Castel Gandolfo (Fides Service) – “Three key pastoral priorities emerged from the plenary council: the need to be a Church of the poor, the pledge to become a true community of the Lord’s disciples, and the commitment to engage in renewed integral evangelization” said Pope John Paul II when he received in audience a first group of Philippine Bishops from the provinces of Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Davao, Lipa, Ozamis and Zamboanga, on the occasion of their ad limina visit. The Bishops asked to make their ad limina in three groups and the Pope said he would reflect on one of these three priorities with each group, but that the contents will be of course addressed to all the Bishops in the Philippines.
With the first group the Holy Father spoke of the importance of being a “Church of the poor”. “ We do well to note that this preference for the poor is in no way exclusive – the Pope told the Bishops - but embraces all people regardless of economic class or social standing. It is a Church, however, that gives preferential attention to the poor, seeking to share time and resources in order to alleviate suffering. It is a Church that works with all sectors of society, including the poor themselves, in search of solutions to the problems of poverty, in order to free people from lives of misery and want. It is a Church moreover that makes use of the talents and gifts of the poor, relying on them in the mission of evangelisation. The Church of the poor is a Church in which the poor are welcomed, listened to and actively involved.”
In this way the Church of the poor contributes towards bringing about “ social renewal based on the vision and values of the Gospel” of which the main agents must be the laity. “This entails a thorough formation in the Church’s social doctrine and constant dialogue with clergy and religious concerning social and cultural issues – said the Pope adding - As Pastors and spiritual leaders, your careful attention to these tasks will do much to serve the Church’s mission ad gentes”.
The Pope went on to emphasise that “the immediate and perhaps most important arena of lay witness to Christian faith is marriage and the family”. He recalled that the family is one of the most effective agents of evangelisation and it is by supporting the family that it is possible to combat human exploitation. Lastly the Pope mentioned the “unsettling presence of terrorist activity in the Philippines and the abhorrent episodes of violence erupting there” and he told the Bishops: “ With you, I cannot condemn such acts strongly enough. I call on the parties involved to lay down the weapons of death and destruction, rejecting the despair and hatred which these entail, and to take up the arms of mutual understanding, commitment and hope. These are the sure foundations for building a future of authentic peace and justice for all.” He also said that “ In the campaign against terrorism and violence, religious leaders have a vital role to play” and he made an “ explicit call for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation” encouraging the Bishops to increase their efforts to promote “ fruitful exchanges with other believers in Christ and with your Muslim brothers and sisters.” SL (Fides Service 26/9/2003 EM lines 37 Words: 541)