Vatican City, Nov 12, 2015 / 03:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Speaking to the Slovak bishops on Thursday, Pope Francis reminded them that the Church is called to welcome immigrants and to reach out to 'the other', including by ministering particuarly to the Romani people.
With globalization, he said Nov. 12, “at times we perceive threats to less populous nations, but at the same time elements that can offer new opportunities. One opportunity, which has become a sign of the times, is the phenomenon of migration, which demands to be understood and confronted with sensitivity and a sense of justice.”
“The Church is required to proclaim and bear witness to the welcome of the migrant in a spirit of charity and respect for the dignity of the human person, in the context of the necessary observance of the law.”
Pope Francis spoke to the Slovak bishops, who are in Rome for their five-yearly ad limina visit, at the Vatican. His words on showing welcome to migrants comes as more than 750,00 migrants, many of them from war-torn Syria, have entered Europe this year. The influx of migrants has led to differing policies, and often a lack of welcome, in many European nations.
“Faced with the prospect of an increasingly extensive multicultural environment, it is necessary to assume attitudes of mutual respect to promote encounter,” the Pope reflected. “It is to be hoped that the Slovak people will maintain their cultural identity and heritage of ethical and spiritual values, strongly linked to the Catholic tradition.”
By doing this, the Slovaks, more than 60 percent of whom are Catholic, “will be able to open up without fear to exchange on the broadest continental and global horizon, contributing to a sincere and fruitful dialogue, also on themes of vital importance such as the dignity of human life and the essential function of the family.”
“Today, more than ever, it is necessary to enlighten the path of peoples with Christian principles, seizing the opportunities that the current situation offers to develop an evangelisation that, using a new language, makes Christ's message easier to understand,” Pope Francis said.
“For this reason it important for the Church to give hope, so that all the present changes may be transformed into a renewed encounter with Christ, that guides the people towards authentic progress.”
He recalled the importance of the lay people in evangelization, saying they are called to animate the world with the leaven of the Gospel, and so “they cannot refrain from opearing within the political process aimed at the common good.”
“To be joyful witnesses to the Gospel in all environments, they need to feel themselves as a living part of the Church. It is your task,” he told the bishops, “to recognize their own role in the live of the ecclesial community, including with respect to the development and realization of pastoral projects.”
Turning to speak of the family in more detail, the Pope said it “faces many difficulties, and is subject to many dangers.”
Slovakia has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe – a fertility rate of 1.33 children per woman, well below the replacement level.
Pope Francis said the Church's efforts for families need to include “adequate accompaniment for all families, including those where members are not present, especially if there are children. As part of the pastoral care of the family, it is necessary to appreciate young people, the hope of the Church and society.”
Noting young persons' “strong desire to serve others and to work for solidarity,” he said this must be guided by pastors “for it to become a living encounter with Christ, in a committed project to spread the Gospel.” Youth “need to have from you a clear instructions about doctrine and morals, to build in the city of man, the city of God,” he added.
The Pope encouraged the Slovak bishops to provide continuing formation for their priests, as they are, “for the majority of the People of God … the principal channel through which the Gospel passes, and also offer the most immediate image through which the mystery of the Church is encountered.”
He said the Church, a “sign and tool of the unity of men with God and with each other, is called upon to be the house and school of communion, in which one learns to appreciate and welcome positive qualities in others.”
Thi s attitude, he exhorted, “is very useful also in reference to the good connections which it is necessary to restore in Slovakia between pastors and consecrated persons, better appreciating the valuable contribution of all religious in pastoral care.”
He also reflected on pastoral ministry to the Romani people (also known as Gypsies), who are often marginalized in Slovak society.
“At the same time, the Church in your country must carry forth the pastoral care of the Roma, through extensive evangelisation that seeks to reach all these people who, unfortunately, continue to live in some ways separated from the rest of society.”
Pope Francis concluded his address by conveying his affection to all Catholics of Slovakia, saying: “I entrust your pastoral concerns to Our Lady of Sorrows, Patroness of Slovakia, and I invoke her maternal intercession that the nation may prosper in peace and in conformity to the best values of its Christian tradition.”