Pope  says African church must oppose 'toxic waste' of materialism 

By  Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service
  • October 5, 2009
{mosimage}VATICAN CITY - Africans must tap into the strengths of their cultural and religious values to promote reconciliation on the continent and to resist the "spiritual toxic waste" spread by the West, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Presiding Oct. 4 over the opening Mass for the special Synod of Bishops for Africa, Pope Benedict said the vocation of the Catholic Church on the continent is to work for peace and to promote the holiness that will lead to justice, strong families and care for the weakest members of African societies.

Although there was a sprinkling of the languages spoken most in Africa, the major part of the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica was in Latin or Italian, including the Pope's homily. The Mass booklets used by the congregation and concelebrants were illustrated with sacred art from Congo, Togo, Burundi and Ethiopia. Accompanied by guitars and drums, a choir from Congo sang traditional African hymns while the Sistine Choir and an Italian choir led the singing in Latin.

The theme of the Oct. 4-25 synod is "The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace."

Reciting the Angelus prayer after Mass, Pope Benedict said that, while a synod involves a lot of speeches and work in small groups to draft proposals, it is not a study meeting, but a special time dedicated to listening to the Holy Spirit and to discerning what God wants the church to do.

The Pope said, "Africa is a continent with an extraordinary human richness" provided by almost one billion inhabitants and the highest birth rate in the world.

"Africa is a fruitful land for human life, but this life is unfortunately marked by much poverty and still is suffering from serious injustices. The church is committed to overcoming them with the force of the Gospel and with concrete solidarity," he said.

Pope Benedict offered special prayers for Guinea less than a week after the country's military junta killed dozens of opposition members; the government said 56 protesters were killed, while the United Nations said more than 150 dead were dead.

At the end of the Angelus, the Pope prayed that the synod for Africa would "help turn the eyes of the world to that great continent and inspire renewed solidarity with our African brothers and sisters."

In his homily during the Mass, Pope Benedict said Africa's spiritual and cultural values, which recognize God as creator and the value of life over possessions, are resources that can benefit all humanity. But those values are being attacked, "first of all by an illness that is already widespread in the West, that is, practical materialism" combined with moral relativism, he said.

"Without entering into the merit of the origins of such sicknesses of the spirit, there is absolutely no doubt that the so-called 'First' World has exported ... and continues to export its spiritual toxic waste," contaminating the people of Africa, Pope Benedict said.

The Pope said the "second virus" that threatens Africa is religious fundamentalism, particularly when religion is used to promote political or economic interests.

Some religious groups, he said, are "teaching and practicing, not love and respect for freedom, but intolerance and violence."

Pope Benedict noted the "great dynamism" of the Catholic Church in Africa, which according to Vatican statistics has grown from 55 million members in 1978 to almost 165 million by the end of 2007.

The synod, he said, is an occasion to thank the Lord for the growth of the church and to "rethink pastoral activity and renew the impulse of evangelization" so that every Catholic will contribute to reconciliation, justice and solidarity.

"The vocation of the church — the community of persons reconciled with God and with each other — is that of being the prophecy and leaven of reconciliation among the various ethnic, linguistic and even religious groups within each individual nation and throughout the continent," he said.

Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch Abuna Paulos and representatives of the Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches participating in the synod attended the Mass.

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