(Vatican Radio) “The universal Church expects and needs”, the “missionary spirit”, “zealous generosity” and “irreplaceable contribution” of the Church in America, North and South, said Pope Benedict XVI Sunday evening in an address to cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laity from the American continent.

They had gathered around the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s Basiliaca for the Opening Mass of the International Congress on the Church in America. The congress, Dec 9-11, is marking 15 years since the Synod of Bishops for America.

The liturgical celebration was presided by Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who is also President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. At the end of the celebration the congregation was also addressed by Pope Benedict XVI.

He noted that the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, cited challenges and difficulties that are still current. Challenges such as secularism and religious groups which, he said, are spreading, giving rise to numerous problems.

The Pope noted that there is an urgent need for an “education to and promotion of a culture of life” to counter the spread of a mentality “that undermines the dignity and protection of life” and does not favor the institution of marriage and family.

He asked “how can we not worry about the painful situations of migration, uprooting of peoples, or violence, especially those caused by organized crime, drug trafficking, corruption and the arms trade? What about the searing inequalities and poverty traps caused by questionable economic, political and social measures?”

“All these important questions require careful study. Yet in addition to their technical evaluation, the Catholic Church is convinced that the light for an adequate solution can only come from encounter with the living Christ, which gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth. This is the decisive force which will transform the American continent.

Dear friends, the love of Christ impels us to devote ourselves without reserve to proclaiming his Name throughout America, bringing it freely and enthusiastically to the hearts of all its inhabitants. There is no more rewarding or beneficial work than this. There is no greater service that we can provide to our brothers and sisters. They are thirsting for God. For this reason, we ought to take up this commitment with conviction and joyful dedication, encouraging priests, deacons, consecrated men and women and pastoral agents to purify and strengthen their interior lives ever more fully through a sincere relationship with the Lord and a worthy and frequent reception of the sacraments. This will be encouraged by suitable catechesis and a correct and ongoing doctrinal formation marked by complete fidelity to the word of God and the Church’s magisterium and aimed at offering a response to the deepest questions and aspirations of the human heart. The witness of your faith will thus be more eloquent and incisive, and you will grow in unity in the fulfilment of your apostolate. A renewed missionary spirit and zealous generosity in your commitment will be an irreplaceable contribution to what the universal Church expects and needs from the Church in America.

As a model of openness to God’s grace and of perfect concern for others, there shines forth on your continent the figure of Mary Most Holy, Star of the New Evangelization, invoked throughout America under the glorious title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I commend this Congress to her maternal and loving protection, I impart to you, the organizers and participants, my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of abundant divine graces.

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