Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. As we journey towards Easter, we are also preparing to celebrate the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which will begin on Low Sunday, 10 April next.
A great many African Bishops, priests and lay people have been looking forward to this event, and I have willingly adopted it in order to encourage "an organic pastoral solidarity within the entire African territory and nearby islands" (Angelus, 6 January 1989, L'Osservatore Romano, 16 January 1989, p.1).
The Synod will take place in Rome in order better to express the African Churches' communion with the universal Church, but also to emphasise the entire Church's interest in and commitment to this continent. This event is a harbinger of historical importance, an event of hope. Its celebration has been thoroughly prepared by the African communities and in a certain sense will be concluded among them, because I intend to go to Africa and promulgate its results. However, if Rome was chosen for the working phase of the Synod, it was also done for technical reasons. It is easier here. Everything is ready.
By focusing all her attention on Africa, the Church means to repay a debt of gratitude. In the history of Christianity, the African Churches, both in antiquity and in more recent times, have written brilliant pages of martyrdom and holiness. On various apostolic trips, I have remarked on the fervour of their prayer and the vivacity of their pastoral life.
2. Unfortunately Africa is still one of the areas of the world that is most marked by grave economic and social problems. The Special Assembly of the Synod will be a propitious occasion for people to reach a new awareness of the duty of solidarity - and in a certain sense, of "restitution" - incumbent on the richer nations. Some of these, especially in the colonial age, derived considerable benefit from this continent and were responsible at times for serious injustices.
Africa urgently needs solidarity. But it also has much to offer in a fruitful exchange of gifts, drawing on its wealth of human and spiritual treasures which the Church regards with respect and admiration, since the proclamation of Christ in no way suppresses the various cultures. On the contrary, it embraces their true values and brings them to fulfilment.
3. I entrust the success of the Synod to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, the Star of Evangelisation. I ask not only the faithful of Africa but all Christians throughout the world to pray for this intention. May our Lenten journey help us to understand the challenge of the new evangelisation so that Christ's voice may resound in Africa and on all continents, and his love may continue to spread everywhere.
4. Again with regard to Africa, it must be said that this past week has unfortunately been saddened by violent episodes that have worsened the tragic situation of so many of our brothers and sisters in Rwanda, the southern Sudan and the Holy Land. Once again I make a heartfelt appeal to the conscience of all those responsible to the work for peace and to remember that the future is not build by excluding entire sectors of society from civil dialogue, much less by fomenting domestic strife.
- In Rwanda reconciliation is needed: no cause can justify the clashes of these past few days. Everything set out in the Arusha Accords must be respected and implemented, for they are a way to peace. Leaders and citizens must courageously resist the temptation of violence.
- In the southern Sudan military actions (I remember my visit to the Sudan a year ago, not to the south but to Khartoum), and the blocking of humanitarian convoys are prolonging the tragic suffering of those innocent peoples who for too long have been reduced to conditions of painful subsistence. I appeal to the parties in conflict to make a serious effort to achieve a negotiated settlement that respects the dignity of every person and every group, especially the poor peoples of the southern Sudan.
- In Hebron the brutal massacre perpetrated last Friday in the mosque has deeply distressed all believers: the crime was even more heinous because it struck people at prayer!
Against the sombre background of violence God's voice is heard, saying: "Peace, peace to the far and the near" (Is. 57, 19). Today more than ever we must pray for this peace and we do so by calling upon the Queen of Peace