.- Today at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI received bishops from the South American country of Paraguay, and called on them to make a "vast missionary effort" with a focus on enlisting the help of the laity, especially in the realm of politics.
The bishops completed their "ad limina" visit by meeting with Pope Benedict, who offered them an assessment of the challenges facing their local church.
"The pastoral challenges you are facing are truly large and complex," he said. "Faced with a cultural environment that seeks to marginalize 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."
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. He pointed out that the "conviction and faithfulness" of priests is a very effective way to encourage young people to respond to the call of the Lord.
The call to bring the Gospel to the ends of the Earth requires more than priestly and religious vocations, the Pontiff told the bishops. In its "vast missionary effort" the Church must also bring the laity to the fore. Calling the laity's help "indispensable," the Holy Father described their specific vocation as "impregnating the temporal world with the Christian spirit, and transforming it in accordance with the divine plan." He added that "pastors have the duty to offer them all the spiritual and formative means they need."
Pope Benedict then turned his attention to the political realm, which has recently seen the election of Fernando Lugo, a former Catholic bishop, as the nation's president.
"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 honor and in the defense 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 said.
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 marginalized, the elderly, the sick and the imprisoned."
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