I am very happy to greet the alumni of the Pontifical North American College on the occasion of your Annual Reunion. I also extend a warm welcome to the Rector, faculty and students of the College, together with the student priests of the Casa Santa Maria dell’Umiltà.
You have returned to Rome, where your priestly formation took place, to re-live the profound experiences which shaped your identity and nourished your spirituality as priests. Thanks to your studies in the Eternal City, you were able to encounter in a unique way the Church’s living tradition and the mystery of her Catholic unity, founded upon the witness of the Apostles and guaranteed by the ministry of Peter’s Successor. Today, in the face of so many disturbing tendencies to polarization and division within society, it is all the more urgent for priests to be servants and witnesses of that supernatural communion with God and others which is the very heart of our belonging to the Church. May these days of remembrance and thanksgiving strengthen your resolve to be faithful ministers of the Church and good shepherds of Christ’s flock in America.
The Pontifical North American College was founded at a time when Catholics were a small and largely immigrant minority in the United States. Today, thanks to the tireless work of generations of clergy, religious and laity, the Church in your country enjoys unparalleled resources for proclaiming the Gospel and for bringing the rich inheritance of the Church’s moral and social teaching to the great debates which are shaping your nation’s future. The great challenge now facing America’s Catholics in every sector of national life and culture is to bear a united and convincing public witness to those truths about the human person and human community which are revealed by God, accessible to reason and embodied in the founding documents of your Republic. It is my hope that the College, by training intelligent, wise and holy preachers of the Gospel, will fully respond to this challenge and exercise a constructive and prophetic influence for the moral renewal of American society.
Dear friends, as we approach the dawn of the Third Christian Millennium, I pray that you will be ever more faithful and zealous heralds of Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today and for ever” (He 13,8). Commending all of you to the loving intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of your country and of the College, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am deeply grateful for the good wishes offered to me on your behalf by your Dean, the Ambassador of the Republic of San Marino, Signor Giovanni Galassi, at the beginning of this final year before the year 2000. They join the many expressions of affection which were sent to me by the Authorities of your countries and by your fellow citizens on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of my Pontificate and for the New Year. To all, I wish to express once again my profound gratitude.
This yearly ceremony is like a family gathering and for this reason it is particularly dear to me. First, because through you almost all the nations of the world are made present here with their achievements and their hopes, but also with their difficulties. Secondly, because such a meeting affords me the pleasant opportunity to express my fervent and prayerful good wishes for you, your families and your fellow citizens. I ask God to grant each one health, prosperity and peace. You know that you can count on me and my collaborators whenever it is a matter of supporting what each country, with its best efforts, undertakes for the spiritual, moral and cultural uplifting of its citizens and for the advancement of all that contributes to good relations between peoples in justice and peace.
2. The family of nations, which has recently taken part in the joy of Christmas and with one accord has welcomed the New Year, has without doubt some grounds for rejoicing.
In Europe, I think especially of Ireland, where the agreement signed on Good Friday last has established the basis for a much awaited peace, which must be founded on a stable social life, on mutual trust and the principle of equality before the law for all.
Another reason for satisfaction for all of us is the peace process in Spain which for the first time is enabling the peoples of the Basque territories to see the spectre of blind violence retreat and to think seriously of a process of normalization.
The transition to one currency and the enlargement towards the East will no doubt give Europe the possibility to become more and more a community with a common destiny, a true “European community” – this is in any case our dearest wish. This obviously presupposes that the member countries are able to reconcile their history with the same common project, so that they may all see themselves as equal partners, concerned only for the common good. The spiritual families which have made such a great contribution to the civilization of this continent – I am thinking especially of Christianity – have a role which seems to me to be more and more decisive. In the face of social problems which keep significant sectors of the population in poverty, and of social inequalities which give rise to chronic instability, and before the younger generations seeking points of reference in an often chaotic world, it is important that the Churches should be able to proclaim the tenderness of God and the call to fraternity which the recent feast of Christmas has caused to shine out once again for all humanity.
I would like to draw to your attention, ladies and gentlemen, further grounds for satisfaction in relation to the American Continent. I am referring to the agreement reached in Brasilia on 26 October last between Ecuador and Peru. Thanks to the persevering efforts of the international community – especially on the part of the guarantor countries – two sister nations had the courage to renounce violence, to accept a compromise and to resolve their differences in a peaceful way. This is an example for so many other nations still bogged down in divisions and disagreements. I am firmly convinced that these two nations, thanks particularly to the Christian faith which unites them, will be able to meet the great challenge of fraternity and peace, and thus turn a painful page of their history, which in fact dates from the very beginning of their existence as independent states. I address an urgent and paternal call to the Catholics of Ecuador and Peru to work with conviction for reconciliation through prayer and action, and thus to contribute to ensuring that the peace brought by the treaties enters everyone’s heart.
We should also rejoice at the efforts of the great people of China, in a dialogue undertaken with determination and involving the peoples on both sides of the Strait. The international community – and the Holy See in particular – follows this felicitous development with great interest, in the hope of significant progress which, without any doubt, would be beneficial to the whole world.
3. However, the culture of peace is far from being universal, as the centres of persistent dissension testify.
Not far from us, the Balkan region continues to experience a time of great instability. We cannot yet speak of normalization in Bosnia-Hercegovina where the effects of the war are still being felt in inter-ethnic relations, where half the population remains displaced and where social tensions dangerously persist. Again recently, Kosovo has been the scene of deadly confrontations for both ethnic and political reasons which have prevented a peaceful dialogue between the parties and hindered any economic development. Everything must be done to help the people of Kosovo and the Serbs to meet around a table in order to defuse without delay the armed suspicion which paralyses and kills. Albania and Macedonia would be the first to benefit, since in the Balkans all things are closely related. Many other countries, large and small, in Central and Eastern Europe are also at the mercy of political and social instability; they are struggling along the road to democracy and have not yet succeeded in living in a market economy capable of giving everyone a legitimate share of well-being and growth.
The peace process undertaken in the Middle East continues to make uneven progress and has not yet brought the local peoples the hope and well-being which they have the right to enjoy. It is not possible to keep people indefinitely between war and peace, without the risk of dangerously increasing tensions and violence. It is not reasonable to put off until later the question of the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, to which the followers of the three monotheist religions turn their gaze. The parties concerned should face these problems with a keen sense of their responsibilities. The recent crisis in Iraq has shown once more that war does not solve problems. It complicates them, and leaves the civilian population to bear the tragic consequences. Only honest dialogue, a real concern for the good of people and respect for the international order can lead to solutions befitting a region where our religious traditions are rooted. If violence is often contagious, peace can be so too, and I am sure that a stable Middle East would contribute effectively to restoring hope to many peoples. I am thinking for example of the suffering peoples of Algeria and of the island of Cyprus, where the situation is still in deadlock.
Some months ago Sri Lanka celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of independence, but unfortunately it is still today divided by ethnic struggles which have delayed the opening of serious negotiations, which alone are the only way to peace.
Africa remains a continent at risk. Of its fifty-three States, seventeen are experiencing military conflicts, either internally or with other States. I am thinking in particular of Sudan where, in addition a cruel war, a terrible human tragedy is unfolding; Eritrea and Ethiopia which are once again in dispute; and Sierra Leone, where the people are still the victims of merciless struggles. On this great continent there are up to eight million refugees and displaced persons practically abandoned to their fate. The countries of the Great Lakes region still bear open wounds resulting from the excesses of ethnocentrism, and they are struggling amid poverty and insecurity; this is also the case in Rwanda and Burundi, where an embargo is further aggravating the situation. The Democratic Republic of Congo still has far to go in working out its transition and experiencing the stability to which its people legitimately aspire, as the massacres which recently occurred at the very beginning of the year near the town of Uvira testify. Angola remains in search of a peace which cannot be found and in these days is experiencing a development which causes great concern and which has not spared the Catholic Church. The reports regularly coming to me from these tormented regions confirm my conviction that war is always destructive of our humanity, and that peace is undoubtedly the pre-condition for human rights. To all these peoples, who often send me pleas for help, I wish to give the assurance that I am close to them. May they know also that the Holy See is sparing no effort to bring about an end to their sufferings and to find equitable solutions to the existing serious problems, on both the political and humanitarian levels.
The culture of peace is still being thwarted by the legitimation and use of armed force for political purposes. The nuclear tests recently carried out in Asia and the efforts of other countries quietly working on establishing their nuclear power could very well lead to a gradual spread of nuclear arms and consequently to a massive re-armament which would greatly hinder the praiseworthy efforts being made on behalf of peace. This would frustrate all policies aimed at preventing conflicts.
There is also the production of less costly weaponry, like anti-personnel mines, happily outlawed by the Ottawa Convention of December 1997 (which the Holy See hastened to ratify last year), and small-calibre arms, to which, I believe, political leaders should pay greater attention in order to control their deadly effects. Regional conflicts, in which children are frequently recruited for combat, indoctrinated and incited to kill, call for a serious examination of conscience and a concerted response.
Finally, the risks to peace arising from social inequalities and artificial economic growth cannot be underestimated. The financial crisis which has shaken Asia has shown the extent to which economic security is comparable to political and military security, inasmuch as it calls for openness, concerted action and respect for specific ethical principles.
4. In the face of these problems which are familiar to you, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to share with you a conviction which I firmly hold: during this final year before the year 2000 an awakening of consciences is essential.
Never before have the members of the international community had at their disposal a body of such precise and complete norms and conventions. What is lacking is the will to respect and apply them. I pointed this out in my Message of 1 January, in speaking of human rights: “When the violation of any fundamental human right is accepted without reaction, all other rights are placed at risk” (No. 12). It seems to me that this truth needs to be seen in relation to all juridic norms. International law cannot be the law of the stronger, nor that of a simple majority of States, nor even that of an international organization. It must be the law which is in conformity with the principles of the natural law and of the moral law, which are always binding upon parties in conflict and in the various questions in dispute.
The Catholic Church, as also communities of believers in general, will always be on the side of those who strive to make the supreme good of law prevail over all other considerations. It is likewise necessary for believers to be able to make themselves heard and to take part in public dialogue in the societies of which they are full members. This leads me to share with you, as the official representatives of your States, my painful concern about the all too numerous violations of religious freedom in today’s world.
Just recently, for example, in Asia, episodes of violence have caused tragic suffering to the Catholic community: churches have been destroyed, religious personnel have been mistreated and even murdered. Other regrettable events could be mentioned in several African countries. In other regions, where Islam is the majority religion, one still has to deplore the grave forms of discrimination of which the followers of other religions are victims. There is even one country where Christian worship is totally forbidden and where possession of a Bible is a crime punishable by law. This is all the more distressing because, in many cases, Christians have made a great contribution to the development of these countries, especially in the area of education and health care. In certain countries in Western Europe, one notes an equally disturbing development which, under the influence of a false idea of the principle of separation between the State and the Churches or as a result of a deep-seated agnosticism, tends to confine the Churches within the religious sphere alone and finds it difficult to accept public statements from them. Finally, some countries of Central and Eastern Europe have great difficulty in acknowledging the religious pluralism proper to democratic societies and attempt to limit, by means of a restrictive and petty bureaucratic practice, the freedom of conscience and of religion which their Constitutions solemnly proclaim.
As I recall religious persecutions either long past or more recent, I believe that the time has come, at the end of this century, to ensure that everywhere in the world the right conditions for effective freedom of religion are guaranteed. This requires, on the one hand, that each believer should recognize in others something of the universal love which God has for his creatures. It requires, on the other hand, that the public authorities also - called by vocation to think in universal terms - should come to accept the religious dimension of their fellow citizens along with its necessary community expression. In order to bring this about, we have before us not only the lessons of history, but also certain valuable juridical instruments which only need to be applied. In a certain sense, the future of societies depends on the inescapable relationship between God and the Earthly City, for, as I stated during my visit to the seat of the European Parliament on 11 October 1988: “Wherever man no longer relies on the great reality that transcends him, he risks handing himself over to the uncontrollable power of the arbitrary and to pseudo-absolutes that destroy him” (No. 10).
5. These are some of the thoughts which have come to my mind and heart as I look at the world of this century which is coming to a close. If God in sending his Son among us took such interest in mankind, let us act in such a way as to correspond to such great love! He, the Father of all, has made with each of us a covenant which nothing can break. By telling us and by showing us that he loves us, he also gives us the hope that we can live in peace; and it is true that only the person who knows love can love in return. It is good that all people should discover this Love which precedes them and awaits them. Such is my dearest wish, for each of you and for all the peoples of the earth!
1. It is a joy for me to receive you as you come to the end of the Pre-Synodal Symposium on the theme: Christ, source of a new culture for Europe, on the threshold of the third millennium. I thank Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and his staff for competently organizing this symposium and enabling the representatives of different disciplines to show the cultural and spiritual wealth of Europe.
2. The history of Europe has been linked to Christianity for two millenniums. It can even be said that a cultural renewal came from contemplation of the mystery of Christianity, which makes it possible to take a deeper look at nature and human destiny, as well as at creation as a whole. Although not all Europeans consider themselves Christian, the peoples of this continent have been deeply marked by the Gospel, without which it would be very difficult to speak of Europe. It is in this Christian culture, which constitutes our common roots, that we find the values to guide our thoughts, plans and actions. During your meeting you have made your different tones of voice heard, as in a truly harmonious choir, strengthened by a rich and painful history, but all inspired by the same basic theme: Christ, source of a new culture for Europe, on the threshold of the new millennium.
3. Today you are witnesses of the cultural changes which throughout this century have shaken the very foundations of Europe, and of the desire to reflect on the meaning of existence, legitimately shown by our contemporaries. The encounter between cultures and faith is a requirement of our search for truth. It "has created something new. When they are deeply rooted in experience, cultures set forth the human being's characteristic openness to the universal and the transcendent" (Encyclical Fides et ratio FR 70). Thus people will find both help and support in seeking truth, so that, with the gift of grace, they can meet the One who is their Creator and Saviour. And "in reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.... Such is the nature and the greatness of the mystery of man as enlightened for the faithful by the Christian revelation" (Gaudium et spes GS 22). Christ reveals man to himself in his fullness as a child of God, in his inalienable dignity as a person, in the greatness of his intellect, which can attain truth, and of his will, which can act rightly. It is through an absolutely indispensable dialogue with persons of all cultures and races that the Church hopes to proclaim the Gospel (cf. Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 18 January 1983, n. 6).
4. Borders between countries have opened; new barriers must not be erected between human beings, nor new hostilities between peoples arise because of ideologies. The search for truth must be the driving force of every cultural approach and of fraternal relations everywhere within the continent. This presupposes full respect for the human person and for his or her rights, starting with freedom of speech and religion. In order to achieve this, it is important to give our contemporaries a true education based on the essential spiritual, moral and civic values. In this way every individual will become aware of his specific calling and his unique place in the human community, at the service of his brothers and sisters. This prospect is worthy of inspiring people's support and responding to the expectation of young people, who are called to acknowledge the Saviour and to build the city of the future in fraternal charity.
5. If for every human being there is nothing more personal than his faith, it is nevertheless not a merely private phenomenon. Down the centuries, faith in Christ and the spiritual life of men and women have left their mark on the various expressions of culture. Today the Church hopes to pursue and encourage this process, which indirectly opens man to a blessed eternity, restores true hope to him and contributes to the unity of individuals and nations.
In a world with many problems, Christ's message opens an endless horizon and brings incomparable energy, light for the mind, strength for the will, love for the heart. Thus, through your mission you are called to restore to our time a taste for seeking what is beautiful, good, right and true, as well as a taste for the Gospel, in order to develop a sound anthropology and a real knowledge of the faith we need at this moment. In your own way and according to your own vocation, you will contribute to a renewed evangelization and to a new cultural springtime in Europe, which will radiate to all the continents.
6. At the end of our meeting, I would like to thank you for having made your contribution to the Church's reflection on the threshold of the third millennium, in view of the forthcoming Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops, so that a new impetus can be given to evangelization. As I commend you to the intercession of the saints who shared in Europe's human and cultural development, I cordially grant you my Apostolic Blessing.
Officials and Officers,
1. Welcome to this meeting! I thank the Lord who gives us the joy of meeting again at the beginning of this New Year to exchange best wishes. The occasion is an excellent opportunity to express my deep gratitude to you for your service. I greet you all and offer you my heartfelt thanks.
In particular, I extend my greetings to Dr Enrico Marinelli, Prefect and Coordinator of Security Services for the Vatican, whom I thank for his noble words expressing your common sentiments. I would like to express my gratitude to you, Mr Prefect, for the tireless and generous dedication of your service, and for conveying to your colleagues heartfelt enthusiasm for the ideals which have always guided your activity.
I express my trust to you, members of the Inspectorate of Public Security at the Vatican, to the Vatican Traffic Police as well as to the representatives from Rome's Police Headquarters and the Italian Police, confirming once again on this occasion my appreciation of the competent work you perform with a deep sense of responsibility.
I am quite familiar with the necessary and demanding service of keeping order which is entrusted to your care. The discreet and intelligent presence, which has always distinguished you, is meant to prevent and deter anyone from causing a disturbance, so that the Pope can carry out his activities in a peaceful atmosphere that guarantees the possibility of an authentic religious experience for the pilgrims who come to visit him and to pray in the places sacred to Christianity.
2. Moreover, in the light of faith your activities are enriched with profound meaning, to which each of you can refer to find encouragement and inspiration in fulfilling your daily duties, especially when extra effort and sacrifices are required.
I hope that the external order which you maintain with attentive vigilance will reflect a harmonious inner order: an order of thoughts, decisions and convictions; an order of guidelines for life, human ideals, and moral and religious commitment, especially in view of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. As you know, it will begin with the opening of the Holy Door in St Peter's next Christmas Eve. We are well aware that on the occasion of this epochal event we must prepare to welcome an immense crowd of pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the world. It will be the task of your Inspectorate, in collaboration with the other security forces serving the citizenry, to guarantee their tranquillity and protection, especially during the major celebrations scheduled in St Peter's Basilica and Square throughout the Jubilee Year. I know that you are being organized to respond adequately to the Holy Year's requirements, with a concerted effort of technological means and human resources. I am deeply grateful to you for this.
3. Dear friends, may the Lord help you and may his protection always accompany you. I commend you and your work to Blessed Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother. May she, who knows the responsibilities entrusted to you and the difficulties of your daily work, be close to you, so that your ideals, intentions, aspirations and plans may all be blessed by God and produce the desired results. For my part, I assure you of a constant remembrance in prayer and, as I wish you and your families peace and joy at the start of 1999, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you all.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. "I have made myself a slave to all.... I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (1Co 9,19).
I greet you with these words of St Paul, dear Pastors of the Church in Bosnia and Hercegovina who have come ad limina Apostolorum to visit the Successor of Peter.
I thank Cardinal Vinko Puljiae for the courteous words he addressed to me on your behalf. He recalled the joys and hopes, the anguish and fears which have marked the life of the Church and of your homeland in this last decade of the second millennium. I have also had occasion to feel part of the events which have occurred in your region from 1991 to this day. In this regard, I would like to recall the Pastoral Visit I was finally able to make on 12 and 13 April 1997. It was an unforgettable experience, which gave me a concrete opportunity to observe the devastating effects of the war and, at the same time, the people's determination to resume normal life. Nor can I forget the Holy See's many interventions for the sake of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in that region, which I hope will become, along with the whole of South-Eastern Europe, a serene home of peace where the dignity and rights of all are respected.
I admire the spiritual strength of your ecclesial communities in facing great trials and sacrifices during the recent conflict and in this difficult post-war period, in order to remain faithful to Christ and to the mission he has entrusted to his disciples in every age. With your priests, you have done all you could so "that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved" (Ga 2,5), even at the cost of life.
2. Today I want to urge you to persevere on this path, and through you I would like to encourage your priests to continue serving their brothers and sisters with tireless generosity and in full fidelity to their vocation. Indeed, through sacred ordination they share in your ministry and are your chief co-workers (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis PO 2,4) and closest helpers and advisers (cf. ibid., n. 7; Lumen gentium LG 28), beloved brothers and friends (cf. Lumen gentium LG 28). The Second Vatican Council clearly explains the special role of priests when it recalls that "all priests, then, whether diocesan or religious, by reason of the sacrament of Orders and of the ministry correspond to and cooperate with the body of Bishops and, according to their vocation and the grace that is given them, they serve the welfare of the whole Church" (ibid.).
The Council also says that priests are called "to live with the rest of men as with brothers" (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis PO 3). Totally dedicated to the work for which the Lord called them (cf. Acts Ac 13,2), they act "as fathers in Christ" (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis PO 9), models of the flock entrusted to their care (cf. 1P 5,2-4), looking after all its members but especially the poor and the weakest (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis PO 6), after the Lord's example.
3. Thanks be to God, your Churches do not lack vocations of special consecration, both male and female. Indeed, we are witnessing a providential blossoming of them. They are a precious gift and a great spiritual treasure for the Christian community, through which the baptized are helped to respond with greater generosity to the common call to holiness.
In the variety of charisms, consecrated persons are called to devote themselves without reserve to bearing Gospel witness in the various areas of ecclesial and social life. However, if this witness is to yield the desired fruits, apostolic activities must be suitably adapted to the Church's current needs and organized in full communion with the Pastors of the Diocese. I pray the Lord that the vital energy which has marked the Church in Bosnia and Hercegovina down the centuries will not fade, but rather increase. Here I would like to recall the contribution made by religious, first of all by the Franciscan Friars, to preserving the Catholic faith during the more than four centuries of Ottoman occupation. The memory of the past is a prophetic spur constantly to seek forms in keeping with the times to help Christian people to grow and mature in fidelity to the Gospel and in charity, avoiding everything that could weaken the Church's unity or create confusion or scandal among the faithful.
4. I know that the aim of your constant pastoral efforts is that all pastoral workers in Bosnia and Hercegovina will faithfully carry out the directives of the Second Vatican Council and docilely follow the canonical norms, in continuity with the great Catholic tradition. Without doubt, the harmony of apostolic goals and the close collaboration of all, priests, consecrated men and women and lay people under the diligent guidance of their Bishops, will bear abundant fruits of faith, love and holiness. This will not only help the Church by orienting her courageously to the future, but also civil society.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, you have primary responsibility for the Church's pastoral care: it is your task to direct it, by virtue of the Gospel mandate received with episcopal ordination, in full communion with the Successor of Peter, heir to a "sure charism of truth" (St Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, IV, 26, 2: , 10, 53). St Ignatius of Antioch teaches that "wherever the Bishop is, there too is the Church" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, VIII, 2). If pastoral work, however interesting, is not in line with these basic principles, it runs the risk of having a negative influence on the healthy development of the whole ecclesial body, even if those who promote it are convinced that they are acting in the name of God, for the good of the faithful and of the Church herself.
I keenly hope that it will be possible to find peaceful, satisfactory solutions to problems concerning the organization of apostolic activities. This is essential, if all pastoral workers are to devote their energies with renewed enthusiasm to the service of the Gospel. The irreplaceable ministry of priests and the prophetic witness of consecrated persons should be joined with the courageous activity of the lay faithful, who are also called to be a fearless and effective presence in your country, through action that is faithful to the apostolic teaching, with the support of frequent recourse to the sacraments.
This is the vocation of all the faithful, whatever social category they belong to: farmers or business people, merchants or those involved in the service, cultural or political sectors. Their apostolic presence, of course, calls for appropriate Christian formation, which is the fruit of constant, systematic commitment.
5. In listening to you, Venerable Brothers, at the meetings we have had during this ad limina visit, I have clearly understood that the primary task facing the Church in Bosnia and Hercegovina after the recent devastation is to organize life in the Dioceses and parishes. At the same time, you must continue to help the local peoples to rebuild everything that was destroyed by the fury of war, and offer them the hope of a prosperous and peaceful future. I would like to encourage you in this difficult task that is sometimes hampered by your country's complex situation, over which you unfortunately have little influence. I am well aware of your Churches' commitment to helping all communities to resume their normal life. Continue to defend the inalienable rights of every individual and every people, as you have done since the beginning of the deadly conflict, whose aftermath has been hatred and mistrust, death and refugees, and the displacement of entire populations from the regions where they have lived for centuries.
How is it possible not to feel pain at the thought that the number of Catholics has been more than halved? How can we forget the devastation which has more or less affected every region, but particularly vast areas of the ecclesiastical territories of Banja Luka and Sarajevo, ancient Vrhbosna, and part of the Dioceses of Trebinje-Mrkan and Mostar- Duvno?
While I rejoice in the many signs that peace is being consolidated, I cannot fail to mention the shadows that are a cause for concern. In the first place, the failure to solve the thorny problem of the return of refugees, as well as the unequal treatment of the three religious components of Bosnia and Hercegovina, especially with regard to full respect for their religious and cultural identity. I know of the obstacles encountered by Catholic communities in the areas of central Bosnia, Banja Luka and Posavina in their attempt to rejoin their own families. The principal issue on which the just solution of various other problems depends continues to be the creation of impartial conditions for the desired return of the refugees and exiles to their own homes, with the assurance of a peaceful future.
6. What is sought for Catholics also applies to other religious communities and ethnic groups throughout the territory of Bosnia and Hercegovina, without favouring one to the detriment of the others. They must all be guaranteed their basic rights; each must be offered the same opportunities. Truth, freedom, equality, justice, reciprocal respect and solidarity are the basis for a future of peace and progress for each and every one. A country of different peoples, cultures and religious communities is built on these values. It is the human person, every person, who is the most precious resource of any country.
May the eve of the third millennium in Bosnia and Hercegovina be marked by peace and respect for the inalienable rights of every person and every social group. May all the peoples of your country see their dignity and legitimate aspirations to equality and development promoted. May each family look with serenity to the future, a future of freedom, solidarity and peace.
7. Dear Brothers, continue to promote and support the method of dialogue in the spirit of Pastors, with respect for the field of action proper to political leaders, who are entrusted with precise tasks for the organization of human society. Trustfully pursue the ecumenical commitment with your Orthodox brothers and sisters, as well as your dialogue with the Jewish and Islamic communities. I know how much you have done in this regard during the most difficult moments of recent years. May the enthusiasm of that period continue today and be transformed into concrete service to the human person and the cause of peace.
Be tireless messengers of forgiveness and reconciliation. The Church knows that this work is an integral part of proclaiming the Gospel and of bearing witness to the heavenly Father's mercy. In this context and in view of the Great Jubilee, your initiative of proclaiming 1999 the "Year of Reconciliation" is praiseworthy. I recalled in Marija Bistrica on 3 October 1998 that "to forgive and to be reconciled means to purify one's memory of hatred, rancour, the desire for revenge; it means acknowledging as a brother even those who have wronged us; it means not being overcome by evil but overcoming evil with good (cf. Rom Rm 12,21)" (n. 5; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 7 October 1998, p. 2).
Commitment to the human person and his well-being is a Gospel commitment and is therefore part of the Church's mission in the world (Mt 25,34-46 Lc 4,18-19). In this light, the work of Caritas and the Church's implementation of social projects for individuals and needy families should be encouraged. However, as you offer the needy their daily bread, may you be constantly concerned to provide your brethren in the faith with the Bread of eternal life and to proclaim Christ to all as "the Way, the Truth and the Life" (cf. Jn Jn 14,6).
8. May the light of Christ the Saviour, whom we recently contemplated in the mystery of Christmas, illumine the families and ecclesial communities of Bosnia and Hercegovina. In lovingly accepting God's saving word, may your Ecclesial Communities remain faithful to Christ until the mystery of God is fulfilled (cf. Rv Ap 10,7), and be attentive to what the Spirit is saying to them in this epochal passage from the second to the third millennium.
May Mary, Mother of the Church and of redeemed humanity, obtain for all of you the gift of fidelity, harmony and hope. May you be accompanied in your tireless work and apostolic zeal by the Apostolic Blessing which I cordially impart to you and to your diocesan clergy, as well as to the religious and all the lay faithful entrusted to your pastoral care. "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all" (Ap 22,21).