To my Venerable Brother
Cardinal EDWARD IDRIS CASSIDY
President of the Pontifical Council
for Promoting Christian Unity
I send you cordial greetings, and through you I greet all our Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters who are taking part in the Conference: «Jesus Christ is the Same Yesterday and Today and For Ever () - Christianity on the Threshold of the Third Millennium».
I am greatly encouraged by this initiative of the Christian Interconfessional Consultative Committee, since it is the result of a shared decision of the Churches and Ecclesial Communions which have traditionally carried out their pastoral activities in the territory of the Community of Independent States and in the Baltic Countries. Having as its aim the promotion of growing cooperation between Christians in the region, I pray that the Conference will inspire all involved to bear an ever more convincing and effective witness to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This Conference is taking place on the threshold of the Great Jubilee of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the Son of God, whom the Father sent into the world to be its Redeemer. He who «is the same yesterday and today and for ever», is the centre of the Christian faith and of the truth which his Church, in fidelity to the commandment that he himself has given to her, proclaims to every generation.
It is important in this context to reflect on the relationship that exists between the Lord and Master Jesus Christ and each and every individual Christian and each Christian community, on the mission that Christians are called to carry out in the world today, on the challenges which they have to face, on the need to find strength in the One who said: «I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life» (Jn 14,6).
The meeting in which you are taking part will bring together representatives of Churches and Ecclesial Communions which, through the incorporation of their members by baptism into Christ, already share a real, though yet imperfect, communion. The rediscovery of this brotherhood in the Lord will make it possible for Christians to deepen their relations, intensify their cooperation, and strive towards that perfect unity in the faith which is expressed in full and visible ecclesial communion, and to which Christ the Lord calls his disciples.
May God bless all who, during these days, are involved in the Conference. «To him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think» (Ep 3,20) I entrust the success of your efforts to strengthen Christian cooperation and communion.
From the Vatican, 18 November 1999
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate!
1. It is a great joy for me to receive you here in the Apostolic Palace: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2Co 13,13). With this greeting I offer you my best wishes for the ad limina visit which has brought you to Rome "to visit Cephas" (Ga 1,18). At the tombs of the Princes of the Apostles our thoughts turn to Peter and Paul, the founders "of the very great and ancient Church" (St Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, 3, 2). Although different by character and vocation, they were united in witnessing to their faith. Together they exhausted themselves for the Gospel at the service of God and man.
Despite moments of tension, they never broke off their relations, indeed, they gave one another "the right hand of fellowship" (Ga 2,9). In fact, they knew that it was the Lord himself who had made Peter the universal Pastor of his flock (cf. Jn Jn 21,15-17) and the visible foundation of the Church's unity (cf. Mt Mt 16,18).
In this same spirit of fraternal and hierarchical communion, I would like to continue the reflection I began with the previous group of Bishops from your country on the Church as the "universal sacrament of salvation" (Lumen gentium, LG 48 Gaudium et spes, GS 45). After having emphasized the role of the Church in the civil society of reunified Germany, today I would like to reflect with you on the nature and mission of your pastoral ministry in the Church understood as the "sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all men" (Lumen gentium, LG 1).
2. As the Son was sent by the Father, so he himself sent out the Apostles, telling them: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28,18-20). Christ's solemn mission to proclaim the saving truth was handed down by the Apostles to their successors, the Bishops. They have been sent to carry it out to the very ends of the earth (cf. Acts Ac 1,8), "in order to build the body of Christ" (Ep 4,12) which is the Church.
They carry out their mission in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Indeed, as Successor of Peter he is invested by divine institution with supreme, full, immediate and universal power in the Church for the care of souls (cf. Christus Dominus, CD 2). Since his mission as Pastor of all the faithful is to safeguard the common good of the whole Church and the good of the individual Churches, he "presides in love over the universal community" (cf. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Rom., Introd.).
As "Vicar of Christ's love" (St Ambrose, Expositio in Luc., bk. X), I recently felt it my duty to resolve the disagreements that had arisen among you and in the particular Churches entrusted to your care, seeking to reharmonize individual voices in "the one great symphony for life" to which the Catholic Church must remain faithful in every time and in every place. I pray that the Church in Germany will bear a clear, unanimous witness to the Gospel of life. I also count on your prayers that I may faithfully fulfil my ministry as the first guardian of the truth for the good of the Church throughout the world. Perhaps Providence has entrusted the Chair of Peter to me to be a passionate "advocate of life" on the threshold of the third millennium. In fact, I had to experience from an early age, during a particularly dark chapter in the history of this tormented century, how human life was trampled upon and systematically destroyed not very far from my native town of Wadowice!
3. The Bishops are called by the Holy Spirit to take the Apostles' place as Pastors of their particular Churches. To this end, they are invested with an authority of their own which "far from being damaged by the supreme and universal power, is much rather defended, upheld and strengthened by it" (Lumen gentium, LG 27). It is the Bishops' task, together with the Supreme Pontiff and under his authority, to continue the work of Christ, the eternal Shepherd. For Christ gave the Apostles and their successors the authority to teach all peoples, to sanctify them in the truth and to lead them (cf. Christus Dominus, CD 2).
As links in the noble chain of apostolic succession, you share in God's spiritual gift which the Apostles passed on to their co-workers (cf. 2Tm 1,6-7). Through prayer and the laying-on of hands, upon each of you have been conferred the offices of teaching, sanctifying and governing, "which, however, of their very nature can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college" (Lumen gentium, LG 21).
Let us reflect together on what this requirement means for the Bishop. I reaffirm here what I pointed out as Bishop of Rome in my first Letter for Holy Thursday 20 years ago: "If we analyze carefully the conciliar texts, it is obvious that one should speak of a triple dimension of Christ's service and mission, rather than of three different functions. In fact, these functions are closely linked to one another, explain one another, condition one another and clarify one another" (Letter to Priests 1979, n. 2).
4. Before reflecting on the threefold dimension of the pastoral ministry, I would first of all like to point out the centre on which all your activity should be focused: "The mystery of Christ as the basis of the Church's mission" (Encyclical Letter Redemptor hominis, n. 11). Anyone who participates in any way in the Church's mission must start from this basis in order to carry out in his work the task he has received. This applies in the first place to Bishops, who in a unique way have been "initiated", so to speak, into the mystery of Christ. Invested with the fullness of the sacrament of Orders, the Bishop is called to present and to live the whole mystery of Christ (cf. Christus Dominus, CD 12) in the Diocese entrusted to him. It is a mystery that contains "unsearchable riches" (Ep 3,8). Let us cherish this treasure! Let us make it the pearl of our lives! Let us not tire of meditating on it to draw ever greater light and strength from it in the daily fulfilment of our ministry.
Since people respond more to the witness of our lives than to the force of our words, they want to meet in us people whose whole lives are directed towards Jesus Christ, "the only Son who is in the bosom of the Father" (Jn 1,18). They hope that, like the Apostles, we too will pass on what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked upon and touched with our hands (cf. 1Jn 1,1): to hand on to others the faith we have experienced - this is the aim of the new evangelization.
Indeed, the task of Pastors is to present Christian doctrine and discipline "in a manner suited to the needs of the times, that is, so it may be relevant to those difficulties and questions which people find especial worrying and intimidating" (Christus Dominus, CD 13). Since the word of God is living and active (cf. Heb He 4,12), it will not fail to have an effect on those who possess the "obedience of faith" (cf. Rom Rm 1,5), in freedom and love. The "Credo" that every pastor recites in the Professio Fidei is thus essential and necessary for his effort to teach and live the truth of faith with openness, enthusiasm and courage.
5. In the Bishop's threefold ministry - as the Second Vatican Council teaches - the preaching of the Gospel has a certain priority. In particular, Pastors must be "witnesses of Christ to all people" (Christus Dominus, CD 11), "heralds of the faith who draw new disciples to Christ" (Lumen gentium, LG 25). As "workmen rightly handling the word of truth" (2Tm 2,15); we must pass on together what we have received. It is not a question of our own word, however learned, because we are not preaching ourselves but the revealed truth which must be faithfully transmitted in communion with the other members of the episcopal college.
What you have reported about your Dioceses shows that in carrying out your teaching ministry you encounter a cultural climate in which many of your contemporaries, out of suspicion or even hostility, resist the claim to certainty in the knowledge of truth. Today there is a very widespread mentality that tends to exclude questions about ultimate truths from public life and to restrict religious faith and convictions about moral values to the private sphere. This process has reached the point that it seems justifiable to ask: What place is still accorded to God, to whom the fathers of your country's constitution felt explicitly obliged when, 50 years ago, they expressed at the beginning of the Fundamental Law the "awareness of their responsibility before God and men" (Preamble to the Fundamental Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, 23 May 1949)?
There is a risk that laws, which exert a powerful influence on thought as well as on human behaviour, will gradually become detached from their moral foundation. This would be to the detriment of the laws themselves: with the passing of time they would be considered merely a means for ordering society, without any reference to the objective moral order. In this situation I realize that it is not always easy for you to preach "the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation" (Ep 1,13) with success.
Unfortunately, the psychological pressure exerted by certain sectors of civil society in Germany also leads the Catholic faithful to question the Church's teaching and discipline. In a climate of widespread religious individualism, some members of the Church even claim the right to decide for themselves which teachings to accept in matters of faith. They likewise ignore what they find personally unacceptable. But the teachings of the faith form an organic whole that does not allow such arbitrary distinctions. Whoever acts in this way cannot claim to be consistent with the faith he professes.
6. Dear Brothers, you know that it is the Bishop's fundamental duty as Pastor to invite the members of the particular Church entrusted to his care to accept the Church's authoritative teaching on faith and morals in all its fullness. We must not be discouraged if our message is not accepted everywhere. With the help of Christ who conquered the world (cf. Jn Jn 16,33), the most effective remedy against error is the calm and courageous proclamation of the Gospel "in season and out of season" (2Tm 4,2).
I express this hope particularly with the young in mind. Many of them are demanding about the meaning and form of their life, and would like to free themselves from religous and moral confusion.
Help them to do so! In fact, the younger generation is open and sensitive to religious values. They sense - although at times unconsciously - that religious and moral relativism do not bring happiness, and that freedom without truth is a deceptive illusion. In carrying out the Church's teaching office in union with your priests and assistants in the catechetical ministry, you should pay particular attention to conscience formation. Conscience must certainly be respected as man's "sanctuary", where he is alone with God whose voice can be heard in the depths of his heart (cf. Gaudium et spes, GS 16). But you should remind your faithful just as zealously that conscience is a demanding tribunal whose judgement must always conform to the moral norms revealed by God and authoritively proposed by the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Clear and unambiguous teaching on these matters will certainly have a positive influence on the necessary return to the sacrament of Reconciliation, which unfortunately is very much neglected today even in your country's Catholic regions.
7. Another fundamental task of Bishops is found in the office of sanctifying. "The Bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and upon whom it in some way depends" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, SC 41). In a sense, then, the Bishop is the first "liturgist" of his Diocese and the chief steward of the Mysteries of God. At the same time, it is up to him to direct, promote and oversee the liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him (cf. Christus Dominus, CD 15).
In this regard, I would like you to pay particular attention to the two fundamental sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. As soon as I was raised to the Chair of Peter, I approved the Instruction on the Baptism of Children, in which the Church confirmed the practice of infant Baptism, which has been in use since the beginning. In the pastoral practice of your local Churches you have rightly insisted on the need to administer Baptism only when there is a well-founded hope that the child will be brought up in the Catholic faith, so that the sacrament will bear fruit (cf. CIC, CIC 868,2). At times, however, the Church's guidelines are interpreted more strictly than they are meant to be. As a result, parents are told without sufficient reason that their child's Baptism must be postponed, or even refused. Prudence and pastoral charity suggest a more understanding attitude towards those who approach the Church with good intentions to request Baptism for their child.
The same pastoral charity should also restrain pastors from making demands that are not required by the Church's doctrine or law. It is right that parents should be properly prepared for the Baptism of their child by their pastor, but it is equally important that the first sacrament of Christian initiation should be seen primarily as God the Father's gift to the child. The free and unmerited nature of grace is never so evident as on the occasion of a child's Baptism: "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1Jn 4,10).
Moreover, we cannot speak of the Diocese's spiritual renewal without also discussing the Eucharist. An urgent task of your high-priestly office consists in emphasizing the vital role of the Eucharist as the "source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen gentium, LG 11). The ministry of Bishops and priests not only culminates in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, but the latter should also be the centre of life for all other members of Christ's Body. The shortage of priests and their unequal distribution, on the one hand, and the worrying reduction in the number of those who regularly attend Sunday Mass, on the other, are a challenge that your Churches have to meet. To react correctly it would be advisable to take into account the fundamental principle that the parish community must be a Eucharistic community; as such, it should be led by an ordained priest who, by virtue of his sacred power and the irreplaceable responsibility connected with it, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice in persona Christi (Pastores dabo vobis, PDV 48). I realize that some of you - even in traditionally Catholic regions - can no longer send a priest to every parish. Obviously, this situation requires a temporary solution so that communities are not left without care and thus threatened with increasing spiritual impoverishment. The fact that the religious and lay people you have appointed preside at Sunday Liturgies of the Word is praiseworthy in emergency situations, but this situation cannot be considered satisfactory in the long term. Indeed, the sacramental incompleteness of these services should prompt the whole parish community to pray the Lord even more insistently to send out labourers into his harvest (cf. Mt Mt 9,38).
8. Lastly, a word on the office of leadership entrusted to you. In carrying out this task, you should certainly keep before your eyes the image of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve (cf. Mt Mt 20,28). This is a demanding image, especially since those who must live up to it know they are taken from among men, and that as such they are prey to human weaknesses. But this very awareness can only cause them to show benevolent compassion to those entrusted to their pastoral care and leadership (cf. Lumen gentium, LG 27).
Above all, I ask you to be concerned for your first "housemates" in the local Churches, the priests, for whom as Bishops you are "the visible source and foundation of unity" (Lumen gentium, LG 23).
The pastoral ministry is demanding because the visible results rarely seem to repay the efforts devoted to them, sometimes to the very limits of one's strength. Many pastors have the impression that they must work in an arid quarry rather than in the Gospel vineyard. What can we say of the growing number of older priests and the shortage of vocations that weigh heavily on the future of your Dioceses? I would like to encourage you to be even closer to your priests and seminarians. I know the burden of the daily commitments connected with your office. Nevertheless, with fatherly concern I would like to repeat the hopes expressed by the Second Vatican Council in such clear and sensitive words: "On account of this common sharing in the same priesthood and ministry, then, Bishops are to regard their priests as brothers and friends and are to take the greatest interest they are capable of in their welfare both temporal and spiritual.... They should be glad to listen to their priests' views and even consult them and hold conference with them about matters that concern the needs of pastoral work and the good of the Diocese" (Presbyterorum ordinis, PO 7). "A Bishop should be compassionate and helpful to those priests who are in any kind of danger or who have failed in some respect" (Christus Dominus, CD 16).
Venerable Brothers! Take the opportunity to assure your priests that the Bishop of Rome is close to each and every one of them. Their presence is extremely important. Without priests, the Bishop would have no arms.
9. Dear Brothers! Teacher, high priest and leader - with these concepts I have offered you a few thoughts that are dear to my heart. They are meant to stimulate your reflection on the threefold pastoral office entrusted to you for the Church in your homeland. Aware of your great dedication in carrying out the episcopal ministry, I would like to conclude these words by expressing my fraternal and grateful appreciation. May we be consoled in every situation by the thought that Jesus Christ did not take us into his service as managers, but consecrated us as stewards of his Mysteries.
So I entrust your life and your mission as the Shepherds of your flocks to the intercession of Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church. May an abundance of heavenly graces be poured out upon you and the priests, deacons, religious and lay people in your Dioceses, as a pledge of which I cordially impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am pleased to welcome you on the occasion of your participation in the International Conference which the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health-Care Workers wished to dedicate this year to reflection on the relationship between the economy and health: a theme that is so timely and problematic, for it involves both the formulation of national policies and the Church's task of evangelization.
I greet Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán and I thank him for the kind words he addressed to me a short while ago on behalf of you all. I extend a cordial welcome to the staff of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health-Care Workers, as well as to the distinguished scholars, researchers and representatives of the States and Governments which have wished to honour this important symposium with their presence and their scholarly contribution.
In order to identify concrete lines of action, you have addressed the question not from a merely technical standpoint, but in a scientifically organized and structured way. Your reflection starts from the horizon of faith. It is in fact by beginning with the Word of God, bearer of integral salvation for all mankind, that the economy-health relationship is best considered, both globally and in its various scientific aspects.
A better understanding of this situation, which in itself is so complex and of global importance, is certainly fostered by the serious interdisciplinary approach that you have so opportunely chosen. You wished to consider the relationship of the economy and health in the light both of its historical development and of the Church's social doctrine, theology and morality. And all this in the spirit of a constructive ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
2. Moreover, your reflection does not lack a subsequent practical goal: you have proposed lines of action capable of improving the existing relationship between the economy and health at all levels: economic, social, political, cultural and religious. You have thus tried to respond to the question of what action to take, at the global level and in every country, to implement in the most human and Christian way the relationship between the economy and health.
This is a disturbing question which this conference must raise with all people of good will, particularly those who at the world level and in every individual country have the greatest responsibility in this area.
In fact, it is intolerable that limited economic resources, so often experienced at the present time, should in fact have repercussions mainly on the weaker sectors of the population and on the less well-off areas of the world, depriving them of necessary health care. In the same way these limitations cannot be allowed to deny health care to some age groups or situations of particular frailty and weakness, such as newborn life, old age, serious disability, terminal illnesses.
Every human person, created in the image and likeness of God and called to share in his divine life, has the right to be able to sit at the table of the common feast and enjoy the benefits of progress, science, technology and medicine.
3. In the same way, it is important to acquire a more adequate vision of health based on an anthropology which respects the person in his entirety. Far from being identified with the simple absence of illness, such a concept of health must aim at full harmony and a healthy equilibrium at the physical, psychic, spiritual and social levels (cf. Message for the Eighth World Day of the Sick, n. 13).
On the basis of this new vision of the economy and health, a more positive mutual relationship between them can be achieved. It is not the Church's task to define which economic models and which health systems can work out the best economy-health relationship, but it is her mission to do everything possible so that, in the context of so-called "globalization", this issue is addressed and resolved in the light of those ethical values that promote respect for and the defence of the dignity of every human person, beginning with the weakest and poorest.
4. It is with deep sorrow that we must note that the gap between situations of wealth that is even excessive and poverty even to the point of destitution, rather than decreasing, tends to be ever wider (cf. Sollicitudo rei socialis, SRS 14). This is a fact that has very heavy and sometimes tragic repercussions precisely on the economy-health relationship.
Fortunately in this situation there is a growing awareness of the dignity of every human person and of radical human interdependence; as a result there is a greater sense of the need for solidarity. It is only with this perspective that one can overcome a vision that puts too much stress on economic concerns and too little on health issues, and move beyond the many unjust disparities that exist in the economy-health relationship.
For Christians, in particular, solidarity becomes a virtue that leads to love and is constantly nourished by it, resulting in attitudes of friendship and support, including the care of the sick. The supreme reference-point remains Trinitarian communion, from which the Christian knows he must draw inspiration for his own life in order to achieve a relationship of genuine love, particularly for his weaker brethren, which include the sick.
5. To them I now wish to address a special word of affection, which I extend to their families who are concerned about their health and to all who serve them with generosity and solidarity. To each of them I wish to express again the Church's loving closeness and to assure them of her tireless commitment to building a more just and fraternal society.
I especially call upon political leaders and international bodies that, when addressing the relationship of the economy and health, they may be guided solely by the search for the common good.
I ask the pharmaceutical industry never to let financial gain prevail over the consideration of human values, but to be sensitive to the needs of those who do not enjoy social security, carrying out effective programmes to help the poorest and most marginalized. We must work to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the differences between the various continents, urging the more advanced countries to make available to the less developed their experience, technology and some of their economic wealth.
May the dawn of the third millennium see our planet, with all its resources, more conformed to God's plan, so that no one will feel excluded from the care owed to his person and his health, with respect for the equal dignity of all.
To the Virgin Mary, model of the Church and of reconciled mankind, I entrust the fruit of your work, so that by her maternal intercession the longing for justice and peace in the heart of every person may be fulfilled.
My Blessing to you all!
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate!
1. "With the affection of Christ Jesus" (Ph 1,8), I welcome you, the third group of German Bishops, to this meeting on the occasion of your ad limina visit. I thank the heavenly Father for the commitment we share in spreading the Gospel (cf. Phil Ph 1,5) and for the communion of faith and love that unites us in serving the People of God. With you I greet the particular Churches over which you preside with great dedication. Prompted by my "anxiety for all the Churches" (2Co 11,28), I ask you to assure the priests, deacons, religious and laity of your Dioceses that the Pope shares their joys and difficulties, and that he prays for their continual growth in grace and holiness of life. In this sense your ad limina visit becomes a spiritual pilgrimage, for you have come not only to fulfil an administrative or juridical obligation of the episcopal office, but also to show authentic brotherhood and solidarity in the love of Christ, the chief Shepherd (cf. 1P 5,4), who sends his ministers to the Church on her journey through time, "so that, sharing in his power, they might make all peoples his disciples and sanctify and govern them" (Lumen gentium, LG 19).
As I did during my two previous meetings with the Bishops of your country, today too I would like to develop an essential aspect of the "universal sacrament of salvation" (Lumen gentium, LG 48).
My thoughts will focus on a fundamental topic: the Church as mystery. Since in our daily pastoral ministry we must be concerned about so many things in our varied activities, every now and then we need to take a few moments to lift the veil that often blocks our vision and to open our eyes to what is truly essential beneath the surface.
2. I would like to recall an idea expressed by my Predecessor of blessed memory Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Eccelesiam suam regarding the Church and her own awareness of her nature and mission. The invitation he made 35 years ago while the Second Vatican Council was in session can serve the Church today as a key to properly understanding the "signs of the time" on the threshold of the third millennium: "In this moment the Church must reflect on herself to find strength in the knowledge of her place in the divine plan, to find greater light, new energy and more joy in fulfilling her own mission, and to determine the best means for making more immediate, effective and beneficial her contacts with mankind" (ch. I). We should thank God that the Church in our day is also making every effort in the power of the risen Lord to "reveal in the world, faithfully, even though darkly, his mystery until, in the consummation, it shall be manifested in full light" (Lumen gentium, LG 8).