Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I receive you with great pleasure today, Pastors of the pilgrim Church of God in Cuba, who during these days are making your ad limina visit; thus you renew your communion with the Successor of Peter and venerate with devotion the tombs of the Princes of the Apostles, pillars of the Church and faithful to Christ to the point of shedding their blood for him. Likewise, you have had important meetings with the offices of the Roman Curia and, in an atmosphere of prayer and reflection, you have expressed the causes of joy and hope, grief and anguish, lived by that part of the People of God entrusted to your pastoral care.
I am deeply grateful for the kind words addressed to me by Archbishop Adlofo Rodríguez Herrera of Camagüey, President of your Bishops' Conference, clearly showing your allegiance and that of your ecclesial communities. Indeed, I am well aware of your deep communion with the See of Peter, and you can be sure of my affection and closeness in all the circumstances of your pastoral work.
2. Your presence here renews the memory of my Pastoral Visit to Cuba in 1998. Those were intense days in which I could appreciate the warmth and welcome of the Cuban people. On that memorable occasion, I left behind a pastoral Message, which continues to be a help, supporting the Church's existence and urging everyone to hope. I am pleased to know that since then certain important things have been improved for you, such as for example, the restoration of Christmas, the possibility of holding processions - which are part of your rich popular piety - a greater participation of Catholics in the country's life, the presence of some young Cubans at the 15th World Youth Day in Rome, during the last Jubilee Year and a notable increase in the number of the faithful who receive the sacraments. Nevertheless, there are other difficulties that have not had satisfactory solutions, but let us hope that with the good will of one and all, suitable and timely solutions will be found.
3. At the end of the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation, I invited the whole Church to set out anew from Christ, who "is the same yesterday, today and for ever" (He 13,8), to receive his words: "Duc in altum" (Lc 5,4) with fresh enthusiasm, and to open herself confidently to the future. Following my words, dear Bishops of Cuba, you approved the Global Pastoral Plan 2001-2006 with a missionary enthusiasm closely attuned to the thirst for God of your people which, as I said to you in Havana, "has a Christian soul" (Homily, 25 January 1998, n. 7; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 28 January 1998, p. 2). The faith and values proclaimed by the Gospel are a treasure that must be jealously guarded, because they are at the root of your national cultural identity, threatened today, as in other places, by a neutral mass culture, drawing on globalization for its forms of entertainment.
In putting this Plan into practice, meeting centres for the Catholic community were opened in many homes, especially in the sections where for years it was impossible to build new churches. This has proved to be a method of evangelization that closely complies with the above-mentioned Pastoral Plan, with families opening their doors and wanting to be lively and enthusiastic communities. These "Homes of Mission or Prayer", as they are called, are in conformity with the appeal to evangelize all the settings of life, since they must be true schools in which faith is passed on, where students are instructed in it while they are nourished with prayer. I therefore encourage them to continue creatively to proclaim the Gospel to all Cubans, paying attention to the proper formation of those who run these centres.
In your Jubilee Message you said that Cuba is living "a historic time". Therefore as Pastors of all the lay faithful you must continue to enlighten Cuban consciences, directing them towards a pesevering dialogue and sincere reconciliation. You must not let yourselves be disheartened by this laborious task, even if your voice should be the only one or if you should be "signs that are spoken against" (cf. Lk Lc 2,34). Although confrontations are not desirable, the Church is aware that the Lord's plans do not always coincide with the criteria of the world and, indeed, are at times in opposition to them.
Accepting every day with fresh enthusiasm the Lord's words, "Put out into the deep", guide the destinies of that deeply fervent Church which has given so many proofs of fidelity in the past. Encourage your priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and lay people to "put out into the deep" in their service to the Church and the people, staying faithful to Christ and to their homeland which has such need of them. May all of them journey on without being downhearted, always going ahead with new projects that give meaning and hope to their lives.
4. You are well aware of your responsibility to pass on Christ's message as "true and authentic teachers of faith, who have been made pontiffs and pastors" (Christus Dominus, CD 2). This message must be proclaimed in its entirety and its full beauty, without neglecting its needs and bearing in mind that the Cross is part of the way taken by Christ, a way that was also taken by his disciples. Guided by the one Teacher who has the "words of eternal life" (Jn 6,68), the men and women of Cuba must know where to find a renewed sense of the transcendent in their lives, accepting divine love and perceiving the many possibilities for personal and social fulfilment that are opening before them.
Faith in Jesus Christ, as you well know, acts in the human being in a totally different way than ideologies which are transient and consume the energies of individuals and peoples with earthly goals, many of which are unattainable. It is therefore more and more urgent to present the unfathomable riches of Christian spirituality at the beginning of this millennium to a world that is bored with the old ideologies which, lost their initial fascination and left deep emptiness and the lack of meaning for life.
5. In exercising the "munus docendi", the Church, through her ministers, is called also to illumine temporal and social affairs from within with the light of the Gospel (cf. Lumen gentium, LG 31), ensuring that her members are "witnesses and operators of peace and justice" (cf. Sollicitudo rei socialis). She therefore furthers an education in the authentic values that will set people free and involve them in participation as you indicated in your Global Plan. In this respect, I already pointed out at Camagüey that "the Church has the duty of providing a moral, civil and religious formation which will help the youth of Cuba to grow in human and Christian values" (Written Message at Mass with Young People, 23 January 1998, n. 3; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 4 February 1998, p. 3). Lay people, for their part, by benefiting from this activity of the Church, will be able to persevere in their noble task of proposing and promoting new initiatives for civil society, seeking not confrontation but justice. Their efforts will be encouraged by the example of the Servant of God Fr Félix Varela, who devoted himself unsparingly to forming people of conscience with two main concerns: that social and political life be based on ethics and that ethics be nourished by the Christian faith.
6. As I said during my pastoral visit to Cuba, the Church must present her social teaching to all who concern themselves with the good of the Cuban people. Her proposal of a social ethics that would exalt human dignity reveals the possibilities and limitations of the human being, and also of public or private institutions, within a project for growth and development whose aim is the common good and respect for human rights.
In this regard, I would like to recall that these rights must be considered in their integrity, from the right to life of the unborn child to natural death, without excluding any individual or social right, whether it is a matter of the right to food, health care, education, whether it is a question of exercising freedom of movement, expression or association.
Throughout the world human rights are a project that has not yet been perfectly achieved, but this is not a reason to give up the crucial and serious determination to respect them, since they stem from the special dignity of the human being, created by God in his own image and likeness (cf. Gn Gn 1,26).
When the Church is concerned with the dignity of the person and his inalienable rights, she does no more than watch that none of the individual's rights are harmed or degraded by others, by the authorities themselves or by foreign authorities. This calls for justice, which the Church fosters in relationships between individuals and peoples. In the name of this justice, I clearly said in your country that restrictive economic measures imposed from outside the country are and continue to be "unjust and economically unacceptable" (Departure Address, 25 January 1998, n.4: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 4 February 1998, p. 10). However I would like to recall just as clearly, that man was created free, and in defending this freedom, the Church is acting in the person of Jesus who came to set the person free from every form of oppression.
When in your capacity as Catholic bishops you call for justice, freedom or greater solidarity, you are not claiming to challenge anyone, but are carrying out your mission, promoting for the Cuban people a life that is firmly based on the truth about man. I therefore encourage you to continue working patiently for justice, for the true freedom of God's children and for reconciliation among all Cubans, those who live on the Island and those who live elsewhere, sparing no efforts for reconciliation that will always make it possible to spread the Church's charitable work through the human advancement of the people.
7. Priests and religious work with you and under your pastoral authority and guidance; unfortunately there are not enough of them to satisfy all the needs. Thinking of them, the Lord's words naturally spring to our minds: "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few" (Mt 9,38).
I often think of them and would like to express my gratitude for all they do for the growth of the Church and to meet the needs of the Cuban people. The missionary spirit, so alive in many of the Church's children, gives rise to the hope that it will be increasingly easy for new priests and religious who want to dedicate themselves to the mission in their beautiful island to enter it, which will certainly be to the advantage of all.
Concerned by the number of personnel dedicated to the mission, you are striving to foster vocations and to follow them attentively. This must be accompanied in the first place by diligent prayer, since you must ask the Lord to send new labourers to his harvest (cf. ibid.). On the other hand, candidates must be guided wisely and competently, so that they may undertake all the stages required in order to follow the Lord in the priestly or religious life. The substantial growth in the number of vocations is a cause of hope. In this regard and to facilitate the process, it will be necessary to consider, wherever possible, founding minor seminaries that accept the young men before they embark on philosophical and theological studies, so as to offer them a complete formation based on Christian moral principles. The building, now about to begin, of the new seminary in the capital - whose foundation stone I blessed - and the progress of the propaedeutic and philosophical seminaries will facilitate the spiritual and intellectual formation of future indigenous priests in better conditions, and will ensure that seminarians from all over the country can train adequately to serve their people.
8. In Cuba there is no lack of committed lay people who strive in their own milieu to live a life consistent with faith. I am aware of the difficulties that many people must face as believers, since as in other places, the external conditions do not make it any easier to practise the Church's teachings. Therefore one of your duties is to encourage them and to help them to put their Christian choices into practice.
Then continue to proclaim to them comprehensively the teaching on marriage and the family, the acceptance of children as a gift of God and the springtime of society, encouraging everyone without exception to collaborate for the common good and progress of the nation. May they always have in mind the Lord's words: "You are the salt of the earth.... You are the light of the world" (Mt 5,13-14), and as a result continue to be, each according to his own possibilities, enthusiastic missionaries, preachers and witnesses of Christ who died and is risen, knowing that in this way they contribute to the Church's mission and to raising the standard of morality of their people, who thirst more and more for spirituality and lofty religious values.
9. Dear Brothers, I have wanted to reflect with you on certain aspects of your pastoral activity. When I returned to Rome - from my apostolic pilgrimage in your country - I told you that I did so "with great hope for the future after seeing the vitality of this Church ... aware of the extent of the challenges which you face, but also of your valiant spirit and your ability to take on this task" (cf. Written Message to the Cuban Bishops, 25 January 1998; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 4 February 1998, p. 10). Today I repeat these sentiments to you and also ask you to convey my affectionate greeting to all the priests, men and women religious and faithful, as well as to the entire Cuban people. Express my closeness and pastoral concern in particular to all who are suffering, to the elderly and the sick, to prisoners, to broken families, to those who feel down at heart or who are deprived of hope. Each of them has a place in the Pope's heart and prayer.
Returning in spirit to the Shrine of Cobre and prostrate before the image of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Mother and Queen of Cuba, whom I had the joy of crowning: "Your name and image are sculpted in the mind and heart of every Cuban, both within and outside the country, as a sign of hope and a focus of fraternal communion" (Homily at Mass in Santiago de Cuba, n. 6; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 4 February 1998, p. 7).
Dear Religious of the Armenian Mechitar Congregation,
1. I am especially delighted to welcome you today, on the occasion of your Institute's foundation.
My thoughts go to the exceptional figure of Abbot Mechitar, who stands out in a wholly original and prophetic way in the Christian East and in his relationships with the Church of Rome. We feel him spiritually present at our meeting. He certainly rejoiced from Heaven for the recent reunification of the two branches of our Congregation, fruit of the desire to seek together the roots of the charism of your monastic life to serve the new needs of the Armenian people in a renewed and united spirit.
With the life of Mechitar of Sebaste the history of Armenian monastic spirituality reaches a new highpoint. In a period of great decadence, due to certain social-political circumstances, Mechitar understood that holiness was the highest and most efficacious means to restore dignity, vigour and moral and civil commitment to his people. He was first of all a seeker of God, as every monk is called to be. He wanted to seek God in the precise context of Armenian monastic life, recognizing in it an inexhaustible reservoir of holiness and a singular environment for cultural deepening of the values of the tradition, thanks to the celebrated academies and the institution of the "vardapet", the doctor-monk, responsible for spreading Christian doctrine through preaching and discipleship.
2. Still young, Mechitar undertook a pilgrimage that led him to numerous monasteries of Armenia.
He knew what he was looking for, and when his expectations were disappointed, because the Christian way of life, or the style of community life, or the quality of intellectual effort did not seem to be up to the standard that he considered necessary for his people, he went elsewhere in search of further enrichment.
In his pilgrimage, he also met Latin religious and drew new ideas for reflection from his knowledge of their spirituality. He did this without impairing the total fidelity to the authentic Armenian tradition.
This contact between the East and the West constituted a part of his personal experience, and profoundly marked the cultural events and the very identity of the Armenian people. Very influential to this end were the historical circumstances that led Mechitar and the order he founded to establish themselves in Venice, the natural bridge of a West reaching towards the East. From that time forward the island of St Lazzaro became the "little Armenia". Today it is still a goal of pilgrimages and a place where the national identity grows and is corroborated, bearing abundant spiritual and cultural fruits.
3. The characteristic element of the Mechitarist spirituality is the search for holiness, through an intense prayer life and a no less demanding dedication to cultural studies, primarily focused on the great Armenian patristic sources. Mechitar wanted to safeguard the Armenian monk-doctor from losing himself in an itinerant life, with the weakening of the profound sense of his own identity. For this reason he laid down that the monks should live a common life in a monastic house, under the protection of obedience. The monasteries thus became centres of spiritual formation and cultural studies, and exercised an extraordinary influence on that intellectual aristocracy that was in great part at the origin of the cultural, political and social rebirth of the Armenian people in successive periods.
Mechitar and his monks should be recognized for having worked for and even now working still for the full recomposition of unity between the Church of the West and the Church of the East. For Mechitar communion with the See of Rome was an inseparable element of the faith. In such communion he saw the fulfilment of a longing ever present in many Armenians, including many ecclesiastics of high rank. He was convinced that the faith of the Armenian Church, beyond the differences of theological terminology and historical misunderstandings, enjoyed such full orthodoxy that communion with Rome could only be its logical seal. Consequently, he held to the theology, the liturgy and the spirituality of the Armenian Fathers with scrupulous fidelity, making every effort to transmit their rich patrimony integrally to succeeding generations.
4. Dear sons of Mechitar, it is up to you to hold on to this heritage and keep it alive. You have come through a difficult period that has put your community to the test. Now with farsighted intuition, you must support the signs of rebirth that can be glimpsed in a number of sectors of the ecclesial community.
The first task is to know your people better in order to know how to respond adequately to their expectations. Do not be afraid to be open to new horizons, rethinking and updating ancient forms, if the needs of the time require it. In this regard, in conducting some of your activities it can be appropriate to call upon the collaboration of the laity. Such a step would allow them to see their specific contribution more appreciated.
At the centre of your daily life keep the monastic life. The personal search for God, the loving familiarity with the Sacred Scripture, the constant reference to the writings of the Armenian Fathers, the faithful, complete, extended celebration of the prayer of the Armenian Church have to be the sources from which you draw your daily strength. In the common journey of monastic rediscovery, you will benefit a great deal from collaborating with your brothers of the Apostolic Armenian Church. It will be a further example of the "frontier ecumenism" that monasticism can achieve, if it does not withdraw into isolation or fundamentalism, but knows how to welcome a brother it meets on the way in the name of the sincere seeking of the Father's face.
5. Your history and the intuitions of your Founder place you in a privileged position in ecumenical dialogue. You are loved and esteemed by all your Armenian brothers, who look to you with trust and veneration. Live up to such an extraordinary vocation. Put the instruments of your knowledge at the service of the Armenian Catholic Church and be with her a ferment of pastoral openness, in full fidelity to the spirit of your Fathers. With your contribution, you will help reinforce the dialogue between the Apostolic and Catholic Armenians bringing to it the light of new and bolder spiritual acquisitions.
Following the explicit will of your Founder, renew your full commitment to studying your theological patrimony, and even your nation's cultural riches. Make sure that you have up to date instruments and new skills, to preserve and renew the love for study that St Nerses of Lambron held to be a sign of divine love and that Mechitar wished to be the distinctive characteristic of his monastic institution. I am certain that your homeland, Armenia, and the Armenian Apostolic Church await this from you in a spirit of collaboration and ecumenical openness.
6. Remember that poverty is an inseparable characteristic of monastic life. May your riches be the Lord whom you carry in your hearts. Consider the treasures of art and history, entrusted to you by your people, as true and proper relics, especially those manuscripts that are inscribed with the living history of men and events, preserving their memory for future generations. May the events of the past teach you not to confuse material prosperity with the depth of the spiritual life: prosperity often stirs up idolatrous cravings that undermine the religious experience at its roots. It is a lesson that must not be forgotten. Educate your young people to the sobriety that alone makes light the heart and enables it to reach upwards, to seek God. Remember that you are the faithful and disinterested stewards of what belongs to the Church and to the history of your people.
Pay close attention to the formation of the young monks, with an attentive, prudent and gradual selection, carried out, if possible, in the territory of origin of the young men, at least in the first phases, to avoid dispersion and false mirages. Educate them about the benefits and risks of freedom, in order to create responsible persons. Prepare your young monks gradually to take over the duties suited to their level of formation, so they can learn to be effective leaders of the People of God.
7. Dear Brothers, these 300 years of the history of your Congregation are a treasure for the universal Church. She loves and esteems you and will not cease supporting your spiritual and moral growth, recognizing in you the sons of the venerated Abbot Mechitar, to whom she owes admiration and gratitude.
I entrust you to the maternal intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was so close to your Founder. May She help and protect you, obtaining for you from the Lord every grace and heavenly consolation.
With these wishes I bless you from my heart.
At this time when you, as leaders of the eight most developed nations in the world, are preparing to reflect upon the most important problems of the international community, I wish to assure you of my personal and spiritual closeness to you. I also express the hope that, in these days of intense work, no person and no nation will be excluded from your concerns. Without allowing yourselves to be overwhelmed by the weight of the various issues involved. I am confident that you will do all you can to promote a culture of solidarity, which will make possible concrete solutions to the problems which weigh most heavily in the lives of our brothers and sisters and in their relations with others - peace, poverty, health and the environment.
Praying fervently that your meeting will bring excellent results, I invoke upon you the blessings of Almighty God.
From the Vatican, 19 July 2001
My summer holiday in Val d'Aosta is now drawing to a close and I am glad to have this meeting with you, who have assured the various services: the Inspectorate of Public Security of the Vatican, the State Police, the Carabinieri, the Customs Officers, the Prison Guard, the Forest Guard of the Region and the Security Guard of Vatican City. I heartily thank you because all of you, according to your different competencies, have contributed to guarantee, once again, a peaceful and serene stay for me and for my collaborators.
Although it was short, this holiday among the enchanting mountains of the Val d'Aosta has been beneficial. I have enjoyed intensely the peace and pleasantness of these attractive places. I hope that you too, despite your work to fulfil your duties, have received some benefit from it.
I am thinking at this moment of your families, which the demands of service made you leave for a while. I assure you of my prayers for them, so that they may always be harmonious, firmly-grounded in human and Christian values and delighted by good and generous children. I pray especially for your loved ones who, because of age or illness, are perhaps experiencing a difficult time.
Once again, thank you all very much! May the Lord reward your diligent service. May the Blessed Virgin watch over you and over your relatives, and be with you always. With these sentiments I impart my blessing to you all, as a pledge of peace and spiritual joy.
1. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you on your first visit since you assumed the office of President of the United States. I warmly greet the distinguished First Lady and the members of your entourage. I express heartfelt good wishes that your presidency will strengthen your country in its commitment to the principles which inspired American democracy from the beginning, and sustained the nation in its remarkable growth. These principles remain as valid as ever, as you face the challenges of the new century opening up before us.
Your nation’s founders, conscious of the immense natural and human resources with which your land had been blessed by the Creator, were guided by a profound sense of responsibility towards the common good, to be pursued in respect for the God-given dignity and inalienable rights of all. America continues to measure herself by the nobility of her founding vision in building a society of liberty, equality and justice under the law. In the century which has just ended, these same ideals inspired the American people to resist two totalitarian systems based on an atheistic vision of man and society.
2. At the beginning of this new century, which also marks the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity, the world continues to look to America with hope. Yet it does so with an acute awareness of the crisis of values being experienced in Western society, ever more insecure in the face of the ethical decisions indispensable for humanity’s future course.
In recent days, the world’s attention has been focused on the process of globalization which has so greatly accelerated in the past decade, and which you and other leaders of the industrialized nations have discussed in Genoa. While appreciating the opportunities for economic growth and material prosperity which this process offers, the Church cannot but express profound concern that our world continues to be divided, no longer by the former political and military blocs, but by a tragic fault-line between those who can benefit from these opportunities and those who seem cut off from them. The revolution of freedom of which I spoke at the United Nations in 1995 must now be completed by a revolution of opportunity, in which all the world's peoples actively contribute to economic prosperity and share in its fruits. This requires leadership by those nations whose religious and cultural traditions should make them most attentive to the moral dimension of the issues involved.
3. Respect for human dignity and belief in the equal dignity of all the members of the human family demand policies aimed at enabling all peoples to have access to the means required to improve their lives, including the technological means and skills needed for development. Respect for nature by everyone, a policy of openness to immigrants, the cancellation or significant reduction of the debt of poorer nations, the promotion of peace through dialogue and negotiation, the primacy of the rule of law: these are the priorities which the leaders of the developed nations cannot disregard. A global world is essentially a world of solidarity! From this point of view, America, because of her many resources, cultural traditions and religious values, has a special responsibility.
Respect for human dignity finds one of its highest expressions in religious freedom. This right is the first listed in your nation’s Bill of Rights, and it is significant that the promotion of religious freedom continues to be an important goal of American policy in the international community. I gladly express the appreciation of the whole Catholic Church for America’s commitment in this regard.
4. Another area in which political and moral choices have the gravest consequences for the future of civilization concerns the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life itself. Experience is already showing how a tragic coarsening of consciences accompanies the assault on innocent human life in the womb, leading to accommodation and acquiescence in the face of other related evils such as euthanasia, infanticide and, most recently, proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos, destined to destruction in the process. A free and virtuous society, which America aspires to be, must reject practices that devalue and violate human life at any stage from conception until natural death. In defending the right to life, in law and through a vibrant culture of life, America can show the world the path to a truly humane future, in which man remains the master, not the product, of his technology.
Mr. President, as you carry out the tasks of the high office which the American people have entrusted to you, I assure you of a remembrance in my prayers. I am confident that under your leadership your nation will continue to draw on its heritage and resources to help build a world in which each member of the human family can flourish and live in a manner worthy of his or her innate dignity. With these sentiments I cordially invoke upon you and the beloved American people God’s blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.
Just listening to this beautiful execution has stirred in my soul sentiments of thanks to the Lord and to all who have wished to offer me this pleasant gift. My thought goes first of all to Maestro Joseph Juhar, President of the Academia Musicae Pro Mundo Uno, whom I thank for the courteous expressions in my regard and for the persevering concern with which he prepares these musical appointments which are an occasion for renewed spiritual delight. With him I thank his kind wife and all those who have collaborated in organizing today's musical event.
I congratulate with great thanks Maestro Justus Frantz, with the young musicians of the Orchestra Philarmonie der Nationen and especially, with the pianist Christopher Tainton. The melodies of Tchaikovsky, played with consummate skill, speak to us of a symphonic Europe, in which the different traditions can speak meaningfully with great harmony to one another. Art itself can be a precious channel for stimulating the knowledge, understanding and fraternal cooperation among peoples. I know that this is the very spirit that inspires your Orchestra which is formed with talent from all over the world. With concerts and other initiatives, you intend to contribute to the cause of peace and unity among men and nations. I hope you remain faithful to your ideal, above all when responsibilities become more pressing and your dedication is put to the test. Always be builders of friendship and brotherhood. Always be "pro mundo uno" (for one world).
In asking for you the constant protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I wholeheartedly impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,