Address to the Council of the General Secretariat for the
Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops
1. As the Successor of Peter, I am happy to take part with you, the successors of the Apostles in Africa, in the meeting to the Council of the General Secretariat of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. Your days of prayer and reflection constitute the first act, on the continent itself, of the already well-oriented journey of your particular Churches towards the historic gathering which this Synod Assembly will be.
From the very first announcement on 6 January 1989, I have followed the various phases of the remote preparation for this Assembly with the special interest and affection which I have for Africa: two sessions of the Preparatory Committee, two sessions of the Council and the publication of the Lineamenta by the General Secretariat during the ninth Plenary Assembly of the Symposium of the Bishops' Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) at Lomé on 24 July. Thanks to my regular contacts with the members of the Council during each of these sessions, I have been able to see the enthusiasm which the calling of the special Assembly has received, and I am aware of the skill and generosity you have offered its preparations which are required by the very nature and pace of a Synod assembly.
We have reached a decisive moment for the Church in Africa. After the ancient beginnings of the evangelisation of the continent and the missionary preaching warmly received by millions of men and women who accepted the faith, the Church is rooted in your soil and she is sending workers into the immense fields which still need to be sown by the Word of Life! Bishops born in this land lead the Gospel's course which long ago was begun by the messengers who came to share with your people the gift of faith, the power of home, the ardour of charity. Here Jesus? message has been heard: "You shall be my witnesses" (Acts 1,8). Through baptised persons, consecrated persons, priests and Bishops, the Church in Africa is aware of her mission: she herself preaches the Gospel, "the power of God for the salvation of everyone" (Rom. 1,16).
2. The Synod assembly which we are preparing will mark, I am truly convinced, a new and shining step in the two-thousand-year-old course of the Gospel on this continent. With admiration we recall the birth and growth of the first Churches of Africa, in close relationship with the primitive Church and the apostolic tradition. We recall the illustrious Fathers and the flourishing communities of ancient Christian Africa, which have a place of honour in the history and doctrine of the universal Church. The synods and councils of these Churches have received the sacra traditio; by their ardent search for an understanding of the faith, they enriched our common heritage in an irreplaceable manner. A precious part of their heritage comes to us in a living manner through the witness of the Churches of Oriental rites: we give thanks for their presence in many parts of this continent.
At the cost of centuries of mysterious silence and later through the generosity of missionaries and the fidelity which moved them to devote their lives to the Church in Africa, the Church edifice is now being raised in every region. Christ, who lays its foundation and builds it with the living stones which are his disciples, is raising up in this land the sign and sacrament of salvation (cf. Lumen Gentium, 1). The rivers of living water, promised by the Son of God made man, are satisfying the thirst of the men and women who are waiting to see the face and learn the name of the living God. The inscrutable mystery of the love of the Blessed Trinity gives life to the People of God whose numbers are growing.
Brother Bishops, the building project has begun; let us give thanks to God. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is up to us to continue it, to make it more beautiful, more alive, more faithful to the divine will. Evangelisation meets with obstacles, and sometimes routine slows it down. One could hesitate over the direction to take at the present time within societies that are changing. We must combine individual and communal efforts; the Bishops themselves must work together in their pastoral activity, with a clear and well-informed analysis. It was in view of these needs which are urgent in our day, that I convoked your Synodal Assembly.
3. A Synodal Assembly cannot be reduced to a consultation on practical matters. Its true raison d'etre is the fact that the Church can move forward only by strengthening communion among her members, beginning with her Pastors. We are always conscious of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which highlighted the Church's vocation to be, by divine institution a communio. Using the words of an African, St. Cyprian, the Council fittingly described the Church as "a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" (LG 4). Indeed, it is out of the fruitful and essential reality of communion, characteristic of the Church, that the institution of the Synod of Bishops was born. This institution is meant to manifest and develop solidarity among the heads of particular Churches in the fulfilment of their mission beyond the boundaries of individual dioceses. On this important point the Council has given a very clear teaching: "Bishops, as legitimate successors of the Apostles and members of the Episcopal college, should appreciate that they are closely united to each other and should be solicitous for all the Churches. By divine institution and by virtue of their apostolic office, all of them are jointly responsible for the Church" (Christus Dominus, 6).
In exercising its prerogatives, the Synodal Assembly actualises the living communion of the Body of Christ, which is the Church, through the visible communion of the Bishops. The mission of the Church in Africa with the specific characteristics which your reflections will identify, is joined to the unique mission which Christ entrusted to the entire apostolic college. As the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome has received the commission to be the guarantor of the unity and apostolicity of the whole Church. It is communion with him that legitimises the sending forth on mission of those who are to proclaim the Gospel. By their bonds with the See of Rome, the Bishops express and affirm their solidarity in a reciprocal exchange. Thus, through the communion of the Bishops, the universal Church shares the joys and sorrows of particular Churches. The Council emphasised this when it said: "Just as, by the Lord's will, Saint Peter and the rest of the Apostles constituted a single apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the Bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together. This college, insofar as it is composed of many members, expresses the variety and universality of the People of God; insofar as it is assembled under on head, it expresses the unity of Christ's flock" (LG 22). In the name of this unity among us, I appeal to our brothers in the episcopate and to all God's people throughout the world to feel part of the accomplishments and the expectations that will come to light on the great day of the Synodal Assembly for Africa.
4. The present session of your Council follows the publication of the Lineamenta which you had prepared. This text develops the theme: "The Church in Africa and her Evangelising Mission Towards the Year 2000: "You shall be my witnesses" (Acts 1,8)". The Synodal process has thus entered a new phase, one which directly involves all the Bishops of Africa and the whole People of God. Here again, it is communion that must express itself.
Those who have received the Good News constitute an ecclesial body which must build itself up through new members and must preserve unity in diversity. We recall the words of the Apostle Paul: "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love" (Eph. 4, 15-16).
The Lineamenta gives a clear focus to preparations for the Assembly around a central theme, namely, the evangelising mission of all the particular Churches on the African continent. The Synodal proceedings will stimulate new efforts at evangelisation as a result of the Fathers' deliberations based on the theme proposed for their reflection: namely, the proclamation of the Good News; inculturation and the Gospel; dialogue with other Christians, with Islam, with African Traditional Religion and other religions; pastoral activity for justice and peace; and lastly, use of the means of social communication in the service of evangelisation.
By virtue of my apostolic mandate, I urge all the members of the People of God who live in Africa to prepare actively for the Assembly during which their Bishops will set out to establish the course of the Gospel at the dawn of the third millennium. I address this appeal to the community of the faithful, to you who were baptised into Christ Jesus, united to his death and his resurrection (cf. Rom. 6, 3-5) , enriched by the gift of faith; the experience of your lives as Christians becomes in turn a witness and a wellspring for your brothers and sisters. "The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (cf. Rom 5,5). I hope that each of you in your daily prayers will hear what "the Spirit is saying to the Churches" (Rev. . 2,7). The Synod Assembly will be the result of the life of the Spirit in your hearts and of the vitality of your communities.
Priests, whether sons of Africa or missionaries who have come from elsewhere, seminarians and consecrated persons, I ask you in view of these Assemblies which are making history for this continent to share your experiences in the spiritual and apostolic fields. You should do that in close unity with the Catechists who occupy such an important place among your brothers and sisters, with the pastoral councils, the movements, the base communities in the Church, and the parishes. United around your Bishops, you will thus sketch an African face for the Church which dwells in your land, the image of Christ, the reflection of the Creator's splendour.
5. In the coming months, pray and reflect. Through your witness, your joy and suffering your hopes and anguishes will be understood. The price of your fidelity and the weight of your poverty will be discovered. In truth and love, the common characteristics of Africa's Christians, as well as their responsibilities for the growth of the Body of Christ will be traced out.
By entering into the many cultural, spiritual and ecclesial situations of the continent and revealing the bounty of Christ's meeting with the people of Africa, you will discern a better course for evangelisation, and will make apparent contemporary requirements for priestly ministry, for the consecrated life, and for monastic life which is rapidly developing on your continent, as well as requirements regarding local assemblies and their celebration of the Christian mysteries, the role of movements, the education of youth, an open and sincere dialogue with Christians of other confessions and with believers of other spiritual traditions, the presence of Christian values in society and the human development which your brothers and sisters are waiting for.
Brother Bishops, I make this appeal that the People of God set out again upon the path of the Gospel in union with all the Bishops of the continent and, through them, to all Catholics. Their Bishops are guiding the study; they will gather the results through their Bishops' Conferences and will reflect on them as part of their pastoral duty.
6. Along with you, I entrust the coming Synod Assembly and its preparations in your dioceses to the motherly protection of Our Lady of Africa, Our Lady of Peace. May she go before you, beloved People of God in Africa, on the pilgrimage of faith! May she help you to keep in your hearts the Word which has been entrusted to you and to be the Lord's servants, witnesses of his mercy, builders of his peace, bearers of his grace! May Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Church, sustain the Church in Africa which, from this day on, is moving as one towards the Synod.
In the words of the Apostle Paul, the Successor of Peter raises up his fervent prayer: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15,13).
Dear Sons and Daughters of Africa, may the Spirit of love and holiness fill you with joy! May Christ the Redeemer who died and rose for all, strengthen the "new man" in you! May God our Father, make His Kingdom come!
May God's blessing remain with you!"