Announcement of the convocation of a Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Having celebrated in St. Peter's Basilica the solemn liturgy of the Epiphany of the Lord with the ordination of thirteen new Bishops from different nations, we are here to recite the prayer of the Angelus, grateful to the Lord who has once again manifested in his Church the gift of the universality of mission and strengthens her with the hope that all peoples can be led to the knowledge and contemplation of the glory of the Son of God.
Today I would like to make special mention of our brothers and sisters of the Christian Orient. Catholics and Orthodox who, observing the ancient Julian calendar, are preparing to celebrate tomorrow the Solemnity of Christmas. The Christmas mystery of the Epiphany thus happily unites us with the joy of all the Byzantine Churches for the celebration of Jesus' birth. A singly hymn of praise, therefore, is raised to God today for the mystery of the incarnate Word, a single expression of faith on the part of the Churches of East and West, who sing together the glory of the Son of God, born of the Virgin for us.
2. In the context of the Solemnity of the Epiphany in which the Church renews her awareness of the duty to be untiringly at the service of the manifestation of Christ to all peoples, I have the joy of announcing an initiative of great importance for the spread of the Gospel.
Accepting the petitions often expressed for some time now by the African Bishops, priests, theologians and representatives of the laity, in order to promote an organic pastoral solidarity within the entire African territory and nearby islands, I have decided to convoke a Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: "The Church in Africa towards the Third Millennium".
In order to give a concrete and immediate start to the African Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, I have instituted a Pre-preparatory Commission, whose task it will be to develop the details of the material, the structures and norms for the celebration of the Synod.
The Pre-preparatory Commission will offer its help to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and can count particularly on the collaboration of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. It will be composed of the presidents of both continental and regional bodies of the African episcopate.
Thanking the Lord that the People of God is growing in, and deepening, the awareness of being participants in the Church's missionary responsibility, I invite you to remember in prayer the African continent, the blessed land which welcomed the exile d Jesus with his family and accepted the message of Christ from the very first centuries.
Let us pray that the new Synodal initiative may, with God's help, be for the universal Church and for all the particular Churches in Africa a privileged occasion in the journey of faith of that beloved people, to whom I feel so close.
Let us entrust this prayer to the intercession of the Virgin Mary.