In an extensive discourse on Thursday to the bishops of Brazil at the Cathedral Da Se in Sao Paulo, Pope Benedict XVI presented a systematic outline of the issues that should be a center of the Church’s pastoral ministry in that country, including the family and fallen away Catholics.
The Holy Father noted that in today’s society, “The sanctity of marriage and the family are attacked with impunity, as concessions are made to forms of pressure which have a harmful effect on legislative processes; crimes against life are justified in the name of individual freedom and rights; attacks are made on the dignity of the human person; the plague of divorce and extra-marital unions is increasingly widespread.”
“Even more: when, within the Church herself, people start to question the value of the priestly commitment as a total entrustment to God through apostolic celibacy and as a total openness to the service of souls, and preference is given to ideological, political and even party issues, the structure of total consecration to God begins to lose its deepest meaning,” the Pope stated.
In referring to Catholics who have left the Church, the Pontiff noted that one of the causes of this problem is “the lack of an evangelization completely centred on Christ and his Church. Those who are most vulnerable to the aggressive proselytizing of sects—a just cause for concern—and those who are incapable of resisting the onslaught of agnosticism, relativism and secularization are generally the baptized who remain insufficiently evangelized; they are easily influenced because their faith is weak, confused, easily shaken and naive, despite their innate religiosity.”
Consequently, the Holy Father continued, “there is a need to engage in apostolic activity as a true mission in the midst of the flock that is constituted by the Church in Brazil, and to promote on every level a methodical evangelization aimed at personal and communal fidelity to Christ. No effort should be spared in seeking out those Catholics who have fallen away and those who know little or nothing of Jesus Christ, by implementing a pastoral plan which welcomes them and helps them realize that the Church is a privileged place of encounter with God, and also through a continuing process of catechesis.”
After underscoring the need for solidarity with the poor, the Pope told the bishops, “It is your primary task to ensure that the faithful share in the eucharistic life and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You must be vigilant to ensure that the confession and absolution of sins is ordinarily individual, inasmuch as sin itself is something profoundly personal.”
Catechesis, liturgy, vocations and ecumenism
“Starting afresh from Christ in every area of missionary activity; rediscovering in Jesus the love and salvation given to us by the Father through the Holy Spirit: this is the substance and lifeline of the episcopal mission which makes the Bishop the person primarily responsible for catechesis in his diocese,” the pontiff continued.
Referring to the excessive sentimentalism that is commonplace in today’s world, the Holy Father said the bishop is ultimately responsible for catechesis in his diocese and should surround himself “with competent and trustworthy co-workers. It is therefore clear that the catechist’s task is not simply to communicate faith-experiences; rather—under the guidance of the Pastor—it is to be an authentic herald of revealed truths. Faith is a journey led by the Holy Spirit which can be summed up in two words: conversion and discipleship,” he stated.
The Holy Father also called for “a more correct implementation of the liturgical principles as indicated by the Second Vatican Council, as well as those contained in the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops (cf. 145-151), so as to restore to the liturgy its sacred character.” For Bishops, who are the “moderators of the Church’s liturgical life”, the Pope underscored, “rediscovery and appreciation of obedience to liturgical norms is a form of witness to the one, universal Church, that presides in charity.”
“We Pastors must be faithful servants of the word,” the Holy Father explained, “eschewing any reductive or mistaken vision of the mission entrusted to us. It is not enough to look at reality solely from the viewpoint of personal faith; we must work with the Gospel in our hands and anchor ourselves in the authentic heritage of the Apostolic Tradition, free from any interpretations motivated by rationalistic ideologies.”
Speaking about theological formation and the promotion of vocations, Pope Benedict said, “Theological formation, as well as education in sacred sciences, needs to be constantly updated, but this must always done in accord with the Church’s authentic Magisterium.”
“I appeal to your priestly zeal and your sense of vocational discernment,” the Pope urged, “especially so that you will know how to bring to completion the spiritual, psychological and affective, intellectual and pastoral formation needed to prepare young people for mature, generous service to the Church. Good and assiduous spiritual direction is indispensable for fostering human growth and eliminating the risk of going astray in the area of sexuality. Always keep in mind that priestly celibacy ‘is a gift which the Church has received and desires to retain, convinced that it is a good for the Church itself and for the world’.”
In referring to ecumenism, the Pope underscored that the search for unity “has become in our time an increasingly urgent task for the Catholic Church, as is evident from the growth of intercultural exchange and the challenge of secularism.” However, he went on, “Given the rapidly growing number of new Christian denominations, and especially certain forms of often aggressive proselytism, the work of ecumenism has become more complex.”
Pope Benedict emphasized the importance of the “principle of fraternal love and the search for mutual understanding and rapprochement” in the search for Christian unity. But, he said, “we must also be concerned with defending the faith of our people, confirming them in the joyful certitude that ‘unica Christi Ecclesia…subsistit in Ecclesia catholica, a successore Petri et Episcopis in eius communione gubernata’ (The one Church of Christ…subsists in the Catholic Church which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him).”
The Pope concluded his message by entrusting the bishops of Brazil to “Mary Most Holy, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.”