.- This morning, the Pope received the first group of Spanish prelates who have just completed their "ad limina" visit.
In his address, the Pope highlighted that Spain "is a country of profound Christian roots.
He told them that, “The Church in your nation has a glorious history of generosity and sacrifice, of robust spirituality and altruism, and has offered the universal Church numerous sons and daughters outstanding for their practice of heroic virtues or for their witness as martyrs.”
I myself have had the joy of canonizing and beatifying numerous sons and daughters of Spain. ... The living Christian roots of Spain, as I highlighted in my last pastoral visit in May 2003, cannot be pulled up, rather they must continue to nourish the harmonious development of society."
John Paul II noted that in their five-yearly reports the bishops had highlighted their concern for the vitality of the Church as well as the challenges and difficulties they have to face.
Over the last few years, he said, "many things have changed in the social, economic and religious field, at times giving rise to religious indifference and a kind of moral relativism; these influence Christian practice and consequently affect social structures themselves."
Referring to the social sphere, the Holy Father noted that "a lay-inspired mentality is also spreading, an ideology that leads - with a greater or lesser degree of awareness - to the restriction of religious liberty, even promoting scorn or ignorance of religious matters, relegating faith to the private sphere and opposing its public expression.”
This does not form part of the most noble Spanish tradition, because the mark left by the Catholic faith in the life and culture of the Spanish is too deep for them to fall prey to the temptation to silence it."
Furthermore, he went on, "young people have the right, from the very beginning of the formative process, to be educated in the faith.”
The integral education of the youngest cannot ignore religious education, even in schools, when the parents ask for it, with an academic evaluation in keeping with its importance. For their part, the public authorities have the duty to guarantee this right to parents and to ensure the actual conditions for its effective practice, as laid down in the 1979 Partial Accords between Spain and the Holy See, which are currently in force."
The Pope went on to talk about the religious situation, in which, according to the bishops' reports, there is "serious concern for the vitality of the Church in Spain, while at the same time various challenges and difficulties arise.”
Attentive to the problems and the expectations of the faithful faced with this new situation,” the Pope told them, “you as pastors feel called to remain united in order to make the presence of the Lord more palpable among men and women, using the pastoral initiatives most appropriate to the new realities."
After underlining the need for the Sacraments "in the development of Christian life" and the importance of pastors celebrating them "with dignity and decorum," John Paul II called for "pastoral activity that promotes a more assiduous participation of the faithful in the Sunday Eucharist, which must be experienced not just as a precept, but rather as a requirement profoundly inscribed in each Christian's life."
Referring to the bishops' concern for priests and seminarians, the Pope affirmed that priests "are in the front line of evangelization," that they have special need of "your care and pastoral closeness," and that "they must recall that, in the first instance, they are men of God and, for that reason, cannot disregard their spiritual life and permanent formation.”
“... Among the many activities that fill the day of each priest, the most important is the celebration of the Eucharist."
The Pope said that "one living hope is the increase of priestly vocations" and that "no fear must be felt in proposing this to young people, then accompanying them at a human and spiritual level in order for them to discern their vocational option."
"The Catholic faithful - who are called to seek the Kingdom of God by concerning themselves with worldly reality, ordering it according to divine will - are called to be valiant witnesses of their faith in the various fields of public life. ... The young, future of the Church and of society, must be the special object of your pastoral concerns."