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Monday, November 24, 2003


VATICAN CITY, NOV 22, 2003 (VIS) - Today John Paul II received bishops from Belgium at the end of their 'ad limina' visit. In his speech, he emphasized the difficulty of their ministry, but also the signs of hope for the Church in their country.

'The information that I receive about the situation of the Church in your country,' said the Pope, 'is particularly troubling to me. Real and serious concern cannot be hidden about the scarce regularity and importance of religious practice in your country which affects Sunday Mass and the sacraments, especially baptism, reconciliation and marriage. In addition, the consistent drop in the number of priests and the persistent crisis of vocations are a serious concern for you.'

'The rapid changes that you notice,' he continued, ' surely correspond to a sensitive evolution of society, characterized by great secularization which could make one think that Belgian society has turned its back on its Christian roots. Your country, in addition, has recently approved new and disturbing legislation on material relative to the fundamental dimensions of human and social life, such as birth, marriage and the family, illness and death. You have never stopped addressing these issues .. which profoundly affect the ethical dimension of human life.'

'Therefore, it is a new pastoral terrain, unsteady and difficult, where you live your mission as pastors of the Church of Christ ' In a society that loses track of its traditional points of reference and that promotes general relativism in the name of pluralism, our first duty is to introduce Christ, His Gospel of peace which sheds new light on man's destiny. ' I invite you therefore to actively continue dialogue with civil society and the Belgian people ' and to explicitly introduce the values of Christian faith and the rich experience of human beings throughout history and cultures, not in order to impose your own model but out of respect for the truth of which you are ministers in the name of Christ and respect for dialogue itself which demands that the legitimate and individual identity of each person is taken into account.'

John Paul II praised, 'the quality of pastoral collaboration' of the bishops and their priests, 'the ever-more active participation of the lay faithful in the mission of the Church' and their 'attention in educating young people. I congratulate you,' he said, 'for having clearly reaffirmed the principles of Catholic teaching and your devotion to your identity.'

'But in addition to difficulties,' the Holy Father concluded, ' ' you emphasized the signs of a possible renewal: the vigor of pilgrimages, the attraction of the silence of monasteries, the increase in the number of adult catechumens, ' the desire for a more authentic spiritual life. The hope of believers ' illuminates the life of the lay faithful. In important discussions that provoke Belgian society it is necessary that you give double testimony: testimony to the prophetic word, taking a clear position in line with the Gospel and testimony of action, of men and women committed in the good times and difficulties of daily life, in married and family life, in work and social and political responsibilities.'

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