VATICAN CITY, 14 FEB 2009 (VIS) - This morning, Benedict XVI received prelates from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, who have just completed their "ad limina" visit. Addressing them in English, the Pope highlighted how "Almighty God has blessed the Church in your country with generous growth. This is especially visible in the number of new Christians who have received Christ into their hearts and accept joyfully the Church as 'the pillar and bulwark of the truth'.
"The abundant priestly and religious vocations are also a clear sign of the work of the Spirit among you", he added, recalling how "the expansion in the Church calls for special care in diocesan planning and the training of personnel through ongoing activities of formation in order to facilitate the necessary deepening of the faith of your people". This, he explained, requires a number of basic steps: "teaching the art of prayer, encouraging participation in the liturgy and the Sacraments, wise and relevant preaching, catechetical instruction, and spiritual and moral guidance. From this foundation faith flourishes in Christian virtue, and gives rise to vibrant parishes and generous service to the wider community".
"The celebration of the liturgy is a privileged source of renewal in Christian living", said the Pope commending the bishops' efforts "to maintain the proper balance between moments of contemplation and external gestures of participation and joy in the Lord". Referring then to one of the themes of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops for Africa, that of ethnic unrest, he said: "The marvellous image of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the gathering of innumerable men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation who have been ransomed by the blood of Christ, encourages you to confront the challenge of ethnic conflict wherever present, even within the Church".
The Holy Father expressed his appreciation "to those of you who have accepted a pastoral mission outside the limits of your own regional or linguistic group and I thank the priests and people who have welcomed and supported you. ...There is no place in the Church for any kind of division. ... All believers, especially seminarians and priests, will grow in maturity and generosity by allowing the Gospel message to purify and overcome any possible narrowness of local perspectives".
He also highlighted "the bishop's task of sustaining the important social and ecclesial reality of marriage and family life. With the co-operation of well prepared priests and lay people, experts and married couples, you will exercise with responsibility and zeal your solicitude in this area of pastoral priority".
Benedict XVI also focused on the "important service to the nation" offered by the prelates through their "commitment to inter-religious dialogue especially with Islam, where with patience and perseverance, strong relations of respect, friendship and practical co-operation are being forged with other religious people".
"Your dedication to derive from Catholic principles enlightened comments on current national problems is greatly appreciated. The natural law, inscribed by the Creator on the heart of every human being, and the Gospel, properly understood and applied to civic and political realities, do not in any way reduce the range of valid political options. On the contrary, they constitute a guarantee offered to all citizens of a life of freedom, with respect for their dignity as persons, and protection from ideological manipulation and abuse based on the law of the strongest".
The Holy Father concluded his remarks by telling the prelates to "continue to exercise your episcopal authority in the struggle against unjust practices and corruption and against all causes and forms of discrimination and criminality, especially the degrading treatment of women and the deplorable practice of kidnapping. By promoting Catholic Social Doctrine you offer your loyal contribution to your country and assist in the consolidation of a national order based on solidarity and a culture of human rights".
AL/.../NIGERIA VIS 20090216 (650)