VATICAN CITY, FEB. 12, 2010 ( Catholic families in Southeastern Europe often paid a high price to give witness to the Gospel, but today they face falling prey to the snares of secularization, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope made this reflection today when he addressed bishops from Romania and Moldova, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

The Holy Father emphasized the importance of taking care of the nations' priests. And he said: "The flowering of priestly and religious vocations depends to a large extent on the moral and religious health of Christian families.

"Unfortunately, not few in our time are the snares placed before the institution of the family in a secularized and disoriented society. The Catholic families of your countries, which during the time of trial gave witness, at times at a high price, of the fidelity of the Gospel, are not immune to the plague of abortion, corruption, alcoholism and drugs, or to birth control through methods contrary to the dignity of the human person."

The Pontiff suggested that adequate preparation for marriage and family life is fundamental in combatting these challenges, as is "organizing better youth ministry."

"Necessary above all," he said, "is a determined commitment to foster the presence of Christian values in society, developing centers of formation where young people can learn authentic values embellished by the cultural genius of your countries, to be able to witness them in the environments where they live. [...] The transformation of the industrial and agricultural system, the economic crisis, emigration abroad, have not favored the preservation of traditional values which, because of this, must be proposed and reinforced again."

Strengthening forces

Benedict XVI said that in such a context, fraternity between Catholic and Orthodox becomes particularly important.

Romania is some 87% Orthodox, while Moldova is 98%.

Fraternity "prevails over divisions and disagreements and opens hearts to reconciliation," the Pope asserted.

He added, "I am aware of the difficulties that Catholic communities must face in this realm; I hope that adequate solutions can be found, in that spirit of justice and charity that must animate relations between brothers in Christ."

The Holy Father recalled how the 1999 visit of Pope John Paul II to Romania aroused a "desire for unity."

He expressed his hope that that desire would translate to "prayer and the commitment to dialogue in charity and truth and to promote joint initiatives."

"A particularly important realm of collaboration between Orthodox and Catholics today has to do with the defense of Europe's Christian roots and of Christian values, and with common witness on subjects such as the family, bioethics, human rights, honesty in public life and ecology," the Pontiff proposed. "Undivided determination on these arguments will offer an important contribution to the moral and civil growth of society.

"A constructive dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics will not fail to be leaven of unity and concord not only for your countries, but also for the whole of Europe."

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