The Pope commented today on the increasing number of vocations and activity of the laity when he received in audience prelates from the episcopal conference of Myanmar. They were completing their five-yearly visit to Rome.
Speaking in English, the Holy Father noted, "The Church in Myanmar is known and admired for its solidarity with the poor and needy. This has been especially evident, in the concern you have shown in the aftermath of the cyclone Nargis."
The Church had been at the forefront of aid delivery since Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar on May 2, although held back by the ruling military junta that claimed for days that it had the operation under control.
State radio reports 78,000 people were killed and another 55,000 remain missing after the storm. But aid groups estimate that the real number is closer to 128,000, with another 2.5 million left homeless.
"During these difficult days, I know how grateful the Burmese people are for the Church's efforts to provide shelter, food, water, and medicine to those still in distress," the Pontiff said. He assured the bishops that the Church "is joined spiritually with those who mourn the loss of loved ones."
"May God open the hearts of all so that a concerted effort may be made to facilitate and coordinate the ongoing endeavor to bring relief to the suffering and rebuild the country's infrastructure," he added.
Benedict XVI comment as well on the increase of vocations in the country: "The Church's mission of charity shines forth in a particular way through the religious life, by which men and women devote themselves with 'undivided' heart to the service of God and neighbor.
"I am pleased to note that an increasing number of women are responding to the call to consecrated life in your region. I pray that their free and radical acceptance of the evangelical counsels will inspire others to embrace the life of chastity, poverty and obedience for the sake of the Kingdom."
"Similar signs of hope are seen in the rising number of vocations to the priesthood," said the Pope. "These men are both 'called together' and 'sent out to preach' to be examples of faithfulness and holiness for the People of God."
The Holy Father encouraged the prelates of Myanmar "to continue making the necessary sacrifices to ensure that seminarians receive the integral formation that will enable them to become authentic heralds of the New Evangelization."
"The Church's mission to spread the Good News depends on a generous and prompt response from the lay faithful to become laborers in the vineyard," the Holy Father explained. "They too are in need of a robust and dynamic Christian formation which will inspire them to carry the Gospel message to their workplaces, families, and to society at large."
The Pontiff also commented on "the enthusiasm with which the laity are organizing many new catechetical and spiritual initiatives, often involving great numbers of young people."
He encouraged the bishops "to remind those under your care to turn continually to the nourishment of the Eucharist through participation in the liturgy and silent contemplation."
"Your active participation in the First Asian Mission Congress has led to new initiatives for promoting goodwill with Buddhists in your country," continued Benedict XVI. "In this regard, I encourage you as you develop ever better relations with Buddhists for the good of your individual communities and of the entire nation."
The Pope expressed his "sincere gratitude" to the prelates for "your faithful ministry in the midst of difficult circumstances and setbacks often beyond your control."