During his almost 9-year pontificate, Benedict XVI made two apostolic trips to Africa, visiting Cameroon, Angola and the Republic of Benin.
Festus Tarawalie – Vatican City.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called on Catholics in Africa to strengthen their faith and hope in God and to be artisans of unity and reconciliation during his apostolic journeys to Africa.
Embracing all Africans
The first visit in 2009, the 11th international trip of his pontificate, took Benedict XVI to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, from March 17 to 20, and then to the Angolan capital, Luanda, from March 20 to 23, 2009. Benedict would later say that his visit was limited to the two countries but “he had the intention of embracing all the African peoples in spirit and blessing them in the name of the Lord” (General Audience of April 1, 2009).
Speaking of Cameroon, Pope Benedict XVI said he chose to go there first because “the country epitomizes many characteristics of the vast continent of Africa and, above all, its profoundly religious spirit that all the numerous ethnic groups that inhabit it have in common” (Speech welcome, March 17, 2009).
Benedict XVI then spoke about some of the challenges facing the continent and what Africa needs to move forward.
Instrumentum Laboris – Second African Synod
One of the priorities on the agenda of the visit to Cameroon was the promulgation of the Instrumentum Laboris or working document of the Second African Synod during the Holy Mass celebrated on the feast of Saint Joseph, on March 19.
Before presenting the document to the bishops of Africa, he offered the example of Saint Joseph and the Holy Family of Nazareth as a model for African families.
The humanizing action of the message of Christ
Another great moment of the apostolic journey in Cameroon was the Pope’s meeting with the sick at the Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger Center for disabled and underprivileged youth in Yaoundé. He referred to it as “a powerful sign of the humanizing action of the message of Christ.”
Benedict, in his speech, recalled the many people in Africa who suffer from diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. He encouraged the Church’s efforts to comfort those who suffer, reiterating total respect for life from its conception to its natural end.
The Pope offered the example of Simon of Cyrene, an African who helped Jesus carry his cross, as a model of how we can be close to the world of suffering.
He told his audience that they were not alone in their pain, because Christ is close to all who suffer. “He reveals to the sick and infirm his place in the heart of God and in society,” Benedict XVI said.
God chose Africa as a place of refuge
In a meeting with the Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (March 19, 2009), Pope Benedict XVI recalled the intimate link between Africa and Christianity. He said that the continent was 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 make it the home of his Son. In Jesus, God drew close to all men and women, of course, but also, in a particular way, to the men and women of Africa”, said Benedict XVI. “Africa has received a particular vocation to know Christ. Let the Africans be proud of this!” he added he.
Unity and reconciliation
Benedict XVI expressed the hope that “Africa can find the necessary strength to face its (sometimes) difficult daily existence, and in this way it will be able to discover immense spaces of faith and hope that will help it to grow in God.”
He reiterated this in his first general audience after his visit to Cameroon, saying: “In the midst of the unfortunately numerous and tragic conflicts that still afflict various regions of that continent, the Church knows that it must be a sign and instrument of unity and reconciliation. so that all of Africa can build together a future of justice, solidarity and peace, putting into practice the teachings of the Gospel”.
Benedict XVI in Angola
From Cameroon, Pope Benedict XVI flew to the Angolan capital, Luanda, for the second leg of his apostolic journey in the first quarter of 2009. On March 22, in a meeting with the bishops of southern Africa under the association of the interregional bishops of South Africa (IMBISA), reviewed and reiterated their message of peace in the face of the violent conflict that had marked the history of Angola. Subsequently, Pope Benedict echoed his message of forgiveness, reconciliation, hope and new life in Christ during the Mass.
“Look to the future with hope: trust in God; reconciliation is the fruit of interior change”, said Benedict XVI speaking in Portuguese, the official language of Angola. The Pope called on all the faithful to realize that the Church, in Angola and throughout Africa, is destined to be a sign to the world of that unity to which the entire human family is called by faith in Christ the Redeemer.
Everything is lost with the war; everyone can be reborn with peace
n Angola, a country that lived through many years of civil conflict, Benedict XVI, in another meeting, repeated what his predecessor John Paul II had said: “everything is lost with war; everyone can be reborn with peace.” However, in the reconstruction of a country, he said, the role of the Church is important. “She is called to carry out an educational function, working in depth to renew and form consciences”, Benedict said.
Benedict XVI in Benin
Two years after the Second African Synod in Rome, Benedict XVI returned to Africa. This time, he visited the West African nation of Benin. The main objective of the visit from November 18 to 20, 2011 was to present the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation or final document, fruit of the Second African Synod.
Among other reasons, Benedict chose to go to Benin to pay tribute to Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, a native of Benin and former dean of the College of Cardinals with whom he worked for many years at the Vatican.
Benin is “the country of my dear friend Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. I have always wanted, one day, to pray at his grave. He was truly a great friend… a great representative of Catholic Africa and of African civilization in its most human form”, Benedict XVI told the journalists who accompanied him on the visit.
Africae Munus – the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
The highlight of the apostolic visit to the Republic of Benin was the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus, in Latin for the Commitment of Africa. After the signing ceremony at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in Ouidah, Pope Benedict XVI met with the children at Saint Rita Parish. He revealed to the young people that the day of his first Communion was one of the most beautiful days of his life. He told them to take the young Ugandan martyr, Saint Kizito, as a model for their lives.
The document signed by Benedict XVI on Africa is seen as a strong endorsement and reaffirmation of the resilience of Africa and its people. Africae Munus is an invitation to believe in Africa.
Speaking of Africans, Pope Benedict said:
“I do not see the need to dwell at length on the various socio-political, ethnic, economic or ecological situations that Africans face on a daily basis and that cannot be ignored. Africans know better than anyone how difficult, disturbing and even tragic these situations can often be. I pay tribute to the Africans and to all the Christians of that continent who face these situations with courage and dignity. They rightly want this dignity to be recognized and respected. I can assure you that the Church loves and respects Africa” (AM, n.4)