Pope Benedict at opening of Synod for Africa

The Holy Father has some striking comments today during his sermon for the Opening of the Synod for Africa in this translation from the Secretary General of the Synod.

My cuts […], emphases and comments.

My Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

Illustrious Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear brothers and sisters!

Pax vobis – peace to all of you! With this liturgical greeting I address all of you who are gathered together in the Vatican Basilica, where 15 years ago, on 10 April, 1994, the Servant of God John Paul II opened the first Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. The fact that today we find ourselves here to inaugurate the second, signifies that the first was indeed a historical event, but not an isolated one. It was the point of arrival on a path, that was pursued later on, and that now reaches a new significant stage of verification and impulse. We praise the Lord for this! […]

Today’s Bible readings speak of matrimony. But, more radically, speak of the design of creation, of the source and, therefore, of God. The second reading also converges on this level, taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, where it states: "For consecrator – that is Jesus Christ – and consecrated – that is man – are all of the same stock; that is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers" (Heb 2:11). From both readings, the Primacy of God the Creator springs forth in a very evident manner, with the eternal validity of his original imprint and the absolute precedence of his lordship, that lordship which children welcome better than adults, and because of this Jesus points to them as models to enter the kingdom of heaven (Cf. Mk 10:13-15). Now, the acknowledgment of the absolute Lordship of God is one of the salient and unifying features of the African culture. Naturally in Africa there are many different cultures, but they all seem to be in agreement on this point: God is the Creator and the source of life. Now life – as we well know – manifests itself primarily in the union between the man and the woman and in the birth of children; divine law, written in nature, and thereby stronger and prominent with respect to any human law, according to the clear and concise assertion by Jesus: "What God has united, human beings must not divide" (Mk 10:9). First of all the prospect is not a moral one: it, before duty, concerns the being, the order inscribed in Creation.  [S… from the onset, the Pope is talking about the warp and weft of creation and God’s design, and he led with matrimony.  The spousal relationship and union of man and woman in the proper way – with the result of children conceived in marriage – seems to be the first guiding point he is offering for this sermon.  Remember that the Pope came under fire for his comments on HIV/AIDS and condoms in Africa?  One of the burning questions for Africa is the misuse of sex and the resulting social problems in Africa which as so widespread.  I think this is why he stresses the African tendency to view God as Creator, to point to the true starting point rather than any material starting point.  But let’s read on…]

Dear brothers and sisters, in this sense today’s Liturgy of the Word – beyond the first impression – reveals itself as particularly apt in accompanying the opening of a Synodal Assembly dedicated to Africa. I would like to highlight in particular certain aspects that strongly emerge and call us to the work that awaits us. The first, already mentioned: the primacy of God, Creator and Lord. The second: matrimony. The third: children. [There it is: children]  As to the first aspect Africa is the repository of an inestimable treasure for the whole world: its deep sense of God, [Notice that he didn’t say natural resources or something "green".] […]

When we speak of the treasures of Africa, our thoughts immediately turn to the resources its land is rich in [yep… as I mentioned…] and that, unfortunately, have become and often continue to be a reason for exploitation, conflict and corruption. The Word of God, instead, makes us look at another inheritance: the spiritual and cultural one of which humanity has even greater need than it does of raw materials. As Jesus said, "What gain, then, is it for anyone to win the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mk 8:36). From this point of view, [Start reading very carefully now, you can sense something big is coming…] Africa represents an enormous spiritual "lung" for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope. ["lung".  Interesting… JPII spoke of Eastern and Western CHURCHES as being the two lungs of Christianity.  Pope Benedict is here talking about humanity.  Above, he said that a treasure of Africa is the recognition of God as Creator.  That would militate against the dictatorship of relativism, right?  But let’s keep reading…] But this "lung" can take ill as well. [WHOA!  Not all is well, it seems.  This isn’t just a nice rosy healthy assessment.  What are the illnesses of lungs?  Emphysema?  Tuberculosis?  Cancer?] And, at the moment, at least two dangerous pathologies are attacking it: first of all, an illness that is already widespread in the West, that is, practical materialism, combined with relativist and nihilist thinking. [There he goes about relativism, which is to be expected.  This is a major concern for his pontificate.] Without entering into the merit of the origins of such sicknesses of the spirit, there is absolutely no doubt that the so-called "First" World has exported up to now and continues to export its spiritual toxic waste that contaminates the peoples of other continents, [My my!  So, the 1st world is taking it on the chin here, too.] in particular those of Africa. In this sense, colonialism which is over at a political level, has never really entirely come to an end. But from this same point of view we also have to point out a second "virus" that could [could] hit Africa, that is, religious fundamentalism, mixed together with political and economic interests. [He is talking about Islam, right?  I doubt he is talking about fundy protestant groups with their missionaries.] Groups who follow various religious creeds are spreading throughout the continent of Africa: they do so in God’s name, but following a logic that is opposed to divine logic, that is, teaching and practicing not love and respect for freedom, but intolerance and violence[And now we are back to the Regensburg Address.]

As regards matrimony, [Back to the spousal point, above.] the text of Chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis reminds us it is the permanent foundation, as Jesus himself confirmed: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gn 2:24). How can we forget the admirable cycle of catechesis that the Servant of God John Paul II dedicated to this topic, starting from an exegesis of unprecedented depth of this very Biblical text? [cf. "Theology of the Body".] Today, putting this forward for ourselves at the opening of the Synod, the liturgy offers us [I think he is talking about this Mass, and not the liturgical life of the Church in general.] the abundant light of truth revealed and made incarnate in Christ with which we can consider the complex theme of matrimony in the ecclesial and social context of Africa. Also on this point, though, I would like to briefly take up a suggestion that precedes any moral reflection or instruction, and that is still connected to the primacy of the sense of the sacred and of God. [NB how Pope Benedict’s mind works…] Matrimony, as it is presented to us in the Bible, does not exist outside of the relationship with God. Married life between a man and a woman, and therefore of the family that springs from that, is inscribed into the communion with God and, in the light of the New Testament, becomes the symbol of Trinitarian love and the sacrament of the union of Christ with the Church. To the extent to which it looks after and develops its faith, Africa could discover immense resources to give in favor of the family that is built on matrimony. [Well… that is a tall order, given the present state of things.]

If we include in the evangelical pericope [read: "Gospel reading"] the text on Jesus and the children (Mk 10:13-15), the liturgy invites us to bear in mind right from now, in our pastoral concern, the reality of childhood that constitutes a large and, unfortunately, suffering part of the African population. In the scene where Jesus welcomes the children, indignantly opposing his own disciples who wanted to chase them away, we see the image of the Church that, in Africa, and in every other part of the planet, demonstrates her maternal concern especially for the littlest, even before they are born. [before birth, also] Like the Lord Jesus Christ, the Church does not view them primarily as the recipients of assistance, nor of pity and exploitation, but as full people in their own right, who by their very way of being show the best road to enter the Kingdom of God, namely that of entrusting themselves unconditionally to His love.  [That is good: the unborn (and children who have been born) are not objects of FILL IN THE BLANK.  They are subjects and therefore have the full dignity of every human being.]

Dear brothers, these indications coming from the Word of God are inserted in the vast horizon of the Synodal Assembly beginning today, and that is tied to the preceding one dedicated to the African continent, whose fruits were presented by Pope John Paul II, of venerated memory, in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. [The question can be asked: did that Synod or that document make ay difference?  If we are going to talk about "fruits" so casually… what concrete fruits are there?] Naturally, the primary task of evangelization remains valid and actual, or rather a new evangelization that bears in mind the rapid social changes of our era and the phenomenon of world globalization. [What does that mean?  Does this have something to do with rapid social communication?] The same can be said for the pastoral choice of edifying the Church as the Family of God (Cf. ivi, 63). The second Assembly, which has as its theme: "The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. ‘You are the salt of the earth… You are the Light of the world’" (Mt 5:13-14), follows in the wake of all this. In recent years the Catholic Church in Africa has known great dynamism, and the Synodal assembly is the occasion to thank the Lord for this. And since the growth of the ecclesial community in all areas also bears ad intra and ad extra challenges, [NB!!  ad intra and ad extra, which are the two points of view I pound away at all the time.]  the Synod is the propitious moment to rethink pastoral activity and renew the impulse of evangelization. To become the light of the world and the salt of the earth one must always aim at the "high measure" of Christian life, that is to say holiness. All the Shepherds and all the members of the ecclesial community are called to saintliness, the lay faithful are called to spread the perfume of the holiness in the family, in workplaces, in schools and in every other social and political field. May the Church in Africa always be a family of true disciples of Christ, where the difference between the different ethnic groups becomes a reason and a stimulus for mutual human and spiritual enrichment. [He has not spoken of liturgical practice.  I haven’t read the instrumentum laboris for this Synod.  Is anything liturgical mentioned?]

With its work of evangelization and human promotion, the Church can most certainly give Africa a great contribution to all of society, which unfortunately experiences poverty, injustice, violence and wars in many countries. The vocation of the Church, the community of persons reconciled with God and with each other, is that of being the prophesy and leaven of reconciliation among the various ethnic, linguistic and even religious groups, within each individual nation and throughout the continent. Reconciliation, a gift of God that men must implore and embrace, is the stable foundation upon which one builds peace, the necessary condition for the true progress of men and society, according to the project of justice wanted by God. Open to the redeeming grace of the Holy Spirit, thus Africa will be enlightened evermore by his light and, allowing itself to be guided by the Risen Lord, will become a blessing for the universal Church, bringing its own qualified contribution to the edification of an evermore just and fraternal world.


The "lung" imagery and illness and "virus" was interesting.

So.. there it is.   Another Synod begins.

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  1. TNCath says:

    Fr. Z wrote, “He has not spoken of liturgical practice. I haven’t read the instrumentum laboris for this Synod. Is anything liturgical mentioned?”

    I did not see anything specific about liturgical practice in the instrumentum laboris. However, watching the opening Mass of the Synod today, I did notice this: while there was the inclusion of some aspects of African culture in the Mass with the singing of African hymns at certain parts of the Mass (during the Asperges AFTER the singing of Asperges Me, at the offertory, at Communion, and at the end of the Mass AFTER the singing of Ave Regina Caelorum), the Holy Father nonetheless celebrated the Mass in Latin and Gregorian Chant was used for the parts of the Mass. Vesture was traditional (the Pope wore gold vestments with a green dalmatic underneath), and, all in all, there was very little difference between this Mass and other Papal Masses at St. Peter’s, a very refreshing change from the days when Archbishop Marini was Master of Ceremonies.

    My point is that actions spoke louder than words at this Mass. This Mass clearly showed how music and religious expression from different cultures CAN be included in the liturgy without being obtrusive and turning into an outright performance of a particular culture. The singing of the Congolese choir at the appropriate times was an enhancement, not a hindrance, to the liturgy.

    I think this Mass was a model for how future Masses in the Novus Ordo will celebrated properly at St. Peter’s with aspects of a specific culture properly included.

  2. P.McGrath says:

    the so-called “First” World has exported up to now and continues to export its spiritual toxic waste that contaminates the peoples of other continents

    This remark will resonate with Africans, because the “First” World has exported up to now and continues to export its LITERAL toxic waste to a number of African countries — I believe this is the case in Ivory Coast/Cote d’Ivoire. Naturally, the Africans are (literally and figuratively) really sick of this. So someone briefed Papa Benny very well here.

  3. He kicked a** and took names.


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