VATICAN CITY –– The increasing number of Pentecostal and evangelical communities in Latin America cannot be ignored or taken too lightly, Pope Benedict XVI told bishops from Colombia.

Catholics are “called to purify and revitalize their faith” as well as strengthen pastoral programs to improve formation and help people feel welcome in the church, he said.

The pope made the remarks in a talk June 22 to a group of Colombian bishops making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses and hold discussions with Vatican officials.

“Growing religious pluralism is a factor that requires serious consideration,” he said, as the increasingly active presence of “Pentecostal and evangelical communities, not just in Colombia, but also in many regions of Latin America, cannot be ignored or underestimated.”

The pope repeated the assessment made by Latin American bishops in 2007 in explaining why Catholics leave the church to join other religious groups. Often times, Catholics leave “not because of what non-Catholic groups believe, but fundamentally for what they live”; they leave not for doctrinal or theological reasons, but because of the “methodological problems of our church,” the pope said, quoting the concluding document of the bishops’ general conference in Aparecida, Brazil.

Pope Benedict said what is needed is “to be better believers and more devout, affable and welcoming in our parishes and communities, so that no one feels far-removed or excluded.”

Educating people in the faith must be strengthened with special attention paid to teens and adults, homilies need to be prepared very carefully and the teaching of Catholic doctrine should be promoted in schools and universities, he said.

Reviving church traditions, particularly involving Marian devotion, is important as well, he said.

The aim should be to help baptized Catholics rediscover a sense of belonging to the church and reawaken a desire to share the joy of Christ with others as members of “his mystical body” in the church, he said.

Bishops also should try to facilitate “serene and open” dialogue with other Christian communities, “without losing one’s own identity,” so as to improve relations and “overcome distrust and unnecessary confrontations,” he said.

Pope Benedict also highlighted the plight of numerous Colombians who are kidnapped or “have fallen into the infamous networks of drugs and weapons traders.” Insurgent groups in the country have turned to the drugs and arms trade, and kidnapping for ransom to fund their efforts.

Attention must be paid to those who are forced to emigrate in search of employment and to those forced to flee, leaving behind their families because of “the threat of the dark hand of terror and crime,” he said.