Belgium Less Religious, Pope Says

John Paul II told bishops from Belgium that the "first duty is to make Christ and the Gospel known" and he lamented that Belgian society "voluntarily favors a generalized relativism."

The bishops, led by Cardinal Godfried Danneels, were received in audience Saturday by the Pope at the conclusion of their five-yearly visit to the Holy See. During the meeting, the Holy Father expressed his concern for the situation of the Church in Belgium.

"One cannot hide a genuine concern in face of the significant decline in religious practice," true both for Sunday Mass as well as the sacraments of baptism and marriage, he said.

The "persistent crisis of vocations" is also present in a process of secularization that might lead one to think that Belgian society "has turned its back on its Christian roots," the Pope lamented.

He described as disquieting the new national legislation that "affects the fundamental dimensions of human and social life, such as birth, marriage, the family, and also sickness and death."

In face of these legislative changes, "which profoundly affect the ethical dimension of human life," the bishops must "reaffirm the Christian view of existence," the Pope stressed.

From this stems the need to develop the theological, spiritual and moral formation of the faithful, starting with young people, he said. However, he noted that the renewal of Christian life cannot come solely from an external reform, but rather from "an interior renewal of the life of faith."

It is precisely here that the priestly ministry "finds its real significance," as the priest must not only "be the leader or coordinator of the community," but "represent spiritually, in society, Christ the Savior."

John Paul II also invited the Belgian bishops in union with the parishes to "spread the Bible among families," and to reflect profoundly on "the importance of the Eucharist, for personal and communal life."