Catholic News Service
LEON, Mexico — Pope Benedict XVI thanked Latin America’s bishops for their hard work in a troubled region and urged them to continue the evangelization campaign he launched with them at their first meeting five years earlier.
The pope spoke during a vespers service at Leon’s cathedral March 25, the second and last full day of his visit to Mexico. The congregation included about 130 Mexican bishops, along with representatives of other national conferences in the Latin American bishops’ council, CELAM.
Pope Benedict said the bishops deserved the “gratitude and admiration” due to “those who sow the Gospel amid thorns, some in the form of persecution, others in the form of social exclusion or contempt.” He also recognized that they suffered from shortages of money and personnel and “limitations imposed on the freedom of the church in carrying out her mission.”
The pope encouraged the bishops to persevere, citing scriptural passages from the Old and New Testaments as evidence that “human evil and ignorance simply cannot thwart the divine plan of salvation and redemption.”
Pope Benedict recalled his first papal trip to Latin America, in 2007, when he addressed the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida, Brazil. That event launched the so-called Continental Mission to revitalize the church across the region, a campaign inspired by the new evangelization that Pope Benedict has made a priority of his pontificate.
The continental mission “is already reaping a harvest of ecclesial renewal,” especially by encouraging the reading of Scripture, the pope said.
Pope Benedict urged the bishops to encourage their priests and offer them, when necessary, “paternal admonition in response to improper attitudes.” He also reminded them that lay Catholics involved in the church’s educational and charitable activities should not “feel treated like second-class citizens in the church.”
Although his speech was principally about encouraging devotion in the faithful, not tackling Latin America’s social problems, the pope urged the bishops to “stand beside those who are marginalized as the result of force, power or a prosperity, which is blind to the poorest of the poor.”
“The church cannot separate the praise of God from service to others,” he said.
Following the vespers service, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, hosted the bishops at a dinner in the courtyard of the cathedral.
In a speech to his guests, Cardinal Bertone affirmed as a fundamental right the “freedom of man to search for the truth and to profess his own religious convictions, in public as well as private.”
“It is to be hoped that in Mexico this fundamental right will continue to be strengthened, conscious that this right goes much further than mere freedom of worship,” Cardinal Bertone said. Those words were an apparent reference to a proposed constitutional amendment, now before the country’s Senate, that would greatly expand the church’s freedom, among other ways, by making it easier to hold religious ceremonies in public and establish religious media outlets. For much of the 20th century, Mexican law prohibited church-run schools and the public display of clerical garb and religious habits.
Cardinal Bertone’s words were also relevant to Cuba, where the pope was scheduled to travel the next day and where the communist government still prevents the construction of new churches and strictly limits Catholic access to the media.
Human rights advocates in Cuba have been arrested after publicly appealing for meetings with Pope Benedict during his visit, and authorities have reportedly warned critics of the regime not to attend the pope’s public liturgies in the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Havana.