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Greetings to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI
by His Excellency, Most Rev. Nikola Eterović
General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops

Cotonou, 20 November 2011


Most Holy Father,

"Behold, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out....I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed...I will feed them in justice" (Ez 34: 11, 16). These words of the Prophet Ezechial, proclaimed on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, reveal God's great love for all people, his sheep, whom he wishes to gather into his sheepfold and to lead to green pastures and still waters (cf. Ps 23:2). In this emotionally moving Eucharist, celebrated in the Stade de l'Amitie in Cotonou, in which so many people have actively participated, we have rendered thanks to God for his everlasting love, manifested to the whole world, which has found a privileged place in Africa, a "new homeland for Christ". In offering his Body and Blood, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we have expressed our gratitude to God the Father for the great benefits which he has showered on his People steadily advancing in this blessed land of Africa. In a special way, we have thanked God for the bishops' unforgettable experience of intense unity and communion during the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, held from 4 to 25 October 2009 in the Vatican to treat the topic "The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace", a unity and communion not only among themselves but as a body with you, Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome and Head of the Episcopal College.

The Bible recalls that God is the source of reconciliation: "in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor 5:19). God's Word also reveals the way in which he accomplished this work of salvation: (by) reconciling two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, (thereby) abolishing in his flesh, "through the cross" (Eph 2:16), the dividing wall of hostility between them. This work of Divine Mercy leads to peace C to Christ, "who is (indeed) our peace" (Eph 2:14) and also to justice. God himself promised to feed his sheep "with justice" (Ez 34:16). The Gospel proclaimed at this Eucharist (cf. Mt 25: 31-46) reveals the criteria for justice, which can be simply stated in the words: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).

Most Holy Father, the fruitful reflections of the synod fathers at the Second Special Assembly for Africa, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are gathered in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation which Your Holiness wished to sign yesterday, 19 November, in the Minor Basilica of Ouidah. This document provides the Church in Africa with valuable pastoral guidelines for the future in a major effort in not only the initial evangelization but also the new evangelization. According to Africae munus, the Church's work is intimately linked to the ministry of reconciliation, flowing from the Pierced Heart of Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 19:34), a reconciliation from which justice and peace will, in turn, flow, like two rivers across the vast growing-field of the Catholic Church in Africa until the whole continent receives their beneficial effects. May the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation assist the Church - which is in Christ - "like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race." (LG, 1), to accomplish her mission in Africa of increasingly becoming a leading figure in the work of reconciliation, the driving force of an authentic justice and a much-needed peace.

At this time, I have the honour of inviting you, Holy Father, to present the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus to the presidents of the episcopal conferences of Africa and through them to the entire Catholic Church on pilgrimage on this beloved continent of Africa.