Benedict XVI: Church Does Not Impose Faith

Tells Asian Prelates That Priority Is Formation

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Church wants the freedom to announce the faith, not impose it, says Benedict XVI.



The Pope said that today when he received in audience bishops from Laos and Cambodia, in Italy for their five-yearly visit.

"You carry out your ministry at the service of the Church," the Holy Father told the prelates, "in often difficult conditions and in a great variety of situations. Be sure that you have my fraternal support and the support of the universal Church in your service to the people of God.

"The aid you receive in various fields from older Churches, especially as regards pastoral care workers and formation, is also an eloquent sign of the solidarity that Christ's disciples should show to one another."

Benedict XVI said that one of the most important elements of the bishops' ministry is the announcement of the Christian faith.

He noted that "the recent celebration of the 450th anniversary of the presence of the Church in Cambodia was an occasion for the faithful to gain a deeper awareness of the long history of Christians in the region."

The Pope added: "In truth, the Christian faith is not foreign to your peoples.

"'Jesus is the Good News for the men and women of every time and place in their search for the meaning of existence and for the truth of their own humanity,' and in her announcement to all peoples, the Church does not wish to impose herself but to bear witness to her respect for human beings and for the society in which she lives."

Catholic identity

The Holy Father said that in the social and religious context of the regions where the bishops work, "it is vitally important that Catholics express their own identity, while always respecting other religious traditions and cultures. ... This identity must be expressed, primarily, through an authentic spiritual experience based on accepting the word of God and on the sacraments of the Church."

Thus, the Pontiff told the bishops their priority is the formation of the faithful, above all religious and catechists.

He said that "with a solidly founded Christian faith, they can establish authentic dialogue with members of other religions so as to cooperate in developing your countries and in promoting the common good."

The Bishop of Rome also addressed the issues of education and family.

"Appropriate preparation for Christian marriage is particularly important," he said.

He encouraged the prelates to teach young people "family values such as filial respect, love and care for the aged and the sick, love of children and harmony, [which] are held in high esteem in all Asian cultures and religious traditions."

Benedict XVI concluded with an appeal to care for the underprivileged, calling this "a specific sign of the authenticity" of faith.

The Church's social activities, he said, "enjoy the appreciation of the population and of the authorities" because "they eloquently highlight God's love for all human beings with distinction. Therefore, it is very important that the Church's charitable work maintains all of its splendor and does not become just another form of social assistance."