by Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The universal Church needs Catholics in the Americas who are joyful missionaries, well-catechized and faithful to the teachings of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI said.
The only way to solve today’s problems is through credible and effective Christian witness and charity, he said, since only actions based on God’s truth and love can be the “decisive force which will transform the American continent,” he said.
The pope made his comments during the opening Mass of a Dec. 9-12 international congress marking the 15th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops for America.
The congress, organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Knights of Columbus, was looking at ways Catholics can cooperate more closely to confront today’s challenges in North, Central and South America.
The pope said some of the problems the whole continent must deal with include increased secularization, affronts to human dignity, threats to the institution of marriage, migration, violence, the illegal drugs and arms trades, corruption and inequality and poverty “caused by questionable economic, political and social” policies.
While the solutions will require careful technical or institutional responses, nothing will ever be fully resolved without an “encounter with the living Christ,” he said.
It’s that personal rapport with God that “gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth” – the true source and light for real transformation, he said.
In order to bring that saving message to everyone in a way that’s effective and credible, Catholics need to “purify and strengthen” their spiritual lives by growing closer to God, especially through the sacraments, the pope said.
“This will be encouraged by a correct and ongoing doctrinal formation marked by complete fidelity to the word of God and the church’s magisterium,” he said.
“A renewed missionary spirit and zealous generosity” will be “an irreplaceable contribution to what the universal church expects and needs from the church in America,” he added.
Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, told the congress that the Americas represent a new “post-Christian” land, in which people are familiar with Christ and, at the same time, woefully ignorant of His message.
American countries and cultures “built upon Christian faith show great failures of charity, dignity and truth – failures inconsistent with being disciples of the God who is love,” he said.
Such ignorance not only has facilitated a culture of death throughout the Americas, it has also “resulted in a mischaracterization of Christ and of the mission of the church.”
The world is “mortally hungry for the presence of the living God,” he said, and the poor or hurting must be able to see the “caring face of Christ in those he has called to follow him.”
The only way the Church can be that hopeful, loving presence is by rebuilding Catholic identity and helping its members to live holy lives that are “formed and strengthened by the sacraments and lived in total faithfulness to the church and in commitment to Jesus Christ.”
“The method that speaks strongest of Christ is love,” he said, so “we should be prepared to let charity be our measure of the new evangelization.”
The Catholic Church is especially well-positioned to offer concrete solutions to communities’ varied problems, he said, because “no other institution lays out a single vision” that can transcend cultures and languages. The Church’s vision is not a political vision, he said, but “a vision of humanity encountering Christ.”
“Diversity is sanctified and purified in its communion in the church by orienting us toward Christ,” the truth and each other, he added.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston told Catholic News Service that while language and culture can be difficult obstacles, “what unites us is so much more.”
Catholics are united by a shared faith, traditions, the Eucharist and the “new commandment to love one another,” he said.
Cardinal Thomas C. Collins of Toronto said that his archdiocese works hard to preserve the diverse cultures of its large immigrant communities.