Speeches 2005-13 15259
I greet you with fraternal affection in the Lord, and I offer prayerful good wishes for your health and your ministry. I am grateful for the opportunity to visit this Cathedral Church of Saint James in the heart of the ancient Armenian quarter of Jerusalem, and to meet the distinguished clergy of the Patriarchate, together with the members of the Armenian community of the Holy City.
Our meeting today, characterized by an atmosphere of cordiality and friendship, is another step along the path towards the unity which the Lord desires for all his disciples. In recent decades we have witnessed, by God’s grace, a significant growth in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. I count it a great blessing to have met in this past year with the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and with the Catholicos of Cilicia Aram I. Their visits to the Holy See, and the moments of prayer which we shared, have strengthened us in fellowship and confirmed our commitment to the sacred cause of promoting Christian unity.
In a spirit of gratitude to the Lord, I wish also to express my appreciation of the unwavering commitment of the Armenian Apostol ic Church to the continuing theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. This dialogue, sustained by prayer, has made progress in overcoming the burden of past misunderstandings, and offers much promise for the future. A particular sign of hope is the recent document on the nature and mission of the Church produced by the Mixed Commission and presented to the Churches for study and evaluation. Together let us entrust the work of the Mixed Commission once more to the Spirit of wisdom and truth, so that it can bear abundant fruit for the growth of Christian unity, and advance the spread of the Gospel among the men and women of our time.
From the first Christian centuries, the Armenian community in Jerusalem has had an illustrious history, marked not least by an extraordinary flourishing of monastic life and culture linked to the holy places and the liturgical traditions which developed around them. This venerable Cathedral Church, together with the Patriarchate and the various educational and cultural institutions attached to it, testifies to that long and distinguished history. I pray that your community will constantly draw new life from its rich traditions, and be confirmed in its witness to Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection (cf. Ph 3,10) in this Holy City. I likewise assure the families present, and particularly the children and young people, of a special remembrance in my prayers. Dear friends, I ask you in turn to pray with me that all the Christians of the Holy Land will work together with generosity and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel of our reconciliation in Christ, and the advent of his Kingdom of holiness, justice and peace.
Your Beatitude, I thank you once more for your gracious welcome, and I cordially invoke God’s richest blessings upon you and upon all the clergy and faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the Holy Land. May the joy and peace of the Risen Christ be always with you.
Mr Prime Minister,
Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I prepare to return to Rome, may I share with you some of the powerful impressions that my pilgrimage to the Holy Land has left with me. I had fruitful discussions with the civil authorities both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories, and I witnessed the great efforts that both governments are making to secure people’s well-being. I have met the leaders of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, and I rejoice to see the way that they work together in caring for the Lord’s flock. I have also had the opportunity to meet the leaders of the various Christian Churches and ecclesial communities as well as the leaders of other religions in the Holy Land. This land is indeed a fertile ground for ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, and I pray that the rich variety of religious witness in the region will bear fruit in a growing mutual understanding and respect.
Mr President, you and I planted an olive tree at your residence on the day that I arrived in Israel. The olive tree, as you know, is an image used by Saint Paul to describe the very close relations between Christians and Jews. Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans how the Church of the Gentiles is like a wild olive shoot, grafted onto the cultivated olive tree which is the People of the Covenant (cf. 11:17-24). We are nourished from the same spiritual roots. We meet as brothers, brothers who at times in our history have had a tense relationship, but now are firmly committed to building bridges of lasting friendship.
The ceremony at the Presidential Palace was followed by one of the most solemn moments of my stay in Israel – my visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, where I paid my respects to the victims of the Shoah. There also I met some of the survivors. Those deeply moving encounters brought back memories of my visit three years ago to the death camp at Auschwitz, where so many Jews - mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends - were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred. That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied. On the contrary, those dark memories should strengthen our determination to draw closer to one another as branches of the same olive tree, nourished from the same roots and united in brotherly love.
Mr President, I thank you for the warmth of your hospitality, which is greatly appreciated, and I wish to put on record that I came to visit this country as a friend of the Israelis, just as I am a friend of the Palestinian people. Friends enjoy spending time in one another’s company, and they find it deeply distressing to see one another suffer. No friend of the Israelis and the Palestinians can fail to be saddened by the continuing tension between your two peoples. No friend can fail to weep at the suffering and loss of life that both peoples have endured over the last six decades. Allow me to make this appeal to all the people of these lands: No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war! Instead let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice, let there be genuine reconciliation and healing. Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders. Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely. Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream. And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a “light to the nations” (Is 42,6), bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict.
One of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands was the wall. As I passed alongside it, I prayed for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation, but rather respecting and trusting one another, and renouncing all forms of violence and aggression. Mr President, I know how hard it will be to achieve that goal. I know how difficult is your task, and that of the Palestinian Authority. But I assure you that my prayers and the prayers of Catholics across the world are with you as you continue your efforts to build a just and lasting peace in this region.
It remains only for me to express my heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed in so many ways to my visit. To the Government, the organizers, the volunteers, the media, to all who have provided hospitality to me and those accompanying me, I am deeply grateful. Please be assured that you are remembered with affection in my prayers. To all of you, I say: thank you, and may God be with you. Shalom!
Thank you for your work. I can imagine how difficult it must have been in the midst of so many problems, multiple transfers, etc. and I want to thank you for accepting all these inconveniences in order to tell the world about this pilgrimage, thereby inviting others to go on pilgrimage to these Holy Places.
Since I already made a brief summary of my journey in my speech at the airport, I do not wish to add much. I could mention many, many more details: the moving descent to the most profound spot on earth, at the River Jordan, which for us is also a symbol of the descent of God, of the descent of Christ to the deepest points of human existence.
I could mention the Upper Room, in which the Lord gave us the Eucharist, in which Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit, took place; the Holy Sepulchre too, and many other impressions, but it seems to me that this is not the moment to reflect on them.
Yet perhaps I could make a few brief comments on them. There are three fundamental impressions: the first is that I found everywhere, in every context, Muslim, Christian and Jewish, a determined readiness for interreligious dialogue, for encounter and collaboration among the religions. And it is important that everyone see this not only as an action let us say inspired by political motives in the given situation but as a fruit of the very core of faith. Because believing in one God who has created us all, the Father of us all, believing in this God who created humanity as a family, believing that God is love and wants love to be the dominant force in the world, implies this encounter, this need for an encounter, for dialogue, for collaboration as a requirement of faith itself.
The second point: I also found a very encouraging ecumenical atmosphere. We had many meetings with the Orthodox world in great cordiality; I was also able to speak to a representative of the Anglican Church and two Lutheran representatives and it is clear that this atmosphere of the Holy Land itself also encourages ecumenism.
And the third point: there are enormous difficulties as we know, as we have seen and heard. But I also saw that there is a deep desire for peace on the part of all. The problems are more visible and we must not conceal them: they exist and need clarification. However, the common desire for peace, for brotherhood, is not so visible and it seems to me that we should also talk about this, and encourage in everyone the desire to find solutions to these problems that are certainly far from simple.
I came as a pilgrim of peace. Pilgrimage is an essential element of many religions and also of Islam, of the Jewish religion and of Christianity. It is also the image of our existence that is moving forward towards God and hence towards the communion of humanity.
I came as a pilgrim and I hope that many will follow in my footsteps and by so doing encourage the unity of the people of this Holy Land and in turn become their messenger of peace. Thank you!
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
With my heart full of the joy of Easter, a gift of the Risen Lord, and as Successor of Peter, I offer you a cordial welcome while "I give thanks to God always for you" (1Co 1,4). I am grateful to Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, Archbishop of Trujillo and President of the Peruvian Bishops' Conference, for the respectful words that he has addressed to me on behalf of you all. I recognize in them the charity and dedication with which you tend your particular Churches.
The visit ad limina Apostolorum is an important opportunity for reinforcing the bonds of communion with the Roman Pontiff and among yourselves, in the knowledge that the unity of the whole Church must always be present in your pastoral efforts so that your communities, like living stones, may contribute to building up the whole of the People of God (cf. 1 Pt2: 4-5). In fact, "Bishops, as legitimate successors of the Apostles and members of the Episcopal College, should appreciate that they are closely united to each other and should be solicitous for all the Churches" (Christus Dominus CD 6). Yet experience tells us that this unity is never achieved once and for all and that it must be ceaselessly built up and perfected, without surrendering to the objective and subjective difficulties but rather with the determination to reveal the Catholic Church's one and only true face.
However, it is also indispensable today, as it has been throughout the Church's history, to foster the spirit of communion, making the most of the qualities of each one of the brethren whom divine Providence has desired to set beside us. In this way the different members of Christ's body succeed in helping each other to carry out their daily tasks (cf. 1Co 12,24-26 Ph 2,1-4 Ga 6,2-3). It is therefore necessary that Bishops feel the constant need to keep alive and express in practice their collegial affection since it provides "valuable support in our efforts to read carefully the signs of the times and to discern clearly what the Spirit is saying to the Churches" (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis ).
Authentic unity in the Church is always an inexhaustible source of an evangelizing spirit. In this regard I know that in your pastoral programmes you are incorporating the missionary impetus promoted by the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences which took place in Aparecida, and especially by the "Continental Mission", with a view to each Catholic aspiring to holiness in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, loving him with perseverance and conforming his or her life to Gospel criteria so that ecclesial communities of intense Christian life may be created. Of course, a Church on a mission relativizes her internal problems and looks to the future with hope and enthusiasm. It is a matter of relaunching her missionary spirit, not for fear of the future but rather because the Church is a dynamic reality and the true disciple of Jesus Christ enjoys passing on freely to others his divine Word and sharing with them the love that flows from his open wound on the Cross (cf. Mt 10,8 Jn 13,34-35 Jn 19,33-34 1Co 9,16). In fact, when the beauty and truth of Christ win our hearts, we feel the joy of being his disciples and take on with conviction the mission of proclaiming his redemptive message. In this respect, I urge you to convoke all the people of your dioceses so that they may walk with Christ and always shine with the light of his Face, particularly those brethren who, perhaps because they feel unappreciated or receive insufficient attention in their spiritual and material needs, seek responses to their worries in other religious experiences.
You yourselves, dear Brothers in the episcopate, in following the outstanding example of St Toribio de Mogrovejo and many other holy Pastors, are called to live as daring disciples and missionaries of the Lord. Diligent pastoral visits to the ecclesial communities even to the humblest and most remote prolonged prayer, the careful preparation of homilies, fatherly attention for the priests, families, young people, catechists and the other pastoral workers are the best means of kindling in everyone the ardent desire to be messengers of the Good News of salvation, while at the same time opening the doors of your hearts to those around you, especially the sick and the neediest.
Since her origins, the Church in your nation has relied on the beneficial presence of self-sacrificing members of consecrated life. It is of the utmost importance that you continue to accompany and to animate in a brotherly manner the men and women religious present in your particular Churches so that, living faithfully the evangelical counsels in accordance with their own charism, they may continue to bear a lively witness of love for God, of firm adherence to the Magisterium of the Church and of collaboration with the diocesan pastoral programmes.
Above all, I am now thinking of the Peruvians who are out of work and who lack appropriate educational and health-care assistance or who live on the outskirts of the great cities or in isolated areas. I am likewise thinking of those who have fallen into the clutches of drug addiction or violence. We cannot be impervious to these brothers and sisters of ours who are the weakest and beloved by God, always bearing in mind that the love of Christ impels us (cf. 2Co 5,14 Rm 12,9 Rm 13,8 Rm 15,1-3).
At the end of this cordial meeting, I ask the Lord Jesus to illuminate you in your pastoral service to the People of God. You will lose heart at times but Christ's words to St Paul must comfort you in the exercise of your responsibility: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2Co 12,9).
With this lively hope, I ask you to convey my affectionate greeting to the Bishops emeritus, the priests, deacons and seminarians, the religious communities and the faithful of Peru.
May Mary Most Holy, Our Lady of Evangelization, always protect you with her maternal love. As I invoke upon you her intercession and that of all the Saints, especially those venerated among you, I warmly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Government Delegation,
Venerable Representatives of the Orthodox Church and of the Catholic Church,
At this meeting which is taking place on the occasion of the annual Feast of Sts Cyril and Methodius it gives me great pleasure to address my most cordial greetings to each one of you. On this happy occasion, I would like to renew my sentiments of friendship for the beloved Bulgar people, whose spiritual roots as, furthermore, your visit today testifies date back to the preaching of these saints, Co-Patrons of Europe. I offer a respectful greeting to each one of you and I extend these sentiments to the authorities and to the whole of the Bulgarian people, as well as to the leaders and faithful of the Orthodox Church and of the Catholic Church, present in your beloved country.
This meeting offers us the opportunity to think once again of the evangelical and social work carried out by Sts Cyril and Methodius, these two outstanding Gospel witnesses. Their spiritual heritage marked the life of the Slavic peoples; their example supported the witness and fidelity of innumerable Christians down the centuries who dedicated their lives to spreading the message of salvation, working at the same time to build a just and supportive society. May their spiritual testimony remain alive in your Nation so that Bulgaria too, drawing from this source of light and hope, may contribute effectively to building a Europe that stays faithful to its Christian roots. The values of solidarity and justice, of freedom and peace, today constantly reaffirmed, in fact find even greater power and solidity in the eternal teaching of Christ, expressed in the life of his disciples of every epoch.
These are the sentiments that I would like to express to each one of you, as I assure you of my esteem and spiritual closeness. You may be sure too that the Holy See continues to follow with sympathy the progress of your Nation and the commitment of all those who work for its good.
I wholeheartedly invoke an abundance of divine Blessings upon each one of you.
Honourable Members of the Delegation
Venerable Brothers of the Orthodox Church and of the Catholic Church!
I am happy to welcome you again this year on the liturgical memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius. I am pleased that during your visit to pay homage to the Co-Patrons of Europe you have expressed the desire to meet with me, an occurrence that has already become a tradition. I thank you for this courteous gesture and I extend to each one of you my heart-felt welcome and my appreciation for the sentiments that you bring to this gathering. I express a special welcome to the authorities and to all the population of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. I also send particular greetings to the faithful and to those who have pastoral responsibilities in your country. I avail myself of the occasion to express the sentiments of esteem and friendship that unite the Holy See to the beloved Macedonian people.
The annual celebration of the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, teachers of the faith and apostles of the Slavonic peoples, invites all of us who are united by the one faith in Jesus Christ, to contemplate their heroic evangelical witness. At the same time we are challenged to conserve the patrimony of ideals and values that they have transmitted by word and deed. In fact this is the most precious contribution that Christians can offer to the construction of a Europe of the third millennium, which aspires to a future of progress, justice and peace for all.
Your beloved homeland, marked by the influence of these two great saints, seeks to become more and more a place of peaceful encounter and dialogue between the country’s many social and religious spheres. My hope, which I renew today with all my heart, is that you may continue to progress on this path. As I invoke divine protection upon the authorities of your nation, to whom I renew the closeness of the Apostolic See, I wish to assure you of my personal esteem and friendship.
Once again I extend my warm good wishes to each one of you on this Feast-day and offer fervent prayers to the Lord both for you who are present here today and for all the Macedonian people.
Dear Brother Priests,
It is a renewed joy for me to greet you all who have come this year too, to show the Successor of Peter your affection and faithfulness. I greet Archbishop Beniamino Stella, President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, and thank him for the words he has courteously addressed to me, as well as for the service he carries out with great dedication. I greet his collaborators, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Child Jesus and all of you who in these years of your youth are preparing to serve the Church and her universal Pastor, in a unique ministry, which is, precisely, that carried out in the Papal Representations.
Indeed service in the Apostolic Nunciatures may be considered, to a certain extent, a specific priestly vocation, a pastoral ministry that involves a special integration in the world and in its often quite complex social and political problems. It is therefore important that you learn to decipher them, knowing that the "code", so to speak, for the analysis and understanding of these dynamics can only be the Gospel and the perennial Magisterium of the Church. You must learn to interpret human and social realties carefully, on the basis of a certain personal perception, which every servant of the Holy See must possess, and putting to good use the specific experience you will acquire during these years. In addition, that capacity for dialogue with modernity which is required of you, as well as contact with people and the institutions that they represent, demand a robust inner structure and spiritual solidity that can safeguard and indeed highlight better and better your Christian and priestly identity. Only in this way will you be able to avoid suffering the negative effects of the modern mindset and not let yourselves be attracted or contaminated by the pressure of earthly logic.
Since it is the Lord himself who asks you to carry out this mission in the Church, through the summons of your Bishop who points you out and makes you available to the Holy See, it is to the Lord himself that you must always and above all refer. In moments of darkness and inner difficulty, turn your gaze to Christ who lovingly fixed his eyes on you one day and called you to be with him and to work, at his school, for his Kingdom. Always remember that it is essential and fundamental, for the priestly ministry in whatever way it is exercised, to keep a personal tie with Jesus. He wants us to be his "friends", friends who seek intimacy with him, who follow his teachings and strive to make him known to and loved by all. The Lord wants us, that is, all "his own", to be holy, not concerned to build ourselves a humanly interesting or comfortable career, seeking neither public applause nor success, but rather entirely dedicated to the good of souls, ready to carry out our duty to the very end, in the knowledge that we are "useless servants", glad to be able to offer our poor contribution to spreading the Gospel.
Dear priests, may you be, in the first place, men of intense prayer, who cultivate a communion of love and life with the Lord. Without this sound spiritual basis, how could you persevere in your ministry? Those who work in this way in the Lord's vineyard know that what they do with dedication, sacrifice and love is never wasted. And if at times we are given to taste the cup of loneliness, misunderstanding and suffering, if service seems at times a burden to us and the cross is sometimes heavy to carry, may the certainty that God knows how to make all things fruitful sustain and comfort us. We know that the dimension of the Cross, vividly symbolized in the parable of the ear of wheat which, having fallen to the ground dies to bear fruit an image that Jesus used shortly before his Passion is an essential part of every person's life and every apostolic mission. In every situation we must offer the joyful witness of our adherence to the Gospel, accepting the Apostle Paul's invitation to boast only of the Cross of Christ, with the sole ambition of completing in ourselves what is lacking in the Passion of the Lord, for the sake of his Body, that is the Church (cf. Col Col 1,24).
The Year for Priests, that will begin next 19 June, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and a Day of Priestly Sanctification, is a particularly valuable opportunity for renewing and reinforcing your generous response to the Lord's call, for intensifying your relationship with him. May you make the very most of this opportunity to be priests according to Christ's Heart, like St John Mary Vianney, the Holy Curé d'Ars, the 150th anniversary of whose death we are preparing to celebrate. I entrust these wishes and hopes to his intercession and to that of St Anthony Abbot, Patron of the Academy. May Mary, Mother of the Church watch maternally over you and protect you. As for me, while I thank you for today's visit, I assure you of my special remembrance in prayer and cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing to each one of you, to the reverend Sisters, to the personnel of the House and to all your loved ones.
Basilica of Saint John Lateran Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
and in the Priesthood,
Dear Men and Women Religious,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Continuing what is by now a happy tradition, this year too I am glad to open the Diocesan Pastoral Convention. To each one of you who represent here the entire diocesan community, I address with affection my greeting and heartfelt thanks for the pastoral work you carry out. Through you, I extend to all the parishes my cordial greeting in the words of the Apostle Paul: "To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rm 1,7). I cordially thank the Cardinal Vicar for the encouraging words interpreting your sentiments that he has addressed to me and for the help that he offers me, together with the Auxiliary Bishops, in the daily apostolic service to which the Lord has called me as Bishop of Rome.
It has just been recalled that in the past decade the Diocese initially focused its attention on the family; then for another three years, on teaching the faith to the new generations, seeking to respond to the "educational emergency", a challenge to all that is far from easy; and lastly, again with a reference to education, prompted by the Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, you gave attention to the theme of teaching hope. As I thank the Lord with you for all the good he has granted us to do I am thinking in particular of the parish priests and priests who spare no effort in guiding the communities entrusted to them I wish to express my appreciation of the pastoral decision to give time to reviewing the ground covered, with a view to focusing on certain fundamental contexts of ordinary pastoral work, in the light of past experience, to explain them better and to make them more broadly shared. This commitment, which you have already been monitoring for several months in all the parishes and in the other ecclesial contexts, must be based on a renewed awareness of our being Church and of the pastoral co-responsibility which, in Christ's name, we are all called to exercise. And it is precisely on this aspect that I would like to reflect now.
The Second Vatican Council, desiring to pass on, pure and integral, the doctrine on the Church that had developed in the course of 2,000 years, gave the Church a "more deeply considered definition", illustrating first of all the enigmatic nature, that is, as a "reality imbued with the divine presence, hence always capable of new and deeper exploration" (Paul VI, Inaugural Address at the Second Session of the Second Vatican Council, 29 September 1963). Well, the Church, which originates in the Trinitarian God, is a mystery of communion. As communion, the Church is not merely a spiritual reality but lives in history, so to speak, in flesh and blood. The Second Vatican Council describes her "in the nature of sacrament a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men" (Lumen Gentium LG 1). And the very essence of sacrament is that the invisible is tangible in the visible and that the tangibly visible opens the door to God himself. The Church, we said, is a communion, a communion of people who, through the action of the Holy Spirit, form the People of God which is at the same time the Body of Christ. Let us reflect a little on these two key words. The concept of "People of God" came into being and was developed in the Old Testament: to enter into the reality of human history, God chose a specific people, the People of Israel, to be his People. The intention of this particular choice is to reach, through a few, many people and through them to reach all. In other words the intention of God's specific choice is universality. Through this People, God enters into the reality of history. And this openness to universality is achieved in the Cross and in Christ's Resurrection. In the Cross, St Paul says, Christ broke down the wall of separation. In giving us his Body, he reunites us in this Body of his to make us one. In the communion of the "Body of Christ" we all become one people, the People of God, in which to cite St Paul again all are one and there are no longer distinctions or differences between Greek and Jew, the circumcized and the uncircumcized, the barbarian, the Scythian, the slave, the Jew, but Christ is all in all. He has broken down the wall of distinction between peoples, races and cultures: we are all united in Christ. Thus we see that the two concepts "People of God" and "Body of Christ" complete each other and together form the New Testament concept of Church. And whereas "People of God" expresses the continuity of the Church's history, "Body of Christ" expresses the universality inaugurated in the Cross and in the Lord's Resurrection. For us Christians, therefore, "Body of Christ" is not only an image, but a true concept, because Christ makes us the gift of his real Body, not only an image of it. Risen, Christ unites us all in the Sacrament to make us one Body. Thus the concept "People of God" and "Body of Christ" complete one another: in Christ we really become the People of God. "People of God" therefore means "all", from the Pope to the most recently baptized child. The First Eucharistic Prayer, the so-called "Roman Canon" written in the fourth century, distinguishes between servants "we, your servants" and "plebs tua sancta"; therefore should one wish to make a distinction, one should speak of servants and plebs sancta, while the term "People of God" expresses the Church all together in their common being.
Subsequent to the Council this ecclesiological doctrine met with acceptance on a vast scale and thanks be to God an abundance of good fruit developed in the Christian community. However we must also remember that the integration of this doctrine in procedures and its consequent assimilation in the fabric of ecclesial awareness did not happen always and everywhere without difficulty and in accordance with a correct interpretation. As I was able to explain in my Discourse to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2005, an interpretative current, claiming to refer to a presumed "spirit of the Council", sought to establish a discontinuity and even to distinguish between the Church before and the Church after the Council, at times even crossing the very boundaries that exist objectively between the hierarchical ministry and the responsibilities of the lay faithful in the Church. The notion of "People of God", in particular was interpreted by some, in accordance with a purely sociological vision, with an almost exclusively horizontal bias that excluded the vertical reference to God. This position was in direct contrast with the word and spirit of the Council which did not desire a rupture, another Church, but rather a true and deep renewal in the continuity of the one subject Church which grows in time and develops but always remains identical, the one subject of the People of God on pilgrimage.
Secondly, it should be recognized that the reawakening of spiritual and pastoral energies that has been happening in recent years has not always produced the desired growth and development. In fact it must be noted that in certain ecclesial communities, the period of fervour and initiative has given way to a time of weakening commitment, a situation of weariness, at times almost a stalemate, and even resistance and contradiction between the conciliar doctrine and various concepts formulated in the name of the Council, but in fact opposed to its spirit and guidelines. For this reason too, the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1987 was dedicated to the theme of the vocation and mission of lay people in the Church and in the world. This fact tells us that the luminous pages which the Council dedicated to the laity were not yet sufficiently adapted to or impressed on the minds of Catholics or in pastoral procedures. On the one hand there is still a tendency to identify the Church unilaterally with the hierarchy, forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission of the People of God, which, in Christ we all share. On the other, the tendency still persists to identify the People of God unilaterally, as I have already said, in accordance with a merely sociological or political concept, forgetting the newness and specificity of that people, which becomes a people solely through communion with Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, it is now time to ask ourselves what point our Diocese of Rome has reached. To what extent is the pastoral co-responsibility of all, and particularly of the laity, recognized and encouraged? In past centuries, thanks to the generous witness of all the baptized who spent their life educating the new generations in the faith, healing the sick and going to the aid of the poor, the Christian community proclaimed the Gospel to the inhabitants of Rome. The self-same mission is entrusted to us today, in different situations, in a city in which many of the baptized have strayed from the path of the Church and those who are Christian are unacquainted with beauty of our faith. The Diocesan Synod, convoked by my beloved Predecessor John Paul II, was an effective receptio of the conciliar doctrine and the Book of the Synod involved the Diocese in becoming more and more a living and active Church in the heart of the City, through the coordinated and responsible action of all its inhabitants. The City Mission that followed in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 enabled our ecclesial community to become aware that the mandate to evangelize does not only concern a few but rather all of the baptized. It was a salutary experience that helped to develop in the parishes, religious communities, associations and movements a consciousness of belonging to the one People of God which, as the Apostle Peter said, God made his own: "that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him" (1P 2,9). And let us give thanks for that this evening.
There is still a long way to go. Too many of the baptized do not feel part of the ecclesial community and live on its margins, only coming to parishes in certain circumstances to receive religious services. Compared to the number of inhabitants in each parish, the lay people who are ready to work in the various apostolic fields, although they profess to be Catholic, are still few and far between. Of course, social and cultural difficulties abound but faithful to the Lord's mandate, we cannot resign ourselves to preserving what exists. Trusting in the grace of the Spirit which the Risen Christ guaranteed to us, we must continue on our way with renewed energy. What paths can we take? In the first place we must renew our efforts for a formation which is more attentive and focused on the vision of the Church, of which I spoke and this should be both on the part of priests as well as of religious and lay people to understand ever better what this Church is, this People of God in the Body of Christ. At the same time, it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted, with respect for vocations and for the respective roles of the consecrated and of lay people. This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as "collaborators" of the clergy but truly recognized as "co-responsible", for the Church's being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity. This common awareness of being Church of all the baptized in no way diminishes the responsibility of parish priests. It is precisely your task, dear parish priests, to nurture the spiritual and apostolic growth of those who are already committed to working hard in the parishes. They form the core of the community that will act as a leaven for the others. Although these communities are sometimes small, to prevent them from losing their identity and vigour they must be taught to listen prayerfully to the word of God through the practice of lectio divina, as the recent Synod of Bishops ardently hoped. Let us truly draw nourishment from listening, from meditating on the word of God. Our communities must not lack the knowledge that they are "Church", because Christ, the eternal Word of the Father, convokes them and makes them his People. Indeed, on the one hand faith is a profoundly personal relationship with God but on the other it possesses an essential community component and the two dimensions are inseparable. Thus young people, who are more exposed to the growing individualism of contemporary culture, the consequences of which inevitably involves the weakening of interpersonal bonds and the enfeeblement of the sense of belonging, will also taste the beauty and joy of being and feeling Church. Through faith in God we are united in the Body of Christ and all become united in the same Body. Thus, precisely by profoundly believing we may achieve communion among ourselves and emerge from the loneliness of individualism.
If it is the Word that gathers the community, it is the Eucharist that makes it one body: "because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1Co 10,17). The Church, therefore, is not the result of an aggregation of individuals but of unity among those who are nourished by the one Word of God and the one Bread of Life. Communion and the unity of the Church that are born of the Eucharist, are a reality of which we must be ever more aware, also in receiving Holy Communion, ever more aware that we are entering into unity with Christ and thus become one among ourselves. We must learn ever anew to preserve and defend this unity from the rivalry, disputes, and jealousies that can be kindled in and among ecclesial communities. In particular, I would like to ask the movements and communities that came into being after the Second Vatican Council and that in our Diocese too are a precious gift for which we must always thank the Lord, I would like to ask these movements, which I repeat are a gift, always to ensure that their formation processes lead their members to develop a true sense of belonging to the parish community. The Eucharist, as I have said, is the centre of parish life, and particularly of the Sunday celebration. Since the unity of the Church is born from the encounter with the Lord, the great care given to adoration and celebration of the Eucharist, enabling those who participate in it to experience the beauty of Christ's mystery is no secondary matter. Given that the beauty of the liturgy "is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us" (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 35), it is important that the Eucharistic celebration manifest and communicate, through the sacramental signs, the divine life and reveal the true face of the Church to the men and women of this City.
The spiritual and apostolic growth of the community then leads to its extension through a convinced missionary action. Strive, therefore, in every parish as at the time of the City Mission, to restore life to the small groups or counselling centres for the faithful who proclaim Christ and his word, places where it is possible to experience faith, to put charity into practice and to organize hope. This structuring of the large urban parishes by the multiplication of small communities allows the mission a larger breathing space, which takes into account the density of the population and its social and cultural features which are often very different. If this pastoral method is also to be applied effectively in workplaces, it would be important to evangelize them with a well thought-out and adapted pastoral ministry since, because of the high social mobility, it is here that people spend a large part of their day.
Lastly, the witness of charity that unites hearts and opens them to ecclesial belonging should not be forgotten. Historians answer the question as to how the success of Christianity in the first centuries can be explained, the ascent of a presumed Jewish sect to the religion of the Empire, by saying that it was the experience of Christian charity in particular that convinced the world. Living charity is the primary form of missionary outreach. The word proclaimed and lived becomes credible if it is incarnate in behaviour that demonstrates solidarity and sharing, in deeds that show the Face of Christ as man's true Friend. May the silent, daily witness of charity, promoted by parishes thanks to the commitment of numerous lay faithful continue to spread increasingly, so that those who live in suffering feel the Church's closeness and experience the love of the Father rich in mercy. Therefore be "Good Samaritans", ready to treat the material and spiritual wounds of your brethren. Deacons, conformed by ordination to Christ the Servant, will be able to carry out a useful service in promoting fresh attention to the old and new forms of poverty. I am also thinking of the young people: dear friends, I invite you to put your enthusiasm and creativity at the service of Christ and the Gospel, making yourselves apostles of your peers, ready to respond generously to the Lord if he calls you to follow him more closely, in the priesthood or in consecrated life.
Dear brothers and sisters, the future of Christianity and of the Church in Rome also depends on the commitment and witness of each one of us. I invoke for this the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, venerated for centuries in the Basilica of St Mary Major as Salus populi romani. As she did with the Apostles in the Upper Room while awaiting Pentecost, may she also accompany us and encourage us to look with trust to the future. With these sentiments, while I thank you for your daily work, I warmly impart to you all a special Apostolic Blessing.
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