VATICAN CITY – Christians must trust in the power of the Gospel to awaken people's consciences and promote reconciliation, but that can happen only if they hear the Gospel first, Pope Benedict said.
"Faith is the most important gift we have been given in life; we cannot keep it just for ourselves."
The pope spoke during a meeting with 92 bishops ordained in the past year and named to dioceses in mission territories. The new bishops were participating in a Sept. 2-15 seminar, often referred to as "new bishops' school," sponsored by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
A similar seminar, sponsored by the Congregation for Bishops, was scheduled for Sept. 11-20 for bishops named in other parts of the world. Edmonton Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman will attend that seminar.
The missionary bishops include 63 from Africa, 17 from Asia, six from Latin America and six from Oceania.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, told the pope many of them work in places where Christians are discriminated against or even face persecution.
Pope Benedict said he prayed their trust in the Lord always would be rock solid; "the Church is his and he is the one who will guide it in times of difficulty and in times of serenity."
The people and countries in the Church's mission lands are feeling the brunt of the global social and economic crises, the pope said. The Church in those areas is particularly involved in responding to the emergencies caused by rising food prices, famine, and poor access to health care and education.
Many of the people face "cultural and religious discrimination, intolerance and bias, which are the fruit of fundamentalisms . . . that lead to undervaluing, if not denying, the right to religious freedom and respect for the weakest."
Despite all the challenges, the pope said, the Church must continue to live and share the Gospel. That involves offering salvation to others and trusting in faith's power to renew society, to awaken consciences and to promote reconciliation and unity, he said.
"Faith is given so that it will be shared," he said.
Pope Benedict told the bishops that their communities are filled with Christians who are enthusiastic about their faith, but they also need help learning more about it and about how to live as Christians.
"Watch over your flocks, giving special attention to your priests," he said. "Guide them by example, live in communion with them, be willing to listen to them and welcome them with fatherly benevolence."
"Do not neglect your primary responsibility as men of God, called to prayer," the pope told the bishops. "The world today needs people who speak to God in order to be able to speak about God."