Pope asks Nigerians in Rome to be models of dialogue

Pope Francis receives gifts during a meeting with several hundred Nigerians in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican March 25, 2024. The group included dozens of priests and religious women, most of whom are studying in Rome, as well as men, women and children. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Meeting hundreds of Nigerian Catholics who live, work and study in Rome, Pope Francis asked them to make their Rome parishes places where cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences are respected and shared.

The diversity that exists in Nigeria and among the Nigerian community in Rome "does not constitute a problem but is a gift that enriches the fabric of the church as well as that of society as a whole and enables the promotion of the values of mutual understanding and coexistence," the pope said.

Pope Francis met March 25 with several hundred Nigerians in the Vatican audience hall. The group included dozens of priests and religious women, most of whom are studying in Rome, as well as men, women and children.

The Association of Nigerian Priests, Religious and Seminarians in Rome and the parishes that host Masses and other activities specifically for the Nigerian community should "always resemble a large inclusive family, where everyone can bring their different talents, which are fruits of the Holy Spirit, to support and strengthen each other in times of joy and sorrow, success and difficulties," the pope said.

Creating those communities, he said. Will "sow the seeds of social friendship and concord for present and future generations."

Pope Francis said people always face "the danger" of thinking that treasuring their ethnic, cultural or linguistic heritage means not recognizing the beauty of another's.

That leads to "closing oneself off in an isolation that is – if I can use the word – tribal," he said. "This is very important. It applies to all of us, everyone."

"It's true, one's own culture is a gift, but not one to be closed off," the pope said, but "to be given, to be offered."

Although they are far from home, Pope Francis asked the Nigerians to cultivate an openness to dialogue with everyone.

"Unfortunately, many regions of the world are going through conflict and suffering, and Nigeria is also experiencing a period of difficulty," he said. "In assuring you of my prayers for the security, unity and spiritual and economic progress of your nation, I invite everyone to foster dialogue and to listen to each other with an open heart without excluding anyone" on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

"At the same time, I encourage you to be heralds of the Lord's great mercy, working for reconciliation among all your brothers and sisters, helping to alleviate the burden of the poor and most needy and making God's style your own," he said. "And what is God's style? Closeness, compassion and tenderness. Do not forget this."


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