Today in the Vatican, the Holy Father received prelates from the Episcopal Conference of Gabon, who have just completed their five-yearly ad limina visit to Rome.
At the beginning of his address to them, the Pope noted how the people of Gabon "sometimes let themselves be attracted by the consumerist permissive society, paying less attention to the poorest people of their country. I encourage them to increase fraternal sentiment and solidarity. Furthermore, a certain relaxation has been noted in the lives of Christians, taken in by the attractions of the world. It is my hope that their conduct becomes ever more exemplary in terms of spiritual and moral values."
Benedict XVI identified one of the most vital tasks of the Church in Gabon as "transmitting the faith and acquiring a deeper knowledge of the Christian mystery. In order to meet the challenges they face, the faithful need a thorough formation that enables them to found their Christian life upon clear principles."
In this way "ecclesial communities will be more vibrant and the faithful will draw strength from the liturgy and from individual, family and community prayer, so that, in all fields of social life, they become witnesses of the Good News and workers for reconciliation, justice and peace in this world of ours which needs these things more than ever."
The Pope emphasized the need to pay particular attention to the youth of Gabon. In this context, he expressed the hope that the young may become "the first evangelizers of their peers. Many times, through friendship and sharing, people come to discover the person of Christ and to join themselves to Him."
After then dwelling on the bishop's concern over the low numbers of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, the Holy Father noted that "the seminary in Libreville must be watched over with particular care because the future of evangelization and of the Church is at stake." This, he said, "will not cease to be a stimulus so that, in each diocese, pastoral care of vocations develops and intensifies."
The Holy Father encouraged priests and religious, and their families, to "mobilize themselves through prayer, attention to the youngest and a concern for transmitting the call of Christ, so that the vocations your country needs may arise and spread."
Nor can we forget," he continued, "the role of Catholic education, in which teachers and educators have the mission of the integral education of the young. This task requires witness to and transmission of the faith, as well as attention to vocations."
With reference to priests, the Pope stressed that, "living in constant intimacy with Christ, they will have a sharper awareness of the need to remain faithful to the commitments made before God and the Church, especially chastity and celibacy. In this way, they will experience their priestly ministry ever more as a service to the faithful."
"They will find spiritual support in the brotherhood of priests, comforted by you who are father and brother to them," he told the bishops. "Thus, together, you will be able to implement joint pastoral projects that give fresh impetus to the mission. I encourage each priest to seek the good of the Church and not personal advantage, conforming his life and mission to the gesture of the washing of the feet. From such love, lived as disinterested service, profound joy will arise."