You have wished, as you do every year, to meet the Successor of Peter to offer him the Étrennes pontificales collection, organized by the Associations of Catholic Editors and Journalists of Belgium.Touched by your good wishes for the anniversary of my Pontificate, I am pleased to greet you on this occasion and to warmly thank you and your generous donors for this act, which shows the attachment to the Holy See and to the Church's mission of the journalists and readers of the Catholic press in Belgium. Despite the difficulties your country is undergoing, your compatriots have agreed to give part of their wealth for the benefit of the universal Church and her charitable work. I am particularly touched by this initiative, a sign of communion that Christian communities make by entrusting to the Pope the careful redistribution of gifts from the various local Churches.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah (58:6-9) recalls that whoever wants to be close to God and to be a light as bright as the dawn, must take care of the poor and “share his bread with the hungry” as a sign of his love for God and his brethren. It is in this spirit that you wish to contribute your offering and that of your readership to the Successor of Peter. May the generous donors discover that “losing something for God means finding it many times over” (Origin, Homily on Gn 7,6)!
Your gesture also recalls that we are supportive of our brothers and sisters in humanity, and that it is our task to open our hearts to the distressed, near and far. This is one of the essential aspects of the Church’s continuing tradition (cf. Encyclical Centesimus annus CA 57), because love of the poor is a tangible witness to the loving presence of Christ among men. We also take part in building the earthly city, in which each must be able to enjoy his share of the riches of creation. It is also right to further the social advancement of peoples with an appropriate education and formation in all areas, so that they can take charge of their personal and common future and thus have a proper place in the concert of nations. It is everyone’s duty to encourage projects that will enable the people of each country to be more responsible for their future and that of their family, so that they can feed themselves through a rational and equitable management of the resources produced by their land.
At the end of our meeting, I would like to renew my appeal that, during the Great Jubilee, Christians and people of goodwill will have an ever more acute sense of justice in sharing riches between persons and peoples.
As I entrust you to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary and of St Francis de Sales, I cordially grant you my Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to the members of your associations, to your readership and to your families.
To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini
I am pleased to extend my cordial greeting to Your Eminence, and I ask you to share it with the distinguished speakers and all who are attending the second congress organized by the International Institute for Research on the Face of Christ.
This important study conference makes a valuable contribution to the deeper examination of a theme that is central to Christian piety and which boasts sound foundations in Sacred Scripture, in the Patristic tradition, in the constant Magisterium of the Church, in the Eastern and Western liturgy, in theological reflection and in the highest expressions of iconography, literature and art.
Founded in the spring of last year on your initiative and that of the Benedictine Congregation of the Reparatrix Sisters of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the International Institute for Research on the Face of Christ intends, according to its Statutes, to give scholarly affirmation and practical witness to the close connection between Christology and research on the Holy Face of the Redeemer, through the triple initiative of promoting its knowledge, studying its doctrine and spreading its spirituality.
To know and contemplate the face of God has been a human aspiration in every age. The difficulty, wariness or prohibition of portraying the divinity stems from the awareness that every attempt to apply an image to God is inadequate. Nevertheless, the ancient invocation of the Psalm: “O Lord, let the light of your countenance shine upon us” (4:7) prophetically introduced the revelation of Christ, because the God of the Covenant revealed his nature as a personal Being, indeed as the Father, who in the Incarnation would assume, in Christ, a face both human and divine. It is Jesus himself who declares this to the Apostle Philip: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14,9).
Christian revelation frees the depiction of God from any anthropomorphism. In Christ, divinity is united with humanity and becomes visible in the merciful and compassionate face of the Saviour, in the mystery of his Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Your congress — in which the Ezio Aletti Study and Research Centre of Rome, which promotes ecumenical contacts at the personal level and through appropriate meetings and publications, has also taken part — utilizes the interventions of theology professors from various Roman universities and from different nations of the world, of scholars, scientists and researchers, of experts in art and other disciplines.
With ecumenical sensitivity, the participants in the congress have also had the opportunity to hear the voice of distinguished brethren from the Orthodox Churches, not to mention the contribution that Judaism can bring to the study of this subject.
In a society such as the one in which we live, an attentive and prayerful reflection on the Holy Face of Christ will certainly help to make evangelization more effective, as was confirmed by the extraordinary emotion and sincere piety aroused by the recent exposition of the Shroud of Turin. May the veneration and study of the Holy Face dispose hearts to reflect in a particular way on the Person of the Father, which the Church is about to do next year, in preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000. With this wish I encourage all who are committed to promoting devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, and, through the intercession of Blessed Mary, who was intimately joined to the mission of Christ, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to Your Eminence, to the Reparatrix Sisters of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and to those taking part in this international congress.
From the Vatican, 23 October 1998.
1. It is a great pleasure for me to welcome Your Excellency as you present the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador of France to the Holy See. I appreciate the spirit in which you are beginning your mission, showing particular attention to the spiritual and diplomatic activity of the Apostolic See, and your concern to make a special contribution to the path offered by the Church for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Indeed, it is important that many pilgrims be welcomed to Rome, so that they can benefit from this Holy Year by having a deeper encounter with Christ, the source of life.
Your presence today joyfully reminds me of my two recent visits to your country; in particular I have touching memories of the last World Youth Day. By their warm welcome, your country’s leaders and all your compatriots ensured the success of this gathering, which was exceptional for the number of participants and the human and spiritual quality of the meetings and celebrations. I am sure that the young people who came to France left for their own countries transformed by the Lord, ready to witness to the Good News they discovered during those especially intense days, and eager to continue living in the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity which enlivened all the meetings.
2. Mr Ambassador, you have emphasized the bonds of trust that exist between the Holy See and France by candidly recalling some important stages in the history of the last five centuries. Our current relations, the fruit of this long history, are marked by the principle of secularity. As I stated during my visit to the European Parliament on 11 October 1988, the principle, recalled by Christ, of the distinction between “what is Caesar’s” and “what is God’s” (cf. Mt Mt 22,21), fundamentally governs public life: “This essential distinction between the arranging of the external framework of the earthly city and the autonomy of the person becomes clear in light of the respective natures of the political community, to which all the citizens necessarily belong, and that of the religious community, to which believers freely adhere” (n. 9; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 November 1988, p. 12). Secularity should be understood as the autonomy of civil society and of religious confessions each within its own domain, but at the same time as a recognition of the religious reality, of the ecclesial institution and of the Christian experience among the nation’s constituents and not merely as elements of private life. The very principle of secularity excludes neither people’s free adherence of faith, nor the acceptance of the religious dimension in the national heritage. Nor does the legitimate autonomy of earthly realities allow for disregard of the basic principles of personal and social life. Thus secularity leaves each institution the room it is due in its own sphere, in an honest dialogue for the sake of fruitful collaboration at the service of all humanity. A well understood separation between Church and State leads to respect for religious life and a proper consideration of the religious way and religious thought. Not only does it guarantee freedom to individuals and human groups, but it is also an appeal, so that what belongs to the Church can remain an object of reflection for everyone and be a positive contribution to society’s debates, in view of the advancement of people and respect for them, as well as consideration of the common good and human rights, which are objective elements that one can disregard in social decisions.
3. In the areas of philosophy, culture and art, the Christian religion has contributed and continues to contribute to civilization, particularly in a nation like yours where it is part of the centuries-old tradition. Humanism is a common ideal for all the French; it states that nothing is more beautiful nor greater than man, whose superiority lies in being a rational being who “has an absolute dignity, because it is in direct relationship with the absolute”, as one of your distinguished predecessors, Jacques Maritain, emphasized (Les droits de l’homme et la loi naturelle, p. 16). With regard to social life, Christian values, some of which were already present in the Greek and Latin world, belong to the common heritage. Through the reflections which it currently conducts, the cultural centre of your embassy presents this heritage in an eloquent way.
4. You are familiar, Your Excellency, with the Church's concern for human life, especially for essential institutions such as the family, which can only exist when the natural principles and the good of society as a whole are respected, and which is an essential element of the nation. It is also necessary that those in positions of responsibility create conditions that conform to its specific nature and particular juridical status, and the necessary conditions for its stability, for strengthening the conjugal bond and for accepting the gift of life. Children are a country’s greatest wealth: therefore parents should be helped to fulfil their educational role by respecting their own responsibility and with the necessary subsidiarity, in this way strengthening the outstanding value of this service. This is a duty and a legitimate form of solidarity on the part of the entire national community.
5. In the area of education, I appreciate the reflection being conducted in your country on the issue of improving the school curriculum so that it will give young people a balanced education which respects their abilities and the progressive development of their personality, and will enable them to acquire learning and knowledge that will allow them to find their place in society. I am also aware of the efforts on the part of the numerous teachers, both in public and private schools, to provide the young people of France with the basics of a civic education and religious culture that are part of their heritage.
However, for parents who desire it, catechesis is something quite different. It consists essentially in introducing the child to the Christian mystery and to a relationship with God. Religious formation is an integral part of the human, spiritual and moral formation of young people to whom their parents desire to teach Christian values and to make Christ known. This requires that each family be given the support and positive means to fulfil their legitimate desire to give their children the catechetical instruction they need. In this regard, one can only hope that national leaders will continue to be vigilant about the place of religious instruction among the extracurricular activities offered to children and about the suitable time allotted to it. Therefore, I wholeheartedly call for the renewed attention of those in various positions of responsibility, that “all useful measures be taken to ensure that pupils in public schools enjoy freedom of worship and religious instruction”, in accordance with the law of 1959 and the circular of 24 April 1991, without penalizing children and families who choose catechetical formation.
6. You know the Church’s desire to contribute to the formation of the young in trustful collaboration with other institutions which have the same goal, and through dialogue with all the parties concerned. The Catholic community feels actively involved in this great national cause, since the school is one of the most important institutions for building society, by encouraging social peace and curbing the phenomena of violence. In this spirit I am familiar with the support the French authorities give to Catholic education, which hopes to continue offering an educational service to the nation by welcoming all young people whose families wish to entrust them to it, without distinction of origin, opinion or belief, but with a legitimate respect for the specific nature and vocation of its establishments. As their statutes clearly state, Catholic schools cannot in fact “renounce their freedom to offer the Christian message and make known the values of Christian education”. For this mission it is necessary that society does not allow excessively high fees to burden families who choose Catholic teaching. It is only right that a legitimate equality be maintained within the framework of national education, since disparities can only create harmful divisions in society, since the educational system plays an important community role of integration for all young people, one that is particularly necessary in underprivileged situations.
7. France has a tradition of social harmony, openness, assistance, respect and acceptance towards developing countries and towards displaced or forcibly exiled persons and families. I appreciate the willingness made by those responsible for public life to offer land to those who request it, while respecting the principles on which national unity is based. It is important that the richest countries mobilize themselves to receive with discernment, humanity, concern and a spirit of solidarity, in view of sometimes tragic situations, those who come from other places and are obliged to seek food for themselves and their families, or refuge in a country other than their own; foreigners are first of all brothers and sisters, and no one can be excluded for racial or religious reasons. I hail the many associations in your country which help those who are often society’s outcasts by attending to their essential needs.
8. As we are preparing to enter the third millennium, France, which is the seat of an important European authority, has a particular place in the construction of the great Europe where the nations which so wish can gradually join in building a common house, in order to create the conditions necessary for the development of all and to make the most of their particular riches. This new European society can only encourage peace and understanding among all peoples, while respecting their particular characteristics put at the service of all, so that the wars and divisions that have marked the 20th century will never happen again. Therefore, I can only share your hope that the French authorities, in close union with the other countries on the continent and the international community, will redouble their efforts to use all legitimate and peaceful means to find a lasting solution to the various conflicts you have mentioned, for every State must be concerned with the sufferings of those whose basic dignity is scorned and who are forced to wander. In these different centres of tension, the parties concerned must have an ardent desire and prophetic courage to seek solutions, or, even if each side is necessarily obliged to renounce his prerogatives, the common good is the element that should prevail over partisan considerations.
I implore the Lord that the approaching end of the millennium will encourage conversion of heart and revive the love for peace in all men and women. Everyone, whatever his race or origin, must be able to benefit from a land where he can live peacefully with those for whom he is responsible. The Holy See cannot but encourage patient and persistent steps towards the legitimate recognition of peoples and the strengthening of peace among nations. These are the priority objectives for the years to come, in Europe and on every continent. In the desire to maintain peace, I acknowledge the courageous attitude of France and other nations in their decisions concerning anti-personnel landmines, so that innocent beings will no longer be unjustly mutilated and that the earth will be able to nourish those who live on it.
9. At the end of our meeting, I would be grateful if you would kindly convey my best wishes to President Jacques Chirac, whom I had the joy of greeting here two years ago. In your country as in many others, people are confronted with serious economic and social crises, particularly unemployment, which affects entire families. In adversity it is important for every member of the national community to show an ever greater solidarity and charity by opening to respond to human distress. Thus I would like to say again to all your compatriots that I continue to be personally close to them and am particularly conscious of the difficulties of all who are affected by this crisis. Lastly, through you I would like to greet all the Catholics of France.
Mr Ambassador you have now taken your place in a long and prestigious tradition. Therefore, may I express once again my deep esteem and offer you my cordial wishes for the fulfilment of your mission. Be assured that you will always receive the attention and support you may need from those who assist me. I pray God that the people of France will meet the challenge lying before them: to enter the third millennium with a renewed awareness of their human and spiritual vocation by deepening their philosophical and Christian roots. I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all who are called to assist you with your responsibilities.
Dear Cardinal Law,
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. I warmly greet you, the Bishops of New England, comprising the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston and Hartford. During this year I have had the spiritual joy of meeting practically all the Pastors of the Church in the United States of America, representing over two hundred jurisdictions, including those of the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches. As we come to the end of this series of ad Limina visits, I “give thanks to God always for you because of the grace which has been given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you have been enriched in him” (cf. 1Co 1,4-5). We have prayed together and listened to one another, seeking to take stock of all the good which the Holy Spirit inspires among the People of God in your country. Apart from strengthening the bonds of communion between us, these visits have enabled us to reflect, in an atmosphere of pilgrimage and prayerful calm, on the opportunities for evangelization and apostolate which lie before the Church in the United States in the light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the approaching Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.
2. Occasions such as the Great Jubilee remind us of all that God has done in history, and they prompt us to look to the future, confident in the Lord’s promise that he will be with us always, “to the close of the age” (Mt 28,20). Christians know that time is neither a mere succession of days, months and years, nor a cosmic cycle of eternal return. Time is a great drama with a beginning and an end, authored and directed by God’s providential care: “Within the dimension of time the world was created; within it the history of salvation unfolds, finding its culmination in the 'fullness of time' of the Incarnation, and its goal in the glorious return of the Son of God at the end of time" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente TMA 10). The Easter Vigil reminds us that the Resurrection is "the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world's origin and its final destiny leads" (Dies Domini, 2). Only in the light of the Risen Christ do we come to understand the true meaning of our personal pilgrimage through time to our eternal destiny. This is the message which the Church must proclaim today and always. She does so above all in the Liturgy, which celebrates the history of salvation and is the privileged place for our encounter with the Father and the One whom he has sent, Jesus Christ. She does so in her kerygma and catechesis, which make known the saving teaching of the Gospel in dialogue with the human heart's profound aspiration for something divine and eternal, something supremely good that will not slip away. And she does so in her works of charity, which seek to heal the brokenness of human lives by the healing touch of Christian love.
3. In my talks to the Bishops - addressed not only to the Bishops present on each occasion but to your entire Conference - I have tried to reflect on aspects of your Episcopal ministry which can open the door to the great springtime of Christianity which God is preparing as we enter the Third Christian Millennium, and of which we can already see the first signs (cf. Redemptoris Missio RMi 86). Together we have conversed about many features of the life of the Catholic community in the United States, blessed by the genuine holiness of so many of its members, marked by a deep thirst for justice, steadfast and active in all the various forms of Christian service. As Bishops you are well aware of the strengths of your people. Like the wise man of the Gospel, you must calculate how with the energies and means available you can face the urgent needs of the present time (cf. Lk Lc 14,31). Today I believe the Lord is saying to us all: do not hesitate, do not be afraid to engage the good fight of the faith (cf. 1Tm 6,12). When we preach the liberating message of Jesus Christ we are offering the words of life to the world (cf. Jn Jn 6,68). Our prophetic witness is an urgent and essential service not just to the Catholic community but to the whole human family. For in the Gospel the true story of the world is told, its history and its future, which is life within the communion of the Holy Trinity.
At the end of the second millennium humanity stands at a kind of crossroads. As Pastors responsible for the life of the Church, we need to meditate deeply on the signs of a new spiritual crisis, whose dangers are apparent not only at the personal level but regarding civilization itself (cf. Evangelium Vitae EV 68). If this crisis deepens, utilitarianism will increasingly reduce human beings to objects for manipulation. If the moral truth revealed in the dignity of the human person does not discipline and direct the explosive energies of technology, a new era of barbarism, rather than a springtime of hope, may well follow this century of tears (cf. Speech to the United Nations, October 5, 1995, No. 18).
In addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 1995, I proposed that in order to recover our hope and our trust on the threshold of a new century “we must regain sight of that transcendent horizon of possibility to which the soul of man aspires” (ibid., No. 16). Because the spiritual crisis of our times is in fact a flight from the transcendent mystery of God, it is at the same time a flight from the truth about the human person, God’s noblest creation on earth. The culture of our day seeks to build without reference to the architect, ignoring the biblical warning: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps 127,1). In doing so, a certain part of contemporary culture misses the depth and richness of the human mystery, and life itself is thereby impoverished, being divested of meaning and joy. No demand on our ministry is more urgent than the “new evangelization” needed to satisfy the spiritual hunger of our times. We must not hesitate before the challenge of communicating the joy of being Christian, of being “in Christ”, in the state of grace with God, and of being united with the Church. This is what can truly satisfy the human heart and its aspiration to freedom.
4. Nowhere is the contrast between the Gospel vision and contemporary culture more obvious than in the dramatic conflict between the culture of life and the culture of death. I do not wish to end this series of meetings without once more thanking the Bishops for their leadership and advocacy in support of human life, particularly the lives of the most vulnerable. The Church in your country reaches out in the defense and promotion of human life and human dignity in numerous ways. Through countless organizations and agencies she is an immensely generous provider of social services to the poor; active in support of laws more favorable to the immigrant, present in the public debate on capital punishment, aware that in the modern state the cases in which the execution of an offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent (cf. Evangelium Vitae EV 56 Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2267). At the same time you rightly underscore the priority that must be given to the fundamental right to life of the unborn, and to opposition to euthanasia and physician- assisted suicide. The witness of so many United States Catholics - including countless young people - in the service of “the Gospel of life” is a sure sign of hope for the future, and a reason for us to be thankful to the Holy Spirit who inspires so much good among the faithful.
5. In response to the spiritual crisis of our times, I am convinced that there is a radical need for a healing of the mind as well as of the heart. The violent history of this century is due in no small part to the closure of reason to the existence of ultimate and objective truth. The result has been a pervasive skepticism and relativism, which have not led to a more “mature” humanity but to much despair and irrationality. In the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, published only last week, I wished to defend the capacity of human reason to know the truth. This confidence in reason is an integral part of the Catholic intellectual tradition, but it needs reaffirming today in the face of a widespread and doctrinaire doubt about our ability to answer the fundamental questions: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going to? Why is there evil? What is there after this life? (cf. Fides et Ratio FR 3 and 5). Many people have been led to believe that the only truths are those which can be demonstrated by experience or scientific experimentation. The result is a tendency to reduce the domain of rational inquiry to technological, instrumental, utilitarian, functional and sociological dimensions of things. A relativistic and pragmatic vision of truth has emerged. An undifferentiated plurality, based on the assumption that all positions are equally valid, replaces a legitimate pluralism of positions in dialogue (cf. ibid., 5). One of the most striking indications of the contemporary lack of confidence in truth is the tendency found among some to rest content with partial and provisional truths, “no longer seeking to ask the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence” (ibid.). By being satisfied with experimental and incomplete knowledge, reason fails to do justice to the mystery of the human person, made for the truth and deeply desirous of knowing the truth.
The consequences for the faith of this widespread attitude are serious. If reason cannot attain ultimate truths, faith loses its reasonable and intelligible character and is reduced to the realm of the non-definable, the sentimental and the irrational. The outcome is fideism. Detached from its relationship to human reason, faith loses its public and universal validity and is limited to the subjective and private sphere. In the end, theological faith is destroyed. On the basis of these concerns, I considered it important to write the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, addressed to you, the Bishops of the Church, the principal witnesses to divine and catholic truth (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 25). My wish is to encourage you, as Bishops, always to keep open the horizon of your ministry, beyond the immediate tasks of your daily pastoral toil, to that deep and universal thirst for the truth which is found in every human heart.
6. The dialogue of the Church with contemporary culture is part of your “diakonia of the truth” (Fides et Ratio FR 2). You must do all you can to raise the level of philosophical and theological reflection, not only in seminaries and Catholic institutions (cf. ibid., 62), but also among Catholic intellectuals and all those who seek a deeper understanding of reality. As we approach the new millennium, the Church’s defense of the human person requires a firm and open defense of the capacity of human reason to reach definitive truths concerning God, concerning man himself, concerning freedom and concerning ethical behavior. Only through reasoned reflection, open to the fundamental questions of existence and free from reductive pre-suppositions, can society discover sure points of reference on which to build a secure foundation for the lives of individuals and communities. Faith and reason in cooperation manifest the grandeur of the human being, “who can find fulfilment only in choosing to enter the truth, to make a home under the shade of Wisdom and dwell there” (ibid., 107). The Church's long intellectual tradition is born of her confidence in the goodness of creation and the ability of reason to grasp metaphysical and moral truths. Collaboration between faith and reason, and the continued involvement of Christian thinkers in philosophy, are essential elements of the cultural and intellectual renewal that you must foster in your country.
7. In closing this series of ad Limina visits with the American Bishops, I wish to express my warmest personal appreciation to you for the spiritual communion, solidarity and support which you have shown me during the twenty years of my Pontificate. I too feel that I am your friend and elder brother on the pilgrimage of faith and fidelity which together we are making in devotion to Christ and service of his Church. To the priests, religious and laity of the United States I express once more my cordial esteem and gratitude, asking the Holy Spirit to give your local Churches a new outpouring of life and energy for the mission still to be fulfilled. I pray that there will be a continuing and all-embracing renewal of unity and love among all American Catholics, of reconciliation and mutual support in the truth of faith. I ask God to bless your efforts in the ecumenical dialogue with other Christians, and in interreligious cooperation on the basis of the many fundamental points of contact we share with all believers. My fervent prayer is that there will be a fresh spirit of goodness, harmony and peace among all the people of the United States, so that your public life may be renewed in truthfulness and honor, and your country may carry out its historical destiny among the peoples of the world.
Commending you and your brother Bishops to the loving care of Mary Immaculate, Heavenly Patron of the United States of America, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.