Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am happy to welcome you on the occasion of the third centenary of the presence in Italy of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Since 1702 when Bro. Gabriel Drolin arrived in Rome from France, the seed he planted at the price of heroic sacrifices has borne abundant fruit in the field of education. This field has always been particularly dear to the Church who, in her fidelity to Christ, does everything she can so that the human person might have life "in abundance" (cf. Jn 10,10). So I am glad to meet in you today the heirs of this admirable work which you intend to carry forward in the footsteps of St John Baptist de La Salle and Gabriel Drolin.
I greet with affection the Superior General, Bro. Albaro Rodríguez Echeverría, and thank him for his courteous words. I greet you all, offering my cordial welcome to each one.
2. In his spiritual testament, St John Baptist de La Salle wrote several famous recommendations that clarify the ecclesial dimension of the tricentenary year that you are observing: "I recommend that the Brothers always be fully submitted to the Church, especially in these terrible times, and as proof of their submission, that they never be separated from our Holy Father the Pope or from the Church of Rome; they should always remember that I sent two Brothers to go to Rome to ask God for the grace that their Society might be completely submitted to him for ever".
These words have kept their full force and timeliness and should motivate the mission entrusted to you at the service of the integral formation of young people, in accord with the teachings of the Church.
3. Bro. Gabriel Drolin was chosen by De La Salle to give proof of fidelity to the Pope during the period of Jansenism, and to plant the tree of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools under the shadow and with the approval of the Successor of Peter. He remains for all De La Salle educators an example whose spiritual view is still valid.
On 21 November 1691, with the founder and another brother, he took what became known as the "heroic vow", to guarantee the future of the Christian Schools at any cost, and at the price of a boundless and uncalculating fidelity: "even if we three were to continue alone and were forced to go begging and to live on bread alone".
In 1702 he was prepared to leave France for an important and difficult mission: to make known a new educational, pedagogical and methodological approach, which had come into being 20 years earlier on the other side of the Alps.
4. De La Salle's ascetical and educational thought did not focus so much on "how to educate" as on "how to be" in order to educate, in other words, on how to interiorize the educator's vocation and method. His model is Christ, who is Teacher because he is able to listen, example because he is a witness. De La Salle aims at educating young people through the renewal of the educator.
If the educator does not give the young person an example with his own witness and words, the school does not accomplish its purpose. He said to his followers, "You are ambassadors and ministers of Christ in the profession that you exercise; you must therefore conduct yourselves as representatives of Christ himself. It is he who wants young people to look to you as to himself, to receive your teaching as if he himself were teaching. They must be convinced that it is the truth of Christ that you speak, that it is in his name you teach them and that it is he himself who gives you authority over them" (Meditation III, for the retreat, n. 2).
The 26 years that Bro. Gabriel spent in Rome as the Institute's sole exponent provide a lesson of total fidelity to his religious and educational vocation. They are an example of a profound religious spirit and healthy realism in facing the unforeseen events and the fatigue of every day. Bro. Gabriel is still a model we can admire because fidelity to the De La Salle charism and mission still demands intrepid courage and strength of soul ready for any trial.
The Christian Brothers' educational institutions continue to be a providential resource for the good of youth, of the Church and of society. For this reason fidelity to the charism, more than before, calls for new inspiration and creativity, so that you can suitably respond to the needs of our world.
5. Dear friends, as I had the opportunity to write in my Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, "You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things (n. 110). These words apply to you, here in Italy and in the rest of the world. A task of great importance awaits the De La Salle family. Dear brothers, associates, teachers, parents, alumni and young people, you are called to reaffirm your path of fidelity and renewal.
In the course of three centuries, in the social and cultural context of Italian society, you have walked beside young people, basing your educational service to them on the great values of solidarity, tolerance, pluralism, service and culture.
6. I cordially hope that the 300th anniversary will not just be an opportunity to look back over the ground covered, but also to revitalize a strongly dynamic project for the human person of the third millennium.
Your venerable founder, together with Bro. Gabriel Drolin, will certainly not withhold their spiritual support. I entrust every one of your schools and religious houses to the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, especially those in Italy and, in a very special way, in Rome. I thank you again for today's cordial meeting, and, as I encourage you to continue on your way with enthusiasm and generosity, I wholeheartedly bless you.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I am pleased to receive you today, pastors and guides of the particular Churches of Ecuador, during the ad limina visit that you are making to renew the bonds of unity with the Succesor of Peter, the "lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion" (Lumen gentium LG 18). At the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, you have had the opportunity to be renewed in the heart of your apostolic mission: to witness to Christ and to be tireless heralds of his message to the People of God and to all people. Besides, your contact with the various offices of the Roman Curia not only gives you an opportunity to deal with matters that directly involve the Christian communities you shepherd, but also allows you to gain a greater consciousness of the universal dimension that is binding on all the successors of the Apostles. It should quicken your concern for "promoting all that type of active apostolate which is common to the whole Church, especially in order that the faith may increase and the light of truth rise in its fullness on all men" (ibid., n. 23).
I cordially thank Cardinal Antonio José González Zumárraga, Archbishop of Quito, Primate of Ecuador, for his words on your behalf, expressing your closeness and support, and informing me of the many pastoral aspirations that motivate you.
In the face of the problems that worry you, I would like to repeat the encouragement that I offered you during my memorable visit to your country: enlightened by so many examples of your glorious history and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, "continue your pastoral work and seek to find a response to the needs and problems which the Church experiences in Ecuador today" (Address in the Cathedral of Quito, 29 January 1985, n. 2; ORE, 25 February, p. 3).
2. I note with pleasure that as pastors in Ecuador you have accepted the invitation that I recently repeated to the whole Church, namely, that concrete programmes be drafted "to enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture", as I urged at the end of the wonderful spiritual and ecclesial event of the Great Jubilee (Novo Millennio ineunte NM 29). To comply with this criterion you have drawn up the "Global Pastoral Plan for the Church in Ecuador, 2001-2010" to allow her to put in place effective, ongoing and organized activities that will contribute to a more dynamic pastoral ministry in the first decade of the new millennium.
In this regard, I remind you that Christian holiness is the final and non-negotiable goal of every pastoral plan and no Christian can "settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity" (ibid., n. 31). For this reason, you should spare no effort to promote recourse to basic evangelizing action, without which the outcome of any such programmes would be seriously endangered. Programmes should also include a detailed, well-organized programme for vocations that deals with the variety of backgrounds of the indigenous world with their special features without causing separation, or even less, discrimination. In fact someone who is called to be an apostle of Christ must proclaim and witness to everyone without distinction the grace of the Gospel.
Great importance should also be given to the continuing formation of priests, that, along with regular theological animation, should give a constant impetus to their spiritual life, that will help confirm their fidelity to the promises they made at ordination and bring a living faith in Christ to bear on all their pastoral activities.
Special attention should be paid to the formation of lay people and to their role and mission in the Church. In many cases, their collaboration in the more specifically ecclesial tasks, such as catechesis, charitable activities or the guidance of groups and communities is a valuable contribution to the Church's action and, for this very reason, avoids anything that is not fully integrated into parish life or the diocesan pastoral plan.
The lay faithful also have their own specific commitment: to witness to an irreproachable life in the world and to strive for holiness in the family, at work and in social life. They are also under the obligation to infuse "the Christian spirit into the mentality and behaviour, laws and structures of the community in which they live" (Apostolicam actuositatem AA 13). One must therefore ask all the baptized not only to manifest their Christian identity, but in the sector of their expertise, to be effective artisans of a social order that is more inspired by justice and less conditioned by corruption, disloyal antagonism or lack of solidarity. It would make no sense to call for ethical principles, denouncing certain morally deplorable situations if one did not require those who are active in the realm of economics, politics or public administration to put into pratice the values that the Church and her Pastors have so persistently proclaimed.
3. The Church begins the new millennium with the firm conviction that "Christ must be presented to all people with confidence" (Novo Millennio ineunte NM 40), faithful to the Lord's mandate to make "disciples of all the nations" (Mt 28,19). His burning desire embraces children and young people during the process of their formation, in which the integral development of their person must include the transcendent and religious dimension. Thus the Church's mission in this field corresponds to the fundamental right of families to educate their children according to their faith.
Pastors cannot be indifferent to the fact that a part of the new generations, especially those without financial resources, is deprived of the possibility of being introduced to a Christian vision of life and to the religious formation so crucial for their whole life. It is to be hoped that with honest collaboration among those in charge in this sector, satisfactory formulas may be found before long to make the freedom for the right of education a more complete and effective reality for all.
Christ's message should also be presented with confidence to the different cultural and ethnic groups in which Ecuador is particularly rich because of its location and history. St Paul's words shed a great deal of light on this mission: on the one hand he makes himself "all things to all men that he might by all means save some" (1Co 9,22), and on the other, he insists that with the definitive revelation of God in Christ, "there is neither Jew nor Greek ... for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Ga 3,28); but what shocks some is foolishness for others (cf. 1Co 1,23).
Indeed, the Church, firmly rooted in faith in Christ, only Saviour of the entire human race, sees as an immensely rich treasure the host of ways coming from the variety of intuitions and traditions, in which she can express the evangelical and ecclesial message. The Church's great respect for every culture enables her to transform and purify each into an acceptable form in which any person or group can encounter the one God fully and definitively revealed in Christ. This fundamental convergence in one faith will serve as a leaven, so that the different languages and sensibilities may find forms of religious and liturgical expression that emphasize deep communion with the universal Church and carefully prevent the existence in Christian communities of "strangers and sojourners", rather than "fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God" (Ep 2,19).
In fact, an activity that aims only at keeping intact the traditional elements of a human group would not only jeopardize the genuine preaching of the Good News of the Gospel, a raising agent that renews every culture and civilization, but would also, paradoxically, foster the group's isolation from other communities, and especially from the great family of the People of God that have spread throughout the world.
4. In your country, especially in certain territories, important evangelizing work is carried out by many missionaries, priests, and religious, often far from their country of origin. They deserve thanks for their generous gift of self. By their unselfish devotion, they remind us that evangelization knows no limitations and that Ecuadorean ecclesial communities too must focus their pastoral attention beyond their own frontiers. In this respect, it is encouraging that the growth in vocations to the contemplative life has made it possible in recent years to go to the help of monasteries in other countries. This is a sign of the missionary enthusiasm that must exist in every Christian community, and it is to be hoped that it will be fostered with determination and great vision.
There are also many other Ecuadoreans who, especially in recent years, have left their land in quest of better living conditions. They often face enormous material and spiritual difficulties. Like the Good Shepherd, I warmly urge you to show effective concern for this part of your flock, by initiating pastoral care for emigrants to help families that have been separated to maintain relations with their distant members, and to take the necessary steps with the dioceses in the places where they live to guarantee them the religious assistance they need to preserve their Christian roots and traditions. Although many will not return, at least in the short term, everything possible must be done to help restore family nucleuses and prevent all those who already suffer for having had to leave their country from feeling abandoned by their Pastors and the ecclesial community in which they were born to the faith.
5. I am aware, dear Brothers, of all your worries in pastoral ministry, such as the instability of many families, the bewilderment of many young people, the influence of a secular mindset in society, a certain superficiality in religious practices, the snares laid by the sects and pseudo-religious groups. You and your faithful are also nagged by anxiety about the precarious social and economic situation.
In the face of all these situations, which might lead to imagining sombre prospects for your Christian communities, I want to encourage you not to lose heart and I invite you "to share the enthusiasm of the very first Christians" (Novo Millennio ineunte NM 58). May the magnificent ecclesial experience of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 continue to be instructive, since it brought into the limelight the infinite capacity of Christ's message to reach the hearts of our contemporaries, and the marvellous transforming power of the Spirit, the source of hope that "does not disappoint" (Rm 5,5). Today too, we must listen to the words Jesus spoke to his terrified disciples: "I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (Jn 16,33).
6. I ask our Mother in Heaven, whom you call upon as "Our Lady of the Presentation of Quinche", to guide you in the pastoral ministry that has been entrusted to you, and to protect all the beloved sons and daughters of Ecuador. Please take back to them an affectionate greeting from the Pope, who is always close to them in all their aspirations and anxieties. Tell them too, of the Church's sincere gratitude to your priests, men and women religious and committed lay people for their generous dedication to the Gospel cause. I always remember them all in my prayers, and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to them, and to you here now.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. The light and joy of Pentecost, that yesterday accompanied the solemn proclamation of five new saints, is extended and deepened at our festive gathering as we stop to reflect on the Spirit's action in their lives in order to learn how in turn to be available to the Lord's grace.
Holiness is truly a fruit of the Holy Spirit who acting in man changes him into a new creation and communicates to him the very life of God. I renew my cordial welcome to you!
2. I first greet the pilgrims from Piedmont who with the beloved Capuchins, rejoice for the canonization of Ignatius of Santhiá. Love of Christ, the desire for perfection and the will to serve his brothers and sisters, impelled this fellow countryman of yours to leave an ecclesial ministry that began well to embrace the poverty and austerity of the Capuchin Order.
The chronicles remember him as always caring and available in welcoming the great number of people who flocked to him. He listened to their problems and difficulties and made himself their daily minister of God's pardon, to the point that they called him: "father of sinners and of the desperate".
3. Next, I am happy to greet you, religious of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, and the group of faithful who have come here, representing the noble land of Calabria. You are celebrating the canonization of Fra Umile of Bisignano. The action of the Holy Spirit action gradually revealed to Fra Umile the fascination of the choice of evangelical life in accord with the style of Francis of Assisi, in a process of unceasing purification and ascetical life, configuring him ever more closely to the chaste, poor and obedient Christ.
Humble in name and in deed, he offered himself to all believers as a model of heroic fidelity to divine Love, lived in the humility of a hidden life and abandonment to God's holy will.
4. I now warmly greet the Spanish pilgrims who have come for the solemn canonization of Alphonsus of Orozco, an Augustinian friar but with a universal appeal. The rich qualities that distinguish him incite us to point him out as a man of letters and piety, of service and charity, of culture and of self-denial.
Among all the words of praise he has received I would like to highlight this phrase: "the living image of the Gospel", for this is the goal to which Christians are called: to imitate Christ, each one following him in his own vocation. St Alphonsus of Orozco did so as an Augustinian religious. May the life and teachings of this new saint be a help and an incentive for everyone to follow Jesus Christ.
5. I affectionately greet the Brazilian pilgrims who came to Rome to take part in the solemn ceremony of the canonization of St Pauline of the Suffering Heart of Jesus, Foundress of the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. Her Christian witness, which led her to accomplish heroic gestures of sacrifice and self-denial for the good of souls, especially the poor and the sick, was like a tiny seed planted by the divine Sower, which today, having grown into a leafy tree, has spread throughout the generous land of Brazil.
This is an image of the charism Mother Pauline left her Congregation, consisting of the willingness to serve in the Church the neediest and those in situations of greater injustice with simplicity, humility and interior life. From it was born her example of faith, in seeking and accepting God's will always and in all things; and of charity, the dominant thread that linked together all the stages of Mother Pauline's life with the total gift of self to her brethren, especially those in greatest need.
6. I now greet the pilgrims who have come to Rome, especially from Liguria for the canonization of Benedetta Cambiagio Frassinello, especially the Benedictine Sisters of Providence whom she founded. All her life, the new saint strove to carry out God's will faithfully, looking always to the crucified Christ, our example of perfect obedience to the heavenly Father.
At the demanding school of the Cross, in her experience as a married woman and in religious life, Benedetta witnessed to "God's loving Providence" who provides for his children's needs. I hope, dear Benedictine Sisters of Providence and everyone who, like you, is inspired by the spirituality and example of the new Saint, that you will continue to walk generously on the path she drew up. You will thus be witnesses to the young generations of the beauty of a life totally given to the Lord and to the brethren.
7. Dear brothers and sisters, together with the whole Church, let us thank the Lord for these five new Saints. They are our friends and protectors, intercessors and models of life. Let us call on them in prayer, deepen our knowledge of them, and imitate the virtues that made them teachers of humanity and of the ascetical life of the Gospel.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom during the month of May we pray with more intense love and devotion, help and protect you always. May my blessing go with you, which I affectionately impart to each of you present here and willingly extend to all your loved ones.
To Reverend Father Yvon Laroche
Superior General of the Congregation of the Religious of St Vincent de Paul
1. On the occasion of the General Chapter of your Congregation, I desire to assure you of my prayers for your new mandate to serve the dynamism and communion of your religious family. I also want to express my gratitude to you for your institute's missionary zeal in the world of work and among youth. I hope that the General Chapter which you concluded may increase and strengthen the bonds of unity, so that with fraternal and apostolic charity, your institute may draw its activity from fidelity to its founding charism and to the Church, without avoiding the new challenges of evangelization; the Holy Spirit is calling you to put out into the deep. Guided by apostolic daring and the witness of charity that motivated St Vincent de Paul and your founder, Jean-Léon Le Prévost, open up new paths to communicate Christ's tenderness to children, young people, workers, to life's injured and to all who need his love to start again in hope!
2. During the 150th anniversary of your foundation, you had the chance to give thanks for the work accomplished and to reread your history, to discover God's calls, to evaluate the relevance of your Congregation's response to him in the past two centuries. Your missionary venture was born of the experience of your founder and his companions who, through the Conferences of St Vincent de Paul of Bl. Frédéric Ozanam, discovered the sad state of workers' families, deprived of dignity and excluded from social life. The contemplation of the face of Christ in the faces of the poor of the time brought forth their desire to leave everything to bring the Gospel into the world, disfigured by the industrial revolution, by all kinds of instability and by the rejection of God and the Church, especially among young workers and those in training. Your predecessors showed that charitable deeds strongly support charitable words, as they participated in the rise of the Church's social teaching that Pope Louis XIII formulated in his Encyclical Rerum novarum.
Today, from France to Brazil, from Canada to Africa, this same missionary zeal, motivated by Christ's love, must continue to animate your lives as religious and priests. Economic upheavals, the collapse of human solidarity, the breakup of families, continuously create new forms of instability among the younger generations. These frequently prompt them to give in to the temptation of despair or tragically to experiment with poverty, drugs or violence. I encourage you to find responses that meet the deep longings of today's young people. Indeed, it is essential that they see in you true educators who, without being hardened, enable them to acquire the human, moral and spiritual values they need for their integral development. Driven by the love of Christ who patiently awaits all things, help them find that the risen Lord is the secret of your lives and that he wants to be the salt of their lives and the light that brightens their future, for he alone can fully answer their thirst for love, dignity and truth! They will be able to join together in building a world that is more fraternal and open to solidarity. It would also be good to foster a vocation recruitment, that enables the young people who want to follow Christ more radically in the priesthood or in consecrated life, to find in properly trained persons the human and spiritual guidance that will help them to discern their vocation. To do this, the help of other formation centres, in dioceses or religious congregations, is very useful and necessary, since it gives your future religious a chance to meet other young people who are preparing for lifelong service in the Church.
3. The formation of lay collaborators who share in the spirituality and mission of your institute should receive constant attention. It is important that the generosity of the faithful be nourished by a life of intimacy with Christ so that with an informed conscience they may work to build the Kingdom of God in the Church, collaborating confidently with the bishops and the local Catholic communities. May the example of your community life and the educational methods that you employ be authentic sources of sanctification and witness, that make you ready to listen together to the Father's will in order to respond to the call that he directs from the world of children and of the poor! Faithful to your motto Omni modo Christus annuncietur (Let Christ be announced in every way), and living Christ's love among yourselves, you will boldly take part in the new "creativity of charity" which I called for at the beginning of the new millennium (cf. Novo Millennio ineunte NM 50).
4. In this month of May, I entrust you to the motherly care of the Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, and I wholeheartedly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, which I extend to all the Religious of St Vincent de Paul, to their collaborators, and to the young people and families that benefit from their educational service.
From the Vatican, 17 May 2002.
Dear Italian Bishops,
1. With great joy I express my affection and my warmest congratulations to all of you who have gathered for your 49th General Assembly on the happy occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI).
With you I thank the Lord, Source of all good, for these 50 years of faithful, generous and enlightened collegial service to the Church in Italy and to the beloved Italian nation. I remember with gratitude and sadness the bishops who helped make your Conference prosper and whom the Lord has now received into his dwelling of light and peace.
2. With the first meeting, held in Florence on 10 January 1952, of the Presidents of the Regional Episcopal Conferences - active in Italy since the last decades of the 19th century - the life and activity of the Italian Episcopal Conference started and a renewed journey of affective and effective communion began that has been fruitful for the Church and the country. Naturally, it has constantly developed in special union of heart and mind with the Successor of Peter, Bishop of Rome and Primate of Italy.
Grafted onto the great legacy and living tradition of Christian faith, holiness and culture created in Italy by apostolic preaching from the earliest years of the Christian era (cf. Letter to the Italian Bishops, 6 January 1994, n. 1; ORE, 19 January 1994, p. 5), your Bishops' Conference has greatly contributed to preserving and renewing this legacy and tradition in the present historical circumstances, with a special and important reference to that fundamental ecclesial event, the Second Vatican Council, from which even today we receive indications about the paths we are to take for the proclamation and witness of the Gospel in the century that has just begun.
CEI's work: pastoral programmes, Caritas, conventions, catechisms, Christian cultural project
Among the CEI's multiple teachings and initiatives, how can we forget the publication of the new catechisms for Christian life, addressed to the various age groups as effective instruments of conciliar renewal and, likewise, the establishment of the Italian Caritas to promote the practice of the Gospel precept of charity at all levels? We have also seen the great importance of the ten-year pastoral programmes or orientations which, since the 1970s and in accord with the Second Vatican Council, your Conference has identified and presented giving evangelization an important pastoral priority in our time, even in a country with an ancient and deep-rooted Christian tradition like Italy.
With the national ecclesial conventions that have marked the last three decades, the representatives of the entire People of God have been called to assume ever greater responsibility for reviving the Christian presence in Italy and adapting it to the changing circumstances. In recent years, with the formulation and first implementation of its Christian "cultural project", your Conference has known how to devise a way to respond to that decisive challenge: the evangelization of the culture of our time.
3. Dear Italian Bishops, in the Bull of Indiction of the Great Jubilee Incarnationis mysterium, I affirmed that "the journey of believers towards the third millennium is in no way weighed down by the weariness which the burden of 2,000 years of history could bring with it" (n. 2). These words are particularly true of Italy, as is attested by the intensity of spiritual life and extraordinary capacity for presence and service of so many of your communities.
So let us not lose heart, even when we face the undeniable and serious difficulties, in Italy as in many other countries, that undermine the Christian faith and the very foundations of human civilization; rather, let us renew and deepen our faith in the Lord, who manifests his power in our weakness (cf. II Cor 12,9) and whose mercy is always able to overcome evil with good.
4. Dear Brothers, on this most important occasion of your Conference's 50th anniversary, I would like to reaffirm my affection, support and spiritual closeness. Persevere with great charity and serene firmness in exercising your pastoral responsibilities. Continue, in particular, to pay special attention to families and to the acceptance and defence of life, encouraging family ministry and supporting the rights of the family founded on marriage. Always have great confidence in children and young people and spare no efforts in encouraging their genuine education, first of all in the family, then at school and in the ecclesial communities. The 17th World Youth Day that awaits us in Toronto this July gives a further impetus to this common commitment.
Looking to the Church's future and her missionary dimension and presence, be ardently committed to encouraging authentic Christian vocations, especially to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. Today too, in fact, the Lord is giving the Church all the vocations she needs, but it is up to us, with prayer, the witness of our lives and pastoral concern, to ensure that they are not lost.
Continue to be credible witnesses to solidarity and generous peacemakers. Indeed, our world, ever more interdependent yet marked by deep, underlying divisions, stands in great need of true peace.
The beloved Italian nation also needs to find social harmony and undertake a sincere quest for the common good to regain its inner and social strength, and make its own contribution to building ever more just and supportive international relations.
5. In the Letter I wrote to you Italian Bishops eight years ago, on 6 January 1994, I stressed that "Italy as a nation has a great deal to offer Europe as a whole" (n. 4). I now repeat this conviction, at the time when the process of building the "common European house" has entered a particularly important phase, with a view to defining its institutional profiles and expansion to the nations of Central and Eastern Europe.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, by virtue of its history, culture, and current Christian vitality, Italy can truly play an important role to ensure that the Europe in the making does not lose its spiritual roots, but, on the contrary, finds the faith lived out by Christians an inspiration and an incentive in its journey towards unity. Doing your utmost to this end is a legitimate part of your mission as Italian Bishops.
6. I offer my fraternal and affectionate greeting to you all, and especially to your President, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, to the three Vice-Presidents, and to the General Secretary, Bishop Giuseppe Betori.
At your General Assembly you will be giving special attention to the most important and fundamental topic of all: the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the one Saviour and Redeemer, in the context of the cultural and religious pluralism of today. May the Assembly be an intense and joyful experience of communion for each one of you that will give you new energy in the daily effort of our ministry.
I join in your prayer and with you, I remember before the Lord each one of your Churches, your beloved priests, the deacons and seminarians, the men and women religious, the lay faithful and their families, the authorities and the entire Italian people.
As a pledge of my affection I impart to you all my Apostolic Blessing, to favour continuous divine assistence.