VATICAN CITY, 5 FEB 2010 (VIS) - Benedict XVI today received prelates from the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, who have just completed their five-yearly 'ad limina' visit.
Addressing the group in English, the Pope commented on the "happy coincidence that the Year for Priests" also "marks the four hundredth anniversary of the priestly ordination of the great Scottish martyr St. John Ogilvie" whose "truly outstanding" dedication is an example for Scottish priests today.
Going on then to praise the "Priests for Scotland" initiative, which seeks to facilitate the ongoing formation of the clergy, the Holy Father highlighted how "initiatives to promote vocations must be accompanied by sustained catechesis among the faithful about the true meaning of priesthood. Emphasise the indispensable role of the priest in the Church's life, above all in providing the Eucharist by which the Church herself receives life", he told the bishops.
"Hand in hand with a proper appreciation of the priest's role is a correct understanding of the specific vocation of the laity", as it emerged from Vatican Council II, he said, noting that the vision of the Council was "that wherever the lay faithful live out their baptismal vocation - in the family, at home, at work - they are actively participating in the Church's mission to sanctify the world. A renewed focus on lay apostolate will help to ... give a strong impetus to the task of evangelising society.
"That task requires a readiness to grapple firmly with the challenges presented by the increasing tide of secularism in your country", the Pope added. "Support for euthanasia strikes at the very heart of the Christian understanding of the dignity of human life. Recent developments in medical ethics and some of the practices advocated in the field of embryology give cause for great concern. If the Church's teaching is compromised, even slightly, in one such area, then it becomes hard to defend the fullness of Catholic doctrine in an integral manner. Pastors of the Church, therefore, must continually call the faithful to complete fidelity to the Church's Magisterium, while at the same time upholding and defending the Church's right to live freely in society according to her beliefs".
And he went on: "The Church offers the world a positive and inspiring vision of human life, the beauty of marriage and the joy of parenthood. ... Be sure to present this teaching in such a way that it is recognised for the message of hope that it is. All too often the Church's doctrine is perceived as a series of prohibitions and retrograde positions, whereas the reality, as we know, is that it is creative and life-giving, and it is directed towards the fullest possible realisation of the great potential for good and for happiness that God has implanted within every one of us".
The Holy Father then turned to consider "the tragedy of division" suffered by the Scottish Church, "the great rupture with Scotland's Catholic past that occurred 450 years ago". In this context, however, he also gave "thanks to God for the progress that has been made in healing the wounds that were the legacy of that period, especially the sectarianism that has continued to rear its head even in recent times".
The Pope also had words of praise for the prelates' "participation in 'Action of Churches Together in Scotland'" by which they aim to ensure that "the work of rebuilding unity among the followers of Christ is carried forward with constancy and commitment".
"You can be proud", he told the bishops, "of the contribution made by Scotland's Catholic schools in overcoming sectarianism and building good relations between communities. ... As you encourage Catholic teachers in their work, place special emphasis on the quality and depth of religious education, so as to prepare an articulate and well-informed Catholic laity, able and willing to carry out its mission".
And the Holy Father concluded: "A strong Catholic presence in the media, local and national politics, the judiciary, the professions and the universities can only serve to enrich Scotland's national life, as people of faith bear witness to the truth, especially when that truth is called into question".
AL/.../SCOTLAND VIS 20100205 (700)