VATICAN CITY, JAN 30, 2004 (VIS) - The Pope today welcomed the prelates from the ecclesiastical provinces of Dijon and Tours and of the prelature of the Mission de France. He focused his talk to them on the vocation and mission of the laity, noting that their numbers, as those of priests, have diminished in recent years in France but that the bishops hold out hope because of the philosophical, theological and spiritual preparation of the lay faithful who are assisting pastors.
The laity in France, he observed, in seeking to better serve the Church, "are looking for a greater coherence between faith and its expression in daily life, .. .have rediscovered enthusiasm for studying Scripture and mediating on the Word, and have a growing sense of responsibility for and commitment to justice and works of solidarity in the face of new situations of precariousness." Pastoral structures have diminished in size as have the number of people serving them but "there are many who have generously accepted to dedicated themselves to parish life, under the pastor and in respect for the ordained ministry."
The Holy Father highlighted the need for communion among priests and bishops and the faithful, through which they can all more effectively "evangelize cultures, by making the strength of the Bible penetrate the realities of the family, the workplace, the media, sports and free time, and, in a Christian way, to animate the social order and public, national and international life." He remarked that he was thankful for the work the bishops have done to help young people discover - or rediscover - faith as they ask themselves about faith and the meaning of life.
Turning to the question of Sunday Mass," he underscored that "it does not have the place that it should. Pastors thus must take care to remind the faithful in a forceful and clear way ... of the meaning of the Sunday obligation and of participation in the Sunday Eucharist, which can never be just a simple option in the midst of many activities."
John Paul II highlighted the need for ongoing formation, for pastors as well as for the faithful helping out in parish activities such as catechesis. "In particular," he said, "it would be good to permanently form philosophers and theologians who can give Christians the intellectual foundations they need."
The Pope told the prelates that "the family must be at the center of your concerns. The family is not just a model of relationships among many others, it is a type of relationship that is indispensable for the future of society." Great care, he added, must be given to preparing young people as they look to marriage, "proposing to them a positive vision of affective relations and of sexuality." He went on to say that "we cannot be a witness, powerless, to the phenomenon of the disintegration of the family." The Church hopes to help "change behavior so that the positive values connected to conjugal and family life, will triumph, ... in the face of the often destructive messages of today's society which allow people to think that all affective behaviors are good, thus denying any moral qualification of human acts."
AL/LAITY: FAMILY/FRANCE VIS 20040130 (520)