Cardinal Bertone's Address to Mexican Bishops

«Time Is Ripe for the Laity to Fully Assume Its Proper Vocation»

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MEXICO CITY, JAN. 16, 2009 ( Here is the address Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict XVI’s secretary of state and pontifical legate to the 6th World Meeting of Families, gave today to the Mexican bishops’ conference.

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President of the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico,
Dear Brother Bishops,

I am very happy to be here with all of you today, and I would like to express to all of you my gratitude for the warm greeting that you have shown to me as legate of Pope Benedict XVI for the VI World Meeting of Families. I thank Monsignor Carlos Aguiar Retes, bishop of Texcoco and president of the Mexican bishops’ conference, for the kind and deferential words of welcome that you have directed toward me, in the name of all.

Before all else, allow me to transmit to you the affectionate greeting of the Successor of Peter, as well as his spiritual closeness. My presence here is in obedience to the expressed desire of the Pope who, before the impossibility of realizing this yearned for trip, decided to make himself present among you through his most direct and closest coworker, which is the secretary of state. His Holiness knows well the vitality and strength of the Church in Mexico, the dedication and surrender of all its members, Pastors and faithful, at the service of the Gospel, as well as fidelity and fervor of its love of the Virgin and of its union with the Roman Pontiff. In this way, the Bishop of Rome desires to encourage them so that, in the midst of the difficulties of the present moment, they don’t lose strength in their determination to announce to all men and women the Good News of Salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord. For this he accompanies you in every moment with his prayer and constant encouragement, because he carries very deeply in his heart the sons and daughters of this blessed Mexican land, land of Christ and of Mary.

Dear brothers and sisters, in the last meeting of the Plenary Assembly of the Conference of the Mexican Bishops, last November, they reflected amply, together with 118 laypeople from all of the Mexican provinces, on the necessity of promoting a new and valiant lay leadership (cf. Message of the Bishops of Mexico, Nov. 13, 2008).

Effectively, the Second Vatican Council has highlighted the specific and absolutely necessary role of the baptized in the saving mission of the Church. Inasmuch as they are living members of the one Body of Christ, they «are called to contribute to the incessant growth and sanctification of the Church with all its strength» («Lumen Gentium,» 33). Without a doubt, the time is ripe for the laity to fully assume its proper vocation in the Church and in society. Furthermore, the actual circumstances, and the direction of the world in general, is calling for a secular apostolate that is wider and more intense, full of zeal and love of God. But, in what does the specific apostolate of the laity consist? Where is it developed and with what means is it carried out? In the last pastoral letter of the Mexican episcopate, you affirmed with clarity that «the faithful laity fulfill their Christian vocation principally in secular works» (Pastoral Letter «Del encuentro con Jesucristo a la solidaridad con todos» [Of the Encounter with Jesus Christ in Solidarity With All], 270). In this point they follow faithfully the established doctrine of Vatican II, when they affirmed that the baptized «truly exercise the apostolate with their push to evangelize and sanctify all men and women, and perfect with an evangelical spirit in the realm of temporal things, in such a way that their activity of this order gives a clear testimony of Christ and serves for the salvation of men («Apostolican actuisitatem,» 2).

Especially relevant and decisive, for its transcendence at the moment of shaping society according to Christ, proves to be the testimony of the laity in the field of politics and culture. It is necessary to encourage them and offer them all the help they need so that they involve themselves, with coherence of life and with a true spirit of service to their brothers and sisters, in the public shifts of their country. A Christian, conscious of his vocation as a son or daughter of Christ, cannot wash his hands of the effort, full of charity and respect toward others, to attempt to make the fruitful values of the Gospel illuminate all realms of society. Doing it in this way, the faithful layperson fulfills, with his renewed insistence and wide vision, his responsibility as a citizen, given that his Christian vocation does not take him out of the world. Rather, it propels him to take part in the construction of civil society contributing in this way to the common good of the entire nation, to which he belongs by right.

I would also like to mention, because of its importance, a priority field of apostolate for the Church today, and in a special way, of the apostolate of the laity: marriage and the family. Christian spouses are called to give a special testimony of the sanctity of marriage, as well as its importance for society. These are the ones that can best show before others the beauty of the design of God regarding human love, marriage and family. This, founded in the marriage between a man and a woman, is the base and fundamental cell of human society. In this communion of life and love, which is marriage, is found the reason for being of the sexual difference between the man and the woman, as well as the call to love that God has put in their hearts. Effectively, God has created man to love and be loved (cf. John Paul II, Ex. Ap. «Familiaris consortio,» 11). The link of spousal donation, made of tenderness, respect and responsible donation, is the natural place in which human life is conceived and finds the protection and acceptance that its dignity requires. For this, to work for the good of marriage and the family is to fight for the good of the human being and society. It is paramount, then, to make the effort so that the civil law of a country respects the proper identity of this natural institution, that is at the base of the social structure. Nonetheless, it is not enough to count on good laws, it is necessary as well to insist on a vast labor of education and formation that helps all, especially young people, to discover and value the beauty and importance of marriage and family.

I am fully convinced, dear brothers, that the celebration of the VI World Meeting of Families will constitute a unique and providential occasion to boost even more the family ministry in your diocesan communities, maximizing and multiplying the numerous pastoral initiatives that are already giving abundant fruits.

To be able to fulfill this demanding mission, the faithful need to count on an intense spiritual life and a solid formation, based above all in the attentive and meditative school of the Word of God. All of us in the Church have a need for this intimate contact with the Lord in Scripture. With this motive, the Pope, in the concluding Mass of the recent synod of bishops, said that the «priority task of the Church, at the beginning of this new millennium, consists before all in nourishing itself with the Word of God, so as to make effective the commitment of the new evangelization, of the proclamation in our times» (Benedict XVI, Homily Oct. 26, 2008).

Indeed, to evangelize does not consist just in communicating some doctrinal content, but in offering a proposal of an encounter with Christ. An encounter with Jesus, the Savior, who, touching the heart and the mind with the light of his truth and the strength of his love, can satiate the deep thirst for God that so many brothers and sisters of ours have, and move them at the same time to live the Gospel with all its consequences.

Certainly, this is a matter of offering hope to everyone, the great hope that is God himself and that rises above all other human hopes, giving them a definitive base (cf. «Spe Salvi,» 31). The Holy Father encourages you so that, in difficult situations, you do not cease to present Christ as the true moti
ve of hope. Drawing near to the Lord and putting into practice his teachings, as the Virgin Mary instructed at the wedding of Cana (cf. John 2:5), Mexico will be capable of overcoming all obstacles and of building a tomorrow that is more just and free for everyone, where an end is put to the social nooses that torment its development, and in a particular way, where the dignity of the person is respected from his conception until his natural death.

Dear brother bishops, following the guidelines specified in the final document of the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin American and the Caribbean, celebrated in Aparecida, long to watch over and nourish the faith of the members of the Mexican ecclesial communities, enlivening in them the desire to know, follow and give themselves to Christ, so as to thus be able to make him known to others as intrepid missionaries.

In this vast effort of evangelization, priests carry out a very important role. They are our first and closest collaborators, and carrying on their shoulders the weight of the day and the heat (cf. Matthew 20:12), they deserve all the devotion and attention of their bishops. I want to recall here the words that the Pope directed to the Italian episcopal conference: «In reality, for us, the bishops, it is an essential task to be constantly close to our priests, who, with the sacrament of orders, participate in the apostolic ministry that the Lord has entrusted us. […] The closer we are to our priests, the more they will have affection and confidence in us, will excuse our personal limits, welcome our words and feel that they are in solidarity with us in the joys and the difficulties of the ministry» (Discourse to the members of the Italian episcopal conference, May 18, 2006).

The Supreme Pontiff carries in his heart all of the Mexican priests and he asks you to express to them his recognition and gratitude for their generous dedication, motivating them to continue carrying out their work with tireless and constant fidelity, though they often find themselves in the midst of tests and difficulties.

Dear brothers, I want to thank you again for all the concern and welcome that you have given me, as well as reiterate to you the special spiritual closeness and the incessant solicitude of the Holy Father for all of you, dear pastors of the Church in Mexico, for the retired bishops, for the priests, seminarians, religious and laypeople, and for the whole Mexican people. May the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patron of America, sustain you and guide you in your beautiful and demanding pastoral ministry. Thank you very much and God bless you.

[Translation distributed by the 6th World Meeting of Families]
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