.- Pope Benedict XVI met today with the bishops from the central Caucus region in an “ad limina” visit. He told the bishops that the Church in the Caucusus to must continue to face "with courage the social and cultural challenges" that have evolved since the fall of Communism.
“Peace to you. I greet you with the same greeting of the risen Christ to the disciples gathered in the Cenacle, you whom he has made head of the people of God in this region. I am pleased to meet with all of you, after having met individually with each of you,” the Pope said.
He also extended his "personal greeting" to priests, religious, the faithful, those of other Christian confessions and other faiths.
The Caucusus, he said, are the crossroads of east and west, and as such, are a cradle of civilization.
Addressing the general situation of the people in the region, Pope Benedict said that while advances in social progress have been made following the fall of the Soviet Union, poverty, unemployment and regional strife have left many homeless and at the mercy of other forces.
Yet, he said, "Despite the difficult events of the last century, the region has remained a fertile ground for the faith, and along with the many victims of internal and external, often violent, conflict, are many martyrs."
The Holy Father emphasized the interreligious character of the region, where the Armenian, Chaldean and Latin rite Catholics live together with Armenian Orthodox, Jews and Muslims. In such a multi-religious context", he said, "it is important for Catholics to continue and to intensify their collaboration with other Churches and with the followers of other religions, as already happens in many places".
The Holy Father further encouraged the faithful to reaffirm their Catholic identity, and to "impede insidious pressures that weaken the sense of ecclesial belonging."
Quoting St. Paul's letter to the Romans, he said, "We know well that tribulation produces patience, patience produces virtue and proven virtue produces hope. Hope does not delude because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”
In closing, the pope reminded the bishops that it is "the Father who sustains them in their difficult mission of shepherding the flock of Christ who lives in the Caucusus."
He thanked bishops, religious and laity for their many works of charity that sustains the poor of the region, and reminded them that charity can never be reduced to mere social work. Rather, he said, it is part of the "gratuitous love of God demanded by the Gospel."
The Holy Father left the bishops with one last word of encouragement, saying, "I know the zeal and ardor you have in your hearts and your efforts to spread the gospel of hope".