Speeches 2005-13 131
St Peter's Square Saturday, 23 February 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am grateful that so many of you have accepted the invitation to this Special Audience at which you will receive from my hands the Letter I have addressed to the Diocese and City of Rome on the urgent task of education. I greet with affection each one of you: priests, men and women religious, parents, teachers, catechists and other educators, children, adolescents and young people, including those who are watching this Audience on television. I greet and thank in particular the Cardinal Vicar and everyone who has spoken, representing the various categories of people taking up this great educational challenge.
We are gathered here, in fact, because we are motivated by our common solicitude for the good of the generations to come and for the growth and future of the children the Lord has given to this city. We are also motivated by a worry: the perception of what we have called "a great educational emergency". Educating has never been an easy undertaking and seems to be becoming increasingly difficult today; thus, many parents and teachers are tempted to give up their task and do not even succeed in understanding what the mission entrusted to them truly is. Indeed, too many uncertainties, too many doubts are circulating in our society and our culture, too many distorted images are transmitted by the media. It thus becomes difficult to propose to the new generations something valid and reliable, rules of conduct and worthwhile objectives to which to devote one's life. We are here today, however, also and above all because we feel sustained by a great hope and strong trust: by the certainty, that is, that the clear and definitive "yes" which God in Jesus Christ has said to the human family (cf. II Cor 1: 19-20), is also valid for our boys and girls and young people, valid for our babies who today are at the beginning of life. Therefore, it is also possible to teach goodness in our time; it is a passion we must carry in our hearts, a common enterprise to which each one is called to make his own contribution.
Indeed, we are here today because we wish to respond to that educational question felt by parents who worry about their children's future, teachers who are living the school crisis from within, priests and catechists who know from experience how difficult it is to teach the faith, and the children, adolescents and young people themselves who do not want to be left on their own to face life's challenges. This is why I wrote this Letter to you, dear brothers and sisters, which I am about to present to you. In it you will find some simple and practical guidelines concerning fundamental and common aspects of the task of education. Today, I address each one of you in order to offer you my affectionate encouragement to take on joyfully the responsibilities the Lord entrusts to you, so that the great heritage of faith and culture which is the truest treasure of this beloved city of ours may not be lost in passing from one generation to the next, but on the contrary, be renewed and invigorated and serve as a guide and incentive on our journey towards the future.
In this spirit I address you, dear parents, to ask you first of all to remain firm for ever in your reciprocal love: this is the first great gift your children need if they are to grow up serene, acquire self-confidence and thus learn to be capable in turn of authentic and generous love. Further, your love for your children must endow you with the style and courage of a true educator, with a consistent witness of life and the necessary firmness to temper the character of the new generations, helping them to distinguish clearly between good and evil so they in turn can form solid rules of life that will sustain them in future trials. Thus, you will enrich your children with the most valuable and lasting inheritance that consists in the example of a faith lived daily.
In the same way, I ask you, teachers at different kinds of schools, to have a lofty and great conception of your demanding work despite the difficulties, misunderstandings and disappointments that you meet with all too often. In fact, teaching means satisfying that desire to know and understand that is inherent in man and which in the child, adolescent and young person is expressed in its full force and spontaneity. Your task, therefore, cannot be limited to providing notions and information, leaving aside the important question concerning truth, above all that truth which can serve as one's guide in life. Indeed, you are properly qualified educators: the noble art of forming the person is entrusted to you, in close syntony with parents. In particular, those who teach in Catholic schools bear within them and express in daily action that educational project centred on the Lord Jesus and his Gospel.
And you, dear priests and Religious, catechists, leaders and teachers in parishes, youth groups, ecclesial associations and movements, prayer and recreation centres, sports and leisure activities: always seek to feel for the children and young people around you the same sentiments that were in Jesus Christ (cf. Ph 2,5). Be trustworthy friends, therefore, in whom they may tangibly feel Jesus' friendship for them, and at the same time be sincere and courageous witnesses of that truth which sets us free (cf. Jn 8,32) and points out to the new generations the path that leads to life.
Education, however, is not only the work of educators: it is a relationship between people in which, as they grow older, the freedom and responsibility of those who are educated comes increasingly into play. I therefore turn with deep affection to you, children, adolescents and young people, to remind you that you yourselves are called to be the architects of your own moral, cultural and spiritual growth. It is up to you, therefore, to freely accept in your hearts, your minds and your lives, the patrimony of truth, goodness and beauty which has taken shape in the course of centuries and whose cornerstone is Jesus Christ. It is up to you to renew this patrimony and develop it further, liberating it from the many falsehoods and ugly things that often make it unrecognizable and give rise to diffidence and disappointment in you. In any case, know that you are never alone on this difficult journey: close to you are not only your parents, teachers, priests, friends and formation teachers, but above all the God who created us and is the secret guest of our hearts. It is he who illumines our intelligence from within and directs to goodness our freedom that we often feel is frail and unsteady; he is the true hope and the solid foundation of our lives. In him, first and foremost, can we trust.
Dear brothers and sisters, as I symbolically present to you the Letter on The Urgent Task of Education, let us together entrust ourselves to the One who is our true and only Teacher (cf. Mt 23,8), to work with him, with trust and joy, in that marvellous undertaking which is people's formation and authentic growth. With these sentiments and hopes, I impart my Blessing to you all.
AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE MEETING WITH THE MEMBERS OF THE ECCLESIAL COMMUNITY
I am very pleased to be here with you today. Unfortunately, I do not speak "Romanesco", but as Catholics we are all a little Roman and carry Rome in our hearts, so we understand something of the Romanesco dialect. It was very beautiful for me to be greeted in this dialect of yours, for it was clear that these words came from the heart. It is beautiful and encouraging to see the many activities carried out in this parish, the many realities that exist in it, represented here by you: priests, Sisters from various Congregations, catechists and lay people who collaborate in various ways with the parish. And I also see St John Bosco alive among you, continuing his work as well as Our Lady Liberatrice, the One who sets us free, who invites us to open the doors to Christ and to give true freedom to others, too.
This means creating the Church and creating the presence of Christ's Kingdom among us.
Today, we read a very timely Gospel passage. The Samaritan woman of whom it speaks, may appear as a representative of modern man, of modern life. She had had five husbands and was living with another man. She made ample use of her freedom, yet this did not make her any more liberated. On the contrary, she became emptier. But we see that within this woman dwelled a great desire to find true happiness, true joy. This is why she was always restless and drifting further and further from true happiness.
However, when Christ spoke to her, even this woman, who lived what seemed to be a life so superficial and even remote from God, showed that in the depths of her heart she was pondering on this question about God: who is God? Where can we find him? How can we worship him? We can see our whole life today mirrored in this woman, with all the problems that involve us; but we also see how the question about God and the expectation that he will show himself in another way always dwell in the depths of our hearts.
Our activity is truly expected; we respond to the expectation of those who are waiting for the Lord's light, and in giving them a response to this expectation, we too grow in faith and can grasp that this faith is the water for which we are thirsting.
In this regard, I want to encourage you to proceed with your pastoral and missionary commitment, with your dynamism to help all of today's people to find true freedom and true joy. They are all, like this woman of the Gospel, on their way to being totally free, to finding full freedom and full joy in it; but often they find themselves on the wrong path. May these people, through the Lord's light and our cooperation with the Lord, discover that true freedom comes from the encounter with the Truth which is love and joy.
Today, I found two comments particularly moving. The first is that of the parish priest: Do we have more future than past? This is our Church's truth; she always has more future than past. Thus, we courageously forge ahead.
The other comment that moved me was the discourse of the representative of the Pastoral Council: "True holiness is being happy". Holiness is expressed with joy. Joy is born from the encounter with Christ. And this is intended as my wish for you all: that this joy in knowing Christ and with it a renewed dynamism in proclaiming him to your brethren may be ever reborn. Thank you for all that you do. Happy Easter!
ORGANIZED BY THE PONTIFICAL ACADEMY FOR LIFE
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With deep joy I offer my greeting to all of you who are taking part in the Congress of the Pontifical Academy for Life on the theme: "Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects". The Congress is taking place in conjunction with the 14th General Assembly of the Academy, whose members are also present at this Audience. I first of all thank the President, Bishop Sgreccia, for his courteous words of greeting; with him, I thank the entire Presidency, the Board of Directors of the Pontifical Academy, all the collaborators and ordinary members, the honorary and the corresponding members. I would then like to address a cordial and grateful greeting to the relators of this important Congress, as well as to all the participants who come from various countries of the world. Dear friends, your generous commitment and witness are truly praiseworthy.
A mere glance at the titles of the Congress reports suffices to perceive the vast panorama of your reflections and the interest they hold for the present time, especially in today's secularized world. You seek to give answers to the many problems posed every day by the constant progress of the medical sciences, whose activities are increasingly sustained by high-level technological tools.
In view of all this, the urgent challenge emerges for everyone, and in a special way for the Church enlivened by the Risen Lord, to bring into the vast horizon of human life the splendour of the revealed truth and the support of hope.
When a life is extinguished by unforeseen causes at an advanced age, on the threshold of earthly life or in its prime, we should not only see this as a biological factor which is exhausted or a biography which is ending, but indeed as a new birth and a renewed existence offered by the Risen One to those who did not deliberately oppose his Love. The earthly experience concludes with death, but through death full and definitive life beyond time unfolds for each one of us. The Lord of life is present beside the sick person as the One who lives and gives life, the One who said: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10,10). "I am the Resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (Jn 11,25), and "I will raise him up on the last day" (Jn 6,54). At that solemn and sacred moment, all efforts made in Christian hope to improve ourselves and the world entrusted to us, purified by grace, find their meaning and are made precious through the love of God the Creator and Father. When, at the moment of death, the relationship with God is fully realized in the encounter with "him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life; then we "live'" (Spe Salvi ). For the community of believers, this encounter of the dying person with the Source of Life and Love is a gift that has value for all, that enriches the communion of all the faithful. As such, it deserves the attention and participation of the community, not only of the family of close relatives but, within the limits and forms possible, of the whole community that was bound to the dying person. No believer should die in loneliness and neglect. Mother Teresa of Calcutta took special care to gather the poor and the forsaken so that they might experience the Father's warmth in the embrace of sisters and brothers, at least at the moment of death.
But it is not only the Christian community which, due to its particular bonds of supernatural communion, is committed to accompanying and celebrating in its members the mystery of suffering and death and the dawn of new life. The whole of society, in fact, is required through its health-care and civil institutions to respect the life and dignity of the seriously sick and the dying. Even while knowing that "it is not science that redeems man" (Spe Salvi ), our entire society and in particular the sectors linked to medical science are bound to express the solidarity of love and the safeguard and respect of human life at every moment of its earthly development, especially when it is suffering a condition of sickness or is in its terminal stage. In practice, it is a question of guaranteeing to every person who needs it the necessary support, through appropriate treatment and medical interventions, diagnosed and treated in accordance with the criteria of medical proportionality, always taking into account the moral duty of administering (on the part of the doctor) and of accepting (on the part of the patient) those means for the preservation of life that are "ordinary" in the specific situation. On the other hand, recourse to treatment with a high risk factor or which it would be prudent to judge as "extraordinary", is to be considered morally licit but optional. Furthermore, it will always be necessary to assure the necessary and due care for each person as well as the support of families most harshly tried by the illness of one of their members, especially if it is serious and prolonged. Also with regard to employment procedures, it is usual to recognize the specific rights of relatives at the moment of a birth; likewise, and especially in certain circumstances, close relatives must be recognized as having similar rights at the moment of the terminal illness of one of their family members. A supportive and humanitarian society cannot fail to take into account the difficult conditions of families who, sometimes for long periods, must bear the burden of caring at home for seriously-ill people who are not self-sufficient. Greater respect for individual human life passes inevitably through the concrete solidarity of each and every one, constituting one of the most urgent challenges of our time.
As I recalled in the Encyclical Spe Salvi:"The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through "com-passion' is a cruel and inhuman society" (n. 38). In a complex society, strongly influenced by the dynamics of productivity and the needs of the economy, frail people and the poorest families risk being overwhelmed in times of financial difficulty and/or illness. More and more lonely elderly people exist in big cities, even in situations of serious illness and close to death. In such situations, the pressure of euthanasia is felt, especially when a utilitarian vision of the person creeps in. In this regard, I take this opportunity to reaffirm once again the firm and constant ethical condemnation of every form of direct euthanasia, in accordance with the Church's centuries-old teaching.
The synergetic effort of civil society and the community of believers must aim not only to ensure that all live a dignified and responsible life, but also, experience the moment of trial and death in terms of brotherhood and solidarity, even when death occurs within a poor family or in a hospital bed. The Church, with her already functioning institutions and new initiatives, is called to bear a witness of active charity, especially in the critical situations of non-self-sufficient people deprived of family support, and for the seriously ill in need of palliative treatment and the appropriate religious assistance. On the one hand, the spiritual mobilization of parish and diocesan communities, and on the other, the creation or improvement of structures dependent on the Church, will be able to animate and sensitize the whole social environment, so that solidarity and charity are offered and witnessed to each suffering person and particularly to those who are close to death. For its part, society cannot fail to guarantee assitance to families that intend to commit themselves to nursing at home, sometimes for long periods, sick people afflicted with degenerative pathologies (tumours, neuro-degenerative diseases, etc.), or in need of particularly demanding nursing care. The help of all active and responsible members of society is especially required for those institutions of specific assistance that require numerous specialized personnel and particularly expensive equipment. It is above all in these sectors that the synergy between the Church and the institutions can prove uniquely precious for ensuring the necessary help to human life in the time of frailty.
While I hope that at this International Congress, celebrated in connection with the Jubilee of the Lourdes Apparitions, it will be possible to identify new proposals to alleviate the situation of those caught up in terminal forms of illness, I exhort you to persevere in your praiseworthy commitment to the service of life in all its phases. With these sentiments, I assure you of my prayers in support of your work and accompany you with a special Apostolic Blessing.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
I receive you with great joy today when your ad limina visit has brought you to the tombs of the Apostles to strengthen the bonds of communion with the Apostolic See of your respective particular Churches. My joy is even greater because this is my first opportunity to meet you as the Successor of Peter. I thank Archbishop Fernando Sáenz Lacalle of San Salvador, President of your Bishops' Conference, for his thoughtful words on your behalf. Through you, I send a special greeting to your priests, Religious and lay faithful, who with generosity and tireless effort live and proclaim the Good News of redemption, the one, true hope for all people which Christ has brought to us.
The majority of the Salvadoran People is distinguished by lively faith and a strong religious sentiment. The Gospel, brought there by the first missionaries and preached fervently by Pastors full of love for God such as Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, has put down deep roots in this beautiful Land and has yielded abundant fruits of Christian life and holiness. Dear Brother Bishops, the transforming capacity of the message of salvation has once again become reality: the Church is required to proclaim it because "the Word of God is not fettered" (II Tim 2: 9) and is living and active (cf. He 4,12).
As Pastors of the Church, your hearts are moved to consider the serious needs of the people entrusted to your care, whom you wish to serve with love and dedication. Their plight of poverty obliges many of them to emigrate in search of a better standard of living. Emigration often has negative consequences for the stability of marriage and the family. I also know of the efforts you are making to foster reconciliation and peace in your Country and thus to overcome painful past events.
At the same time, you addressed a Pastoral Letter in 2005 to the issue of violence, considered the most serious problem in your Nation. In analyzing its causes, you recognize that increased violence is an immediate consequence of other, deeper social scourges such as poverty, lack of education, the gradual erosion of those values that have always tempered the Salvadoran soul, and the break-up of families. Indeed, the family is an indispensable good for the Church and society as well as a fundamental element for building peace (cf. Message for the World Day of Peace 2008, n. 3). For this reason, you feel the need to revitalize and strengthen in all your dioceses adequate and effective pastoral care, which offers young people a solid spiritual and emotional formation that will help them discover the beauty of God's plan for human love and enable them to live consistently the authentic values of marriage and the family, such as mutual tenderness and respect, self-control, the total gift of self and constant fidelity.
In the face of widespread poverty, people are feeling the critical need to improve the structures and financial conditions that will enable everyone to lead a dignified life. It should not be forgotten, however, that man is not a mere product of the material or social conditions in which he lives. He needs something more; he aspires to more than science or any human initiative can possibly give him. There is within him an immense thirst for God. Yes, dear Brother Bishops, men and women are yearning for God in the depths of their hearts and he is the only One who can satisfy their thirst for fullness and life, because he alone can give us the certainty of unconditional love, of a love stronger than death (cf. Spe Salvi ). "Man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope" (ibid., n. 23).
It is therefore necessary to encourage in your diocesan communities an ambitious and daring evangelization effort directed to facilitating this intimate encounter with the living Christ, which is at the origin and heart of Christian existence (cf. Deus Caritas Est ). Pastoral care must thus be centred on "Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem" (Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 29). It is necessary to help the faithful to increasingly discover the spiritual riches of their Baptism, through which they are "called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love" (Lumen Gentium LG 40). These spiritual riches will also illuminate their commitment to bear witness to Christ at the heart of human society (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 43). To fulfil this most exalted vocation they must be firmly rooted in an intense life of prayer, must listen assiduously and humbly to the Word of God and participate frequently in the sacraments, so that they acquire a strong sense of belonging to the Church and a sound doctrinal formation, especially with regard to the Church's social doctrine in which they will find clear criteria and guidelines for giving a Christian light to the society in which they live.
Priests must have a special place in your pastoral concern. You are very closely bound to them by virtue of the Sacrament of Orders which they have received and by their participation in the same evangelizing mission. They deserve your best efforts and your closeness to each one of them, with knowledge of their personal situations, attention to all their spiritual and material needs and encouragement to persevere on their path of priestly holiness. In this, imitate the example of Jesus, who considered all who were with him his friends (cf. Jn 15,15). As the foundation and visible principle of unity in your particular Churches (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 23), I encourage you to be promoters and models of communion in your own presbyterate and to recommend that all your priests live in harmony and union with one another and with their Bishop, as an expression of your affection as father and brother and without failing to correct irregular situations when necessary.
The priest's love for and fidelity to his vocation will be the best and most effective form of vocations promotion, as well as an example and incentive for your seminarians who are the heart of your dioceses. It is on them that you must expend your best resources and energies (cf. Optatam Totius OT 5), for they are the hope of your Churches.
Also follow with attention the life and work of religious Institutes, esteeming and promoting in your diocesan communities the specific vocation and mission of the consecrated life (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 44), and encouraging them to collaborate in diocesan pastoral activity in order to enrich "ecclesial communion by their presence and ministry" (Pastores Gregis ).
Although the challenges you face are enormous and seem to exceed your strength and capacity, know that you can turn with trust to the Lord, for whom nothing is impossible (cf. Lc 1,37), and open your hearts to the impulse of divine grace. In this constant, prayerful contact with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, your best pastoral projects will mature for your communities and you will truly be ministers of hope for all your brethren (cf. Pastores Gregis ), since Jesus is the One who brings to fruition your pastoral ministry, which in turn must be an authentic reflection of your pastoral charity in the image of the One who came "not to be served... and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mc 10,45).
Dear Brothers, at the end of our meeting, I thank you once again for your generous devotion to the Church and accompany you with my prayers so that in all your pastoral challenges the Lord Jesus' words may fill you with hope and courage: "And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28,20). I clasp you to my heart in an embrace of peace in which I include the priests, men and women religious and lay people of your local Churches. Upon each one of you and your diocesan faithful I implore the constant protection of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace and Patroness of El Salvador, and at the same time I impart the Apostolic Blessing to you with deep affection.
It is a pleasure for me to accept the Letters by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America and to offer my cordial good wishes as you take up your new responsibilities in the service of your country. I am confident that the knowledge and experience born of your distinguished association with the work of the Holy See will prove beneficial in the fulfillment of your duties and enrich the activity of the diplomatic community to which you now belong. I also thank you for the cordial greetings which you have conveyed to me from President George W. Bush on behalf of the American people, as I look forward to my Pastoral Visit to the United States in April.
From the dawn of the Republic, America has been, as you noted, a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order. Your nation's example of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good has encouraged many younger nations in their efforts to create a harmonious, free and just social order. Today this task of reconciling unity and diversity, of forging a common vision and summoning the moral energy to accomplish it, has become an urgent priority for the whole human family, which is increasingly aware of its interdependence and the need for effective solidarity in meeting global challenges and building a future of peace for coming generations.
The experience of the past century, with its heavy toll of war and violence, culminating in the planned extermination of whole peoples, has made it clear that the future of humanity cannot depend on mere political compromise. Rather, it must be the fruit of a deeper consensus based on the acknowledgment of universal truths grounded in reasoned reflection on the postulates of our common humanity (cf. Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, 13). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose sixtieth anniversary we celebrate this year, was the product of a world-wide recognition that a just global order can only be based on the acknowledgment and defense of the inviolable dignity and rights of every man and woman. This recognition, in turn, must motivate every decision affecting the future of the human family and all its members. I am confident that your country, established on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights, will continue to find in the principles of the common moral law, enshrined in its founding documents, a sure guide for exercising its leadership within the international community.
The building of a global juridic culture inspired by the highest ideals of justice, solidarity and peace calls for firm commitment, hope and generosity on the part of each new generation (cf. Spe Salvi ). I appreciate your reference to America's significant efforts to discover creative means of alleviating the grave problems facing so many nations and peoples in our world. The building of a more secure future for the human family means first and foremost working for the integral development of peoples, especially through the provision of adequate health care, the elimination of pandemics like AIDS, broader educational opportunities to young people, the promotion of women and the curbing of the corruption and militarization which divert precious resources from many of our brothers and sisters in the poorer countries. The progress of the human family is threatened not only by the plague of international terrorism, but also by such threats to peace as the quickening pace of the arms race and the continuance of tensions in the Middle East. I take this occasion to express my hope that patient and transparent negotiations will lead to the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons and that the recent Annapolis Conference will be the first of a series of steps towards lasting peace in the region. The resolution of these and similar problems calls for trust in, and commitment to, the work of international bodies such as the United Nations Organization, which by their nature are capable of fostering genuine dialogue and understanding, reconciling divergent views, and developing multilateral policies and strategies capable of meeting the manifold challenges of our complex and rapidly changing world.
I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. The Holy See is convinced of the great spiritual potential represented by such dialogue, particularly with regard to the promotion of nonviolence and the rejection of ideologies which manipulate and disfigure religion for political purposes, and justify violence in the name of God. The American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues - a role at times contested in the name of a straitened understanding of political life and public discourse - is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow-citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family.
Madam Ambassador, as you now undertake your high responsibilities in the service of your country, I renew my good wishes for the success of your work. Be assured that you may always count on the offices of the Holy See to assist and support you in the fulfillment of your duties. Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved American people, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to meet you on the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. To each of you taking part in this gathering, I offer my cordial best wishes. In a special way, I greet Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, whom I thank for his gracious words, Monsignor Secretary and all the Members and Officials of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum. The theme of your reflection in these days – “The human and spiritual qualities of those engaged in the charitable activity of the Church” – touches an important element of the Church’s life. It deals, in fact, with those who carry out among the People of God an indispensable service, the diakonia of charity. It was precisely to the theme of charity that I wished to dedicate my first Encyclical Deus caritas est.
For this reason, I willingly take this opportunity to express my particular gratitude to those who, in various ways, work in the field of charity, showing with their deeds that the Church makes herself present in a concrete way alongside those who find themselves caught up in different forms of trouble or suffering. For this ecclesial action, it is the Pastors who have the overall and ultimate responsibility with regard to both calling attention to and realizing projects of human development, especially in the case of less fortunate Communities. Let us give thanks to God for the many Christians who give of their time and energy to make available not only material aid, but also support through consolation and hope for those in difficult conditions, nurturing a constant solicitude for the true well-being of the human person. Charitable activity thus occupies a central place in the evangelising mission of the Church. We must not forget that works of charity constitute a privileged meeting place also for those who do not know Christ or know Him only partially. Quite rightly, then, the Pastors and those responsible for the pastoral of charity pay constant attention to those who work in the sphere of diakonia, taking care to form them on both the human and professional, as well as the theological-spiritual and pastoral level.
In this moment, much relevance is given to continuing formation in society as well as the Church, seen in the blossoming of institutions and centres set up to provide useful instruments for acquiring specific technical skills. It is essential, however, for those who work in the Church’s charitable organizations to receive that “formation of the heart,” which I cited in the Encyclical Deus caritas est (n. 31a): intimate and spiritual formation that, from the encounter with Christ, ignites that sensibility of the soul, which alone allows for the deepest knowledge and satisfaction of the human person’s longings and needs. This exactly is what enables the acquisition of the same sentiments of merciful love that God enkindles for each individual. In moments of suffering and pain, this is the approach needed. Those who operate in the multiple forms of the Church’s charitable activity cannot, therefore, confine themselves only to the technical presentation or resolving material problems and difficulties. The help that is offered should never be reduced to a philanthropic gesture, but must be a tangible expression of evangelical love. Those, then, who offer their service in favour of the human person in parish, diocesan and international organizations do so in the name of the Church and are called to make shine in their activity an authentic experience of the Church.
In this vital sector, therefore, a valid and effective formation cannot but aim at better qualifying those who are engaged in various charitable activities, so that they are also and above all witnesses of evangelical love. This they are if their mission is not exhausted by being social service workers, but rather heralds of the Gospel of charity. Following in the footsteps of Christ, they are called to be witnesses of the value of life, in all of its expressions, protecting most especially the life of the weak and sick, after the example of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who loved and cared for the dying, since life is not measured by its efficiency but always has value and for everyone. In the second place, these ecclesial workers are called to be witnesses of love by virtue of the fact that we are fully human when we live for the other; no one can die and live for himself; happiness is not found in the solitude of a life closed in on itself, but in the gift of self. Finally, whoever works within the sphere of the Church’s activity, must be witnesses of God, Who is the fullness of love and invites us to love. The source of every deed done by those who work in the Church is God, Creator and Redeemer love. As I wrote in Deus caritas est, we are able to practice love because we have been created in the divine image and likeness in order to “experience love and in this way cause the light of God to enter into the world” (n. 39). This is the invitation I wanted to extend with this Encyclical.
How great the meaning then, that you can draw from your activity! And how precious this is for the Church! I rejoice that, precisely to render the Church an ever-greater witness of the Gospel, the Pontifical Council Cor Unum has promoted this coming June a course of Spiritual Exercises in Guadalajara for the Presidents and Directors of the charitable organizations in the American continent. This shall serve to fully recuperate the human and Christian dimension, which I have just mentioned, and I hope that in the future this initiative can be extended to other regions of the world, too. Dear friends, in thanking you for what you do, I assure you that I will remember you with affection in my prayer, and upon each of you and your work, I impart from my heart a special Apostolic Blessing.
Speeches 2005-13 131