Pope lays down law on divorce, religious education, priestly ministry.
LOURDES, France (CNS) – In a wide-ranging talk to the bishops of France, Pope Benedict XVI called for a new church effort to educate French Catholics and to bring “genuine spiritual liberation” to society.
That will entail a fresh emphasis on religious instruction, a push for vocations, outreach to youths and a firm defense of the traditional family, the Pope said.
He spoke to more than 150 French bishops on September 14 in the French pilgrimage town of Lourdes, where he had come to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there.
The encounter was considered an important one by French Church leaders, who are struggling to resolve chronic problems of declining religious practice, an erosion of traditional values and a steep drop in vocations. The Pope did not dwell on specific difficulties, but he said the issues facing the Church are manifold and require some new strategies.
He laid out general guidelines, beginning with the fundamental task of catechesis. Religious education is primarily a matter of content, not method, he said, and the bishops should make use of two “precious jewels” at their disposal: the universal catechism and the French national catechism.
The goal should be an “organic presentation” of Christian revelation in a way that can inspire people to follow Christ, he said. That will require diligent preparation of religious instructors, he added.
The Pope then emphasised a point he made during a Mass in Paris, that priests are indispensable to the pastoral life of the Church. Their ministry is one of service to the laity, he said, and “where their specific missions are concerned, priests cannot delegate their functions to the faithful.”
The Pope urged the bishops to appeal for priestly and Religious vocations and to increase awareness of the need for vocations among their faithful.
The Pope focused on the situation of the family as an overriding area of concern, for the church and for all of society.
“The stable union of a man and a woman, ordered to building earthly happiness through the birth of children given by God, is no longer, in the minds of certain people, the reference point for conjugal commitment,” he said.
He said that in addition to providing assistance to families, the church must witness to traditional marriage and its indissolubility.
That also applies to the Church’s own sacramental practices, particularly regarding Catholics who are divorced and remarried, he said. The Church must show the greatest affection for such couples, but he told the bishops that the blessing of irregular unions “cannot be admitted.”
The pope said that when it comes to the role of the faith in society, the bishops should help the nation “find a new path” that builds on France’s Christian roots. He emphasized that the church does not want to substitute for the state, but has a responsibility to help build a moral social fabric.
He encouraged the bishops to take a bigger view of their evangelising mission, going beyond political arrangements.
“Now, and above all, it is time to work toward a genuine spiritual liberation,” he said. “Man must constantly learn or relearn that God is not his enemy, but his infinitely good creator.”
The Pope said the French church should make a special effort to engage the young. In a world that “flatters their base instincts,” he said, the Church should appeal to their sense of responsibility.
He recalled that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, had once prompted thunderous applause when he told French young people that “moral permissiveness does not make people happy.” “The good sense which inspired the healthy reaction of his listeners is still alive,” the Pope said.
The Pope addressed a sensitive pastoral issue in France when he spoke of his 2007 document that relaxed restrictions on use of the Tridentine rite, the Mass rite used before the Second Vatican Council. Some French bishops feared that as the old rite was more widely introduced for traditionalist groups, it could provoke liturgical conflicts. The pope urged the bishops to make sure that “the necessary pacification of spirits” continues in their dioceses and that solutions satisfactory to all are found, “lest the seamless tunic of Christ be further torn.”
He appeared to appeal for a more flexible attitude toward traditionalists when he asked the bishops to be “servants of unity” and told them: “Everyone has a place in the Church. Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home and never rejected.”
The Pope also had some advice about dialogue with Muslims, who constitute a growing percentage of France’s population. He said such dialogue aimed at mutual understanding between faiths is important.
But he said that good will is not enough in dialogue. Effective dialogue requires good formation and, on the part of Christians, an awareness that “Christ himself is the truth,” he said.
For the Christian, the pope said, dialogue is always an aspect of the faith and its universal mission.
“The global, multicultural and multireligious society in which we live is a God-given opportunity to proclaim truth and practice love so as to reach out to every human being without distinction, even beyond the limits of the visible Church,” he said.