VATICAN CITY, 16 MAY 2008 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received prelates from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand, who have just completed their "ad limina" visit.
Speaking to them in English, the Pope pointed out that the mission of their country's small Catholic community "is undertaken within a context of relationships, most especially with Buddhists. In fact, you have readily expressed to me your great respect for the Buddhist monasteries and the esteem you have for the contribution they make to the social and cultural life of the Thai people.
"The coexistence of different religious communities today unfolds against the backdrop of globalisation", he added, noting how "on the one hand there is the growing multitude of economic and cultural bonds which usually enhance a sense of global solidarity and shared responsibility for the well-being of humanity, on the other there are disturbing signs of a fragmentation and a certain individualism, ... pushing the transcendent and the sense of the sacred to the margins and eclipsing the very source of harmony and unity within the universe.
"The negative aspects of this cultural phenomenon, which cause dismay to yourselves and other religious leaders in your country, ... point to the importance of inter-religious co-operation", In this context, the Pope called on the prelates to promote, "in concordance with Buddhists, ... mutual understanding concerning the transmission of traditions to succeeding generations, the articulation of ethical values discernible to reason, reverence for the transcendent, prayer and contemplation".
"The outpouring of the Spirit is both a gift and a task, ... the presentation of Christ and His love to the world", said Pope Benedict, indicating that, "in Thailand, that gift is encountered particularly through the Church's medical clinics and social works as well as through her schools".
"Catholic schools and colleges make a remarkable contribution to the intellectual formation of numerous young Thais. They should also make an outstanding contribution to the spiritual and moral education of the young," Benedict XVI told the bishops. He also appealed "to the many men and women religious who diligently serve in Catholic institutions of learning in your dioceses. Theirs should not primarily be a role of administration but of mission. ... It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that religious remain close to the students and their families, most especially through their classroom teaching of the catechism for Catholics and others interested, and through moral formation and care for the spiritual needs of all in the school community". He also called on religious congregations to ensure that schools "become increasingly accessible to the poor who so often long for the faithful embrace of Christ".
The Holy Father pointed out that the task of spreading the Word of God cannot be left to catechists alone. "It is the ministry of your priests", he told the prelates, "to 'announce the divine word to all' and to 'labour in preaching and teaching'".
The Pope expressed his appreciation "for the efforts of the entire Catholic community of Thailand to uphold the dignity of every human life, especially the most vulnerable. Of particular concern to you is the scourge of the trafficking of women and children, and prostitution. Undoubtedly poverty is a factor underlying these phenomena, and in this regard I know much is being achieved through the Church's development programmes.
"But there is a further aspect which must be acknowledged and collectively addressed if this abhorrent human exploitation is to be effectively confronted. I am speaking", the Holy Father concluded, "of the trivialisation of sexuality in the media and entertainment industries which fuels a decline in moral values and leads to the degradation of women, the weakening of fidelity in marriage and even the abuse of children".
AL/.../THAILAND VIS 20080516 (630)