Speeches 1999 - Saturday, 20 March 1999
To the Right Reverend
Abbot General of the Vallombrosan
1. I learned with joy that the Vallombrosan monastic family is preparing this year to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the birth of their founder, St John Gualbert. With this in mind, I wish to address you, Rt Rev. Abbot General, and all the members of the congregation, so that this important commemoration may leave a deep impression for the renewal of your lives and for the good of the whole Church: "You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished!" (Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata VC 110).
This anniversary will be celebrated on the eve of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, the year dedicated to the Father, and it is important that this celebration should become for each Vallombrosan monk an act of praise to God the Father for having raised up in the Church such a significant figure of holiness and apostolic courage: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ep 1,3-4).
2. St John Gualbert was chosen by God at a difficult moment in the Church's history, in an age of profound changes that were shaking the world of religious orders, so that he might contribute to the reawakening of the desire for a Christian and monastic life without compromise, by starting, after many difficulties, a new way of life that would respond to the inner promptings of the Spirit. This way of life, based on the Rule of St Benedict, enjoined that "nothing should be preferred to Christ" (Regula Benedicti 4:21 and 72:11). Thus it was possible for St John Gualbert and his followers to observe the requirements of a rigorous ascetical life, while at the same time making a valid contribution to the fight against simony and Nicolaism. As my venerable Predecessor Paul VI already said on the ninth centenary of his death, "although he was a monk, he shared the life of the Church in the truest and fullest sense and together with his associates he played a leading role in the midst of the most serious disturbances which plagued the Church, especially in Tuscany ... in very troubled and difficult times. From his monastery of Vallombrosa, as from a watchtower, he viewed the pressing needs of the Church.... The same care and attention which he devoted to the restoration of monastic discipline, he also applied to the reform of clerical behaviour. He stressed the common life and unconditional evangelic poverty" (cf. Letter to the Abbot General of the Vallombrosans, 10 July 1973: AAS 65 (1973) 434-436). It was precisely through the witness of poverty, "witness to the kingdom, beginning of beatitude, journey of freedom and means of apostolic fruitfulness" (Vallombrosan Constitutions, 147), expressed also through the simplicity of the buildings and austerity of life, that the monastic reform begun by St John Gualbert succeeded in becoming a rule of life for other monasteries as well.
3. The power of the Holy Spirit was manifested in St John Gualbert when, still a knight with a promising military career in the world, he descended from his horse upon meeting his brother's killer and embraced him in an act of pardon. This action, which profoundly marked his life to the point of making him leave everything for the kingdom (cf. Lk Lc 18,28), is still very timely in our day: yielding to hatred and violence means being overcome by evil and spreading it; by forgiving him, St John Gualbert not only fulfilled the Lord's teaching: "Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Lc 6,37), but also won a great victory over himself and achieved profound inner peace.
The example of your founder must find you involved in the Church so that the spirituality of communion can grow, first of all in the internal life of your monastic family and then in the ecclesial community, and even beyond its boundaries (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata VC 51).
4. The call to holiness given to St John Gualbert was gradually fulfilled in him through a continuous exercise of prayer and ascesis, following the vital, centuries-old Benedictine tradition. As one of his biographers relates, he was "uneducated and almost illiterate", but "he had Sacred Scripture read to him night and day so that he became quite expert in divine law and wisdom" (Andrew of Strumi, Life of St John Gualbert, 32). The life of the Church is "nourished and ruled by Sacred Scripture" (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, n. 21) and has its "summit and source" in the liturgy (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 10); monastic life too is characterized by these two basic elements and your monasteries cannot fail to bear witness to the Christian community and especially to the young, who are anxious to meet men capable of letting them taste the "surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus" (Ph 3,8) through prayer, lectio divina and the liturgy.
I deeply hope that this millenary anniversary will intensify your sequela Christi and that, after the example of St John Gualbert, your monasteries will increasingly be "houses of God" (Regula Benedicti, 31:19; 53:22; 64:5), "welcoming abodes for those seeking God and the things of the spirit, schools of faith and true places of study, dialogue and culture for the building up of the life of the Church and of the earthly city itself, in expectation of the heavenly city" (Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata VC 6).
5. Before leaving this world, your founder, in his spiritual testament, wished to remind all his sons that the evangelical basis of the monastic family is charity. "In order inviolably to preserve this virtue, the communion of the brothers gathered together under the government of one person is immensely useful" (Andrew of Strumi, Life of St John Gualbert, 80). Your Constitutions stress that "the goal of the congregation, by the desire of its founder, is the vinculum caritatis et consuetudinis between the communities, who, under the authority of the Abbot General, help each other to safeguard and foster the consecrated life of their own monks" (Vallombrosan Constitutions, 2).
I wish to repeat to you what I wrote in the Post-Synodal Exhortation Vita consecrata: "The whole Church greatly depends on the witness of communities filled "with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Ac 13,52). She wishes to hold up before the world the example of communities in which solitude is overcome through concern for one another, in which communication inspires in everyone a sense of shared responsibility, and in which wounds are healed through forgiveness, and each person's commitment to communion is strengthened. The nature of the charism in communities of this kind directs their energies, sustains their fidelity and directs the apostolic work of all towards the one mission. If the Church is to reveal her true face to today's world, she urgently needs such fraternal communities, which, by their very existence, contribute to the new evangelization, inasmuch as they disclose in a concrete way the fruitfulness of the "new commandment" (n. 45). Therefore, may the exhortation of your father and founder remain strong in your hearts: preserve charity inviolably!
6. On you, Rt Rev. Abbot General, and on all the monks of the Vallombrosan Congregation I invoke the maternal protection of Mary, your principal patron, fervently loved and revered by St John Gualbert. I ask the Blessed Virgin to guide the steps of your family towards the third millennium. May your lives always be inspired by her, as you learn at her school how to hear and keep the Word of God, to love virginity, poverty, silence, sacrifice and docility to the mysterious designs of Providence (cf. Vallombrosan Constitutions, 183), so that you can look with hope to the future that God continues to prepare for you, as he did in your glorious past.
With these wishes, as I invoke the heavenly protection of St John Gualbert on the congregation, I affectionately impart to you, Rt Rev. Father, and to all your brother Vallombrosan monks, a special Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 21 March 1999.
1. It is a great joy for me to take part in the solemn inauguration of the Rome-Armenia Exhibition, sponsored by the ancient and glorious See of Echmiadzin and the Embassy of Armenia to the Holy See, with the cooperation of the Vatican Apostolic Library.
I wish to express sentiments of deep esteem and consideration to His Excellency Mr Robert Kocharian, President of the Republic of Armenia, who has wished to be present on this occasion. In thanking you, Mr President, for your kind words, I express the hope that Armenia, in its challenging journey to a deserved prosperity, will experience increased international solidarity and benefit from the guidance of enlightened statesmen dedicated to the common good, so that all citizens may be encouraged to play their part in the nation’s development.
A particular reason for rejoicing is the presence, on this solemn and significant occasion, of His Holiness Karekin I, Catholicos of All the Armenians, accompanied by His Beatitude Patriarch Torkom, Archbishop of Jerusalem, and other illustrious Prelates, priests and lay people of the Apostolic Church of Armenia. You have wished to honour the Church of Rome in the most beautiful manner accorded to Christians: by the witness of charity and the holy kiss of communion.
Your Holiness, I deeply appreciate this delicate gesture, which constitutes a new and important chapter in the history of the common quest for full unity between Christ’s followers. Despite the difficulties of the journey, you and the illustrious guests accompanying you have wished to show once again how much you believe in the ecumenical task, to which you have tirelessly devoted your energies. Again I thank you for your words of historic importance on the occasion of your visit to Rome in December 1996, words which were echoed the following month by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. To His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia I send a warm fraternal greeting and invoke abundant divine blessings upon his ministry.
You have taught your people and your Church that communion is an imperative for Christ’s followers and an essential condition “so that the world may believe” in their testimony. Communion does not mean the absorption and loss of one’s own identity. Rather, it is a shared pilgrimage to the one Lord, preserving what is specific and gaining the strength and richness that comes from universality. May the Father of all blessings grant Your Holiness many years as head of the Armenian Church, in the expectation of new initiatives which will renew the hope of those who believe that the Church of Christ is one, that she “can only be one, one and united” (Address to the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Insegnamenti XVI, 2 , 1458).
I address warm greetings to my dear Brother, His Beatitude Jean Pierre XVIII Kasparian, Patriarch of Armenian Catholics, who has also come here today to be with us, accompanied by other Bishops of his Church. Full communion with the See of Peter, while making this Church an integral part of the Catholic family, does not separate it from the marvellous heritage of spiritual life and culture which brings so much honour to the Armenian people, but rather commits it to a witness of renewed vigour on behalf of unity.
2. The theme of the exhibition and this gathering of the highest ecclesiastical and civil figures representing the Armenian people is no ordinary event. It is indeed highly symbolic: it points to the openness, the readiness for encounter, and the cultural achievement which have marked the entire history of the Armenian people.
Despite opposition and even open persecution, Armenians did not close in upon themselves, but considered it vital, not only for their own survival but also for authentic development, to engage in an open and intelligent exchange with other peoples. From others they borrowed elements of enrichment, blending them in the crucible of their own unmistakable uniqueness. They have always shown initiative and courage, ever sustained by the power of the Gospel which shaped their history and provided a solid foundation for their life. The Armenian diaspora, painful experience though it was, is a sign of this dynamic vitality which remains exemplary even today.
And when this attachment to the Gospel involved, as often happened, the sacrifice of life itself for the sake of fidelity to the Christian faith, Armenians showed by their martyrdom what wonders of strength grace can work in those who accept it. The universal Church can only express constant and profound gratitude for this sacrifice, which at times served as a living shield protecting Western Christianity, sparing it dangers which might have proved extremely grave.
3. The relationship between Armenia and Rome preceded the coming of Christianity, but Christianity soon became the very reason for that relationship. For many centuries, free from the misunderstandings and divisions which arose between the West and the Greek world, this relationship was marked by cordial good will. The embassies which the Armenian Church sent to Rome were received as an attestation to a pure and consistent faith. On numerous occasions the Popes sent gifts of liturgical objects to the Armenian Catholicoi as a sign of fraternal esteem, and it is significant that today the mitre and the crozier are still part of the sacred vesture of Armenian Prelates.
The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was a privileged meeting-point for Latins, Greeks and Syrians: a remarkable commitment to ecumenical fraternity flourished there. Communion between the Armenian Church in that region and the Church of Rome reached an intensity perhaps never attained in other cases. The cultural exchange was fruitful and beneficial, despite considerable difficulties. If it failed to yield more lasting fruit, this was in part due to the intransigence of some who perhaps were not able to appreciate fully the value of so providential an opportunity. On the Roman side, some of this lack of understanding was the result of tragic internal conflicts in the Western Church and the emergence of new canonical and theological concepts which made it more difficult to understand the ancient spiritual heritage of the East. For us today all of this is a motive of profound regret, and it obliges us not to overlook the opportunities which the Spirit is giving us in calling all Christ’s followers to communion.
4. The objects on display in the Sala Regia — from the fragment of Noah’s Ark from Echmiadzin, to the archaeological finds from ancient Cilicia — are not mere memorabilia; they are signs of the great things which God has done for the Armenian people. They are an invitation to ever deeper self-knowledge and ever greater self-esteem. If in those distant times enlightened and courageous men such as Nerses Shnorhali and Nerses of Lambron amazed the world, and continue to do so even today, with an admirable balance between love of their own culture and openness to the cultures of others, their example — and later the similar shining example of Abbot Mechitar of Sebaste — must be a lesson and an inspiration for us all in the present.
In times long past, saintly Armenians showed great enthusiasm for the unity of the Church, with respect for the dignity of all and for the specific character of each. They were ahead of their times, proclaiming values which were not fully understood. Now that those values have become part of our universal patrimony, we can be no less than they were: we must have the courage to undertake holy actions which will overcome prejudices and stereotypes.
Together in the footsteps of Christ: may this be the hope and the prayer of all Christians on the eve of the Third Millennium and the eve of the seventeen hundredth anniversary of the Baptism of Armenia.
May God always bless and protect your people throughout the world, wherever they bear witness to the faith and to the learning of the Fathers. From heaven may the Holy Martyrs and the revered Shepherds of the Church of Armenia intercede for us with Mary, the Mother of love.
"Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!" (Ps 103,1).
Yes, I bless the Lord who has given us this moment of grace, this fraternal meeting. It is a great joy to be able to welcome you during these days, Your Holiness, together with His Beatitude Torkom Manoogian and all the distinguished persons who have accompanied you.
I am delighted by the impressive exhibition of Armenian culture and history on display in the Vatican Museums. In them we can admire a heritage permeated by the Christian faith! Because of their fidelity to their roots and tenacity in adversity, the Armenian people could turn their many sufferings into a source of creativity and dynamism. According to tradition, the Armenian Church received the faith from the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. But it is because of the missionary activity of St Gregory the Illuminator that the Gospel spread among the Armenian people at the very beginning of the fourth century. Since those ancient times, the Christian faith has never ceased to enlighten and inspire the Armenian people, in their deep convictions and in their daily life.
Christians will shortly be celebrating the great mystery of Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection. "But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him" (Rm 6,8-9). We will sing and celebrate the mystery of our redemption. Our faith in Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our life, of our mission and of the bonds of fraternal communion between our Churches. I acknowledge with satisfaction the progress achieved in our common search for unity in Christ, the Word of God made flesh; it is the fruit of our ecumenical relations and theological dialogue. The unfortunate divisions of the past should no longer continue to exert a negative influence on the life and witness of our Churches. The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the 17th centenary of the foundation of the Armenian Church are a pressing invitation to bear a common witness to our faith in Jesus Christ.
The Catholic and Armenian Churches have developed deep relations, especially since the Second Vatican Council. Positive meetings have taken place since that memorable day in 1971 when Catholicos Vasken I and Pope Paul VI embraced in a gesture full of brotherly friendship. I would also like to thank Your Holiness in particular for what you have done and are still doing to achieve Christian unity. In this spirit that motivates us, it is to be hoped that wherever Catholic and Armenian faithful live side by side they will further these fraternal acts through sustained initiatives in the different areas of service to humanity. May we not neglect the slightest occasion to deepen and broaden our positive collaboration in this one mission which Christ has entrusted to us!
Your Holiness, I am delighted by your invitation to come to Armenia, which has also been extended to me by the President of the Republic, and I thank you for letting me know of your wish to receive me as a guest at your Patriarchate of Echmiadzin, to reinforce our ties and to strengthen unity among Christians. I pray the Lord that he will enable me to make this visit. As I thank you for making the journey to Rome, a highly symbolic expression of Christian brotherhood, I wish you good health, so that you may long continue to serve your Church. I ask the Holy Spirit to help us always to be servants of men and walk on the path of unity to which Christ invites us. I pray the Lord to bless the Armenian Church, its Pastors and its faithful. I ask the Virgin Mary, whose name contains all the mysteries of salvation, as St Gregory the Illuminator said, to guide your communities with her motherly tenderness. May the Lord reveal his face to you and keep you in peace!
Your Holiness, in your Message for World Youth Day 1999, you invited us, together with the whole Church, "to turn towards God the Father and to listen with gratitude and wonder to Jesus' astonishing revelation: "The Father loves you!'", and again you assured us: "His love will never leave you, his covenant of peace with you will never be lacking". We are sure of this. However at times we find it difficult to understand how the Father loves us, when we are faced with the suffering and death of young people like us, when natural catastrophes effect innocent people, when - even worse - man experiences the madness of war. We are, in fact, ending a century which has been deeply marked by wars and hatred between peoples. Even today, particularly in these hours, war and hatred continue in areas so close to us in the former Yugoslavia. Your Holiness, can you help us to understand how the Father never ceases to love us even when we see the suffering of the just and the innocent, when many of our peers are overcome by destructive phenomena such as drug dependency, and when man takes his life because of hatred and war?
Dear Young People,
Welcome to the Vatican, to Paul VI Auditorium. I welcome those present here in the hall and those who are outside in the rain, which however does not seem to be very heavy. They are, in any case, stronger than the rain.
Dear Young People,
1. The great problem you place before me is rooted in the very heart of man. In the question that your representative asked me I hear the echo of a strong objection that we read in Dostoevsky's "Story of the Grand Inquisitor": "How can I believe in God when he permits the death of an innocent child?". We experience and almost see with our own eyes the problem of evil in our everyday life. The great discussions of this problem do not seem immediately convincing, especially when we ourselves experience illness or suffering or when we are touched by the death of someone who is near and dear to us.
But I will not avoid the challenge this question contains. In the first place, though, I too would like to ask you a provocative question: you ask me how to understand the love of the Father when we find ourselves faced with hatred, division, the various ways of destroying personal dignity, and war. Rightly so, a short time ago you mentioned the conflict that is shedding blood in Yugoslavia and raising so much concern for its victims and for the consequences that may flow from it for Europe and the whole world. I sincerely hope that the arms may be silenced as soon as possible and that dialogue and negotiations may be resumed, so that with everyone's contribution a lasting and just peace in the entire Balkan region may be achieved.
For my part I say to you: why should you wonder where the love of God is and rather not emphasize the responsibilities that stem from human sin? Why, in short, do we blame God when instead it is men who are responsible through their free decisions?
Sin is not an abstract theory; rather, its consequences can be verified. The evil which you ask me to explain has sin as its basis and the refusal to live according to God's teaching. It wounds one's existence and leads to the rejection of what is good. We close ourselves then in envy, jealousy and selfishness, without realizing that such behaviour leads to loneliness and takes away the real meaning of life.
In spite of all this, you may be sure that God's love is never lacking, because God himself wanted to share his suffering and death with us. This is precisely what we must remember in this Lenten period and during Holy Week. And what was experienced by him was also saved and redeemed. Evil is conquered by the power of love, as the Apostle Paul stresses with full conviction: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rm 8,35-37). This therefore is the way to triumph over evil: to grow in the love of the Father, who revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.
Holy Father, in your Message there is a strong invitation to repent and to frequent the sacrament of Confession. We ask you: from where should this desire for conversion come? Often we are told to repent, but sometimes we do not feel the need: can you explain why? Moreover, we ask you for a word on the sacrament of Confession, because it is not always easy for us to see it as the place where we can return to the Father from whom we have strayed through sin.
2. It is true that today, in general, the need for conversion is not felt like it used to be. In reality, though, to question oneself is one of the basic requirements for achieving an adult and mature personality. It is only by a constant process of conversion and renewal that man makes progress on the difficult path of knowing himself, of controlling his will and of being able to avoid evil and do good.
In this way, we can say that life changes continuously. You have firsthand experience of this. Is it not true that when you love someone you do everything possible to win his or her love? Do you not sometimes change even those expressions and behaviour that you would never have thought you could change? If at the base of this there is not an act of love, it is impossible to understand the need for change. The same thing occurs in the life of the spirit, especially as a result of the sacrament of Reconciliation, which should be seen precisely in this perspective. It is, in fact, the effective sign of the mercy of God who reaches out to everyone, of the love of the Father who, in spite of the estrangement of his child and the squandering of his goods, is willing to welcome him back with open arms, to start all over again. In Confession, we experience first-hand the essence of God's love: he reaches out to us in the way that suits him best: that of absolution and mercy.
With this, I do not mean that the way of conversion is easy. Everyone knows how difficult it is to acknowledge one's mistakes. Indeed, we are ready to make many excuses rather than acknowledge them. In this way, however, we do not experience God's grace, his love that transforms and makes concrete what apparently seems impossible to obtain. Without God's grace, how can we enter into our inner selves and understand the need for conversion? It is grace that transforms our hearts, allowing us to feel God's love as near and concrete.
Do not forget, then, that no one is capable of forgiving others if he has not already had the experience of being forgiven. In this way, Confession appears as the high road to becoming truly free, by experiencing the compassion of Christ, the Church's forgiveness and reconciliation with our brethren.
Your Holiness, you recall to us the words of the First Letter of John: "Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen". In other words, you teach us that acts of love, forgiveness, peace and solidarity towards our brethren have to arise from love of the Father. On this need to love and to forgive, we fully agree with you and we will commit ourselves to do so particularly as a sign of our conversion, as we pass through the Holy Door of the Year 2000. Some of us, however, find it difficult to see how the Church loves and forgives. Can you, a witness of forgiveness, who was even able to forgive the person who physically injured you, and who had the courage to ask forgiveness for the Church's sins, enlighten us on this very important question?
3. This third question also finds its answer in the light of love. With great sincerity, I would like to tell you that forgiveness is the last word spoken by those who truly love. Forgiveness is the highest sign of the capacity to love as God does, for he loves us and therefore constantly forgives us. In view of the Jubilee, now imminent, the appropriate occasion for asking forgiveness and indulgence, I wished that the Church, guided by the teaching of the Lord Jesus, should be the first to renew that journey of constant conversion that belongs to her, until the day when she will present herself before the Lord. For this reason I wrote that, on the threshold of the third millennium, the Ecclesial Community should become "more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children" (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 33).
The journey to the Holy Door is a real pilgrimage for those wanting to change their lives and to be converted to the Lord with their whole heart. When crossing that threshold, we must not forget the meaning it contains. The Holy Door is the entrance to the new life that Christ offers us. And life, as you know well, is not a theory, but something lived out at the practical level each day. Life is all the attitudes, words, behaviour and thoughts that involve us and make us see ourselves for what we are.
Dear young people of the Diocese of Rome, I thank you for your promise to me to be constantly engaged in being living signs of reconciliation and forgiveness. At your age you have many opportunities to bear a witness of sincere and generous friendship. Multiply these occasions, and joy, a gift of Christ's presence, will grow in you: a joy you are called to communicate and share with everyone you know. Jesus is the only Saviour of the world: he is the Life that gives real meaning to every person's life.
Dear young people, never tire of asking questions with legitimate curiosity and a desire to learn. It is right that at your age, as you step out into the world, you wish to know about new and interesting things. Maintain this desire to understand life; love life, a gift and mission that God entrusts to you to cooperate with him in the salvation of the world.
At the end of the meeting the Holy Father said:
Dear Young People,
1. At the end of this meeting, which has now become an annual appointment with the young people of the Diocese of Rome, I wish to thank you for actively participating in such large numbers.
I thank your representative, who greeted me at the beginning, and the friends who asked me - on behalf of you all - essential questions for being able to say "I believe": I believe, that is, that the Father loves me! And I again thank those who, in various ways, enlivened this afternoon of celebration and reflection. Special gratitude goes to Mrs Caterina Muntoni for her powerful testimony of forgiveness that we heard a short while ago. We assure her of our closeness and prayer for her brother so cruelly killed, as we ask the Lord for the gift of many priestly vocations for the Church: people who, like Fr Graziano, know how to devote themselves with great generosity to the Gospel and to the service of their brethren.
2. Before turning to the Father with the prayer Jesus taught us, I wish to remind you of an important event and an important task.
Probably you already know the event I am referring to: it is the 15th World Youth Day, which will take place here in Rome from 15 to 20 August in the Year 2000 and will have as its theme: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1,14).
No one should miss this event which we consider a "time of grace" for young people. A time of grace for you and for your peers, whom you will have as guests in your homes, parishes, schools, religious institutes, camps and whatever else your imagination suggests. A time of grace for the Church of Rome: she will receive great spiritual and pastoral benefit from the presence of numerous young people, who will come here to share and bear witness to the faith at the start of the new millennium. I entrust you with a double task: on the one hand, that of extending an invitation to participate in the World Youth Day even to your young friends who may be indifferent to faith but who, precisely because they are young, are in search of truth and goodness. The Jubilee will also be an occasion of grace for them and, probably, as has already happened for others on similar occasions, a time for drawing near to Christ and to his Church.
I entrust your peers to you. I also entrust you with the task of generously welcoming those who will come from far away. I know how much the Diocese of Rome and the Italian Committee for World Youth Day are doing under the guidance of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and I am delighted with the good work they have begun. But this work needs the participation and enthusiasm of everyone: priests, religious, adults and young people of the parish communities, the religious institutes, the university chaplaincies, the movements and associations of the Diocese. I hope that many families will open the doors of their homes to the world's young people, to allow them to get to know the big heart that Romans have. I am convinced that Roman young people will do no less than the French young people in Paris, than the Filipinos, than the Americans in Denver, than all the others, even the Polish young people at Częstochowa. The word Roma, when read back to front, spells "Amor" ("Love"). May everyone experience this Roman "Amor"!
3. To prepare yourselves to welcome your peers who will arrive from many nations of the world, you must try to rediscover the many places of Christian holiness and spirituality that Rome possesses. You will thus be able to accompany your friends who will come, and together with them deepen your faith, handed down over the centuries by generations of believers who at times defended it and bore witness to it with the price of their blood. It is faith of yesterday, today and forever, which will go forward, also thanks to you, into the new millennium.
Today you have a happy coincidence in that the day for Roman young people falls on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. I want to tell you that this solemnity, this mystery, opened the horizon for all humanity, because by the Annunciation God himself made his coming known, the coming of his Son, his entrance into human history, and so the Annunciation reminds us of this great opening of horizons in history, of the very destiny of humanity. It is good, therefore, that this solemnity coincided with your Roman gathering. One more word, the last. There is a precise reason for reciting the Angelus three times a day. It is not only a tradition, but it is a practice with deep roots. We recite the Angelus three times a day to recall the horizon that the Annunciation opens for us: "Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae, et Verbum caro factum est"; we recite it to remind us of the perspective in which we live. A perspective created by God himself, one which the Son of God made man entered. This is truly a source of great confidence. And you, young people, must be confident. For this reason I also say to you: try to recite the Angelus whenever you can.
Speeches 1999 - Saturday, 20 March 1999