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Saturday, November 19, 2011


VATICAN CITY, 19 NOV 2011 (VIS) - Shortly before 9 a.m. today Benedict XVI arrived at the presidential palace in Cotonou, a building constructed in 1960 to mark the proclamation of Benin's independence from France. There he met with members of the government, representatives of State institutions, the diplomatic corps and representatives of the principal religions. Thomas Yayi Boni, president of Benin, welcomed the Holy Father who, having greeted those present, pronounced an address extracts of which are given below.

  "When I say that Africa is a continent of hope, I am not indulging in mere rhetoric, but simply expressing a personal conviction which is also that of the Church. Too often, our mind is blocked by prejudices or by images which give a negative impression of the realities of Africa, the fruit of a bleak analysis. It is tempting to point to what does not work; it is easy to assume the judgemental tone of the moraliser or of the expert who imposes his conclusions and proposes, at the end of the day, few useful solutions. It is also tempting to analyse the realities of Africa like a curious ethnologist or like someone who sees the vast resources only in terms of energy, minerals, agriculture and humanity easily exploited for often dubious ends. These are reductionist and disrespectful points of view which lead to the unhelpful 'objectification' of Africa and her inhabitants.

  "To talk of hope is to talk of the future and hence of God. ... It is upon this mixture of many contradictory and complementary elements that we must build with the help of God. ... In the light of this experience which ought to encourage us, I would like to mention two current African realities. The first relates in a general way to the socio-political and economic life of the continent, the second to inter-religious dialogue".

  "During recent months, many peoples have manifested their desire for liberty, their need for material security, and their wish to live in harmony according to their different ethnic groups and religions. Indeed, a new State has been born on your continent. Many conflicts have originated in man's blindness, in his will to power and in political and economic interests which mock the dignity of people and of nature. ... These ills certainly afflict your continent, but they also afflict the rest of the world. Every people wishes to understand the political and economic choices which are made in its name. They perceive manipulation and their revenge is sometimes violent. They wish to participate in good governance. We know that no political regime is ideal and that no economic choice is neutral. But these must always serve the common good. Hence we are faced with legitimate demands, present in all countries, for greater dignity and above all for greater humanity. Man demands that his humanity be respected and promoted. Political and economic leaders of countries find themselves placed before important decisions and choices which they can no longer avoid".

Ethical aspect of political and economic responsibilities
  "From this place, I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world. Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present! Adopt a courageous ethical approach to your responsibilities and, if you are believers, ask God to grant you wisdom! ... Power, such as it is, easily blinds, above all when private, family, ethnic or religious interests are at stake. God alone purifies hearts and intentions.

  "The Church does not propose any technical solution and does not impose any political solution. She repeats: do not be afraid! Humanity is not alone before the challenges of the world. God is present. There is a message of hope, hope which generates energy, which stimulates the intellect and gives the will all its dynamism. ... Hope is communion. Is not this a wonderful path that is placed before us? I ask all political and economic leaders, as well those of the university and cultural realms to join it. May you also be sowers of hope!"

Inter-religious dialogue

  "I do not think it is necessary to recall the recent conflicts born in the name of God, or deaths brought about in the name of Him Who is life. Everyone of good sense understands that a serene and respectful dialogue about cultural and religious differences must be promoted. True inter-religious dialogue rejects humanly self-centred truth, because the one and only truth is in God. ... Hence, no religion, and no culture may justify appeal or recourse to intolerance and violence. Aggression is an outmoded relational form which appeals to superficial and ignoble instincts. To use the revealed word, the Sacred Scriptures or the name of God to justify our interests, our easy and convenient policies or our violence, is a very grave fault.

  "I can only come to a knowledge of the other if I know myself. ... Knowledge, deeper understanding and practice of one's religion, are therefore essential to true inter-religious dialogue. ... Everyone ought therefore to place himself in truth before God and before the other. This truth does not exclude and it is not confusion. Inter-religious dialogue when badly understood leads to muddled thinking or to syncretism. This is not the dialogue which is sought".

  "We know that sometimes inter-religious dialogue is not easy or that it is impeded for various reasons. This does not necessarily indicate failure. There are many forms of inter-religious dialogue. Cooperation in social or cultural areas can help people to understand each other better and to live together serenely. It is also useful to know that dialogue does not take place through weakness but because of belief in God. Dialogue is another way of loving God and our neighbour without abdicating what we are".

Promoting a pedagogy of dialogue

  "Having hope does not mean being ingenuous but making an act of faith in a better future. Thus the Catholic Church puts into action one of the intuitions of the Second Vatican Council, that of promoting friendly relations between herself and the members of non-Christian religions. ... I greet all religious leaders who have kindly come here to meet me. I would like to assure them, as well as those from other African countries, that the dialogue offered by the Catholic Church comes from the heart. I encourage them to promote, above all among the young people, a pedagogy of dialogue, so that they may discover that our conscience is a sanctuary to be respected and that our spiritual dimension builds fraternity".

  "To finish, I would like to use the image of a hand. There are five fingers on it and each one is quite different. Each one is also essential and their unity makes a hand. A good understanding between cultures, consideration for each other which is not condescending, and the respect of the rights of each one are a vital duty. This must be taught to all the faithful of the various religions. Hatred is a failure, indifference is an impasse, and dialogue is an openness! Is this not good ground in which seeds of hope may be sown? To offer someone your hand means to hope, later, to love. ... Together with our heart and our intelligence, our hand too can become an instrument of dialogue. It can make hope flourish, above all when our intelligence stammers and our heart stumbles".

  "To be afraid, to doubt and to fear, to live in the present without God, or to have nothing to hope for, these are all attitudes which are foreign to the Christian faith and, I am convinced, to all other forms of belief in God. ... Following Peter, of whom I am a successor, I hope that your faith and hope will be in God. This is my wish for the whole of Africa, which is so dear to me! Africa, be confident and rise up! The Lord is calling you".

  Having concluded his address, the Pope held a brief meeting with the president of the Republic in the latter's private study, during which the two men exchanged gifts. Benedict XVI then signed the visitor's book and greeted members of Thomas Yayi Boni's family.
PV-BENIN/                                VIS 20111119 (1390)

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