Pope Cites Christian Challenge: To Proclaim Jesus to a Skeptical World

Meets With Members of Scandinavian Bishops' Conference

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The challenge facing Christians now is to proclaim Christ "clearly and without ambiguities" to a world characterized by skepticism and confusion, says John Paul II.



The Pope posed this challenge Saturday when he received the bishops of the episcopal conference of Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Denmark), whom he met personally in previous days, on the occasion of their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.

"In a world fraught with skepticism and confusion, it may seem to some that the light of Christ has been obscured," the Pope said at the start of his address, which he delivered in English.

"Indeed, modern societies and cultures are often marked by a secularism that easily leads to a loss of the sense of God, and without God the proper sense of man is soon lost as well," he added.

Given the reality, it is necessary to respond with the "new evangelization," which is decisive in "the evangelization of culture," he said.

"The challenge facing you, dear brothers, is to see that the voice of Christianity is heard in the public arena and that the values of the Gospel are brought to bear in your societies and cultures," the Pontiff said to the Scandinavian bishops, in whose countries Catholics are a small minority.

In this context, the Holy Father mentioned the various aspects of the proclamation of a humanism inspired by the Gospel, which implies "marital indissolubility," "responsibility in the face of ecological crises," "generosity in providing humanitarian aid" and the promotion of peace.

"True humanism, however, always includes God," he explained. "Otherwise it will eventually, even if unintentionally, deny human beings their proper place in creation and will fail to acknowledge fully the dignity which belongs to every person.

"Therefore, you must help your respective cultures to draw on their rich Christian heritage in shaping their understanding of the human person. In Christ all people are brothers and sisters, and our gestures of solidarity towards them become acts of love and fidelity to Christ."

Lastly, the Holy Father strongly encouraged the ecumenism promoted by Catholics in the Scandinavian countries, as "the united witness of all Christians will do much to bring Gospel values to bear in society and advance the kingdom of God in our midst."

The Scandinavian episcopal conference comprises 12 bishops representing five dioceses and two territorial prelatures.

Catholics number about 250,000 (mostly foreigners) out of a population of close to 24 million, the great majority of whom are Lutherans.

"The number of Catholics is increasing, especially due to immigration but also to conversions and adult baptisms," the president of the Scandinavian episcopal conference, Bishop Gerhard Schwenzer of Oslo, told the Pope during his greeting.

This growth has led to a shortage of churches and parish centers, as the existing ones are now too small and new ones must be built. An international seminary was created in Helsinki last October.

On June 1, the Church will celebrated the 700th anniversary of the birth of St. Bridget of Sweden, co-patroness of Europe, venerated by Catholics and Lutherans.

On June 29, the dioceses of Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their institution by Pope Pius XII.