On Saturday, Pope Benedict met with a group of Austrian Bishops and, addressing the growing problem of secularization in Europe, challenged them to teach the Gospel clearly and without fear, utilizing tools like the Catechism and its new compendium.
The prelates were members of the Austrian Bishop's Conference who have just concluded their "ad limina" visit.
The Pope addressed them in German, saying that the five-yearly “ad limina” visits, made by all bishops, serve "to consolidate the bonds with Peter's Successor," and express "the communion of the Universal Church."
"Over the last few months," he told them, "we have had the opportunity to experience the vitality of the Church in all its freshness and its missionary vitality, especially during 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany.”
“Even when such energy is not visible,” the Holy Father went on, “we know that the Lord is with us as He promised, and that He dominates all time 'for ever and ever'."
The Pope then turned his attention to particular issues calling for attention in various Austrian dioceses, and highlighted how, "thanks to the presence of the Risen Lord, we can face reality fearlessly and optimistically, yet without losing our capacity to call things by their name, objectively and without seeking to obscure their real nature."
The Pope specifically identified "secularization," as, “a painful fact that is becoming ever more present in Europe and that has not failed to penetrate Catholic Austria.”
“People”, he lamented, “no longer identify themselves with the teachings of the Church, and this is accompanied by a decline in the certainty of the faith and in reverence for the law of God.”
“I know this situation worries you,” the Pope told the bishops, and assured them that he shared their “disquiet.”
“With you, I ask myself what can we do? Has God given us a solution to solve the problems of the Church in our time, that we may face the challenges of this third millennium with courage?"
"There can be no doubt”, he stressed, “that what is needed is clear, courageous and enthusiastic witness to faith in Jesus Christ, Who is alive and present in His Church, and in Whom alone human beings find their true happiness.”
“At the same time,” he said however, “we must adopt 'missionary measures,' both great and small, in order to invert the current negative tendency."
He likewise stressed that “it is the bishop's primary duty to bear witness to the faith. 'I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God,' said the Apostle Paul in Ephesus.”
“It is true that we must act delicately,” Benedict said, “but this must not prevent us from presenting the divine message clearly, even on those subjects that do not enjoy widespread approval, or that give rise to protest or even derision, especially in the field of the truth of faith and moral teaching."
While acknowledging that, "at times, those who direct this mission fear that people may move away if they are spoken to clearly,” he clarified that, “experience has generally shown that the opposite happens. ... Catholic teaching presented incompletely is self-contradictory and cannot be fruitful in the long term."
The Pope then invited Austrian prelates to intensify their pastoral care of youth and, in their catechesis, to use both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its newly published Compendium.
He recommended that it be explained and illustrated in "in all parishes, associations and movements," and become "habitual reading" in families.
To balance his concern, the Pope also mentioned positive endeavors being done in the Austrian Church.
These include, he said: "the Central European Catholic Day, which is a magnificent expression of Catholic faith on the continent;" the return to the practice of Eucharistic adoration; the groups that meet to recite the Rosary; and the "good collaboration between civil authorities and the Church."
In closing, he encouraged the bishops, saying that despite the tremendous rise of secularization, "There are many areas where the flame of Christian zeal can be re-ignited."