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Monday, September 8, 2003


VATICAN CITY, SEP 6, 2003 (VIS) - Pope John Paul welcomed the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Agra, Delhi and Bhopal to Castelgandolfo this morning as they conclude their quinquennial "ad limina" visit.

Noting the millennia-old presence of the Church in India, he said that "the Apostle Thomas, St. Francis Xavier and Mother Teresa of Calcutta are but a few of the outstanding examples of the missionary zeal which has always been present in India." Even when there are hardships, he added, there has always been the great desire to evangelize and to proclaim Jesus Christ.

The Holy Father noted the "serious manner" in which the bishops prepare the laity to assist them and the clergy, especially given the lack of priests in many regions of India. He spoke of the lay faithful's "impressive involvement in catechesis, pastoral councils, small Christian communities, prayer groups and many programs of social outreach and human development." Such activities, he stated, "are not to be understood as an expansion of the clerical role but as a reality shared by every Christian in the grace received at Baptism and Confirmation."

"From the very earliest days of her presence on Indian soil," noted John Paul II, "the Catholic Church has demonstrated a deep social resolve in the fields of healthcare, development, welfare and especially education," which is "a key factor in preparing young Catholics to become faithful adults."

"Many of your schools have large percentages of teachers who are not Catholic. Their presence in our institutions could help to increase mutual understanding between Catholics and those of other religions at a time in which misunderstanding between Catholics and those of other religions can be a source of suffering to any."

The Pope emphasized that the greatest contribution of Catholic schools to their society "is their uncompromising Catholicity. ... For this reason it is essential that your educational institutes maintain a strong Catholic identity. This calls for a curriculum marked by participation in prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist and requires that all teachers are well-versed not only in their fields of study but also in the Catholic faith."

He then highlighted the importance of the presence of priests in Catholic institutions, saying this is "a time-proven way of fostering vocations." Young people considering religious life are attracted to "the example of a zealous priest who not only loves the priesthood but exercises his ministry with joy and dedication."

The Holy Father remarked that today "more than ever, priests are called to be signs of contradiction in societies which are daily becoming more secular and materialistic." He said that "the lure of a consumer society" and an "individualistic, materialist and hedonistic interpretation of human existence ... can at times creep into the lives of our seminarians and priests, tempting them not to live 'according to the logic of giving and generosity'." Thus, bishops have a special task to fill to ensure this does not occur in seminaries and in the lives of their clergy.

"Preparing today's priests (also) requires that seminarians be educated in the many different traditions of our Catholic faith," he said in closing. "This is especially true in India which is fortunate to have Oriental and Latin Catholics in such close proximity. The numbers of Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholics present in your region challenges all the faithful to respect the needs and desires of those who celebrate the same faith in different ways."

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