(Vatican Radio) Straight off the plane from Turkey, Pope Francis resumed his daily activities at the Vatican Monday morning which included a meeting with Swiss bishops who are on their 5 yearly Ad limina visit.
The Pope handed them a pre-prepared text and then greeted them one by one. In the text the Pope praises Switzerland’s history of being at the forefront of working for peace, through its witness to cultural and religious coexistence.
He writes “although many citizens are distant from the Church, the majority recognize the positive role played by Catholics and Protestants in the social field”.
Here Pope Francis urges the bishops to look back on their nations long Christian tradition – and next year’s celebration of 1500 years of continuous religious life in the iconic Abbey of Saint-Maurice – to keep the faith alive in Switzerland. “Without a living faith in the risen Christ the beautiful churches and monasteries gradually become museums, the commendable works and institutions lose their soul, leaving only empty spaces and lost people”.
Pope Francis says the mission entrusted to the bishops is to “feed the flock”. “The people of God cannot be without a shepherd” , he continued and the role of bishops and priests is to serve the unity of the faith and ensure that it is taught according to Church tradition. He urges the bishops to have renewed sense of collegiality as a form of mutual support in their mission and calls on them bishops to have a united and clear voice on society’s ills.
This united voice, he writes is important at a time when some people - even within the Church – try to “withhold the realism of the social dimension of the Gospel”. Pope Francis notes that the Gospel has an inherent, original prepositive power and that it’s the pastors’ job to make the full extent of this accessible to people experiencing difficulties in their everyday life – without tarnishing its beauty or weakening its appeal - particularly for people who are searching for meaning in their lives, or those who have turned away from the Church.
The Pope comments on how the Gospel is a powerful force to counter a thinking that deliberately denies the transcendent dimension of man, of life and of human relations, especially in the face of suffering and death. Here, he continues, the witness of Christians and parishes can really brighten the way and support the pursuit of happiness for people. In this way, Pope Francis states “the Church in Switzerland will clearly be the Body of Christ, the People of God, and not only a beautiful organization, another NGO”.
In the text Pope Francis also observes that the faith we have received from the Lord invites us to reach out to those with whom we come in contact, even if they differ from us in their culture, religion or belief.
He notes that “if we believe in the free and generous work of the Spirit, we can better understand each other and work together to better serve society and contribute to peace”. In this ecumenism is a contribution not only to the unity of the Church, but also to the unity of the human family, as it favors a fertile, peaceable and fraternal coexistence.
The Pope adds however, that in prayer and in the joint proclamation of the Lord Jesus, we must be careful to allow the faithful of every Christian denomination, to live their faith clearly and free of confusion at the expense of truth without the differences. He warns against an ecumenism which – on the pretext of “a certain accommodation” hides our Eucharistic faith, which implies that we take neither our own “greatest treasure” nor our interlocutor seriously enough.
He also encourages the bishops to continue their efforts for the formation of seminarians. “We are talking about a question for the future of the Church” he writes. “She needs priests who have enjoyed a thorough familiarity with the tradition and teaching of the Church of Christ” so they can be increasingly conformed to Him. In the text Pope Francis emphasizes the importance that bishops give time to their priests, especially those who have distanced themselves from their bishop. “A simple, true and fraternal dialogue” he notes can often allow for a new relationship to begin.
“The mission of the laity in the Church has an important place, because they contribute to the life of parishes and church institutions, whether as a full-time workers or volunteers”, concludes Pope Francis. He adds that while their commitment and support should be appreciated, clear respect must always be shown for the difference between the common priesthood of the faithful and sacramental priesthood.