São Paulo (AsiaNews) – Evangelising, teaching the faith and Christian morality, seeking out Catholics who have fallen away from the Church, promoting pastoral initiatives in favour of the poor and the disinherited and social initiatives respectful of the Church’s social doctrine, defending marriage and the family are tasks that bishops must address in this age of “of worrying disorientation” that social life is going through. Pope Benedict XVI made these points in a long reflection he addressed tonight to Brazil’s more than 400 bishops with whom he celebrated vespers at the “Catedral da Sé”, the metropolitan church of the city of São Paulo dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation. This was also the last event in the Pope’s third day in Brazil, also the last in São Paulo before he leaves tonight for Aparecida.
In his address, the Pope sketched out what bishops must do at a time when the “sanctity of marriage and the family are attacked with impunity, as concessions are made to forms of pressure which have a harmful effect on legislative processes; crimes against life are justified in the name of individual freedom and rights; attacks are made on the dignity of the human person; the plague of divorce and extra-marital unions is increasingly widespread” and within the Church herself, people start to question the value of the priestly commitment or give preference to partisan points of view.
It is a task that begins “the missionary outreach which Latin America needs to undertake, beginning here—on Brazilian soil.” “The mission entrusted to us as teachers of the faith,” the Pope said, “consists in recalling, in the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, that our Saviour “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church: the salvation of individual souls. For this reason the Father sent his Son, and in the Lord’s own words transmitted to us in the Gospel of Saint John, ‘as the Father has sent me, even so I send you’ (Jn 20:21). Hence, the mandate to preach the Gospel”.
If announcing the good news is the first task, concern for the people of God comes next, including for those who have fallen away from the Church as a result of the aggressiveness of Protestant sects, and naturally comes also that for priests and vocations.
“A leap forward in the quality of people’s Christian lives is needed, so that they can bear witness to their faith in a clear and transparent way. This faith, as it is celebrated and shared in the liturgy and in works of charity, nourishes and reinvigorates the community of the Lord’s disciples while building them up as the missionary and prophetic Church.”
This means paying special attention to the preparation of the faithful. “Those who are most vulnerable to the aggressive proselytizing of sects—a just cause for concern—and those who are incapable of resisting the onslaught of agnosticism, relativism and secularization are generally the baptized who remain insufficiently evangelized; they are easily influenced because their faith is weak, confused, easily shaken and naive, despite their innate religiosity.” In this case, “no effort should be spared in seeking out those Catholics who have fallen away and those who know little or nothing of Jesus Christ”.
For Benedict XVI, pastoral initiatives are part and parcel of the “work of evangelisation,” a task which the community takes on, “especially by sending missionaries, lay or religious, to homes on the outskirts of the cities and in the interior, to enter into dialogue with everyone in a spirit of understanding, sensitivity and charity.”
It means expressing one’s solidarity and giving one’s help to those who are poor, “providing for their most urgent needs, defending their rights and working together with them to build a society founded on justice and peace.”
Finally, special attention should be paid to the priesthood. “When,” Benedict said, “within the Church herself, people start to question the value of the priestly commitment as a total entrustment to God through apostolic celibacy and as a total openness to the service of souls, and preference is given to ideological, political and even party issues, the structure of total consecration to God begins to lose its deepest meaning.”
Hence, “I appeal to your priestly zeal and your sense of vocational discernment,” the Pope told the bishops, “especially so that you will know how to bring to completion the spiritual, psychological and affective, intellectual and pastoral formation needed to prepare young people for mature, generous service to the Church. Good and assiduous spiritual direction is indispensable for fostering human growth and eliminating the risk of going astray in the area of sexuality. Always keep in mind that priestly celibacy ‘is a gift which the Church has received and desires to retain, convinced that it is a good for the Church itself and for the world’ (Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 57).”