The Pope gave strong advice concerning the identity and responsibility of Catholic educational institutions to bishops of the provinces of Portland in Oregon, Seattle and Anchorage as they concluded their "ad limina" visit this morning at the Vatican.
In his continuing reflections on the teaching office of the bishop, the Pope stated that the Catholic's Church's "many religious, educational and charitable institutions exist for one reason only: to proclaim the Gospel. Their witness must always proceed 'ex corde Ecclesiae', from the very heart of the Church.”
“It is of utmost importance, therefore, that the Church's institutions be genuinely Catholic: Catholic in their self-understanding and Catholic in their identity. All those who share in the apostolates of such institutions, including those who are not of the faith, should show a sincere and respectful appreciation of that mission which is their inspiration and ultimate 'raison d'être'," said the Pope.
"The Church's many institutions in the United States - schools, universities, hospitals and charitable agencies - must not only assist the faithful to think and act fully in accordance with the Gospel, overcoming every separation between faith and life, but they must themselves embody a clear corporate testimony to its saving truth.”
He added that “this will demand constantly re-examining their priorities in the light of their mission and offering a convincing witness, within a pluralistic society, to the Church's teaching, particularly on respect for human life, marriage and family, and the right ordering of public life."
The Holy Father underscored that "the Church's educational institutions will be able to contribute effectively to the new evangelization only if they clearly preserve and foster their Catholic identity.”
“By their very nature,” he said, “Catholic colleges and universities are called to offer an institutional witness of fidelity to Christ and to His word as it comes to us from the Church, a public witness expressed in the canonical requirement of the mandatum.” In addition, “these institutions should be at the forefront of the Church's dialogue with culture.”
Saying that "the Church's presence in elementary and secondary education must also be the object of your special attention as shepherds of the People of God," the Pope asked the bishops "to encourage your priests to continue to be present and visible in parish schools, and to make every effort to ensure that, despite financial difficulties, a Catholic education remains available to the poor and the less privileged in society."
He said that "while catechetical programs for children and young people, especially in relation to sacramental preparation, remain essential, increasing attention must be paid to the particular needs of older adolescents and adults. ... (These) require a constant discernment of the actual needs of the different ages and groups."
This discernment "calls for the personal involvement of the Bishop, together with pastors, who are directly responsible for the religious instruction imparted in their parishes, with religious education professionals."
In conclusion, John Paul II turned to "the eloquent witness" that American Catholics have always given "on behalf of the elderly, the sick and the needy - through nursing homes, hospitals, clinics and various relief and assistance centers.”
“The significant challenges facing these institutions in changing social and economic circumstances must not be allowed to weaken this corporate witness,” he said. “Established policies in complete conformity with the Church's moral teaching need to be firmly in place in Catholic health care facilities, and every aspect of their life ought to reflect their religious inspiration and their intimate link to the Church's mission of bringing supernatural light, healing and hope to men and women at every stage of their earthly pilgrimage."