VATICAN CITY, 18 MAR 2009 (VIS) - Having celebrated Mass in private at the chapel of the apostolic nunciature in Yaounde, Cameroon, the Pope travelled to the Unity Palace to pay a courtesy visit to the country's president, Paul Biya.
His meeting with the president over, the Pope moved on to the church of Christ-Roi in Tsinga, Yaounde, where he met with the 31 bishops of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon.
"In this year dedicated to St. Paul", the Pope began his address, "it is most opportune to recall the urgent need to proclaim the Gospel to everyone".
"The pastors of the Church must be united by a profound communion with one another", he said, noting that "effective collaboration between dioceses, particularly with regard to better distribution of priests in your country, cannot fail to promote relations of fraternal solidarity with the poorer dioceses, so that the proclamation of the Gospel should not suffer through lack of ministers".
Explaining the importance of bishops and priests maintaining relations of close communion, the Pope emphasised how "the words and example of their bishop have a key role in inspiring [priests] to give their spiritual and sacramental life a central place in their ministry, spurring them on to discover and to live ever more deeply the particular role of the shepherd as, first and foremost, a man of prayer. The spiritual and sacramental life is an extraordinary treasure, given to us for ourselves and for the good of the people entrusted to us".
The Holy Father also spoke of his joy at the fact that "many young men are presenting themselves as candidates for the priesthood. ... It is essential", he noted, "that serious discernment should take place", giving priority "to the choice and training of formators and spiritual directors".
"From the earliest days of the Christian faith in Cameroon, men and women religious have made an essential contribution to the life of the Church. I join you in giving thanks to God for this, and I rejoice at the development of consecrated life among the sons and daughters of your country".
The Holy Father also highlighted the fact that catechists "have played and continue to play a key role. ... Through their work, an authentic inculturation of the faith is taking place. Their human, spiritual and doctrinal formation is therefore indispensable", he said.
Pope Benedict then turned to consider the "many challenges" facing the bishops, among which "the situation of the family is of particular concern. The difficulties ... inspire you to defend vigorously the essential values of the African family, and to give high priority to its thorough evangelisation", promoting "a better understanding of the nature, dignity and role of marriage, which presupposes an indissoluble and stable union.
"The liturgy occupies an important place in the expression of your communities' faith", he added. "It is therefore essential that the joy expressed in this way does not obstruct, but rather facilitates dialogue and communion with God".
"The spread of sects and esoteric movements, and the growing influence of superstitious forms of religion, as well as relativism, constitute an urgent invitation to give new impetus to the formation of children and young adults, especially in university settings and intellectual circles".
The Pope spoke of his happiness at the large number of lay associations in dioceses. "In this regard", he said, "I am pleased to highlight and to encourage the active involvement of women's associations in several areas of the Church's mission, which shows a genuine recognition of the dignity of women and their particular vocation in the ecclesial community and in society".
He concluded: "The bishop's mission leads him to be the defender of the rights of the poor, to call forth and encourage the exercise of charity, which is a manifestation of the Lord's love for the 'little ones'". This "leaves no room for ethnocentrism or factionalism, and it contributes towards reconciliation and co-operation among ethnic groups for the good of all"."So it is the duty of Christians, particularly lay people with social, economic and political responsibilities, to be guided by the Church's social teaching, in order to contribute to the building up of a more just world where everyone can live with dignity".