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Highlights From Pope Benedict XVI's Visit to Benin, Africa

By Zenit News
November 22nd, 2011
Zenit News Agency (www.zenit.org)

Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past! Our faith in him, which frees us from all our fears and miseries, gives us access to a new world, a world where justice and truth are not a byword, a world of interior freedom and of peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. This is the gift God gave us at our baptism!

COTONOU, Benin (Zenit.org) - Benedict XVI's 22nd international trip, the second to Africa of this pontificate, centered on the postsynodal apostolic exhortation, signed Saturday and entrusted to the Church on Sunday.

Beyond that document, "Africae Munus" (Africa's Commitment), his 11 public addresses -- and an in-flight press conference -- enabled the 84-year-old Pontiff to pack countless reflections and exhortations into just over 48 hours.

Vatican translations of each of these addresses and the apostolic exhortation are available in their entirety at ZENIT's Web page.

Here are some key phrases from the Pope's speeches:

1) Just arrived in Benin, the Pope spoke of Africa's transition to modernity and warned against pitfalls:

-- [Modernity] needs to be accompanied by prudence for the good of all in order to avoid the pitfalls which exist on the African continent and elsewhere, such as unconditional surrender to the law of the market or that of finance, nationalism or exaggerated and sterile tribalism which can become destructive, a politicization of interreligious tensions to the detriment of the common good, or finally the erosion of human, cultural, ethical and religious values.

2) Later on Friday, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mercy in Cotonou, the Holy Father spoke about divine mercy:

-- Divine mercy consists not only in the remission of our sins; it also consists in the fact that God, our Father, redirects us, sometimes not without pain, affliction or fear on our part, to the path of truth and light, for he does not wish us to be lost (cf. Mt 18:14; Jn 3:16).

3) On Saturday morning, Benedict XVI addressed the president of Benin and other authorities, speaking about two themes: the socio-political and economic life of the continent, and interreligious dialogue. It was a passionate address, in which the Pope said:

-- 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!

4) The Pontiff then travelled west to the city of Ouidah, where he prayed at the tomb of his friend, a national hero of Benin, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. He then addressed a group representing the Christian vocations, priests, religious and laity. After a specific message to each group, he said:

-- I would like to encourage you all to have an authentic and living faith, which is the unshakeable foundation of a holy Christian life and which is at the service of the building of a new world.

5) Upon signing the apostolic exhortation -- which like the synod, centers on the themes of reconciliation, justice and peace -- the Pope said:

-- We must never give up the search for new paths of peace! Peace is one of our greatest treasures! To attain peace, we need to have courage and the reconciliation born of forgiveness, the will once more to live as one, to share a vision of the future and to persevere in overcoming difficulties. Men and women reconciled and at peace with God and neighbour can work for greater justice in society. Let us not forget that the Gospel teaches that justice means above all doing God's will.

6) One of the most tender moments of the trip came Saturday afternoon, when the Pope had returned to Cotonou. He visited there the Home of Peace and Happiness, where six Missionaries of Charity look after dozens of abandoned and sick children, and feed may others from the area. The Pope was welcomed by the children with songs and dances, and after his visit to the center, he went to the local parish, where more children awaited him. With simple words, the Holy Father spoke to the children about prayer:

-- Like Jesus, I too can find a calm place to pray where I can quietly stand before a Cross or a holy picture in order to speak to Jesus and to listen to him. I can also use the Gospels. That way, I keep within my heart a passage which has touched me and which will guide me throughout the day. To stay with Jesus like this for a little while lets him fill me with his love, light and life! This love, which I receive in prayer, calls me in turn to give it to my parents, to my friends, to everyone with whom I live, even with those who do not like me, and those whom I do not appreciate enough. Dear young people, Jesus loves you. Ask your parents to pray with you! Sometimes you may even have to push them a little. But do not hesitate to do so. God is that important!

7) The Pontiff finished the day with an address to the bishops of Benin, noting the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries to the area. Speaking about evangelization, he told them:

-- May all the faithful have this personal and communal encounter with Christ, and become his messengers. This meeting with Christ must be solidly rooted in openness to and meditation on the Word of God. The Scriptures must have a central place in the life of the Church and of each Christian.

8) This morning, the Holy Father celebrated Mass for the feast of Christ the King. His homily was the last major address of the trip. He said:

-- Let us allow Christ to free us from the world of the past! Our faith in him, which frees us from all our fears and miseries, gives us access to a new world, a world where justice and truth are not a byword, a world of interior freedom and of peace with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. This is the gift God gave us at our baptism!

9) In a brief message to entrust "Africae Munus" to the Church, the Holy Father reiterated one of the fundamental ideas of his papacy:

-- [The Good News] is not just a message or a word. It is above all openness and adhesion to a person: Jesus Christ the incarnate Word.

10) Before leading the faithful in the midday Angelus, Benedict XVI spoke of a new chapter for the Church in Africa. He also stressed the importance of the family:

-- Dear Brothers and Sisters of Africa, this land which sheltered the Holy Family, may you continue to cultivate Christian family values. At a time when so many families are separated, in exile, grief-stricken as a result of unending conflicts, may you be artisans of reconciliation and hope. With Mary, Our Lady of the Magnificat, may you always abide in joy. May this joy remain deep within the hearts of your families and your countries!

11) And ready to leave Benin, Benedict XVI left this final message:

-- I wanted to visit Africa once more; it is a continent for which I have a special regard and affection, for I am deeply convinced that it is a land of hope. I have already said this many times. Here are found authentic values which have much to teach our world; they need only to spread and blossom with God's help and the determination of Africans themselves.

The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus can greatly assist in this, for it opens up pastoral horizons and will lead to creative initiatives. I entrust it to the faithful of Africa as a whole, to study carefully and to translate into concrete actions in daily life. Cardinal Gantin, that eminent son of Benin whose greatness was so widely acknowledged that this Airport bears his name, took part with me in a number of Synods. He made a vital and much-appreciated contribution to them. May he accompany the implementation of this document!

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