CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 13, 2004 ( John Paul II says that in the face of the prevailing "unrestrained secularism," the proclamation of the message of Christ is a duty no believer can ignore.

When meeting a group of bishops of New Zealand at the conclusion of their five-yearly visit to Rome, the Pope addressed the "crisis of meaning" of the society in which they live.

"New Zealand enjoys a proud heritage, steeped in rich cultural diversity, yet like many other countries is today suffering the effects of unrestrained secularism," the Holy Father said at the gathering today in the papal summer residence near Rome. He previously met with each of the bishops privately.

"This radical split between the Gospel and culture is manifested as a crisis of meaning," he said. "The distortion of reason by particular interest groups and exaggerated individualism are examples of this perspective of life which neglects the search for the ultimate goal and meaning of human existence."

"Your own reports indeed unequivocally indicate the pressing need for Christ's liberating message in a society experiencing the tragic consequences of the eclipse of the sense of God," the Pope continued.

In particular, John Paul II mentioned "the drift away from the Church; the undermining of family life; the facilitation of abortion and prostitution; a misguided vision of life which seeks pleasure and 'success' rather than goodness and wisdom."

The proclamation of the Gospel "is a duty that no single believer can ignore," the Pope added.

"Sent by the Lord himself into the vineyard -- the home, schools, the workplace, civic organizations -- Christ's disciples find no time for 'standing idle in the marketplace,' nor can they be so absorbed by the internal aspects of parish life that they are distracted from the command to evangelize others actively," he said.

"Spurred on by word and strengthened by sacrament, the followers of Jesus must return to their vineyard burning with a desire to speak of Christ and to show him to the world," the Holy Father said.

John Paul II called on the bishops present to be "men of hope, preaching and teaching with passion the splendor of Christ's truth which dispels the darkness and illuminates the true path of life."

"With your hearts and minds firmly fixed on Christ, I am confident that you will lead others from the limitations of shallow thinking into the open radiance of God's love," the Pontiff said.

"Indeed, it is only by contemplating the unfathomed beauty of humanity's final destiny -- eternal life in heaven -- that the multitude of daily joys and sorrows can be adequately explained, enabling people to embrace life's challenges with the confidence born of faith and hope," he added.

The Bishop of Rome encouraged the bishops of New Zealand "to continue to ensure that your statements clearly convey the whole of the Church's magisterial teaching."

"Among the many challenges currently confronting you in this regard is the need to defend the sanctity and uniqueness of marriage," he said.

When greeting the Pope, Bishop Denis Browne of Hamilton, president of the New Zealand episcopate, said that the country's Parliament "is giving consideration to a Union Bill that we are vigorously opposing."

"This bill seems to be one of a series of bills that have been introduced or are about to be introduced in a program of social engineering that can only diminish the Christian values that we hold so dearly," Bishop Browne observed.

"We seek your prayerful support as we continue to speak out and take every measure possible to ensure that the people of New Zealand do not have their dignity diminished through such aggressive legislation," he concluded.

In New Zealand, a country of almost 4 million inhabitants, Catholics constitute 15% of the population. Anglicans represent 24%, Presbyterians 18%, Methodists 5%, Baptists 2%, and other Protestants 3%. The unspecified or those with no religion are 33%.