Today in the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo, Benedict XVI received a group of around 100 recently-appointed bishops who are participating in a training seminar promoted by the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.”The congress in which you are participating”, the Pope told them, “is taking place during the Pauline Year, which we are celebrating in the whole Church with the aim of gaining a deeper knowledge of St. Paul’s missionary spirit and charismatic personality”.
“I am sure that the spirit of this ‘teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth’ … will not fail to illuminate and enrich your pastoral and episcopal ministry”, he said, recalling how “the expression ‘teacher of the Gentiles’ … opens to the future, projecting the spirit of the Apostle towards all peoples and all generations”.
From St. Paul, the Holy Father explained, the bishops should learn “to look sympathetically upon the people to whom we are sent” and “to seek in Christ the light and grace to announce the Good News today”.
Going on then to refer to the situations the prelates will be called to confront, he noted how their dioceses “are mostly very large and not infrequently lacking roads and means of communication. … Moreover your societies, like other places, are being hit by the increasingly-violent wind of … religious indifference, secularisation and the relativisation of values. This creates an environment in which the weapon of preaching may appear – as happened to Paul in Athens – to lack the necessary strength.
“In many regions”, Pope Benedict added, “Catholics are a minority, sometimes a tiny minority. This compels you to deal with other much stronger religions that are not always welcoming towards you. Finally, there is no lack of situations in which, as pastors, you must defend your faithful in the face of persecution and violent attacks”.
The Holy Father went on: “Do not be afraid and do not be discouraged by these inconveniences, which are sometimes very harsh, but allow yourselves to be guided and inspired by St. Paul … who did not avoid difficulties and sufferings because he was well aware that they are part of the cross which, as Christians, we must carry every day. … Suffering unites us to Christ and to our brothers and sisters, and expresses the fullness of love, the source and supreme trial of which is Christ’s own Cross. … Paul’s deepest motivations were the fact that he was loved by Jesus Christ and his desire to transmit this love to others”.
“You are at the beginning of your episcopal ministry. Do not hesitate to draw from this powerful teacher of evangelisation, learning from him how to love Christ, how to sacrifice yourselves in the service of others, how to identify yourselves with the people among whom you are called to preach the Gospel, how to proclaim and bear witness to the presence of the Risen One”.
“You who, as successors of the Apostles, continue Paul’s mission in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles”, said the Pope in conclusion, “draw inspiration from him in seeing your vocation as closely dependent on the light of the Spirit of Christ”.