XIX MEETING OF THE SPECIAL COUNCIL FOR AFRICA
DISCOURSE OF HIS EXCELLENCY,
Most Holy Father,
"You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the world (Mt 5: 13,14). Jesus addressed these words to his disciples during his sermon on the beatitudes. At the same time, they are the theme for Your Holiness’ Apostolic Visit to Africa and are a part of the formulation of the topic for the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. Re-echoing these words, I have the honour of extending to you, Holy Father, in the name of all the members of the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, our most fervent greetings. I also wish to express my gratitude to Your Holiness for your desire to preside over the Nineteenth Meeting of this Council, at the conclusion of a wonderful day of intense activity. The circumstances, the place and the subject matter make this meeting all the more special.
As mentioned earlier, we are celebrating the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, foster-father of the Lord Jesus and protector of the Church. Today is also your name day, Your Holiness, and, therefore, a fortuitous opportunity to renew our heartfelt best wishes and our prayers for your beloved person and your ecclesial mission as Universal Pastor of the Church. In this mission, a unique place is reserved for the Church in Africa, which is showing signs of an exceptional dynamism and a promising vitality.
The venue of the synodal meeting makes us recall the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II. It was in this very Apostolic Nunciature, 14 years ago, that he signed on 14 September 1995 the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. Ecclesia in Africa is an important document for the Church on pilgrimage in the great continent of Africa and an authoritative point of reference for the next Special Assembly for Africa. This has already been seen in the topic of the synodal assembly, which Your Holiness chose, after having consulted the African episcopate: 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).
The subject matter of our meeting is synodal. In fact, the Special Council for Africa of the General Secretariat has exercised an irreplaceable role in the preparation of the next synodal assembly. I happily express due gratitude to all the Council members for their 15 years of activity. The Special Council for Africa was formed on 7 May 1994, at the conclusion of the First Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which took place from 10 April to 8 May 1994. Your Holiness participated at this synod as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The majority of Council members (9 of 12 to be exact) are still active and are present here today. In the course of time, the Lord has called to himself His Eminence, Cardinal Hyacinthe Thiandoum, Archbishop of Dakar, Senegal, who was replaced by His Excellency, Most Rev. Anselme Titianma Sanon, Archbishop of Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. Upon reaching the age limit, His Eminence, Cardinal Armand Gaétan Razafindratandra, Archbishop of Antananarivo, Madagascar was replaced in 2006 by his successor in the Metropolitan See of Antananarivo, His Excellency, Most Rev. Odon Marie Ars ne Razanakolona. For reasons of health, in 2007, Your Holiness accepted the resignation of His Excellency, Most Rev. Paul Verdzekov, Archbishop of Bamenda, Cameroon, appointing in his place his successor in the same See, His Excellency, Most Rev. Cornelius Fontem Esua.
The members of the Special Council for Africa, representing the entire continent of Africa, have fulfilled their office in an exemplary manner, ensuring a fitting and ongoing contact with the Holy Father, through the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. First of all, they had a part in drafting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. Subsequently, they sought to foster its implementation, all the while bearing in mind the ever-changing situations of the Church and society on the African continent. Since their work was very helpful and valuable, the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II entrusted the Council members with the preparation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. The Special Council, then, exerted great effort in drafting the Lineamenta, made public on 27 June 2006 and, afterwards, the Instrumentum laboris which, this morning, Your Holiness gave to the presidents of the episcopal conferences in Africa.
Cited in the work-document of the next synodal gathering are, among others, two Church Fathers, two Africans, who have contributed greatly to the theological reflection of the universal Church, a contribution which has been re-enforced by their witness of holiness of life. One is St. Augustine and the other is Saint Cyprian. On this occasion, I would like to make reference, together with the Instrumentum laboris, to the De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate of St. Cyprian, a work which notably begins with the exhortation of Jesus Christ: "You are the salt of the earth" (Mt 5, 13). This is the first treatise on the unity of the Church, compiled following the schism of Novatian in Rome, during the pontificate of Pope Cornelius, and that in Carthage of Novatus, who opposed the Bishop, St. Cyrpian (circa 200-258). The unitas of the Church, according to St. Cyprian, presupposes the primacy of Peter, the rock on whom the Church is built (cf. Mt 16: 18-19). The Lord "built the Church on one only...Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity (N. 4). Episcopal collegiality arises from the unity of the Church. In fact, "the episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one for the whole. The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness (N. 5).
The Instrumentum laboris also cites St. Cyprian to emphasize the idea of a profound unity which has always characterised the bonds uniting the Particular Churches in Africa and the Church of Rome. I am happy to confirm that the union between the Church of Rome and the Particular Churches on the African continent is more vibrant than ever today. We thank Divine Providence for our being able to experience it in these blessed days of the Apostolic Visit to Africa of the 264th successor of St. Peter the Apostle. For us, it is a foretaste of the Church’s great joy to be had in the course of the celebration in Rome of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. Strengthening these bonds will help avoid the snares of the numerous sects, existing also in Africa, which test the unity of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Entrusting ourselves to the intercession of the men and women saints of Africa and especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, we pray that the Lord, through this Apostolic Visit of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI and the next synodal gathering, all Christians on the great continent of Africa might increasingly become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.