1. As the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops approaches, my thoughts turn once again to this great continent, which despite its many problems is playing an increasingly important role in world history and merits special attention on the part of the Church.
Africa's relationship with the Gospel has gone through different, very distinct periods. In the first centuries of Christianity, North Africa saw flourishing ecclesial communities from which emerged such important figures as Tertullian, St. Cyprian and St. Augustine. Some of the Roman Pontiffs were also African. Unfortunately, due to a series of sad historical events, only the barest traces of this early Christianity remain.
In the modern age, the Gospel has found new ways of taking root in the heart of Africa. Since the middle of the last century, missionary activity has proved particularly fruitful. Today the number of African Catholics, as well as Christians of other creeds, is constantly growing and many of them are offering a significant witness to Christ, which is the result of a way also marked by martyrdom and enriched by the generous fruits of holiness. In this regard how could we forget the Uganda Martyrs canonised by Paul VI, and the Sudanese woman Josephine Bakhita, whom I myself had the joy of beatifying?
2. Perhaps in the designs of Providence the hour of the great African continent has come. Christ is calling Africa! This awareness will give impetus to the next Synod Assembly.
Africa has a tradition rich in humanity and religious meaning, which makes it a source of spiritual values for all humanity. These values are a significant preparation for the Gospel.
Africa is ready for Christ! No one fears the risk of a cultural neo-colonisation in proclaiming the Redeemer! As the Council recalled, Christianity has an intrinsic universality that makes it able to be "adapted to the mentality and character of each culture" (Ad gentes 22), accepting true values, purifying them and bringing them to fruition.
Therefore it is not only urgent that the Gospel be proclaimed, but also that it be inculturated in the African world. The local ecclesial communities have already started to do this in the first person, in full communion with the universal Church.
3. May the Virgin Mary awaken and guide this new evangelising impulse. In her, God's Word became flesh, thus deeply touching human reality and actually assuming man's features. Hence Mary is the mother and model of all evangelisation and inculturation of the faith. May she guide Africa to an ever broader and deeper acceptance of Christ.