The Pope went on to say that bishops have a responsibility to explain the reasoning behind the Church's stance on matters like marriage, the protection of life and bioethics. The Pope gave his speech on Saturday, when roughly 100,000 people held protests to oppose a bill that would legalize same sex marriage in France. The bill would also allow same sex couples to adopt children.
"Your nation has a long and rich Christian history that cannot be ignored or diminished, which bears eloquent witness to truth", said the Pope in his address to prelates from the Episcopal Conference of France on their five-yearly ad limina visit.
"The Year of Faith helps us to grow in confidence in the intrinsic strength and richness of the evangelical message", observed the Pope. "How many times have we seen that it is precisely the words of faith, those simple and direct words filled with the wisdom of the Divine Word, that best touch our hearts and minds, and best illuminate our decisions? … The Divine Word contains those words, basic convictions and ways of thinking which alone are able to bring hope to the world.
"In society's key debates, the voice of the Church must make itself heard ceaselessly and with determination. This must be achieved with full respect for the French tradition regarding the distinction between the respective spheres of competence of Church and State. It is precisely in this context that the harmony between faith and reason gives you special reassurance: the message of Christ and His Church is not merely a religious identity that demands to be respected as such; it carries also the wisdom that permits us to provide concrete answers to the pressing and sometimes troubling questions of our times. In continuing to exercise the prophetic dimension of your ministry, as you do at present, you bring to these debates the indispensable word of truth, which frees our hearts and opens them to hope".
The Pope went on to praise the many French intellectuals, believers and non-believers, who "are aware of the enormous challenges of our age, where the Christian message is an irreplaceable point of reference", and recalled the vitality of religious and especially monastic communities which "enrich the whole of society, not only the Church" in France.
He also mentioned the liturgy and its "contribution to the civilising work" of the Church, emphasising how "respect for its established norms expresses love and fidelity to the faith of the Church. The beauty of her celebrations, far more than innovations and subjective adjustments, constitutes a durable and effective form of evangelisation".
Benedict XVI also turned his attention to the question of transmitting the faith to the young generations. "You are well aware of the challenges in that field", he told the bishops. These challenges include "family and social difficulties associated with the transmission of received faith, those associated with a faith adopted by people as they enter adulthood, or with a break in transmission as when several generations drift away from living faith. There is also the enormous challenge of living in a society which does not always share the teachings of Christ and at times ridicules and marginalises the Church in the attempt to confine her to an exclusively private sphere. To face these immense challenges, the Church needs credible witnesses".
"While remaining aware of the importance of example, you must also find the necessary words and gestures to encourage the faithful to incarnate the 'unity of life'", continued the Pope. "They must feel involved in their faith, that it represents liberation and not a burden, that its coherence is a source of joy and fruitfulness. This also applies to their observance of the moral teaching of the Church, for example in demonstrating the courage to adhere to their Christian convictions - devoid of arrogance but with respect - in the various environments in which they live. In this context, those who are engaged in public life bear special responsibility. Along with bishops, they must be wary of planned legislation which threatens marriage between a man and a woman, the protection of life from conception to death, and the correct guidance of bioethics in harmony with magisterial documents. It is necessary, more than ever, for Christians to follow the path of the common good and to deepen their awareness of the social doctrine of the Church.”