(Vatican 2015-03-02) Pope Francis has thanked the Church in Libya and the ecclesial communities in North Africa for their courage and for being a peaceful presence in an area where freedom of conscience is under threat.

The Pope was addressing members of the Episcopal Conference of North African Bishops, CERNA, who are in the Vatican for their Ad Limina visit.

CERNA gathers prelates from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.

“You are one of the peripheries” of the world – Pope Francis said to the Prelates from North Africa - and you are the face and the heart with which God reaches out to the people of this periphery.

The courage of Catholics in Libya

Noting that in the past years North Africa has become a land of conquest for more freedom of conscience and dignity as well as a battleground for those who impose change with weapons, the Pope thanked the Church in Libya for the “courage, loyalty and perseverance” shown by clergy, consecrated persons and laypeople who have stood their ground in the face of danger. They are true witnesses of the Gospel, said Francis, thanking them and encouraging them to continue in their efforts to contribute to peace and reconciliation throughout the region.

The need to accept diversity

In his discourse the Pope insisted on the necessity of inter religious dialogue “in order to build where many destroy”.

Charity – he says – is able to open up countless paths that take the breath of the Gospel into diverse cultures and social contexts. And he said that the most effective antidote to violence is getting to know differences and accepting them as wealth and fecundity.
Thus, Pope Francis told the bishops, that it is essential that the religious in their dioceses be trained in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.

Charity reveals God

Pope Francis said that an infallible weapon in the hands of the “Church of encounter” is charity that must be offered to all without distinction. Thanking the North African bishops who, often with humble means, offer the love of Christ and of the Church to the poor, to the sick, to the elderly, to prison inmates and to the many African immigrants who find themselves in North African countries during their journeys of hope. In doing so he said: “you recognize their human dignity and work to raise awareness of such a huge human drama, you show the love that God has for each of them”.

Look to the Saints

The Pope’s discourse also included many pastoral indications such as the need for attention for “permanent formation” of the clergy and spoke of his joy for the contribution offered by religious men and women in this Year of Consecrated Life.

Inviting all consecrated people to make the beauty of their vocations “shine out”, the Pope pointed to Saints Cyprian and Augustin and to the Blessed Charles de Foucault as models to look up to.

And pointing to those contemporary religious who sacrificed their lives in the name of the faith, Pope Francis expressed his happiness that in the past few years many Christian sanctuaries have been restored in Algeria.

The Pope concluded his discourse pointing out that welcoming “all” with “benevolence and without proselytism”, these communities express their will “to be a Church with open doors, always setting out and going forth”.

During the audience the bishops presented the Pope with a document entitled “Servants of Hope” that shines light on the reality of the Church’s presence in North Africa, and motivates its priests to be ministers of hope in an ever-changing situation, where parishes are being rejuvenated by new presences and where the Churches face the great challenge of ministering to migrants.