VATICAN CITY, JUN 26, 2003 (VIS) - The Pope this morning welcomed the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Patna and Ranchi in India and, in his talk to them in English, highlighted the task of evangelization and the need for constant interreligious dialogue.
Noting that all baptized persons are charged with the task of evangelization, of "preaching the Gospel to the whole creation," the Holy Father said: "How unfortunate it is then that even today in many places in India unnecessary obstacles still impede the teaching of the Gospel. Citizens of a modern democracy should not suffer because of their religious convictions. Nor should anyone feel compelled to hide his or her religion in order to enjoy fundamental human rights, such as education and employment."
In particular the Pope underscored the challenge of "first evangelization," saying that the initial contact with those who have not yet heard the Good News "demands of us all an intelligent and credible expression of the faith." He urged the bishops to ensure that they have "well-trained laity equipped and ready to be teachers of the faith." Nothing must erode the good rapport that exists between bishops and catechists, he added. "At the same time, personal views originating from caste or tribal affinity should never be allowed to cloud the authentic teaching of the Church."
Turning to interreligious dialogue, John Paul II pointed out that the Church is always respectful of differing cultures and people of different religions. "Interreligious dialogue will not only increase mutual understanding and respect for one another, but will also help to develop society in harmony with the rights and dignity of all." Remarking that the Church attempts to "dialogue" also through her institutions, schools, hospitals and dispensaries, he stated: "It is unfortunate that some of the Church's honest attempts towards interreligious dialogue at its most basic level have sometimes been hindered by a lack of cooperation from the government and by harassment from certain fundamentalist groups. India has strong traditions of respect for religious differences."
Telling the bishops he is "keenly aware of the trials" they face, the Holy Father affirmed: "It is disheartening to see the work of the Church often compromised by a lingering tribalism in certain parts of India. At times this tribalism has been so strong that some groups have even refused to receive bishops and priests not from their clans, thus crippling the proper functioning of Church structures and obscuring the essential nature of the Church as communion. Tribal or ethnic differences must never be used as a reason for rejecting a bearer of God's word."
The Pope said that he hoped bishops, priests and religious would not lose zeal for their ministries because of the hardships they face. "It is my hope that you will all continue to work closely together. In today's circumstances there is an even greater need for mutual relations. Some difficult and painful conflicts regarding the management of institutes and the ownership of property have arisen in your region. These issues, however, are not insurmountable for those who live the Gospel in a spirit of fraternal love and service."
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