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THE POPE'S ADDRESS TO A GROUP OF BISHOPS OF MEXICO (EXCERPT)

Do not be silent in the face of those who defend only certain aspects of life, while in reality they attack the sanctity of marriage itself

On February 25, 1989 the Holy Father received group of bishops from Mexico on the occasion of their visit "ad limina Apostolorum". After having listened to the greetings and message delivered by the Archbishop of Hermosillo, Most Rev. Carlos Quintero Arce, the Holy Father gave his address. Following is an excerpt.

My dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. The Lord has granted us the grace of this meeting, pastors of the Church in Mexico, marking the end of your "ad limina" visit with which you have sought to renew and give witness to your joy and commitment to ecclesial unity. As we have done around the altar in the celebration of the Eucharist, we do not cease thanking God who allows us to share apostolic longings, successes and failures, joys and sadnesses, needs and hopes, both your own and those of the people of your dioceses.

I wish to thank you particularly for the sentiments of affection and ecclesial communion which Mons. Carlos Quintero Arce, the Archbishop of Hermosillo, has expressed in your name at the beginning of this meeting, which strengthens yet more your union with the "Church that presides in charity" and offers me, the Successor of Peter, the welcome opportunity to fulfil the command of the Lord to confirm my brothers in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32).

Teachers, pontiffs and pastors

2. In the Church, the sacrament of unity, you, my brother bishops, have been "designated by the Holy Spirit" and you have been "commissioned to perpetuate the work of Christ, the eternal Pastor" (Christus Dominus, 2).

By your very status as "teachers of the faith, pontiffs, and pastors" (ibid.) you must offer at all times a clear witness of lives consecrated to God and to the Church. The bishop is the teacher of truth in the Church, because he proclaims it with his lips and bears witness to it with his life. This carries with it the necessity to probe still more deeply into the content of the deposit of faith, in order to communicate it faithfully to the modern man, establishing a continual dialogue that may more readily open up the path of salvation to those who have been entrusted to your pastoral care. This pastoral concern will always lead you to a deeper understanding of your communities, particularly in today's difficult situations, sharing with them their problems and hopes, their worries and successes, sharing with them the very sources of their suffering, and ever pouring forth mercy and kindness on the poorest and most abandoned.

You are pastors of the great family of God, and just as Christ was, so you must be ready to offer your very lives for the unity of the whole Church, in accordance with the desire of the Lord in his priestly prayer. "May they be one, Father, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21).

The charity and profound communion among you, pastors of the Church in Mexico, should be manifested in selfless dedication to those around you in a solicitous and personal love for the people of your dioceses, committed laity, seminarians pastoral workers, religious. As the conciliar Decree exhorts us concerning the pastoral office of bishops, "A bishop should be solicitous for the welfare -- spiritual, intellectual, and material -- of his priests, so that they may live holy and pious lives, and exercise a faithful and fruitful ministry" (Christus Dominus, 16).

3. In my meeting with the first group of Mexican bishops in the month of September, at which I had the added joy of beatifying Father Miguel Augustin Pro, we reflected on the importance, both for the present and the future of the Church in your country, of the promotion of priestly vocations and their formation in seminaries. Today I wish to share with you my concern as Pastor of the whole Church for that basic cell of the Church and society that is marriage and the family.

In this regard the historic Puebla Conference comes immediately to mind; among its pastoral and doctrinal guidelines, it did not forget the family: "The couple", you said in your document, "sanctified by the Sacrament of Marriage is a witness to the paschal presence of the Lord" (n. 583). The person and the family, in effect, are at the very center of revelation and of the Good News that Christ entrusted to us.

4. Announcing the Good News with regard to marriage and family life is an important part of the magisterial ministry proper to bishops. They, as Lumen Gentium recalls, "preach the faith to the people assigned to them, the faith which is destined to inform their thinking and direct their conduct." (n 25). This function of yours is especially necessary today when some of the natural values that sustain the Christian vision of marriage and family life are ignored or not protected by the juridical support of public institutions. In these circumstances the faithful need a more intense formation that will help them to understand the sacramental nature of Christian marriage and the practical demands that such a truth implies for family life.

It is therefore necessary, revered brothers, to translate into daily life and diocesan and parish pastoral activity the consequences that follow from that affirmation that we all share: "The future of humanity passes by way of the family!" (Familiaris Consortio, 86). It will be difficult for the Christian faithful to accept the revealed message and the teaching of the Magisterium on marriage and family life if they do not, at the same time, possess proper criteria for the person and all that refers to his sexuality. Furthermore, in order to explain the specific aspects of Catholic teaching, it will be necessary to present and defend those natural aspects of the marriage institution that pertain to the common patrimony of humanity: the dignity of marriage, conjugal love, the proper characteristics of unity and matrimonial fidelity, the right of the couple to transmit life and educate their children according to their own beliefs.

5. Following the will of the Creator in all that concerns marriage, I want to encourage you in your vigilance in always maintaining and promoting respect for the transmission of life. It is your duty as well not to remain silent in the face of deceitful campaigns that claim to defend partial aspects of life, but which in fact seek openly to undermine the holiness of marriage and conjugal intimacy. In this regard, I want to repeat what I said in Familiaris Consortio: " The Church condemns as a grave offence against human dignity and justice all those activities of governments or other public authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of couples in deciding about children. Consequently any violence applied by such authorities in favor of contraception or, still worse, of sterilization and procured abortion, must be altogether condemned and forcefully rejected. Likewise to be denounced as gravely unjust are cases where, in international relations, economic help given for the advancement of peoples is made conditional on programs of contraception, sterilization and procured abortion" (n. 30).

6. Therefore, a family apostolate, within the framework of the necessary Diocesan Pastoral Plan, requires an adequate presentation on various levels: the proclamation of the Word of God, the saving action of Christ in the sacraments, and the acceptance of, and response to, the gift of salvation.

It is first of all necessary, dear brothers, to be faithful in the doctrinal presentation in our higher centers of theological formation, especially in seminaries and ecclesiastical centers. Those who are called to form or to be pastors of the People of God must strive to deepen, without ambiguity, their understanding of God's plan for marriage and family life, as it has been revealed to us in Christ and expounded by the Magisterium of the Church. A partial or deformed vision of this plan draws us away from the gift of liberation and grace that the Gospel offers us: "The truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32).

Your careful attention in seeking a good program of formation in your seminaries and university faculties will bear fruit in priests doctrinally prepared for pastoral action in which they may put their human and supernatural qualities at the service of the faithful and the families of your dioceses. Whole hearted fidelity to theological teaching and to the magisterium of the Church is a necessary prerequisite for all who collaborate with the bishop, who is always the one primarily responsible for the pastoral care of the families in his diocese.

It is your task, then, to strengthen, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the stable quality of conjugal love, in the face of models of marriage and family life, frequently offered by our contemporary society, which are so far removed from the evangelical ideal. You must continue to proclaim openly the excellence of the Christian model: that the family may be, as you proclaimed at Puebla, the "first center of evangelization" (n. 617). Put all your effort into the development of a pastoral plan for the family that will make of this fundamental cell of society "the place where the gospel is transmitted and from which it shines forth" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 71).

….

I bless all from my heart.

My dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. The Lord has granted us the grace of this meeting, pastors of the Church in Mexico, marking the end of your "ad limina" visit with which you have sought to renew and give witness to your joy and commitment to ecclesial unity. As we have done around the altar in the celebration of the Eucharist, we do not cease thanking God who allows us to share apostolic longings, successes and failures, joys and sadnesses, needs and hopes, both your own and those of the people of your dioceses.

I wish to thank you particularly for the sentiments of affection and ecclesial communion which Mons. Carlos Quintero Arce, the Archbishop of Hermosillo, has expressed in your name at the beginning of this meeting, which strengthens yet more your union with the "Church that presides in charity" and offers me, the Successor of Peter, the welcome opportunity to fulfil the command of the Lord to confirm my brothers in the faith (cf. Lk 22:32).

Teachers, pontiffs and pastors

2. In the Church, the sacrament of unity, you, my brother bishops, have been "designated by the Holy Spirit" and you have been "commissioned to perpetuate the work of Christ, the eternal Pastor" (Christus Dominus, 2).

By your very status as "teachers of the faith, pontiffs, and pastors" (ibid.) you must offer at all times a clear witness of lives consecrated to God and to the Church. The bishop is the teacher of truth in the Church, because he proclaims it with his lips and bears witness to it with his life. This carries with it the necessity to probe still more deeply into the content of the deposit of faith, in order to communicate it faithfully to the modern man, establishing a continual dialogue that may more readily open up the path of salvation to those who have been entrusted to your pastoral care. This pastoral concern will always lead you to a deeper understanding of your communities, particularly in today's difficult situations, sharing with them their problems and hopes, their worries and successes, sharing with them the very sources of their suffering, and ever pouring forth mercy and kindness on the poorest and most abandoned.

You are pastors of the great family of God, and just as Christ was, so you must be ready to offer your very lives for the unity of the whole Church, in accordance with the desire of the Lord in his priestly prayer. "May they be one, Father, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21).

The charity and profound communion among you, pastors of the Church in Mexico, should be manifested in selfless dedication to those around you in a solicitous and personal love for the people of your dioceses, committed laity, seminarians pastoral workers, religious. As the conciliar Decree exhorts us concerning the pastoral office of bishops, "A bishop should be solicitous for the welfare -- spiritual, intellectual, and material -- of his priests, so that they may live holy and pious lives, and exercise a faithful and fruitful ministry" (Christus Dominus, 16).

3. In my meeting with the first group of Mexican bishops in the month of September, at which I had the added joy of beatifying Father Miguel Augustin Pro, we reflected on the importance, both for the present and the future of the Church in your country, of the promotion of priestly vocations and their formation in seminaries. Today I wish to share with you my concern as Pastor of the whole Church for that basic cell of the Church and society that is marriage and the family.

In this regard the historic Puebla Conference comes immediately to mind; among its pastoral and doctrinal guidelines, it did not forget the family: "The couple", you said in your document, "sanctified by the Sacrament of Marriage is a witness to the paschal presence of the Lord" (n. 583). The person and the family, in effect, are at the very center of revelation and of the Good News that Christ entrusted to us.

4. Announcing the Good News with regard to marriage and family life is an important part of the magisterial ministry proper to bishops. They, as Lumen Gentium recalls, "preach the faith to the people assigned to them, the faith which is destined to inform their thinking and direct their conduct." (n 25). This function of yours is especially necessary today when some of the natural values that sustain the Christian vision of marriage and family life are ignored or not protected by the juridical support of public institutions. In these circumstances the faithful need a more intense formation that will help them to understand the sacramental nature of Christian marriage and the practical demands that such a truth implies for family life.

It is therefore necessary, revered brothers, to translate into daily life and diocesan and parish pastoral activity the consequences that follow from that affirmation that we all share: "The future of humanity passes by way of the family!" (Familiaris Consortio, 86). It will be difficult for the Christian faithful to accept the revealed message and the teaching of the Magisterium on marriage and family life if they do not, at the same time, possess proper criteria for the person and all that refers to his sexuality. Furthermore, in order to explain the specific aspects of Catholic teaching, it will be necessary to present and defend those natural aspects of the marriage institution that pertain to the common patrimony of humanity: the dignity of marriage, conjugal love, the proper characteristics of unity and matrimonial fidelity, the right of the couple to transmit life and educate their children according to their own beliefs.

5. Following the will of the Creator in all that concerns marriage, I want to encourage you in your vigilance in always maintaining and promoting respect for the transmission of life. It is your duty as well not to remain silent in the face of deceitful campaigns that claim to defend partial aspects of life, but which in fact seek openly to undermine the holiness of marriage and conjugal intimacy. In this regard, I want to repeat what I said in Familiaris Consortio: " The Church condemns as a grave offence against human dignity and justice all those activities of governments or other public authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of couples in deciding about children. Consequently any violence applied by such authorities in favor of contraception or, still worse, of sterilization and procured abortion, must be altogether condemned and forcefully rejected. Likewise to be denounced as gravely unjust are cases where, in international relations, economic help given for the advancement of peoples is made conditional on programs of contraception, sterilization and procured abortion" (n. 30).

6. Therefore, a family apostolate, within the framework of the necessary Diocesan Pastoral Plan, requires an adequate presentation on various levels: the proclamation of the Word of God, the saving action of Christ in the sacraments, and the acceptance of, and response to, the gift of salvation.

It is first of all necessary, dear brothers, to be faithful in the doctrinal presentation in our higher centers of theological formation, especially in seminaries and ecclesiastical centers. Those who are called to form or to be pastors of the People of God must strive to deepen, without ambiguity, their understanding of God's plan for marriage and family life, as it has been revealed to us in Christ and expounded by the Magisterium of the Church. A partial or deformed vision of this plan draws us away from the gift of liberation and grace that the Gospel offers us: "The truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32).

Your careful attention in seeking a good program of formation in your seminaries and university faculties will bear fruit in priests doctrinally prepared for pastoral action in which they may put their human and supernatural qualities at the service of the faithful and the families of your dioceses. Whole hearted fidelity to theological teaching and to the magisterium of the Church is a necessary prerequisite for all who collaborate with the bishop, who is always the one primarily responsible for the pastoral care of the families in his diocese.

It is your task, then, to strengthen, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the stable quality of conjugal love, in the face of models of marriage and family life, frequently offered by our contemporary society, which are so far removed from the evangelical ideal. You must continue to proclaim openly the excellence of the Christian model: that the family may be, as you proclaimed at Puebla, the "first center of evangelization" (n. 617). Put all your effort into the development of a pastoral plan for the family that will make of this fundamental cell of society "the place where the gospel is transmitted and from which it shines forth" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 71).

….

I bless all from my heart.

Priests for Life
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