Between Nov. 18-20, Benedict XVI was on a visit to Benin, the pope’s second outing to Africa. The official motive was to present the conclusions from a 2009 Synod of Bishops for Africa, which Benedict did in the form of a 138-page document titled Africae Munus, or “Africa’s Commitment.” Benedict also delivered a series of speeches, including his reflections on the state of education on the African continent.
Here are some excerpts from Africae Munus that address the issue of illiteracy:
Illiteracy represents one of the principal obstacles to development. It is a scourge on a par with that of the pandemics. True, it does not kill directly, but it contributes actively to the marginalization of the person – which is a form of social death – and it blocks access to knowledge. Teaching people to read and write makes them full members of the res publica and enables them to play their part in building it up; for Christians it provides access to the inestimable treasure of the sacred Scriptures that nourish their life of faith.
The defence of life also entails the elimination of ignorance through literacy programmes and quality education that embraces the whole person. Throughout her history, the Catholic Church has shown particular concern for education. She has always raised awareness among parents, providing them with encouragement and assistance in carrying out their responsibility as the first educators of their children in life and in faith.
It is surely necessary to raise the awareness of governments so that they will increase their support for schooling. The Church recognizes and respects the role of the state in the educational domain. She nevertheless affirms her legitimate right to play her part, offering her particular contribution. And it would be helpful to remind the state that the Church has a right to educate according to her own rules and in her own buildings. This is a right which is part of that freedom of action “which her responsibility for human salvation requires”. Many African states recognize the eminent and disinterested role played by the Church through her educational structures in building up their nations. I therefore strongly encourage governments in their efforts to support this educational work.