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Pope: Bishops in Former USSR Face Difficulties

Still, “Flame of Gospel” Keeps Burning

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 24, 2008 ( Bishops in the former Soviet Union countries of the southern Caucasus region still face many difficult situations, though the “flame of the Gospel” still persists, Benedict XVI says.

The Pope affirmed this today when he received in audience prelates from the region, which includes all of Armenia and the majority of Georgia and Azerbaijan. The bishops are in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

“Since the fall of the Soviet Union,” the Holy Father said, “your peoples have seen significant social changes along the road to progress. Yet difficult situations persist: many are the poor, the unemployed, and the refugees whom war has forced from their homes.”

Nonetheless, he noted, “the flame of the Gospel” has not been extinguished in the Caucasus, “despite there having been no lack of violent confrontations, both internal and from outside, which have caused many victims, among whom the Church includes many martyrs of the faith.”

The Pontiff described the Catholic community in the region as “a small flock” in which “Catholics of Armenian, Latin and Chaldean rites coexist with Orthodox, Armenian-Apostolic, Jews and Muslims. In such a multi-religious context, it is important for Catholics to continue and to intensify their collaboration with other Churches and with the followers of other religions, as already happens in many places.”

Benedict XVI associated himself with the Catholic communities’ aspiration to see their juridical status recognized, and expressed the hope that Catholic-Orthodox dialogue may lead to a “growth in the fraternity that must characterize relations between Churches, respectful of one another despite differences that still exist.”

Workers for the vineyard

The Pope then encouraged the prelates to support their faithful to ensure that “in the face of difficulties, the joy of professing the faith and of belonging to the Catholic Church never diminishes.”

“Pray, and bring others to pray, that workers may never be lacking in the vineyard of the Lord,” he said. “Continue to promote vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. It is necessary to ensure that future generations in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have saintly priests who live their vocation with joy and generously dedicate themselves to caring for all the faithful.”

The Holy Father also invited the prelates to support families who, he said, “are facing no small number of difficulties and are affected by those wounds and those attacks on human life which, unfortunately, take place in so many other parts of the world. […] Educate Christian spouses to bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage.”

“I know,” the Bishop of Rome said, “how many efforts you make to spread the Gospel of hope. I am particularly struck by the attention […] you reserve for the needs of the poor and of people in difficulties, thanks also to the precious contribution of religious and laity.”

Finally, Benedict XVI encouraged the prelates of the Caucasus to find time for periodic meetings “to verify the pastoral plans you have drawn up, especially as concerns preparation for the sacraments. Such plans aim above all at the formation of the consciences of the faithful according to evangelical ethics, with a particular attention for the young.”

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