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Pope's Address to Bishops of New Zealand

9/14/2004 - 5:00 AM PST

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"Suffering the Effects of Unrestrained Secularism"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 14, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is the address John Paul II delivered today to the bishops of New Zealand, during their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.

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Your Eminence,
Dear Brother Bishops,

1. "What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as servants" (2 Corinthians 4:5). With these telling words of Saint Paul I cordially welcome you, the Bishops of New Zealand, and thank Bishop Browne for the kind sentiments expressed on your behalf. I warmly reciprocate them and assure you of my prayers for yourselves and those entrusted to your pastoral care. Your first visit "ad Limina Apostolorum" in this new millennium is an occasion to give thanks to God for the immense gift of faith in Jesus Christ so treasured by the peoples of your country (cf. "Ecclesia in Oceania," 1). That same faith, for which Saints Peter and Paul shed their blood, saw from the earliest centuries the Church of Rome as "the ultimate reference of communion" ("Pastores Gregis," 57). Coming to see Peter (cf. Galatians 1:18) from an island nation so distant, you attest to the strength of that communion which "safeguards legitimate differences and yet is vigilant to ensure that particularity not only does not harm unity but serves it" ("Pastores Gregis," 57).

2. New Zealand enjoys a proud heritage, steeped in rich cultural diversity, yet like many other countries is today suffering the effects of unrestrained secularism. This radical "split between the Gospel and culture" ("Evangelii Nuntiandi," 20) is manifested as a "crisis of meaning" (cf. "Fides et Ratio," 81): the distortion of reason by particular interest groups and exaggerated individualism are examples of this perspective of life which neglects the search for the ultimate goal and meaning of human existence. Your own reports indeed unequivocally indicate the pressing need for Christ's liberating message in a society experiencing the tragic consequences of the eclipse of the sense of God: the drift away from the Church; the undermining of family life; the facilitation of abortion and prostitution; a misguided vision of life which seeks pleasure and "success" rather than goodness and wisdom.

Faced with such disquieting developments, New Zealanders look to you to be men of hope, preaching and teaching with passion the splendor of Christ's truth which dispels the darkness and illuminates the true path of life. Know that the Lord himself is close to you! Listen to his voice: "Courage! It is I! Have no fear" (Mark 6:50). With your hearts and minds firmly fixed on Christ, I am confident that you will lead others from the limitations of shallow thinking into the open radiance of God's love. Indeed, it is only by contemplating the unfathomed beauty of humanity's final destiny -- eternal life in heaven -- that the multitude of daily joys and sorrows can be adequately explained, enabling people to embrace life's challenges with the confidence born of faith and hope.

3. All the faithful of Aotearoa, through their baptismal vocation, are called to share in your witness to the hope that the Church holds (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). There is no better way to do this than through joyful participation in worship. Sunday Mass, beyond the fulfillment of a solemn obligation, is a glorious epiphany of the Church in which the holy People of God, actively and fully sharing in the same liturgical celebration (cf. "Dies Domini," 34), testify to the "supreme day of faith," "an indispensable day," "the day of Christian hope!"

The weakening in Sunday Mass observance, of which each of you has spoken with profound concern, dims the light of witness to Christ's presence in your country. When Sunday becomes subordinate to a popular concept of "weekend" and is unduly dominated by entertainment and sport, rather than being truly sanctified and revitalized, people remain trapped in a relentless and often meaningless pursuit of novelty and fail to experience the freshness of Christ's "living water" (John 4:11). In this regard, echoing the words found in the Letter to the Hebrews, I join you in urging the laity of New Zealand -- and in a special way the young people -- to remain faithful to the celebration of Sunday Mass: "hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, ... not neglecting to meet together ... but encouraging one another" (Hebrews 10:23-25).

4. From her sacred liturgy, the Church draws strength and inspiration for her mission to evangelize. This was expressed with great clarity during the Synod for Oceania: the "purpose of being with Jesus is to go forth from Jesus, in his power and with his grace" ("Ecclesia in Oceania," 3). This dynamic, articulated during the Prayer after Communion and the Concluding Rite of every Mass (cf. "Dies Domini," 45), directs every Christian to ...

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