Speeches 2005-13 17129
I am pleased to receive you this morning in the Apostolic Palace. You have come to present to me the Letters accrediting you as Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of your respective countries: Denmark, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Finland and Latvia. Welcome, and please express my cordial good wishes to your Heads of State, thanking them for the courteous words you have had the kindness to convey to me on their behalf. I express my respectful good wishes for their lofty mission at the service of their countries. I would also like, through you, to greet the civil and religious Authorities of your nations, as well as all your compatriots. Please assure them of my prayers. My thoughts also turn quite naturally to the Catholic communities present in your countries. You know that they desire to join in fraternally building their nation, to which they contribute to the best of their ability.
In my most recent Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, I recalled the necessary re-establishment of a proper relationship between the human being and Creation in which he lives and works. Creation is the precious gift which God, in his goodness, has made to human beings. They are its stewards and must therefore accept all the consequences of this responsibility. Men and women cannot decline or shirk it by off-loading it on to the generations to come. It is increasingly obvious that this responsibility for the environment cannot take priority over the urgent need to put an end to the scandals of poverty and hunger. On the contrary, it is no longer possible to separate the two realties because the continuous degradation of the environment is a direct threat to life and to the human being's development; and it even risks directly threatening peace between people and peoples.
As much on the individual as on the political level, it is henceforth necessary to make more decisive engagements with regard to Creation and which are more broadly shared. In this regard I warmly encourage the political authorities of your respective countries and the nations overall not only to reinforce their action for the protection of the environment but also since the problem cannot be faced solely at the specific level of each country to be a source of inspiration and encouragement in order to achieve restrictive international Agreements that are beneficial and fair to all.
The challenges that humanity faces today certainly call for a mobilization of human intelligence and creativity, an intensification of research applied with a view to a more efficient and healthier use of the energy and resources available. These efforts must seek to change or transform the current development model of our societies. The Church proposes that this profound modification which is yet to be discovered and lived, be oriented by the notion of the integral development of the human person. In fact, the good of the person is not to be found in the never-ending unbridled consumerism and accumulation of goods a consumerism and accumulation that are reserved to a small number and proposed as models to the masses. Concerning this it is not only the duty of the various religions to emphasize and defend the primacy of the human being and of the human spirit but also of the State. The State is duty-bound to do so mainly through an ambitious policy that provides for all citizens equal access to spiritual goods. In fact, these spiritual goods enhance the riches of the social bond and encourage the human being to pursue his spiritual quest.
Last Spring, during my Apostolic Visit to the different countries of the Middle East, I suggested on various occasions that religion in general be considered as a "new starting point" for peace. It is true that throughout history religions have often caused conflict. But it is also true that religions which lived according to their profound essence were and are an effective factor for reconciliation and peace. At this historical time religions too, through open and sincere dialogue, must seek the way to purification so as to correspond ever better to their own true vocation.
Our humanity desires peace, and, if possible, universal peace. It is necessary to strive for it without utopias and without manipulation. We all know that in order to establish peace political and economic, cultural and spiritual conditions are required. The peaceful coexistence of the different religious traditions in each nation is sometimes difficult. Rather than a political problem, this coexistence is also a problem that arises within these traditions themselves. Every believer is called to question God about his will for every human situation.
In recognizing God as the one Creator of the human being of every human being, regardless of his or her religious denomination, social condition or political opinion each person will respect the other in his oneness and in his difference. Before God there is no category or hierarchy of the human person, inferior or superior, dominating or protected. For him there is only the human being whom he created through love and whom he wants to see living in his family and in society, in brotherly harmony. The discovery of God's wise plan for the human being leads to recognition of his love. For the believer or person of good will, the resolution of human conflicts, such as the delicate coexistence of the different religions can be transformed into human coexistence in an order full of goodness and wisdom whose origins and dynamism are in God. This coexistence with respect for the nature of things and their inherent wisdom that comes from God the tranquillitas ordinis is called peace. Interreligious dialogue makes its own specific contribution to this slow genesis that resists immediate human, political or economic interests. It is sometimes difficult for the political and economic world to give the human being priority; to consider and to admit the importance and need of the religious factor and to guarantee religion its true nature and place in the public dimension is an even more sensitive task. Peace, so longed for, will only be born from the joint action of the individual, who discovers his true nature in God, and of the leaders of civil and religious societies who with respect for the dignity and faith of each one will be able to recognize and give to religion its noble and authentic role of fulfilling and perfecting the human person. Here it is a matter of a global recomposition, both temporal and spiritual, that will permit a new start on the path towards the peace that God wishes to be universal.
Mr Ambassadors, your mission to the Holy See has just begun. You will find with my collaborators the support you need for its successful accomplishment. Once again, I extend to you my most cordial good wishes for the successful outcome of your most sensitive office. May the Almighty sustain and accompany you, your loved ones, your collaborators and all your compatriots! May God shower an abundance of his Blessings upon you.
I am pleased to offer each one of you my cordial welcome to the house of the Successor of Peter, to whom Christ has entrusted the task of tending his sheep (cf. Jn 21,15-19), strengthening his brethren in the faith (cf. Lc 22,31) and preserving and promoting ecclesial unity (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 22). I thank Bishop Aleksander Kaskiewicz for his words presenting the path that the Church in Belarus is taking and highlighting the challenges ahead.
At the meetings I have had with you I appreciated the pastoral zeal with which you carry out your ministry, desiring and constantly working to increase co-responsibility, communion and the sharing of decisions with one another so that your service may be ever more fruitful. Indeed, it is particularly important to proclaim the perennial Message of the Gospel with renewed enthusiasm and efficacy in a society that is not immune to the temptations of secularism, hedonism and relativism: the problems of a falling birth rate, the frailty of families and the illusion that good fortune is to be found outside the homeland are a sign of it. In the face of these challenges, an urgent task of Pastors is to emphasize the power of faith, a faith rooted in a solid tradition, to contribute to preserving the profound Christian identity of the nation in respectful dialogue with other cultures and religions. To achieve this objective, accepting the invitation in the Psalm: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Ps 133: 1), it is necessary to take great pains in formulating and promoting ever more appropriate pastoral programmes and methods, as well as in putting into practice the decisions of the Bishops' Conference. This renewed testimony of unity, in addition to favouring the proclamation of the Gospel, will also facilitate relations with the civil Authorities and, especially, ecumenical relations.
Another element of pastoral action that I wish to underscore is special attention to the educational dimension. As I have said several times, today we are living in a sort of "emergency" in this delicate and essential sector and must redouble the efforts to offer a sound formation to the new generations, in the first place. I therefore encourage you to persevere in your commitment, ensuring that the journey of faith in all the stages of life is marked by an adequate catechesis and that there are intra and extra ecclesial opportunities to ensure that, under your guidance, Christ's Message reaches every part of the flock entrusted to you. Concern for the discernment and guidance of the different vocations acquires special importance particularly vocations to the priesthood and to the religious life as does the commitment to encouraging programmes for the human and Christian development of youth. In this regard, I ask you to be watchful to ensure that candidates to the priesthood receive a sound and rigorous spiritual and theological formation and are duly guided in undertaking a serious and profound verification of the divine call. The situation of our society today demands particularly careful discernment. Thus it is important for the future of your Church that you continue to offer young seminarians in Grodno and Pinsk a complete and qualified course of formation. Furthermore, the fact that in both these institutions candidates for the diocesan clergy and for the religious life share the same formation for the priesthood affords a good opportunity to promote a uniform pastoral action. This situation will bear ever more promising fruits if the educational curriculum continues to be the result of intense collaboration between the Bishop and the respective religious Superiors. It will also be able to give life to projects for continuing formation. Be close and ever more caring to your priests, especially those who are beginning their pastoral ministry. The attentive and cordial exercise of the Bishop's fatherly role is a fundamental element for the success of priestly life! It is necessary in addition to be constantly aware that the Lord is calling you, as Pastors of the Church, to discern every ministry destined to the edification of the ecclesial body, even one that is secular, cultural and civil, for all contribute to extending the Kingdom of God in Belarus, in the spirit of true and real communion so as to evoke those Christian values that made a crucial contribution to the building of the European civilization.
Dear Brothers, may you recognize every appropriate opportunity to proclaim and spread the Kingdom of God, witnessing with practical actions to brotherhood that generates peace, to the meekness that accompanies justice, to the spirit of communion that shuns personalism, to love that is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or disrespectful, that does not seek its own interests, is not irritable or resentful, does not harbour resentment but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, for love of Christ (cf. 1Co 13,4-7). Fraternal collaboration with the Orthodox Church of Belarus also fits into this context. Her Pastors share with you the search for and commitment to the good of the faithful. The Orthodox Churches too, like the Catholic Church, are deeply committed to reflecting on how to respond to the challenges of our time in order to transmit Christ's Message faithfully. Accepting the invitation issued at the recent Catholic-Orthodox Meeting in Cyprus, we must intensify our common journey in this direction. The small but fervent Greek Catholic community that exists in your country will be able to make a significant contribution. It is an important testimony for the Church and a gift of the Lord.
A few months ago I received the President of the Republic of Belarus. At our cordial and respectful meeting, the desire of both parties to stipulate an Agreement that is currently being drafted, was reaffirmed. In addition, I stressed the special attention with which this Apostolic See, and likewise the Bishops' Conference, follows the events in the country and the commitment to effective collaboration on matters of common interest in order to promote the citizens' good with mutual respect for the competences of each one.
Venerable Brothers, as I renew my gratitude, I invoke the Mother of God, so beloved in your land, so that she may sustain, guide and protect you. With these wishes and with special affection, I impart to you, to the priests, to the men and women religious and to all the faithful a special Apostolic Blessing, as I assure you of my remembrance in prayer for the whole Belarusian People.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I welcome all of you who have come here to offer the Christmas tree which, together with the crib, will decorate St Peter's Square during the celebrations of the Nativity. I address a special welcome to the Minister of the Economy of the Walloon Region and to Bishop Aloys Jousten of Liège and thank them for their kind words to me. My cordial greetings also go to H.E. Mr Franck De Coninck, Ambassador of Belgium to the Holy See, as well as to the local political authorities who have made this journey. I likewise greet the choristers and the representatives of the Walloon Agency for Export and Foreign Investments who initiated the project. I extend my gratitude to all who have offered their collaboration with this gift but are unable to be here today. I also thank those who saw to the delicate transport of this imposing tree.
In the forest the trees are close to each other and each one contributes to making the forest a shady and sometimes dark place. And here, chosen from among a multitude, the majestic fir that you are offering me today is lit up and covered with sparkling decorations like as many marvellous fruits. Having abandoned its sombre dress for a scintillating splendour, it is transfigured and becomes the messenger of a light that is not its own but bears witness to the true Light that comes into this world. This tree's destiny is comparable to that of the shepherds: while they were watching in the shadows of the night, here they are illumined by the Angels' message. This tree's destiny is also comparable to our own, for we are called to bear good fruits to show that the world has truly been visited and redeemed by the Lord. Standing beside the crib, this fir, in its own way, demonstrates the great mystery that was present in the simple, poor place of Bethlehem. To the inhabitants of Rome, to all the pilgrims and to all who will visit St Peter's Square through the television images broadcast across the world, it proclaims the coming of the Son of God. Through this tree, the ground of your land and the faith of the Christian Communities of your Region greet the Infant God, the One who came to make all things new and to call all creatures, from the humblest to the most exalted, to enter into the mystery of Redemption and to be associated with it.
I pray that the populations of your region will stay faithful to the light of the faith. Brought a long time ago by men who ventured into the valleys and forests of the Ardennes, from your area the light of the Gospel was then taken by a great number of missionaries, who left their native land to spread it, sometimes even to the ends of the world. May the Church in Belgium, and especially the Diocese of Liège, continue to be a land where the seed of the Kingdom, that Christ came to scatter on earth, generously germinates.
Dear friends, once again I address to you a heartfelt "thank you", for this beautiful present. I offer you from this moment my very cordial good wishes for a beautiful and holy Christmas, which I ask you to pass on to your families, your collaborators and all those who are dear to you.
May the Lord bless you, your Region and the whole of Belgium!
We are glad that a Belgian tree is here to illuminate the world from St Peter's. I hope for you all that the light of this tree may bring joy to your hearts and that you will be able to celebrate Christmas with a greater inner joy. May God bless you all! Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like to express to you all my joy at meeting you!
I greet with deep cordiality the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops present. I address a special thought to the Prefect of the Dicastery, Archbishop Angelo Amato, and thank him for his kind and affectionate words on behalf of all. Together with him I greet the Secretary of the Congregation, the Undersecretary, the Priests, the Religious, the Historical and Theological Consultors, the Postulators, the Lay Officials and the Medical Experts with their families and all the collaborators.
The special circumstance that sees you gathered round the Successor of Peter is the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the institution of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which has given a more organic and modern form to the action of discernment which the Church, from her origins, has exercised in order to recognize the holiness of so many of her children. The interventions of my Predecessors, especially Sixtus V, Urban VIII and Benedict XIV prepared for the creation of your Dicastery which was set up in 1969 by the Servant of God Paul VI, thanks to whom a collection of experiences, scientific contributions and procedural norms were worked out in an intelligent and balanced synthesis, which resulted in the erection of a new Dicastery.
I am well aware of the activity that this Congregation has developed with competence over the past 40 years at the service of the edification of the People of God, making a significant contribution to the work of evangelization. Indeed, when the Church venerates a Saint, she proclaims the efficacy of the Gospel and discovers joyfully that Christ's presence in the world, believed in and adored with faith, is capable of transforming the life of human beings and producing fruits of salvation for all humanity. In addition, every beatification and canonization is for Christians a strong encouragement to live the sequela of Christ with intensity and enthusiasm, walking towards the fullness of Christian existence and the perfection of charity (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 40). In the light of these fruits it is possible to understand the importance of the role carried out by the Dicastery in accompanying the individual stages of an event of such rare depth and beauty and faithfully documenting the manifestation of that sensus fidelium which is an important factor in the recognition of holiness.
The Saints are a sign of that radical newness which the Son of God with his Incarnation, death and Resurrection grafted on to human nature. As outstanding witnesses of faith, they are not representatives of the past but rather constitute the present and future of the Church and of society. They have fully realized that caritas in veritate which is the supreme value of Christian life; they are like the facets of a prism which, in various nuances, reflect the one light who is Christ.
The life of these extraordinary figures of believers who belong to all the regions of the earth have two significant constants that I would like to underline.
First of all, their relationship with the Lord, even when it takes traditional paths, is never weary and repetitive but is always expressed in authentic, lively and original ways and flows from an intense and involving dialogue with the Lord, which also enhances and enriches the exterior forms.
In addition, the continuous search for evangelical perfection, the rejection of mediocrity and the aspiration to belong totally to Christ stands out in the lives of these brothers and sisters. "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lv 19,2) is the exhortation quoted in the Book of Leviticus which God addresses to Moses. It makes us realize that holiness means constantly striving for a high standard of Christian living, a demanding achievement, a ceaseless quest for communion with God which makes the committed believer, with the greatest possible generosity, "correspond" to the plan of love that the Father has for him or her and for the whole of humanity.
The main stages in the recognition of holiness by the Church, that is, beatification and canonization, are linked to each other by a bond of great coherence. To them should be added, as an indispensable preparatory phase, the declaration of a Servant of God's heroic virtues or martyrdom, and the ascertainment of some extraordinary gift, the miracle, which the Lord grants through the intercession of his faithful Servant.
What great pedagogical wisdom is manifest in this itinerary! At first, the People of God are invited to look to those brethren who, after a careful preliminary discernment, are held up as models of Christian life; the faithful are then urged to address to them a cult of veneration and invocation restricted to within the context of local Churches or religious orders; finally, they are called to rejoice with the entire community of believers in the certainty that thanks to the solemn Pontifical proclamation, one of its sons or daughters has attained God's glory, in which he or she shares in Christ's perennial intercessions for the brothers and sisters (cf. He 7,25).
In this journey the Church welcomes with joy and wonder the miracles that God in his infinite kindness freely bestows upon her in order to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel (cf. Mc 16,20). He likewise welcomes the testimony of martyrs as the clearest and most intense form of configuration to Christ.
This progressive manifestation of the holiness of believers corresponds with the style God has chosen in revealing himself to men and women, and, at the same time, it is part of the process with which the People of God grows in faith and in the knowledge of the Truth.
The gradual approach to the "fullness of light" emerges uniquely in the passage from beatification to canonization. In this process, in fact, events of great religious and cultural vitality take place. Liturgical invocation, popular devotion, the imitation of virtues, historical and theological study and attention to the "signs from on high" are all interwoven and enrich one another. On this occasion, Jesus' promise to his disciples of all times is fulfilled: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (cf. Jn 16,13). Indeed, the witness of Saints sheds light on ever new aspects of the Gospel and makes them known.
As has been clearly emphasized by the words of the Most Excellent Prefect, a spiritual and pastoral richness becomes visible in the process of the recognition of holiness which involves the whole Christian community. Holiness, namely the transfiguration of people and human realities into an image of the Risen Christ, represents the ultimate goal of the plan of divine salvation, as the Apostle Paul recalls: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1Th 4,3).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, the Solemnity of Christmas, for which we are preparing, causes to shine out in its full light the dignity of each human being, called to become a son or daughter of God. In the experience of the Saints, this dignity is manifested in the concreteness of historical circumstances, in personal temperaments, in free and responsible choices and in supernatural charisms.
Comforted by such a large number of witnesses, let us too, therefore, hasten our steps toward the Lord who comes, raising the splendid invocation with which the hymn of the Te Deum ends: Aeterna fac sum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari"; Let them [Thy servants] be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.
With these wishes I gladly express to each one my fervent good wishes for the approaching Christmas celebrations and impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all with affection.
Dear young people of ACR,
I greet you with deep affection. It is always a pleasure for me to meet with you on this annual pre-Christmas occasion, so anticipated and desired by you all and also by me. I cordially greet the National President of the Italian Catholic Action, Dr Franco Miano, and General Chaplain, Mons. Domenico Sigalini. Through them, I thank those who work generously for your religious and human formation, dedicating time and personal resources to your praiseworthy Association.
I am aware that this year you are dedicated in particular to the theme "We Are On the Air", in order to put yourselves in touch with Jesus and with others, using as a reference point the Biblical image of Zacchaeus, who encounters the Lord and welcomes him with joy. You too are small like Zacchaeus, who climbed into a tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But the Lord, lifting his gaze, noticed him immediately among the crowd. Even if you are little, even if at times adults do not take you into consideration as you would like, Jesus sees you and hears you. Not only does Jesus see you, but he "tunes in" to your "wavelength"; he wants to come to visit you, to stay with you, to build a strong friendship with each one of you. This is what he did when he was born in Bethlehem, making himself close to the youth and adults of every age, and also to each one of us.
Dear friends, in front of Jesus may you always imitate the example of Zacchaeus, who promptly came down from the tree, welcomed him joyfully into his house and from then on could not stop celebrating him! Welcome him into your lives every day: in your games and activities and in your prayers; when he asks for your friendship and your generosity; when you are happy and when you are afraid. On Christmas, once again, your friend Jesus comes to meet you and calls you! He is the Son of God, the Lord whom you see every day in the images present in churches, along the roads, in your houses. He always speaks to you of the "greatest" love, which can give itself without limits, to bring peace and forgiveness.
Only the presence of Jesus in your lives can give you complete happiness, because he is capable of making all things ever new and beautiful. He never forgets you. If you tell him every day that you are "on the air", you may rest assured that he will contact you to send you a caring message of friendship and affection. He does this when you participate in Holy Mass; when you dedicate yourselves to study and to your daily tasks; and when you carry out acts of sharing and of solidarity, generosity and love for others. In this way you will be able to tell your friends, your parents, your animators and your teachers that you have succeeded in "connecting" with Jesus in your prayers; while accomplishing your duties; and when you will be able to stand beside the many boys and girls who suffer, especially those who come from distant countries and often are abandoned, without parents or friends.
Dear young people, with these thoughts I wish you a happy and Holy Christmas. As I extend my good wishes to your families and all of Catholic Action, entrusting you to the protection of the Mother of God, I bless you all wholeheartedly.
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Solemnity of Christmas, as the Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano has just emphasized, is a very special occasion of encounter and communion. The Child whom we adore in Bethlehem invites us to feel the immense love of God, that God who came down from heaven and drew close to each one of us, to make us his children, a part of his own family. This traditional Christmas meeting of the Successor of Peter with his closest collaborators is likewise a family meeting, one which strengthens our bonds of affection and communion so that we may be, increasingly, that "enduring Upper Room", dedicated to spreading the Kingdom of God, as has just been recalled. I thank the Cardinal Dean for his cordial words expressing the good wishes of the College of Cardinals, the Members of the Roman Curia and the Governorate, as well as of all the Papal Representatives who are deeply united with us in bringing to the men and women of our time the light born in the manger of Bethlehem. As I receive you with great joy, I also wish to express to each of you my gratitude for your generous and capable service to the Vicar of Christ and to the Church.
Another year full of important events for the Church and for the world is drawing to a close. As I look back upon this year with great gratitude, I would like at this moment to mention just a few key points for the life of the Church. From the Pauline Year we have moved on to the Year for Priests. From the impressive figure of the Apostle to the Gentiles who, struck by the light of the Risen Christ and by his call, took the Gospel to the peoples of the world, we have passed to the humble Curé of Ars, who spent his whole life in the little village that had been entrusted to him and yet, precisely in the humility of his service, made God's reconciling goodness visible throughout the world. Starting with these two figures we can see the great breadth of the priestly ministry, the grandeur of small things, and how, through the seemingly insignificant service of one individual, God can achieve great things, purifying and renewing the world from within.
For the Church, and for me personally, the year now ending was to a great extent marked by Africa. First of all, there was my Journey to Cameroon and Angola. It was moving for me to experience the great cordiality with which the Successor of Peter, the Vicarius Christi, was welcomed. The festive joy and warm affection I met with along all the roads was not directed to a mere chance guest. In the encounter with the Pope the universal Church could be experienced, the community that embraces the world and is brought together by God through Christ the community that is not founded on human interests but rather is offered to us by God's loving concern for us. All together we form the family of God, brothers and sisters by virtue of our one Father: this was our lived experience. And we were able to feel that God's loving concern for us in Christ is neither something of the past nor the fruit of learned theories, but rather but a completely concrete reality, here and now. God himself is in our midst: we perceived this through the ministry of the Successor of Peter. Thus we were raised above our simple everyday routine. Heaven opened up, and this is what makes a day become a holiday. And it is at the same time something that is enduring. It continues to be true, even in daily life, that heaven is no longer closed; that God is near; that in Christ we all belong to one another.
The memory of the liturgical celebrations made a particularly deep impression on me. The celebrations of the Holy Eucharist were truly feasts of faith. I would like to mention two elements that strike me as particularly important. First of all there was a great shared joy which was also expressed bodily, but in a disciplined manner, directed to the presence of the living God. With this, the second element already became apparent: the sense of sacredness, of the mystery of the living God's presence, fashioned, as it were, each individual action. The Lord is present the Creator, the One to whom all things belong, from whom we come and towards whom we make our pilgrim way. I spontaneously thought of Saint Cyprian's words; in his commentary on the "Our Father" he wrote: "Let us remember we are in God's sight. We must be pleasing in God's eyes, both in the attitude of our bodies and in the use of our voices" (De Dom. Or., 4 : CSEL III, 1P 269). Yes, we had this awareness that we were standing before God. The result was neither fear nor inhibition, nor external obedience to rubrics nor much less the need of some to show off to others or to shout out in an undisciplined manner. Rather, there was what the Fathers called "sobria ebrietas": a sense of joyfulness that in any case remains sober and orderly, uniting people from within, leading them to a communal praise of God, a praise which at the same time inspires love of neighbour and mutual responsibility.
Naturally, an important part of my Journey in Africa was the meeting with my Brother Bishops and the inauguration of the Synod for Africa, with the presentation of the Instrumentum Laboris. That meeting took place in the context of an evening conversation on the feast of Saint Joseph, a conversation in which the representatives of the individual episcopates touchingly expressed their hopes and concerns. I think that Saint Joseph, the good master of his house, who personally knows what it means to consider, attentively and hopefully, the future paths of the family, lovingly heard us and ushered us into the Synod itself. Let us cast just a brief glance at the Synod. What became clear above all during my visit to Africa was the theological and pastoral import of the papal primacy as a point of convergence for the unity of God's Family. There, in the Synod, we saw emerge even more clearly the importance of collegiality of the unity of the Bishops who receive their ministry precisely because they enter into the community of the successors of the Apostles: each one is a Bishop, a successor of the Apostles, only to the extent that he participates in the community of those in whom the Collegium Apostolorum perseveres in unity with Peter and with his Successor. Just as in the liturgies in Africa, and then again in Saint Peter's in Rome, the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council took shape in an exemplary way, so in the communion of the Synod the conciliar ecclesiology was lived out in a very practical way. We were also able to hear very moving accounts by members of the faithful from Africa accounts of concrete suffering and reconciliation in the tragedies of the Continent's recent history.
The Synod had as its theme: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. This is a theological and, especially, a pastoral theme of great timeliness, but it could have been misunderstood as being a political theme. The task of the Bishops was to transform theology into pastoral care, namely into a very concrete pastoral ministry in which the great perspectives found in sacred Scripture and Tradition find application in the activity of Bishops and priests in specific times and places. Here, however, it was necessary not to succumb to the temptation to enter personally into politics and, from being Pastors, to become political leaders. In fact, the very practical question that Pastors constantly have to face is precisely this: how can we be realistic and practical without claiming a political competence that does not belong to us? We might also say: it was the problem of a positive "laicity", practised and interpreted correctly. This is also a fundamental theme of the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, published on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which thus took up and further developed the question of the theological and practical role of the Church's social doctrine.
Did the Synod Fathers succeed in finding the rather narrow path between mere theological theory and immediate political action, the path of the "shepherd"? In my brief address at the end of the Synod I answered this question in the affirmative, in a conscious and explicit way. Of course, in drafting the Post-Synodal Document we will need to pay attention to maintaining this balance and thereby make that contribution to the Church and society in Africa which has been entrusted to the Church by virtue of her mission. I would like to try to explain this briefly with regard to a single point. As has been said, the theme of the Synod designated three great words which are basic to theological and social responsibility: reconciliation justice peace. One might say that reconciliation and justice are the two essential premises of peace and that, therefore, to a certain extent, they also define its nature. Let us limit ourselves to the word "reconciliation". A mere glance at the sufferings and sorrows of recent history in Africa, but also in many other parts of the world, shows that unresolved and deeply rooted disputes can in some situations cause outbreaks of violence in which every trace of humanity seems to disappear. Peace can only be achieved as the result of inner reconciliation. We may consider the history of Europe following the Second World War as a positive example of a process of reconciliation that is succeeding. The fact that since 1945 there have been no more wars in Western and Central Europe has without a doubt been due primarily to wise and ethically oriented political and economic structures, but these were only able to develop because of the prior existence of inner processes of reconciliation which made possible a new coexistence. Every society needs acts of reconciliation in order to enjoy peace. These acts are a prerequisite of a good political order, but they cannot be achieved by politics alone. They are pre-political processes and they must spring from other sources.
The Synod sought to examine in depth the concept of reconciliation as a task for the Church in our day, and called attention to its various dimensions. Today Saint Paul's appeal to the Corinthians has again proved most timely. "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2Co 5,20). If man is not reconciled with God, he is also in conflict with creation. He is not reconciled with himself, he would like to be something other than what he is and consequently he is not reconciled with his neighbour either. Part of reconciliation is also the ability to acknowledge guilt and to ask forgiveness from God and from others. Lastly, part of the process of reconciliation is also the readiness to do penance, the willingness to suffer deeply for one's sin and to allow oneself to be transformed. Part of this is the gratuitousness of which the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate speaks repeatedly: the readiness to do more than what is necessary, not to tally costs, but to go beyond merely legal requirements. Part of this is the generosity which God himself has shown us. We think of Jesus' words: "If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5, 23ff.). God, knowing that we were unreconciled and seeing that we have something against him, rose up and came to meet us, even though he alone was in the right. He came to meet us even to the Cross, in order to reconcile us. This is what it means to give freely: a willingness to take the first step; to be the first to reach out to the other, to offer reconciliation, to accept the suffering entailed in giving up being in the right. To persevere in the desire for reconciliation: God gave us an example, and this is the way for us to become like him; it is an attitude constantly needed in our world. Today we must learn once more how to acknowledge guilt, we must shake off the illusion of being innocent. We must learn how to do penance, to let ourselves be transformed; to reach out to the other and to let God give us the courage and strength for this renewal. Today, in this world of ours, we need to rediscover the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The fact that it has largely disappeared from the daily life and habits of Christians is a symptom of a loss of truthfulness with regard both to ourselves and to God; a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace. Saint Bonaventure was of the opinion that the Sacrament of Penance was a sacrament of humanity as such, a sacrament that God had instituted in its essence immediately after original sin through the penance he imposed on Adam, even though it could only take on its full shape in Christ, who is the reconciling power of God in person and who took our penance upon himself. In fact, the unity of sin, repentance and forgiveness is one of the fundamental conditions for being truly human: these conditions find complete expression in the sacrament, yet in their deepest roots they are part of the experience of being human persons as such. Thus the Synod of Bishops for Africa was right to reflect also on the rites of reconciliation found in the African tradition, as places of learning and preparation for the great reconciliation which God gives in the Sacrament of Penance. This reconciliation, however, demands the broad "forecourt" of the acknowledgement of sin and humble repentance. Reconciliation is a pre-political concept and a pre-political reality, and for this very reason it is of the greatest importance for the task of politics itself. Unless the power of reconciliation is created in people's hearts, political commitment to peace lacks its inner premise. At the Synod, the Pastors of the Church strove for that inner purification of man which is the essential prior condition for building justice and peace. But this purification and inner development towards true humanity cannot exist without God.
Reconciliation this key word brings to mind the second important journey of the year: my pilgrimage to Jordan and the Holy Land. In this regard I would like first of all to thank warmly the King of Jordan for the great hospitality with which he welcomed me and accompanied me throughout my pilgrimage. My gratitude more especially concerns the exemplary way in which he has worked for peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, respect for the religion of others, and for cooperation in our common responsibility before God. I also heartily thank the Government of Israel for all it did to enable my visit to take place peacefully and safely. I am particularly grateful for the possibility granted me to celebrate two great public liturgies in Jerusalem and Nazareth in which Christians were able to appear publicly as communities of faith in the Holy Land. Lastly, my thanks go also to the Palestinian Authority which likewise welcomed me with great cordiality; it too gave me the possibility of presiding at a public liturgical celebration in Bethlehem and of coming to know the sufferings as well as the hopes of the Territory. Everything that can be seen in those countries cries out for reconciliation, justice and peace. My visit to Yad Vashem represented an overwhelming encounter with the cruelty of human sin, with the hatred of a blind ideology which, with no justification, consigned millions of human beings to death and thereby, in the end, even wished to eliminate God from the world, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the God of Jesus Christ. Thus, Yad Vashem is, in the first place, a memorial against hatred, a heartfelt appeal for purification and forgiveness, for love. This very monument to human sin made all the more important my visit to the places commemorating the faith, and allowed us to perceive their continuing relevance. In Jordan we saw the lowest point of the land along the River Jordan. How could one not be reminded of the words of the Letter to the Ephesians, which tell us that Christ "descended into the lower parts of the earth" (Ep 4,9). In Christ God descended to the lowest depths of the human being, even into the night of hatred and blindness, the darkness of man's distance from God, in order to kindle there the flame of his love. He is present in even the darkest night: "if I go down to the nether world, behond, you are there": this phrase of Psalm 139: 8 became a reality in Jesus' descent. Thus the encounter with the places of salvation in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, at the site of the Crucifixion on Calvary, and before the empty tomb, witness to the Resurrection, was in some sense to touch the history of God with us. Faith is not a myth. It is real history whose traces are tangible for us. This realism of faith does us good, especially amid the turmoil of the present time. God truly revealed himself. In Jesus Christ he truly became flesh. As the Risen One, Jesus remains true man, he ceaselessly opens our humanity to God and always proves that God is a God who is near. Yes, God is alive and relates to us. In all his grandeur he is still the God who is near, "God-with-us", who continually calls out to us: let yourselves be reconciled, with me and with one another! He always sets before our personal and community life the task of reconciliation.
Finally, I would like once again to express my joy and gratitude for my Visit to the Czech Republic. Prior to this Journey I had always been told that it was a country with a majority of agnostics and atheists, in which Christians are now only a minority. All the more joyful was my surprise at seeing myself surrounded everywhere by great cordiality and friendliness, that the important liturgies were celebrated in a joyful atmosphere of faith; that in the setting of the University and the world of culture my words were attentively listened to; and that the state authorities treated me with great courtesy and did their utmost to contribute to the success of the visit. I could now be tempted to say something about the beauty of the country and the magnificent testimonies of Christian culture which only make this beauty perfect. But I consider most important the fact that we, as believers, must have at heart even those people who consider themselves agnostics or atheists. When we speak of a new evangelization these people are perhaps taken aback. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission or to give up their freedom of thought and will. Yet the question of God remains present even for them, even if they cannot believe in the concrete nature of his concern for us. In Paris, I spoke of the quest for God as the fundamental reason why Western monasticism, and with it, Western culture, came into being. As the first step of evangelization we must seek to keep this quest alive; we must be concerned that human beings do not set aside the question of God, but rather see it as an essential question for their lives. We must make sure that they are open to this question and to the yearning concealed within it. Here I think naturally of the words which Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah, namely that the Temple must be a house of prayer for all the nations (cf. Is Is 56,7 Mc 11,17). Jesus was thinking of the so-called "Court of the Gentiles" which he cleared of extraneous affairs so that it could be a free space for the Gentiles who wished to pray there to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the Temple was reserved. A place of prayer for all the peoples by this he was thinking of people who know God, so to speak, only from afar; who are dissatisfied with their own gods, rites and myths; who desire the Pure and the Great, even if God remains for them the "unknown God" (cf. Ac 17,23). They had to pray to the unknown God, yet in this way they were somehow in touch with the true God, albeit amid all kinds of obscurity. I think that today too the Church should open a sort of "Court of the Gentiles" in which people might in some way latch on to God, without knowing him and before gaining access to his mystery, at whose service the inner life of the Church stands. Today, in addition to interreligious dialogue, there should be a dialogue with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.
Finally, once again, a word about the Year for Priests. As priests we are available to all: to those who know God at first hand and to those for whom he is the Unknown. We all need to become acquainted with him ever anew, and we need to seek him constantly in order to become true friends of God. How, in the end, can we get to know God other than through those people who are friends of God? The inmost core of our priestly ministry consists of our being Christ's friends (cf. Jn 15,15), friends of God through whom others may also discover God's closeness. And so, together with my profound gratitude for all the assistance which you have given to me throughout the past year, these are my good wishes for Christmas: may we become ever closer friends of Christ and thus friends of God, and so become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. I wish all of you a Holy Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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