Speeches 1999 - 25 June 1999
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. With great joy, I welcome you, the Bishops of Ireland, on the occasion of your visit ad Limina Apostolorum, and I gladly avail myself of this opportunity to send warm greetings to the priests, religious and laity of your dearly remembered country. Your visit is an opportunity to renew and strengthen the bonds of faith and communion which have marked Ireland's relationship to the See of Peter from the first. In a real sense your visit is a pilgrimage, during which you pray at the tombs of Apostles Peter and Paul and meditate on the grace and responsibility which is yours in the service of the Gospel. The Apostles continue to inspire us, their Successors, by their teaching and example, and they challenge us to be "examples to the flock" (1P 5,3), men of God who "fight the good fight of the faith" and who have taken hold of “the eternal life to which we were called when we made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (cf. 1Tm 6,12).
The Church's celebration of the two thousandth anniversary of Christ's coming as man is imminent, and this event constitutes a special kairos in our pastoral ministry. The Incarnate Word is the fulfilment of the yearning for God present in every human heart. He is "the faithful witness" (Ap 1,5) that the Father has sent to seek out every man and woman and draw them to share in the inmost life of the Trinity. As a celebration of the supreme manifestation of God's love, the Great Jubilee obliges the Shepherds of the Church to intensify their efforts in the new evangelization needed to lay solid foundations for Christian living in the next Millennium. We should recall the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can though his Spirit, offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. . . that beneath all changes there are so many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and for ever (cf. Heb He 13,8)” (Gaudium et Spes GS 10). In consequence, we must have no fear or hesitation in fulfilling the tasks committed to us, namely, to be true and authentic teachers of the faith (munus docendi), ministers of grace (munus sanctificandi) and good shepherds of God’s people (munus regendi) (cf. Christus Dominus CD 2).
2. Society needs to rediscover the original freshness of the Gospel and to hear again Christ's message of salvation, truth, hope and joy for the world. As Bishops, one of our primary duties is to announce and teach the Catholic and Apostolic faith. To be convincing, we must allow ourselves to be personally and continually transformed by a deep and prayerful relationship with the Divine Master, so that we can communicate to others what we have been privileged to receive. The words of my predecessor Pope Paul VI are most appropriate: "Contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, or if he listens to teachers, he does so because they are witnesses. He feels, in fact, an instinctive revulsion for everything that appears as pretence, façade or compromise. In this context, we can understand the importance of a life which truly resounds with the Gospel" (General Audience, 2 October 1974).
You are well aware of the demands which the present situation makes upon your ministry. Recent years have witnessed many changes in Irish society, and while some aspects of this transformation make the proclamation of the Gospel more difficult, it is also true that many of the faithful are eager to have a more enlightened knowledge of the faith, to deepen their relationship with God in prayer, to learn how to follow Christ more closely in their daily lives and in the service of the common good, and to have a more lively sense of their own role and responsibility within the Church. This is observable in the spread of prayer groups, Eucharistic adoration and pilgrimages, as well as in the laity's increased involvement in evangelization, works of charity, the defence of life and the promotion of justice. It is also true that the exaggerated individualism which sometimes accompanies increased material prosperity has brought in its wake a declining sense of God’s presence and of the transcendent meaning of human life. The relativism which then takes hold often leads to a rejection of the objective foundations of morality and an overly subjective understanding of conscience, a theme which you addressed in a joint Pastoral Letter of 1998. There follows a corrosion of the sense that Christianity teaches the truth – a truth which we ourselves have not devised but which comes to us as gift. This can in turn lead to discouragement and to the belief that the Church no longer has anything of relevance to say to the men and women of our day. But in fact Christian experience over the centuries, and in our own time also, shows that faith, when tested, can emerge stronger, freer and more vigorous, just as the history of the Church in Ireland eloquently testifies.
3. The new evangelization which can make the next century a springtime of the Gospel will depend very much on the lay faithful being fully aware of their baptismal vocation and of their responsibility for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today it is often the laity who must be in the forefront in seeking to apply the Church’s teaching to the ethical, moral and social questions which arise in their communities or at the national level. The specific mission of lay men and women is the evangelization of the family, of culture, and of social and political life. In this, they look to the Bishops for encouragement and leadership.
The Bishops’ task in this regard is to promote the holiness of life and the Christian formation that will enable the laity, in the heart of the temporal order, “to testify how the Christian faith constitutes the only fully valid response ... to the problems and hopes that life poses to every person and society” (Christifideles Laici CL 34). Exercising the discernment which belongs to your apostolic office, you must be like the “householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old" (Mt 13,52). It is in this sense that the new evangelization requires a renewal of pastoral governance and activity. As I have often stated, it calls for efforts that are new in ardour, methods and expression (cf. Veritatis Splendor VS 106). This is not novelty for novelty’s sake. In fact, the practices and traditions that have been an integral part of Irish Catholic life should be maintained, and revived where necessary: sacramental practice, popular piety, pilgrimages and traditional devotions which sustain the life of grace and moral commitment have not lost their relevance. There is likewise a need for new forms of prayer and apostolate, new structures and programmes, that help to build a greater sense of belonging to the ecclesial community, a new flourishing of associations and movements capable of showing the perennial youth of the Church and of being a genuine leaven in society. Your personal closeness is needed in supporting and guiding already existing associations of the faithful, many of which have extraordinary merits in the life of the Church in Ireland, as well as the new groups and movements which the Holy Spirit is constantly generating in the Church in response to changing needs.
4. The new evangelization is all the more urgent in view of the many complex reasons which make more difficult the transmission of the faith from one generation to another, with the result that knowledge of the truths of the faith and religious practice, especially among young adults, is declining. Certainly, some of the reasons for this are external to the Church. But others fall within that watchfulness which is an essential part of the ministry of Bishops. The Bishop is the principal teacher of the faith in the portion of the Church committed to his care, and it must be his constant concern to ensure that the true content of Catholic doctrine is taught effectively. Nothing can substitute for the power of the truths of the faith themselves to attract, convince and transform a person’s inner experience. Catholic educators should bear in mind what the Council said, that "the future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping" (Gaudium et Spes GS 31). Without the “historical memory” of the two- thousand-year-old tradition of spirituality and culture to which they are heirs, young people find it very difficult to feel an attachment to the Church, and even more difficult to commit themselves to her in a definitive way.
For Bishops and priests the main means of transmitting the faith is through preaching and catechesis. In study, reflection, discernment and prayer, they must continually make their own the saving truth of Christ, in order to be able to transmit a solidly rooted vision of the faith, relevant to the needs of our times. You are called to proclaim the truth courageously, even if what you teach sometimes goes against socially accepted opinion, in the knowledge that the person and teaching of Jesus Christ are not marginal to the needs of today's culture, but on the contrary reveal the deepest meaning of all things human.
5. In the new evangelization, marriage and the family must be the subject of intense pastoral attention. Young people must be helped to develop that generosity, self-giving and commitment which marriage requires. Pre-marriage preparation should ensure that couples fully understand the nature of Christian marriage and are in a position to undertake its responsibilities. Parishes and Catholic associations can be instrumental in supporting couples and families by organizing adult catechesis, spiritual retreats, counselling, or events at which families meet and encourage one another. New ideas and new energies are required to meet the needs of couples in difficulty, and in particular to reach out promptly and efficaciously to women facing pressures to reject the unborn life they bear. The new evangelization involves a strenuous defence of the right to life, the most basic of all human rights — more basic than any individual’s, group’s or government’s “right to choose”. It calls for the faithful to be ever more aware of the Church’s social teaching, ever more active in promoting truth and justice in public life and interpersonal relations. It demands practical solidarity with the weaker sectors of society and all those who are left at the margin of economic development.
6. Relying on the power of God’s grace linked to episcopal ordination, a Bishop must be eager to offer inspiration and encouragement to all those who share with him the burden of the ministry. He must have a close relationship with his priests, characterized by pastoral charity, the capacity to listen, and a sincere concern for their spiritual and human well-being. At a time when priests are suffering due to the pressures of the surrounding culture and the terrible scandal given by some of their brother priests, it is essential to invite them to draw strength from a deeper insight into their priestly identity and mission. I have been close to you in suffering and prayer, commending to the “God of all comfort” (2Co 1,3) those who have been victims of sexual abuse on the part of clerics or religious. We must also pray that those who have been guilty of this wrong will recognize the evil nature of their actions and seek forgiveness.
These scandals, and a sociological rather than theological concept of the Church, sometimes lead to calls for a change in the discipline of celibacy. However, we cannot overlook the fact that the Church recognizes God’s will through the interior guidance of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn Jn 16,13) and that the Church’s living tradition constitutes a clear affirmation of the consonance of celibacy, for profound theological and anthropological reasons, with the sacramental “character” of the priesthood. The difficulties involved in preserving chastity are not sufficient reason for overturning the law of celibacy. Rather the Church “trusts in the Spirit that the gift of celibacy . . . will be generously bestowed by the Father, as long as those who share in Christ’s priesthood through the Sacrament of Orders, and indeed the whole Church, humbly and earnestly pray for it” (Presbyterorum Ordinis PO 16).
Reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of my own ordination, I recalled in Gift and Mystery that the priestly vocation is a mystery of divine choice, prompted only by God's love for the one called. It is a gift which infinitely transcends the individual: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15,16). These words are a challenge to priests to reaffirm the goodness and unique significance of their calling, despite personal weaknesses and failings. They should not hesitate to invite young men to the radical self-giving which the priesthood involves: “The time has come to speak courageously about priestly life as a priceless gift and a splendid and privileged form of Christian living" (Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 39). With profound gratitude to God for the holiness, witness and commitment of so many Irish priests, past and present, I encourage you to reaffirm the ideal of the priestly life and to remind the entire ecclesial community of the extraordinary grace implied in ordination, a unique sacramental configuration to Christ by which the priest becomes Christ for others: an efficacious sign of God's saving presence. His striving for holiness and personal maturity, his example of Christian virtue and integrity, his pastoral charity towards all, these are the conditions of a faithful and fruitful ministry, and are what the faithful have the right to expect from those who have accepted the Lord’s call.
7. The value of an authentic, stable and community-centred experience of consecrated life is likewise of immeasurable value for the new evangelization. At the approach of the Third Christian Millennium, the Church has great need of a vital and appealing religious life, which testifies to the sovereignty of God and to the value of the "total gift of self in the profession of the evangelical counsels" (Vita Consecrata VC 16). As many religious congregations are facing the challenge of declining numbers and advancing age, Bishops need to help them to reaffirm their confidence in their consecration and mission. Every aspect of the Church’s presence in the world, including all the forms of consecrated life, is the result of and an expression of Christ’s saving Incarnation and Redemptive Death and Resurrection. Consecrated life makes present in various ways the Chaste Christ, the Poor Christ, the Obedient Christ, in a word, the Holy One of God. The importance of this witness for the life of every local Church is such that a Bishop must not fail to do all he can to promote and support this vocation which lies at the very heart of the Church, since it manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse (cf. Vita Consecrata VC 3).
8. A rejuvenation of the faith in Ireland can only come from a genuine renewal of liturgical and sacramental life. Especially in the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Church's life, the Holy Spirit leads the faithful to a deep and transforming encounter with the Lord, and gives the grace which enables them to live by the Gospel and to bear witness to it by their actions. Are not the contemplative dimension of the liturgy and reverence for the true Presence, which have been so characteristic of Irish Catholic life, particularly needed now when so much in today’s culture tends to remain at the level of the ephemeral and superficial? In this regard, I am happy to note a renewal of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in many parishes in Ireland, a sign that the faithful still have a keen sense of what is essential and life- giving in their faith.
In inviting the whole Church to an intense celebration of the Jubilee Year it was my intention that the anniversary of Christ’s Birth should be “a year of the remission of sins and of the punishments due to them, a year of reconciliation between disputing parties, a year of manifold conversions and of sacramental and extra-sacramental penance" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente TMA 14). Prevailing trends in contemporary culture weaken the sense of sin, particularly because of a diminished consciousness of God who is all holy and calls his people to holiness of life. A great pastoral effort is therefore required in order to help the faithful to recover the sense of what sin is in relation to God, and consequently to have a profound appreciation of the beauty and joy of the Sacrament of Penance. This requires emphasis on the Sacrament in diocesan pastoral programmes and Jubilee initiatives, calling Catholics to encounter anew the uniquely transforming experience that is individual, integral confession and absolution. The personal nature of sin, conversion, forgiveness and reconciliation is the reason why personal confession of sins and individual absolution are required (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 1484). It is also for this reason that general confession and general absolution are appropriate only in cases of grave necessity clearly determined by liturgical and canonical norms (cf. ibid., 1483; Code of Canon Law, Canons 961-963).
It is now twenty years since I made my Pastoral Visit to your country. On that occasion, I witnessed for myself that at the heart of the Irish Catholic experience is the combination of contemplation and mission, the two pillars on which every evangelizing effort must necessarily stand or fall. It was this combination that inspired Saint Patrick, Saint Colmcille, Saint Brigid, Saint Columbanus, Saint Oliver Plunkett, the Irish Martyrs and so many saintly men and women in more recent times to give up everything for Christ's sake in order to make the Gospel known. May the coming celebration of the Great Jubilee lead to a rekindling of the spirit of prayer and mission so that the Church in Ireland may confidently face the next Millennium rejuvenated and renewed!
Entrusting you and all the priests, religious and laity of your Dioceses to the intercession of Our Lady Queen of Ireland, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Dear Brothers in Christ,
1. "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence" (2P 1,3).
This profession of faith in the Second Letter of Peter inspires our meeting today, dear brothers who have been sent by the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Holiness Bartholomew I, for the feast of Sts Peter and Paul. Your presence is a joy for me and for the Church of Rome, that deep joy which flows from brotherly communion. I know that His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch is stirred by the same sentiment every year when he receives at the Phanar the delegation from the Church of Rome for the feast of St Andrew, brother of Peter, the Apostle who was the first to hear the Lord's call. Each year these two happy occasions unite us and enable us to form a larger assembly of prayer, to implore the Lord and his Spirit for the gift of unity.
2. God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. We received the divine gifts through the Apostles, and we are asked to transmit them to men and women from generation to generation. We wish to glorify God together, and together we wish to proclaim his Word and active power, which can renew, enliven and nourish the world. Together we want to make known to others the One who called us, so that they may receive all things that pertain to life and godliness.
On the way to full communion, a plenary session of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue had been planned for this spring. The sad situation in the Balkans, which has pained us so much, compelled us to postpone this meeting, by joint agreement, to June of next year. However this should not interfere with continued research, weaken our commitment or prevent us from pursuing and deepening our fraternal relations. The weighty legacy of the past and the tensions which arise from time to time between people sometimes hamper the action of Churches in historical and cultural contexts which they are obliged to take into account. However, God himself summons us to unity. It is Christ who prayed to the Father that the unity of his followers would be a sign inviting the world to believe, as well as the firstfruits of true renewal and the pledge of peace.
The quest for unity and full communion must be supported by everyone's prayer. May the Lord enlighten pastors and theologians, so that together they can find the ways of sanctification and unity and be able to offer them to all with the strength and conviction which come from the certitude that "to believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to the Father's plan from all eternity" (Ut unum sint UUS 9).
3. The third millennium is close at hand. God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, and the Jubilee affords us the opportunity to offer the Lord a common and universal doxology, and to implore him together for his support, so that we can proclaim his glory and active power with one voice. This is the ardent desire of the Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome, so that we can unanimously raise a great prayer of thanksgiving, with the firm determination to do God's will together. At the suggestion of His Holiness Bartholomew I, I have asked that a Jubilee day of prayer and fasting be inserted into the calendar of Roman celebrations for the Year 2000 on the vigil of the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I wished in this way to show not only our intention to join in the initiatives of our brethren in the faith, but also our desire to see them take part in ours. We must therefore thank the Lord together, with sentiments of brotherhood and ecumenical commitment.
4. At the end of our meeting, dear brothers, please assure His Holiness Bartholomew I and the members of his Holy Synod of my affection in the Lord and convey my deepest gratitude to him for sending me a delegation led by the esteemed Metropolitan of Ephesus. May the Lord always bless our steps on the way to unity!
1. I am pleased to welcome Your Excellency for the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic to the Holy See.
With courteous attention you have referred to the pastoral mission of Peter's Successor, stressing the value of his Magisterium also for the life of the civil community. In this connection you recalled my visits to your country. Your words have brought back many memories, taking me back to the unforgettable feeling I experienced during those meetings so full of human warmth and Christian faith.
I am grateful to the President of the Czech Republic, Mr Václav Havel, for his cordial greetings which Your Excellency has kindly conveyed to me. Please reciprocate my respectful good wishes for his important mission and for his health, while conveying my sentiments of goodwill to the inhabitants of the Czech nation, which is so dear to me. May the Lord grant everyone prosperity and peace in a context of justice and solidarity in which everyone can find his own legitimate expectations properly fulfilled.
2. Mr Ambassador, you also recalled the changes that took place on the European continent 10 years ago. The collapse of the communist regime brought many hopes, giving peoples new reasons to look to the future with trust.
Because of its location in the heart of the continent, your country has received a particular vocation. As an important factor of unity, it is called to play an active part in building the new Europe.
The millennium of St Adalbert's martyrdom, which I celebrated in Prague and Hradec Králové in 1997, was an important historical moment which prompted us to reflect not only on the Christian roots of the Czech Republic, but also on the heritage it received from that great Bishop and from other Bohemian, Moravian and Silesian saints, in order to establish a united, free Europe that believes in the Gospel. In this light, your country was able to rediscover the meaning of its own role as a bridge between East and West.
In these years European countries are at a political juncture laden with extraordinary opportunities. They can no longer think of their existence as a mere juxtaposition of States or in terms of antagonism, which results in inevitable tensions and conflicts, as confirmed by recent events in the Balkans. Rather it is necessary that in overcoming possible divisions, which unfortunately are likely to occur in a society which is extremely jealous of its own rights and autonomies, they should work on building those structures which can strengthen that Europe of nations, the urgent need for which is being more and more felt. It is up to people of good will to encourage every source of reconciliation and rapprochement between individuals and peoples, thereby helping to establish peace for the benefit of present and future generations in both the East and the West. Beyond differences of language and culture, the deep relations historically interwoven between European peoples and the Christian heritage of the majority of their members represent a very sound basis for building understanding and collaboration among the peoples of the continent.
3. Every nation has its own particular features connected with its history, and it is right that it should preserve them in the union being created. It is necessary for every European to be committed to fostering a climate of mutual respect and fraternal solidarity. It is also important that those in charge of public affairs be concerned to base their political, economic and social decisions first and foremost on those moral criteria which belong to the common European memory; in particular, they should take care to focus on the human being, with concern for his integral advancement and respect for his basic freedoms.
In this perspective, effective recognition of religious freedom appears as an indispensable condition for building the new Europe and for harmonious coexistence of the nations comprising it. As you appropriately stressed, throughout history Christianity brought together and united various peoples with one another, helping them to free themselves from the yokes that oppressed them. A serene examination of the past shows that Christian faith is one of the pillars supporting the old continent. The anthropological, moral and spiritual values which are linked to it are a treasure from which to draw in planning for the future. Obviously this does not exclude equal respect for other religious traditions, which must have the right of citizenship. Respect for religious freedom is a guarantee of respect for all the other individual and community freedoms.
4. In the same spirit, relations between Church and State should be clarified and strengthened. In this context, I stress once again, as I did at the beginning of my Pastoral Visit two years ago, that it seems to be of primary importance to set up a joint committee that includes representatives of the Czech Republic and the Holy See, with the task of examing pending issues concerning Church-State relations. In this way it will also be possible to deal effectively with the question of restoring Church property, as well as that of suitable support for ecclesial institutions, in accordance with the rights and requirements of justice and democracy.
The Church, without being directly involved in political life as this is not her mission, nonetheless wishes to serve people and to help them fulfil their responsibilities for the benefit of others. This will also be the aim of the Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in Rome next October. It is the duty of Catholics on the continent to propose a sound vision of civilization and to plan new ways of working together to make it a reality.
5. Mr Ambassador, I know well that Czech Catholics wish to have their own place "to transform reality in order to make it correspond to God's plan" (Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 46); they want to make an active contribution to the good of their country, after the trials they endured during the communist period. They would like to ensure that the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of the Christian tradition is transmitted to the younger generation, so that they can prepare to fulfil the roles to which they will be called. This cannot but help to promote the country's democratic development and to encourage the consolidation of State based on law.
It is in fact essential that those who have or will have responsibility for the res publica consider their office as a service to the national community. This task requires that they have a high standard of moral and social values, such as honesty, justice, harmony, impartiality, a sense of lawfulness, so that people will have ever greater trust in their representatives at all levels of society.
6. I therefore hope that the mission to the Holy See which you are beginning today will offer you many occasions to have a close knowledge of the many expressions of the universal Church's life, especially in this period when we are preparing to celebrate the Great Jubilee. In this regard, I am pleased that the Czech Republic feels particularly involved in the celebration of this event: it will be donating the great fir tree that will stand in St Peter's Square during the Christmas season at the beginning of the Holy Year, as a sign of union between the second and the third millennium; and here in Rome it will organize programmes of particular cultural importance during the Jubilee itself.
I hope that this solemn event will be for the faithful and for many other people of good will a time of conversion in which, by humbly recognizing the weaknesses of the past, everyone will turn to the future with a new heart, determined to give the best of himself in fraternal life.
As I offer you my best wishes, I can assure you that those who work with me will always offer you an attentive welcome and cordial understanding in the fulfilment of your office.
I invoke an abundance of divine blessings upon you, your loved ones and the staff of your embassy, as well as upon the President of the Republic, your country's other authorities and all your compatriots.
To His Holiness Karekin I
Catholicos - Supreme Patriarch of All Armenians
1. Since my official visit to Armenia and to the Armenian Apostolic Church has had to be postponed and circumstances prevented me from meeting Your Holiness at the close of my pastoral visit to Poland, I am writing to assure you of my spiritual closeness at this difficult time of ill health, as you offer a moving witness to the suffering Christ.
I am entrusting this message to Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who will personally convey to Your Holiness my sentiments of profound esteem and fraternal affection. I recall with gratitude the two visits which, as Catholicos and Supreme Patriarch of All Armenians, you made to me in Rome, and I cordially greet all the Members of the Holy Synod and the entire Armenian Apostolic Church, to which I extend my very best wishes.
2. I have greatly desired to visit Armenia, where in the shadow of Mount Ararat the Christian faith has taken deep root and flourished. Brought by the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, and nourished also by the contribution of the Churches of Cappadocia, Edessa and Antioch, the Christian faith has shaped Armenian culture, just as Armenian culture has contributed to enriching the understanding of the Christian faith in new and unique ways. In these days, the Armenian Liturgy is celebrating the memory of the holy translators, Sahak and Mashtots. The creation of a national alphabet by the monk Mashtots was a significant step towards the formation of a new Christian culture in Armenia.
A few months ago I had the honour of joining Your Holiness in the Vatican to inaugurate an exhibition devoted to Armenian history and culture. What a magnificent heritage it is, so imbued with Christian spirituality! Those peoples who follow the teaching of Christ have no need to give up their own identity. On the contrary, Baptism provides them with a new source of sustenance for their genius as a nation. I look forward eagerly, Your Holiness, to being able when circumstances permit to experience at first hand the remarkable creativity which has characterized and shaped the Armenian people down the centuries.
Living in the shadow of Mount Ararat, Armenians have always been a «frontier» people. Throughout their history, this geographical situation has left a profound mark on them. In fact, drawing on the missionary, spiritual, liturgical and cultural heritage of the entire Christian «oikoumene», the Armenian Apostolic Church developed its own identity in a spirit of great openness to the different ecclesial traditions around it. Over the centuries, it engaged in direct and fruitful exchanges with the Syriac, Byzantine and Latin traditions.
The same spirit of openness enabled it to help and support the neighbouring Churches when they had to face moments of trial and adversity. The Armenian Apostolic Church’s present contribution to the ecumenical movement is part of a long tradition of openness and fraternal exchange.
3. Within Christianity, East and West have never been completely isolated from each other; there have always been moments of interaction and areas of mutual enrichment between them. Your Holiness, I join you in praying that the theological and spiritual heritage of our respective traditions will continue to enrich us mutually. May we be enabled to live in fidelity to Saint Paul’s teaching: «There is a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are all kinds of works, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one» (1Co 12,4-6).
While many ecumenical efforts down the centuries failed to produce results, the spirit and principles which inspired them have lost none of their value. How can we fail to recall here the efforts made by Catholicos Nerses Schnorhali to promote communion between the Armenian and Byzantine Churches? His letters to the Byzantine Emperor remain an ecumenical witness of the first rank, still able to inspire us as we move towards the establishment of full communion between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church. The one condition necessary for union, as Catholicos Nerses Schnorhali declared in one of his letters, is the truth of faith in charity. May we come to rediscover our full communion precisely in the truth of faith in charity!
Your Holiness, this is my desire and the desire of the entire Catholic Church. The visit of Cardinal Cassidy in my name, to bring you this message, is meant to be a confirmation of this hope.
4. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church have fostered new and deeper bonds of communion. When Pope Paul VI and Catholicos Vazken I exchanged the kiss of peace, they sealed a new relationship between our Churches. That was on 9 May 1971. And since that memorable day, how many happy meetings and exchanges have brought us closer together! I wish to thank you in particular, Your Holiness, for all that you have done and are doing to ensure that the desire of Christians for full unity is realized. From the time that you took part as an Observer in the Second Vatican Council, you have constantly worked for a fuller communion between our Churches. When you visited Rome in December 1996, we were able to sign a Joint Declaration in which we noted with joy that «the recent developments of ecumenical relations and the theological discussions carried out in a spirit of Christian love and fellowship have dispelled many misunderstandings inherited from the controversies and dissensions of the past». May these happy developments inspire us to continue to seek the best ways to restore full communion between our Churches, so that we may be able to witness together to the love of God.
5. A crucial question on the path towards full communion concerns the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. Since my election to the See of Peter, I have sought to exercise this ministry as an effective service to the communion of all the Churches. Inspired by the mission of Peter, I have striven to be the servant of unity, and I shall continue to do so. But the exercise of this service of unity concerns us all. That is why, in my Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, I asked the Holy Spirit «to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek — together, of course — the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned» (No. 95).
May the Holy Spirit help us now to concentrate our efforts so that, with the greatest tact, patience and love, we may restore the fabric of the undivided Church. Where we cannot at the present time find a way forward, the future will surely show us new paths. In view of this, it is desirable that there be a commitment to establish new forms of pastoral cooperation between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. This cooperation could help us to find fresh ways of growing closer, and gradually lead to overcoming any remaining sources of tension.
6. Your Holiness, following the great social and political changes which Armenia has experienced in the last ten years, you too have before you a vast field for the renewal of the Church.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is not alone in facing this great challenge.
The building in the centre of Yerevan of a new Cathedral dedicated to Saint Gregory the Illuminator is a powerful symbol of the new energy which your Church is experiencing. May the Lord bless the many initiatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church and enable you to benefit from that solidarity of all the Churches urged by Saint Paul: «Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ» (Ga 6,2).
7. On a number of occasions Your Holiness has spoken of fortitude and a spirit of endurance as special characteristics of the Armenian people and the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is most significant that everywhere in Armenia one finds «khatchkar», those massive stones representing the glorious Cross of the Saviour. Throughout your history they have been carved and placed wherever Armenians wished to acclaim or invoke their Redeemer. These «khatchkar» have become a special symbol of the trials and humiliations which the Armenian people have had to suffer. And how much they had to suffer, especially at the beginning of this century!
The Cross of Christ has been your daily experience. But like the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, the Armenian people have remained faithful in the face of every adversity. The Cross of Christ has been your glory and your strength. I pray that throughout Armenia the dawn of a new day will give fresh meaning to the glorious symbols of the «khatchkar», making the peaceful and solemn power of the Redeemer shine forth ever more brightly. May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, sustain all the faithful in their trust in God and in their commitment to Christian witness.
Your Holiness, I remain close to you in prayer and with you I give glory and praise to him who never ceases to gather his own into unity: our one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
From Rome, 29 June 1999
Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul
Speeches 1999 - 25 June 1999