VATICAN CITY, FEB 7, 2004 (VIS) - This morning John Paul II addressed prelates from the ecclesiastical provinces of Lyon and Clermont in France who have just completed their "ad limina" visit. During the meeting, he focussed his talk on the life of the diocesan Church.
The Pope recalled that after their last "ad limina" visit in 1997 many dioceses had "embarked upon an important reflection on the life and role of parishes which was necessary due to demographic evolution and growing urbanization but also due to the decrease in the number of priests."
"Far from limiting yourselves to simple administrative reform," he said, this pastoral reflection "has carried out the authentic work of permanent formation and catechesis with the faithful, allowing them to adapt themselves in an ever more aware fashion to the riches of parish life, and to know the three great missions of the Church": the prophetic, priestly and royal missions.
The Holy Father emphasized that "the whole ecclesial community, and especially the parish, which is the basic cell of the life of the diocesan Church, must proclaim the Gospel, give God the praise due to Him, and serve as Christ did. It is equally important to be careful that the parish community express the diversity of the members who comprise it and the variety of their charisms, and that it be open to the life of associations and movements. In this way, it will be a living expression of ecclesial communion."
"The rediscovery of the sacramental nature of the Church," he affirmed, "which is also 'missionary communion', must therefore be expressed in new dynamics directed toward evangelization."
The Pope expressed his joy at the diocesan gatherings for young people that the bishops have promoted and which, he said, "allow the meaning of Church-communion to be better understood, because they are people that come from different groups, place and sensibilities."
"In order to be faithful to the meaning of the mission, . we must be open to other dimensions," he continued, "paying greater attention to new social phenomena and to all 'modern areopagi.' To better achieve this, some dioceses have decided to unite their apostolic efforts, placing at the service of the most understaffed dioceses priests who are available for the mission."
John Paul II emphasized that "to serve as Christ did is the royal mission of every baptized person and of the whole ecclesial community and this must be manifested in a concrete way in the diocese. In a certain sense, the ministry of permanent deacons honors this commitment." Lay people, he added, "are the first players in this ecclesial mission of service," through their daily testimony to the Gospel and by their work. In political, social, economic and cultural life they promote "relations between people that respect and honor the dignity of every person in all their dimensions. They also show their sense of justice and solidarity with the neediest. . Catholics in France also have a long missionary tradition."
At the end of his speech, the Holy Father thanked the bishops' collaborators, "those who work in the diocesan institutions and who provide an ecclesial service whose missionary dimension is evident."
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