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VATICAN CITY, 12 FEB 2010 (VIS) - At midday today the Holy Father received prelates from the Episcopal Conference of Romania, who have just completed their "ad limina" visit.

The Pope began his remarks by mentioning the bishops, priests, religious and faithful who, "in the period of persecution, showed dauntless attachment to Christ and His Church, and maintained their faith intact".

He then thanked the prelates for their "generous dedication to serving the rebirth and development of the Catholic community" in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, and encouraged them "to show the faithful an itinerary of mature and responsible Christian faith, especially through the reaching of religion, catechesis, also of adults, and preparation for the Sacraments". This, he continued, "requires the joint preparation of pastoral programmes, with a view to the 'bonum animarum' of all Catholics from various rites and ethnicities".

"In this Year for Priests I encourage you to become true fathers to your clergy. ... Be careful to foster communion among yourselves and with them in a climate of affection, care, and respectful and fraternal dialogue. Concern yourselves with their spiritual and material situation, and with the theological and pastoral aggiornamento they need".

Benedict XVI highlighted how "the primary task of bishops is to promote vocational pastoral care, and the human, spiritual and intellectual formation of candidates to the priesthood in seminaries and other institutes of formation, ... also through the careful selection of educators and teachers. Similar care must be shown in forming members of institutes of consecrated life, especially female institutes", he said.

"The flowering of priestly and religious vocations depends to a large extent on the moral and religious health of Christian families", the Pope explained. In this context he referred to "the scourges of abortion, corruption, alcoholism and drugs, as well as birth control by methods contrary to the dignity of the human person", saying that "in order to combat these challenges, you must promote parish consultancy services and organise improved pastoral care of the young".

The Holy Father also highlighted the need "to make a decisive commitment to favour the presence of Christian values in society, creating centres of formation where young people can learn authentic values, enriched by your countries' cultural gifts, in order to enable them to bear witness to those values in the environments in which they live".

"In this context", he continued, "the witness of fraternity between Catholics and Orthodox is particularly important; may it prevail over divisions and dissent, and open hearts to reconciliation", he said. Recalling then the tenth anniversary, which fell in May 2009, of "the historic trip of Venerable John Paul II to Romania", the Pope expressed the hope that "the desire for unity aroused by that visit may nourish prayer and a commitment to continue dialogue in charity and truth, and to promote joint initiatives".

Benedict XVI concluded: "One particularly important area of collaboration between Orthodox and Catholics today concerns the defence of the Christian roots of Europe and of Christian values, as well as joint witness on such themes as the family, bioethics, human rights, honesty in public life and ecology. ... Constructive dialogue between Orthodox and Catholics will not fail to foment unity and harmony, not only for your countries, but for all of Europe".