Speeches 1998 - Sunday, 22 March 1998


APOSTOLIC JOURNEY

OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II

TO NIGERIA (MARCH 21-23, 1997)

MEETING WITH NIGERIAN BISHOPS


Abuja, Nigeria

Monday, 23 March 1998


My Dear Brothers in the Episcopacy,

1. The echo of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, celebrated almost four years ago, is still strong in our memories. The Synod was a time of grace- filled, fruitful reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of the Catholic community on this Continent as it continues to grow and develop. The Fathers explored at length and in all its complexity what the Church is called to do in the face of the present situation. With their confidence placed firmly in God's promises, and despite the difficulties being experienced in many countries, they re-affirmed the determination of the Church to strengthen in all Africans the hope of genuine liberation (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ).

As you work towards this end yourselves, I address this message to you today and place at the heart of what I say the words of encouragement and grace written almost two thousand years ago by the Apostle Paul to his own "beloved child" Timothy: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control" (2Tm 1,7). My Brothers, your own ministry individually to the faithful of your particular Churches and collectively to the nation as a whole already shows the mark of this spirit, and I wish to confirm your courage and steadfastness so that these may ever remain the hallmarks of your proclamation of the salvation offered in Jesus Christ. This is all the more necessary as the new Millennium approaches, the time of grace, the "hour of Africa" (Ecclesia in Africa ). It is your continued bold and decisive leadership which will enable the Church in Nigeria to meet the challenges of the new evangelization at this moment of your history.

I cannot adequately express my joy and gratitude at having been able to return to Nigeria and to celebrate in this blessed land the Beatification of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi. I thank Archbishop Obiefuna for the kindness and warmth of the words with which, in the name of all of you, he has welcomed me. In turn, I now greet you, the Bishops of Nigeria, and through you I greet all the members of your local Churches. Please assure your priests, religious and lay faithful especially the sick, the elderly, the children and the young people of my love and esteem. "Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2Tm 1,2).

2. In the work of evangelization the Church faces many obstacles, yet she does not give in to discouragement. Rather, she continues to bear eloquent witness to her Lord, and not only through the spiritual care which she provides to her own children, but also through her commitment to serving Nigerian society as a whole. Indeed, hers is a strength far beyond the sum of her human resources "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power" (2Tm 1,7) and so she is confident that from the seeds she sows God will bring forth an abundant harvest. In truth, the word of God cannot be restrained (cf. 2Tm 2,9) and it will always be clear that it is not to us but to the "Lord of the harvest" (Lc 10,2) that the glory is due.

At the same time, however, the relevance and credibility of the Church's proclamation of the Good News is closely linked to the credibility of her messengers (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). For this reason those who have been called to the "ministry of reconciliation" (2Co 5,18) both Bishops and priests must show clearly and unmistakably that they firmly believe what they preach. In the words of my predecessor Pope Paul VI: "The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel that we proclaim" (Evangelii Nuntiandi EN 76).

3. Nigeria has one of the largest Catholic populations in Africa and the number of believers continues to grow. This is a sign of the vitality and growing maturity of this local Church. Particularly promising in this same regard is the increase of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Since priests are your chief co-workers in carrying out the Church's apostolic mission, it is essential that your relations with them be marked by unity, fraternity and appreciation of their gifts. All who have been configured by Holy Orders to Christ the Good Shepherd must share his attitude of complete self-giving for the sake of the flock and the progress of the Gospel. Living the priestly life requires a deep spiritual formation, and especially commitment to unceasing personal conversion. Your lives and those of your priests should reflect the spirit of evangelical poverty and detachment from the things and attitudes of the world. The sign of celibacy as a complete gift of self to the Lord and his Church must be carefully guarded, and any behaviour which could give scandal must be carefully avoided and, where necessary, corrected.

With more than three thousand seminarians currently in formation in your existing inter-diocesan major seminaries, you are planning to open new ones; this will allow you to ensure more readily the proper training of candidates to the priesthood. Moreover, the major seminaries for religious are also doing well and experiencing growth. Even as numbers increase, however, it remains of paramount importance to exercise careful guidance and direction in the selection and preparation of those called to priestly ministry in the Church. You can be sure that if your seminaries conform to the fundamental requirements of the Church's programme of priestly formation especially those presented in the Conciliar Decree Optatam Totius and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis they will bear excellent fruit for generations to come.

4. A few short months ago, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria completed its National Pastoral Plan, a tool which will be of great value in giving impetus and direction to the new evangelization. As you implement this Plan, you will need constantly to evaluate its effectiveness and to make together the modifications necessary to meet the various pastoral needs of the particular Churches. No pastoral plan which is truly national can fail to consider ways in which ethnic and cultural differences can be brought into harmony in a spirit of genuine collaboration and ecclesial communion. Your joint support of pastoral projects such as the Catholic Institute of West Africa is one of the ways to overcome such differences. I wish to encourage you to make the Bishops' Conference an effective instrument of ever greater unity, solidarity and joint action on the part of the forty-five different Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions in Nigeria. Given the increasing numbers of priestly and religious vocations, I encourage you to foster missionary vocations and to facilitate the apostolate of priests and religious called to missionary work outside their own dioceses and outside Nigeria. These are some of the challenges facing the Church in Nigeria, a Church which has now come of age. Yes, Christianity "is well and truly planted in this blessed soil" (Ecclesia in Africa ); Africa has become "a new homeland for Christ" (ibid., 56) and Africans are now missionaries to one another.

In a very special way your Dioceses can count on the witness and work of many men and women Religious who, giving freely of themselves, contribute so much to the life and vigour of your communities. Their special consecration to the Lord enables them to bear a particularly effective witness to God's love for his people and makes them living signs of the truth that "the Kingdom of God is at hand" (Mc 1,15). They are an integral element of the Church's life and mission in Nigeria: let them never be absent from your fatherly care and concern; be close to them and cherish their charisms as an extraordinary gift of the Lord.

It is also fitting at this point that I say a word of praise for the increasing involvement of the lay faithful in the task of advancing the Kingdom of God in this land. In fact, the strength of the Church's witness to the Gospel will depend more and more on the formation of an active laity, enabling them to bring the spirit of Christ into the political, social and cultural arenas and to offer increasingly competent cooperation in planning and carrying out pastoral initiatives. Your particular Churches are blessed with catechists and "evangelizers" who zealously go about the task of announcing Christ and making his ways known to their brothers and sisters. Moreover, the specific gifts of societies of the lay apostolate and prayer groups, as long as they carefully avoid all exclusivism, are a vital force for the growth of your faith communities.

5. The Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops considered the evangelization of the family to be a major priority, since it is through families that the African family will be evangelized (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). Moreover, marriage and family life are the normal path of holiness for the majority of the faithful entrusted to your care. Therefore, your unremitting efforts to lead couples to discover the truth, the beauty and the richness of grace to be found in their new life together in Christ remain an essential part of your pastoral responsibilities and the surest way to ensure a genuine inculturation of the Gospel.

In a similar manner, young people, who are the future of the Church and of the nation, must be given every help and assistance in overcoming the obstacles which might thwart their development: illiteracy, unemployment, idleness, drugs. An excellent way of meeting this challenge is to call upon young people themselves to be the evangelizers of their peers for no one can do this better than they. Young people should be helped to discover very early on the value of the gift of self, an essential factor in reaching personal maturity. And I would add that you must make it a particular concern of yours to do all that you can to ensure that Nigerian youth especially girls and young women are protected from becoming victims of unscrupulous exploitation, which often forces them into particularly degrading forms of slavery with tragic and devastating consequences.

The Synod Fathers also called the Church in Africa to be actively involved in the process of inculturation, respecting the two important criteria of compatibility with the Christian message and communion with the Universal Church (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). I encourage you therefore to do all that you can liturgically, theologically, administratively so that your people will feel more and more at home in the Church, and the Church more and more at home among your people. Necessary here will be research into African Traditional Religion and culture, and the prudent exercise of discernment and vigilance. May the Holy Spirit guide you in these efforts.

6. The members of the particular Churches entrusted to your care are citizens of a nation which must now meet several serious challenges as it attempts to implement political and social change. In this context, ever greater significance accrues to your role as leaders in the Catholic community, leaders who recognize the desirability and need for constructive dialogue with all sectors of society regarding the just and solid bases of life in society. Such a dialogue, while seeking to keep open all channels of communication in a spirit of patience and good will, does not prevent you from presenting openly and respectfully the Church's convictions, especially regarding such important matters as justice and impartiality for all citizens, respect for human rights, religious freedom and the objective moral truth which ought to be reflected in civil legislation.

It is of the utmost importance that all Nigerians should work together to ensure that necessary changes may be brought about peacefully and without undue hardship to the weaker segments of the population. In this, it is clear that the zealous efforts of Pastors and faithful, in close cooperation with Christians of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, play an important role in ensuring a positive outcome to this period of transition. In fact, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted, common action of this sort "vividly expresses that bond which already unites" Christians and, insofar as all join in service of the common good, it "sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant" (Unitatis Redintegratio UR 12).

7. This atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation must likewise extend to Muslim believers of good will, for they too "try to imitate the faith of Abraham and to live the demands of the Decalogue" (Ecclesia in Africa ). Today, as I meet you, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, I repeat the call that I made yesterday in my meeting with Muslim leaders: the call for peace, understanding and mutual cooperation between Christians and Muslims. The Creator of the one great human family to which we all belong desires that we bear witness to the divine image in every human being by respecting each person with his or her values and religious traditions, and by working together for human progress and development at all levels.

Christians, Muslims and followers of African Traditional Religion should continue to pursue a sincere quest for mutual understanding. This will ensure that all citizens will be truly free to work for the good of Nigerian society, united in the "common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom" (Nostra Aetate NAE 3).

8. "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self- control" (2Tm 1,7). It is precisely this spirit, the spirit of steadfast commitment to the Gospel and complete trust in God's love, which will enable you to fulfil the mission to which the Lord has called you as Bishops. Strengthened by faith and hope in the saving power of Jesus Christ, you will become ever better equipped to meet "the challenge of being instruments of salvation for every area of the life of the peoples of Africa" (Ecclesia in Africa ).

Know that my prayers accompany you always, and once more I assure you of my affection and esteem. Commending you and all the faithful of Nigeria to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, I invoke upon you "grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2Tm 1,2). Amen.



APOSTOLIC JOURNEY

OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II

TO NIGERIA (MARCH 21-23, 1997)

FAREWELL CEREMONY


Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport

Monday, 23 March 1998



Your Excellency, General Sani Abacha,
My Brother Bishops,
All Officials of Church and State,
Dear People of Nigeria,

1. More than sixteen years ago I stood on the tarmac of Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos, making my farewell to President Shehu Shagari and leaders of Church and State after an unforgettable Pastoral Visit to your country. I asked: "Shall I be able some time in the future to visit Nigeria again? Will the Providence of the Almighty and Merciful God dispose that I come back again to kiss your soil, embrace your children, encourage your youth and walk once more amidst the love and affection of the noble people of this land?"

I repeated that prayer and wish many times in recent years. Now I can thank God that my prayer has been answered and that I have been able to make this brief but ever so fruitful return visit to your beloved country. I assure you that, just as I still treasure the memories of my earlier visit, these past few days will also have their own special place in my heart.

2. And now, the time has again come for me to say farewell. I thank His Excellency the Head of State and his willing team of Government officials and workers for their cordial reception and sincere welcome. I thank you, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria, and all the priests, Religious and lay faithful who have participated so joyfully in the Beatification of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi and in the other moments of my brief stay among you. I am grateful to the pilots and the drivers, the security men and guardians of the peace, the men and women of the media, who have given their time and expertise to make this Visit a success.

I renew my esteem and gratitude to the representatives of other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities who took part in the events of these days. As we approach the threshold of the Third Millennium, our ecumenical friendship and cooperation must ever become more intense; an attitude of trust and respect must distinguish all the followers of Christ as we travel along the path of ever greater understanding and mutual support!

I also express my thanks to the members of the Muslim community for their presence and participation. I pray that the commitment of Christians and Muslims to establish bonds of mutual knowledge and respect will increase and bear fruit, so that all who believe in the One God may work together for the good of society here in Nigeria and throughout the world.

Likewise, I offer a special word of appreciation to the followers of African Traditional Religion, and I assure them that the Catholic Church, by her efforts aimed at inculturating the Gospel, seeks to highlight and build on the positive elements of Africa's religious and cultural heritage.

3. Dear Catholic Brothers and Sisters, I know and have experienced anew your desire to work with all your fellow citizens for greater justice and a better life for yourselves and your children. The time is ripe for your nation to gather its material riches and spiritual energies so that everything that causes division may be left behind and replaced by unity, solidarity and peace. There are still many difficulties to face and the hard work that lies ahead cannot be underestimated. You are not alone in this important undertaking: the Pope is with you, the Catholic Church stands by you, and God himself will give you the strength and courage to build a bright and enduring future based on respect for the dignity and rights of everyone.

As I took my leave of you sixteen years ago, I addressed my final words to the children of Nigeria, reminding them that they are loved by God and that they reflect the love of God. Those children are now grown up, and many of them have children of their own; but the message I leave today is the same as I left then. The children and young people of Africa must be protected from the terrible hardships visited upon the thousands of innocent victims who are forced to become refugees, who are left hungry, or who are mercilessly abducted, abused, enslaved or killed. We must all work for a world in which no child will be deprived of peace and security, of a stable family life, of the right to grow up without fear and anxiety.

4. I want you to know that Nigeria and all Nigerians remain in my prayers. Almighty God, the Lord of history, will give you the wisdom and perseverance to move forward courageously in the work of development and peace. Your country has the resources to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of progress, and to build a society of justice and harmony. I also wish to renew the appeal which I have made many times to the international community not to ignore Africa's needs, but to work with you and, in a spirit of ever greater collaboration, to lend support to all efforts aimed at ensuring the continent's peaceful development and growth. All Nigerians must be made to feel proud of their nation; all must play a part in constructing the future. This is my prayer to Almighty God for you!

God bless Nigeria and all Nigerians! God sustain all the peoples of Africa!



EXCHANGE OF THE INSTRUMENTS

OF RATIFICATION FOR THE CONCORDAT

BETWEEN THE HOLY SEE AND THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND

ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER

POPE JOHN PAUL II


Wednesday, 25 March 1998




A few moments ago, the documents of ratification were exchanged in the Apostolic Palace. I offer my cordial greetings to the Cardinal Primate, the President of the Council of Ministers, the representatives of the supreme authorities of the Polish Republic and the delegation of the Polish Episcopate who have come to the Vatican for this occasion. I also greet the Apostolic Nuncio in Poland and the Ambassador of the Polish Republic to the Holy See. I thank them for their addresses.

The process of ratifying the Concordat between the Holy See and the Republic of Poland, which had been signed on 28 July 1993, was concluded today. I would like to recall that the content of this important document is the fruit of many years' work, begun some time ago by a special Commission consisting of representatives of the Episcopate and the Polish authorities at the time. Later, in our country's new sociopolitical situation, the negotiations were conducted by delegations of the Holy See and the Government of the Polish Republic. I therefore express my thanks to all those who worked successfully in preparing the text of this Concordat. Their efforts, competence and persevering commitment have enabled the idea of this international agreement to mature gradually and take concrete shape. I also thank those who were directly involved in composing and formulating the final version of the Concordat. I cannot fail to mention here the difficulties connected with the ratification, and the many efforts and interventions made to bring the work to a conclusion once it had been started. Now we have this process behind us, for which we give thanks to God and men.

Today begins a new stage, which I would describe as normal, in the mutual relations between the Holy See and the Polish Republic: from now on they will be regulated by this Concordat. We have had to wait 54 years for this. In this context, we cannot forget the totalitarian system of government imposed on Poland when our nation was subjected to many humiliations, injustices and the restriction of its freedom. There was an effort to eliminate the Church from social life and to impede her activity by subjecting her to systematic persecution. All the painful experiences associated with those years form part of our postwar history.

During the signing ceremony for the Concordat in July 1993, Prof. Krzysztof Skubiszewski, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, said among other things: "The Apostolic See, which has existed for two millenniums, and the 1,000-year-old Polish State are once again united in this time-tested juridical form which is the Concordat. It is a return, because we are joining what had been separated. But first and foremost it indicates a path we will follow". These words show that the Concordat is a challenge for all who have Poland's future at heart and feel responsible for her destiny. It is a great opportunity and a great task for present and future generations.

The year 1989 brought substantial social and political changes to Central Europe. Poland, together with the other countries of this region, embarked on the path of pluralism, becoming once again a democratic State. However, this process is not over yet, since the wounds left in human hearts, minds and consciences do not heal so quickly. The destruction is enormous, especially in the area of ethics. Polish society needs moral renewal, a well-planned programme for rebuilding the State in the spirit of solidarity and respect for the dignity of the human person. I spoke of this in my address to the Polish Bishops during their visit ad limina Apostolorum. We are facing new dangers and new challenges, the result of the changes in the sociopolitical situation. We therefore need the collaboration of all people of goodwill, of all who care deeply about the destiny of our country; the Church's help is also necessary. She, I would say, is indispensable in this process of building the future, of laying the foundations for a democratic State in which each feels secure and at ease, where the fundamental human and Christian values are safeguarded and where concern for the common good is a priority.

I would like to draw particular attention to a statement in the Concordat which says very clearly that "the State guarantees to the Catholic Church, without respect to rites, the free and public fulfilment of her mission" (art. 5). Here it is not a question of giving a privilege or distinction to the Church in some way, but only of correctly understanding her mission and her role in public life. The Church has always been on the nation's side and has never been indifferent to its destiny. She has constantly and perseveringly deepened our nation's self-knowledge, imbuing it with supernatural strength. The Church has remained in the nation without interruption for 10 centuries - no one and nothing has succeeded in separating her from it or in destroying this spiritual bond: neither invaders, nor the horrors of the last war, nor Marxist ideology. The Church has always fulfilled her task of uniting and integrating Poles in the name of the Cross of Christ and the Gospel. She has strengthened social bonding and created spiritual unity.

The Church's presence is also expressed in co-operation with the State. The Second Vatican Council says in the Constitution Gaudium et spes that the political community and the Church "are devoted to the personal vocation of man, though under different titles. This service will redound the more effectively to the welfare of all in so far as both institutions practise better co-operation" (n. 76). The basic reason for the collaboration of Church and State is the good of the human person. Such co-operation must safeguard and guarantee human rights. A Church which enjoys freedom wants to be the State's ally "in working together for human advancement and for the common good", as art. 1 of the Concordat states. The Church has always preached and still preaches that man is the most important value on earth. He is the first way on which the Church must walk in fulfilling her mission. This way was marked out by Christ himself; I have said this on various occasions. The Concordat juridically defines the Church's specific role. It also indicates that "development of a free and democratic society is based on respect for the dignity of the human person and his rights" (Preamble). It thus recalls the fundamental principles by which a democratic State and its future development should be guided. In Redemptor hominis I wrote: "The rights of power can only be understood on the basis of respect for the objective and inviolable rights of man. The common good that authority in the State serves is brought to full realization only when all the citizens are sure of their rights.... Thus the principle of human rights is of profound concern to the area of social justice and is the measure by which it can be tested in the life of political bodies" (n. 17). In this context, we note the Concordat's clear and undeniable contribution to the transformations which our country is currently undergoing and the specific role this agreement must play in the future.

I hope that the Concordat will be of the greatest service to good and fruitful relations between the Holy See and the Polish Republic and, consequently, between the State and the Catholic Church in Poland. May it help strengthen unity and social bonding, and the spiritual and material development of society based on the principle of mutual respect, solidarity and co-operation. May it deepen mutual responsibility for the destiny of the country, which is our common home.

In this spirit I cordially bless my compatriots.



ADDRESS OF THE HOLY FATHER

POPE JOHN PAUL II

TO THE PONTIFICAL LOMBARD SEMINARY

Friday, 27 March 1998



1. I am delighted to receive you, the superiors and students of the Pontifical Lombard Seminary, and I warmly welcome each of you to the Apostolic Palace. I thank you, Monsignor, for what you have just said in the name of those present.

Dear friends, I am particularly pleased to meet you during the centenary year of the birth of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI. He spent an important period of his formation at your seminary; years later, called by divine Providence to guide the universal Church, he described it in these terms: "The Lombard Seminary has its own spirit, its own style, its own pedagogy, because from a tradition, from a school, from an experience built up over time ... it derives its art of forming all those who put their trust in it, not so much as guests and strangers, but as members, as sons, indeed as heirs to a tradition, distinguished not without reason by the saints for whom the seminary is named: Ambrose and Charles" (Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, vol. III, 1965, p. 605).

Certainly it was also at the school of the Lombard Seminary and of the eclesial spirit which enlivens it that Paul VI developed that passion for the Gospel and the Church which marked his whole life.

2. In meeting you today, dear brothers in the priesthood, I would like to greet your Bishops through you. They have very fittingly asked you to further your intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation here in Rome, the centre of Christianity. The Church needs competent ministers, endowed with divine wisdom, that wisdom which takes form and face in the person of Jesus (cf. 1Co 1,24). In our time, when the Italian ecclesial community is promoting its "cultural project" aimed at dialogue with the people of today, your ministry as priests needs a proper doctrinal and ascetical preparation. You are not called to offer the world gold and silver, but the only treasure the Church has, the Gospel of her Lord (cf. Ac 3,6). Obviously, this requires a trained, up-to-date ministry which can combine scholarly rigour with the vision of Christ's love, the search for truth with the witness of a Gospel life, the proclamation of faith with the love that flows from Jesus' life and represents the ultimate standard for life and the priestly ministry itself.

The years you spend in Rome are therefore a privileged opportunity not only to deepen the bonds linking you, as Christ's ministers, with the universal Church and the See of Peter, but also to appreciate the singular service to the truth which spreads from this city throughout the world. Rome has the unique privilege of expressing both the diocesan and the universal dimensions. Of course, the Roman experience occupies a relatively short period in your priestly mission. As Paul VI said to the Lombard Seminary: "You are here, but your hearts are set on the ministry you will be assigned. With this orientation towards the future ... it is also a force, and is called love, fidelity, service, vocation and sacrifice. Each one has his own. This is the dynamic of a seminary; and the Lombard Seminary lives it" (Insegnameni di Paolo VI, vol. III, 1965, p. 607).

May the experience of these years thus help to increase your love for your Dioceses and, at the same time, for the communion of the whole Catholic Church. Dear young men, offer the sacrifice of spending most of your time now in the solitude of your rooms and over your textbooks for the people who will be entrusted to your pastoral care. You are not spending these years of formation in an unfruitful priestly ministry, because through prayer and study you are becoming more and more conformed to Christ in order to serve him faithfully in the Church. Thus be generous and open your hearts to divine grace. Your apostolate and the whole Church, in which you have been chosen and ordained, will reap the benefits.

3. As a form of priestly community, the seminary helps you daily experience that the condition of your ministry is fraternal life and the sharing of your vocation.

A community of young priests is very different from a simple structure offering hospitality: the experience of community life fosters an authentically ecclesial spirit in those who live it intensely and thus becomes a valid proof of their growth in obedience to God's will and in service to their brothers and sisters. It also helps them understand that the first to benefit from their ministry are those whom the Lord puts at their side each day and who share in the labour of building up the kingdom.

4. As the 20th century draws to a close, this formation period marks out a spiritual journey for each of you, which represents an even more demanding preparation for your future apostolate. You are in fact the priests of the third millennium! Prepare yourselves to offer your ministerial service with generous enthusiasm for the Gospel, together with an unlimited love for Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. May this Lenten season help increase your understanding of the value and meaning of your mission.

The Lombard Seminary faces the Basilica of St Mary Major, giving those who stay there the opportunity of frequent recourse to the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God. Call upon her, dear friends, so that she will accompany you in your growth as Christians and priests and bring to your present and future ministry the abundant grace of the Holy Spirit, who brought about in her the mystery of the divine motherhood. May Mary help you to persevere in following Christ with fidelity and joy, and always to cherish a fruitful devotion to the flock entrusted to you.

With these sentiments, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you and to those who guide you, as well as to your relatives and loved ones.




Speeches 1998 - Sunday, 22 March 1998