The Pope received the second group of prelates from the German Bishops' Conference, at the end of their ad limina visit.
Opening his talk to them, the Holy Father highlighted how, "the encounter with the living Christ is always at the heart of our service, an encounter that confers a decisive orientation upon our lives."
Proceeding with his address, Benedict XVI referred to the bishops' concern "for an adequate development of pastoral structures to meet the present situation." In this context he pointed out how, faced with falling numbers of priests and of faithful attending Sunday Mass, various German dioceses are implementing models for restructuring pastoral care, in which the image of the pastor "risks being obscured."
I am sure, he told the prelates, "that you will give your approval only to those structural reforms that are in full harmony with the Church's teaching on the priesthood and with her juridical norms, ensuring that the implementation of reforms does not diminish the power of attraction of the priestly ministry."
Referring to the question of lay participation in ecclesial structures, the Holy Father recalled "the broad and open field of the lay apostolate and its multiple tasks." These include, he said, announcing the Gospel, catechesis, charity work, the media of social communication, and "social commitment for the integral protection of human life and social justice."
The Pope then turned to consider the question of "announcing the faith to the young people of our time," who live "in a secularized culture" in which God is absent. It is important, he said, that, in the Church, acolytes "encounter God, His Word, and the Sacrament of His presence, and that they learn to model their lives on this basis." As for ecclesial movements, the Pope told the bishops that "we must respect the specific nature of their charisms, and be happy that shared forms of faith come into being in which the Word of God becomes life."
The Church's charitable activity must, said Pope Benedict "be kept apart from the confusion of political interests, and used for the good of people." In this field, he called for "close collaboration with bishops and with episcopal conferences."
"The order of marriage as established at the creation," said the Holy Father, "is becoming progressively obscured today." In the face of a materialist culture, "it is difficult for young people to commit themselves to one another definitively," to have children, "and to offer them that lasting space for growth and maturity which only the family based upon marriage can provide."
In such as situation, he went on, "it is vitally important to help young people to pronounce that definitive 'yes,' which does not contrast with freedom but, rather, represents its greatest opportunity. In the patience of remaining together for a lifetime, love achieves its true maturity. And in such an environment of lifelong love, children also learn to live and to love."
Finally, the Pope turned to the question of ecumenism. "In Germany," he said, "our efforts must be directed, above all towards Christians of Lutheran and Reformed faith. Ecumenical commitment cannot be entirely fulfilled with joint documents. It becomes visible and effective where Christians from different Churches and ecclesial communities — in a social context that is ever further removed from religion — profess, together and convincingly, the values transmitted by the Christian faith, and emphasize them forcefully in their political and social activities."