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"Church in Germany Needs to Become Ever More Missionary"

COLOGNE, Germany, AUG. 22, 2005 (COL) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today in Cologne's seminary to the bishops of Germany.

* * *

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

I bless the Lord who has given me the joy of meeting you here, on German soil, at the conclusion of this 20th World Youth Day. I think we could say that the hand of Providence has been visible during these days, and not only has it given encouragement to me, the Successor of Peter, but it has also offered a sign of hope to the Church in this country, and above all to you, her Pastors. To all of you I renew my heartfelt thanks for the effort you have made in preparing for the event. I particularly thank Cardinal Joachim Meisner and his auxiliaries, and the president of the episcopal conference, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, together with all who have assisted in any way.

As I said this morning at the conclusion of the great Eucharistic celebration at Marienfeld, Germany has witnessed a remarkable pilgrimage in recent days. This was no ordinary group of pilgrims, but a pilgrimage of young people! This event, which the Diocese of Cologne and all of you worked so hard to prepare, has now ended: and what a cause it is for thanksgiving to God, for reflection and for renewed commitment! The much-beloved Pope John Paul II, founder of the World Youth Days, used to say that on these pilgrimages the young people are the protagonists and the Pope, in a certain sense, follows them. A humorous observation, but one which points to a profound truth: Young people, who are searching for the fullness of life despite their weaknesses and limitations, urge their pastors to listen to their questions and to do everything possible to help them understand the one true answer, which is Christ. We need, then, to cherish this gift which God has given to the Church in Germany, to accept the challenge that it presents, and to make good use of the potential it provides.

It should be stressed that this event, while exceptional, is not unique. The Cathedral in Cologne is not, to quote a familiar expression, "a Cathedral in the desert." I am thinking of the many gifts which enrich the Church in Germany. It brings joy to my heart to list them briefly here with you, in the same spirit of praise and thanksgiving that has marked these days of grace. Many people in this country live their faith in an exemplary manner, with great love for the Church, for its pastors and for the Successor of Peter. A good number voluntarily take on what are sometimes demanding responsibilities in diocesan and parish life, in associations and movements, especially in order to help young people.

Many priests, religious and lay people carry out faithful service in pastoral situations that are often difficult. And German Catholics are very generous toward the poor. Many "Fidei Donum" priests and German missionaries carry out their apostolate in distant lands. The Catholic Church maintains a presence in public life through many different institutions. Significant work is being done by the various charitable agencies: Misereor, Adveniat, Missio, Renovabis, as well as diocesan and parish Caritas organizations. Equally vast is the educational work carried out in Catholic schools and other Catholic institutions and organizations on behalf of young people. These are just a few brief examples, incomplete yet significant, which sketch as it were the portrait of a living Church, the Church which gave birth to us in faith and which we have the honor and the joy to serve.

We know that on the face of this Church there are unfortunately also wrinkles, shadows that obscure her splendor. These too we should keep before us, in a spirit of unfailing love, at this moment of celebration and thanksgiving. Secularism and de-Christianization continue to advance. The influence of Catholic ethics and morals is in constant decline. Many people abandon the Church or, if they remain, they accept only a part of Catholic teaching. The religious situation in the East is particularly worrying, since the majority of the population is unbaptized and has no contact with the Church. In each of these problems we recognize a fresh challenge.

You yourselves are more aware of this than anyone, as is evident from your pastoral letter of Sept. 21, 2004, in commemoration of the 1,250th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Boniface. In that letter, quoting the Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, you stated that "we have become a mission territory." As a native of this country that I hold so dear, I feel particularly affected by its problems. Today I want to assure you of my affection and solidarity, along with that of the entire College of Bishops, and I encourage you to remain united and to persevere undaunted in your mission. The Church in Germany needs to become ever more missionary, committed to finding the best ways to pass on the faith to future generations.

This is the panorama that World Youth Day opens up before us: It invites us to look to the future. For the Church, and especially for pastors, parents and educators, young people are a living call to faith and hope. My venerable Predecessor, in choosing for this 20th World Youth Day the theme: "We Have Come To Worship Him" (Matthew 2:2), implicitly confirmed this call. He marked out a clear path for young people to follow. He urged them to seek Christ, with the Magi as their model; he invited them to follow the star, a reflection of Christ in the firmament of personal and social life; he trained them, by his strong but gentle example, to bend the knee before God made man, the Son of the Virgin Mary, and to acknowledge in him the Redeemer of humanity.

That same model which he proposed to young people, John Paul II also offered to their pastors, as a means of guiding their ministry among the younger generation and the whole family of the Church. The Way, the Truth and the Life which everyone seeks, particularly every young person, have been entrusted to us pastors by Christ himself, who has made us his witnesses and ministers of his Gospel (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Consequently we must neither lessen the intensity of the search nor conceal the truth, but rather maintain the fruitful tension that exists between these two poles: a tension that corresponds profoundly to the character of modern man. With the light and strength that come from this gift, namely the Gospel which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly makes alive and active, we can proclaim Christ fearlessly and invite everyone not to be afraid to open their hearts to him, for we are convinced that in him is found the fullness of life and happiness.

This means being a Church open to the future, and therefore one full of promise for coming generations. Young people, in fact, are not looking for a Church which panders to youth but one which is truly young in spirit; a Church completely open to Christ, the new Man. This is the commitment that we wish to make today, at this truly significant moment, at the conclusion of this great event for youth, an event which has forced us to think about the future of the Church and of society. It is in this positive and hope-filled light that we can confidently confront the most difficult issues facing the Church in Germany. Once again young people are providing us, their pastors, with a salutary stimulus, for they are asking us to be consistent, united and courageous. We for our part must train them in patience, in discernment, in healthy realism. Yet there can be no false compromise, no watering down of the Gospel.

Dear Brothers, the experience of the last 20 years has taught us that every World Youth Day represents a kind of new beginning for the pastoral care of young people in the host country. Preparing for the event mobilizes people and resources and celebrating it brings about a surge of enthusiasm that needs to be channeled in the best possible way. It contains enormous potential energy which can grow greater the wider it spreads. Here I am thinking of parishes, lay associations, movements; and of priests, religious, catechists and youth workers. I imagine that in Germany an enormous number of them have been involved in this event. I pray that for everyone it will be the occasion of a real growth in love for Christ and for the Church, and I encourage all to continue to cooperate, in a renewed spirit of service, for the improved pastoral care of young people.

The majority of young Germans live in comfortable social and economic circumstances, yet difficult situations are not lacking. In all social strata a growing number of young people come from broken families. Unemployment among young people in Germany has unfortunately increased. Moreover many young men and women find themselves confused, lacking real answers to their questions about the meaning of life and death, about their present and their future. Many of the ideas put forward by modern society have led nowhere, and many young people have ended up mired in alcohol and drugs or in the clutches of extremist groups. Some young Germans, especially in the East, have never had a personal encounter with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Even in traditionally Catholic areas, the teaching of religion and catechesis do not always manage to forge lasting bonds between young people and the Church community. For this reason the Church in Germany is committed to finding new ways of reaching out to young people in order to proclaim Christ to them. World Youth Day is always, to use an expression dear to Pope John Paul II, an outstanding "laboratory" for this.

It is also a laboratory of vocations, because in the course of these days the Lord will not have failed to make his call heard in the hearts of many young people. It is a call which naturally must be received and internalized, if it is to put forth deep roots and thus bear good and lasting fruit. So many of the testimonies of young people and couples show that the experience of these world meetings, when it unfolds within a journey of faith, discernment and ecclesial service, can lead to mature decisions for marriage, religious life, priestly and missionary service. In the light of the shortage of priests and religious, which is reaching dramatic proportions here in Germany, I encourage you, dear brothers, to promote the pastoral care of vocations with renewed vigor, in order to reach parishes, educational centers and families.

The pastoral care of young people and of vocations is ultimately connected with that of the family. I am saying nothing new when I observe that the family today faces many problems and difficulties. I warmly exhort you not to be discouraged, but to carry out with confidence your commitment to support the Christian family. The goal we seek is to ensure that married couples are able to accomplish their mission fully, and particularly the evangelization of children and young people.

Among young people, an important role is played by associations and movements, which are clearly a source of great enrichment. The Church must value them and at the same time she must guide them with pastoral prudence, so that they will contribute in the best possible way, through their varied gifts, to building up the community, without ever entering into competition but respecting one another and working together in order to awaken in young people the joy of faith, love for the Church and passion for the Kingdom of God. For this purpose it is essential that those who are engaged with and for young people should themselves be convinced witnesses to Christ and faithful to the teaching of the Church. The same applies in the field of Catholic education and catechesis: I am confident that you will take care to ensure that the persons chosen to be teachers of religion and catechists are well-prepared and faithful to the Church's magisterium. A useful aid in this commitment to the Christian formation of the younger generation will surely be the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which collects and synthesizes all the essential elements of Catholic faith and morality in clear and accessible language.

Dear brothers in the episcopate, please God there will be other opportunities to explore further the many issues which demand your pastoral care and mine. On this occasion I wished to reflect with you on the message of this great pilgrimage of young people. It seems to me that, having come to the end of this experience, the young people have this to say to us: "We have come to worship him. We have found him. Help us now to become his disciples and witnesses."

It is a challenging appeal, but what great consolation it brings to the heart of a pastor! May the memory of these hope-filled days spent in Cologne sustain your ministry, our ministry. I offer you my affectionate encouragement, together with a fervent fraternal request to live and work together in unity, on the basis of a communion that has its summit and its inexhaustible source in the Eucharist. Entrusting you to Mary Most Holy, Mother of Christ and of the Church, I cordially impart to each of you and to all your communities a special apostolic blessing.

[Translation of German original issued by the Vatican press office]

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