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Friday, November 28, 2003


VATICAN CITY, NOV 28, 2003 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father received French bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Cambrai and Reims who just completed their 'ad limina' visit.

During the meeting with the first group of French prelates, the Pope spoke about the Church and the episcopal mission, with reference to 'Pastores gregis', the post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

John Paul II emphasized the importance of taking care of their personal spiritual life, 'enriching your ministry,' he said, 'with a deep relationship with Christ, through meditation, supplemented by Scripture and an intense sacramental life. In this way, you will be able to communicate to the faithful the desire to live in intimate union with God, so that they build up their faith and, together, you are able to propose the faith to your citizens, following the spirit of the documents that you have written about proclaiming the Gospel.'

'In the life and mission of bishops, fraternal collaboration and attention to communion are essential in order to demonstrate the unity of the whole ecclesiastical Body. ' Today it is more important than ever to help the faithful to discover the meaning and grandeur of the mystery of Christ's Church. ' Without serious and deep knowledge of the mystery of the Church, which always leads to Christ, it is clear that the meaning of ordained ministries and, specifically, the structure of the Church cannot be understood.'

The Pope stressed that 'in order to demonstrate the collegial nature of the episcopate, to carry out an ever-more effective pastoral care and to increase necessary collaboration, you agreed courageously, after reflection, to make some changes by reorganizing ecclesiastical provinces. ' I hope that this strengthens the bonds of fraternal communion, and helps and sustains you in your personal life and in your mission.'

He continues: 'Bishops are continually called to bear clear witness to the apostolic communion among them and with the entire episcopal assembly surrounding the Successor of Peter. ' In their actions, declarations, decisions, every bishop commits to the entire episcopal body and to the Church.'

The Holy Father underscored that 'communion is not a contradiction to legitimate diversity which permits every diocesan Church to have its own personality in function of the pastors and communities that compose it.'

'The apostolic mission of the bishop is, in the first place, to proclaim the Gospel. ' No matter how small or fragile a group of people is,' he concluded, 'or how few priests there are, it becomes necessary that the bishop take care of the flock entrusted to him and that he is not absent for long periods of time from his diocese, that he visit the different communities, listen to them and encourage them. In order to carry out the mission and to include all those actively involved in it, your conference is presently reflecting on strengthening the organisms that compose it. I am happy about this unanimous decision.'

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