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Don’t let the Church become just another NGO, Pope tells Swiss bishops

Pope Francis said that the country was renowned for peaceful coexistence (CNS)

The Catholic bishops of Switzerland have a serious obligation to ensure that the Church does not become just another non-governmental organisation (NGO), Pope Francis has said.

Speaking of the “social dimension of the Gospel” means applying the Christian message not only to questions of justice and peace, but also to the difficulties people experience in daily life, including suffering and death, the Pope told the bishops of Switzerland.

The country, he said, is renowned for peaceful co-existence, particularly of people of different cultures, languages and religions, and it hosts dozens of international and private organisations working in the areas of peace, labour, science and ecumenism.

Meeting the bishops at the Vatican yesterday during their “ad limina” visits to report on the state of their dioceses, Pope Francis told them, “you have the great and beautiful responsibility to keep the faith alive in your land. Without a living faith in the risen Christ, all the beautiful churches and monasteries will, little by little, become museums.”

While “many inhabitants keep their distance from the Church,” the Pope said, “the majority recognises the positive role of Catholics and Protestants in the social domain: their charitable engagement gives the poor and excluded a reflection of the tenderness of the Father.”

However, the Pope said, the Church is more than a charitable agency and the human needs it can meet go deeper than material goods.

Catholic bishops and priests are called “to give a clear response to the problems of society at a time when many, including in the church, are tempted to withdraw from the real social dimension of the Gospel,” he said.

The obligation to hand on the faith whole and entire includes sharing its social dimension with those who have distanced themselves from the church and with people who are “confused or focused on themselves and are seduced by ways of thinking which deliberately deny the transcendent dimension of the human person, of life and of human relationships, especially in the face of suffering or death.”

“The witness of Christians and of parishes can enlighten their paths and support them in the search for happiness,” the Pope said. “In this way, the church in Switzerland can be itself and not just a great organisation, another NGO.”

Meanwhile, the Pope has also issued a letter to the faithful to mark the Year of Consecrated Life.

During the Year of Consecrated Life, all Catholics are called to thank God for the gifts members of religious orders have given the church and the world, to join them in prayer and find practical ways to support them and their ministries, Pope Francis said.

“Let them know the affection and the warmth which the entire Christian people feels for them,” the pope said in a letter issued for the special year, which opened on November 30 and will close on February 2, 2016, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

The Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court, issued a note on November 28 specifying that both lay and consecrated people can receive an indulgence for participating in events related to the Year of Consecrated Life, going to confession, receiving the Eucharist and offering prayers for the intentions of the Pope.

In his letter, Pope Francis also offered greetings to Orthodox communities of monks and nuns, and to members of Protestant religious orders, who also take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and are “expressions of fraternal communion and service.” Dialogue between Catholic religious and those of other traditions “can prove helpful for the greater journey toward the unity of all the Churches,” he said.

The bulk of the Pope’s letter and video messages he sent for a prayer vigil on Saturday in Rome and the year’s opening Mass the next day in St Peter’s Basilica were addressed specifically to the world’s more than 900,000 Catholic religious priests, brothers, sisters and consecrated virgins.

“Leave your nests and go out to the peripheries,” he told those at the vigil in the Basilica of St Mary Major. “Live on the frontiers” where people are waiting to hear and understand the Gospel.

“Wake up the world, enlightening it with your prophetic and countercultural witness,” he said in the message to those at Mass in St Peter’s the next morning.

“Being joyful,” he said in the message, “being courageous” and “being men and women of communion” are the common traits of the founders of religious orders and are the key to their future.