Pope Benedict XVI received bishops on Saturday from the Episcopal Conference of Vietnam who have just completed their "ad limina" visit, during which bishops report to the Pope on the status of their dioceses. In speaking to them, the Holy Father called on them to be faithful witnesses to Christ, despite the resistance they encounter.
The Pope addressed the prelates, calling to mind Cardinal Paul Joseph Phan Ding, the former archbishop of Hanoi who died in February. He also expressed his hope that "the example of sanctity, humility and simplicity of life of the great pastors of your country may stimulate you in your pastoral ministry at the service of the Vietnamese people, to whom goes my profound esteem."
Benedict then spoke about the Year for Priests, saying that "in order to be reliable guides who conform to the heart of God and the teaching of the Church, priests must develop an interior life and tend towards sanctity, like the humble Cure of Ars."
The Pope reminded the bishops that in their pastoral letter last year, they “dedicated particular attention to the lay faithful, highlighting the role of their vocation in the family." With this in mind, the Holy Father instructed them to "pay particular attention to their correct formation, promoting their life of faith ... that they may effectively serve the Church and society."
The Holy Father went on to urge the bishops to help internally displaced youth. He recommended increasing “collaboration between the dioceses of origin of the young people and the dioceses of destination” as a way to provide them with “ethical advice and practical guidance."
Noting that 2010 will mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of the episcopal hierarchy in Vietnam, the Pope said, "On this occasion the People of God are invited to give thanks for the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. This gift has been generously accepted, lived and witnessed by many martyrs who wished to proclaim the truth and universality of faith in God."
The Church in Vietnam has frequently clashed with the Communist government over the last several years, mostly concerning the return of Church properties seized by the government in 1954.
Pope Benedict addressed these confrontations by telling the bishops, "Healthy collaboration between the Church and the political community is possible.” “The Church does not seek to substitute government, rather her only desire, through a spirit of dialogue and respectful collaboration, is to participate in life of the nation, at the service of all people."
Bearing in mind that Vietnam is home to Buddhists, Catholics, and native religions, the Holy Father closed his audience with the Vietnamese bishops by emphasizing that religions "are not a danger for the unity of the nation, because their goal is to help people to sanctity and, through their institutions, wish to place themselves generously and disinterestedly at the service of others."