VATICAN (CWN) -- Pope John Paul II has called upon Catholics in the United States to avoid the Western tendency to reduce their understanding of the Catholic Church to political or social categories, and to honor the teachings of the magisterium.

      In a meeting today with American bishops who were making their ad limina visit, the Holy Father emphasized the need to understanding the teachings of Vatican II-- especially the apostolic constitutions Lumen Gentium, and Gaudium et Spes, dealing respectively with the Church and her engagement in the world.

      The Pope observed that there is a tendency in the West to "confine religious convictions to the interior and the private sphere," and that this tendency constitutes an obstacle to the Church's teaching. The mission of Christians is to transform the culture, he insisted.

      Particularly in the United States, the Pope continued, historical factors have produced an attitude in which religion is viewed through a sociological or political lens. That attitude has harmed the Church, he continued, producing an incomplete and misleading "horizontal" view of the Church's mission.

      The Holy Father urged the bishops to instruct their flocks in the "very rich" ecclesiology of the Vatican Council. The Church must be understood, he said, as "the new relation which God established between himself and humanity through the Cross of Christ." Thus the Church held together by communion, rather than mere membership. The Pope added: "One does not join the Church the way one joins a voluntary association." Rather, belonging to the Church means "incorporation into the Body of Christ."

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March 13-15, 1998 volume 9, no. 52         DAILY CATHOLIC