, and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6): a friendship nurtured and deepened by humble and persevering prayer. Seek His will for you by listening to His word daily, and by allowing His law to shape your lives and your relationships. In this way, you will become wise and generous prophets of God's saving love. Become evangelizers of your own peers, leading them by your own example to an appreciation of the beauty and truth of the Gospel, and the hope of a future shaped by the values of God's Kingdom.

The Church needs your witness! Do not be afraid to respond generously to God's call, whether it be to serve him as a priest or a religious, as a Christian parent, or in the many forms of service to others which the Church sets before you

Dear brothers and sisters! At the end of today's first reading, Cyrus, King of Persia, inspired by God, calls the Chosen People to return to their beloved land and to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. May his words be a summons to all God's People in Angola and throughout Southern Africa: Arise! Ponde-vos a caminho! (cf. 2 Chr 36:23)

Look to the future with hope, trust in God's promises, and live in His truth. In this way, you will build something destined to endure, and leave to future generations a lasting inheritance of reconciliation, justice and peace. Amen.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Church Grows Younger as She Journeys Toward Her Lord

Meeting of Pope Benedict XVI with Young People
Dos Coqueiros Stadium in Luanda, Angola

March 21, 2009

Dear Friends,

You have come here in great numbers to be with the Successor of Peter, and you represent so many other young people who are one with us in spirit. You have come to join me in proclaiming openly the joy of our faith in Jesus Christ, and in renewing your commitment to be His faithful disciples in our time. A meeting much like this took place here in Luanda on June 7, 1992 with our beloved Pope John Paul II. Today another Pope stands before you: with a different appearance, but with the same love in his heart, and he embraces all of you in Jesus Christ, who is "the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8).

First of all, I want to thank you for this celebration which you have planned for me, for the festive atmosphere which you yourselves generate, for your presence and for your joy. I cordially greet my brother Bishops and priests and all those who are engaged in youth ministry. I likewise greet with gratitude all who have prepared this event, especially the Bishops' Commission for Young People and Vocations, and its President, Bishop Kanda Almeida, whom I thank for his warm words of welcome. I greet all the young people present, Catholics and others, who are looking for an answer to their questions and difficulties. Some of these have been expressed by your representatives, and I have listened to them with gratitude and appreciation. The embrace I exchanged with them is, naturally, an embrace which I offer to all of you.

Meeting young people is good for everyone! You may have your share of difficulties, but you are filled with great hope, great enthusiasm and a great desire to make a new beginning. My young friends, you hold within yourselves the power to shape the future. I encourage you to look to that future through the eyes of the Apostle John. Saint John tells us: "I saw a new Heaven and a new earth ... and I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven, from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold the dwelling of God is with men'" (Rev 21:1-3).

Dear young people, God makes all the difference. His special presence among us begins with His easy intimacy with the first couple in the garden of Eden; it continues with the divine glory which shone forth from the Tent of Meeting in the midst of the People of Israel during their journey through the desert, and it culminates in the incarnation of the Son of God who became inseparably one with humanity in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself traversed the desert of our humanity and, passing beyond death, He rose from the dead and now draws all humanity with Himself towards God. Jesus is no longer confined to a particular place and time. His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, flows forth from Him, enters our hearts and thus joins us to Him, and with Him to the Father -- to the God who is one and three.

Yes, my friends! God makes all the difference ... and more! God changes us; he makes us new! This is what He has promised: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21:5). It is true! The Apostle Paul tells us: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled Himself to us" (2 Cor 5:17-18).

In ascending to Heaven and entering eternity, Jesus Christ has become the Lord of all ages. So He can walk with us as a friend in the present, carrying in His hand the book of our days. In His hand, He also holds the past, the foundation and source of our life. He also carefully holds the future, allowing us to catch a glimpse of the most beautiful dawn we will ever see: the dawn that radiates from Him, the dawn of the Resurrection.

God is the future of a new humanity, which is anticipated in His Church. When you have a chance, take time to read the Church's history. You will find that the Church does not grow old with the passing of the years. Rather, she grows younger, for she is journeying towards her Lord, day by day drawing nearer to the one true fountain overflowing with youthfulness, rebirth, the power of life.

Dear young people, the future is God. As we have just heard, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4).

At present though, and even in our midst, I see some of the many thousands of young Angolans who have been maimed or disabled as a result of the war and the landmines. I think of the countless tears that have been shed for the loss of your relatives and friends. It is not hard to imagine the dark clouds that still veil the horizon of your fondest hopes and dreams.

In your hearts, I see doubt, a doubt which you have expressed to me today. You are saying: "Here is what we have. There is no visible sign of the things you are talking about! The promise is backed by God's word -- and we believe it -- but when will God arise and renew all things?" Jesus' answer is the one he gave to His disciples: "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?" (Jn 14:1-2).

But you persist, dear young people: "Yes! But when will this happen?" The Apostles asked Jesus a similar question, and His answer was: "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:7-8). See how Jesus does not leave us without an answer; He tells us one thing very clearly: renewal starts from within; you will receive a power from on high. The power to shape the future is within you.

It is within you, but how? Just as life exists within a seed. That is how Jesus explained it at a critical juncture in His ministry

The beginning of His ministry was accompanied by great enthusiasm. People saw the sick healed, demons cast out, the Gospel proclaimed, but otherwise the world had not changed: the Romans remained in power and everyday life continued to be hard, despite those miracles and those beautiful words. People's enthusiasm was waning so much that even some of His disciples had left the Master (cf. Jn 6:66) who preached, but did not change the world. Everyone was asking: deep down, what value does this message have? What has this prophet of God brought us?

It was then that Jesus spoke about the sower who sows in the field of the world, and He explained that the seed is His word (Mk 4:3-20) and His miracles of healing. These are so few in comparison to the immense needs and demands of everyday life. And yet, deep within the seed, the future is already present, since the seed contains tomorrow's bread, tomorrow's life. The seed seems almost nothing. But it is the presence of the future, the promise already present. When it falls on good soil, it produces fruit, thirty, sixty and even a hundredfold.

My dear friends, you are a seed which God has sown in the world, a seed that contains power from on high, the power of the Holy Spirit. And yet, the only way to pass from the promise of life to actually bearing fruit is to give your lives in love, to die for love

Jesus Himself said: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12:24-25). This is what Jesus said, and this is how he acted. His crucifixion seems like complete failure, but it is not! Jesus, in the power of "the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God" (Heb 9:14). Thus, once He fell to the earth, He could bear fruit in every time and place. In your midst, you have the new Bread, the Bread of future life, the Most Holy Eucharist, which nourishes us and pours out the life of the Trinity into the hearts of all people.

Dear young people, as seeds filled with the power of the same eternal Spirit, sprout up before the warmth of the Eucharist in which the Lord's testament is fulfilled: He gives Himself to us and we respond by giving ourselves to others, for love of Him. This is the way that leads to life; it can be followed only by maintaining a constant dialogue with the Lord and among yourselves.

The dominant societal culture is not helping you to live by Jesus' word or to practice the self-giving to which He calls you in accordance with the Father's plan. Yet, dear friends, you have the power within you
, just as it was in Jesus when He said: "the Father who dwells in me does His works... he who believes in me, will also do the works that I do; and he will do greater works than these, because I go to the Father" (Jn 14:10,12).

So do not be afraid to make definitive decisions. You do not lack generosity -- that I know! But the idea of risking a lifelong commitment, whether in marriage or in a life of special consecration, can be daunting. You might think: "The world is in constant flux and life is full of possibilities. Can I make a life-long commitment now, without knowing what unforeseen events lie in store for me? By making a definitive decision, would I not be risking my freedom and tying my own hands?" These are the doubts you feel, and today's individualistic and hedonist culture aggravates them. Yet when young people avoid decisions, there is a risk of never attaining to full maturity!

I say to you: Take courage! Dare to make definitive decisions, because in reality these are the only decisions which do not destroy your freedom, but guide it in the right direction, enabling you to move forward and attain something worthwhile in life.

There is no doubt about it: life is worthwhile only if you take courage and are ready for adventure, if you trust in the Lord who will never abandon you. Young people of Angola, unleash the power of the Holy Spirit within you, the power from on high! Trusting in this power, like Jesus, risk taking a leap and making a definitive decision. Give life a chance!

In this way, islands, oases and great stretches of Christian culture will spring up in your midst, and bring to light that "holy city coming down out of Heaven, from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband". This is the life worthy of being lived, and I commend it to you from my heart.

May God bless the young people of Angola!

"Let us enable human poverty to encounter divine mercy."

Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Holy Mass with Religious of Angola and Sao Tomé

Igreja de São Paolo in Luanda, Angola
March 21, 2009

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Beloved labourers in the Lord’s vineyard,

As we have just heard, the children of Israel said to one another, “let us make haste to know the Lord.” They encouraged one another with these words amid their many tribulations. These misfortunes had overtaken them – the Prophet explains – because they lived without knowledge of God; their hearts were poor in love. The only physician capable of healing them was the Lord. Indeed, He Himself, as a good physician, opened their wounds so that the sore might heal. And the people made up their mind: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us” (Hos 6:1). Thus, human poverty was to intersect with divine mercy, which desires only to embrace the poor.

We see this in the Gospel passage that we have just heard: “Two men went up into the temple to pray,” and the one “went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Lk 18:10, 14). The latter had paraded all his merits before God, virtually making God his debtor. Deep down, he felt no need for God, even though he thanked Him for letting him become so perfect, “not like this tax collector.” And yet it was the tax collector who went down to his house justified. Conscious of his sins, and so not even lifting his head – although in his trust he is completely turned towards Heaven – he awaits everything from the Lord: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk 18:13). He knocks on the door of mercy, which then opens and justifies him, for, as Jesus concludes: “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:14).

Saint Paul, the patron saint of the city of Luanda and of this splendid church built some fifty years ago, speaks to us from personal experience about this God who is rich in mercy. I wanted to highlight the second millennium of the birth of Saint Paul by celebrating the present Pauline Year, so that we can learn from him how to know Jesus Christ more fully.

This is the testimony which Paul has bequeathed to us: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim 1:15-16). In the course of the centuries, the number of people touched by grace has continually grown. You and I are among them. Let us give thanks to God because He has called us to be part of this age-long procession and thus to advance towards the future. In the footsteps of all Jesus’ followers, let us join them in following Christ Himself and thus enter into the Light.

Dear brothers and sisters, I feel great joy to be here today with you, my fellow-workers in the Lord’s vineyard, where you labour daily to prepare the wine of divine mercy and to pour it out as balm on the wounds of your people who have suffered so many tribulations. Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi has spoken of your hopes and your struggles in his gracious words of welcome. With a heart full of gratitude and hope I greet you all – women and men devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ – those of you who are here and the many others whom you represent: Bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, seminarians, catechists, leaders of the many different movements and associations present in this beloved Church of God. I would also like to mention the contemplative women religious, an unseen but extremely fruitful presence for our common journey. Finally, let me offer a particular greeting to the Salesian community and the faithful of this parish of Saint Paul; they have welcomed us to their church, without hesitating to yield the place which is usually theirs in the liturgical assembly. I know that they are gathered in the field next door, and I hope, at the end of this Eucharist, to see them and give them my blessing, but even now I say to them: “Many thanks! May God raise up in you, and through you, many apostles modelled on your patron.”

The decisive event in Paul’s life was his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus: Christ appeared to him as a dazzling light, He spoke to him and He won him over. The Apostle saw the Risen Jesus; and in Him he beheld the full stature of humanity. As a result, Paul experienced an inversion of perspective; he now saw everything in the light of this perfect stature of humanity in Christ: what had earlier seemed essential and fundamental, he now considered nothing more than “refuse,” no longer “gain” but loss, for now the only thing that mattered was life in Christ (cf. Phil 3:7-8). Far from being merely a stage in Paul’s personal growth, this was a death to himself and a resurrection in Christ: one form of life died in him, and a new form was born, with the Risen Christ.

My brothers and sisters, “let us make haste to know the Lord,” the Risen One! As you know, Jesus, perfect man, is also our true God. In Him, God became visible to our eyes, to give us a share in His divine life. With Him, a new dimension of being, of life, has come about, a dimension which integrates matter and through which a new world arises.

But this qualitative leap in universal history which Jesus brought about in our place and for our sake – how is it communicated to human beings, how does it permeate their life and raise it on high? It comes to each of us through faith and Baptism. This sacrament is truly death and resurrection, transformation and new life, so much so that the baptized person can say together with Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). I live, but no longer I. In a certain way, my identity has been taken away and made part of an even greater identity; I still have my personal identity, but now it is changed and open to others as a result of my becoming part of Another: in Christ I find myself living on a new plane.

What then has happened to us? Paul gives us the answer: You have become one in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal 3:28). Through this process of our “christification” by the working and grace of God’s Spirit, the gestation of the Body of Christ in history is gradually being accomplished in us.

At this moment, I would like to go back in thought five centuries, to the years following 1506, when, in these lands, then visited by the Portuguese, the first sub-Saharan Christian kingdom was established, thanks to the faith and determination of the king, Dom Alphonsus I Mbemba-a-Nzinga, who reigned from 1506 until his death in 1543. The kingdom remained officially Catholic from the sixteenth century until the eighteenth, with its own ambassador in Rome. You see how two quite different ethnic groups – the Bantu and the Portuguese – were able to find in the Christian religion common ground for understanding, and committed themselves to ensuring that this understanding would be long-lasting, and that differences – which undoubtedly existed, and great ones at that – would not divide the two kingdoms! For Baptism enables all believers to be one in Christ.

Today it is up to you, brothers and sisters, following in the footsteps of those heroic and holy heralds of God, to offer the Risen Christ to your fellow citizens. So many of them are living in fear of spirits, of malign and threatening powers. In their bewilderment, they end up even condemning street children and the elderly as alleged sorcerers. Who can go to them to proclaim that Christ has triumphed over death and all those occult powers? (cf. Eph 1:19-23; 6:10-12)

Someone may object: “Why not leave them in peace? They have their truth, and we have ours. Let us all try to live in peace, leaving everyone as they are, so they can best be themselves.” But if we are convinced and have come to experience that, without Christ, life lacks something, that something real – indeed, the most real thing of all – is missing, we must also be convinced that we do no injustice to anyone if we present Christ to them and thus grant them the opportunity of finding their truest and most authentic selves, the joy of finding life. Indeed, we must do this. It is our duty to offer everyone this possibility of attaining eternal life.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us say to them, in the words of the Israelite people: “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn, that he may heal us.” Let us enable human poverty to encounter divine mercy. The Lord makes us His friends, He entrusts Himself to us, He gives us His Body in the Eucharist, He entrusts His Church to us. And so we ought truly to be His friends, to be one in mind with Him, to desire what He desires and to reject what He does not desire. Jesus Himself said: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14).

Let this, then, be our common commitment: together to do His holy will: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). Let us embrace His will, like Saint Paul: “Preaching the Gospel … is a necessity laid upon me; woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pope Benedict Departs Cameroon and Arrives in Angola

People of Cameroon, I urge you to seize the moment the Lord has given you!
Answer his call to bring reconciliation, healing and peace to your communities and your society!
Work to eliminate injustice, poverty and hunger wherever you encounter it!
And may God bless this beautiful country, “Africa in miniature,” a land of promise, a land of glory.

God bless you all!

Pope Benedict departed Cameroon this morning for Luanda, Angola, which is the country's capital and main port on the Atlantic coast.

Luanda was once the center of massive slave trading towards Brazil, as well as a recent long civil war, but the city is now booming with new skyscrapers, shopping malls, concert halls, and vast residential areas. Angola is Africa's leading oil producing country.

There are 8.6 million Catholics in Angola, which is about 57 percent of the population. Another 4.5 million people are non-Catholic Christians. Altogether, about 80 percent of Angola is Christian. Following the arrival of Catholic missionaries, the nation was established as a a Catholic kingdom in 1506 under Dom Alphonsus I Mbemba-a-Nzinga, who reigned until 1543. The kingdom remained officially Catholic from the 16th to the 18th century, with its own ambassador in Rome.

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Arrival Ceremony at Luanda, Angola

March 20, 2009

With sincere sentiments of respect and friendship, I set foot on the soil of this noble and young nation in the course of a pastoral visit in which I intend to reach out to the entire African continent, even if it has been necessary to restrict the itinerary to Yaoundé and to Luanda. I would like everyone to know, however, that I keep very much in my heart and in my prayers Africa in general and the people of Angola in particular, whom I warmly encourage to continue along the path of peace-building and reconstruction of the country and its institutions.

Mr President, I begin by thanking you for your kind invitation to visit Angola and for the warm words of welcome that you have just addressed to me. Please accept my respectful greetings and my very best wishes, which I also extend to the other Authorities who have kindly come here to receive me.

I greet the whole of the Catholic Church in Angola in the persons of the Bishops here present, and I thank all my Angolan friends for the affectionate welcome they have given me. To those who are listening on radio and television, I offer a further cordial greeting, certain of Heaven’s blessing on the common mission that has been entrusted to us: that of building together a freer and more peaceful society, marked by greater solidarity.

How can I fail to recall the famous visitor who blessed Angola in June 1992: my beloved Predecessor John Paul II?

A tireless missionary of Jesus Christ to the furthest ends of the earth, he pointed out the way towards God, inviting all people of good will to listen to their own rightly formed consciences and to build a society of justice, of peace and of solidarity, in mutual charity and forgiveness.

For my part, I remind you that I come from a country where peace and fraternity are dear to the hearts of all its people, in particular those, like myself, who have known war and division between family members from the same nation as a result of inhuman and destructive ideologies, which, under the false appearance of dreams and illusions, caused the yoke of oppression to weigh down upon the people. You can therefore understand how keenly aware I am of dialogue as a way of overcoming every form of conflict and tension and making every nation – including your own – into a house of peace and fraternity.

With this in view, you must take from your spiritual and cultural heritage the best values that Angola possesses, and go out to meet one another fearlessly, agreeing to share personal resources, both spiritual and material, for the good of all.

Dear Angolans, your land is abundant and your nation is mighty. Make use of these advantages to build peace and understanding between peoples, based upon loyalty and equality that can promote for Africa the peaceful future in solidarity that everyone longs for and to which everyone is entitled.

To this end, I ask you: do not yield to the law of the strongest! God has enabled human beings to fly, over and above their natural tendencies, on the wings of reason and faith. If you let these wings bear you aloft, you will easily recognize your neighbour as a brother or sister, born with the same fundamental human rights.

Unfortunately, within the borders of Angola, there are still many poor people demanding that their rights be respected. The multitude of Angolans who live below the threshold of absolute poverty must not be forgotten. Do not disappoint their expectations!

This is a huge task, requiring greater civic participation on everyone’s part. It is necessary to involve the whole of Angolan civil society in this effort; but society needs to grow stronger and more articulated, both among its constitutive elements and in its dialogue with the Government, before it can take up the challenge. Before there can be a society that is truly solicitous for the common good, there have to be common values, shared by all.

I am convinced that modern Angola will be able to find such values in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as happened long ago, at the time of your illustrious forebear, Dom Alphonsus I Mbemba-a-Nzinga. Through his efforts, five hundred years ago, a Christian kingdom emerged in Mbanza Congo which survived until the eighteenth century. From its ashes, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a renewed Church could arise which has continued to grow right up to our own days; may God be thanked for it!

This is the immediate occasion for my visit to Angola: to be together with one of the oldest Catholic communities in sub-equatorial Africa, to strengthen it in its faith in the risen Jesus and to join its sons and daughters in praying that this time of peace in Angola, in justice and fraternity, may prove lasting, allowing the community to carry out the mission that God has entrusted to it for the good of its people within the family of Nations.

May God bless Angola!


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Christ Came Out of Africa:
The Intimate Bond Between Africa and Christianity

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
to the Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa

Apostolic Nunciature in Yaoundé
March 19, 2009

Dear Cardinals,
Dear Brother Bishops,

It is with deep joy that I greet all of you here in Africa. A First Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was convoked for Africa in 1994 by my venerable predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, as a sign of his pastoral solicitude for this continent so rich both in promise and in pressing human, cultural and spiritual needs. This morning I called Africa “the continent of hope.” I recall with gratitude the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa here at the Apostolic Nunciature fourteen years ago on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 14 September 1995.

My thanks go to Archbishop Nikola Eterović, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, for the words which he addressed to me in your name, as he introduced this meeting on African soil with you, dear members of the Special Council for Africa. The whole Church looks to our meeting today in anticipation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which, God willing, will be celebrated next October, on the theme: “The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: ‘You are the Salt of the Earth … You are the Light of the World’ (Mt 5:13-14)”.

I sincerely thank the Cardinals, the Archbishops and Bishops who are members of the Special Council for Africa for their expert collaboration in the drawing up of the Lineamenta and the Instrumentum Laboris. I am grateful to you, dear Brothers in the Episcopate, for having also presented in your contributions several important aspects of the present ecclesial and social situation in your countries of origin and in the region. In this way you have emphasized the great dynamism of the Church in Africa, but you have also evoked the challenges which the Synod needs to examine, so that the growth of the Church in Africa will be not only quantitative but qualitative as well.

Dear friends, at the beginning of my address, I consider it important to stress that your continent has been blessed by our Lord Jesus himself.. At the dawn of his earthly life, sad circumstances led him to set foot on African soil. God chose your continent to become the dwelling-place of his Son. In Jesus, God drew near to all men and women, of course, but also, in a particular way, to the men and women of Africa. Africa is where the Son of God was weaned, where he was offered effective sanctuary. In Jesus, some two thousand years ago, God himself brought salt and light to Africa. From that time on, the seed of his presence was buried deep within the hearts of this dear continent, and it has blossomed gradually, beyond and within the vicissitudes of its human history. As a result of the coming of Christ who blessed it with his physical presence, Africa has received a particular vocation to know Christ. Let Africans be proud of this! In meditating upon, and in coming to a deeper spiritual and theological appreciation of this first stage of the kenosis, Africa will be able to find the strength needed to face its sometimes difficult daily existence, and thus it will be able to discover immense spaces of faith and hope which will help it to grow in God.

The intimate bond existing between Africa and Christianity from the beginning can be illustrated by recalling some significant moments in the Christian history of this continent.

According to the venerable patristic tradition, the Evangelist Saint Mark, who “handed down in writing the preaching of Peter” (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses III, I, 1), came to Alexandria to give new life to the seed planted by the Lord. This Evangelist bore witness in Africa to the death of the Son of God on the Cross -- the final moment of the kenosis -- and of his sovereign exaltation, in order that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). The Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God spread rapidly in North Africa, where it raised up distinguished martyrs and saints, and produced outstanding theologians.

Christianity lasted for almost a millennium in the north-eastern part of your continent, after being put to the test by the vicissitudes of history. With the arrival of Europeans seeking the passage to the Indies in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the sub-Saharan peoples encountered Christ. The coastal peoples were the first to receive Baptism. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, sub-Saharan Africa saw the arrival of missionaries, men and women from throughout the West, from Latin America and even from Asia. I wish to pay homage to the generosity of their unconditional response to the Lord’s call, and to their ardent apostolic zeal. Here, I would also like to speak of the African catechists, the inseparable companions of the missionaries in evangelization. God prepared the hearts of certain African lay persons, men and women, young and old alike, to receive his gifts and to bring the light of his word to their brothers and sisters. Laity in the midst of laity, they were able to find in their ancestral languages the words of God which would touch the hearts of their brothers and sisters. They were able to share the savour of the salt of the word and to give splendour to the light of the sacraments which they proclaimed. They accompanied families in their spiritual growth, they encouraged priestly and religious vocations, and they served as a link between their communities and the priests and Bishops. Quite naturally, they brought about a successful inculturation which yielded wondrous fruit (cf. Mk 4:20). The catechists allowed their “light to shine before others” (Mt 5:16), for in seeing the good they did, entire peoples were able to give glory to Our Father in heaven. This was a case of Africans evangelizing other Africans. In evoking their glorious memory, I greet and encourage their worthy successors who work today with the same selflessness, the same apostolic courage and the same faith as their predecessors. May God bless them generously! During this period, Africa was also blessed with numerous saints. I will content myself with naming the martyrs of Uganda, the great missionaries Anne-Marie Javouhey and Daniele Comboni, as well as Sister Anuarite Nengapeta and the catechist Isidore Bakanja, without forgetting the humble Josephine Bakhita.

We find ourselves presently at a historical moment which coincides from the civil standpoint with regained independence and from the ecclesial standpoint with the Second Vatican Council. During this time the Church in Africa contributed to and accompanied the building of new national identities and, at the same time, sought to translate the identity of Christ along its own ways. As the hierarchy became increasingly African following Pope Pius XII’s ordination of Bishops from your continent, theological reflection began to ferment quickly. It would be well for your theologians today to continue to probe the depth of the Trinitarian mystery and its meaning for everyday African life. This century will perhaps permit, by God’s grace, the rebirth, on your continent, albeit certainly under a different and new form, of the prestigious School of Alexandria. Why could we not hope that Africans today and the universal Church might thereby be furnished with great theologians and spiritual masters capable of contributing to the sanctification of those who dwell in this continent and throughout the Church? The First Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops helped to point out the directions to be taken, and it brought out, among other things, the need to appreciate more deeply and to incarnate the mystery of the Church-as-Family.

I would now like to suggest some reflections about the specific theme of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, namely: reconciliation, justice and peace.

According to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, “the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament – a sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all men and women” (Lumen Gentium, 1). To carry out her mission well, the Church must be a community of persons reconciled with God and among themselves. In this way, she can proclaim the Good News of reconciliation to contemporary society, which unfortunately experiences in many places conflicts, acts of violence, war and hatred. Your continent, sadly, has not been spared, and it has been and continues to be a theatre of grave tragedies which cry out for true reconciliation between peoples, ethnic groups and individuals. For us Christians, this reconciliation is rooted in the merciful love of God the Father, and it is accomplished through the person of Christ Jesus who, in the Holy Spirit, has offered the grace of reconciliation to all. Its consequences will be shown, then, in the justice and peace which are indispensable for building a better world.

Truly, what is more dramatic, in the present socio-political and economic context of the African continent, than the often savage conflicts between ethnic groups or peoples bound by brotherhood? And if the Synod of 1994 insisted on the Church as Family of God, what can this year’s Synod contribute to the building up of Africa, thirsting for reconciliation and in pursuit of justice and peace? The local or regional wars, massacres and genocides perpetrated on the continent must challenge us in a special way: if it is true that in Jesus Christ we belong to the same family and share the same life – since in our veins there flows the Blood of Christ himself, who has made us children of God, members of God’s Family – there must no longer be hatred, injustice and internecine war.

Cognizant of the growth of violence and the emergence of selfishness in Africa, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin of venerable memory called in 1988 for a theology of fraternity as a response to the pressing appeals of the poor and the little ones (L’Osservatore Romano, French edition, 12 April 1988, pp. 4-5). Perhaps he had in mind the words of the African Lactantius, written at the dawn of the fourth century: “The first duty of justice is to recognize others as brothers and sisters. Indeed, if the same God created us and gave us birth in the same condition, in view of righteousness and life eternal, we are surely united by bonds of brotherhood: whoever does not acknowledge those bonds is unjust” (Divine Institutions 54, 4-5: S.C. 335, p. 210). The Church, as the Family of God in Africa, made a preferential option for the poor at the First Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. In this way she showed that the situation of dehumanization and oppression afflicting the African peoples is not irreversible; on the contrary, she set before everyone a challenge: that of conversion, holiness and integrity.

The Son, through whom God speaks to us, is himself the Word made flesh. This was the subject of the discussions at the recent Twelfth General Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Having become flesh, this Word is at the origin of all that we are and all that we do; he is the foundation of every life. It is therefore on the basis of this Word that we need to enhance African traditions, and to correct and perfect their concept of life, humanity and the family. Christ Jesus, the Word of life, is the source and fulfilment of all our lives, for the Lord Jesus is the one mediator and redeemer.

It is urgent that Christian communities increasingly become places of profound listening to the word of God and meditative reading of sacred Scripture. It is through such meditative and communitarian reading in the Church that every Christian encounters the Risen Christ, who speaks to him and offers renewed hope in the fullness of life which he gives to the world.

As for the Eucharist, it makes the Lord truly present in history. Through the reality of his Body and his Blood, the whole Christ makes himself substantially present in our lives. He is with us always, until the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20) and he sends us back to our daily lives so that we can fill them with his presence. In the Eucharist, it becomes clearly evident that our life is a relationship of communion with God, with our brothers and sisters, and with all creation. The Eucharist is the source of a unity reconciled in peace.

The word of life and the Bread of life offer light and nourishment as medicine and food for our journey in fidelity to the Teacher and Shepherd of our souls, so that the Church in Africa can carry out the service of reconciliation, justice and peace, in accordance with the programme of life provided by the Lord himself: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14). If they are truly to be this, the faithful must undergo conversion and follow Jesus Christ; they must become his disciples in order to be witnesses of his saving power. During his earthly life, Jesus was “mighty in deed and word” (Lk 24:19). By his resurrection, he has subjected to himself every authority and power (cf. Col 2:15), every power of evil, in order to set free those who are baptized in his name. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). The Christian vocation consists in letting oneself be freed by Jesus Christ. He has conquered sin and death and he offers to all the fullness of life. In the Lord Jesus there is no more Jew or Gentile, man or woman (cf. Gal 3:28). In his flesh he has reconciled all peoples. In the power of the Holy Spirit, I appeal to everyone: “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor5:20). No ethnic or cultural difference, no difference of race, sex or religion must become a cause for dispute among you. You are all children of the one God, our Father, who is in heaven. With this conviction, it will then be possible to build a more just and peaceful Africa, an Africa worthy of the legitimate expectations of all its children.

In conclusion, I invite you to advance the preparation of the Synodal event by reciting, together with the faithful, the prayer found at the end of the Instrumentum Laboris which I presented to you this morning, a prayer for the successful outcome of the Synodal Assembly. Together, my brothers, let us pray:

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, Protectress of Africa, you have given the world its true light, Jesus Christ. By your obedience to the Father and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, you have given us the source of our reconciliation and our joy.

Mother of tenderness and wisdom, show us Jesus, your Son and the Son of God, sustain our journey of conversion, so that Jesus may enlighten us with his Glory in all the settings of our personal, family and social life.

Mother full of Mercy and Justice, by your docility to the Spirit, the Comforter, obtain for us the grace to be witnesses of the Risen Lord, so that we may become ever more fully the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Mother of Perpetual Succour, to your maternal intercession we entrust the preparation and the fruits of the Second Synod for Africa. Queen of Peace, pray for us! Our Lady of Africa, pray for us!”

All Who Suffer are Members of the Family of Simon of Cyrene

Address of Pope Benedict XVI
Meeting with the Sick and their Caregivers

Cardinal Leger Center for Rehabilitation of Handicapped Persons
March 19, 2009

I have been looking forward to spending this time with you, and I am happy to be able to greet you, dear brothers and sisters who bear the burden of sickness and suffering. You are not alone in your pain, for Christ Himself is close to all who suffer. He reveals to the sick and infirm their place in the heart of God and in society.

The Evangelist Mark gives us the example of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law: “Immediately they told him of her,” it is written, Jesus “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up” (Mk 1:30-31). In this Gospel passage, we see Jesus spending a day with the sick in order to bring them relief. He thereby shows us, through specific actions, His fraternal tenderness and benevolence towards all the broken-hearted, all whose bodies are wounded.

This Centre is named after Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger, a son of Canada who came among you to bring relief to bodies and souls. As I stand here today, I am mindful of all the people in hospitals, in specialized health centres or clinics, who suffer from a disability, mental or physical. I also think of those whose flesh bears the scars of wars and violence. I remember too all the sick and, especially here in Africa, the victims of such diseases as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. I know how actively engaged the Catholic Church in your country is in the fight against these terrible afflictions, and I encourage you to pursue this urgent task with great determination.

To those of you who endure the trials of sickness and suffering, and to all your families, I wish to bring a word of comfort from the Lord, to renew my support, and to invite you to turn towards Christ and towards Mary, whom He has given to us as our mother. She knew suffering, and she followed her Son along the path to Calvary, preserving in her heart that love which Jesus came to bring to all people.

Faced with suffering, sickness and death, it is tempting to cry out in pain, as Job did, whose name means “suffering” (cf. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, I,1,15). Even Jesus cried out, shortly before His death (cf. Mk 15:37; Heb 5:7). As our condition deteriorates, our anguish increases; some are tempted to doubt whether God is present in their lives. Job, however, was conscious of God’s presence; his was not a cry of rebellion, but, from the depths of his sorrow, he allowed his trust to grow (cf. Job 19; 42:2-6). His friends, like each of us when faced with the suffering of a loved one, tried to console him, but they used hollow and empty words.

In the presence of such torment, we feel powerless and we cannot find the right words. Before a brother or sister plunged into the mystery of the Cross, a respectful and compassionate silence, a prayerful presence, a gesture of tenderness and comfort, a kind look, a smile, often achieve more than many words. This was the experience of a small group of men and women, including the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John, who followed Jesus in the depths of His suffering at the time of His Passion and His death on the Cross.

Among them, the Gospel tells us, was an African, Simon of Cyrene. He was given the task of helping Jesus to carry His Cross on the way to Golgotha. This man, albeit through no choice of his own, came to the aid of the Man of Sorrows when He had been abandoned by all His followers and handed over to blind violence. History tells us, then, that an African, a son of your continent, took part, at the price of his own suffering, in the infinite suffering of the One who ransomed all men, including His executioners. Simon of Cyrene could not have known that it was his Saviour who stood there before him. He was “drafted in” to assist Him (cf. Mk 15:21); he was constrained, forced to do so. It is hard to accept to carry someone else’s cross. Only after the resurrection could he have understood what he had done.

Brothers and sisters, it is the same for each of us: in the depths of our anguish, of our own rebellion, Christ offers us His loving presence even if we find it hard to understand that He is at our side. Only the Lord’s final victory will reveal for us the definitive meaning of our trials.

Can it not be said that every African is in some sense a member of the family of Simon of Cyrene?

Every African who suffers, indeed every person who suffers, helps Christ to carry His Cross and climbs with Him the path to Golgotha in order one day to rise again with Him. When we see the infamy to which Jesus was subjected, when we contemplate his face on the Cross, when we recognize His appalling suffering, we can glimpse, through faith, the radiant face of the Risen Lord who tells us that suffering and sickness will not have the last word in our human lives. I pray, dear brothers and sisters, that you will be able to recognize yourselves in “Simon of Cyrene.” I pray, dear brothers and sisters who are sick, that many of you will encounter a Simon at your bedside.

Since the resurrection, and right up to our own time, there have been countless witnesses who have turned, with faith and hope, towards the Saviour of mankind, recognizing His presence at the heart of their suffering. May the Father of mercies graciously grant the prayers of all who turn to Him. He answers our call and our prayer, as and when He wishes, for our good and not according to our desires. It is for us to discern His response and to accept the gifts that He offers us as a grace. Let us fix our gaze upon the Crucified one, with faith and courage, for from Him come life, comfort, and healing. Let us learn to gaze on Him who desires our good and knows how to wipe the tears from our eyes. Let us learn to abandon ourselves into His embrace, like a small child in his mother’s arms.

The saints have given us a fine example by living lives entirely dedicated to God, our Father. Saint Teresa of Avila, who placed her monastery under the protection of Saint Joseph, was healed from a particular ailment on the very day of his feast. She said she had never prayed to him in vain, and she recommended him to all who claimed not to know how to pray: “I do not understand”, she wrote, “how anyone can think of the Queen of angels and of all the trials she suffered during the early years of the divine child Jesus, without thanking Saint Joseph for the perfect devotion with which he came to assist them both. May anyone who lacks a teacher of prayer choose this admirable Saint as a master, for under his guidance no one need be afraid of going astray” (Life, 6). Saint Teresa saw in Saint Joseph not only an intercessor for bodily health, but also an intercessor for the health of the soul, a teacher of prayer.

Dear friends who are sick, we too can choose him as a teacher of prayer, whatever our state of health, and all families can do the same. I am thinking especially of hospital staff, and all those who work in the field of health care. By accompanying those who suffer, through the care and attention you offer them, you accomplish an act of charity and love that God recognizes: “I was sick, and you visited me” (Mt 25:36). All of you, doctors and researchers, have the task of putting into practice every legitimate form of pain relief; you are called, in the first place, to protect human life, you are the defenders of life from conception to natural death. For every person, respect for life is a right and at the same time a duty, since all life is a gift from God.

With you, I would like to give thanks to the Lord for all who, in one way or another, work in the service of the suffering. I encourage priests and those who visit the sick to commit themselves to an active and friendly presence in their hospital chaplaincy, or to assure an ecclesial presence in the home, for the comfort and spiritual support of the sick. In accordance with his promise, God will give you a just reward, and He will recompense you in heaven.

Before greeting you more personally, and then taking my leave, I would like to assure each of you of my affection and my prayer. I also want to express my wish that none of you should ever feel alone. In fact it is the task of every human person, created in the image of Christ, to be a good neighbour to those around him. I entrust all of you to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, our Mother, and to the intercession of Saint Joseph. May God grant that we become bearers for one another of the mercy, tenderness and love of our God, and may He bless you!