Vatican City, 10 November 2014 (VIS) – The prelates of the Conference of Bishops of Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau were received in audience by the Holy Father this morning, at the end of their five-yearly “ad Limina” visit. In the written discourse that he handed to them at the end of the visit, the Pope writes that the bishops’ visit to the See of Peter is “an opportunity to strengthen the communion the particular Churches maintain with the Church of Rome and with her bishop. However, it is also an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of love between you … and to experience collegiality. This represents a great challenge for an episcopal conference that groups together the bishops of four countries – Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau – that are different in terms of language, geography, culture and history, but which nonetheless feel the need to be united and to support each other in their ministry”. “Among the challenges you face, there is that of rooting faith more deeply in hearts so that it is put into practice in life. This is particularly true in areas experiencing first evangelisation, but it also applies where the Gospel has been announced a long time ago, as faith is a gift that must always be strengthened and which is under threat in many ways nowadays, owing to other religious proposals that prove easier and more attractive from a moral point of view, and as a result of the phenomenon of the secularisation that affects African societies”. Therefore, “it is useful for laypeople to receive a solid doctrinal and spiritual formation, and continual support so that they are able to become witnesses of Christ in all areas of their lives, and to imbue society with the principles of the Gospel, avoiding the marginalisation of faith in public life. The pastoral care of families, as shown in the recent Synod of Bishops, must receive special attention since the family … is the place where the foundations of faith are laid, where the basic principles of community life are learned, and frequently where the priestly and religious vocations are nurtured – vocations your Churches need”. “Priestly formation is decisive for the future”, writes Francis. “Your countries experience very different situations, but the primacy of quality above quantity is always important. I invite you to be close to your priests, especially those who are young, to ensure that after their ordination they continue their formation, persevere in their life of prayer, and are able to count on a spiritual guide, so that they are able to meet the challenges presented to them: for some, this means a certain isolation, for others, material poverty and the lack of resources, or worldly attractions. Contact with other religions is an important issue in many of your dioceses where there is an Islamic majority, in terms of mutual relations between different communities. I believe that it is important for the clergy to receive a formation to establish a constructive dialogue with Muslims, a dialogue that is increasingly necessary for peaceful coexistence. If we all, believers in God, wish to contribute to reconciliation, justice and peace, we need to work together to prevent all forms of discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism”. “More generally, it seems to me that it is important not to hesitate in occupying all the space that is yours in civil society. I know that you work tirelessly, in particular in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, for peace and reconciliation, and for this I rejoice. I urge you to maintain good relations with the political authorities in order to promote the official acknowledgement of Church structures, which will be of great help in facilitating evangelisation. Some of you, such as the bishops of Cape Verde, already benefit from the existence of a framework agreement between the State and the Holy See. Even where the Church is in a minority, or is completely at the margins of civil life, she is appreciated and recognised for her important contribution in the fields of human development, healthcare and education. I thank you for what you achieve in your dioceses, often due to the efforts of many religious congregations and laypeople”. “Dear brothers”, the Pontiff concludes, “some of your Churches are small and fragile, but they are courageous and generous in the proclamation of faith and you are witnesses to their dynamism. I offer thanks to God for the wonders He performs through you, and likewise I thank again those who participate in our common task of evangelisation”….