.- On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI welcomed bishops from the Church in last yearâs tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka in his first "ad limina" visit since being elected Pope. In his speech to them, he addressed "the devastating effects of the tsunami last December, which claimed a vast number of lives in Sri Lanka alone, and left hundreds of thousands homeless.â
He asked them to âPlease accept my profound sympathy and that of Catholics everywhere for all who have endured such terrible losses."
Pope Benedict noted that, "the Christian community has a particular obligation to care for those children who have lost their parents as a result of the natural disaster," and said that "these most vulnerable members of society ... so often are simply forgotten or shamelessly exploited as soldiers, labourers, or innocent victims in the trafficking of human beings.â
âNo effort should be spared,â he said, âto urge civil authorities and the international community to fight these abuses and to offer young children the legal protection they justly deserve."
The Holy Father said that, "even in the darkest moments of our lives, we know that God is never absent," and noted the "unprecedented generosity of the humanitarian response to the tsunami," commending the bishops "for the outstanding way in which the Church in Sri Lanka struggled to meet the material, moral, psychological and spiritual needs of the victims.â
âWe can recognize further signs of God's goodnessâ he said, âin the partnership and collaboration of so many diverse elements of society in the relief effort. It was heartening to see members of different religious and ethnic groups in Sri Lanka and throughout the global community coming together to show their solidarity towards the afflicted and rediscovering the fraternal bonds that unite them.â
He shared with them his confidence âthat you will find ways of building further on the fruits of this cooperation, especially by ensuring that aid is offered freely to all who are in need."
The Pope then noted the youth of the Church in Sri Lanka, stating that, âa third of the population of your country is under the age of fifteen.â
âThisâ, he said, âgives great hope for the future. Religious education in schools must therefore be a high priority. Whatever difficulties you may encounter in this area, do not be deterred from carrying out your responsibility.â
He added that, âSeminaries, likewise, require particular attention on the part of the bishops, and I urge you to be ever vigilant in maintaining a sound spiritual and theological formation for your seminarians.â
âThey need to be inspired to exercise their future apostolate in a way that will attract others to follow Christ - the more holy, the more joyful and the more impassioned they are in their priestly ministry, the more fruitful it will be."