In the talk he delivered yesterday to the first group of prelates from the German Bishops' Conference, at the end of their ad limina visit, the Pope affirmed that the secularization of society represents "a providential challenge that must be faced with courage."
"The Federal Republic of Germany," said the Holy Father, "shares with the entire western world a situation where culture is dominated by secularization, in which God tends to disappear from the public conscience, the uniqueness of the image of Christ fades, and the values formed by ecclesial tradition lose their effectiveness."
"For this reason, no small number of people have become discouraged and resigned; attitudes that hinder the act of witnessing to the Gospel of Christ that liberates and saves." A lot of people ask themselves, he added, "whether Christianity is not perhaps, in the end, just one proposed meaning among many others? At the same time however, given the fragile and transitory nature of the majority of the other offers, many people come back hopefully to interrogate and examine the Christian message, and from us they expect convincing answers."
On the subject of relations with Islam, Benedict XVI told the bishops of his "respect and benevolence" for the many Muslims living in Germany. They, he added, "who remain so seriously attached to their beliefs and rites, have the right to our humble and determined witness of Jesus Christ. To make such witness credible, great efforts are required. For this reason, in areas with a large Muslim population, there must be Catholic interlocutors with the indispensable linguistic and historical-religious knowledge to make them capable of establishing a dialogue with Muslims. And it is of course clear that such dialogue requires, in the first place, a profound knowledge of their own Catholic faith."
The Pope then proceeded to consider the question of religious education, Catholic schools and the formation of Catholic adults. "Religious education curricula," he said, "must be guided by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is of fundamental importance that the introduction into a Catholic view of the world and into the practice of the faith, as well as the integral formation of the person, are not transmitted only in the course of religion lessons," but also "through the personal witness of teachers." As for institutions and activities for the formation of adults, care must be taken, he said, "with the choice of subjects and educators, so that the central message of the faith and of the Christian way of life do not get pushed into the background."
"Faithfulness to the depositum fidei, as represented in the Church's Magisterium, is the indispensable condition for serious theological research and teaching."
Turning to the subject of formation in seminaries, the Holy Father stressed the importance of the "introductory course that takes place before the beginning of studies," especially because an ever greater number of candidates to the priesthood "do not come from a traditional Catholic background. During this introductory year, students will be able to gain a clearer view of their vocation to the priesthood, and those in charge of priestly formation will have the chance to form an opinion of the candidates, of their human maturity and of their life of faith. On the other hand, the group dynamics of role-playing and self-awareness exercises, and other psychological experiments, are less appropriate, and can rather cause confusion and insecurity."
In closing, Pope Benedict considered "an urgent problem: the relationship between priests and faithful in accomplishing the mission of the Church." Expressing his thanks for the active collaboration of so many lay faithful who "contribute to supporting the Church," the Pope recalled that "the sermon during Mass is a duty associated with ordained ministry," and that "where there is a sufficient number of priests and deacons, the distribution of Communion is their duty."
"Only the Sacrament of Holy Orders enables its recipient to act in persona Christi. This fact must be emphasized with patience and wisdom, and the necessary conclusions drawn."