This morning in Castelgandolfo, Pope Benedict XVI received a group of around one hundred recently-consecrated bishops of circumscriptions in mission territories. The prelates are currently participating in a congress organized by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
In his remarks to them the Pope observed that all the communities they serve as pastors – although in different situations in Africa, Asia, America or Oceania – are “committed to initial evangelization and the consolidation of the faith. … Your communities are almost all of recent foundation, and possess the merits and defects associated with their brief history”, he said. “The faith attracts high levels of participation and joy, it is vivacious and creative but often not yet well rooted. Enthusiasm and apostolic zeal alternate with episodes of instability and incoherence. … Nonetheless these Churches are maturing, thanks to pastoral activity but thanks also to that gift of ‘communio sanctorum’ which opens the way to an authentic osmosis of grace between ancient and recently founded Churches, as well as between the Church in heaven and the pilgrim Church on earth”.
The Holy Father also turned his attention to the falling numbers of missionaries which, he noted, is compensated by an increase in diocesan and regular clergy. Thus the growing numbers of local priests produces “a new form of missionary cooperation as some young Churches have begun sending their priests to sister Churches who lack clergy, either within the same country or to other countries on the same continent. This communion must always animate the work of evangelization”, he said.
“The young Churches, then, represent a sign of hope for the future of the universal Church. It is in this context, dear brethren, that I encourage you to spare no efforts or courage in your pastoral activities. … The Church is born of the mission and grows with the mission. … A correct inculturation of the faith will help you to incarnate the Gospel in the cultures of peoples, and to take from them what is good. This is a long and difficult process which must not in any way compromise the specific nature and integrity of the Christian faith”.
The Holy Father told the new bishops to “observe the world with the eyes of faith, in order to understand it deeply; and have a generous heart, ready to enter into communion with the women and men of our time. Do not fail in your primary responsibility as men of God, called to prayer and to the service of the Word for the benefit of the flock. … The world today needs people who speak to God in order to be able to speak of God. Only in this way will the Word of salvation produce fruit”.
“Your Churches well know the context of social instability which so worryingly affects people’s daily lives. Food, health and educational emergencies raise questions before ecclesial communities and affect them directly. … As well as natural calamities, we see cultural and religious discrimination, … the fruit of fundamentalisms which are based on an incorrect view of man and which lead us to undervalue, or ignore outright, the right to religious freedom and respect for the weakest, especially children, women and people with disabilities. Finally, mention must be made of re-emerging contrasts between ethnic groups and castes, which lead to unjustifiable violence. Have faith in the Gospel, in its power to renew, in its capacity to reawaken consciences and to work from within to redeem people and create a new fraternity. Spreading the Word of the Lord will cause the gift of reconciliation to flourish and favor the unity of peoples”.
In closing Benedict XVI highlighted the fact that “the faith is a gift to be welcomed into our hearts and lives, one for which we must always thank the Lord. But faith is donated in order to be shared; it is a talent given that it may bear fruit, a light that must not remain hidden”. And he concluded by calling on the bishops “to be aware of the absolute priority of the task of evangelization”.