VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2004 ( John Paul II says he hopes the Church in the United States will be one of "communion," and he encouraged bishops to an ever closer relationship with their priests.

This "communion" is based on the "close relationship between the Church's holiness and her unity," the Pope said when receiving in audience today the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Detroit and Cincinnati, at the conclusion of their five-yearly visit to Rome.

It is a spirituality that "I am convinced we must foster at the dawn of this new millennium, if we wish to be faithful to God's plan and respond to the world's deepest yearnings," the Holy Father added, referring to the episcopal ministry of sanctifying the People of God.

"Like her holiness, the Church's unity is an unfailing gift of God and a constant summons to an ever more perfect communion in faith, hope and love," he continued.

"This mystery of unity in diversity is especially evident in the bishop's celebration of the Eucharist, when he is surrounded by the presbyterate, ministers, religious and the whole People of God," the Holy Father said. "In the Eucharist, that 'holy communion' which is the very soul of the Church is both expressed and brought about."

"The bishop, as the icon of Christ the Good Shepherd, present in the midst of his holy people, has the primary duty of promoting and encouraging such a spirituality," he said.

"This spirituality of communion, which bishops are called personally to exemplify, will naturally lead to a pastoral style which is ever more open to collaboration with all," the Pope added.

The Holy Father proceeded to speak about the consequences of this communion.

"It demands of you, in the first place, an ever closer relationship with your priests," he said.

This means that "each bishop should constantly strive to relate to them as a father and brother who loves them, listens to them, welcomes them, corrects them, supports them, seeks their cooperation and, as much as possible, is concerned for their human, spiritual, ministerial and financial well-being," the Pope continued.

"As a spiritual father and brother to his priests, the bishop should do everything in his power to encourage them in fidelity to their vocation and to the demands of leading a life worthy of the calling they have received," he added.

In this connection, John Paul II addressed "a word of acknowledgment and praise for the dedication and faithful work carried out by so many committed priests in the United States, especially those engaged in meeting the daily challenges and demands associated with parish ministry."

In the second place, "strengthening a spirituality of communion and mission will demand a constant effort to renew the bonds of fraternal unity within the presbyterate," the Holy Father said.

"As the spiritual values which unite priests, these should be the basis for the renewal of the priestly ministry and the promotion of unity in the apostolate, so that under the guidance of its priests the community of disciples may truly be of one heart and one mind," he affirmed.

Third, a "spirituality of communion will naturally bear fruit in the development of a diocesan spirituality grounded in the particular gifts and charisms bestowed by the Holy Spirit for the upbuilding of each local Church," the Pope said.

An "authentic diocesan spirit will also inspire and motivate the whole Christian community to a greater sense of responsibility for the fruitful carrying out of the Church's mission through its rich network of communities, institutions and apostolates," he added.

Fourth, it "is in major and minor seminaries that the seeds of a spirituality of communion and mission, and of a healthy priesthood are sown," the Holy Father continued.

He asked the bishops "to ensure that the seminaries form mature and balanced personalities, men capable of establishing sound human and pastoral relationships, knowledgeable in theology, solid in the spiritual life, and in love with the Church."

"The challenges of ecclesial life increasingly call for the priest to be, in every sense, a man of communion, committed to an effective cooperation with others in the service of the ecclesial community," the Pope said.

"I am personally convinced that prayer is the primary force that inspires and forms priestly vocations," he said. "The more the problem of vocations is confronted in the context of prayer, the more prayer will help those whom God has called to hear his voice."

In sum, to promote this "spirituality of communion and mission," the Pope suggested to the bishops that in the daily exercise of their episcopal ministry they "be builders of communion in personal dialogue and personal encounter with your priests, deacons, men and women religious and the lay faithful of your local Churches."

He added: "This is the sure path that will enable them to grow in that holiness which is the hidden source and the infallible measure of the Church's apostolic activity and missionary zeal."