.- As the date of Pope Benedict XVI's arrival nears, the bishops of Portugal have made a call to the people of the country to prepare themselves, the Church and society to welcome him. They also exhorted the population to use the Apostolic Visit as a "seed that sprouts and gives fruits of spiritual renewal."
The Portuguese episcopal conference circulated a letter to prepare for Pope Benedict's trip to Lisbon, Fatima and Porto between May 11 and 14 of this year, calling the visit an "event of singular importance."
For this reason, they wrote, "it must be prepared appropriately, not just in an outer glow and a festive atmosphere, but especially in the realm of faith, of construction of ecclesial unity and of a more just and fraternal society."
Noting the "happy coincidence" of the pilgrimage coming just after Lent and Easter, the bishops called for people "to reflect and meet the challenges" included in the Pope's Lenten message, themed, "The justice of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ."
The Portuguese bishops promoted putting individualism aside, living a life of constant conversion, promoting justice, especially to the most vulnerable, and announcing the Gospel with the "face of a saved people" as good Lenten preparation.
"The dynamism of the Easter of Christ," they added, "must embody attitudes and gestures of persevering hope and creative love."
The bishops expressed their hope that preparations for the papal pilgrimage will revive faith, create possibilities for solutions to "difficulties and crises" in society, and strengthen charity and unity in the nation.
The note also outlined "concrete actions" that would be useful in preparation for Pope Benedict's arrival. Among their "tips," they suggested considering the visit in personal and communal prayer intentions, making use of Church-sponsored activities to further knowledge issues relating to the Pope, Church teachings and Catholic tradition and promoting participation in the Eucharistic celebrations to be presided over by the Pope.
"We appeal to everyone," concluded the bishops, "to not let this visit of the Holy Father be a mere passing event... but that it be first a seed that sprouts and bears fruit of spiritual, social and apostolic renewal."
The bishops invited the participation of all the residents of Portugal in the May celebrations. "The Pope wishes to welcome everyone, regardless of their creed or ideology," they wrote.