To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy
President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
I am particularly pleased to send my greetings to the distinguished representatives of the Christian Churches and Confessions who are taking part in the meeting "Sister Churches, Brother Peoples". This convention is linked in spirit with that of Assisi, which continues to bear precious fruits of peace and dialogue among Christians and among the members of the other great world religions. I thank the Sant'Egidio Community for courageously and boldly supporting this unusual pilgrimage which continues to visit various cities of the world so that men and women will realize that they are brothers and sisters who belong to the same human family.
At the Interreligious Assembly which was held at the Vatican last October, I said to the Christians present: "Those of us who are Christians believe that this hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who calls us to widen our horizons, to look beyond our own personal needs and the needs of our particular communities, to the unity of the whole human family.... From this spiritual awareness spring compassion and generosity, humility and modesty, courage and perseverance. These are qualities that humanity needs more than ever as it moves into the new millennium" (Closing Address at the Interreligious Assembly, St Peter's Square, 28 October; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 3 November 1999, p. 2). I am therefore particularly pleased that this assembly of Christians is being held in Genoa in order to reflect, to pray and to strengthen our commitment to continue on the path of unity.
I would first of all like to greet the Patriarchs and representatives of the various Eastern Churches gathered here. Their presence, together with that of the Catholic Church's representatives, is a comfort and an incentive to everyone. I gladly join in the prayer and fraternal sentiments that pulsate in the hearts of all, and at the same time offer thanks to God for the fruits which ecumenical dialogue has borne in recent years. In the Encyclical Ut unum sint, I said with particular reference to this century now coming to an end that "it is the first time in history that efforts on behalf of Christian unity have taken on such great proportions and have become so extensive" (n. 41). It has happened that "Christians of one confession no longer consider other Christians as enemies or strangers but see them as brothers and sisters" (n. 42).
Indeed, rediscovered brotherhood among Christians is one of the most precious fruits of the ecumenical dialogue. As the psalmist sings, it enables us to experience the joy of brothers who dwell in unity (cf. Ps Ps 133 : 1) and makes us even more aware of how serious is the sin of division, a scandal for us and for the world. Therefore we cannot delay our steps towards the unity of the Churches. Every delay, in fact, not only risks lessening our fraternal joy, but makes us accomplices of the divisions that are growing more acute in various parts of the world. The more brotherhood is strengthened between the Churches, the more people will be encouraged to recognize one another as brothers and sisters. Brotherhood, in fact, is an energy that knows no bounds and bears fruit for the whole human race.
In this spirit, which I have chosen to call the "spirit of Assisi", I would like to greet you, Your Eminence, and to ask you to remember me affectionately to the beloved Archdiocese of Genoa and to its Archbishop, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, as well as to the Sant'Egidio Community, which jointly organized this meeting. I also extend a cordial greeting to all the participants, assuring them of a remembrance in my prayer that we can cross the threshold of the new century in brotherly love as servants of Christ and his Gospel.
I accompany these wishes with my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 11 November 1999.
With affection in the Lord I address you, the Franciscan Sisters of Penance and Christian Charity, on the occasion of your General Chapter. My cordial greeting goes above all to Sister Christina Pecoraro, your General Minister, and to the Sisters taking part in the Chapter. I assure you all of my closeness in prayer in these days as you seek to discern, in a spirit of prayerful reflection, the direction to be taken in meeting the challenges of the present, confident in the power of God’s grace to create a future of hope and to renew all things in Christ.
The theme you have chosen for your Chapter, “Moved in God”, reflects your commitment to build upon the rich spiritual heritage of your foundress, Mother Magdalen Daemen, which has inspired the witness of religious consecration and the missionary commitment of generations of Sisters in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Indonesia, Brazil and the United States. The fruitfulness of that founding charism continues to be evident today in your Congregation’s more recent missions in Tanzania, Libya, Mexico, Guatemala, Irian Jaya and East and West Timor. How can we not recognize, at the heart of this remarkable spiritual and apostolic “movement”, the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom Mother Magdalen came to know and love from her earliest years? It was Christ who first chose each of you (cf. Jn Jn 15,16) and sent you forth in the power of the Holy Spirit to bear fruit for the growth of his Kingdom. All mission has its ultimate source in the movement of God’s grace in our hearts; every apostolate is inspired and ultimately grounded in Christ’s call to discipleship. For this reason, I encourage you, as true daughters of Saint Francis, to promote in every aspect of your Congregation’s life a commitment to conversion, penance, intense prayer and contemplation as the basis for your presence and mission in the world. By being “moved in God”, may you be channels of his peace in a world often tragically beset by conflict, division and injustice.
Significantly, your Chapter is meeting on the eve of the Church’s celebration of the Great Jubilee, which is meant to give her “a new awareness of the salvific mission she has received from Christ” (Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 21). A significant part of the General Chapter, in fact, will be a pilgrimage to Greccio, the place where Saint Francis proclaimed the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation in all its simplicity and radiant beauty. May the light of Christ and the joy of the Great Jubilee fill your hearts with hope during these days of discernment and decision, and awaken in all the Franciscan Sisters of Penance and Christian Charity a renewed commitment to the mission of the Congregation. As you strive to respond to the needs of the many people you encounter in your varied apostolates, may you, like Saint Francis, radiate the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Ph 4,7) and which invites human hearts, amid the noise and distractions of the world, to know and love Jesus Christ and to live in justice and peace as God’s beloved sons and daughters. As an international Congregation, your witness of fraternal charity and respect for others, your commitment to justice, the promotion of human rights and dignity, education and healing, can be a powerful sign of the presence of Christ’s universal Kingdom and its unbounded reconciling grace. In a very special way, your elderly sisters, who represent such a rich resource of spirituality and wisdom in your midst, can serve as an example and, by their prayers and sacrifices, a source of immense grace and spiritual fruitfulness in carrying forward the Congregation’s mission in this generation.
Dear Sisters, we know that “mission strengthens the consecrated life, gives it new enthusiasm and new motivation, and elicits faithfulness” (Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata VC 78). As your General Chapter strives to foster in the lives of each Sister and in the life of the entire Congregation full fidelity to the founding charism and an ever deeper union of mind and heart with the universal Church, I pray that all of you will experience that inner renewal which is the foundation and guarantee of fruitfulness in the apostolate. Invoking upon you the light and strength of the Holy Spirit, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
From the Vatican, 15 November 1999
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate!
1. Welcome to the house of the Bishop of Rome, who receives you with great joy because of the bond of communion that unites the Bishops, as successors of the Apostolic College, around Peter.
The principal objective of your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Princes of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, is to rekindle the grace of the episcopal ministry and to draw new energy for your pastoral mission. As the Successor of Peter, it is my task to strengthen you in faith and in your apostolic service (cf. Lk Lc 22,32). At the same time, I have the opportunity, through you, to assure the priests, deacons, religious and laity of the particular Churches entrusted to you of my spiritual closeness: "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rm 15,5-6).
2. Your ad limina visit occurs at a special moment. While it is only a few weeks until the beginning of the third millennium, these days remind us of those extraordinary events which 10 years ago marked a turning-point in your homeland. The Berlin Wall fell. The barbed wire was replaced with open doors. The Brandenburg Gate, for decades the symbol of separation, became once again what it had been before: the symbol of Germany's unity. When I see you, dear Brothers, as shepherds of Dioceses in old and new Länder gathered around me during these days of your ad limina visit, I thank God who guides history with his providence, and repeat a phrase from the Book of Psalms: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Ps 133,1).
The significance of the historical moment we are experiencing prompts me to take as the basic theme of this ad limina visit: the Church, which "in Christ is in the nature of sacrament, that is, a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of all mankind" (Lumen gentium, LG 1). Later I will discuss further aspects of this theme with the other two groups of your Brother Bishops, but today I would like to look with you at the context surrounding your Church as "the household of God among men" (cf. 1Tm 3,15 Ap 21,3) in your land. The social reality is certainly too complex to be adequately described in a few sentences. A few clear-cut features must suffice for understanding the essentials.
3. The "velvet revolution", which paved the way to freedom without bloodshed, aroused great hopes 10 years ago. Everyone at the time spoke of rosy prospects. But many of those who built castles in the air must be happy today if they can build their lives on a fairly secure basis. You have courageously taken up the challenges of the last decade and you continue in word and deed to help those who wish to put their lives on a solid footing. For this I express my sincere gratitude to you and to all who support you in this often difficult task.
I congratulate you on all the good that distinguishes the Church in Germany. She is socially present, politically relevant, charitably involved and financially generous wherever she is needed. Here I would like to cite one example among many others: the important service that Church counseling centres perform in many areas, especially for pregnant women in distress. Nor can we forget the energy and devotion shown by the association of German Dioceses, despite their own difficult financial circumstances, to support the Bishop of Rome's pastoral ministry for the universal Church.
My thoughts also turn to Berlin, where it has been possible to build a suitable structure for the papal representative, thanks in no small way to your contribution. These facts show me that your heart beats for the Successor of Peter, who is "the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of both the Bishops and the whole company of the faithful" (Lumen gentium, LG 23). In view of such a firm conviction, we can be sure that the household of God in Germany will also be built on solid rock in the future.
4. People in your country live in a consumer society, in which the majority of the population enjoys greater material prosperity than ever before. Although this is without doubt an achievement, we cannot overlook its darker side: since the recent turning-point, particularly in the new Länder, one can really speak of "consumer shock". In the interests of the economy, many material needs were created and continually increased through clever advertising, giving the impression that one can always have it all. Material goods have often become so paramount, that any desire for religious and moral values is stifled. But in time man senses a lack, if his hands have been filled but his heart remains empty: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Mt 4,4 cf. Dt Dt 8,3).
In this connection, I would like to mention my concern for the meaning of Sunday, which is increasingly threatened with erosion. I appreciate your efforts to safeguard Sunday as the Lord's day and man's day. In my Apostolic Letter Dies Domini I developed these points in detail.
Moreover, I cannot fail to mention the guidelines you have given on the economic and social situation in Germany, which were developed following a broad consultation process with the Evangelical Church communities and received great attention in public opinion. In so doing you have been prompted by an idea that is very dear to me as well: man, as a person, may never be overwhelmed by economic interests. This is a real risk, because consumer society, in which God is often considered dead, has created enough idols, a particular one being the idol of profit at any cost.
5. Another phenomenon in your milieu is the communications media. In the network of the modern mass media news can be spread across the globe in a matter of seconds. Often the individual is no longer merely informed; he is so drowning in information, as it were, that he can no longer grasp, let alone absorb and select the news. As a result, he becomes lonely, anxious and disoriented. This is because in a pluralistic society whatever promises novelty and sensation is presented indiscriminately. Certainly, there are also valuable programmes of information and entertainment.
But people must be taught mature judgement if they are to choose wisely.
The information society is thus a challenge for Pastors. On the one hand, efforts must be made to increase people's critical maturity, as I just mentioned; on the other, it is a question of promoting good quality news. The Church is also called to "evangelize" the mass media! If used properly, they can become a kind of "pulpit" for Pastors. You must carefully choose the men and women who have the task of speaking for the Church on radio and television committees and councils. It should be your concern to support young people who wish to serve the truth in the world of journalism!
Daily experience shows that the Church is an attractive topic for many journalists. This fact should not be underestimated. Therefore, it is advisable in principle not to avoid them. "Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (1P 3,15). This, however, does not eliminate the obligation of reasonable confidentiality, required both by due mutual respect and by the need for calm reflection on the problem to be examined.
Therefore, you should carefully decide on a case by case basis whether it is worth appearing before the cameras and speaking into the microphone.
6. Your mission as Pastors, Venerable Brothers, is carried out in an increasingly secularized society, in which religious values do not have great importance. Many people live as if God did not exist. The economic secularization of 200 years ago has been followed, in the century now drawing to a close, by waves of intellectual secularization, with no end in sight. In your country this process has also accelerated in the wake of reunification. There are many confirmations of this diagnosis: united Germany has not become more Protestant - as was initially thought - but simply less Christian. The fundamental consensus on Christian values as the basis of society seems to be crumbling. The Church must ask herself about her own role in a society where references to God are becoming increasingly rare, because in many areas there is no more room for him.
This challenge puts particular pressure on you, dear Brothers. I know the significant historical and cultural role that the Church has played and continues to play in Germany: it is also expressed in a unique legal form and ultimately in the accords between the Holy See and the new Länder. On the one hand, I deeply appreciate this great heritage, which should be preserved; on the other, I can well understand your suffering over the numerous defections of the faithful and, as a result, the Church's decreasing influence in the life of civil society. I also know that you are asking yourselves whether the Church's rights and duties in your country will be effectively maintained. This tension is also felt at the parish level, where priests, deacons and pastoral assistants are sometimes forced to perform balancing acts: on the one hand, they are obliged to provide a broad "pastoral service" for a partly indifferent majority; on the other, they must show appropriate pastoral concern for the "Church of the called or committed", that is, to those who really want to follow Jesus.
This is not a Gordian knot that can just be cut. It must instead be patiently loosened through assiduous prayer, sincere reflection and the planning of courageous little steps that make the Church's witness to the splendour of truth credible in your homeland. To meet this challenge of secular society, the true alternative is not to take refuge in the "little flock" (Lc 12,32). You must instead be ready for dialogue, that is, for critical and reasonable discussion, enduring the tensions that cannot be resolved at the moment. The Gospel solution is not to withdraw from society! It is instead a question of making yourselves heard - in season or out of season (cf. 2Tm 4,2)! Be involved wherever you think you must speak out for God and man! You are not of the world, but do not remove yourselves from the world (cf. Jn Jn 15,19)! Your voice is needed in a secularized society where there is more and more silence about God.
7. The conditions surrounding the Church in Germany, however, should not be regarded as simply agnostic or religiously indifferent. Whether excluded or silenced, God is there, and an ardent longing for him is still present in the hearts of many. For, in the end, man cannot be content with what is merely human. He seeks a truth that transcends him. Even if without a clear perception, man searches for this truth, because he realizes that therein lies the meaning of his life. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, whom I canonized last year and proclaimed a co-patroness of Europe on the occasion of the recent Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, expressed this insight in a saying: "Whoever searches for the truth, is searching for God, whether he knows it or not".
Answering the God-question is a great opportunity for the Church. So open the Church's doors to everyone who is sincerely searching for God! Whoever asks the Church about truth should expect that the Word of God written and handed on will be reliably and completely explained to him (cf. Dei Verbum, DV 10). In this way the search for truth is protected from the dangers of a confused, irrational and syncretistic religiosity, and the Church of the living God will be seen as "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1Tm 3,15).
The truth of faith must be matched with authenticity in life. In her varied activities, the Church is without doubt present in many different areas of society in your country, a fact that is recognized by circles that have no connection with the Church. However, so that this involvement will not harm her true mission, I ask you to examine and, if necessary, to sharpen the Christian image of institutions that work in the Church's name. A purely horizontal love of neighbour must be more and more crossed with the vertical love of God. The Cross, in fact, is not only an emblem that we Bishops wear on our chests. It is the great plus sign that identifies us as Christians. Therefore, in Catholic homes the Cross should be more than a piece of jewelry or furniture. It should be the trademark of the tireless commitment of the numerous Church workers in the social, educational and cultural fields. Under the arms of the Cross the "culture of life" flourishes, where people are welcomed, particularly those who are usually marginalized all too quickly: the unborn and the dying. Therefore, the spiritual and moral formation of personnel in ecclesiastical or Church-related institutions must be encouraged in every way! For true solidarity with people must be solidly based in God. By sending his Son into the world God showed that he is a passionate "lover of life" (Sg 11,26).
8. Dear Brothers! I would not like to end these thoughts without confiding something to you. Three times in my Pontificate I have been granted to visit your beloved land as a pilgrim. Among the many moving impressions I cherish is the melody of a song that the faithful sang with great fervour: "A glorious house appears over all the land...". This hymn speaks of joy over the Church and of the pride one should feel in belonging to her. Great numbers of the faithful in Germany are still filled with these sentiments. I am thinking of the priests, deacons and religious who support the Church by the witness of their service and way of life. I am thinking of the many men and women who live their vocation as lay people. They collaborate full-time or as volunteers in the care of souls, or contribute their talents to parish and administrative councils. Nor can I forget the Church assoctians, some of which resemble mighty trees by their impressive age, and the young spiritual communities, some of which are still tender plants. I would particularly like to mention those who pray in silence and breathe life into the Church's work. Bring everyone my heartfelt greeting! Invite the young people especially to World Youth Day in the Year 2000: the Pope is expecting them!
9. There is no better way to express my hope for you and all Catholics in your country than what St Peter said: "Like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ ... that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1P 2,5).
Through the intercession of Mary, the "house of gold" who is the model of the Church, I hope that in the new millennium the Church in Germany will be and will increasingly become what you sing in your beautiful hymn: "A glorious house appears over all the land".
With these thoughts and hopes, I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to everyone entrusted to your pastoral care.
Tuesday, 16 November 1999
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Distinguished teachers and dear students,
1. I gladly accepted the invitation to preside at the solemn opening of the academic year and to meet all those who in various ways are part of the great Lateran University family. Thank you for your warm welcome! Thank you for this renewed witness of fidelity and devotion to the Successor of Peter!
I extend my cordial greeting first of all to Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Grand Chancellor of this university. With him I greet the Cardinals and Bishops present, and the Rector Magnificent, Bishop Angelo Scola, whom I thank for his courteous words of welcome on behalf of the whole university community.
My respectful thought also extends to the ambassadors, to the rectors of the ecclesiastical and civil universities, to the rectors of the seminaries and colleges and to the sponsors and benefactors who are attending this solemn academic event.
Lastly, I would like to address you with special affection, distinguished teachers and dear students, who daily spend your energies in the exalting and demanding quest for truth. Your commitment today will benefit from the new facilities I have just blessed, the reformed statutes recently approved and the updated technical-administrative management which will provide the Pontifical Lateran University and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family with an interconnected service network that respects the autonomy of both institutions and their academic vocation, whose character is at once Roman and universal.
2. As we reflect on the university's origins, we find ourselves, as it were, re-reading a page of the very history of the Church which, as everybody knows, was a promoter of the most ancient European athenaeums.
In the modern era, the Enlightenment reform of the university sought to answer the essential questions about man and his destiny without considering Revelation. In many cases theology too has been more or less expelled from academic institutions after having been its centre for centuries.
However, in the current cultural context, the lessening of the exclusivist claims of reason and the noted aridity of agnostic relativism seem to draw the university's attention once again to a complete investigation of the humanum.
As legitimate heirs to the academic tradition of the medieval schools, "ecclesiastical" universities are called to play a leading role in this reawakening, in fruitful collaboration with the many researchers of the university world, especially the Catholic world.
3. This renewed attention to man in his intrinsic relationship with being and with the question about God opens our eyes to the tasks incumbent on the faculties and institutes of the Lateran University.
The Theology Faculty is called to make its own the constant striving of the intellectus fidei to penetrate the mystery of God ever more deeply and to present it in the "language" of today's generation.
The Philosophy Faculty must be in dialogue, on the one hand, with the continual development of the sciences of nature and of man, and, on the other, with the loss of a higher level of reflection, whether the philosophy of man or metaphysics (cf. Fides et ratio, FR 83), in order to recapitulate, order and integrate the other levels of experience and knowledge, and thus be in fruitful dialogue with faith.
The Pontifical Institute Utriusque Iuris, with its special scholarly character nurtured by an articulated vision of the history of law, is called to give a new foundation to the principles of the canonical and civil legal systems with the help of these "two branches" of its knowledge.
The Pontifical Pastoral Institute Redemptor Hominis, which for several years has been devoting special attention to the Church's social teaching, should reflect on the urgent need for effective ecclesial action to ensure that in the religious, cultural, social, political and economic spheres the central truth stressed by the Second Vatican Council may be grasped, that is, that man is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (Gaudium et spes, GS 24).
Finally, I would like once again to emphasize the importance of studying God's plan for the individual, for marriage and for the family, which is being carried out at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and which I also recalled at my recent meeting with the faculties of all its international sections (cf. Address to participants in an International Study Week, 27 August; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 1 September 1999, p. 4).
4. To meet these challenges, it is necessary to involve all the university's elements, including those academic institutions on the various continents which are linked in different ways to the Lateran University. Through them, your athenaeum is helping to redefine the theoretical and practical boundaries of the university in the third millennium, which is reaching out beyond the European continent to the global level. Just as the medieval universitas had a role in moulding European identity, so the university of the third millennium is called to develop a new awareness of membership in the whole human family of individuals and peoples.
In this task, your specific duty will be to testify how this awareness is based on Jesus Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Root and the Shoot, the Beginning and the End.
5. Dear teachers and students of the Alma Mater Lateranensis, which has the honour and duty of being in a special way "the Pope's university", always be concerned for the creative and dynamic unity of faith and the intellectus fidei. As St Anselm recalls, this unity is exposed to the tragedy of sin, on account of which "the truth speaks clearly, yet the inner self remains unresponsive" (Oratio ad Sanctum Paulum, 82-84). This knowledge must prompt us to seek an effective unity among the various pedagogical areas, through a more and more practical and cordial coordination between those in charge of your university and the teachers in seminaries and colleges, especially those in the Diocese of Rome.
With these wishes, I entrust to Mary, Mater Ecclesiae, to Mary, Sedes Sapientiae, this new academic year, which asks from each of you commitment, initiative and fidelity, in ready obedience to the "Truth" that comes from on high, guaranteed by the authentic Magisterium of the Church. The Pope supports you, accompanies you and affectionately blesses you all.
To Mr Jean Boissonnat President of the 1999 Social Weeks of France
1. On the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, it is particularly appropriate that the Social Weeks of France should address the theme, From One Century to Another, the Gospel, Christians and the Challenges to Society, at the 74th session being held in Paris from 25 to 28 November, almost 100 years after their foundation in 1904. I thank the Lord for the work accomplished by your institution throughout the 20th century in the spirit of Leo XIII's Encyclical Rerum novarum. I am joined in prayer with the organizers and those taking part in this meeting, as I ask the Holy Spirit to make the work of this new session fruitful.
Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and in today's context of globalization, I am delighted that you are intending to reflect more broadly on the complex problems which the political, economic and social situation present to our society, basing yourselves on the Church's social teaching in the desire to take an innovative step in preparing for the future, especially in Europe. It is particularly important to develop a social culture centred on man as a person and as the member of a people.
2. The various Social Weeks have been a remarkable gathering that have brought about many changes in public life and have written a beautiful page in the history of social Catholicism, under the inspiration of Marius Gonin and Adéodat Boissard. They have inspired many of the faithful who, in their commitment, chose to live the principles which are at the root of the Church's social teaching.
The various presidents, such as Henri Lorin, Eugène Duthoit and many others who followed one another in succession, desired to serve the Church by spreading her social message. In 1954, my Predecessor Pope Pius XII wrote to Mr Charles Flory, president at the time: "Today as in the past, the Social Weeks, steadfast in doctrine, courageous in research, fraternal in the collaboration of all, must be for Catholics and for their different movements a living crossroads where, in the light of substantive reports, experiences are compared, convictions forged and plans of action developed".
3. To exercise a truly fruitful Christian discernment of society's problems, one must first turn to the Gospel and thus to Jesus' own attitude; Christ is the model for all human conduct. "The social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis and a motivation for action" (Centesimus annus, CA 57). The Lord has revealed to us the truth about man and calls us to be concerned about every person, especially the weakest and frailest in our society. Scripture and the Fathers of the Church continually invite human beings to create relationships of charity, brotherhood, solidarity and justice (cf. Phlm 16-17; Didache; Letter to Barnabas; St Justin, Dialogues, 11, 2). The life of the early Christian communities and those of the patristic period are also examples. Along these lines, we should certainly refer to authors like St Ambrose and St John Chrysostom, who knew how to stress the social consequences of what the Gospel requires and to respond to the different and new situations which Christians had to face at the time. Since the early centuries, Christians have been involved in social life, in order to meet the needs arising in their time. One thinks in particular of the social reflection and activity of the fourth century, due in particular to Melania the Elder and to Rufinus, Palladius and Innocent the Italian, to Melania the Younger and her husband Pinian in the vicinity of Jerusalem, as Basil of Caesarea tells us; and to St Jerome and to Paula in the vicinity of Bethlehem, as well as of the many activities in the region of Antioch and Damascus.
4. Political life is the largest field for charity and solidarity. However, "a charity that loves and serves the person can never be separated from justice" (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, CL 42), for, as St Louis stressed, justice is the most important quality of rulers (cf. Instructions to his eldest son Philip). For their part, the lay faithful "are never to relinquish their participation in "public life', that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good" (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, CL 42). This had already been stressed in a text of the early Church regarding Christians: "the place God has assigned to them is so noble that they are not allowed to desert it" (Letter to Diognetus, n. 6). In prayer before God, Christians become aware of their mission, discern what they should do and find the strength to do it. Involvement in the res publica also requires that particular attention be paid to every person and humble service rendered to the whole group of brethren, which means service to the common good, with a particularly keen concern for integrity and honesty. In fact, every social function presupposes the growth of one's interior life, which directs one's action and gives it depth and true meaning.
5. In its long history, from St Martin of Tours to St Vincent de Paul, your country was able to discover in its midst many instances of admirable dedication to the good of the poor and the most disadvantaged. With the new challenges to be faced in the coming millennium, once again France will be sure to inspire people who are aware that they must make full use of their Christian ability to work in "their own field of evangelizing activity ... the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work" (Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, EN 70). Building this world and imbuing social relations with new vitality are a responsibility entrusted to men and women by God; they open people to hope, for the building of the earthly city is an active preparation for the coming of a new world, a sign of the kingdom to come (cf. Didache, 16).
6. Human beings are called to work in ever closer collaboration at all levels of society and to promote the fundamental rights of every human being. Everyone has his place in the city and must have his share of responsibility in building the common house, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity which the Popes have considerably developed (cf. Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, n. 2; Pius XI, Quadragesimo anno). In this regard, how can we forget the primordial value of the married couple and the family, which is the basic cell of society? When fundamental principles are not observed, when positive law is no longer based on the natural law, it is clear that "the life of society itself is gradually jeopardized, threatened and doomed to decay" (Encyclical Veritatis splendor, VS 101). It is up to the lawful authorities to ensure the proper functioning of State structures, openness in public administration, impartiality in public service, the just and honest use of public funds, the rejection of illicit means to gain or preserve power, in virtue of the value of the person and objective moral demands (cf. ibid.). One notes that "in too many societies, including in Europe, those in positions of responsibility seem to have abdicated in the face of the demands of a political ethic which takes into account man's transcendence and the relative nature of systems of social organization. It is time that they joined together and conformed to certain moral demands which concern the public powers just as much as the citizens" (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 15 January 1994, n. 8; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 19 Jan. 1994, p. 8). Our contemporaries must be able to have new trust in the value of political life, which is a bulwark against financial and economic totalitarianism.
7. On the eve of the coming millennium, Christians are called to play a leading role in this new world by striving to break new ground in the promotion of justice and human dignity, and in building with all people of good will a society that respects every human being. Their duty is to show that human and Christian values are the basis of the social structure, and that the freedom of religion and the Church are primordial liberties paving the way to respect for the other freedoms, which must serve the betterment of individual lives and not the unbridled search for power or money. The danger of ideologies, from communism to liberalism, which paralyze societies and constantly increase the disparities between individuals and peoples, should also be stressed.
Christians are called to be watchmen on the ramparts
8. The century now ending has seen an important development of Christian social commitment in your country; one need only think of such great Christian figures as Jean Le Cour Grandmaison, Émile Marcesche, Robert Garrie, Joseph Folliet, Madeleine Delbrêl, Frs Godin, Daniel and Guérin, Raoul Follereau, Edmond Michelet, Robert Schumann, Jacques Maritain, Fr Gaston Fessard, Mons. Jean Rodmain and Bl. Frédéric Ozanam. I encourage you to continue the work undertaken by your precursors, and to continue to play an active role in public life; thus our contemporaries will be provided with what they need to analyze the present situation and to find new energy to fulfil their mission in present-day society. The Church is also counting on you to participate in the formation of consciences and to give young people the civic education that will make them responsible citizens who will be ready one day to assume their commitments in serving their country.
Like the prophet (cf. Is Is 21,11-12), Christians engaged in social life are called to be watchmen on the ramparts who must discern the expectations and hopes of people in these times and always have the courage to defend human beings and the essential values for building society. Vigilance is necessary so that individuals and peoples are not subjected to oppressive political, economic or social structures. Likewise, each Christian is called to fidelity in carrying out his civic duty and his daily mission, thereby showing the value of service to one's brethren inherent in every action in the earthly city.
As I entrust the meeting of the 1999 Social Weeks to the intercession of the saints of your land, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to the organizers, all the participants and all their loved ones.
From the Vatican, 17 November 1999.