.- Pope Benedict XVI today received prelates from the Croatian Bishops' Conference, who have just completed their "ad limina" visit. The Holy Father called on the bishops to continue preaching the Gospel in their changing country.
The Pope said that in order to counteract secularization and relativism, "tireless announcement of evangelical values is necessary." In this context, he encouraged the prelates not to be afraid, "to show the faithful what the Gospel teaches, putting them on their guard against values that run counter to it, so that your communities can stimulate all of society to pursue the common good and care for the needy."
The war torn country continues to repair and grow following its four year battle for independence from the mostly Orthodox Serbia and Montenegro and the primarily Muslim Bosnia Herzegovina. The population of Croatia is 88% Roman Catholic.
Mentioning Croatia's desire to join the European Union, Benedict XVI pointed out how the nation could bring, "the contribution of its own culture and its own traditions to a shared search for the full truth about man. ... It is essential that the construction of the common European home," rests upon that truth, and upon every individual's right to life, respect and religious freedom. "Upon these values it is possible to reach a consensus even with those people who, while not belonging to the Catholic Church, accept the voice of reason and are sensitive to the dictates of natural law."
The Holy Father expressed his contentment for the bishops' pastoral initiatives aimed at, "solid preparation for the Sacraments and appropriate participation in the liturgy." He also mentioned their "commitment to religious formation and to high quality catechesis," and their concern, "for traditional forms of devotion and frequent pilgrimages, especially to Marian shrines."
"Unfortunately," Pope Benedict went on, "your country is still feeling the consequences of the recent conflict, the negative effects of which are visible not only in the economy but also in the souls of the inhabitants. ... Always be announcers of reconciliation and workers for peace among the citizens of your country, encouraging them to follow the path of Christian reconciliation. Forgiveness frees, in the first place, those who have the courage to grant it."
Benedict XVI called on the Croatian bishops to be, "generous in serving the Church and your people, persevering in prayer and full of zeal in announcement. Pay particular attention to the formation of priests; ... promote priestly vocations and take watchful care of your seminarians. I exhort you to guide, with love and a spirit of mutual collaboration, religious communities and movements of both consecrated and lay life."
The Pope also told the prelates to continue to promote, "faithful love, harmony, and daily prayer," in families, "encouraging them to a generous openness to life," then emphasized the importance of the presence of Catholics, "in public life, and in the communications media." It is up to them, he concluded, "to ensure that a voice of truth is heard on the problems of the day."