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Thursday, September 11, 2008


VATICAN CITY, 11 SEP 2008 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in separate audiences:

 - Lars Petter Forberg, ambassador of Norway, on his farewell visit.

 - Fr. Joaquin Robledo, diocesan administrator of San Lorenzo, Paraguay, on his "ad limina" visit.
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VATICAN CITY, 11 SEP 2008 (VIS) - For the occasion of Benedict XVI's forthcoming apostolic trip to France, due to take place from 12 to 15 September to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes, statistics concerning the Catholic Church in that country have been published.

  The information, updated to 31 December 2006, comes from the Central Statistical Office of the Church.

  France has a population of 61,350,000 of whom 46,427,000 (75.5 percent) are Catholic. There are 98 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 16,553 parishes and 674 pastoral centres of other kinds. Currently, there are 186 bishops, 21,074 priests, 42,425 religious, 1,577 lay members of secular institutes and 62,831 catechists. Minor seminarians number 134, and major seminarians 1,299.

  A total of 2,108,240 children and young people attend 10,195 centres of Catholic education, from kindergartens to universities. Other institutions belonging to the Church, or run by priests or religious in France include 94 hospitals, 103 clinics, 520 homes for the elderly or disabled, 96 orphanages and nurseries, 49 family counselling centres and other pro-life centres, 247 centres for education and social rehabilitation, and 65 institutions of other kinds.
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VATICAN CITY, 11 SEP 2008 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father received prelates from the Paraguayan Episcopal Conference, who have just completed their "ad limina" visit.

  "The pastoral challenges you are facing are truly large and complex", the Pope told the assembled bishops. "Faced with a cultural environment that seeks to marginalise God from people and from society, or that considers Him as an obstacle to the pursuit of its own happiness, it is vital to make a vast missionary effort which, placing Jesus Christ at the centre of all pastoral activity, reveals to everyone the beauty and truth of His life and His message of salvation".

  "In this context, the presence of authentic witnesses of Christian life and the sanctity of pastors are perennial necessities both for the Church and the world", explained the Holy Father, going on to indicate that "the bishop, apart from being the visible head and the foundation of unity in a particular Church, is also the bond of ecclesial communion and the point of contact between his particular Church and the Universal Church".

  After encouraging the prelates to continue to make every possible effort "to increase unity within diocesan communities, and with this Apostolic See", the Pope expressed his appreciation at the Paraguayan bishops' choice of "the pastoral care of youth and vocations" as one of their priorities. In this context, he pointed out that "the conviction and faithfulness with which priests daily live their own vocations will stimulate in many young people the desire to follow Christ in the priesthood, responding generously to His call".

  Yet in order for the Christian message to reach "the furthest corners of the world", said the Holy Father, "the collaboration of the lay faithful is indispensable. Their specific vocation consists in impregnating the temporal world with the Christian spirit, and transforming it in accordance with the divine plan. For their part, pastors have the duty to offer them all the spiritual and formative means they need".

  "One significant aspect of the mission of the laity is the service of society through political activity". For this reason, "they must be encouraged ... to practice responsibility and dedication in this important dimension of social charity, so that the human community of which they are part ... may progress in justice, in honour and in the defence of true and authentic values such as the protection of human life, of marriage and of the family, thus contributing to the real human and spiritual benefit of all society".

  The Pope concluded his remarks by praising the bishops' efforts to "alleviate the needs of the people", and by calling on them to be "a living image of Christ's charity for all your brothers and sisters, especially those who suffer most: the marginalised, the elderly, the sick and the imprisoned".
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