This morning in the Vatican, the Pope received prelates from the Kenya Episcopal Conference who have just completed their five-yearly "ad limina" visit.
Speaking English, the Pope began his talk to them by recalling that "it is bishops who, as ministers and signs of communion in Christ, are pre-eminently called to make manifest the unity of His Church." In this context he urged them "to continue your fraternal cooperation with one another in the spirit of the community of Christ's disciples, united in your love for Him and in the Gospel that you proclaim."
"Within each diocese, the vibrancy and harmony of the presbyterate offers a clear sign of the vitality of the local Church. … As bishops, we must constantly strive to build up the sense of community among our priests. … We must be close to them and encourage them, in the first place, to remain firmly rooted in prayer. … Let them drink deeply from the wells of Sacred Scripture and from the daily and reverent celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist. Let them give themselves generously to praying the Liturgy of the Hours."
"A key focus of unity in a community is the institution of marriage and family life, which the people of Africa hold in particular esteem. … This precious treasure must be guarded at all costs. All too often, the ills besetting some parts of African society, such as promiscuity, polygamy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, can be directly related to disordered notions of marriage and family life.
"For this reason," he added, "it is important to assist parents in teaching their children how to live out a Christian vision of marriage, conceived as an indissoluble union between one man and one woman, essentially equal in their humanity and open to the generation of new life.
"While this understanding of Christian family life finds a deep resonance in Africa, it is a matter of great concern that the globalized secular culture is exerting an increasing influence on local communities as a result of campaigns by agencies promoting abortion.
"This direct destruction of an innocent human life can never be justified, however difficult the circumstances that may lead some to consider taking such a grave step. When you preach the Gospel of Life, remind your people that the right to life of every innocent human being, born or unborn, is absolute and applies equally to all people with no exception whatsoever"
"The Catholic community must offer support to those women who may find it difficult to accept a child, above all when they are isolated from their family and friends. Likewise, the community should be open to welcome back all who repent of having participated in the grave sin of abortion, and should guide them with pastoral charity to accept the grace of forgiveness, the need for penance, and the joy of entering once more into the new life of Christ."
Benedict XVI pointed out how the Church in Kenya "is well known for the fine contribution made by its educational institutions in forming generations of young people in sound ethical principles and in opening their minds to engage in peaceful and respectful dialogue with members of other social or religious groups.
"At a time when a secularist and relativist mentality is increasingly asserting itself through global means of social communication, it is all the more essential that you continue to promote the quality and the Catholic identity of your schools, universities and seminaries. Take the steps necessary in order to affirm and clarify their proper institutional status," he concluded. "Today there is a particular need for highly trained professionals and persons of integrity in the area of medicine, where advances in technology continue to raise serious moral questions."