BISHOPS' CONFERENCE OF INDIA – 4
Pope John Paul II
Bishops must be recognized for who they are — Successors of the Apostles
On Thursday, 3 July, the Holy Father met in his Private Library with a fourth group of India's Latin Rite Bishops from the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Bangalore, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam. Evangelization, catechesis and stewardship were among the issues the Pope discussed with the Bishops. The following is the text of the Holy Father's Address.
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. In the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ I cordially welcome you, the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Bangalore, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, and make my own the greeting of Saint Paul: "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world" (Rom 1:8). In particular, I thank Archbishop Pinto for his good wishes and kind sentiments offered on your behalf, which I warmly reciprocate, and I assure you and those entrusted to your care of my prayers. Your visit ad Limina Apostolorum expresses the profound communion of love and truth which unites the particular Churches in India with the Successor of Peter and his collaborators in the service of the universal Church. In "coming to see Peter" (Gal 1:18) you thus confirm your "unity in the same faith, hope and charity, and more and more recognize and treasure that immense heritage of spiritual and moral wealth that the whole Church, joined with the Bishop of Rome... has spread throughout the world" (Pastor Bonus, Appendix I, n. 3).
Need for a clear proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord
2. To bear witness to Jesus Christ is "the supreme service which the Church offers to the peoples of Asia" (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 20). Living with many people who do not know Christ convinces us ever more of the need for the missionary apostolate. The radical newness of life brought by Christ and lived by his followers awakens in us the urgency of missionary activity (cf. Redemptoris Missio,n. 7). This demands an explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord: a bold testimony founded on his command "go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19) —and sustained by his promise — "I am with you always" (Mt 28:20). Indeed, it is in fidelity to the threefold mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King that all Christians, in keeping with their baptismal dignity, have a right and duty to participate actively in the missionary endeavours of the Church (cf. Redemptoris Missio,n. 71).
The call for a new evangelization and renewed missionary commitment which I have addressed to the whole Church resounds just as clearly for your ancient Christian communities as it does for your newest. While the initial evangelization of non-Christians and the continuing proclamation of Jesus to the baptized will highlight differing aspects of' the same Good News, both stem from a firm commitment to make Christ ever more known and loved. Such an obligation has its sublime origin in the "fountain-like love" of the Father made present in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit (cf. Ad Gentes, n. 2). All Christians are thus drawn up into Christ's impelling love, of which "we cannot but speak" (Acts 4:20), as the source of the hope and joy that marks us.
All missionary witness comes from Jesus as the Son of God
3. A correct understanding of the relationship between culture and Christian faith is vital for effective evangelization. On your own Indian subcontinent you are faced with cultures rich in religious and philosophical traditions. Within this context, we see how absolutely essential is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Son of God. It is in this understanding of Christ's uniqueness as the second person of the Blessed Trinity, fully God and fully man, that our faith must be preached and embraced. Any theology of mission that omits the call to a radical conversion to Christ and denies the cultural transformation which such conversion will entail necessarily misrepresents the reality of our faith, which is always a new beginning in the life of him who alone is "the way, and the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6).
In this regard, we reaffirm that interreligious dialogue does not replace the missio ad gentes but rather forms a part ofit (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus,n. 2). Similarly, it must be noted that relativist explanations of religious pluralism, which state that the Christian faith is of no different value than any other belief, in fact empty Christianity of its defining Christological heart: faith alienated from our Lord Jesus, as the only Saviour, is no longer Christian, no longer theological faith. An even greater misrepresentation of our faith occurs when relativism leads to syncretism: an artificial "spiritual construct", that manipulates and consequently distorts the essential, objective, revelatory nature of Christianity. That which renders the Church missionary by her very nature is precisely the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God (cf. Dei Verbum,n. 2). This is the foundation of our faith. It is this which makes Christian witness credible. With joy and humility we must welcome the duty that "we, who have received the grace of believing in Christ, the revealer of the Father and the Saviour of the world, have to show to what depths the relationship with Christ can lead" (NovoMillennio Ineunte, n. 33).
Foster appreciation for Penance and Church teaching on marriage
4. Dear Brothers, your quinquennial reports give ample evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit vivifying the missionary dimension of the Church's life in your Dioceses. Notwithstanding the obstacles encountered by people — especially the poor — who wish to embrace the Christian faith, adult baptisms are numerous in much of your region. Equally encouraging is the high percentage of Catholics who attend Sunday Mass, and the increasing numbers of laity properly participating in the liturgy. Such examples of the ready acceptance of God's gift of faith also indicate the need for the diligent pastoral care of our people. Responding to the aspiration for a new impetus in Christian living, I have stated that we must remain firmly focused on the plan already found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition which has its centre in Christ himself (cf. ibid., 29).
The reason to develop pastoral initiatives adapted to the social and cultural circumstances of your communities, yet firmly rooted in the uniqueness of Christ, is clear: "What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as servants" (II Cor 4:5). Far from being a matter of power or control, the Church's programmes of evangelization and formation are conducted in the belief that "every person has a right to hear the Good News of God who reveals and gives himself in Christ" (Ecclesia in Asia,n. 20).While there are many signs of dynamic ecclesial life in your provinces it is also the case that challenges remain. A deeper appreciation of the Sacrament of Reconciliation will help to ready your people spiritually for the task of "doing everything possible to witness to reconciliation and to bring it about in the world" (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia,n. 8). Similarly, our teaching of marriage as a sacred sign of the unfailing fidelity and selfless love of Christ for his Church points to the invaluable worth of a comprehensive marriage preparation programme for those readying themselves for the sacrament and, through them, for society as a whole. Further, the festivities and devotions associated with the many shrines dedicated to Our Lady in your areas, while attracting thousands of followers from other religions, must be soundly incorporated within the liturgical life of the Church if they are to become a gateway to authentic Christian experience.
Bishops must be recognized as successors of the Apostles
5. In a world disfigured by fragmentation the Church — as the sign and instrument of the communion of God with humanity (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 1) — is a powerful bearer of unity and the reconciliation which it entails. As Bishops called to manifest and preserve the apostolic tradition, you are joined in a communion of truth and love. Individually you are the visible source and foundation of unity in your own particular Churches which are constituted after the model of the universal Church. So, while it is true to say that a Bishop represents his own Church, it is also necessary to recall that together with the Pope all Bishops represent the whole Church in the bond of peace, love and unity (cf. ibid., 23).
In this regard, a Bishop must never be considered a mere delegate of a particular social or language grouping but must always be recognized as a successor of the Apostles, whose mission comes from the Lord. The repudiation of a Bishop, whether by an individual or a group, is always a transgression of ecclesial communion and thus a scandal for the faithful and a counter-witness to the followers of other religions. Any spirit of antagonism or conflict — always wounding the Body of Christ (cf. I Cor 1: 12-13)—mustbe put aside and replaced with that practical and concrete love for every person which arises from the contemplation of Christ.
Set good example through good stewardship of Church resources
6. I give thanks to God for the many indications of growth and maturity in your Dioceses. In addition to the often selfless dedication of your priests, Religious and catechists, and the generosity of your own people, this development has also depended upon the ministry of missionaries and the financial generosity of overseas donors. The "pooling of resources and inspirations in order to promote both the common good and the good of individual churches" (Christus Dominus,n. 36),which has been practised from Apostolic times, is an eloquent manifestation of the Church's nature as communion. Yet it is also true to say that particular Churches, including those in countries of the developing world, should seek to build up their own resources to promote local evangelization, and build pastoral centres and institutions of educational and charitable works. To this end, I encourage you to further the considerable advances which you have already achieved with the laity and in collaboration with Religious Institutes (cf. Code of Canon Law,can. 222).For your own part I urge you to set an unquestionable example by your impartiality in the stewardship of the communal resources of the Church (cf. ibid.,can. 1276; 1284).Youmust ensure that the administration of "goods... meant for all" (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,n. 42)is never sullied by temptations to materialism or favouritism but is wisely undertaken in response to the needs of the spiritually or materially poor.
United, renewed and inspired, go forth to serve in Christ Jesus
7. Dear Brothers, it is a particular joy for me to share these reflections with you on this feast of the glorious Apostle Saint Thomas, so venerated by your people. I again assure you of my prayers and support as you continue to shepherd in love the flocks entrusted to your care. United in our proclamation of the saving Good News of Jesus Christ, renewed in the zeal of the first Christians and inspired by the steadfast example of the Saints, let us go forward in hope! In this Year of the Rosary, may Mary, model of all disciples and bright Star of Evangelization, be your sure guide as you "seek to do what Jesus tells you" (cf. Jn 2:5). Commending youto her maternal protection, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to the priests, Religious and lay faithful of your Dioceses.
Weekly Edition in English
16 July 2003, page 3
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