.- Bishops and other clergy from Kazakhstan and Central Asia, a region with few Catholics, met with Pope Benedict this morning at the Vatican. The Holy Father encouraged the prelates to "keep the flame of faith alive among the Christian people" and spoke about the dangers of religious fundamentalism.
Pope Benedict began his remarks by inviting the prelates to give thanks to God that, "despite the severe pressures suffered during the years of the atheist communist regime, the flame of faith remained alight in believers' hearts thanks to the zealous sacrifice of priests, religious and lay people."
After encouraging the bishops not to lose heart even though the Catholic community is "a small flock," Benedict XVI called on them to allow themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit and "to keep the flame of faith alight among Christian people. Conserve and draw vantage from the important pastoral and apostolic experiences of the past," he told them.
Other ways to keep this flame alive are to "Continue to educate everyone in listening to the Word of God and arouse, especially in the young, Marian devotion and love for the Eucharist. Spread the practice of the Rosary among families. Patiently and courageously, seek new forms and methods of apostolate, making it your concern to modernize them in accordance with today's needs, bearing in mind the language and culture of the faithful entrusted to you care," the Pope said.
These efforts must be buttressed by the bishops’ support for their priests and religious. This consists in having "constant recourse to God in prayer and in the constant search for unity among yourselves, and within each of your ... communities," Benedict taught.
Pope Benedict also touched on "the blight of violence and terrorism" and the "spread of extremism and fundamentalism" in the world.
The solution Pope Benedict pointed to is to fight terrorism and fundamentalism with the rule of law. "However," he warned, "the force of law must never itself become iniquity, nor can the free exercise of religion be limited, because freely to profess one's faith is a fundamental and universally-recognized human right."
In contrast with religious fundamentalists, Benedict XVI underlined how "the Church does not impose but freely proposes the Catholic faith, well aware that conversion is the mysterious fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift and a work of God, and hence excludes any form of proselytism that forces, allures or entices people by trickery to embrace it."
Addressing religious freedom again, the Holy Father explained that, "A person may open to the faith after mature and responsible reflection, and must be able freely to realize that intimate aspiration. This benefits not only the individual, but all society, because the faithful observance of divine precepts helps to build a more just and united form of coexistence."
The Pope finished his address with an expression of thanks to the priests and religious who work in the various ecclesiastical circumscriptions: Almaty, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.