VATICAN CITY – The universal Church needs Catholics in the Americas who are joyful missionaries, well-catechized and faithful to the teachings of the Church, Pope Benedict said.
The only way to solve today's problems is through credible and effective Christian witness and charity, he said. Only actions based on God's truth and love can be the "decisive force which will transform the American continent."
The pope made his comments during the opening Mass of a Dec. 9-12 international congress marking the 15th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops for America.
The congress, organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Knights of Columbus, was looking at ways Catholics can cooperate more closely to confront today's challenges in North, Central and South America.
The pope said some problems the whole continent must deal with include increased secularization, affronts to human dignity, threats to the institution of marriage, migration, violence, the illegal drugs and arms trades, corruption and inequality and poverty "caused by questionable economic, political and social" policies.
While the solutions will require careful technical or institutional responses, nothing will ever be fully resolved without an "encounter with the living Christ," he said.
It's that personal rapport with God that "gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth" – the true source and light for real transformation, he said.
To bring that saving message to everyone effectively and credibly, Catholics need to "purify and strengthen" their spiritual lives by growing closer to God, especially through the sacraments, the pope said.
"This will be encouraged by a correct and ongoing doctrinal formation marked by complete fidelity to the word of God and the Church's magisterium."
"A renewed missionary spirit and zealous generosity" will be "an irreplaceable contribution to what the universal Church expects and needs from the church in America," he added.
Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, said the Americas represent a new "post-Christian" land, in which people are familiar with Christ and yet also woefully ignorant of his message.