Pope to Bishops: Activate The Faithful

ROME — Every five years, as he does with every country, Pope John Paul II meets with the bishops of America.

He did so this year in a series of 13 ad limina visits. In each, he gave his take on the problems facing America and what can be done about them.

In this special issue of the Register, we’ve summarized his advice on each of the following four pages — and given some examples of what the bishops have done.

The Holy Father used the sessions to encourage American bishops to step up their efforts to teach the laity how to act in accordance with the Church’s teachings so they can participate fully in the public square, guided by a conscience that is strengthened and inspired by the Gospel.

His Dec. 10 ad limina address summed up his message to America.

“Now, at the conclusion of this series of meetings, I leave two charges to you and your brother bishops,” he told the delegation of bishops from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. “The first is a fraternal encouragement to persevere joyfully in the ministry entrusted to you, in obedience to the authentic teaching of the Church. … The second charge is a heartfelt appeal to keep your gaze fixed on the great goal set before the whole Church at the dawn of this third Christian millennium: the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the redeemer of humanity.”

It continued a theme that has run throughout the series: Improperly formed consciences are the result of “serious pastoral problems,” the Pope said Dec. 4. These problems were created by “a growing failure to understand the Church’s binding obligation to remind the faithful of their duty in conscience to act in accordance with her authoritative teaching.”

The bishops have their marching orders: the New Evangelization of the world — and the re-evangelization of Catholics.

What’s Being Done

Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., was appreciative of his ad limina meeting Dec. 4. He said a major issue is that adults don’t understand they need to grow in faith.

“They attend Mass,” he said. “I think they’re sincere. (But) so much more could happen if they were aware of the conscious possibilities of the faith in their lives and what it can do for them, not only in times of crisis, but day by day.”

Also in the audience for the Popeʼs talk were bishops from Louisville, Ky., and New Orleans, La. Every five years, bishops are required to make ad limina visits to the Pope and curial officials to report on the status of their dioceses.

In the Archdiocese of Mobile, Archbishop Lipscomb admitted, the primary emphasis on catechetical education has been, and will probably continue to be, for young people. But he said that during youngsters’ preparation for sacraments, such as first Communion, parents are urged to participate in the spiritual growth of their children, which leads to the adults’ maturing in faith. The archdiocese also has an adult-education program called “Why Catholic?” that is sponsored by Renew International.

Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans found the Pope’s message to be “a helpful synthesis” of the bishops’ responsibilities toward the laity.

“We are to respect the dignity of the lay vocation,” he said in a written response to questions from the Register. “We also need to try to ensure that the education and formation they need is available to them.”

He cited several ways he is trying to catechize his flock:

 the establishment of spirituality centers that help lay people discern their vocation or provide faith, moral and spiritual education.

 a collaboration with Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans that offers Church teachings to young adults.

 a local television program.

 the broadcast of homilies from Sunday Mass at the cathedral, which are later made available on the diocesan website and offer a reflection on an aspect of faith, moral or spiritual life.

 a pastoral strategic plan that calls for the promotion of Catholic social teaching, including a DVD that has presentations by experts.

Restore Integrity

Nationally, Archbishop Hughes said, the bishops have on the drawing board a plan for the implementation of the National Directory for Catechesis, which aims to localize the International Catechetical Directory for national and cultural situations common to the American Church. He said the bishops have also developed and published documents regarding lay vocations, lay involvement and lay ministry. They have also established a committee to review catechetical texts and a committee on catechesis to address a wide range of catechetical and evangelizing issues.

At its fall general meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to adopt a  national adult catechism.

Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, viewed the Holy Father’s message as a means to get the laity to focus more on the integrity of faith.

“What the Pope is urging is that we restore an understanding of the integrity of faith and the way in which faith informs all aspects of life,” George said. “So this is not simply public life. Public and political life are part of the picture, but also professional life, family life, social life. Your faith should be part of everything you do.”

George speculated that the recent presidential election — in which a pro-abortion Catholic candidate challenged the Protestant pro-life president — might have “heightened” in the Pope’s mind the issue of faith influencing all aspects of one’s life. George added that the job of a bishop is “very difficult,” pointing to a lack of good catechesis that dates to the 1960s, with the failure to implement a true understanding of the Second Vatican Council.

“Part of it is this reduction of religion to its experiential content,” George said. “One very damaging feature of that is the dissemination of the misunderstanding of faith, according to which doctrine is unimportant. Before long, people weren’t understanding (elements of doctrine), not knowing about them, and if they did know about them, then rejecting them.”

He referred to Catholics who don’t believe in the Incarnation or the virgin birth, yet consider themselves to be “good Catholics.”

“Now, how did that happen?” he said. “That happened because we failed to see the train wreck coming. There was a failure to emphasize the importance of doctrinal understanding, of catechesis in that dimension. Everything became identified with experience, with having a good, fulfilling religious experience.”

Pope John Paul II echoed the themes of his plan for the new millennium of the Church in his ad limina addresses — and, aware of the sex-abuse scandals in the United States, repeated his call for courage.

“If the events of the past few years have necessarily focused your attention on the interior life of the Church, this should in no way distract you from lifting your eyes to the great task of the New Evangelization and the need for ‘a new apostolic outreach,’” he said, quoting 2001’s Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium). “’Duc in altum!’ (Launch in the deep). The Church in America must speak increasingly of Jesus Christ, the human face of God and the divine face of man, devoting the best of her efforts to a more compelling proclamation of the Gospel, the growth of holiness and the more effective transmission of the treasure of the faith to the younger generation.”

Carlos Briceño writes

from Seminole, Florida.