Christ, Hope for Africa

5. I am now addressing you in a special way, dear Brother Bishops of the Bishops’ Conferences of other Continents, to ask you generously to join forces with the Pastors of Africa, to deal effectively with this and other emergencies. The Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care will continue, as in the past, to make its own contribution to coordinating and promoting this cooperation, asking every Bishops’ Conference for its effective contribution.

The Church’s attention to Africa’s problems is not only motivated by philanthropic compassion for men and women in need but is also fostered by attachment to Christ the Redeemer, whose face she recognizes in the features of every suffering person. It is faith, therefore, that impels her to do her utmost in caring for the sick, as she has always done in the course of history. Hope enables her, despite the obstacles of every kind that she encounters, to persevere in this mission. Finally, charity suggests to her the right approach to the different situations, enabling her to perceive the particular features of each person and to respond to them.

With this attitude of deep sharing, the Church reaches out to life’s injured in order to offer them Christ’s love through the many forms of help that „creativity in charity” (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 50) suggests to her. She repeats to each one: courage, God has not forgotten you. Christ suffers with you. And by offering up your sufferings, you can collaborate with him in the redemption of the world.

6. The annual celebration of the World Day of the Sick offers everyone a possibility of understanding better the importance of pastoral health care. In our time, marked by a culture imbued with secularism, some have at times been tempted not to recognize the full value of this pastoral context.

They think that human destiny is played out in other fields. Instead, it is precisely in times of sickness that the need to find adequate responses to the ultimate questions about human life is the most pressing: questions on the meaning of pain, suffering and death itself, considered not only as an enigma that is hard to face, but a mystery in which Christ incorporates our lives in himself, opening them to a new and definitive birth for the life that will never end.

In Christ lies the hope of true, full health; the salvation that he brings is the true response to the ultimate questions about man. There is no contradiction between earthly health and eternal salvation, since the Lord died for the integral salvation of the human person and of all humanity (cf. I Pt 1: 2-5; Liturgy of Holy Friday, Adoration of the Cross). Salvation consists of the final content of the New Covenant.

At the next World Day of the Sick, let us therefore proclaim the hope of total health for Africa and for all humanity, as we strive to work with greater determination at the service of this important cause.

7. In the Gospel passage of the Beatitudes, the Lord proclaims: „Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5: 4). The contradiction that seems to exist between suffering and joy is overcome through the consoling action of the Holy Spirit. In conforming us to the mystery of the crucified and Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit opens us from this moment to the joy that will culminate in our beatific encounter with the Redeemer. In fact, the human being does not only aspire to physical or spiritual well-being, but to a „health” that is expressed in total harmony with God, with self and with humanity. This goal can only be reached through the mystery of the passion, death and Resurrection of Christ.

Mary Most Holy offers us an eloquent anticipation of this eschatological reality, especially through the mysteries of her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into Heaven. In her, conceived without any shadow of sin, is found full acceptance of the divine will and service to human beings, and consequently, she is full of that deep harmony from which joy flows.

We therefore rightly turn to her, invoking her as „Cause of our joy”. What the Virgin gives to us is a joy that endures even in trials. However, as I think of Africa, endowed with immense human, cultural and religious resources but afflicted also by unspeakable suffering, a heartfelt prayer rises to my lips:

O Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Woman of suffering and hope, be kind to every suffering person, obtain fullness of life for each one.

Turn your maternal gaze especially upon those in Africa whose need is extreme, struck down by AIDS or other mortal illness.

Look upon the mothers who are mourning their children; Look upon the grandparents who lack the resources to support their orphaned grandchildren.

Embrace them all, keep them close to your Mother’s heart.

Queen of Africa and of the whole world, Virgin Most Holy, pray for us!

From the Vatican, 8 September 2004

JOHN PAUL II

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