Vatican City, 4 May 2015 (VIS) – The bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Congo were received in audience by Pope Francis this morning, at the end of their “ad Limina” visit. The Holy Father handed them a written discourse in which he emphasises the vitality of the Catholic Church in this country, which has led to the creation of three new dioceses, and the work of pastors in the work of evangelisation, as well as the Church's contribution in the education and healthcare sectors and her role in national reconciliation following the grave crisis of the 1990s.
Francis praises the work of the Episcopal Conference with regard to the mission of the laity in the Church and society, and mentioned the importance of forming and accompanying laypeople to offer Christian witness in socio-political sectors, which constitute a specific sector for the apostolate. “Family pastoral ministry is an integral part of this accompaniment. The reluctance of the faithful to embark on Christian marriage reveals the need for profound evangelisation, which involves not only the inculturation of faith, but also the evangelisation of local traditions and culture”.
In these sectors, as in many others, priests are the bishops' first collaborators and as a result, their living conditions and sanctification must be central to their concerns. “The immense pastoral needs of the local Church require rigorous discernment, so that the People of God are able to count on zealous pastors who edify the faithful through their testimony of life, especially in relation to celibacy and the spirit of evangelical poverty”. The Pope also remarks that in some dioceses there are great difficulties due to the lack of available financial and material resources.
“I am aware of the magnitude of the problems and the worries related to this situation in the heart of a pastor. Therefore, I encourage you to resolutely engage your dioceses in embarking on the path of autonomy, a gradual takeover of control and solidarity between the particular Churches in your country, following a tradition that dates back to the first Christian communities. In this respect, you must be careful to ensure that economic aid to your particular Churches in support of your specific mission does not limit your freedom as pastors or obstruct the freedom of the Church, which must have a free hand to proclaim the Gospel in a credible way. … With regard to mutual aid and solidarity between local Churches, this must also be reflected in the promotion of the missionary spirit first within Africa”, affirmed Francis, quoting Paul VI in his 1969 discourse in Kampala: “By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves”.
In-depth evangelisation is another great challenge for the bishops, and one which requires “special attention to the concrete conditions of life for the populations; that is, ultimately, to the development of the human person. Again here the commitment of the Catholic Church in the Congo is important: in the fields of education, healthcare, and aid to the various categories of people in need, including refugees from neighbouring countries, your diocese contribute in a significant way. As pastors, continue to ensure that your social ministry is increasingly carried out in the spirit of the Gospel and perceived as a work of evangelisation, and not as the action of a non-governmental organisation”.
The Pope concludes by noting that in certain sectors of society, the wounds caused by the grave crisis that affected the Congo at the end of the 1990s have left deep scars that have not yet fully healed. “In this respect, in particular, the Church, strong in the Gospel of Jesus, has received the mission of building new fraternity anchored in forgiveness and solidarity. You, pastors, continue to be models and prophets in this sense!”.