In Castelgandolfo, Benedict XVI received prelates from the Episcopal Conference of Benin, who have just completed their ad limina visit.
The Pope began his address by noting how, over recent years, the bishops had "shown great evangelical courage in guiding the people of God through numerous difficulties, showing pastoral concern for the great questions facing society, especially in the field of justice and human rights."
After encouraging the African prelates "to develop an authentic spirituality of communion," both among themselves and with their priests, the Holy Father called on priests to maintain "an intense spiritual life."
Referring then to the influence of tradition on social life, the Pope highlighted the need "to stimulate the best aspects of tradition and to reject its harmful elements, which cause damage, and nourish fear and exclusion." In this context he affirmed that "in order to help the faithful compare their faith with 'traditional' beliefs, a solid Christian formation is necessary" which, furthermore, "will teach them to pray with faith. Catechists make a precious contribution to this demanding task."
"Institutes of consecrated life make a generous contribution to the mission," said the Holy Father. "I invite members of communities of contemplative life to continue to be — through their discreet presence — a permanent call for all believers to seek the face of God tirelessly and to thank Him for all His gifts."
In the "cultural context" of Benin, said Pope Benedict, "it is necessary that the Church's presence be expressed through visible signs which indicate the authentic meaning of her mission to humankind. Among these signs, enthusiastic and animated liturgical celebrations have a pre-eminent place. They are an eloquent testimony of the faith of your communities at the very heart of society. For this reason, it is important for the faithful to participate in the liturgy fully, actively and fruitfully."
In order to avoid "introducing into the liturgy elements incompatible with Christian faith, or actions that may generate confusion, seminarians and priests must be given a solid liturgical formation that enables them to gain a profound knowledge of the foundations, significance and theological value of liturgical rites."
The Holy Father then recalled how the bishops had publicly defended, "courageously and in various circumstances, the values of the family and of respect for life" against "ideologies that propose models or attitudes opposed to an authentic concept of human life. I encourage you," he added, "to continue this commitment, which is a service to the whole of society"
"In this context," said the Pope, "the formation of young people is also one of your pastoral priorities. In helping them to acquire human and spiritual maturity, bring them to discover God. The difficulties people face in committing to Christian marriage and remaining faithful to the vows they have made — obstacles often associated with culture and tradition — call not only for a serious preparation for this Sacrament but also for permanent accompaniment of families, especially in moments of greatest difficulty."
Benedict XVI concluded his talk by expressing satisfaction for "the atmosphere of mutual understanding that characterizes relations between Christians and Muslims" in Benin. "In order to avoid the development of any kind of intolerance and to prevent all forms of violence, it is necessary to pursue sincere dialogue, founded on an ever greater mutual understanding, especially through human relationships, agreement on the values of life, and mutual cooperation in everything that promotes universal wellbeing. Such dialogue also requires the training of competent individuals to help people know and understand the religious values we share, and respect differences faithfully."