VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic laypeople are called to study their faith, live it and show the world that faith is not opposed to intelligence or freedom and that it is a powerful force for good in the world, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Addressing nearly 150,000 people gathered in and around St. Peter's Square for the 140th anniversary of Italian Catholic Action May 4, the pope said that by focusing on "contemplation, communion and mission" the parish-based organization helps laypeople fulfill their vocation in the world.
Pope Benedict told the members that the importance of Catholic Action, which formed generations of Italian Catholic politicians and social activists, had not outlived its mission.
With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and fidelity to church teaching, he said, Catholic Action members are called to find "ever new syntheses between proclaiming salvation in Christ to people of our age and promoting the integral good of the person and the entire human family."
Returning again to his concern about what he has termed an "education emergency" in Italy, Pope Benedict asked the association to focus particularly on preparing and supporting educators.
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And, he said, in a church called to face the serious challenge of a lack of fidelity or concessions to modern social and political pressures, "be courageous witnesses and prophets of evangelical radicalism."
"In a church that daily faces a relativistic, hedonistic and consumeristic mentality," he said, the Catholic laity must give witness to "a faith that is a friend of intelligence" in the spheres of culture and research.
Before going down into St. Peter's Square to speak to the Catholic Action gathering, Pope Benedict recited the "Regina Coeli" prayer with them and other pilgrims in the square.
Focusing on the feast of the Ascension, which was celebrated May 4 in Italy, Pope Benedict said Jesus came into the world to lead all men and women back to God the Father.
Because Christ became human, humanity's hope for salvation in him is not a dream, but the promise of a certainty, he said.