Vatican City, 9 February 2015 (VIS) – On Saturday Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, “Encountering God in the heart of the city”. This year will be the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of Vatican Council II, and to mark the occasion, the Council is preparing a ceremony to commemorate the publication of the decree on the lay apostolate, Apostolicam actuositatem. “The initiative looks not only to the past, but also the present and the future of the Church”. He remarked that the theme chosen for the assembly reiterates the invitation in Evangelii gaudium to face the challenge of urban cultures, adding that “the phenomenon of urbanisation has now reached global proportions: more than half the world's population lives in cities”.
“The urban context has a strong impact on the mentality, culture, lifestyles, interpersonal relationships and religiosity of the people. In such a varied and complex context, the Church is no longer the sole generator of meaning, and Christians absorb 'languages, symbols, messages and paradigms which propose new approaches to life, approaches often in contrast with the Gospel'”. He emphasised that, despite these risks, we must remember that God has not abandoned cities. “The title of your Plenary underlines the fact that it is possible to encounter God in the heart of the city. … It is therefore imperative not to abandon oneself to pessimism and defeatism, but to have an outlook of faith with regard to our cities, a contemplative gaze 'which sees God dwelling in their homes, in their streets and squares'. God is never absent from the city, as He is never absent from the heart of man!”.
“In the city the terrain for the apostolate is often far more fertile than many might imagine. It is important, therefore, to pay attention to the formation of laypeople: to educate in having this gaze of faith, full of hope, that knows how to see the city through God's eyes … and at the same time it is necessary to nurture in them the desire for witness, so that they can give to others the gift of the faith they have received, accompanying with affection those brothers who are taking their first steps in the life of faith”. Francis commented that Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini frequently referred to the “search for the essential”, and often urged those involved in the great urban mission of Milan to be essential themselves: “that is, to be genuine, authentic and to live that which truly counts. Only in this way it is possible to propose in its strength, in its beauty, in its simplicity, the liberating proclamation of God's love and the salvation that Christ offers. Only in this way can one adopt that attitude of respect towards people: offering the essential that is the Gospel”.