To evangelize, Catholics must become ‘better believers’

VATICAN CITY (ZENIT.ORG) — Speaking to a group of bishops from Colombia during their five-yearly ad limina visit to Rome June 22, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the challenge of Catholics leaving the Church for other faith communities. Often, he said, they leave the Church not because of what other faith groups “believe,” but because of “what they live.” He called for Catholics to be “better believers” in terms of prayer and worship, catechesis, and service to others; and also to be more “welcoming in our parishes and communities.” Following are excerpts.

“Growing religious pluralism is a factor that calls for serious consideration. The ever more active presence of Pentecostal and Evangelical communities … cannot be ignored or underestimated. In this connection, it is evident that the people of God are called to purify themselves and to revitalize their faith, allowing themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, … as ‘many times sincere people who leave our Church do not do so because of what ‘non-Catholic’ groups believe but, fundamentally, because of what they live; not for doctrinal but for existential reasons; not for strictly dogmatic but for pastoral reasons; not because of theological but methodological problems of our Church’ (5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate,  Conclusive Document, n. 225).

Better believers

“Hence, it is about being better believers, more pious, affable and welcoming in our parishes and communities, so that no one will feel distant or excluded. Catechesis must be promoted, giving special attention to young people and adults; homilies must be carefully prepared, as well as promoting the teaching of Catholic doctrine in schools and universities. And all this to recover in the baptized a sense of belonging to the Church and to awaken in them the aspiration to share with others the joy of following Christ and of being members of his Mystical Body.

 “It is also important to appeal to the ecclesial tradition, to promote Marian spirituality and to take care of the rich devotional diversity. To facilitate a serene and open exchange with other Christians, without losing one’s own identity, can also help to improve relations with them and to overcome mistrust and unnecessary confrontations.

Assist all who are being tried

“Moved by apostolic zeal and looking to the common good, do not fail to individualize all that hinders the right progress of Colombia, going out to meet those who are deprived of liberty because of the iniquitous violence. Contemplation of the lacerated face of Christ on the Cross will drive you also to redouble measures and programs tending to support lovingly and to assist all those who are being tried, particularly all those who are victims of natural disasters, the poorest, peasants, the sick and afflicted, multiplying solidaristic initiatives and works of love and mercy in their favor. Do not forget either those who must emigrate from their homeland, because they have lost their work or are keen to find it; those who see their fundamental rights trampled and are forced to leave their homes and abandon their families under the threat of the dark hand of terror  and criminality; or those who have fallen into the ill-fated trade of drugs and arms. I wish to encourage you to continue on this path of generous and fraternal service, which is not the result of human calculation but is born of the love of God and of one’s neighbor, source where the Church finds her strength to carry out her task, giving to others what she herself has learned from the sublime example of her Founder.”

Personal encounter with Christ

“If the grace of God does not precede and sustain him, man soon weakens in his objectives to transform the world. Hence, for the light from on High to continue to make fruitful the prophetic and charitable commitment of the Church in Colombia, you must insist on fostering in your faithful their personal encounter with Jesus Christ, so that they pray without faltering, meditate assiduously on the Word of God and participate more worthily and fervently in the sacraments, celebrated in keeping with the canonical norms and liturgical books. All this will be a propitious way for an ideal itinerary of Christian Initiation, inviting all to conversion and sanctity, and will cooperate towards the very necessary ecclesial renewal.”