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Pope's letter to Malta's bishops

The Diocese of Gozo has published a letter sent by Pope Benedict last month to Archbishop Paul Cremona and Bishop Mario Grech following their ad limina visit to the Vatican.

The letter, sent to Mgr Cremona, places emphasis on the defence of values, the definition of marriage and the regulation of fertility by natural methods that respect the dignity of spouses and offspring alike.

The Pope also urges the bishops to make more priests available for missionary work.

The following is the full text of the letter:

"I was pleased to welcome you and Bishop Grech to Rome on the occasion of your recent ad Limina visit to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and I greatly appreciated the time that we were able to spend together. I pray that, among the fruits of your visit, the bonds between the members of your flocks and the Successor of Peter will grow deeper and that you will be strengthened in your ministry of confirming them in their faith and leading them forward along the paths of holiness.

The approaching Year of Faith offers a valuable opportunity to focus on the faith formation of the people entrusted to your care. The bishop can give a lead by attending to his own ongoing formation, so that he is able to offer the people the fruits of a profound engagement with the inexhaustible riches of revelation which it is his duty to guard and to expound.

Inspired by the bishop's example, the priests will all the more readily deepen their commitment to prayer and study, so that in their preaching and teaching they can communicate the word of God with wisdom and pastoral charity, "not merely in a general and abstract way, but by an application of the eternal truth of the Gospel to the concrete circumstances of life" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4).

The many challenges brought by contemporary society call for a clear presentation of the life-giving message of the Gospel and a convinced account of the way to attain true freedom and lasting happiness: by following Christ along the path of the Beatitudes.

So often secular society proposes models of life and patterns of behaviour that seem to promise greater freedom but in reality offend against human dignity and lead to forms of enslavement from which it is hard to break loose. lt is vital to present the Christian faith as a "yes" to life, to growth, to love, to justice, to all that leads to human flourishing. ln our baptismal promises, we say a resounding "no" to all that seeks to enslave us, and a resounding "yes" to him who loves us and holds out to us the promise of eternal life, gently pointing us towards the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32).

In your country, you are blessed with committed teachers and catechists, both lay and religious, who are ready and willing to give of their time and expertise in order to help communicate the Gospel message.

While sacramental preparation provides a key opportunity for faith formation, the Year of Faith can serve to remind the whole community of the need for lifelong engagement with the great patrimony of wisdom and doctrine that has been handed down to us. Malta is blessed with a rich tradition of Catholic faith and practice, yet there is always more to discover and to learn, there is always room for further growth and renewal.

At a time when Christian values are often placed in question, we must be confident in asserting and defending the truths by which we live, always ready to make a defence to anyone who calls us to account for the hope that is in us (cf 1 Pet 3:15).

In this context, it is particularly important that Christians should be able to defend and explain the institution of marriage, established by God as a lifelong union between a man and a woman, open to life and uniquely suited to the education and upbringing of children.

In the increasingly fragmented culture of European society, the young need to know that they are loved and valued, they need to be deeply rooted in a community that nurtures and supports them, and they need to develop the capacity for mature loving relationships, acquired through the experience of forgiveness and faithfulness, and enriched through interaction with people of different generations and characters, both male and female.

The various movements dedicated to marriage and family life can carry out an essential task, and I know you will continue to support their work, especially in preparing couples for marriage and in promoting the regulation of fertility by natural methods that respect the dignity of spouses and offspring alike.

Ever since the arrival in the Maltese Islands of Saint Paul, Apostle of the Gentiles, the Christian community there has been marked by a strong missionary spirit.

Priests and religious men and women have set out from your shores in their thousands to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to peoples across the world, and the work of the missions has received constant support from the community at home. The modern world still needs missionaries, acting alongside those engaged in the new evangelization of traditionally Christian territories.

In this spirit, I would encourage you to consider releasing some of the clergy of Malta and Gozo to serve as Fidei Donum priests in other parts of the world. Having shared the gift of faith with the people of their host country, they would surely return home with valuable experience and pastoral wisdom for the building up of the local Church.

With these sentiments, I assure you of my continuing prayers for your episcopal ministry. To Your Grace and to Bishop Grech, together with your respective clergy, religious and lay faithful, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 6 August 2012

Benedictus PP. XVI

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