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Thursday, April 29, 2004


VATICAN CITY, APR 29, 2004 (VIS) - Bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Baltimore and Washington in the United States were welcomed today by the Holy Father as they end their "ad limina" visit. The Pope noted that, in his meetings with U.S. prelates this year, he "is reflecting on the mystery of the Church and, in particular the exercise of the episcopal ministry."

  He dedicated today's talk to the "munus sanctificandi,"  the sanctifying mission of all bishops, which "finds its source in the indefectible holiness of the Church. Because 'Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her', she has been endowed with unfailing holiness and has become herself, 'in Christ and through Christ, the source and origin of all holiness'. This fundamental truth of the faith ... needs to be more clearly understood and appreciated by all the members of Christ's Body, for it is an essential part of the Church's self-awareness and the basis of her universal mission."

  "At the same time," said the Holy Father, "the holiness of the Church on earth remains real yet imperfect. Her holiness is both gift and call, a constitutive grace and a summons to constant fidelity to that grace. The Second Vatican Council ... reaffirmed that 'all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity' and it invited every member of the Church to an honest recognition of sin and the need for constant conversion along the path of penance and renewal."

  John Paul II emphasized that "the challenge set before us (as bishops) and before the whole Church" is that "the life of every Christian and all the structures of the Church must be clearly ordered to the pursuit of holiness. ... The pursuit of personal holiness must be central to the life and identity of every Bishop.  He is to recognize his own need to be sanctified as he engages in the sanctification of others."

  He underscored that a bishop must be an attentive "hearer of the word of God, ... one who contemplates" and "also a teacher of contemplation." His prayer must be nourished by the Eucharist, adoration before the tabernacle, regular recourse to Penance and the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours.

  The Pope spoke at length of the importance of "the adoption of a lifestyle which imitates the poverty of Christ. ... I encourage you and your brother Bishops to undertake such a discernment with regard to the practical exercise of the episcopal ministry in your country, in order to ensure that it will be seen ever more clearly as a form of sacrificial service in the midst of Christ's flock."

  The Holy Father concluded with remarks on "the inseparable relationship between holiness and the Church's mission. As essential part of the new evangelization must therefore be a renewal of faith and Christian life."
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