.- Pope Benedict XVI told the bishops of New Zealand and the South Pacific on Dec. 17 that the Christian faith provides the best foundation for society, and that promoting the New Evangelization is the best way to build a Christian culture.
“We know that, ultimately, Christian faith provides a surer basis for life than the secular vision; for it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear,” he told the bishops, who were gathered in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on the final day of their “ad limina” visit to Rome. The visit lasted from Dec. 12-17.
The Pope noted that throughout their visit the bishops of the South Pacific raised the challenge secularism presents to each of their countries – “a reality that has a significant impact on the understanding and practice of the Catholic faith.”
The progress of secularism is particularly seen in “a weakened appreciation for the sacred nature of Christian marriage and the stability of the family,” he said.
The answer to this onslaught, Pope Benedict said, is to bring the New Evangelization to their shores. He explained that he established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization last year for precisely this reason.
Pope Benedict and his predecessor have both emphasized the need for the New Evangelization – an effort to re-evangelize countries that were once Christian but have become secularized.
“Since the Christian faith is founded on the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the new evangelization is not an abstract concept but a renewal of authentic Christian living based on the teachings of the Church,” he said.
The bishops and pastors of the Church are called to be the primary leaders in “formulating this response according to local needs and circumstances” so that all Catholics become “ambassadors of Christ both in the Church and in the civil arena,” said Pope Benedict.
He then spoke to the bishops about the need to care for their priests, urging them to work for “their sanctification, especially those who are experiencing difficulties and those who have little contact with their brother priests.”
If bishops are able to support their priests so that they are good, wise and holy, then these same priests will be “the best promoters of vocations to the priesthood,” he said.
Those young men who do come forward for the priesthood must also “receive a well-rounded formation that will prepare them to serve the Lord and his flock according to the heart of the Good Shepherd,” the Pope told the bishops.
The New Zealand and South Pacific bishops must also help religious brothers and sisters “remain faithful to the charisms of their founders,” so that “their witness to God will continue to be a beacon that points towards a life of faith, love and right living.”
Over the past week, the bishops said in meetings with Vatican officials that they often rely on the assistance of lay missionaries and catechists. The Pope told them to ensure that those catechists receive “a sound and ongoing formation” so that their zeal for the faith will bear much fruit.
Pope Benedict concluded by looking ahead to the Year of Faith, which will begin next October and is intended to give “a fresh impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead human beings out of the wilderness in which they find themselves.”
The Pope prayed that although “you are spread among many islands and we are separated by great distances,” that one day all of the islands will profess “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all,” through the intercession of “Our Lady, Star of the Sea.”
In total, there are six dioceses in New Zealand. Meanwhile, the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific is made up of the bishops of Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, New Caledonia, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna, and three U.S. dependencies – the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and Guam.
As well as celebrating Mass at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, the bishops of New Zealand had a meeting on Dec. 13 with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to discuss the cause of beatification of Sr. Suzanne Albert. She was a French-born nun who arrived in New Zealand as a young woman in 1860. Albert undertook great works of charity among the sick and orphaned. She died in 1926 in Wellington.