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"Worries About the Winds of Change"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 20, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is the address John Paul II delivered Saturday to the bishops of the episcopal conference of the Pacific, whom he received during their five-yearly visit to Rome.

* * *

[In English]

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. In the grace and peace of our Lord I cordially welcome you, the members of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific, and make my own the greeting of St. Paul: "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world" (Romans 1:8). I am grateful to Archbishop Apuron for his good wishes and kind sentiments offered on your behalf. I warmly reciprocate them and assure you and those entrusted to your care of my prayers. Your visit "ad Limina Apostolorum" expresses the profound communion of love and truth which unites the scattered dioceses of the Pacific with the Successor of Peter and his collaborators in the service of the universal Church. Traveling great distances to "see Peter" (cf. Galatians 1:18) you confirm your "unity in the same faith, hope and charity, and more and more recognize and treasure that immense heritage of spiritual and moral wealth that the whole Church, joined with the Bishop of Rome, has spread throughout the world" ("Pastor Bonus," Appendix I, 3).

2. Jesus Christ continues to turn his loving attention to the peoples of Oceania, drawing them to a still deeper faith and life in him. As bishops you respond to his call by asking: how can the Church be an even more effective instrument of Christ? (cf. "Ecclesia in Oceania," No. 4). Even where the life of the Church is filled with signs of growth, no effort can be spared in taking effective pastoral initiatives to make the Lord better known and loved. Indeed, families and communities, continuing to search for meaning in their lives, look to see "faith in action." This demands that you, as teachers of the faith and heralds of the Word (cf. "Pastores Gregis," No. 26), preach with clarity and precision how "faith in fact has the force to shape culture itself by penetrating it to its very core" ("Ecclesia in Oceania," No. 20). Anchored in the Christian tradition, and alert to the signs of contemporary cultural shifts, your episcopal ministry will thus be a sign of hope and direction for all.

3. Dear brothers, the vibrant pastoral life of your dioceses, which your reports clearly describe, is an uplifting sign for all. The joyful liturgical celebrations, the keen participation of the young in the mission of the Church, the flowering of vocations, and the palpable presence of faith in the civic life of your nations, all attest to God's infinite goodness to his Church. Yet, with the prudence of a father's concern for his family, you have also expressed worries about the winds of change extending to your shores. The encroachment of secularism, particularly in the form of consumerism, and the long reach of the most insidious aspects of the media, which convey a deformed outlook on life, the family, religion and morality, unsettle the very foundations of traditional cultural values.

In the face of such challenges, the peoples of Oceania are growing in their understanding of the need to renew their faith and find a more abundant life in Christ. In this quest they look to you, with great expectation, to be steadfast ministers of truth and audacious witnesses to Christ. They wish for you to be vigilant in seeking new ways to teach faith in such a way that they will be strengthened by the power of the Gospel which must permeate their way of thinking, standards of judgment, and norms of behavior (cf. "Sapientia Christiana," Foreword). In this context, it is your preached and lived testimony to God's extraordinary "yes" to humanity (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20) which will inspire your peoples to reject the negative aspects of new forms of colonization and to embrace all that begets new life in the Spirit!

[In French]

4. As an inexhaustible gift of God, the unity of the Church shines on the totality of her members as an urgent appeal to grow in a communion of faith, hope and charity. In the midst of cultural changes, which are often factors of division, the great challenge today consists to make of the Church "the house and school of communion" ("Novo Millennio Ineunte," No. 43). That requires of the bishop, sent in the name of Christ to take care of a specific portion of the People of God, to help his people to become one in the Holy Spirit (cf. "Pastores Gregis," No. 43). Therefore, I encourage you to imitate the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and who calls each one by name. Meetings with and attentive listening to your closest collaborators -- priests, men and women religious, and catechists -- as well as direct contacts with the poor, the sick and the elderly, will unify your people and enrich your teaching thanks to the concrete example that you give of a humble faith and of service.

The particular importance of communion between the bishop and his priests means that you always have at heart to manifest to them your paternal interest in their fulfillment and happiness. Your are the first formators of your priests. Your solicitude for the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of your seminarians and your priests is an obvious expression of your love for them, and that will bear much fruit in your dioceses. This special affection must manifest itself by an attention oriented to their personal sanctification in the ministry and the constant updating of their pastoral engagement (cf. "Pastores Dabo Vobis," No. 2). I invite you therefore with insistence to play an ever more important role in watching over your seminaries and in proposing regular programs of permanent formation of priests, so that their priestly identity and personality will be edified (cf. ibid., No. 71). Such an identity must never be based on some social charge or on titles. It is above all constituted by a life of simplicity, chastity and humble service (cf. ibid., No. 33), which appeals to others to do the same.

To conclude on this point, I associate myself to you, praying for your priests and expressing to them my profound gratitude and lively encouragement. I greet in particular those who, in the perspective of an authentic engagement for the Church in the Pacific, have left the parish ministry they loved to place themselves at the service of seminaries. One should pay tribute to their generosity. To priests who, for various reasons, were not able to live the exigencies of their ministry, I remind them that God , who is rich in mercy and full of love, calls them every day to return to him. Finally, remind all your priests of my profound affection for them!

[In English]

5. The history of the founding of the Church in Oceania is the story of countless consecrated men and women who abandoned themselves to the Lord's call to proclaim the Gospel with selfless dedication. Religious priests, brothers and sisters continue to be at the forefront of evangelization in your dioceses. By pursuing the perfection of charity in the service of the Kingdom, Religious respond in particular to the growing thirst among your people for a sustaining spirituality to enliven their faith. Such witness demands for religious themselves daily nourishment from the wellspring of a sound spirituality. The spiritual life, embedded in an order's charism, must therefore have "first place in the program of Families of consecrated life in such a way that every community will be a school of true evangelical spirituality" ("Vita Consecrata," No. 93). Indeed, apostolic fruitfulness, generosity in love of the poor, and the ability to inspire vocations among the young depend upon this priority and its creative growth in personal and communal commitment.

Religious sisters, in particular, have contributed greatly to the social development of women and children in your region. In so doing they have borne witness to those feminine values which express the essential relational character of humanity: the capacity to live "for the other" and "because of the other" (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World," No. 14). Authenticity, honesty, sensitivity and service enrich all human relationships. What I have called the "genius of women" will also enrich the pastoral organization of your own dioceses. Solicitous collaboration and careful coordination with religious orders is now needed to ensure that adequate programs of theological and spiritual formation -- initial and ongoing -- are provided to prepare religious women for their invaluable role in the increasingly demanding task of evangelization of culture in the Pacific.

6. Dear Brothers, during the Synod for Oceania many of you noted with satisfaction that an increasing number of the lay faithful are coming to a deeper appreciation of their duty to participate in the Church's mission of evangelization (cf. "Ecclesia in Oceania," No. 19). Your catechists have embraced with great zeal and generosity St. Paul's burning conviction: "woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16). This passion cannot, however, be left to a small group of "specialists" but must inspire and call forth all the members of the People of God to bring to bear the power of the Gospel on the very heart of culture and cultures (cf. "Catechesi Tradendae," 53). This requires great attention to promoting catechesis programs for adults. As general educational standards among your communities rise, it is imperative that your people grow in their understanding of the faith and their ability to express its liberating truth. In this regard, I am confident that you will give special consideration to the development of the chaplaincy at the University of the South Pacific where so many of your fine young men and women are being trained as future leaders of your communities. Let them account for the hope that is in them! (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).

7. With affection and fraternal gratitude I offer these reflections to you and encourage you to share the fruits of the charism of truth which the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon you. United in your proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and guided by the example of the saints, go forward in hope! Commending you to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and invoking upon you the intercession of St. Peter Chanel, I cordially impart my apostolic blessing to you and the priests, religious, and lay faithful of your dioceses.

[Original text in French and English]

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