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John Paul II's Address to Philippine Bishops On the 'Church of the Poor'

9/26/2003 - 3:40 PM PST

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 25, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address John Paul II delivered to a group of Philippine bishops from the provinces of Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Davao, Lipa, Ozamis and Zamboanga, whom he received in audience today. The audience followed private meetings with them, on the occasion of their five-yearly "ad limina" visit to the Holy See.

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My Dear Brothers in the Episcopacy,

1. It is with immense joy that I greet you, the Filipino Bishops from the Provinces of Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Davao, Lipa, Ozamis and Zamboanga, on the occasion of your visit "ad Limina Apostolorum." You are the first of three groups of Filipino Bishops who, over the course of the next two months, will be coming to Rome to "see Cephas" (cf. Galatians 1:18), to share with him "the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties" ("Gaudium et Spes," 1) of your local communities. These days are a time of grace for you as you pray at the tombs of the Apostles and seek to be strengthened in preaching "the unsearchable riches of Christ," making known "the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things" (Ephesians 3:8-9).

My words to you today, and those that I shall address to your fellow Bishops when the next two groups arrive, are meant for all of you in the Philippines whose task it is to "tend the flock of God that is your charge" (1 Peter 5:2).

2. At the beginning of this new millennium, shortly after the close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Filipino Bishops convoked the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal, taking up once more the theme that, ten years earlier, had been the inspiration for one of the most significant events in the ecclesial life of your local Church: the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. In fact, the National Consultation focused its attention squarely on the results of the Council, taking a careful and realistic look at the continuing implementation of the decrees arising from it.

As I share my thoughts with you, I too would like to place my reflections in the context of this Council and the recommendations that came from it. Three key pastoral priorities emerged from the plenary council: the need to be a Church of the poor, the pledge to become a true community of the Lord's disciples, and the commitment to engage in renewed integral evangelization. Since the Filipino Bishops will be making their "ad Limina" visits to Rome in three groups, I shall use each of these points as a broad backdrop for my comments to each group. For you, I shall start with the first priority: the Church of the poor.

In the Vision-Mission Statement for the Church in the Philippines, we read the simple and incisive declaration: "Following the way of our Lord, we opt to be a Church of the poor." The plenary council dealt extensively with what it means to be a Church of the poor (cf. Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, 122-136). It gave a succinct description of the Church of the poor as a community of faith that "embraces and practices the evangelical spirit of poverty, which combines detachment from possessions with a profound trust in the Lord as the sole source of salvation" (ibid., 125). This echoes the first Beatitude -- "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).

We do well to note that this preference for the poor is in no way exclusive but embraces all people regardless of economic class or social standing. It is a Church, however, that gives preferential attention to the poor, seeking to share time and resources in order to alleviate suffering. It is a Church that works with all sectors of society, including the poor themselves, in search of solutions to the problems of poverty, in order to free people from lives of misery and want. It is a Church moreover that makes use of the talents and gifts of the poor, relying on them in the mission of evangelization. The Church of the poor is a Church in which the poor are welcomed, listened to and actively involved.

4. In a very real way, then, a true Church of the poor contributes much to the needed transformation of society, to social renewal based on the vision and values of the Gospel. This renewal is an undertaking that has the lay faithful as its principal and essential agents: therefore, the laity must be given the necessary tools to carry out this role successfully. This entails a thorough formation in the Church's social doctrine, and constant dialogue with clergy and religious concerning social and cultural issues. As Pastors and spiritual leaders, your careful attention to these tasks will do much to serve the Church's mission "ad gentes": for "by the grace and call of Baptism and Confirmation, all lay people are missionaries; and the arena of their ...

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