During a meeting Saturday, Pope Benedict told visiting members of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference that despite difficulties in the nation, "the Church in Zimbabwe can rejoice in the presence of so many communities vibrant in faith, a significant number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life,” and encouraged them to build up catechesis and priestly formation.
In his audience with the bishops, who had just finished their “ad limina” visit, the Holy Father recalled Zimbabwe’s recent elections, which, he said, "have laid the basis for what I trust will be a new beginning in the process of national reconciliation and the moral rebuilding of society."
Continuing, the Pope thanked the bishops for the "significant contribution to the electoral process" they offered "to the Catholic faithful and to all your fellow-citizens" with the joint pastoral statement they published last year.
"As you rightly noted,” he said, “responsibility for the common good demands that all members of the body politic work together in laying firm moral and spiritual foundations for the future of the nation."
Pope Benedict told the African prelates that in their preaching and teaching, "the faithful should be able to hear the voice of the Lord Himself, a voice that speaks with authority of what is right and true, of peace and justice, of love and reconciliation, a voice that can console them in the midst of their troubles and show them the way forward in hope."
He also said that despite political and social difficulties, "the Church in Zimbabwe can rejoice in the presence of so many communities vibrant in faith, a significant number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the presence of a committed laity devoted to various works of the apostolate.”
“These gifts of God's grace”, he said, “are at once a consolation and a challenge to an ever more profound and integrated catechesis aimed at training the faithful to live fully their Christian vocation."
The Pope also encouraged the bishops "to work together to ensure suitable and comprehensive catechetical preparation for all the faithful," stressing the need to help priests "present the fullness of the Catholic faith in a way which truly addresses and responds to people's difficulties, questions and problems."
He then turned to the importance of supporting national seminaries "in their challenging task of providing seminarians with an adequate human, spiritual, doctrinal and pastoral formation; while the younger clergy would greatly benefit, in the first years of their priestly ministry, from a program of spiritual, pastoral and human accompaniment guided by experienced and exemplary priests."
In his concluding remarks, the Pope said that the bishops' "concern for sound catechesis and an integral religious education must also extend to the system of Catholic schools, whose religious identity needs to be strengthened, for the good not only of their students, but of the entire Catholic community in your country."