In an audience with social workers in Fatima on Thursday afternoon, the Holy Father urged them to apply the wisdom of the Church's teachings to their causes. Among those initiatives he praised for helping build a "civilization of love" were those aimed at combating abortion—legalized in 2007—and the expected approval of same-sex "marriage."

Pope Benedict met with members of a variety of organizations dedicated to social causes at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Fatima on Thursday afternoon. The Catholic and non-Catholic partipants were also accompanied by employees and collaborators from the Fatima shrine.

After exhorting those working in "the vast world of charity" to be like the Good Samaritan and like Christ himself in considering love as the foundation for their actions, the Holy Father told the diverse group that discernment of how to address the crises of today should be guided by "a creative proposal of the Church's social message."

Amidst the current socio-economic, cultural and spiritual context, he said, studying the Church's social doctrine "will make possible a process of integral human development capable of engaging the depths of the human heart and achieving a greater humanization of society."

In addition to intellectual knowledge, the Pope said, it is a matter of wisdom, "which can provide creativity, a sort of flavor and seasoning, to the intellectual and practical approaches aimed at meeting this broad and complex crisis."

The Holy Father underlined his hope that that Church institutions, working with all organizations from outside the Church, would "perfect their theoretical analyses and their concrete directives ... (which are) capable of leading to that civilization of love, whose seed God has planted in every people, in every culture."

He commented later on the difficulty of combining our spiritual lives and apostolic activity in a satisfactory manner because of cultural pressures that influence the projects and goals of service, threatening to empty them of "the motivation of faith and Christian hope which had originally inspired them."

"The many pressing requests which we receive for support and assistance from the poor and marginalized of society impel us to look for solutions which correspond to the logic of efficiency, quantifiable effects and publicity," Pope Benedict noted.

Despite these pressures, the Holy Father insisted that the combination of spiritual lives with apostolic activity is "absolutely necessary, if you are to serve Christ in the men and women who look to you."

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Urging Catholic organizations in particular to exhibit their identity and to ensure the independence of Christian charitable activity from politics and ideologies, he told them that all services provided must "be crowned by projects of freedom whose goal is human promotion and universal fraternity."

Pope Benedict XVI also addressed issues that have been prominent in Portugal, namely, the approval of abortion up to 10 weeks in 2007 and the expected approval of same-sex "marriage."

Pointing to abortion and changing the definition of marriage, the Pope said:

"I express my deep appreciation for all those social and pastoral initiatives aimed at combating the socio-economic and cultural mechanisms which lead to abortion, and are openly concerned to defend life and to promote the reconciliation and healing of those harmed by the tragedy of abortion. Initiatives aimed at protecting the essential and primary values of life, beginning at conception, and of the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, help to respond to some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats to the common good.

"Such initiatives represent, alongside numerous other forms of commitment, essential elements in the building of the civilization of love.

The bill aimed at legalizing same-sex "marriages" was passed by parliament in February with the support of the left-wing parties, which are in the majority. President Anibal Cavaco Silva has until May 17 to decide whether to sign the bill into law or exercise his veto power. If the president vetoes the bill, the parliament is expected to override him.

The Holy Father concluded his words to social workers by saying that "all this fits very closely with the message of Our Lady which resounds in this place: penance, prayer and forgiveness aimed at the conversion of hearts."

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To read the Holy Father's full speech, click here.