VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The commitment to dialogue and harmony demonstrated by Mali’s tiny Christian minority and most members of its Muslim majority ensured the protection of the country’s cultural treasures, including the ancient Timbuktu manuscripts, Pope Francis said.

Meeting five of the country’s bishops at the Vatican May 7, the pope asked them to convey his appreciation to their faithful and “your fellow citizens of every social class and every religion, men and women of goodwill who are committed to fighting intolerance and exclusion.”

The country’s history of peaceful coexistence and the bishops’ engagement in interreligious dialogue, he said, helped Malians overcome the difficulties of 2011-2013 when separatists in the North joined forces with terrorists linked to al-Qaida.


The violence threatened “the richness of a glorious past” marked by tolerance and social cohesion, the pope said. A joint commitment to dialogue and collaboration helped “safeguard the cultural treasures of Mali, especially the large libraries of Timbuktu,” a collection of ancient manuscripts which the terrorists had threatened to burn.

Especially in a nation where Christians are only about 2.5 percent of the population, the pope said dialogue must be based on a strong identity in one’s own faith.

“The Christian communities and their pastors are called to witness to even greater faith based on an unconditional acceptance of the values in the Gospel,” he said.

And important step was ensuring the Bible was translated into the local languages so that people could read it themselves, the pope said, but now it is time to help them “assimilate it” and witness to Gospel values in their lives, including through acts of charity.

“The disciples of Christ are growing in number and in fervor” in Mali, he said. “But the Christian witness on the level of the family still needs greater coherence. In your social-cultural context, marked by divorce and polygamy, Catholics are called to proclaim the Gospel of life and of the family with their witness.”

Pope Francis also urged the bishops to pay particular attention to ways they can assist women and girls in their dioceses. “To promote the place of women in society and to combat all forms of abuse and violence against them is also a form of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who chose to be born of a woman, the Virgin Mary,” he said.