Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to evangelisation in Africa, a continent with a wealth of cultural and religious values, will be starting in a month's time. Although Christians are numerous, they represent only a part of African society; Catholics are about 13 per cent of the total population.
In contact with Islam, with the traditional religions and with the faithful of other Christian denominations, the Church very strongly feels the urgent need for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue on this continent.
It is not a question of a mere practical need or an opportunity dictated by circumstances. Today, in fact, an ecclesial life devoid of dialogue or a spirit of ecumenism would be inconceivable. We are reminded of this by the providential occasion this year of the 30th anniversary of Paul VI's Encyclical, Ecclesiam suam, which in 1964 sketched a theology of dialogue, structuring it within the broad categories of three concentric "circles": the fundamental and global circle, including the whole vast range of all that is human which encloses the more specific circle of the relationship with various religious experiences, and then the precisely ecumenical circle of dialogue with Christians of other creeds. All this is to be invigorated by the deep experience of God's dialogue with man and a sincere attitude of openness within the Church herself (cf. Enchiridion Vaticanum, n.II, 189-210).
2. the conditions of African Catholicism are most encouraging for the development of this apostolic and pastoral programme. Of course, it is not an easy task. Above all, it cannot be authentic or fruitful unless it is rooted in a clear awareness of Christian identity. The majority of the ecclesial communities in Africa are very young and are generously advancing towards the future. This is their originality and their strength! They know well, however, that a Christian future takes root in that ancient and ever new youth that is typical of the Gospel. The essence of the Church's path through history has always been fidelity to Christ, with respect for the Church's living tradition.
This fidelity however is still very far from being a feeling of complacent self-sufficiency, since the Gospel itself reminds us that the Spirit of God "blows where it wills" (Jn. 3,8). We must listen to him if we are to discern what is genuine, right and true in history and in the experience of mankind. Understanding all this and being able to evaluate it is also necessary for a deep inculturation of the faith.
3. Dear brothers and sisters, we ask the Blessed Virgin to guide with a sure hand the next Synodal Assembly's reflection on these subjects, which are so delicate. Providential ways of evangelising are opening up in Africa, ways that are promising but not free from pitfalls! May Mary, Queen of Africa, obtain for us the gift of wisdom and an attitude of humble listening to the Spirit of God.