Vatican City, 18 April 2015 (VIS) – “In this jubilee year that commemorates several events in the life of the Church in Gabon, including the 170th anniversary of her foundation, I wish to greet and encourage your priests, men and women religious and other pastoral agents who collaborate with you, as well as the lay faithful of your dioceses, whom I join in prayer and thanksgiving”, writes the Holy Father in the discourse he handed this morning to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Gabon, at the end of their “ad Limina” visit. “The courageous missionaries who preached the Gospel in your land, in heroic conditions, and also the first Christians of Gabon, who welcomed the Good News of salvation with a generous heart and bore witness to it, often facing great adversity, are the pioneers of your local Church. Their memory, their zeal and their evangelical witness must never cease to inspire you in your pastoral action, and constitute for the Church of Gabon the source of a renewed commitment to the announcement of the Gospel, as a message of peace, joy and salvation that liberates man from the forces of evil to guide him to the Kingdom of God”. “To carry out the ministry that has been entrusted to you in each of your dioceses requires you to live in authentic fraternity within your Episcopal Conference”, he continues. “Fraternal collaboration must make it possible to respond better to needs such as the challenges of the Church and to assure, with a collegial spirit, service to the common good all society. In this regard, you have recently taken the initiative of establishing a day of prayer for your country. The Church thus shows that she shares in the concerns of all Gabonese and that the Christian message, far from deterring humanity from building an ever more just and fraternal world, makes doing so a duty. The Centre for Studes for Social Doctrine and Interreligious Dialogue, established in 2011 in Libreville, also shows your concern for evangelising customs and the socio-political realities of your country”. “The unity of the presbytery with the bishop is an example that gives the faithful the sense of the Church as the family of God. This must be translated in particular into great care to immunise them against the insidious danger of tribal and ethnic discrimination, which are the very negation of the Gospel. This spirit of communion is especially expressed in the fraternal care that you dedicate to the life and the mission of your priests. … The candidates to the priesthood also need … effective accompaniment in the indispensable and complex process of the discernment of vocations. This discernment and the formation of seminarians must be anchored first to the Gospel, and then to the true cultural values of their country, on the sense of honesty, responsibility and the given word. … Men and women religious, who since the founding of the Church in Gabon have displayed extraordinary apostolic zeal in the service of the Gospel, are also entitled to privileged and affectionate attention from you … that may be manifested in constructive dialogue and permanent collaboration at all levels with them, as well as in spiritual closeness and the promotion of different charisms within your dioceses”. The bishop of Rome encourages the prelates to continue in their efforts to “awaken in the laity the sense of their Christian vocation, and to urge them to develop their charisms in order to put them to the service of the Church and of society. The Church is missionary by nature. … Therefore, the human and Christian formation of the laity is an important way of contributing to the work of the evangelisation and development of the people, always endeavouring to adopt an ‘outbound’ approach towards social peripheries. It is also necessary to present to the young the true face of Christ, their friend and guide, so that they find in Him a solid anchorage to resist ideologies and sects as well as the illusions of a false modernity and the mirage of material wealth”. “In this regard, it is important to maintain the prestige of Catholic educational institutions in your country, by way of a formation that is increasingly inspired by the spirit of the Gospel. The 2001 Agreement between the Holy See and the Gabonese Republic on the Status of Catholic Education offers valuable support to the local Church, favouring the promotion of each and every person, with a preferential option for the poorest. I encourage you, therefore, not to hesitate in raising your voice to defend the human person and the sacred nature of life”. The Holy Father concludes, “In this time of preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the family, I invite you to pray and to ask for prayer for a good outcome, to better serve all families”….