Pope Francis has urged the bishops of Bangladesh to cultivate their relationship with the laity and to be close to them, especially to young people and families who have much to contribute to the Church according to their particular gifts.
The Pope was meeting the nation’s bishops gathered at a Home for Retired Priests in Dhaka on Friday, the penultimate day of an apostolic journey which has taken him to Myanmar and then on to Bangladesh from where he will depart on Saturday evening.
As he often does during occasions such as this, Pope Francis chatted informally with his brother bishops, straying often from his prepared remarks and offering off-the-cuff reflections to highlight some of the main points of his message.
At the heart of his discourse the Pope asked the bishops to show “even greater pastoral closeness to the lay faithful.”
“Recognize and value the charisms of lay men and women, and encourage them to put their gifts at the service of the Church and of society as a whole” he said as it is they who reflect the cultural, social and economic reality of a country.
He asked them also to increase and develop what he called “a third way in the Church: the way of consecrated life” as consecrated persons, he said, have a crucial contribution to make to Catholic life in the nation.
And, in a country where Catholics are a tiny minority - just 0.2 percent – of the population and where the Church counts only 12 bishops and 372 priests, there are almost 1 and a half thousand catechists and almost as many lay missionaries, Francis did not forget to shine the light on the precious apostolate of “many dedicated catechists” whom, he said, are essential for the growth of the faith and for the Christian formation of the next generation.
The Pope also focused on the need for the Church to accompany young people and for bishops to “think about how best to share with our young people the joy, the truth and the beauty of our faith,” he said they must make sure that young people know their roots so they can nourish them and transmit their fruits.
“Encourage them, he said, to spend time with their grandparents and with elder priests.”
And praising the Bangladeshi Church’s outreach to families he said “the people of this country are known for their love of family, their sense of hospitality, the respect they show to parents and grandparents, and the care they give to the aged, the infirm and the vulnerable.”
He commended what he called the “farsighted” 1985 “Pastoral Plan for the Church in Bangladesh,” which he said, “laid out the evangelical principles and priorities that have guided the life and mission of the Church in this young nation” with its preferential option for the poor, but he emphasized, “in light of the present refugee crisis, we see how much more needs to be done!”