On Friday, the Pope received prelates of the Episcopal Conference of Mali who have just completed their ad limina visit.
The Pope called upon the bishops to be "zealous pastors who, as men of faith, guide the people of God with trust and courage, remaining close to everyone so as to engender hope, even in the most difficult situations."
After highlighting how priests "cooperate generously in the apostolic mission and often live in difficult human and spiritual situations," the Holy Father affirmed the need for them "to live out their priestly identity and commit themselves totally to the Lord in the disinterested service of their brothers and sisters, without losing heart before the difficulties they have to face."
Contemplative and sacramental life, said Benedict XVI, "is a real pastoral priority, which will help priests to respond decisively to the call to sanctity they received from the Lord and to their mission to guide the faithful on that same journey."
Referring to candidates to the priesthood, the Pope recalled the importance of human formation "which is the base of priestly formation," he said. In this context, he indicated how "particular attention to candidates' emotional maturity will help them to respond freely to a life of celibacy and chastity, a precious gift of God, and to maintain a firm and stable conscience throughout their lives."
"There is an urgent need for the lay faithful to commit to the service of reconciliation, justice and peace," he went on. "The laity must acquire a renewed awareness of their special mission within the one mission of the Church, and of the spiritual requirements this brings with it."
The Pope emphasized the need to form "competent lay men and women to serve the common good", making them capable "of facing the daily challenges of the political economic, social and cultural fields."
The Holy Father also recalled religious and lay communities and the service they provide to the Church "through their educational work in favor of the young generations, their care for those who suffer, and their charitable work in general."
Speaking of the bishops' own concern for the pastoral care of marriage, Benedict XVI said that "in responding to the fear often expressed about the definitive nature of marriage, solid preparation and the collaboration of lay people and experts will enable Christian couples to be faithful to their marriage vows."
Finally, the Pope expressed his satisfaction at the cordial relations that exist between the Catholic faithful of Mali and their Muslim compatriots. "It is legitimate," he said, "for each community to express its identity visibly, while maintaining mutual respect, recognizing the religious diversity of the national community and favoring peaceful coexistence at all levels of society. In this way it is possible to advance together, jointly committed to justice, harmony and peace."