Pope Defends Venezuelan Bishops in Public Square

Says Mission Is to Give Light of Gospel

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is defending the right and duty of Venezuela's bishops to enlighten public life with the Gospel.

The Pope spoke of this obligation when he received in audience today the South American bishops, in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

The Holy Father did not make direct reference to the tension between the Church and state in Hugo Chávez's Venezuela -- tensions perhaps best symbolized by the twin attacks against the apostolic nunciature earlier this year. In fact, the state's relations with faith-groups have become so troubled that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom included Venezuela on its Watch List in its annual report released May 1.

But the Pontiff affirmed his appreciation for the bishops' efforts to "irradiate the light of the Gospel over the most relevant events affecting your country, with no other interest than spreading the most genuine Christian values, with a view also to favoring the search for the common good, harmonious coexistence and social stability."

Benedict XVI emphasized that political activity is a commitment that corresponds to the laypeople, who "as disciples and missionaries of Christ, are called to enlighten and structure temporal realities in a way that responds to the loving design of God."

"For this," he continued, "a mature laity is needed, which gives faithful testimony of their faith and feels the joy of their belonging to the Body of Christ." In this regard, the Pope emphasized the importance of an "adequate understanding of the social doctrine of the Church."

Speaking up

The president of the Venezuelan episcopal conference, Archbishop Ubaldo Santana Sequera of Maracaibo, in his address to the Pope assured that the bishops "from the point of view of the faith" have worked to "enlighten the difficult path that the Venezuelan people have walked for a decade now."

"As is known," he said, "since a decade ago in Venezuela there has been the imposition of a new political project that is called 21st century socialism, of a revolutionary stripe, which has introduced far-reaching changes in all the dimensions of life in the country. […] The progressive execution of this project has polarized the country and divided it into opposing groups."

"Before such threats, and knowing that the great majority of the population is profoundly religious and Catholic, we have felt called as pastors to issue numerous messages, letters and pastoral exhortations," Archbishop Santana Sequera noted.

Time for hope

Benedict XVI encouraged the Venezuelan prelates to "increase the initiatives to make known the figure and message of Christ in all its integrity and beauty."

"To do this," he continued, "in addition to a good doctrinal formation of the whole People of God, it is important to nourish a deep life of faith and prayer."

"In the liturgy and in the intimate dialogue of personal or communitarian prayer, the Risen One comes out to meet us, transforming our heart with his loving presence," he affirmed.

The Bishop of Rome acknowledged the challenges facing the Venezuelan prelates, added to, moreover, by the global recession.

But, he stated, "the current time also offers numerous and real motives for hope, this hope that is capable of filling the hearts of man."