Vatican City, 9 May 2014 (VIS) – “Your visit provides an opportunity for us to reflect together on the life of the Church in Ethiopia and Eritrea and to discuss the joys and challenges which you face daily”, writes the Pope in his text addressed to the prelates of the Bishops' Conference of the two countries, at the end of their “ad limina” visit. “Though you are from different countries and belong to different rites, each with its own particular richness, your mission in service of Christ and his Church is the same: to proclaim the Gospel and to build up the faithful in holiness, unity and charity. When that mission is exercised in collaboration and mutual support, the Church, united in the Spirit, breathes with the two lungs of East and West and burns with love for Christ”.
Pope Francis comments that in our times, “we require again this missionary spirit to announce the saving message of new life in Christ to all of society, not only to those who do not know him, but also to the faithful, so they may hear once more the freshness of the Gospel and be encouraged to find ever new and creative ways to live and celebrate their faith”.
He encourages the prelates to be “good and generous fathers to your priests, present to them and attentive to their human and spiritual needs, and their ongoing formation in the priesthood”. He continued, “If they are to be holy and effective heralds of the Gospel, it is essential that they themselves be constantly evangelised anew. This should first take place in the seminary through integral human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation.”
He also mentions the support of the “many men and women religious who, for many generations, have generously cooperated in building up your local communities, reflecting the merciful face of Christ and assisting your Churches in living out the Gospel”. The Holy Father asks the bishops to “encourage and support their continued efforts to serve the spiritual and material needs of the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea today”.
The Holy Father emphasises that “the work of evangelisation is not reserved to the clergy or religious, but is the competence of all the Christian faithful”, and it is therefore “important to continue to identify and prepare qualified lay leaders to assist in forming the faithful and thus make present 'the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze'”.
“Many years of conflict and continuing tensions, in addition to widespread poverty and drought conditions, have brought great suffering to the people” he continues, thanking the bishops for the “generous social programmes which, inspired by the Gospel, you provide in collaboration with various religious, charitable and governmental agencies, aimed at alleviating this suffering”. He mentions, in particular, “the many children you serve who experience hunger and who have been orphaned because of violence and poverty” and “the young people who like so many of their friends and family would otherwise flee their homeland in search of greater opportunities, and risk losing their lives during dangerous journeys”, as well as “the many elderly who could so easily be forgotten in the midst of such hardships”.
“Your efforts on their behalf, which give such a powerful witness to the love of God in your midst, are an extraordinary grace for the people. In your loving concern for the poor and downtrodden, may you continue to seek new opportunities to cooperate with civil authorities in advancing the common good”, he concludes.