Russian Bishops' Ecumenical Effort Encouraged

Reaffirms Communion With Successor of Peter

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 29, 2009 ( Benedict XVI is asking the Catholic bishops of Russia to make a renewed commitment to dialogue with the Orthodox Church.

The Pope affirmed this today in an audience with prelates from the Russian episcopal conference in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

«We know that this dialogue, despite the progress that has been made, still encounters certain difficulties,» recognized the Pontiff.

He continued: «It is important that Christians unite to face the great cultural and ethical challenges of the present moment, which concern the dignity and the inalienable rights of the person, the defense of life at all stages, the protection of the family, and other pressing economic and social questions.

«Unfortunately in Russia also, as in other parts of the world, the crisis of the family and the consequent decline in birth rate is seen, together with the rest of the problems that confront contemporary society.»

The Holy Father noted that the very existence of the Catholic Russian community should be «a call and a stimulus to dialogue» with the Orthodox community.

He expressed the hope that with this personal contact between the Churches, a greater mutual knowledge will grow, which will enable collaboration in fields of common interest.

New leader

This five-yearly visit of the bishops, which coincided with Tuesday’s election of the new patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, gave the Pope another opportunity to congratulate Patriarch-elect Kirill, and to pray «that the Lord confirm all of us in the pledge of walking together on the road of reconciliation and fraternal love.»

This visit in particular, Benedict XVI told the prelates, throws light on «the communion that binds you to the Successor of Peter.»

He continued: «Communion with the Bishop of Rome, guarantor of ecclesial unity, permits the communities entrusted to your pastoral care, though in the minority, to feel that they are ‘cum Petro’ and ‘sub Petro,’ a living part of the Body of Christ extended throughout the earth.

«To you, shepherds of the Church that lives in Russia, the Successor of Peter renews the expression of his care for you, and his spiritual closeness, encouraging you to continue united in pastoral activity, and also giving you the benefit of the experience of the universal Church.»

The Pope exhorted them to not lose heart when «the results you obtain from your pastoral work do not seem to reflect the effort you have put in.

He added, «Rather, nourish — in yourselves and in your collaborators — an authentic spirit of faith, with the evangelical awareness that Jesus Christ will not fail to make your ministry fruitful with the grace of his Spirit.»

The Pontiff called on the bishops to give special attention to the youth and to «look to the formation of consecrated people and the spiritual development of the lay faithful, that they may come to consider their lives as a response to a universal call to sanctity, which must find expression in coherent evangelical witness in all the circumstances of daily life.»

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