VATICAN CITY, JAN. 30, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The awakening of the laity is a sign of hope in the midst of the de-Christianization that France is experiencing, says John Paul II.
The Pope voiced that hope today when he met with bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Dijon, Tours and the Prelature of the “Mission of France,” at the end of their five-yearly visit to Rome.
In their reports, the various groups of French bishops, who have been visiting the Vatican over the last weeks, agreed on the gravity of the situation, which is also reflected in the average age of people who participate regularly in parish life.
Given the lack of priests and the decrease in the number of faithful frequenting the sacraments, many French dioceses have regrouped parishes, often served by a team of priests or, at times, only one ordained minister.
“In a positive manner, however, this has allowed the laity to participate actively in the dynamics of their community, becoming conscious of the prophetic, real, and priestly dimensions of their baptism,” the Pope said.
“Many have accepted with generosity to give themselves to parish life, taking on, under the pastor’s responsibility and respecting the ordained ministry, the evangelizing endeavor, as well as the service of prayer and of charity,” the Holy Father observed.
He paid tribute to these men and women, who in their lives must cope with “the indifference and skepticism proper to the environment” in which they live.
In fact, John Paul II said he sees in the laity “signs of hope” for the Church in France, and he dedicated his address to give advice to the bishops, so that they will support the laity in their commitment and mission.
Above all, John Paul II appealed for a response to the new needs of the laity, who “wish to acquire a solid philosophical, theological, spiritual or pastoral formation” through new initiatives, with “the certainty that the faithful who have discovered Christ will propose the Gospel in a credible way to the men of our time.”
Second, the Pope also appealed to the bishops to foster “the prophetic dimension of [the laity’s] witness in the world, in particular, “evangelizing the cultures” to make “the force of the Gospel penetrate in the realities of the family, work, the media, sports, leisure and that it animate the social order and public, national and international life.”
“For this witness to be fruitful, it is necessary that it be supported spiritually in the parishes and in the associations of the faithful,” he said, in reference to the new movements and ecclesial communities that have arisen in France.
In this connection, the Holy Father advocated “communion” between the diverse ecclesial realities. “In the legitimate diversity of ecclesial sensibilities, may all have the constant concern to participate fully in diocesan and parish life, and to live in communion with the diocesan bishop,” he said.
Third, the Pope said that a Christian community should be distinguished by the “quality of hospitality and fraternity,” especially in responding to the men and women who come to the Church to request baptism — in recent years, adult baptism has markedly increased in France — or the sacrament of matrimony, or the funeral or burial service of a relative.
Fourth, the Holy Father stressed the decisive importance of Sunday Mass for the life of the laity, “which cannot be a simple option in the midst of numerous activities.”
Regarding assistance to the laity, John Paul II emphasized the need to “promote and support the family,” including the preparation of young people who request the sacrament of marriage but have fallen away from the Church.
In these cases, it is important to make couples discover “the profound meaning of this sacrament, as well as the missions to which it commits them,” he added. “In this way a positive view will be proposed of emotional relations and sexuality.”
“We cannot look on impotently at the ruin of the family,” the Pope said while reminding the bishops of the need to help parents, the “first educators of their children,” so that they can “resolve the conjugal crises they might go through” and “thus witness to young people the grandeur of faithful and unique love.”