VATICAN CITY, 19 MAR 2009 (VIS) - At 9.35 a.m. today, the Holy Father arrived at the Amadou Ahidjo stadium in Cameroon's capital city of Yaounde. The stadium is named after the country's first president following its independence, Having toured the field by popemobile, Benedict XVI went to the sacristy and, at 10 a.m., began the celebration of a Mass marking the publication of the "Instrumentum laboris", or working document, of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops.
On today's Feast of St. Joseph, the Holy Father wished "a very happy feast day to all those who, like myself, have received the grace of bearing this beautiful name. ... Joseph is the man who gives God the greatest display of trust", he said.
"Dear fathers and mothers", the Pope asked, "do you have trust in God Who has called you to be the fathers and mothers of His adopted children? Do you accept that He is counting on you to pass on to your children the human and spiritual values that you yourselves have received?"
"At a time when so many people have no qualms about trying to impose the tyranny of materialism, with scant concern for the most deprived, you must be very careful. Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular, place themselves at risk if they do not recognise the true Author of Life! ... Do not let yourselves be captivated by selfish illusions and false ideals! Believe! ... Only Christ is the way of Life".
"Just as on other continents, the family today ... is experiencing a difficult time; but fidelity to God will help see it through. Certain values of the traditional life have been overturned. Relationships between different generations have evolved in a way that no longer favours the transmission of accumulated knowledge and inherited wisdom. Too often we witness a rural exodus ... [and] the quality of family ties is deeply affected by this. Uprooted and fragile members of the younger generation who often - sadly - are without gainful employment, seek to cure their pain by living in ephemeral and man-made paradises".
"Sometimes the African people too are constrained to flee from themselves and abandon everything that once made up their interior richness. Confronted with the phenomenon of rapid urbanisation, they leave the land, physically and morally: not as Abraham had done in response to the Lord's call, but as a kind of interior exile which alienates them from their very being, from their brothers and sisters, and from God Himself.
"Is this", the Pope added, "an irreversible, inevitable development? By no means! More than ever, we must 'hope against all hope'. ... The first priority will consist in restoring a sense of the acceptance of life as a gift from God. According to both Sacred Scripture and the wisest traditions of your continent, the arrival of a child is always a gift, a blessing from God. Today it is high time to place greater emphasis on this: every human being, every tiny human person, however weak, is created 'in the image and likeness of God'".
"Sons and daughters of Africa, do not be afraid to believe, to hope, and to love; do not be afraid to say that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that we can be saved by Him alone. ... 'Hoping against hope': is this not a magnificent description of a Christian?
"Africa", he added, "is called to hope through you and in you! With Jesus Christ, who trod the African soil, Africa can become the continent of hope! We are all members of the peoples that God gave to Abraham as his descendants. Each and every one of us was thought, willed and loved by God. Each and every one of us has a role to play in the plan of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
"If discouragement overwhelms you, think of the faith of Joseph; if anxiety has its grip on you, think of the hope of Joseph, that descendant of Abraham who hoped against hope; if exasperation or hatred seizes you, think of the love of Joseph, who was the first man to set eyes on the human face of God in the person of the Infant conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary".
"Like Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary into your home, that is to say do not be afraid to love the Church. Mary, Mother of the Church, will teach you to follow your pastors, ... to heed what they teach you and to pray for their intentions. ... Those preparing for marriage, treat your future spouse as Joseph did; those of you who have given yourselves to God in celibacy, reflect upon the teaching of the Church, our Mother: 'Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes and confirms it. Marriage and virginity are two ways of expressing and living the one mystery of the Covenant of God with His people'".
Benedict XVI then encouraged fathers so take St. Joseph as their model. "He who kept watch over the Son of Man is able to teach them the deepest meaning of their own fatherhood", he said. "In the same way, each father receives his children from God, and they are created in God's own image and likeness. St. Joseph was the spouse of Mary. ... Dear fathers, like St. Joseph, respect and love your spouse; and by your love and your wise presence, lead your children to God, where they must be".
"As you face the challenges of life, take courage", the Pope then told young people. "Your life is priceless in the eyes of God!"
Finally the Pope turned "to the children who no longer have a father, or who live abandoned in the poverty of the streets, to those forcibly separated from their parents, to the maltreated and abused, to those constrained to join paramilitary forces that are terrorising some countries, I would like to say: God loves you, He has not forgotten you, and St. Joseph protects you!"At the end of the Mass, the Pope consigned the "Instrumentum laboris" to the presidents of African national and regional episcopal conferences, saying: "My heartfelt wish is that the work of the Synodal Assembly will contribute to an increase in hope for your peoples and for the entire continent; that it will help to inspire each of your local Churches with new evangelical and missionary zeal in service to reconciliation, justice and peace".