VATICAN CITY, DEC. 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- In ministering to a society that is falling away from God, it is imperative for bishops to be witnesses to the “power of faith,” says Benedict XVI.
The Pope said this last week upon receiving in audience the bishops of Belarus, in Rome for their five-yearly “ad limina” visit. This was the third such visit made by the prelates since national independence in 1991, the first under Benedict XVI.
“During my meetings with you I appreciated the pastoral zeal with which you carry out your ministry,” the Pope said, before encouraging the bishops to continue facing the challenges of being pastors in a secular society.
“It is particularly important to proclaim with a new and incisive enthusiasm the perennial Gospel message in a society that is not immune to the temptations of secularization, hedonism and relativism,” the Pontiff affirmed.
He noted that the signs of the effects of secularism include a “falling birth rate, the fragility of the family and the illusion of gaining riches beyond the borders of one’s homeland.”
“The urgent mission of pastors before such challenges is to show the power of faith,” the Holy Father said, “a faith rooted in solid tradition, which will contribute to the perseveration of the profound Christian identity of the nation, within the context of respectful dialogue with other cultures and religions.”
The Pope also spoke of the importance of education and catechesis, especially of the youth: “As I noted many times before, today we are living a type of ’emergency’ in this delicate and essential area, and it is necessary to multiply our efforts so as to offer a solid formation, first and foremost to the new generation.”
Benedict XVI noted the importance of catechesis that fits the needs of people in all stages of their lives, and mentioned with particular attention the need to care for vocations.
“I urge you to pay particular attention to profound spiritual and theological formation of candidates to priesthood,” he said.
“Always stay close to your priests, especially to those who are about to start their pastoral work,” the Pope continued. “An attentive and sincere paternal care of a bishop is the basis for successful priestly service.”
“Make use of every good occasion to proclaim and spread the Kingdom of God,” Benedict XVI continued, “being witnesses to it with concrete deeds of brotherhood that engender peace.”
The Pope urged the bishops to work with the Belarusian Orthodox Church, “whose pastors share with you the commitment to seek the good of believers.”
He noted that both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches are both facing the challenge of finding an adequate response to modernity, and how to “correctly transmit the Good News of Christ.”
“Let us accept the invitation aimed at increasing efforts in the joint progress toward this objective, which was revealed during the recent Catholic-Orthodox session in Cyprus,” the Pope said.
Since the country gained independence in 1991, the Church there has grown to include an archdiocese, three dioceses and some 450 parishes.
Before the end of the Cold War, it had no hierarchy: Priests manned a few Catholic churches, but without a diocese to congregate them or bishops to guide them.
Today, some 14% of the 10 million inhabitants of this former Soviet nation are Catholics. There are 440 priests, 270 of whom are native Belarusians.