LOURDES, France: Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday warned of the danger of a growing split among Catholics over the use of the old, traditional form of Latin Mass.
He told French bishops that faithful should be made to feel at home in their Church, whether they yearn for a return of the ancient tongue or want to stick to modern languages at religious ceremonies.
The controversy is a particularly sensitive one for the Church in France, where there is a strong following for the late French churchman Marcel Lefebvre, a renegade archbishop who rebelled against Vatican modernizing reforms of the 1960s, including replacing Latin with local languages at Mass.
Last year, Benedict issued a document giving parish priests the option of allowing Mass to be celebrated in Latin with decades-old rituals known as the Tridentine Rite if that choice is sought by a "stable group" of parishioners. Previously, only bishops had that discretion.
French bishops had expressed concern that move could be seen as a rolling back of the liberalizing spirit that was unleashed through the Church with the Second Vatican Council.
Benedict expressed concern over the split between pro-Latin and pro-vernacular Catholics as he met with bishops from throughout France during his pilgrimage to Lourdes. He expressed hope that "the necessary pacification of spirits is already taking place."
"I am aware of your difficulties," Benedict told the bishops, "but I do not doubt that, within a reasonable time, you can find solutions satisfactory for all, lest the seamless tunic of Christ be further torn."
The pope was referring to the unity of the Church cherished by pontiffs.
"Everybody has a place in the Church," Benedict said. "Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home, and never rejected."
Benedict told his bishops: "God, who loves all men and women and wishes none to be lost, entrusts us with this mission by appointing us shepherds of his sheep."
The pope exhorted the French churchmen, ranging from the cardinal of Paris to bishops of rural dioceses, to be "servants of unity."
Benedict "doesn't want dissent to crystalize into an insurmountable schism," Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, who heads the French Bishops' Conference, later told a news conference.
Benedict's 2007 document on the use of Latin was widely seen as an attempt to reach out to an ultra-traditionalist and schismatic group, the Society of St. Pius X, and bring it back into the Vatican's fold.
Lefebvre founded the society in 1969 in Switzerland in opposition to Vatican II reforms. The churchman was excommunicated after he consecrated bishops without Rome's consent.
Benedict has been keen to reconcile with the group, which demanded freer use of the old Mass, also known as the Tridentine rite Mass, as a precondition for normalizing relations.
Some cardinals and bishops, particularly in France, where Lefebvre's group is strong, have publicly voiced worry that faithful might interpret the papal directive on Latin as a rejection of Vatican II teachings.
While flying to Paris on Friday at the start of his first trip as pontiff to France, Benedict told reporters that fears of undoing the reforms were "unfounded." The document, Benedict said, represents an "act of tolerance" for those used to the old liturgy.
Besides use of Latin, the Tridentine rite called for the priest to face the altar instead of the people, among other differences with the Mass widely celebrated after the Vatican reforms.