VATICAN CITY, MAY 28, 2004 ( The Church's educational and charitable institutions in the United States face the challenge of evangelizing "a society increasingly in danger of forgetting its spiritual roots," says John Paul II.

"The hour of the lay faithful" has arrived, the Pope said when meeting with bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Indianapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee, during their five-yearly visit to Rome.

"The Church in the United States, with its impressive network of educational and charitable institutions, is challenged to an evangelization of culture capable of drawing from the wisdom of the Gospel 'things both new and old,'" the Holy Father said today.

The Church in the United States "is called to respond to the profound religious needs and aspirations of a society increasingly in danger of forgetting its spiritual roots and yielding to a purely materialistic and soulless vision of the world," John Paul II cautioned.

"Taking up this challenge, however, will require a realistic and comprehensive reading of the 'signs of the times,' in order to develop a persuasive presentation of the Catholic faith," he observed.

The Pope emphasized the need to "prepare young people especially to dialogue with their contemporaries about the Christian message and its relevance to the building of a more just, humane and peaceful world."

"Now is above all the hour of the lay faithful, who, by their specific vocation to shape the secular world in accordance with the Gospel, are called to carry forward the Church's prophetic mission by evangelizing the various spheres of family, social, professional and cultural life," the Holy Father said.