Since the first National Eucharistic Congress, we have made the Solemnity of Christ the King the commemoration day (anniversary) of the Eucharistic Congresses to remind ourselves annually of this Lord who loved us and gave himself for us, and who has not forgotten us but has chosen to dwell with us and in us through the Holy Eucharist, so that we may be united with him and with one another, love one another as he loved us, have eternal life, be united with him in giving God perfect worship, and in bringing ourselves and the world the salvation he has won for us by his life, death and resurrection, and that he may again fill us with the Holy Spirit.
This feast has become in some of our dioceses the Diocesan Youth Day. In some dioceses it is further solemnized with an all-night adoration and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Each year this feast helps us to redicover the importance of the Blessed Eucharist in our lives and in the Eucharistic Congresses: love, reconciliation, unity, and the need for a constant renewal of our Christian life and conversion to the Lord in order to make the struggle for holiness of life a constant in our lives for a transparent and convincing witness to Jesus Christ in our country, - the strengthening and the sanctification of Christian Families - all this centred and deriving from Jesus Christ present to us in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his love, "the centre of the whole christian life for the Universal Church, the local church and for each and every one of the faithful." (SC 41).
These anniversaries have been marked by growth in our prayer life and that of our communities; a return to the sacraments; a greater commitment in living and promoting christian love, reconciliation, justice and peace in our families and communities; the effort to make our small christian communities truly communities of faith, love and worship; and a greater awareness of our duty to profess our faith in Christ more courageously and transparently.
We celebrate the Kingship of Christ, confessing Christ as the Lord and our only Saviour, acknowledging his supreme authority and power over us and the whole of creation, his infinite love and mercy toward us, his constant support and presence.
We reflect on the practical implications of this confession as it should affect our life and that of our communities. We realize that our vocation is to make his Kingdom in us and through us spread and take roots wherever we are as truly "an eternal and universal kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace."
We renew our loyalty and commitment to Christ. Our faith in Jesus Christ is not the result of our efforts. It is a gift. For, as Jesus Said, "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me." (Jn. 6:44). This faith, so freely given, contains a promise: "In all truth I tell you, everyone who believes has eternal life."
But once given and accepted, this faith call for undivided loyalty and commitment to Jesus: we become followers of Christ, called as it were to lay our hands on the plough without ever looking back. For, "no one who looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God." (Lk. 9:62).
Without ignoring the cost of discipleship, which involves, among others things: the renunciation of everything including even one's family and one's very life for Christ's sake, the denial of self, persecutions and other hardships, the daily carrying of the cross, resistance to the spirit of the world ..., Jesus calls his followers to persevere and not to be afraid, and promises them unheard of blessings: "You will be universally hated on account of my name; but anyone who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Mt. 10:22). "In the world you will have hardship, but be courageous, I have conquered the world." (Jn. 16:33). "Blessed are you when people abuse you and prosecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven." (Mt. 5:11-12). "Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much, and also inherit eternal life." (Mt. 19:29). "Even if you have to die, keep faithful, and I will give you the crown of life for your prize." (Rev. 2:10).
Discipleship demands heroism. Jesus, knowing that the call to heroism could frighten and discourage anyone, made us promises, commitments and assurances from his part:- "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me ... And look, I am with you always; yes to the end of time." (Cfr. Mt. 28: 18-20). For this reason He strongly advised his disciples to remain in Him like branches on the vine, "For cut off from me you can do nothing." (Jn. 15:5). He promised to, and actually did send the Holy Spirit, "you will be my witnesses... to earth's remotest end." (Acts 1:8).
We, your Bishops and Fathers in the faith, aware of the difficulties all of us meet in professing our faith in Jesus Christ at this moment, and of the challenges that whoever pledges loyalty and commitment to Christ must face, have chosen to make this pastoral letter, a letter of encouragement to perseverance in the Christian Faith in the hope that we will confirm many in the faith, strengthen those who are wavering, and call back those who have lost their way.
We feel that Jesus is addressing this question to us: "But when the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?" (Jn. 21:17) Each one of us could substitute his or her own name for that of Simon son of John, and experience the same disturbing feeling.
We invite you to recall the night Jesus was betrayed and delivered into the hands of the Jews. His disciples deserted him. Peter denied him. Judas sold him to the Jews. Yet each of these disciples had pledged his allegiance to Christ, and declared his readiness to die with and for him. But, thanks to God, all of them except Judas, come together again in the name of Jesus, and had the joy to see the Risen Lord in their midst forgiving them, strengthening them in their faith and granting them his peace. Thereafter they followed him with heroic loyalty. All gave their lives for him.
With deep gratitude to God, we wish to express our appreciation for all those Christians who have stood for Christ in poverty, hunger, homelessness and destitution. They have courageously withstood all enticements to abandon their faith in exchange for food or clothing. Some have even undergone torture for the sake of Christ. We join Jesus in assuring these valiant Confessors of the faith: "Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven." (Mt. 5:12).
Jesus had just told the disciples that they would all fall away and abandon him. " Peter said, 'Even if all fall away, I will not.' And Jesus said to him: 'In truth I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.' But he (Peter) repeated still more earnestly, 'If I have to die with you, I will never disown you.' " (Mk. 14: 29-31).
That night Peter, questioned about his identity as a follower of Jesus, replied with cursing and swearing: "I do not know the man you speak of." (Mk. 14:71) "And at once the cock crowed for the second time, and Peter recalled what Jesus had said to him, 'Before the cock crows twice you will have disowned me three times.' - and he burst into tears." (Mk. 14:72).
After his resurrection, the Lord revealed himself to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Jesus asked Peter: "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt when Jesus asked him this question a third time, and he said: "Lord, you know everything; you know I love you." (Jn 21:15-17).
When we profess that we are Christians, it means that we truly believe in Jesus Christ, and that we have decided to let the whole of our lives be shaped by that faith we have in Jesus Christ.
At our Baptism we made very solemn promises. We have kept repeating these promises until now: every year during the Easter Vigil; each time we partake in the Mass and receive Holy Communion; when we go to Confession; when we read or listen to God's Word; when we pray in the name of Jesus; when we share our life of faith in our Small Christian Communities; whenever we identify ourselves as christians... These promises are our act of commitment and loyalty to Jesus Christ. They are declarations that we have united our lives with his; that we are his disciples and followers; that we are committed to life-long growth in Christ in order to be more like him in full freedom; that we wish to continue to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and to live more and more according to this improved knowledge; that we want to grow in the knowledge of ourselves so that knowledge; that we want to grow in the knowledge of ourselves so that we may better relate to Jesus Christ to the point that He lives in us and we live in Him. With St. Paul we declare: "Can anything cut us off from the love of Christ - can hardships or distress, or persecution, or lack of food and clothing, or threats or violence; ... No, we come through all these things triumphantly victorious, by the power of him who loved us." (Rom. 8:35). We are certain that nothing "will be able to come between us and the love of God, known to us in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38).
At our Baptism we were washed in water and signed with the cross of Jesus Christ. We consented to die and to rise with Christ. All these were and are signs of our total commitment to be followers of Christ for life, and our total surrendering of ourselves to the mystery God is enacting in our lives.
Each time we partake in the Holy Eucharist, we declare our belonging to Christ and our desire to be always his. We declare that we have thrown in our lot with Jesus since we have become one with him. We will do what he does, love what he loves, adopt his way of thinking, acting, living, his example and teaching as our very own. In the other sacraments we profess faith in the power of Christ's redeeming love for us, we declare that salvation is possible in none other than Christ: - so we go to him to have our sins forgiven in Confession, - to receive the "power from above", the Holy Spirit, in Confirmation, - to claim compassion and healing in the sacrament of the Anonting of the Sick, - to live his saving love and to witness to it in marriage and in family life ... We have the courage to do all this because we tell Christ: "We are yours. You are everything to us. Do not abandon us."
Over and above our promises and commitment, there is God's own commitment of love and salvation towards us. The initiative is entirely God's. He chose us, we did not choose him. He entered into an eternal covenant of love with us. He made us his adopted children. He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. He loves us not because of anything good we have done but because of his own infinite goodness. Like Peter, we in our turn have openly declared: "We are Christ's and will stand for him, in life and in death."
But the real test of loyalty to Jesus is not courage, knowledge of Scriptures, or consistent witness to the faith ... The test is LOVE. Jesus asked Peter: "Simon son of John, do you love me?" You can give any type of reasons imaginable to demonstrate your loyalty to Jesus, but all will fall off the mark if you do not centre your loyalty on LOVE FOR JESUS. The only reason that can logically justify our remaining Christians is LOVE FOR JESUS.
We believe in Jesus because we love Him. We obey Jesus, and keep his commandments because we love Him. We love Him because we understand, know and appreciate how much he has loved us. "We have recognised for ourselves, and put our faith in, the love God has for us."(1 Jn. 4:16). With St. Paul we also affirm: "I am living in faith, faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20).
Loyalty to Jesus without LOVE for Jesus is meaningless. Loyalty not based on love will fail in the face of difficulties. Once it fails, it will never revive without Love.
"Aren't you another of his disciples?" (Jn. 18:25)
The challenges to our loyalty.
Like Peter, many of us answer: "I am not." (Jn. 18: 25).
Others like Judas: - "What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?" (Mt. 26:15).
Others like some of the disciples: "This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it? (Jn. 6:60). "After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more." (Jn. 6:66).
Still others, like the rich young man, just turn and walk away. (Mk. 10:22).
Or like the apostles when Jesus was arrested: "They all deserted him and ran away." (Mk. 14:50).
These things happened to them as examples to us. Jesus Christ warned his disciples: "Stay awake, and pray not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing enough, but human nature is weak." (Mt. 26:40). If we do not take the warning seriously, we also run the risk of abandoning Him.Unfortunately some have already done so for a variety of reasons:-
Like Peter we find ourselves in a predominantly non-christian and, at times, anti-christian social environment. Some of us fear to profess openly our faith in Jesus Christ. In many cases, it is not fear of death or imprisonment, but fear of losing one's job, fear of the future for one's children, fear of social pressure, fear of being deprived of one's basic rights as a citizen if one identifies oneself as a christian ...
This fear for many does not lead them to abandon their christian Faith completely, but to water it down and weaken it to the point that there remain no external signs of identification as christians, except perhaps, the "christian" names. It is the fear of those who do not defend or stand up for the truths of the Catholic Faith and morality:- eg. the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, - the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in God's plan of Salvation through Jesus Christ and her preeminence in the life of the church, - the authority in the church that Jesus gave to the Apostle Peter and the successors (the Popes), - the truth about the power and the necessity of the Sacrament of Reconciliation commonly known as Confession, - the life giving and redeeming power of the cross, - the teaching of Scriptures as relayed by the church that christian marriage must be monogamous and indissoluble, and celebrated in Christ, - the law of God forbidding adultery and fornication ...
Many Catholic christians are afraid to stand for their faith. So they join the others to scoff at or deny what they had committed themselves by a solemn promise before God and the christian community to uphold even unto death. With Peter they say: "I do not know, I do not understand what you are talking about." (Mk. 14:68). And why do they not know? Because they have not committed themselves to GROW in the knowledge of Jesus Christ and their faith.
Others fear because their very lives contradict the christian teaching they are meant to uphold. For them to uphold christian truth and morality would be self exposure to ridicule or self-condemnation. They forget that it is through a honest self-condemnation, the confession of one's sins and sinfulness, that human beings come to recognise and confess their need of God's mercy, and to cry out in all humility: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." (Lk. 18:13) Those kinds of sinners will be justified before God, and they have no reason for shame or fear.
Then there is the fear of those who are unable or unwilling to defend or stand for the church's Social doctrine, particularly, the church's strong stand in defence of human rights, human dignity, and justice. This group of christians hide their fear behind the saying: "The church must not meddle in politics". They forget that God created human beings and planned to redeem them before there were any politics at all. "God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them." (Gen. 1:27). Jesus Said: "In truth I tell you, in so far as you did (or neglected to do) this to one of the least of these people of mine, you did (or neglected to do) it to me." (Mt. 25:40/45).
It is only a misguided or fearful christian who would think that the defence of the "image of God" ie. the dignity of the human being, and of the Lord Jesus is a political rather than a religious duty. How can he be committed to Chirst without being committed to the good of those with whom Christ has identified himself?
Finally, for our purposes, there is the fear of those who reject the name they received or chose in Baptism. Many argue that they want to be known by their tribal rather than by "foreign" names. These very people will not hesitate to take a muslim name if that will ensure their finding a job or receiving promotion or money. Such christians have forgotten that: "for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see." (2 Cor.5:17), that "he (God) saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit ..." (Titus 3:5), - that Jesus said to Nicodemus: "... no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born through water and the Spirit." (Jn.3:5).
They have forgotten that by Baptism they became new beings, they were reborn, they became children of God by adoption. It is for these reasons that they receive or choose a "new" name, a name that testifies to their new identity and birth in Christ. They cannot discard this new name without discarding Christ. The truth of the matter stands even if adults are now allowed to receive baptism with the names their families gave them - a practice that certainly blurs the "newness" we acquire in Baptism, and could be a counter witness where a clear and uncompromising witness to Christ is demanded.
Furthermore, the names we receive in Baptism are usually the names of Saints. The Saints are members of the great Family of God into which we are born through Baptism. Peter, Paul, Augustine, Agatha ... are not foreigners to a christian, they are Brothers and Sisters in God's Family. Their names can be the names of foreigners only for one who is not a christian because such a one is not a member of God's Family where Chirst is the elder Brother. We cannot deceive ourselves.
2. Unwillingness or Inability to meet the demands of discipleship
All of us,
one way or another,
resist or oppose
and His gospel!
All of us,
one way or another,
resist or oppose
and His gospel!
The Standards of moral life that Jesus demands of his disciples, far surpass those any other religion can propose to human beings. Jesus' plan for us is that we become and live as God's children. "You must therefore be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Mt. 5:48) We can be that perfect because God has given us the Holy Spirit, the spirit of sonship.
So even if we do not reject or abandon Christ all together, we refuse to follow him whenever we sin, by deliberately and knowingly ignoring his commandments and choosing to go our own way, or the way of our tribal social traditions.
We declare by our lives that Jesus' teaching is too difficult, and so distance ourselves from the church, the Body of Christ.
We declare that we do not want Christ to rule over us or to have anything to do with what we call our private lives. We compromise our faith and weaken it, particularly if we continue deliberately to sin. We become impressed more by human values than by things of God.
We reject , for instance, Christ's teaching about forgiveness, about the need to carry our cross,about service, about prayer, about seeking first the kingdom of God and his justice ...
Others, "scandalised" by the sins and mistakes they see committed in the church, decide to abandon the church and even their christian Faith. These "christians" forget that one of their promises at Baptism was "faith in the forgiveness of sins". They surely do not doubt God's power to forgive sins. They do not doubt that Jesus died and rose from the dead in order to win us the forgiveness of sins. What they need to extend their faith to is "to reaffirm the possibility of conversion and change of heart, as long as we are alive", and this for themselves and for their brothers and sisters in the church. They forget that the church herself admits: "The church, embracing sinners in her bosom, is at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, and incessantly pursues the path of penance and renewal ..." (LG. 8). Just as God loves us individually in spite or because of our sins and sinfulness, in like manner God's love for the church is not conditioned by how often or rarely its members sin. That is why the Lord gave us the sacrament of Penance (confession), and why He taught us to pray daily, "And forgive us our trespasses", and why we ourselves nearly always begin our prayers with the public confession of our sins and forgiveness. The church never ceases to call human beings to repentance and conversion, to holiness of life, to a life in comformity with God's laws, to reparation and satisfaction for sins committed.
From the depth of the sinfulness and infidelity of its children, the church will continue to call human beings to conversion and repetance and to uphold the holiness of God.
Jesus could be telling such christians: "Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her." (Jn. 8:7). If we believe in the church, we share in the responsibility of building the church, of reforming the church, of making reparation for the sins of its members, through a renewed commitment to being ourselves committed christains. These "good christians" forget that Jesus declared he would be alway with this sinful church. It would be his Body forever - a Body he commits himself to purify continuously through the Holy Spirit and his living word and the sacraments.
Are we embarassed when we hear the gospels describing Jesus as a friend of tax collectors and prostitutes? And that through his contact with them he turned them into saints?
3. Now that the majority of christians live in poverty and destitution, new temptations to abandon the faith threaten many
The first to succumb to the tempation of abandoning their faith are those who have misunderstood the mission of the church.
They enter or remain in the church as long as the "church" gives relief or humanitarian assistance.
Jesus told some who wanted to follow him: "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." (Lk. 9:58). Jesus was telling them he was poor, and that those who sought riches would find nothing in him. He asked those who would follow him to leave everything for his sake. It is impossible to be a follower of Christ if one's main quest is money and relief. It is true that Christ's law of love demands that Christ's followers help one another, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, give shelter to the homeless etc... The early christians' way of life is described in the Acts of the Apostles: "And all who shared the faith owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed." (Acts 2:44-45). This is what should be happening in our christian communities. Help to the poor is everyone's responsibility, it is not restricted to the clergy or the religious.
But one who enters a religion because of money or other worldly goods cannot say he/she believes in what the religion stands for.
What he/she believes in is MONEY and RICHES, not God or religion. We must be honest with ourselves. Why don't we join a bank or a commercial company instead? Why join a religion in order to live as parasites at the expense of the others allegedly in the name of God?
The next group to succumb to the temptation of abandoning the christian faith, are not poor or needy.
We have come to know that several of our christians, particuarly the intellectuals and politicians have ceased to be christians, not only by their style of life, but actually by professing a different religion. THIS IS APOSTASY. A christian who commits the sin of apostasy is automatically excommunicated. He is no longer a member of the church community. He may not receive the sacraments, except when he/she is in danger of death. When he/she dies, no public christian prayers may be said for him/her. He should not even be buried in a christian cemetery.
If after discovering and acknowledging his or her mistake such a one decides to return to the church, he has to approach the local Bishop, and must publicly disavow his apostasy by re-professing publicly the christian faith.
We hear that some of these brothers and sisters of ours justify their apostasy in many ways:
It is to be noted that none of these people ever mentions JESUS CHRIST or any supernatural value other than that mention of prayer.
Might it be that these people never truly believed in Jesus Christ? Might it be that our evangelisation is so weak that it does not centre on Jesus Christ and on total conversion to HIM? Might it be that we successfully bring people to the threshold of the faith, and do little to help them deepen that faith to full maturity? Might it be that the way we live as church is such that we do not sense or reflect the presence of Jesus Christ? Might it be that in the opinion of many of our faithful the church is just an organisation like any other?
If the answer to any one of these questions is "Yes", then our Bishops, priests, religious and ALL the lay christian Faithful ought to make a serious examination of conscience to discover where we have failed, and embark on a decidedly more meaningful evangelisation and style of christian living.
On the other hand we must respect the decision of one who has chosen not to be or remain a christian. Being christian is a matter of freedom. One freely chooses to follow Jesus. One may aslo freely choose not to follow Jesus. The reasons for deciding not to follow Jesus usually have nothing to do with Jesus.
It is our belief that no one has ever abandoned Jesus because he or she has found a better alternative to Jesus.
People decide not to follow Jesus for some of the reasons given above.
But if these brothers and sisters have abandoned the christian faith merely for reasons of convenience, ambition, greed or cowardice, they must know that they have done themselves and their brothers and sisters a great harm. In some cases the harm is irreparable.
They have even seriously undermined the credibility of whatever religion they embrace for the reasons given above. For the only reason that can justify one's embracing one religion or another should be the veracity of that religion and its effectiveness to draw one to God. It cannot be for money, jobs ...
They have harmed themselves. They no longer stand for the truth or genuinely search for the truth, and so cannot be credible and trusted even in the religions or the ways of life to which they turn. They have in a way forfeited the support of Christ who said: "If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of human beings, I will declare myself for him before my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of human beings, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven." (Mt. 10:32-33).
Having established for themselves that religion can be traded, one can deduce that they will take no religion seriously ever after. Their statement is: "Where there is no money or the possibility of social advancement, there is no religion.". Life can become very empty indeed.
They further harm themselves by doing violence to the members of their families and friends whom they will try to induce or force into following the path they themselves have taken. The harm is greater if their so-called conversion had nothing genuinely religious about it. The final test is however the state of their consciences.
For conscience cannot be silenced with money, or by big talk.
Despite the cowardice of the disciples and their general loss of faith in Jesus during his crucifixion, and the denials of Peter, Jesus took the initiative on their behalf after his resurrection.
He returned to rebuild their faith, to reassure them of his continuing love and friendship, to give them his peace. They recovered their trust in him.
He will do the same for us. Even if we reject him, or out of fear or because of doubts abandon him, or even betray him, we know that our actions against him will never be the last word in our relationship with Jesus, even if we do not know how to undo the evil we have committed. He himself will stand in front of us and say: "Peace be with you." (Jn. 20:19). He will ask us to make the declaration that will restore the relationship of love between him and us: "Do you love me?" Then we can reply with Peter. "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
We are dealing with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who leaves the ninety nine sheep in the stable in order to go out in search on the one sheep that has strayed. It is he who told the parable of the prodigal son who is welcomed home by his Father with great feasting. It is he who declared that he was sent to seek that which was lost. From the cross He prayed even for his executioners: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." (Lk. 23:34) and to the thief who confessed his kingship, Jesus promised paradise. If Jesus can do all this for people who have not even asked for pardon, how much more will He grant his mercy and pardon to those who turn to him with sincere and contrite hearts.
What we see happening to our brothers and sisters could also happen to us.
It is necessary for all of us therefore to stand firm in our faith, to support one another's faith, to strengthen those who are wavering in their faith, and seek out those who have strayed.
We need to believe in Jesus, trust him and love him. All this cannot happen unless we know him enough. Each of us has to find his/her own answer to the question Jesus put to his disciples, and now puts to each one of us: "But you, who do you say I am?" (Mt. 16:15). Sinners flocked to Jesus, the sick sought him everywhere, large crowds came to listen to him, and now over a billion people for every nation, tribe and language follow him. They trust in him, hope in him, love him. They are ready to give their lives for him. In fact many suffer very much for his sake. You are one of these people. Why do you follow Jesus?
Our faith needs stability based on personal conviction, so that we may bear witness to it in daily life. We believe on the authority of God and God demands of us a total adherence to his word, which is the word of life and of salvation for us.
It is also necessary for us to create around us an environment that fosters and strengthens the faith of the individual. Authentic christian life needs the support of a living communty of faith and love. A christian community at the service of the faith has to grow from being a simple Bible Study or Prayer group, or a social action group to a group in which the members share their faith with one another through the proclamation of God's word, bear common witness to the Word they proclaim, carry the word beyond the group to the society in which they live.
Pastors and Catechists should exert more effort in the formation of suitable community leaders and animators, so that our small christian communities may develop into truly self-evangelising communities in which the faithful are progressively formed in the faith in an ongoing manner, and trained to become evangelisers and witnesses to Christ reaching out to those who do not yet know him or do not know him sufficiently.
Without proper evangelisation and a programmed persevering formation in the faith, true christian formation in the faith, true christian life is impossible. Such an evangelisation "has christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his Gospel through faith." (CIA 73). It follows that evangelisation is to be seen not only in terms of "preparation" for Baptism, but as a continous programme of formation aimed at deepening the faith so that the christian may more effectively face the challenges and temptations that threaten his or her faith life, and may allow the light of faith to bear upon all areas of his/her life. The Pope was right when he said "formation in the faith ... too often stops at the elementary stage". How true this is for our christians, even the most highly educated ones!
We appeal to the Pastors, catechists and community leaders to seize every opportunity they have to systematically work for the on-going christian formation of the faithful. Several such opportunities present themselves. Among them we give great importance to the Sunday and feastday homily, the preparation for and the celebration of the sacraments, the liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, and other religious celebrations to which large numbers of the faithful flock.
Special attention to the elite
"The formation programme will especially include the training of the lay faithful, so that they will fully exercise their role of inspiring the temporal order - political, cultural, economic and social - with christian principles, which is the specific task of the laity's vocation in the world." (CIA. 75). - It is necessary that we convince the laity, particularly the professionals, to include a deep knowledge of and a transparent witness to Christ among their competencies. They will in this way "advance the common good and prepare the way for the Gospel," and become sources of inspiration especially to the youth who often aspire to posts of responsibility without much attention to the christian dimensions of such posts.
With regret we notice that the elite christians often find themselves out of place in our communities, either because the pastors "ignore" them, or because our pastoral programmes do not address their needs. This is sad, because these people could be a great asset to our communities, and great witnesses to Christ in their professions or business, not to mention the fact that they are more exposed to serious temptations against their christian faith. We have to snatch these sheep from the jaws of the wolf.
Special attention to the youth
If we truly believe that the youth are not only the present but above all the future of humanity and the church, then we need to intensify our assistance to them in every possible way. The christian youth in this country are in the front line of our struggle to keep the christian faith. Yet they are the least prepared for such a struggle. Their gullibility exposes them to serious disorientation, particularly now that so many of them are without the protection and guidance of their families or relatives. And everyone tries to win them to his/her own ideology.
Yet our youth are our biggest asset.
With pride and appreciation we note their active participation in the life of their communities and parishes. Their mobility gives them the chance to bring Christ where it would be extremely difficult especially for us Pastors to reach. Many of them are proud of their christian vocation and are quite uncompromising in their stand for Christ.
But they need help and pastoral care. They need pastoral and spiritual counselling. They need to become more open so that their problems and difficulties can be more easily assessed and faced. Indeed the situation in which they live gives little hope of a meaningful future, and so our youth tend to be short sighted, and unprepared to bear more than our society imposes on them. They are being culturally uprooted and being placed at the risk of having no culture to identify with. Pastoral service to youth demands a lot of patience, but it is the patience we need if we truly believe in the possibility of a better future for these younger brothers and sisters. Our youth need pastors who can proclaim the authentic Christ to them, and help and guide them to responding to His call with enthusiasm. They need space and opportunities to develop their talents. They need trustworthy grown ups in whom they can take refuge in times of need. They need to be understood. We therefore appeal to Pastors, catechists and community leaders to lend our youth all the support they need, and to be among them models of christian living and commitment.
To the Youth themselves we repeat the Pope's appeal:
"Dear young people, the Synod for Africa, asks you to take in hand the development of your countries, to love the culture of you people, and to work for its renewal with fidelity to your cultural heritage, through a sharpening of your scientific and technical expertise, and above all through the witness of your christian faith."
The Special Assembly of the synod of Bishops for Africa considered the evangelisation of the family a major priority, and appealed that each christian family become a '"privileged place for evangelical witness, a true 'domestic church', a community which believes and evangelises, a community in dialogue with God and generously open to the service of society." (CIA. 92).
We focus on the evangelising role of parents because much of what happens in the family depends on them. Parents are the first heralds of the faith of their children. It is their talk to give christian education to their children. Parents must consider their christian faith as an integral and indispensable part of the cultural values they have to hand on to their children along with their own tribal customs and language. By word and example they can hand on the faith to their children with the same ease with which they hand on the other cultural values of the family.Parents have several opportunities in the home to introduce their children to the faith and to help them grow in it: during pregnancies, at births, at naming ceremonies, the entrance into school, during the preparations for and the celebration of the sacraments of initiation; when misfortune strikes the family; in moments of joy ... Even parents who are unable to offer any adequate catechesis on such occasions, can turn them into occasions of prayer and/or thanksgiving to God. Family prayer, particularly the daily recitation of the rosary or parts of it, not only brings untold blessings to the family, but also makes the family an evangelising and evangelised community.
Christains have the duty to celebrate their marriages "in Christ", that is, with the Sacrament of Matrimony (marriage). Even those who celebrate their marriages where there are no priests, deacons or the Lay Community Leaders we have commissioned to assist at christian marriages in such circumstances, should enter marriage with commitment to uphold and live the holiness, unity, and indissolubility of christian marriages in such circumstances, should enter marriages are in themselves a profession of faith and trust in God's redeeming love and grace made permanently available to us in the Blood of Christ. The spouses right from the beginning of their family life commit themselves to be "the permanent reminder to the church of what happened on the cross, they are for one another and for their children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers ..." (FC 13). It is families founded on such marriages that stand better chances of being truly "domestic churches".
We thank God for you all. We thank him especially for your perseverance in the faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. Your faith is constantly being tested and purified by the difficulties and temptations you have to undergo. Thus it becomes more precious in God's eyes.
We are members of a church that has a long tradition of martyrs and confessors. You yourselves are the confessors of today, not only because you courageously persevere in your faith in spite of great difficulties, but also because you strive to live your chrstian vocation with great fidelity in an environment that discourages such a style of living. "Do not lose your fearlessness now, then, since the reward is so great." (Hb. 10:35).
In times of trial and affliction, we ask you to recall what the Pope told us in his homily in the Green Square in Khartoum in February 1993. For we sometimes think God has abandoned and forgotten us and so are tempted to look for help elsewhere.
"And God answers with the words of the great prophet: 'Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore?
Even if a mother should forget a child, I will never forget you. I have written your names on the palms of my hands' (Is 49:15-16). Yes, on the palms of Christ, pierced by the nails of the Crucifixion. The names of each one of you is written on those palms. Therefore with full confidence we carry out: 'The Lord is our help and our shield. In him do our hearts find joy. We trust in his holy name.' (Ps 28:7)"
In the midst of our struggles, we invite you to lift your gaze to the Blessed Virgin Mary whom Jesus has given as our Mother. She is present as a mother and shares in the many complicated problems which today beset the lives of individuals, families and nations. She is present to the christian people and helps it in the constant struggle between good and evil, to ensure that it "rises again". (cfr. The Mother of the Redeemer 52). We impore her to assist us, and to show herself a Mother to us.
"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such ceaseless encouragement and such sure hope, encourage you and strengthen you in every good work and deed." (2 Th. 2:16-17).