BALTIMORE — Pope Benedict XVI's call for a new evangelization will guide the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the next four years under a strategic plan adopted during the bishops' annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.

Operating under the theme "Journey with Christ: Faith/Worship/Witness," the plan offers a "road map" for the conference to shape programs and activities to strengthen the faith of Catholics and position them to be active witnesses to their faith in all aspects of life.

Covering the period from 2013 through 2016, the plan was overwhelmingly approved with 233 votes. Four bishops abstained.

The plan reaffirms the mission and structure of the USCCB, focuses on priority issues of the bishops and reiterates the collaborative work necessary across the conference to build the community of faith, explained Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Priorities and Plans.

The strategic plan includes a series of actions, or what Bishop Murry called a "road map," that suggests ways in which conference projects can be aligned with a possible approach that dioceses or parishes may want to adapt.

During the plan's first year, the focus will be on faith and activities closely tied to the Year of Faith, which began in October and runs through November 2013. Programs will be aimed at helping Catholics deepen their relationship with Jesus and increase their knowledge of church teaching.

A special emphasis will be placed on the sacraments, particularly by strengthening the understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation as the foundation of the new evangelization so that it leads Catholics to greater participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, Bishop Murry told the assembly.

In 2014 and 2015, the plan supports initiatives that strengthen parish life and worship, creating greater awareness of the need to develop communities of faith that are evangelizing and increasing the understanding of the Mass and boosting Mass attendance.

The final year of the plan calls for Catholics to be witnesses to the wider world. Specific aims identify the need to promote church teaching on the life and dignity of the human person; increasing the encouragement of youths and young adults to consider a religious vocation; and continuing to foster and support married couples and families as Christian witnesses.