VATICAN CITY — In an address to the Swiss bishops on Monday, Pope Francis urged them to maintain a lively faith, lest their country’s religious buildings become nothing more than dust-filled museums.
The Holy Father also used the opportunity to encourage the bishops to live their episcopal fatherhood; to uphold the ministerial priesthood; to engage in frank ecumenism; and to maintain the Church’s witness to the Gospel.
“Your country has a long Christian tradition,” he said in a text delivered to the bishops of Switzerland Dec. 1 at the Vatican, adding, “You have a great and beautiful responsibility to maintain a living faith in your land.”
“Without a living faith in the risen Christ, your beautiful churches and monasteries will gradually become museums; all the commendable works and institutions will lose their soul, leaving behind only empty spaces and abandoned people.”
He continued, “The mission that has been entrusted to you is to nurture your flock, proceeding in accordance with current circumstances. … The people of God cannot exist without their pastors, bishops and priests; the Lord has given the Church the gift of the apostolic succession in the service of the unity of faith and its full transmission.”
Through this complete transmission, Pope Francis said, the Swiss, especially the youth, “can more easily find reasons to believe and to hope.”
He then turned to priestly formation, saying the Church “needs priests who, in addition to a thorough familiarity with the Tradition and with the magisterium, allow themselves to encounter Christ and, conformed to him, lead men in his ways.”
Having been formed in this manner, priests will spend more time in Christ’s presence, feeding on the Eucharist and reflecting on the salvific value of confession, Pope Francis assured the bishops. In fraternal life, priests can be guarded against withdrawal and loneliness.
Reflecting on the collaboration between laity and priests, the Pope told the Swiss bishops, “It is good to value and support [the laity’s] commitment, while maintaining well the distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood.”
“On this point, I encourage you to continue the formation of the baptized in the truths of the faith and of their implications in liturgical, parish, family and social life by choosing with care those who form them. This will allow the laity to live in the truth of the Church, to take their place and to bear fruit by the grace received in baptism.”
‘Our Own Greatest Treasure’
Pope Francis then turned to the importance of dialogue and ecumenism, saying this “favors a rich, serene and fraternal life together.”
“We must ensure, however, that the faithful of every Christian confession live their faith without ambiguity or confusion and without erasing differences, to the detriment of truth. So, for example, if we were to hide, for the sake of courtesy, our Eucharistic faith, we would not take seriously enough either our own greatest treasure or our interlocutors.”
The Pope then encouraged his brother bishops to gives a common message to Swiss society at a time when “some persons, even within the Church, are tempted to withhold the reality of the social dimension of the Gospel.”
“It is up to us to present the Gospel’s full extent, to make it accessible without obscuring its beauty or weakening its appeal, especially to those men and women who struggle in their daily lives or who search for meaning in their existence or who have turned away from the Church. Disappointed or isolated, they are seduced by words that deliberately deny the transcendent dimension of the human person, of life and of human relations, particularly regarding suffering and death.”
“The testimony of Christians and of parish communities can truly light the way and support their aspiration to happiness. In this way, the Church in Switzerland will clearly be more clearly itself, the body of Christ and the people of God, and not only a beautiful organization, another NGO [non-governmental organization].”
Pope Francis also discussed the Church’s relationship with the Swiss government, hoping for a continued peaceful coexistence, but also urging that, “by avoiding dependence on institutions which, by economic means, could impose a lifestyle inconsistent with the Christ who became poor, the Church would be able to better reflect the Gospel in her structures.”
“The Redeemer invites us always to preach the Gospel to all,” he reminded the bishops. “We must announce the Good News, not bend to the whims of men.”