Upon completing their “ad limina” visit, five of El Salvador’s bishops met with Pope Benedict XVI in a midday audience on Thursday. The Pontiff told the prelates that combating their country’s scourge of violence must be done at the material level and at the spiritual level, through “ambitious and audacious” evangelization.
Before speaking about the obstacles faced by Salvadorans, the Pope highlighted how most Salvadoran people "are characterized by their living faith and deep religious sentiment.” He also recalled the rich history of the faith in El Salvador. “The Gospel, taken there by the first missionaries and fervently preached by pastors full of love for God such as Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, has become deeply rooted in that beautiful land, bringing abundant fruits of Christian life and sanctity."
Benedict XVI remarked on the fact that poverty forces many people to emigrate "in search of better living conditions, often bringing negative consequences to the stability of marriage and the family." He also recognized the prelates' efforts "to promote reconciliation and peace in the country and so overcome the painful events of the past."
Referring to violence, which "is considered as your country's most serious problem, you recognize" the Pope told the bishops "that its increase is the direct consequence of other deeper social scourges such as poverty, a lack of education, the progressive loss of those values which have always forged the Salvadorian soul, and the break-up of families. The truth is that the family is a vital asset for the Church and for society, as well as being a basic factor in constructing peace."
In order to tackle the poverty of so many people, said Benedict XVI, it is important "to improve infrastructures and economic conditions in order to enable everyone to enjoy a dignified life.
Yet it must not be forgotten that man is not just a product of the material and social conditions in which he lives. ... 'Man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope'".
Pope Benedict explained to the bishops that they must "promote ambitious and audacious efforts at evangelization" so as to ensure that all the faithful may experience "that intimate meeting with the living Christ which as at the basis and origin of Christian existence".
Speaking first about the lay faithful, the Holy Father encouraged the bishops to help them “discover the spiritual richness of their Baptism.” The shepherds of the faithful must also help them fulfill their vocation by leading them to “be firmly rooted in an intense life of prayer, to listen assiduously and humbly to the Word of God, to participate frequently in the Sacraments, and to acquire a strong ecclesial sense of belonging and solid doctrinal formation, especially as concerns the Church's social doctrine where they will find clear criteria and guidance to illuminate the society in which they live".
"A priest's love and faithfulness to his vocation", the Holy Father concluded, "will be the best and most effective form of vocational pastoral care, and an example and encouragement to your seminarians, who are the heart of your dioceses and to whom you must dedicate your best resources and efforts, because they are the hope for your Churches."