Pope Benedict XVI visited Benin on November 18 – 20 to give the African Church the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus. Meeting with government and religious officials at the presidential palace on the 19th, he delivered an important speech. We publish here some excerpts.
Speaking on other occasions, I have often joined the word hope to the word Africa. I did so in Luanda two years ago as well as in reference to the Synod. The word hope is also found several times in the Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus which I am shortly going to sign. 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. Too often, our mind is blocked by prejudices or by images which give a negative impression of the realities of Africa, the fruit of a bleak analysis. It is tempting to point to what does not work; it is easy to assume the judgemental tone of the moralizer or of the expert who imposes his conclusions and proposes, at the end of the day, few useful solutions. It is also tempting to analyze the realities of Africa like a curious ethnologist or like someone who sees the vast resources only in terms of energy, minerals, agriculture and humanity easily exploited for often dubious ends. These are reductionist and disrespectful points of view which lead to the unhelpful “objectification” of Africa and her inhabitants.
During recent months, many peoples have manifested their desire for liberty, their need for material security, and their wish to live in harmony according to their different ethnic groups and religions. Indeed, a new state has been born on your continent. Human beings aspire to liberty; then to live in dignity; they want good schools and food for their children, dignified hospitals to take care of the sick; they want to be respected; they demand transparent governance which does not confuse private and public interests; and above all they desire peace and justice. At this time, there are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death. These ills certainly afflict your continent, but they also afflict the rest of the world. Every people wishes to understand the political and economic choices which are made in its name. They perceive manipulation and their revenge is sometimes violent. They wish to participate in good governance. We know that no political regime is ideal and that no economic choice is neutral. But these must always serve the common good. Hence we are faced with legitimate demands, present in all countries, for greater dignity and above all for greater humanity. Man demands that his humanity be respected and promoted. Political and economic leaders of countries find themselves placed before important decisions and choices which they can no longer avoid.
From this place, I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world. Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present! Adopt a courageous ethical approach to your responsibilities and, if you are believers, ask God to grant you wisdom! This wisdom will help you to understand that, as promoters of your peoples’ future, you must become true servants of hope. It is not easy to live the life of a servant, to remain consistent amid the currents of opinion and powerful interests. Power, such as it is, easily blinds, above all when private, family, ethnic or religious interests are at stake. God alone purifies hearts and intentions.
Having hope does not mean being ingenuous but making an act of faith in God, the Lord of history, and the Lord of our future. Thus the Catholic Church puts into action one of the intuitions of the Second Vatican Council, that of promoting friendly relations between herself and the members of non-Christian religions. For decades now, the Pontifical Council dedicated to this task has been creating links, holding meetings and publishing documents regularly in order to foster such a dialogue. In this way the Church strives to overcome the confusion of languages and the dispersal of hearts born of the sin of Babel (cf. Gen 11). I greet all religious leaders who have kindly come here to meet me. I would like to assure them, as well as those from other African countries, that the dialogue offered by the Catholic Church comes from the heart. I encourage them to promote, above all among the young people, a pedagogy of dialogue, so that they may discover that our conscience is a sanctuary to be respected and that our spiritual dimension builds fraternity. True faith leads invariably to love. It is in this spirit that I invite all of you to hope.
According to Sacred Scripture, three symbols describe the hope of Christians: the helmet, because it protects us from discouragement (cf. 1 Th 5:8), the anchor, sure and solid, which ties us to God (cf. Heb 6:19), and the lamp which permits us to await the dawn of a new day (cf. Lk 12:35-36). To be afraid, to doubt and to fear, to live in the present without God, or to have nothing to hope for, these are all attitudes which are foreign to the Christian faith (St John Chrysostom, Homily XIV on the Letter to the Romans, 6; PG 45, 941 C) and, I am convinced, to all other forms of belief in God. Faith lives in the present, but it awaits future goods. God is in our present, but he is also in the future, a place of hope. The expansion of our hearts is not only hope in God but also an opening to and care for physical and temporal realities in order to glorify God. Following Peter, of whom I am a successor, I hope that your faith and hope will be in God (cf. 1 Pet 1:21). This is my wish for the whole of Africa, which is so dear to me! Africa, be confident and rise up! The Lord is calling you.