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"Ad limina Apostolorum": Belgian Episcopal Conference

July 3, 1992

Restore liturgy and sacraments to proper place in parish life

On Friday, 3 July, the Holy Father received the Bishops of Belgium at the end of their ad limina visit. The Pope addressed them in French and Flemish about some aspects of their service to the People of God.

Your Eminence,

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. Welcome to the house of the Bishop of Rome, who is happy to receive you today because of the bonds of unity and communion which unite all the Bishops, the successors of the Apostles, around the Successor of Peter. I thank your President, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, for the presentation which he has made on some aspects of your duties and the concerns you have in common. I hope that your ad limina visit, this pilgrimage which reminds you of the apostolic origin of your episcopal ministry received as a gift, may strengthen the pastoral mission which is yours in the service of the People of God in Belgium.


4. In a secularized society, which sometimes professes an atheistic humanism devoid of a true sense of man and history, the witness of the faithful, the concrete expression of the priesthood of the baptized, is urgently needed because Christ's love which we have discovered must be lived and communicated to people who are awaiting the word of truth. Each one is called to live his baptism and profess the faith of the Church of Christ, Redeemer of the world. Witness occurs through the word in order to give an account of Christian hope, but it also occurs through a life in conformity with the Gospel demands and the Church's tradition as it has been ceaselessly passed on by the apostolic Magisterium, as well as through the practice of charity. Faith and its practice in the moral life cannot be left to subjective determination, each person deciding what is fitting for him, or choosing with whom he wants to live in the Church. That creates a situation of dogmatic and moral relativism which can create serious prejudices, rob Revelation of its objective truth and divide communities.

Baptized have specific role in Church's mission

You watch over the intellectual and spiritual formation of the laity which helps them to grow in their Christian life. As the parable of the sower (Mt 13:3-9) shows us, a faith that is not rooted in an unremitting search, in an intimate relationship with Christ, runs the risk of being choked by worldly matters. Rather, strengthened by an in-depth knowledge and spiritual experience, Christians will be even more concerned to manifest and defend authentic Gospel values in all areas of their existence, especially in political, economic and social life where they are the principal heralds of the Gospel. This is all the more important during these years at the end of the century in which we are moving towards a new organization of Europe, where new bonds are being forged between the States forming it, but also with those of other continents, an organization which requires one to promote the moral dimension of human relations.

The baptized, in that they are members of the Body of Christ, should take their specific place in the Church's mission under the leadership of the Pastors who represent Christ the Head (cf. Pastores dabo vobis, nn. 21-22). The criteria of ecclesiality for associations of the laity which I elaborated in the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici (n. 30) can also allow us to specify the roles of the various partners in mission, in order to avoid situations made difficult by an unclear status of people engaged in apostolic tasks. There can be no successful mission without an organic relationship between lay people and the ordained ministers, a relationship of trusting cooperation among people whose attributes are not interchangeable. Pastoral councils, for example, are one of the important places for such cooperation. Each person has a specific task in the community based on his state of life and vocation. The sacrament of Holy Orders, because it is of divine institution and is the visible sign of Christ who leads his Church with love, confers upon those who have received it the responsibility of service (cf Jn 13:15) and the power of governance (cf. CIC, can. 129) in which the lay faithful can cooperate.

5. In your country many children and young people are being educated in Catholic schools. These schools perform a real public service which local and national political powers seek to support with appropriate aid. Families who have become distant from the Catholic faith or who belong to other religious denominations trust in the Church's institutions for the quality of their teaching. Convey the Pope's encouragement to those who share in this beautiful task of educating young people. They are aware that communion with the hierarchy must help them preserve the specific educational goal of these institutions while continuing to accept all types of young people who want to benefit from their expertise. Remind them that depending on the approach with which it is made, all teaching, even the most technical or scientific, can be an opportunity to hand on Christian values inspired by the Gospel. Through the attention which adults give them, young people should discover the Christ who wants to help them develop the best of themselves and prepare a better human and professional future in order to respond to their vocation. Thus the school is a place where young people form their moral conscience. The direction and guidance of these institutions takes place under your supervision as Pastors, and it is your task to be careful that these teachers lead a life in conformity with what the Church believes and teaches.


Marriage cannot be based solely on pleasure

6. The year 1988, which you had declared as the "Year of the Family", gave fresh momentum to the family apostolate. In your Dioceses priests and many couples are seeking to guide young people in their affective growth and to accompany engaged couples preparing for the beautiful commitment of Christian marriage. They are also helping couples in the periods of difficulty which they may experience. May they be thanked for the work which they tirelessly accomplish. In your country the number of divorces has continued to increase, causing serious trauma and great suffering for the couples themselves and the children. Christian marriage recalls that the marriage relationship cannot be based solely on the pursuit of pleasure. It is founded on the free and definitive commitment of the couple. I am not overlooking the fact that in their life together every couple experiences times of joy and times of trial, which conform their personal history to the Lord's paschal experience, an experience in which the suffering of Good Friday blends with the light of Easter morning. These times are necessary for the purification and maturation of love. You told me of your suffering and that of many of the people of your Dioceses over the new law on abortion, in regard to which some people have taken a courageous, prophetic stance. The Church is invited to manifest, in season and out of season, the greatness of every human life born of an act of responsible love, in which the couples are called by the Creator to cooperate in creation. True happiness comes from the gift of life.

In your Dioceses there are men and women who seek to alleviate the suffering of those hurt by life and love, so that they may discover the tenderness of God which allows them to live in dignity. The priests seek to welcome the divorced and remarried in order to give them the opportunity to live out their baptismal life fully. This welcome, however, which respects people and situations, must keep in consideration the words of Christ himself (cf. Mt 19:6). A second union contradicts the nature of the sacrament of Matrimony, which signifies Christ's unfailing love for his Church. You should ensure that celebrations do not cause regrettable confusions for the couples involved, for their family circle, or for Christians in general.

7. The phenomenon of immigration has at times been a painful experience for your compatriots. In addition to this there are the difficulties connected with the existence of two linguistic communities which must live together within the kingdom. In an era when particularity and exclusiveness of all sorts are more evident, I invite Christians and people of good will to foster peace, national unity and the acceptance of each person regardless of origin or culture.

8. At the end of our meeting, I hope that your week of pilgrimage and your meetings with my assistants will strengthen you in your mission as Bishops with the task of leading and sanctifying the Christian people. Convey to all the people of your Dioceses - the priests, deacons and laity - the encouragement of the Successor of Peter. I want to give a special greeting to the religious. You have told me of the invaluable presence which they offer in many of the Church's services and their readiness to cooperate in the apostolate of your Dioceses. Let us pray that each Christian may fully realize his mission as a baptized person, according to the heart of God. To you and to all your faithful I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion

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