Secularism Challenges Church in England and Wales, John Paul II Says

Warns That Civil Life Will Feel the Fallout Too

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 23, 2003 ( John Paul II says the great challenge facing the Catholic Church in England and Wales is secularism, which must be addressed with a «new impetus in Christian living.»

The effects of a concept of society in which people live as if God did not exist has negative consequences for civic life too, the Pope said in an address today to the bishops of England and Wales. He received the prelates in audience as part of their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.

«England and Wales, despite being steeped in a rich Christian heritage, today face the pervasive advance of secularism,» said the Holy Father during an audience that followed earlier personal meetings with the bishops. «At the root of this situation is the attempt to promote a vision of humanity apart from God and removed from Christ.»

«It is a mentality which exaggerates individualism, sunders the essential link between freedom and truth, and consequently destroys the mutual bonds which define social living. This loss of a sense of God is often experienced as the abandonment of man,» the Pontiff told the delegation headed by the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

«Social disintegration, threats to family life, and the ugly specters of racial intolerance and war, leave many men and women, and especially the young, feeling disoriented and at times even without hope,» the Holy Father said. «Consequently it is not just the Church which encounters the disturbing effects of secularism but civic life as well.»

Given the situation, John Paul II added that bishops «are called to remain vigilant in our duty to proclaim with clear and passionate certainty that Jesus Christ is the source of hope; a hope that does not disappoint.»

«The faithful of England and Wales look to you with great expectation to preach and teach the Gospel which dispels the darkness and illuminates the way of life,» he said. «Daily proclamation of the Gospel and a life of holiness is the vocation of the Church in every time and place.»

«The phenomena of secularism and widespread religious indifference, the decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the grave difficulties experienced by parents in their attempts to catechize their own children, all attest to the vital need for bishops to embrace their fundamental mission to be authentic and authoritative heralds of the Word,» the Pope said.

Quoting the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution «Lumen Gentium,» the Holy Father said that bishops «have the obligation of fostering and safeguarding the unity of faith and of upholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church.»

«It is by fidelity to the ordinary magisterium of the Church, by strict adherence to the discipline of the universal Church, and by positive statements which clearly instruct the faithful, that a bishop preserves God’s people from deviations and defections and guarantees them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error,» he emphasized.

Based on the reports the English and Welsh bishops gave him, the Pope expressed his «profound conviction that the new millennium demands a new impetus in Christian living.»

«If the Church is to satisfy the thirst of men and women for truth and authentic values upon which to build their lives, no effort can be spared in finding effective pastoral initiatives to make Jesus Christ known,» he added.

«Authentic pedagogy on prayer, persuasive catechesis on the meaning of liturgy, and the importance of the Sunday Eucharist, and promotion of the frequent practice of the sacrament of reconciliation will do much to meet this pastoral goal and enkindle in the hearts of your people the joy and peace deriving from participation in the Church’s life and mission,» the Pope said.

In this connection, he supported the initiatives that are taking place, especially in the evangelization of young people, such as Youth 2000 and the development of university chaplaincy programs.

The audience came on the final day of nearly two weeks in Rome for the 35 bishops of England and Wales who were on their five-yearly visit «ad limina.» The visit coincided with the Pope’s silver anniversary and the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

In an address to the Pope, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, said: «Your service of the communion and unity of the Church is a profound witness to the loving presence of the Spirit among us all.»

«Holy Father,» he added, «the bishops would like me to record their appreciation for the gracious welcome we have received from the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and to note with gratitude that our discussions have been cordial and constructive, a true expression of the collegial nature of the ministry in which we share.»

«It has been our privilege to be at your side during these days,» the cardinal said. «Our prayer and that of the whole of the Catholic Church in England and Wales is that the Lord who confirmed the faith of Peter will sustain and bless you now and always.»

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