This morning, Pope Benedict met with a group of bishops from the Czech Republic--in Rome for their semi-annual “ad limina” visits--and challenged them to strengthen the Church in their highly secularized country by supporting vocations, families and the laity.
He pointed out that the Church has no reason or desire to conflict with civil and State authorities, rather, it simply seeks to carry out its mission.
After individually meeting with each of the prelates, Benedict said that he had learned that the Church in the Czech Republic is "alive and well, and feels the call to be the leavening in a society that is secularized yet at the same time interested ... in the liberating but challenging message of the Gospel."
He observed that "the material and spiritual devastation of the earlier [communist] regime has left your fellow citizens, now that they have reacquired complete freedom, with a yearning to make up for lost time, pushing ahead without, perhaps, giving sufficient attention to the importance of spiritual values which give fortitude and consistency to civil and material progress."
He went on, affirming the bishops that their communities "already provide a solid testimony that attracts no small number of people, also from the world of culture.”
“This is a sign of hope”, he said, “for the formation of a mature laity, one that knows how to shoulder its ecclesial responsibilities.”
The Holy Father gave thanks to God for the region’s priests and religious, who are "active and hard-working, disciplined and united," but cautioned, although this "is a reason for consolation, it should not lead us to forget other aspects that give rise to understandable concern.”
“In the first place,” he said, “the lack of priests rightly induces you to dedicate special attention to vocational pastoral care.”
He added that from this point of view, a continued commitment to the formation of solid Christian families is particularly important for the life of the Czech Church, laying special emphasis on the importance of lay participation "in parish activities, and their introduction to a rich and healthy liturgical life."
"The Christian community”, Pope Benedict said, “is a grouping of people with their own rules, a living body that, in Jesus, exists in the world to bear witness to the strength of the Gospel. It is, then, a group of brothers and sisters who have no goals of power or of selfish interest, but who joyfully live the charity of God, which is Love.”
He pointed out that "In such a context, the State should have no difficulty in recognizing in the Church a counterpart that in no way prejudices its own function at the service of citizens.”
“Indeed,” he said, “the Church undertakes her activities in the religious sphere, enabling believers to express their faith, yet without invading the area of competence of the civil authorities. ... As is known, the Church does not seek privileges, but only the opportunity to carry out her mission.”
“When this right is recognized, it is really the whole of society that benefits."
The Holy Father concluded his message by exhorting the Czech bishops to continue ecumenical dialogue. “I know such dialogue is intense,” he assured, “as is the dialogue with all citizens in the cultural field on the fundamental values upon which all civil coexistence is based."