Vatican City, 2 February 2015 (VIS) - “You have come to Rome with your youth, but also with your heroism. Indeed, among you there are some young brothers, but mostly prelates who have experienced the sad period of persecution. Thank you for your witness to Jesus Christ and for your service to God's holy people”, writes the Holy Father in the discourse handed out at the end of his audience with the Lithuanian Bishops' Conference today, following their five-yearly “ad Limina” visit.
“Lithuania has always had pastors who are close to their flock and united with them”, he continues. “Throughout the history of the nation, they have accompanied their people with care, not only in their journey of faith and in facing material difficulties, but also in the civil and social construction of society; the foundations of its history and identity are found in the strength of the Gospel and the love of the Holy Mother of God. You are the heirs to this history, this heritage of pastoral charity, and you show this with the energy of your action, the communion you inspire and your perseverance in pursuing the goals the Spirit indicates to you”.
“Dear brothers, I know your apostolic labours. If for a long period the Church in your country was oppressed by regimes based on ideologies contrary to human dignity and freedom, today you must face others, more insidious, such as secularism and relativism. Therefore, alongside tireless proclamation of the Gospel and Christian values, you must not forget to maintain constructive dialogue with all, even those who do not belong to the Church or who are distant from religious experience. Ensure that Christian communities are always places of welcome, of open and constructive exchange, a stimulus for society as a whole in the pursuit of the common good”.
Francis does not overlook the ceaseless efforts and attention paid by the Lithuanian bishops to the clergy, and he invites them to pray that God might give them “generous priests capable of sacrifice and devotion”, as well as “convinced laypersons who know how to take responsibility within the ecclesial community and to make a valid Christian contribution to civil society”, to be encouraged by the bishops “with the strength of mature faith, in the civil, cultural, political and social fields”.
The Pope also remarks that the Church is engaged in reflection on the beauty and value of the family, and the challenges it faces in our time. He encourages the bishops, as pastors, to make their contribution to “this great work of discernment”, and above all to pay attention to the pastoral ministry of the family, so that couples “feel the closeness of the Christian community and are helped not to conform to the mentality of this world, but instead to continually renew themselves in the spirit of the Gospel”. He adds, “indeed, in your country, which is now a full member of the European Union, is exposed to an influx of ideologies that seek to introduce elements of destabilisation of families, the result of a misunderstood sense of personal freedom. Centuries-old Lithuanian traditions will help you to respond, in accordance with reason and faith, to these challenges”.
He then goes on to recommend special attention to vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life, and encourages the Church in Lithuania to pray tirelessly to this end. He also urges adequate formation, both initial and continuing, of priests, consecrated persons and seminarians, as well as the active initiation of contact with them, to avoid leaving them alone with their difficulties. He concludes by exhorting care for the poor. “In Lithuania too, despite current economic development, there are many people in need, unemployed, sick, and abandoned. Be close to them. And do not forget that there are many, especially the young, who for various reasons leave the country to find a new path abroad. Their growing number and their needs require attention and pastoral care on the part of the Bishops' Conference, also to ensure the preservation of their faith and Lithuanian religious traditions”.