Vatican City, 7 February 2014 (VIS) – As the canonisation of Blessed John Paul II approaches, Pope Francis today received in audience the bishops of the Polish Episcopal Conference at the end of their five-yearly “ad limina” visit. He referred to the future saint as “a great Pastor who … guides us from Heaven, and reminds us of the importance of spiritual and pastoral communion between bishops”, and invited the former Pope's compatriots to ensure that nothing and no-one may bring divisions between them, as they are “called to build communion and peace, rooted in fraternal love, and to offer an encouraging example to all”, bringing “the strength of hope” to the Polish people.
The conversations that the Bishop of Rome has held in these days with the Polish prelates have confirmed that the Church in Poland “has great potential for faith, prayer, charity and Christian practice”, and that this “favours the Christian formation of the people, motivated and convinced practice, and the availability of laypeople and religious to collaborate actively in ecclesial and social structures”. However, there has been a certain decline in various aspects of Christian life, and this requires “discernment, and a search for underlying reasons and methods for facing new challenges, such as, for example, the idea of freedom without limits, hostile tolerance or indeed distrust of the truth, or resistance to the Church's legitimate opposition to dominant relativism”.
The family, “the place where one learns to live in difference and to belong to others, and where parents transmit faith to their children”, should occupy a central position in the ordinary pastoral care of bishops, also because “nowadays marriage tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. Unfortunately this vision also influences the mentality of Christians, promoting a tendency towards divorce or separation. Pastors are called upon to ask themselves how they can help those who experience this situation, so that they are not excluded from God's mercy, from the fraternal love of other Christians and the care of the Church for their salvation; on how to help them not to abandon their faith and to enable them to raise their children in the fullness of Christian experience”. In this respect, he commented on the need for bishops to consider how to improve the preparation of young people for marriage, so that they are able to “discover the beauty of this union, based on love and responsibility”, and how to “help families to live and appreciate not only moments of joy, but also those of pain and weakness”.
In view of the next World Youth Day, which will be held in Krakow in 2016, the Pope turned his thoughts to the young “who, along with the elderly, are the hope of the Church” and to whom today's technological world “offers new possibilities for communication, but at the same time reduces interpersonal relationships based on direct contact, on the exchange of values and shared experiences. However, in the hearts of the young there is the yearning for something deeper, which allows their personalities to bloom fully. We must work towards meeting this wish”. A good opportunity, is offered by catechesis, which reaches the majority of Polish schoolchildren, who reach a good level of understanding of the truth of faith. “The Christian religion, however, is not an abstract science, but rather the essential knowledge of Christ, a personal relationship with God Who is love”.
The third theme of the Pope's address was the vocation to the priesthood and to consecrated life. After commenting that there are many Polish priests who exercise their ministry in the local Churches and also abroad and in missions, he praised the universities and faculties of theology throughout the country which “provide good intellectual and pastoral preparation” which must always be accompanied by “human and spiritual formation”.
In priestly ministry, “the light of witness can be obscured or hidden under a bushel if there is a lack of missionary spirit, of the wish to go out to the peripheries, with an ever-renewed missionary conversion to seek or encounter those who await Christ's Good News. This apostolic style also demands a spirit of poverty, of abandonment, to allow freedom of proclamation and sincere witness to charity”. With regard to vocations to consecrated life, especially in woman, “it is worrying to see a decline in numbers of those joining religious congregations, even in Poland: a complex phenomenon, with multiple causes. I hope that female religious Institutes may continue to be, in a way suited to our times, privileged spaces for the affirmation and human and spiritual growth of women. May religious women be ready to face tasks and missions, even those which are difficult and demanding, which bring to the fore their intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacities, their personal talents and charisms”.
The Pope concluded by encouraging care for the poor as, “in Poland too, despite current economic development in the country, there are many who are in need, unemployed, homeless, sick, and marginalised, and also many families – especially larger family units – who do not have sufficient means to live and to educate their children. Be close to them! I know how much the Church does in Poland in this field, demonstrating great generosity not only at a national level but also in other countries throughout the world. I thank you and your communities for your work. Continue to encourage your priests, religious and all faithful to have the 'imagination of charity', and to practice it at all times. And do not forget those who for various reasons leave the country in search of a better life elsewhere. Their growing numbers and their needs perhaps require greater attention on the part of the Episcopal Conference. Accompany them with the suitable pastoral care, so that they may conserve the faith and religious traditions of the Polish people”.