BISHOPS' CONFERENCE OF INDIA - 1
Pope John Paul II
Continue to preach the good news with even greater courage
On Friday, 23 May, the Holy Fathermet in the Clementine Hall with the first group of India's Latin Rite Bishops from the Ecclesiastical Provincesof Calcutta, Guwahati, Imphal andShillong, who had come to Rome fortheir Ad Limina visit. The following isthe Pope's Address to the Bishops,given in English.
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. As this series of Ad Limina visits ofthe Latin Rite Bishops of India begins, Iwarmly welcome you, the Pastors of theEcclesiastical Provinces of Calcutta,Guwahati, Imphal and Shillong. Together we give thanks to God for the gracesbestowed on the Church in your country, and recall the words of our Lord tohis disciples as he ascended into heaven:"Lo, I am with you always, to the closeof the age" (Mt 28:20). During this Easter Season, you are here at the tombs ofSaints Peter and Paul to express againyour particular relationship with theuniversal Church and with the Vicar ofChrist.
I thank Archbishop Sirkar for thewarm sentiments and good wishes hehas conveyed on behalf of the Episcopate, clergy, Religious and faithful ofthe Ecclesiastical Provinces here represented. By God's grace I have been ableto visit your homeland on two occasionsand have had first-hand experience ofwarm Indian hospitality, so much a partof the rich cultural heritage whichmarks your nation. Since the earliestdays of Christianity, India has celebrated the mystery of salvation contained inthe Eucharist which mystically joins youwith other faith communities in the"oneness of time" of the Paschal Sacrifice (EcclesiadeEucharistia,n. 5). Ipray that the faithful of India will continue to grow in unity as their participation in the celebration of the Mass confirms them in strength and purpose.
Evangelization includes removingall obstacles to conversion
2. We must always be mindful of thefact that "the Church evangelizes in obedience to Christ's command, in theknowledge that every person has theright to hear the Good News of the Godwho reveals and gives himself in Christ"(Ecclesia in Asia, n. 20). For centuriesCatholics in India have been carrying onthe essential work of evangelization, especially in the fields of education andsocial services, freely offered to Christians and non-Christians alike. In partsof your nation the road to a life inChrist is still one of extreme hardship. Itis most disconcerting thatsome who wish to becomeChristians are required to receive the permission of localauthorities, while others havelost their right to social assistance and family support. Stillothers have been ostracized ordriven out of their villages. Unfortunately, certain fundamentalist movements are creatingconfusion among someCatholics and even directlychallenging any attempt atevangelization. It is my hopethat as leaders in the faith youwill not be discouraged bythese injustices but rather continue to engage society in sucha way that these alarmingtrends can be reversed. Itshould also be noted that obstacles to conversion are notalways external but may occurwithin your own communities.This can happen when thoseof other religions see disagreement, scandal and disunitywithin our Catholic institutions. For this reason it is important that priests, Religiousand lay people should all work togetherand especially cooperate with their Bishop, who is the sign and source of unity.It is the Bishop's responsibility to support those involved in the vital task ofevangelization by ensuring that theynever lose the missionary zeal which iscentral to our lives in Christ. I am convinced that because of these challengesyou will continue to preach the GoodNews with even greater courage andconviction. "What counts, here as in every area of Christian life, is the confidence that comes from faith, from thecertainty that it is not we who are theprinciple agents of the Church's mission, but Jesus Christ and his Spirit"(Redemptoris Missio, n. 36).
Well-trained local clergy are apastoral imperative
3. Fundamental to sustained efforts ofevangelization is the development of alocal Church which is itself poised tobecome missionary (cf. RedemptorisMissio, n. 48). This presumes the eventual emergence of a well-trained localclergy able not only to look after theneeds of those under its care, but alsoready to embrace the mission ad gentes.As I said during my first Pastoral Visitto India, "A vocation is both a sign oflove and an invitation to love. The decision to say 'yes' to Christ's call carrieswith it a number of important consequences: the need to give up otherplans, a willingness to leave behind people who are dear, a readiness to set outwith deep trust along the path that willlead to ever closer union with Christ"(Homily at Pune, 10 February 1986, n. 3).
The commitment to follow Christ asa priest requires the best training possible. "To serve the Church as Christ intends, Bishops and priests need solidand continuing formation, which shouldprovide opportunities for human, spiritual and pastoral renewal, as well ascourses on theology, spirituality and thehuman sciences" (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 43). Candidates for the priesthood must understand as fully as possible the Mysterythey will celebrate and the Gospel theywill preach. To be applauded are theinitiatives you have already taken to ensure that your institutes of priestly formation reach the high standards of education and training necessary for today'sclergy, and I encourage you to continuethis endeavour, ensuring that thosecalled will be truly prepared to act "'inthe name and in the person' of himwho is Head and Shepherd of theChurch" (Pastores Dabo Vobis, n. 35).
Effective catechists need solidtraining and strong support
4. Through the Body and Blood ofChrist the Church is granted the spiritual power necessary to spread the GoodNews. "The Eucharist thus appears asboth the source and the summit of allevangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and inhim with the Father and the Holy Spirit" (EcclesiadeEucharistia,n. 22). AsBishops, you are well aware that everyDiocese is responsible for primary evangelization and for the continuing formation of the laity. In India, as in manyother countries, much of this work isdone by catechists. These workers inthe Lord's vineyard are much morethan teachers. Not only do they educatepeople in the tenets of faith, but they also perform so many other duties whichare integral to the mission of theChurch. These include: working withpeople in small groups; assisting withprayer services and music; preparingthe faithful to receive the sacraments,most especially the sacrament of marriage; training other catechists; buryingthe dead and, in many cases, helpingthe priest with the day to day administration of the parish or outstation. In order to be effective in this apostolate,catechists require not only adequatepreparation but also the knowledge thattheir Bishops and priests are there to offer them the spiritual and moral supportnecessary for the effective transmissionof the word of God (cf. CatechesiTradendae, nn. 24, 63, 64).
Use Mother Teresa's example tocontinue your good works
5. All the Christian faithful are calledto "be committed to change their livesand make them in a certain way completely Eucharistic. This entails a lovefor the poor and a desire to alleviatetheir suffering. For it is unworthy of aChristian community to partake of theLord's Supper amid division and indifference towards the poor" (cf. Ecclesiade Eucharistia, n. 20). India is fortunateto have a direct reminder of the Church'svocation to love the weakest in the witness and example of Mother Teresa ofCalcutta, soon to be beatified. Her lifeof joyful sacrifice and unconditional lovefor the poor stir in us a desire to dolikewise. For to love the least among uswithout expecting anything in return istruly to love Christ. "I was hungry andyou gave me food, I was thirsty and yougave me drink" (Mt 25:35).
Dear Bishops, like Mother Teresa youtoo are called to be outstanding examples of simplicity, humility and charityfor those entrusted to your care. I amheartened by the ways you alreadydemonstrate love for the poor. YourDioceses boast many programmes designed to assist them: homes for thedestitute, leprosaria, orphanages, hostels, family centres and vocational training centres, to name but a few. As theChurch in India continues to confrontthese challenges, notwithstanding severeshortages of personnel and resources, Ipray that you will use the example ofMother Teresa as a model for theworks of charity in your communities.
Continue encouraging a fruitfuluse of the sacrament of Penance
6. Today's world is so infatuated withmaterial things that often even thewealthy find themselves caught in themad rush for more, in a futile attemptto fill the emptiness of their daily existence. This is an especially alarming tendency among our young people, manyof whom live in spiritual poverty, seeking answers in ways that only producemore questions. For the Christian, how ever, it must be different. Our eyes havebeen opened by Jesus Christ, and so weare able to recognize the foolishness ofsuch temptations. All Christians, and ina special way Bishops, priests and Religious, are called to stand apart, livingsimple yet fulfilling lives of evangelicalpoverty, witnessing to the fact that Godis the true wealth of the human heart.
In a world in which so many peoplehave so many questions, it is onlythrough Christ that they can hope tofind sure answers. Sometimes, however,the clarity of the response is muddledby a modern culture which reflects notonly a crisis of conscience and of thesense of God but also a "progressiveweakening of the sense of sin" (cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, n. 18). Indeed,only an active and engaged participationin the mystery of reconciliation canbring true peace and a genuine responseto the burdens which weigh on the soul.I am pleased to hear that in many ofyour Dioceses the faithful frequentlyavail themselves to the graceof the sacrament of Reconciliation, and I encourage you tocontinue to stress the importance of this sacrament.
7. Dear Brother Bishops, asyou return to your respectiveDioceses it. is my hope thatyou will take with you a renewed sense of your pastoralresponsibilities. I pray that youwill be filled with the samezeal as the first disciples towhom the ascending Christ leftthe instructions: "Go, therefore,and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in thename of the Father and of theSon and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe allthat I have commanded you"(Mt 28:20).
To the intercession of Mary,woman of the Eucharist, Icommend the sufferings andjoys of your local Churchesand the whole Catholic community in your country. To allof you and to the clergy, Religious and laity of your Dioceses, I cordially impart myApostolic Blessing.
Weekly Edition in English
28 May, page 5
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