VATICAN CITY, MAR 12, 2004 (VIS) - Pope John Paul today welcomed bishops from the Netherlands as they complete their "ad limina" visit and spoke to them of the issues they highlighted in their quinquennial reports preparatory to this visit: secularization, proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing to Christ, the aggiornamento they have undertaken in the Church in the Netherlands and the vocation crisis. The bishops have just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the re-establishment of the episcopal hierarchy of the Netherlands.
"Your country has experienced," noted the Pope, "an intense phenomenon of secularization for thirty years, which has spread to the Catholic Church like wildfire and which continues unfortunately to mark Dutch society" and has led to a serious decline in the numbers of faithful He recalled that he had convened a special synod in Rome in 1980 for the bishops of the Netherlands to show his concern.
The Holy Father underscored the need for families, parishes and Catholic schools to constantly and everywhere "proclaim the Gospel of hope," to "announce the Good News of Christ's love, especially to the young ... who live in a society marked by moral relativism and by religious pluralism." He urged "Catholic teaching to maintain and strengthen its own identity, harmonizing it with the endless new demands of education in the midst of a pluralist society, in respect for others, but without ever renouncing what gives it its original richness."
"Being a witness to Christ in words and deeds," said the Pope, "is a responsibility shared by all the baptized and it implies certain conditions. How can one give what one does not himself possess? How can one speak of Christ and make others want to meet Him if one is not first His disciple?" He expressed "joy" that parishes "are rediscovering the Sunday Eucharist as the foundation and heart of their Christian life," noting that "ecclesial communion of the Eucharistic assembly is communion with one's bishops and with the Roman pontiff."
John Paul II then turned to the process of aggiornamento undertaken by the Dutch bishops, urging them to "take care not to limit this just to a formal restructuring, but rather to make it an occasion to rediscover the essential role of the parish and the mission proper to the faithful who comprise it to better mobilize everyone to proclaim the Gospel." He observed the "cosmopolitan face" of many parishes due to the presence of migrants, and encouraged "welcoming them as brothers, allowing them to bring to their own stone to the common building" in an "exchange of gifts."
The Pope then highlighted the severe crisis of vocations, both to the priesthood and religious life, saying that creating milieux in which vocations can flourish must be for the prelates "an absolute priority mission." He noted that some parishes welcome priests from other local parishes, even other continents, who are present for studies, stating that such collaboration is good "but we know well that each Church must be attached to fostering its own vocations." He also stressed the role of parents in creating a milieu favorable to vocations.
In closing, the Holy Father, noting the bishops' remarks about "a new thirst for spirituality" in their country, said he hoped everyone in the Church, "especially the lay faithful, will take to heart witnessing to their faith, bringing the light of the Gospel to all different sectors of society. May they show the greatness and beauty of marriage, ... the inalienable dignity of every human person in all realities, ...and in ethical issues that arise because of technological progress or economic pressures, and may they witness to the Christian values that contributed to forging Europe of today."
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