The Holy Father today received in audience prelates from the Episcopal Conference of Laos and Cambodia, who have just completed their ad limina visit.
"You carry out your ministry at the service of the Church," the Pope told the prelates, "in often-difficult conditions and in a great variety of situations. Be sure that you have my fraternal support and the support of the Universal Church in your service to the people of God."
"The aid you receive in various fields from older Churches, especially as regards pastoral care workers and formation," he continued, "is also an eloquent sign of the solidarity that Christ's disciples should show to one another."
The Holy Father then went on to identify one of the most vital aspects of the pastoral ministry of the bishops of Laos and Cambodia: "the announcement of the Christian faith within a particular culture." In this context he recalled how "the recent celebration of the 450th anniversary of the presence of the Church in Cambodia was an occasion for the faithful to gain a deeper awareness of the long history of Christians in the region."
"In truth, the Christian faith is not foreign to your peoples. 'Jesus is the Good News for the men and women of every time and place in their search for the meaning of existence and for the truth of their own humanity,' and in her announcement to all peoples the Church does not wish to impose herself but to bear witness to her respect for human beings and for the society in which she lives.
"In the social and religious context of your region," Benedict XVI added, "it is vitally important that Catholics express their own identity, while always respecting other religious traditions and cultures. This identity must be expressed, primarily, through an authentic spiritual experience based on accepting the Word of God and on the Sacraments of the Church."
One priority for the episcopate in the region, said the Pope, "is the formation of the faithful, above all that of religious and of catechists" whose "role in vitalizing Christian communities is of great importance." Moreover, "with a solidly-founded Christian faith, they can establish authentic dialogue with members of other religions so as to cooperate in developing your countries and in promoting the common good."
Another question addressed by the Holy Father was that of the education of young people. "Appropriate preparation for Christian marriage is particularly important," he said, and called on the prelates to teach young people "family values like filial respect, love and care for the aged and the sick, love of children and harmony, [which] are held in high esteem in all Asian cultures and religious traditions."
Finally, Pope Benedict emphasized how "the resolute commitment of the Christian community in favor of the least privileged is also a specific sign of the authenticity of its faith. The Church's social activities enjoy the appreciation of the population and of the authorities" because "they eloquently highlight God's love for all human beings with distinction."
"Therefore," he concluded, "it is very important that the Church's charitable work maintains all of its splendor and does not become just another form of social assistance."