Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pope's message to the Swiss bishops

~via Vatican Information Service

Early this morning, Benedict XVI presided at a Eucharistic concelebration in the Vatican's "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel, with prelates from the Conference of Swiss Bishops.

Later, the Pope held a meeting with the Swiss prelates, which was also attended by heads of dicasteries of the Roman Curia and had the aim of "considering certain aspects of the current situation of the Church in Switzerland, identifying those elements worthy of being intensified and promoted, and those in need of correction and purification."

The Holy Father told the Swiss bishops that this meeting was, in some way, "the conclusion of their 'ad limina' visit of February 2005, because on that occasion it had not been possible to accomplish one of the essential parts of the process, the meeting with John Paul II."

"The advance of secularization and of relativism means not only that the Sacraments, especially participation in Sunday Mass, are reduced in frequency, but also that the moral values proposed by the Church are put in doubt," said the Pope. In this context, he referred to the crisis of marriage and the family, the increase in divorce and abortions, and unions between people of the same sex, all of which, he said, "are evident signs of de- Christianization."

After highlighting the fact that many people live "as if God does not exist," the Pope called upon the prelates "to ensure that the Word of God and the Christian message are understood," and insisted they should adopt unanimous positions on theological and moral questions. "The fundamental duty of the bishop, pastor, and master of faith," he recalled, "is to invite the faithful to a full acceptance of Church teaching."

On the subject of the liturgy, Benedict XVI affirmed that "it is a right and duty of everyone to ensure it be celebrated in accordance with the rules laid down by the Church." As for Sunday Mass, he stressed the need "to avoid its being substituted, if there are no important reasons to do so, by a celebration of the Word," and "to ensure the homily remains an important moment of doctrinal and spiritual formation, ... reserved to the priest or the deacon."

In the face of "the crisis being suffered by the Sacrament of Penance," as the bishops had highlighted in their five-yearly reports, Pope Benedict identified the need "for dioceses to relaunch pastoral activity aimed at encouraging the faithful to individual confession. ... Call upon priests to be assiduous confessors, generously offering the faithful appropriate times for individual confession; encourage the priests to avail themselves frequently of this Sacrament". Moreover, he continued, "priests must rigorously observe Church norms concerning collective absolution, ... which can only take place under truly exceptional circumstances."

Turning to consider the collaboration of lay people in priestly ministry, Benedict XVI explained that "care must be taken to ensure, ... in parishes and pastoral centers, that the priest remains the pastor and that lay people help the priest, collaborating with him in the various sectors of pastoral life. ... The importance of the laity's role must not bring us to underestimate the ministry of priests, so indispensable for the life of the Church." In this context, the Pope called for "an intensification in the formation of lay people to increase their faith and doctrinal knowledge, and grant them spiritual energies."

The Pope then considered the question of priestly and religious vocations, "a constant concern for the Church in your country," he said. "For the future of the Church in Switzerland, it is important to oversee the organization and orientation of seminaries and of the various faculties and schools of theology, ... with a view to discernment and to the profound human, spiritual, cultural and pastoral formation of candidates to the priesthood. Be equally attentive," he told the bishops, "to the initial and permanent formation of future priests, deacons and pastoral lay workers. A sure and faithful teaching of the tradition and Magisterium of the Church will ensure that everyone discovers the richness of Catholic faith."

"Ecumenism," he concluded, "is a sector in which the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed. The religious history of your country and your later experiences give you a special responsibility and mission in this field. Encourage your communities to commit themselves to an ecumenical journey based on the principles expressed in the Conciliar Decree 'Unitatis redintegratio' and in the 'Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism'."

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