Johannesburg (Fides Service) - On Saturday 16 September 1995, John Paul II left Yaounde, capital of Cameroon, to fly to South Africa for his first official visit to thatcountry at last on the path to democracy after long travailed years of apartheid. “Today my journey brings me to South Africa, to the new South Africa, a nation firmly set on the course of reconciliation and harmony among all its citizens” the Holy Father said in his address at the ceremony at the airport where he was welcomed by South Africa’s president Mr Nelson Mandela.
More than five hundred thousand people attended Mass next day Sunday 17 September at Gosforth Park, Germiston, Johannesburg. In his homily the Pope asked God to grant the gift of peace to all peoples in conflict: “…especially in Rwanda and Burundi, Sudan, Algeria and until recently the Republic of South Africa because of apartheid... Seeing what is happening here, men and women of goodwill hope that in other parts of this continent too, and throughout the world, violence will give way to dialogue and agreement and the lives of innocent men, women and children will no longer be in danger for reasons which, more often than not, they neither share nor understand”. Returning the theme of peace, a gift of God but also something to be built by all men and women, a dominant theme in the liturgy the Pope said: “...one of the themes to which the Synod gave special attention was the connection between the Gospel of salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the progress of justice and peace at every level of human relations”.
The Church has always worked for peace through various initiatives to build a society worthy of human dignity. “The Apostolic Exhortation which we are here to celebrate - the Pope said - does not offer a blueprint for material and political development, which is the competence of responsible citizens and leaders in each country. It offers a vision of the moral duty which belongs to everyone, and it indicates the path which the Church intends to follow to serve the integral wellbeing of the African peoples”.
Continuing in Portuguese the Pope said “the first challenge facing the African peoples today is that of conversion and solidarity, characterised by magnanimity, reciprocal forgiveness and reconciliation”. This he said was the only possible path to overcome the complete moral defeat of racial prejudice and ethnic rivalry. He then referred to the women of Africa who bear “heavy burdens”, of injustices, violence and crimes committed against them. “The Church knows that you, the women of Africa, have an irreplaceable part to play in humanising society, the Pope said. The Church therefore appeals to you in special way to respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life from conception to natural death!”
On Sunday afternoon, 17 September 1995, the Pope presided the second celebration session of the Synod for Africa of 17 in the Catholic Cathedral of Johannesburg. “After two thousand years the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ remains the overriding and all-embracing objective of the Church’s life and mission ... The Spirit impels the Church in Africa to be a Church of mission which itself becomes missionary ” the Pope said in his address.
After recalling that the Synod listened with attention and concern to the anguished cry of many Africans living in particularly worrying situations, the Pope said “The Synod’s moral judgement on this situation is both compassionate and severe. The Synod Fathers clearly understood that the situation of dehumanisation and oppression affecting their peoples, places ecclesial communities before a crisis - in the original sense of a “judgement” and a challenge: the crisis of conversion, holiness, integrity, in order to be a credible witness; the challenge of developing the full potential of the Gospel message of divine adoption in order to free men and women of our times from sin and the structures of sin”.
Africa has a long story of exploitation at the hands of others which continues today in forms of debts, unfair trading conditions, dumping of harmful waste and overly demanding conditions imposed by structural adjustment programmes: “Not only the Church but also many international bodies have called for aid programmes and economic policies to promote real social progress” the Pontiff said, adding that “Africans must be the main artificers of a better future”. Among the evils to be condemned ethnic tension and division, “which can lead to horrendous crimes such as were seen recently in Rwanda e Burundi”.
The Pope mentioned “millions of refugees and even higher numbers of homeless in Africa” for diverse reasons: “They are our brothers and sisters. They need the help of the international community. They need the help of Africa itself!”. Moreover many of the continent’s problems are the consequence of a method of government often corrupt, only great democratic participation in the political life of each nation and respect for the law on the part of those elected will ensure peaceful transformation of the institutions.
“Africa challenges the Church!” John Paul II exclaimed in his address, urging the Church in Africa to be ever more committed in the search for greater justice, peace and reconciliation economic, social and political development, that corresponds to the dignity of the human person. Lastly the Pope assured the bishops, the faithful and the entire Christian community that the universal Church “incarnate in the lives of your own sons and daughters, will continue to share the burden of your problems and the difficulties of your march towards a better future”. (S.L.) (Agenzia Fides 11/04/2005)