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POPE-SWITZERLAND (UPDATED) Nov-8-2006 (750 words) xxxi

Pope tells Swiss bishops to react to secular influences in society

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In many rich nations, Christians are left to wonder whether God will disappear completely from people's lives, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"We see the emptying of churches, seminaries and convents," the pope said in a Nov. 7 homily at a Mass he celebrated with the bishops of Switzerland.

Although outright refusals to believe in God and the more frequent plea of "I have more important things to do" are disturbing, the pope said, the bishops of Switzerland and other increasingly secular societies are called to react.

"The problems can be resolved if God is at the center, if he becomes the measure we use," the pope told the bishops, who were concluding their 2005 "ad limina" visits to report on the status of their dioceses. The 2005 visits were interrupted by the hospitalization and death of Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict said modern people refuse to believe or to live their faith fully because they do not really know God, and they have never really experienced his love for them.

"Our task is to help so that people can taste, can feel again" the goodness and greatness of God, he said.

"There are many problems that can be listed and that must be resolved," the pope said. "But none of them will be resolved if God is not placed at the center (of attention), if God does not become visible again in the world, if he does not become the determining factor in our own lives and if he does not enter the world through us."

The story of God's action in the world -- from the very beginning -- is a story of apparent failure, the pope said.

God gives people freedom, he said, and "they continually say 'no.' But the creativity of God, the creative force of his love is greater than the human 'no.'"

"With every human 'no,' a new dimension of his love is shown," from the sending of the prophets and the law to the full revelation of his love in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, the pope said.

Pope Benedict said the bishops and all who want to bring others to Christ must learn to live like Christ did, to love others, to be joyful and to trust that others will be attracted to faith in him.

"If we are able to do this, then even in the midst of many who say 'no,' we will find men and women who are awaiting him," the pope said.

After the Mass, the pope continued to speak at length and without a text about the challenges facing the church in Switzerland and other nations marked by a "secular society."

The pope said that in the West 50 or 60 years ago, it was taken for granted that people believed in God and practiced a religion, "but today the contrary is true."

"The faith of the church seems to be something of the past," he said, adding that even practicing Catholics "think they can choose the teachings they believe are useful" and let others slip by unobserved.

Particularly noticeable, he said, is a belief that if people are good to others they fulfill all their obligations to God.

While "not everyone can understand everything the church teaches and not everything has to be relevant to all," he said, it is important that the church and its members understand that the faith is one and that being Catholic means accepting what the church teaches.

"Christianity is not a big box of assorted things" to be rummaged through, he said, but is an attempt to reveal to the world the true identity of God and his plan for creation.

Pope Benedict also spoke about questions raised as to why qualified laypeople cannot preach the homily during Mass.

The pope said, "I can understand" the priest might be tired from preaching at several Masses, or is old or weak, and that an exemplary layperson might be a better speaker and truly knowledgeable about the Scriptures, "so people might even benefit" from not having the priest preach.

"But this is a merely pragmatic approach," he said. "The homily is not a pause in the liturgy for a speech. It is part of the liturgy's sacramentality; through the homily the word of God enters the life of the community" and, therefore, it is reserved to an ordained minister.


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