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Decline of Catholicism in Belgium "troubling," Pope says November 24, 2003

During a meeting with the bishops of Belgium, who were making their ad limina visit, Pope John Paul II said that the decline of religious practice in that country is "particularly troubling."

"Real and serious concern cannot be hidden," the Pope said, as Mass attendance and vocations to the priesthood and religious life continue to decline. In his November 22 meeting with the Belgian bishops, he also pointed to an unsettling decline in use of the sacraments of penance and even matrimony.

In his report to the Holy Father, on behalf of the visiting bishops, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels said that there are "lights and shadows" in the picture confronting the Belgian Church. "There is scarcely any area in the ecclesial life of our country in which positive and negative factors are not mingled, marking out the nature of our task as pastors," he said.

Pope John Paul, however, took a more direct approach, citing the problems of "a society that loses track of its traditional points of reference, promoting relativism in the name of pluralism." In those circumstances, he said, the most important task of the Church is "to introduce Christ" to the people and the society.

The Pope praised the Belgian hierarchy for their success in promoting the involvement of lay people in the life of the Church. But he emphasized that the Church must be careful to preserve a clear understanding of the different roles assigned to laymen and to priests.