Vatican City, 15 May 2015 (VIS) – The role of the Church in the process of national reconciliation, Christian formation and the deepening of faith at all levels, and the defence of the family as the primary locus for learning forgiveness and faith were the central themes of the discourse Pope Francis handed to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of the Central African Republic this morning, at the end of their “ad Limina” visit. “I would like you to convey to all your people the assurance of my closeness”, writes the Holy Father. “I know of the suffering that they have experienced and continue to experience, as well as the countless testimonies of faith and fidelity Christians have rendered to the risen Christ on numerous occasions. I am particularly aware of all that your communities have done to for victims of violence and for refugees”.
“Your task is difficult, but it touches the very mystery of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again. It is when evil and death seem to triumph that the hope of renewal in Christ emerges. It is when hatred and violence are unleashed that we are called upon – and find the strength through the power of the Cross and the grace of Baptism – to respond with forgiveness and love. If, sadly, this has not always been the case in the recent events that you have experienced, it is a sign that the Gospel has not yet deeply penetrated the heart of the People of God, to the point of changing their reflexes and their behaviour. Your churches are the result of recent evangelisation, and your primary mission is to continue the work recently begun. You must not be discouraged by the storm you are passing through, but on the contrary must find, in faith and hope, a source of renewed enthusiasm and dynamism”.
Christian formation and the deepening of faith at all levels must be the bishops' priorities, “so that the Gospel permeates the life of the baptised, for the good not only of the Christian communities, but also the whole of Central African society. ... You, brothers in the episcopate, must play an indispensable prophetic role during the current institutional transition, recalling and reflecting the witness of the fundamental values of justice, truth and honesty, which are the foundation of any renewal, promoting dialogue and peaceful coexistence between members of different societies and ethnicities, thus encouraging reconciliation and social cohesion, which is the key to the future. … You are called upon to form the conscience of the faithful, and indeed that of all the people, as your voice is heard and respected by all. It is in this way that you should take your rightful place in current developments, avoiding direct involvement in political quarrels. However, by forming and encouraging the laity so they are steadfast in their faith and solidly trained in the social doctrine of the Church, able to engage in political debate and to take responsibility – their role – you are able to gradually transform society according to the Gospel and to prepare a happy future for your people”.
The Pope also emphasises the formation of seminarians and priests, and thanks them for their witness even in the most difficult situations, and he recalls the importance of consecrated persons who live close to afflicted populations and whose devotion is praiseworthy.
Finally, he spoke about families, “who are the first victims of violence and who are too often destabilised or destroyed as a result of the departure of a member, bereavement, poverty, discord and separations. I wish to express to them my closeness and my affection. … Families are not only the privileged location for the announcement of faith, the practice of Christian virtues and the cradle of many priestly and religious vocations, but they are also 'the best setting for learning and applying the culture of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation', which your country needs. It is essential that the family be protected and defended 'so that it may offer society the service expected of it, that of providing men and women capable of building a social fabric of peace and harmony'. I can therefore only encourage you to accord to the pastoral care of marriage the attention that it deserves, and not to be discouraged by resistance due to cultural traditions, human weakness or the new forms of ideological colonisation that are spreading everywhere”.