Speeches 1999 - February 19, 1999
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am pleased to extend an affectionate welcome to all of you who have come to Rome to attend the annual UNITALSI Congress. I extend a particular greeting to your President, Archbishop Alessandro Plotti of Pisa, and I thank him for the cordial words expressing your sentiments of devotion and affection. I also thank him for presenting the objectives of this annual meeting, along with the ideals and goals of your association. Together with him I greet the national chaplain, as well as the directors and those involved in the activities your organization promotes.
I would like to express my satisfaction with your charitable and thoughtful work, which you carry out with discretion and generosity to the benefit of those who are suffering in mind and body. You offer them a special sign of your love by giving them the opportunity to have the profound experience of a pilgrimage to various shrines and places sacred to the Blessed Virgin, and by supporting them in faith and hope when their life is tried by suffering.
The organized assistance network set up in the various Dioceses of Italy testifies to the generosity of the many priests, doctors, nurses, charity workers, stretcher-bearers, guides and volunteers who, by expressing the image of the Good Samaritan in today's world, care for the sick in a material and spiritual way.
2. Dear brothers and sisters, your annual convention is dedicated to reflecting on the "UNITALSI spirit" in relation to the changes and challenges of today's rapidly developing and changing society. They call for a wise search for adequate answers which, by drawing constant nourishment from the Gospel ideal of love, can direct the Union's national activities and imbue them with new enthusiasm. However, the challenges of today's society and your efforts to make timely improvements in your structures must not lead you to abandon the needs and spirit which led to the birth and wonderful development of UNITALSI.
Structures and organizations may change but they cannot alter the spirit and charism of UNITALSI's service. Above all, charity must remain its radiant and vital heart, without which your work would lose its meaning (cf. 1Co 13). Fraternal and caring love, nourished daily by prayer, is expressed in making the sick the focus of every effort: it is they who reflect the face of Christ crucified, and in their sufferings we can see the mysterious sign of the Father for the salvation of the world.
3. As the entire Church approaches the Great Jubilee, you are called to accompany the pilgrimage of those who, suffering in body and spirit, are a message of redemption and salvation in the world. On the great journey of God's people, pilgrims of pain and suffering are an allegory of humanity in its search for Christ, "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1,9). As "humble servants of the sick" (cf. Statutes), you are entrusted with the task of supporting them in their difficulties and helping them to transform their sufferings into the mysterious presence of salvation.
I hope that what the Spirit suggests in the course of this meeting will give effective direction to your concern and instil a renewed commitment to the service of charity, in which every Christian is called to reveal God's fatherly love.
May you be guided and accompanied by Mary, a devoted pilgrim to Elizabeth's home, where her loving care enabled her cousin to discover the Father's plan.
With these wishes, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. "May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways" (2Th 3,16). It is a great joy for me to greet you, the members of the Ghana Bishops' Conference, and to welcome you to the Vatican on the occasion of your visit ad limina Apostolorum. This is for all of us a moment of grace in which we celebrate and seek to strengthen the bonds of fraternal communion which unite us in the task of bearing witness to the Lord and spreading the Good News of salvation. I offer a special word of greeting to those among you who are making your first quinquennial visit. Indeed, since your Conference's last visit to Rome, six new Dioceses have been established in Ghana, a positive sign of the work being done for Christ and of the building up of his Church in your country. This is yet another cause for praising the holy name of Jesus, at the mention of which "every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Ph 2,10-11).
Last year, your local Church celebrated two very significant events: the Second National Eucharistic Congress and the National Pastoral Congress. These important gatherings served to confirm and increase that love and devotion for the Blessed Sacrament which is central to Catholic worship and prayer. From the Eucharist the Church receives the strength for that service and outreach which characterize her concern for the spiritual well-being of her children and of all people. The divine life which Christ pours out upon his Church in the Eucharist is too great to be contained and must be offered with loving urgency to the whole world.
2. This is the truth which in no small part inspires and sustains the Church's missionary activity; indeed, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted with eloquent simplicity, the Church is "missionary by her very nature" (Ad gentes AGD 2). This is one of her essential qualities and it must shine brightly in each particular Church: for the universal Church is present in each local Church with her complete array of fundamental elements (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion Communionis notio, nn. 7-9). The energy and zeal of the first evangelization of Ghana must continue to be a source of strength and enthusiasm as you proclaim Christ and his saving Gospel, helping others to know and accept his merciful love.
Not least in this regard is your duty to address those issues of particular importance for the social, economic, political and cultural life of your country. In the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, the Synod Fathers acknowledged that the proper administration of public affairs in the interrelated areas of politics and the economy is essential if justice and peace are to flourish on your continent (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). I am pleased to note that in your pastoral letter of Advent 1997 you discussed these very issues. As you know so well, it belongs in a particular way to the Church to speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, thus being a leaven of peace and solidarity, particularly where they are most fragile and threatened. Especially important in this regard are your continuing efforts to resolve ethnic tensions; for rivalries based on race or ethnic origin have no place in the Church of Christ and are particularly scandalous when they interfere with parish life or disrupt the spirit of fraternity and solidarity among priests.
3. In all of this, yours must be an invitation, gentle yet insistent, to conversion. Conversion is the result of the effective proclamation of the Gospel which, through the Holy Spirit's action in the hearts of those who hear it, leads to the acceptance of God's saving word. The first preaching of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ finds its necessary complement in catechesis. Faith grows to maturity as Christ's disciples are educated and formed in a thorough and systematic knowledge of his person and message (cf. Catechesi tradendae CTR 19). For this reason, the continuing formation of the laity must continue to be a priority in your mission as preachers and teachers. This spiritual and doctrinal formation should aim at helping the laity to carry out their prophetic role in a society which does not always recognize or accept the truth and values of the Gospel. In order that they may do their part in bringing about the new evangelization, they must be able to see and judge all things in the light of Christ (cf. Christifideles laici CL 34).
Moreover, as they are confirmed in the revealed truth, the faithful will be able to respond to the objections raised by the followers of sects and new religious movements. Catechesis is especially important for young people. An enlightened faith is a lamp to guide their path into the future and a source of strength as they face the challenges and uncertainties of life. Firm and humble submission to the word of Christ, as authentically proclaimed by the Church, also forms the basis for your relationship with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and for the dialogue which you seek with the followers of Islam and African traditional religion. By your continued study of all that is good, true and noble in your people's cultures, it will become clearer how evangelization can develop ever deeper roots in their midst.
4. Here, we touch upon the important issue of inculturation. Practical attempts to promote inculturation of the faith require a theology indissolubly linked to the mystery of the Incarnation and to an authentic Christian anthropology (cf. Pastores dabo vobis PDV 55). A truly critical and genuinely evangelical discernment of cultural realities can only be undertaken in the light of the saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A sound inculturation cannot overlook the Church's unequivocal conviction that culture, as a human creation, is inevitably marked by sin and needs to be healed, ennobled and perfected by the Gospel (cf. Lumen gentium LG 17). As people find inspiration and direction through contact with God's saving word they will naturally be led to work for a profound transformation of the society in which they live. The Gospel message penetrates the very life of cultures, and becomes incarnate in them, precisely by "overcoming those cultural elements that are incompatible with the faith and Christian living and by raising their values to the mystery of salvation which comes from Christ" (Pastores dabo vobis PDV 55). The challenges presented by inculturation are especially evident in the areas of marriage and family life: I commend and encourage your efforts to lead Christian couples to live the truth and beauty of their married union in accordance with the demands of their new life in Christ.
5. The growth of the Church in Ghana and the many vocations to the priesthood and religious life are striking proof of God's power at work in your midst, a power which issues forth in a marvellous abundance of fruits. Yours, my dear Brothers, is the task of seeing that these many fruits continue to ripen and multiply, effectively touching the lives of all those entrusted to your care. Turning to those who assist you most closely in your pastoral ministry, I urge you always to cherish your priests with a special love and to regard them as precious co-workers and friends (cf. Christus Dominus CD 16). At ordination they were given a share in the consecration and mission of Jesus Christ (cf. Pastores dabo vobis PDV 16). The Holy Spirit shapes their hearts according to the pattern of the heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and their formation must be such that with the compassion of Christ himself they are ready to put aside all earthly ambition in order to bring to the poor, the weak and the defenceless the truth, comfort and support of the Gospel. The priest is not a mere caretaker of an institution; he is not a business manager or entrepreneur. Rather he is an evangelist and doctor of souls; his talents, education and accomplishments are rightly directed to this end alone: his is the incomparable privilege of acting in the person of Christ. With your friendship and fraternal support, as well as that of their brother priests, it will be easier for your priests to devote themselves completely, in chastity and simplicity, to their ministry of service, in which they will find immeasurable joy and peace.
Of course, the attitudes and dispositions of a true shepherd must be nurtured in the heart of candidates for the priesthood long before ordination. This is the purpose of the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation provided in the seminary. The solicitude which you show for your seminaries can only redound to the good of your local communities and contribute to the spread of God's kingdom. The guidelines contained in my Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, together with the suggestions included in the recent document of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples following the Apostolic Visitation of the major seminaries in Ghana, will prove invaluable for assessing the suitability of candidates and improving their training. I also urge you to staff your seminaries with exemplary priests, even if this means sacrifices in other areas: for in the task of forming candidates to the priesthood nothing speaks more eloquently than the example of a holy and committed priestly life. At the same time, steps should be taken to ensure that proper priestly formation continues after ordination, especially during the early years of priestly ministry.
6. In the life of the Church in Ghana, as elsewhere in the world, religious and missionary institutes have played a decisive role in the spread of the faith and the formation of new local Churches (cf. Redemptoris missio RMi 69-70). While respecting the legitimate internal autonomy established for religious communities, the Bishop is to help them fulfil - within the local Church - their obligation to bear witness to the reality of God's love for his people. As Pastors of Christ's flock, you should urge superiors to discern carefully the suitability of candidates to religious life and help them to provide a solid spiritual and intellectual formation, both before and after profession. The more faithfully and devotedly the religious in your Dioceses live out their commitment to Christ in chastity, poverty and obedience, the more clearly will the men and women of Ghana see that "the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mc 1,15).
7. In the fulfilment of your many duties, both you and your priests must always be attentive to the human and spiritual needs of your people. Time and resources should never be spent on diocesan or parochial structures or development projects at the expense of people; nor should such structures or projects impede personal contact with those whom God has called us to serve. Similarly, meetings between Bishops and priests should not be limited to discussions of administrative details, but should also provide an occasion to talk about the personal, spiritual and pastoral joys and difficulties of priestly ministry. In financial matters great equity and solidarity are required, and efforts must be made to share contributions received. At the same time steps should be taken to help local communities achieve greater economic self-sufficiency, so that the Church in Ghana will be less dependent on external aid. The Church's pastoral mission and the duty of her ministers "not to be served but to serve" (Mt 20,28) must be seen as the principal concern in all matters.
Dear Brother Bishops, my words to you today are meant to offer you encouragement in the Lord. I am fully aware of the daily toils of your ministry and of the generous dedication with which you carry out your service. I commend you and your Dioceses to the loving care of Mary Queen of Apostles. I pray that your efforts to lead the Church in Ghana to a joyous and fruitful celebration of the coming Jubilee, "a year of the Lord's favour" (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 11), will be crowned with much success. Through that important event, may you and your people experience the boundless graces of the "new Advent" which the Spirit is preparing for the whole Church of God (cf. ibid., n. 23). In this hope, I gladly impart to you and the priests, religious and laity of your local communities my Apostolic Blessing.
At the end of the spiritual exercises, we thank God who has spoken to us in silence as he did to the prophet Elijah. I share this deep sentiment of gratitude first of all with our preacher, Bishop André-Mutien Léonard of Namur, who has been the Lord's docile and effective instrument during these days devoted to listening.
I cordially thank you for your efforts in preparing and directing these spiritual exercises. Through them we were immersed as it were in the mystery of the eternal Trinity, "man's viaticum on the way to the third millenium". You prepared an authentic biblical journey for us, enriched with the voices of saints and spiritual masters. You also let Soloviev speak to us, quoting the texts with the words of the "Antichrist": a powerful moment. We were thus able to contemplate the face of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, starting from the heart of New Testament Revelation. In this way, we were helped to synthesize the theological content of the three years of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee, now close at hand. Tertio millennio adveniente was appropriately quoted many times. Dear preacher, may the Lord reward you for these efforts! Now accept another task. We would really like to have the text. I even wrote in my notes that we are expecting the text, because it was impossible to write by hand everything you said. There were very powerful, original moments: for example, this idea about the confession of Christ.
I would like to express my gratitude to those who have joined me during these days. To all the Roman Curia, first, to you, Brother Cardinals, to the Bishops and officials of the Curia, to you who have directly shared this time of grace, and to all who have been close to us in prayer. I hope that the Lenten journey will bring everyone abundant spiritual fruits and, above all, that everyone will grow in love, which "binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col 3,14).
May Mary, who has accompanied us with her motherly protection during these days of prayer, reflection and silence, make our intentions fruitful and guide us towards the total fulfilment of the divine will in our lives: Maria, Spes nostra, salve! Let us conclude by singing the Pater Noster and then I will give you my Blessing.
Have a good Lent!
1. Distinguished Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who have come to Rome for your annual general assembly, welcome! As I extend my cordial greetings to each one of you, I thank your President, Prof. Juan de Dios Vial Correa, for his kind words expressing your sentiments. I also greet the Bishops present: Bishop Elio Sgreccia, Vice-President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health-Care Workers, with which the Pontifical Academy for Life is associated.
A special mention should be made of your unforgettable first President, Prof. Jérôme Lejeune, who left us almost five years ago on 3 April 1994. Foreseeing the growing threats emerging on the horizon, he keenly desired this new institution, almost as his spiritual testament to safeguard human life.
I would like to express my pleasure with all the work of meticulous research and wide-ranging information which the Pontifical Academy for Life has been able to organize and accomplish in its first five years of existence. With the theme you have chosen for your reflection, "The dignity of the dying", you intend to shed the light of doctrine and wisdom on a frontier that is new and crucial in many ways. The life of the dying and the seriously ill is exposed to many dangers today, at times expressed in forms of dehumanizing treatment, at others in disregard or neglect, which can even reach the point of euthanasia.
2. The phenomenon of abandoning the dying, which is spreading in developed societies, has various causes and many dimensions which you have carefully analyzed.
There is a sociocultural dimension which is known as "concealing death": societies governed by the quest for material well-being see death as meaningless and, in order to eliminate the question it raises, sometimes propose its painless anticipation. The so-called "culture of well-being" often involves an inability to see life's meaning in the situations of suffering and debilitation that accompany human beings as they approach death. This inability is all the worse when it occurs in a humanism closed to the transcendent, and is often expressed as a loss of trust in the value of the human person and life.
Then there is a philosophical and ideological dimension which appeals to man's absolute autonomy, as if he were the author of his own life. In this perspective, the principle of self-determination comes into play, with even suicide and euthanasia being exalted as paradoxical forms of both self-assertion and self-destruction.
There is also a medical and care-giving dimension which is expressed in a tendency to limit the treatment of the seriously ill, who are sent to health-care structures which cannot always provide personalized and humane care. The result is that the hospitalized person often loses contact with his family and is subject to a sort of technological invasiveness that humiliates his dignity.
Lastly, there is the hidden pressure of the so-called "utilitarian ethic", which governs many advanced societies according to the criteria of productivity and efficiency: in this perspective, the seriously ill and the dying who need prolonged specialized treatment feel, in the light of the cost-benefit relationship, that they are a burden and a liability. This mentality prompts people to give less support to the final phase of life.
3. This is the ideological context behind the evermore frequent public opinion campaigns aimed at legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide. The results already achieved in some countries, with supreme court judgements or parliamentary votes, confirm how widespread certain convictions have become.
It is an indication of how far the culture of death has advanced, which can also be seen in other phenomena which in one way or another are traceable to the lack of respect for human dignity: such as death caused by hunger, violence, war, the lack of traffic control, disregard of safety regulations at work.
In the face of these new manifestations of the culture of death, it is the Church's duty to remain faithful to her love for man, "the primary and fundamental way for the Church" (Redemptor hominis RH 14). Today it is her task to cast on the human face, particularly the face of the dying, the full light of her teaching, the light of reason and faith; it is her duty, as she has done on various crucial occasions, to summon all the forces of the community and of people of good will so that with renewed warmth they will embrace the dying in a bond of love and solidarity.
The Church knows that the moment of death is always accompanied by particularly intense human sentiments: an earthly life is ending; the emotional, generational and social ties that are part of the person's inner self are dissolving; people who are dying and those who assist them are aware of the conflict between hope in immortality and the unknown which troubles even the most enlightened minds. The Church raises her voice so that the dying are not offended but are given every loving care and are not left alone as they prepare to cross the threshold of time to enter eternity.
4. "The dignity of the dying" is rooted in the fact that they are created by God and personally called to immortal life. This hope-filled vision transfigures the distruction of our mortal body. "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory"" (1Co 15,54 cf. 2Co 5,1).
Thus in defending the sacredness of life, even that of the dying, the Church is not in some way absolutizing physical life, but is teaching respect for the true dignity of the person, a creature of God, and is helping him to accept death serenely when his physical powers can no longer be sustained. In the Encyclical Evangelium vitae I wrote: "Certainly the life of the body in its earthly state is not an absolute good for the believer, especially as he may be asked to give up his life for a greater good.... No one, however, can arbitrarily choose whether to live or die; the absolute master of such a decision is the Creator alone, in whom "we live and move and have our being" (Ac 17,28)" (n. 47).
From this stems a line of moral conduct towards the seriously ill and dying which is opposed, on the one hand, to euthanasia and suicide (cf. ibid., n. 61) and, on the other, to those forms of "aggressive medical treatment" which do not really maintain the life and dignity of the dying person.
It is appropriate here to recall the condemnation of euthanasia, understood precisely as "an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering", since it is a "grave violation of the law of God" (ibid., n. 65). The condemnation of suicide should also be borne in mind since "suicide, when viewed objectively, is a gravely immoral act. In fact, it involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one's neighbour, towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole. In its deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God's absolute sovereignty over life and death" (ibid., n. 66).
5. Our times call for the mobilization of all the forces of Christian charity and human solidarity. Indeed, we must meet the new challenge of the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. To this end it is not enough to oppose this deadly trend in public opinion and parliament, but society and the Church's own structures must also be involved in providing dignified care for the dying.
With this in mind, I willingly encourage those who promote projects and initiatives to help the seriously ill, people with chronic mental disorders and the dying. If necessary, they should work to adapt social structures to the new needs, so that no dying person will be neglected or left to face death alone and helpless. This is the lesson that many saints have left us over the centuries, and recently Mother Teresa of Calcutta with her caring initiatives. Every diocesan and parish community must be taught to look after its elderly, to care for and visit its sick, at home or in special structures, according to need.
Heightening the awareness of families and hospitals will certainly encourage a more widespread use of "palliative care" for persons who are seriously ill and dying, in order to alleviate the symptoms of pain and, at the same time, to bring them spiritual comfort through diligent and loving care. New institutions should be established for elderly people who are not self-sufficient but alone, and above all an organized network should be promoted for the financial and moral support of home care: families who want to keep a seriously ill person at home must make sacrifices that are sometimes a very heavy burden.
The local Churches and religious congregations have an opportunity to offer a pioneering witness in this field, in the knowledge of what the Lord said about those who devote themselves to aiding the sick: "I was sick and you visited me" (Mt 25,36).
May Mary, the sorrowful Mother who stood by Jesus as he died on the cross, pour out his Spirit on Mother Church and accompany her in the fulfilment of this mission.
My Blessing to everyone.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Your plenary assembly, which is being held these days in Rome, gives me the pleasant occasion of this meeting with you who work with the Pope in serving the laity throughout the world. My greetings and thanks go first to the President of the dicastery, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, to the Secretary, Bishop Stanislaw Rylko, and also to each member and consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, as well as to the whole staff.
The work of your plenary assembly has been focused on the importance of the sacrament of Confirmation in the life of laity. This reflection follows logically on your consideration of Baptism at your last assembly. In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Confirmation perfects baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us to bear witness to Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds" (n. 1316). The "new creature", reborn by baptismal grace, becomes a witness to the new life in the Spirit and a herald of God's great works. "The confirmed person", explains St Thomas, "receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio)" (Sum. Th., III, 72, 5, ad 2; cf. CCC, CEC 1305).
2. "Lay people: confessors of the faith in today's world". The theme chosen for your plenary assembly contains a whole plan of life: to become "confessors of the faith" in word and deed. Is this not a providential invitation to the lay faithful on the threshold of the third millennium of the Christian era? On the eve of the Jubilee, in this particular kairós, the whole Church is called to present herself humbly before the Lord, to make a serious examination of conscience, to resume the journey of profound conversion, of Christian maturity, of faithful adherence to Christ in holiness and truth, the journey of authentic witness to the faith. This examination of conscience must also include the reception given to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council - the ecclesial event which has most greatly marked our century - as well as to its enlightening teaching on the dignity, vocation and mission of lay people.
The Jubilee therefore spurs every lay Christian to ask himself some fundamental questions: What have I done with my Baptism? How am I responding to my vocation? What have I done with my Confirmation? Have I made the gifts and charisms of the Spirit bear fruit? Is Christ the "Thou" always present in my life? Am I fully and deeply a member of the Church, mystery of missionary communion, as willed by her Founder and as realized in her living Tradition? In my decisions, am I faithful to the truth taught by the Church's Magisterium? Is my marital, family and professional life imbued with Christ's teaching? Is my social and political involvement based on Gospel principles and the social doctrine of the Church? What contribution do I make to creating ways of life more worthy of man and to inculturating the Gospel amid the great changes taking place?
3. With the Second Vatican Council, "the great gift of the Spirit to the Church at the end of the second millennium" (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 36), we have experienced the grace of a renewed Pentecost. Many signs of hope have sprung from it for the Church's mission; I have never failed to point them out, to emphasize and to encourage them. I am thinking, among other things, of the rediscovery and appreciation of the charisms which have fostered a more vital communion between the different vocations given to the People of God, of renewed zeal for evangelization, of the advancement of lay people and their participation and co-responsibility in the life of the Christian community, of their apostolate and their service in society. At the dawn of the new millennium, these signs encourage us to expect a mature and fruitful "epiphany" of the laity.
At the same time, however, how can we ignore the fact that unfortunately many Christians, forgetful of their baptismal commitments, live in indifference, yielding to compromise with the secularized world? How can we not mention those faithful who, while active in their own way in the ecclesial communities, are attracted to the relativism of contemporary culture and find it difficult to accept the Church's doctrinal and moral teachings, to which every baptized person is called to adhere?
I hope, then, that the laity will not shirk this examination of conscience, so that they can pass through the Holy Door of the third millennium strengthened in the truth and holiness of authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. "You are the salt of the earth.... You are the light of the world.... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5,13-16). The world needs the witness of "new men" and "new women" who, in word and deed, make Christ present in an ever more powerful way, for Christ is the only complete and superabundant answer to the longing for truth and happiness in the human heart. He is the "cornerstone" for building a more human civilization.
4. Through its initiatives, the Pontifical Council for the Laity has played an important role in the growth of the lay faithful in the past few years. Among its recent initiatives, I would like to recall the World Youth Day in Paris in August 1997, the meeting with ecclesial movements and new communities on 30 May 1998 in St Peter's Square, the document on "The Dignity of Older People and Their Mission in the Church and in the World", published for the International Year for Older Persons, proclaimed by the United Nations for 1999 and a guiding principle for preparing the Jubilee of older people. I know that your dicastery is already involved in preparing the World Youth Day of the Year 2000 and that, in collaboration with other dicasteries of the Roman Curia, it is organizing a seminar on the theme: "Ecclesial movements and new communities in the pastoral concern of Bishops".
5. In line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, other initiatives of the Pontifical Council for the Laity which involve the vast and fertile field of the Catholic laity will take place during the Jubilee Year. I will reflect for a moment on one of the most important: the World Congress on the Apostolate of the Laity, planned in Rome for November 2000. This congress, which will be a Jubilee event especially for those who attend it, will sum up the laity's progress from the Second Vatican Council to the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation. Although it should be seen in continuity with similar meetings that have taken place in the past, its specific features and goals should be carefully studied. Taking place towards the end of the Year 2000, it will be enriched by everything it has experienced in this year of the Lord's grace and will show lay people the tasks that await them in the various areas of their mission and service to man at the beginning of the third millennium.
6. Dear brothers and sisters, I close these reflections with the hope that the work of your plenary assembly will bear great fruit in the life of the Church. I accompany your dicastery's initiatives for the Great Jubilee with my prayers, and I entrust their results to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church. I wish all of you here, your families and your loved ones, abundant graces for the Jubilee Year, and from my heart I give you all my Apostolic Blessing.
Speeches 1999 - February 19, 1999