.- Pope Benedict XVI spoke to members of the English and Welsh Conference of Catholic Bishops on Monday in Rome as part of their "ad Limina" visit. He used the meeting to respond to the wide range of issues being confronted by local Church and urged them to look to Cardinal John Henry Newman as a model for combating relativism and increasing vocations.
The Pope led off his speech with optimism, granting that "even amid the pressures of a secular age, there are many signs of living faith and devotion among the Catholics of England and Wales." As examples he cited the enthusiastic reaction in Britain to the visit of the relics of St. Therese and the growing anticipation for the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, as well as the popularity among young people for World Youth Day pilgrimages.
Benedict XVI also confirmed that he would in fact be visiting Britain, saying, "On the occasion of my forthcoming Apostolic Visit to Great Britain, I shall be able to witness that faith for myself and, as Successor of Peter, to strengthen and confirm it.”
He then moved on to the business of the day, starting with a reference to current laws in the countries that "impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs." In response to these, the Holy Father urged the bishops "to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended."
"Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth," he added.
Benedict XVI incited the bishops to be insistent in declaring that they have a right to enter the national debate "through respectful dialogue with other elements in society" to make the Gospel known.
Additionally, the Pope invited all members of the Catholic community of England and Wales involved in communicating the Gospel: to "speak with a united voice" and to "be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal."
The Holy Father continued by emphasizing that the lay faithful must be "equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission."
Addressing the issue of dissension, the Pope cautioned the bishops that in a "social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free."
Pope Benedict XVI also presented the bishops with Cardinal Newman's "outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth" as a model for not giving in to the voices of relativism and to "spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood."
He also implored them to make an effort to promote support and understanding among the lay faithful of the pastoral life and its difficulties, especially in the midst of "declining numbers and increasing pressures."
The Holy Father concluded by inviting the bishops to "be generous in implementing the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus," to bring members of the Anglican community into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Delegates from the Holy See and Great Britain are still negotiating the arrangements for the pastoral visit to the island in 2010. The culminating event of the trip could be the Pope officiating of the beatification rite of Cardinal John Henry Newman.