Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Friends of the Community of Sant'Egidio,
1. I am happy to meet with all of you, who have come to Rome from around the world for a few days of prayer and reflection, on the occasion of the international meeting of the bishops and priests, friends of the Community of Sant'Egidio. A cordial greeting to the representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities who are present.
I thank Bishop Vincent Paglia for the kind words he used to greet me on behalf of all, and with him, I greet Professor Andrea Riccardi, who has followed and guided the Community of Sant'Egidio from the beginning.
Your convention celebrates the 35 years of your community, that in these years has spread to many countries, creating a network of solidarity in the civil and Christian community.
2. These days you have gathered to reflect on the theme, "The Gospel of Peace", a theme that is very important and deeply felt as we pass through the present time marked by tensions and the winds of war. It is therefore ever more urgent to proclaim the Gospel of peace to a humanity strongly tempted by hatred and violence.
It is necessary to multiply all the efforts for peace. We cannot be hindered by acts of terrorism or by the threats that are gathering on the horizon. We must not be resigned as if war were inevitable.
Dear friends, to the cause of peace you bring the contribution of your experience, an experience of true fraternity, that leads you to recognize in the other a brother to be loved unconditionally. This is the path that leads to peace, a path of dialogue, hope and sincere reconciliation.
3. In the Message for the World Day of Peace of 1 January, I wished to recall the fortieth anniversary of the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, of my Venerable Predecessor, Blessed John XXIII. Today, as then, peace is in danger. One must repeat forcefully that, "peace is not essentially about structures but about people. Certain structures and mechanisms of peace - juridical, political, economic - are of course necessary and do exist, but they have been derived from nothing other than the accumulated wisdom and experience of innumerable gestures of peace made by men and women throughout history who have kept hope and have not given in to discouragement. Gestures of peace spring from the lives of people who foster peace first of all in their own hearts" (n. 9).
By means of a renewed missionary consciousness, today more than ever, you are called to be builders of peace. Remaining faithful and loyal to the history of your community's tradition, continue to strive to intensify everywhere prayer for peace accompanied by concrete action in favour of reconciliation and solidarity among persons and peoples.
4. May the Christian communities, and all believers in God, follow the example of Abraham, common father in the faith, while on the mountaintop he prayed the Lord to spare from destruction the cities of men (cf. Gn Gn 18,23 ff.). With the same insistence, we should continue to beg for humanity the gift of peace.
Let us turn our confident gaze toward Christ, the "Prince of Peace", who proclaims to us the Good News of salvation, the "Gospel of Peace": "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Mt 5,5). He calls his disciples to be witnesses and servants of the Gospel, certain that more than any human effort, it is the Holy Spirit who gives fruitfulness to their action in the world.
In renewing my gratitude to all of you for this meeting, I invoke the heavenly protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, on each of you and on your initiatives. Assuring you of my spiritual closeness, I wholeheartedly impart my Apostolic Blessing to all who are here, to the members of the Community of Sant'Egidio spread throughout the world, and to those whom you meet in your daily activities.
1. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13,34). May these words that Jesus left as a testament to the Apostles in the Upper Room never cease to echo in your hearts, dear and venerable Brothers in the Episcopate!
Welcome to the house of Peter! With affection, I embrace each of you. I especially greet you, Your Eminence, Pastor of the Metropolitan See of Minsk-Mohilev, and I thank you cordially for your words on behalf of your confreres, and of the entire Catholic people of Belarus. I greet you, beloved Pastors of Grodno, Pinsk and Vitebsk. I also send my affectionate greetings to the small but fervent Byzantine-rite Catholic community, the heir of St Josaphat's mission, and I greet the Most Reverend Apostolic Visitator ad nutum Sanctae Sedis who daily cares for it.
The love of Christ unites us; it is his love that should permeate our lives and our pastoral service, stimulating us to renew our fidelity to the Gospel and to tend to a more generous dedication to the apostolic mission that the Lord has entrusted to us.
2. I still cherish the memory of our meeting in April 1997. It was a cause of deep joy to find out about the springtime of ecclesial life in your country, after the winter of violent persecution that had lasted for several decades. At the time the effects of the systematic imposition of atheism on your peoples, especially youth, of the almost total demolition of ecclesiastical structures and the forced closing of places of Christian formation were visible. Thanks be to God, that bitter season is over, and for several years, a gradual and encouraging revival is underway.
In the past quinquennium, the celebration of the Synods for the Archdiocese of Minsk and for the Dioceses of Pinsk and Vitebsk has given you the opportunity to define your pastoral priorities as you drew up the best apostolic plans to deal with the many needs of the territory. This time you have come to report the fruits of your generous pastoral work, and with you I thank the Lord, who is always merciful and provident.
3. Now you must plan for the future. The first priority is the family, that, even in Belarus, unfortunately is passing through a serious and profound crisis. The first victims of this situation are the children, who risk bearing the consequences for the rest of their lives. I would like to repeat, for your comfort and encouragement, what I said to the many families meeting in Manila last 25 January for the Fourth World Meeting of Families. It is necessary to witness with consistent conviction to the truth about the family, founded on marriage. It is a great good, necessary for the life, development and future of humanity. Transmit to the families of Belarus the message I entrusted to the whole world: Make the Gospel the guiding principle of your families, and make your families a page of the Gospel written for our time (Address to the Fourth World Meeting of Families in Manila, via satellite TV, n. 6; ORE, 29 January 2003, p. 7).
4. Your country has almost 10 million inhabitants, a large percentage of whom live in the cities. Belarus, if it is the nation that has suffered the least from the changes of the post-Soviet period, is also the one in which the process of reintegration into the vast context of the European continent has been slow to take place. The consequences of this delay have held back its economic restructuring and, especially in rural areas poverty is advancing. The concentration of people in the urban centres entails a great exertion for the Church to be present. This is especially true in the capital, Minsk, where now 20% of the population live.
Among your priorities, you place the young people who have flocked to the cities looking for work. The unprecedented demographic crisis that affects your country is also a powerful challenge for the proclamation of the "Gospel of life", and the phenomena of marginalization, including an alcoholism that has lately become worse, await urgent and effective responses. Although she is the Church of a minority in your country, the Catholic Church is striving to address all these problems with the means and structures at her disposal. I encourage you, dear friends, to continue on this path and I would like to make the most of this opportunity to thank the Catholic organizations of other nations, especially Italy and Germany, who offer you their support and collaboration.
5. "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few" (Mt 9,37).
Before the huge amount of work to be done, this word of Jesus spontaneusly comes to mind. What is to be done? The answer comes to us from the Gospel: "Pray therefore", Christ adds, "the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest" (v. 38). Prayer comes first. It is necessary to redouble the prayer for divine help and to teach the faithful to make prayer a fundamental activity in the midst of their daily occupations. The work you have begun of translating the sacred texts, especially the Roman Missal, into Belarusian, will be a great help.
In addition to prayer, I recall your endeavour for the formation of candidates for the priesthood and for the consecrated life, especially at the two major seminaries of Grodno and Pinsk, and I also want to emphasize the necessary attention that must be given to priests who have the care of souls.
The collaboration of clergy and religious coming from neighbouring Poland is now essential and will certainly help consolidate the Catholic community in your country.
Finally, continue the ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Church. In your country, the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have always lived together, and many families are mixed confessionally and, for this reason, they also need help from the Catholic Church. May the Lord continue to guide your steps in the pursuit of reciprocal respect and mutual cooperation.
This year is the 380th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Josephat, Archbishop of Polotsk, whose blood sanctified the land of Belarus. May the memory of his martyrdom be for all the faithful a source of fidelity to Christ and to his Holy Church.
7. I entrust all of you to Mary, the Theotokos. I ask her to protect you, venerable and beloved Brothers, and your closest collaborators, the priests, and men and women religious, seminarians and lay people who are actively involved in the apostolate, and the whole Catholic community who live in Belarus. May she watch over each one, along with your holy Patrons. For my part, I assure you of my daily remembrance in prayer as I cordially bless you.
My cordial welcome to you. You have come to Rome, on your way visiting the tombs of St Francis and St Bernardine of Siena, to thank God here, at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, for the 550 years of the presence of the Friars Minor (Bernardines) in Poland. I willingly join you in your thanksgiving, for I know how much good it has brought and how deeply engraved it is in our local spirituality and culture.
This Jubilee is connected with the foundation of the friary in Krakůw. The friary, and the basilica in Bernardynska Street are close to my heart. When I was young, I used to go there often, and later, as a priest, and also when I was Bishop of Krakůw. I had many meetings with your community; one in particular stands out in my mind, the meeting and scientific symposium organized during the Jubilee of St Francis in April 1976. I remember that I said, introducing the Symposium: "We must pray intensely to obtain a Francis in our own times. Perhaps not one, but many! We live in an age in which the Second Vatican Council has revealed to us the dimension of the people of God. So perhaps today, in our democratic times, it is necessary that Francis should become the portrait of us all and of the whole Church in Poland".
It would seem that these words have lost none of their timeliness. Indeed, one might well have the impression that humanity and the world at the beginning of the third millennium more than ever stand in need of the spirit of St Francis. Contemporary men and women need the faith, hope and charity of Francis; they need the joy that flows from his poverty of spirit, that is, from inner freedom; they desire to learn again the love for all God has created; lastly, they need peace and good to reign in families, societies and among nations: Poland needs it, Ukraine needs it, the whole world needs it.
Therefore while your community - celebrating the Jubilee - looks back at the past and gives thanks to God for all the good it has received throughout its history, it is also and especially called to turn its eyes to the future. You are called to ask God to make you ever more perfect witnesses of the spirit of Francis. I pray with you to obtain this; and since it is the Year of the Holy Rosary, I do so through the intercession of Mary, invoking the man who was extraordinarily devoted to her, your founder and patron, St Bernardine of Siena.
I also thank God for the 10 years of your Custody of St Michael the Archangel in Ukraine. It is not an important Jubilee yet it is an invitation to give thanks for every good which has come to the beloved people of God in Ukraine, thanks to your persevering and deeply dedicated ministry.
Once again I thank you for the welcome I was given at the Shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska by the Province of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I hope that your community will grow in numbers and in grace, and that the intercession and example of your holy patrons, Francis and Bernardine, will sustain you on the path of holiness.
God bless you!
11th WORLD DAY OF THE SICK
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I meet you with great joy, as I do every year, at the end of this celebration dedicated especially to you, dear sick people.
My first greeting is for you, the primary participants of today's World Day of the Sick. I greet all who are close to you, relatives, friends and volunteers, and the members of the Italian National Union for Transporting the Sick to Shrines (UNITALSI). I greet the Cardinal Vicar, and the bishops and priests present, the men and women religious and those who in various ways place themselves at the service of the sick and the suffering.
I also greet the members of the "Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi" (the Roman Work for Pilgrimages to Lourdes), and those who take part in the national theological-pastoral convention held in Rome on the theme: "the Pilgrimage, Path of Peace". This reminds me of the Holy Land. I express the hope and the prayer that as soon as possible those places sanctified by Christ's presence may recover a stable peace that will allow the return of the groups of pilgrims.
2. Today we celebrate the 11th World Day of the Sick, placed under the protection of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. In a little while, the hymns and prayers will take us in spirit to Lourdes, a place blessed by God and dear to you. At the same time, we join the faithful who have thronged the National Shrine in Washington, also dedicated to the Immaculate Virgin, where this year the principal celebrations of the World Day of the Sick take place.
As we look to the revered image of Our Lady of Lourdes, our eyes are drawn to the Rosary that hangs from her joined hands. The Virgin in prayer seems to want to renew her invitation to young Bernadette to recite the Rosary confidently. With great joy we accept this exhortation on the World Day of the Sick, an important date in the Year of the Rosary! Today Lourdes, Rome and Washington form a providential "crossroads" in a concerted invocation to the God of life that he instil confidence, comfort and hope in those who are suffering all over the world.
3. Dear sick people, the Rosary offers the Christian response to the problem of suffering, drawing it from the Easter mystery of Christ. Those who pray follow, with Mary, the whole itinerary of life and faith, an itinerary that has as an integral part human suffering, that in Christ becomes divine - human suffering, the saving Passion.
In the sorrowful mysteries we contemplate Christ who takes upon himself, we can say, all the "sickness" of the human person and of the human race. As the Lamb of God, he not only bears the burden of their consequences, but of their profound cause, that is, not just the evils, but the radical evil of sin. His struggle is not superficial but radical; his cure is not palliative but definitive.
The power through which Christ overcame the dominion of evil and healed the human person is his confident abandonment in an attitude of filial submission to the Father's will. This same attitude operates in us, thanks to the Holy Spirit, when, in the experience of sickness, we travel with Mary the way of the sorrowful mysteries.
4. Dear Brothers and Sisters, the heart of the Virgin Mary that was pierced by the sword teaches us to "learn Christ", to be conformed to him and to pray to him (cf. Apostolic Letter On the Most Holy Rosary, nn. 13-16). She guides us to proclaim his love (cf. ibid., n. 17); those who carry the cross with Jesus also offer an eloquent witness to those who are unable to believe or to hope.
In this year, troubled by such great anxiety for the future of humanity, I wished the prayer of the Rosary to have as specific intentions the cause of peace and of the family (ibid., nn. 6; 40-42).
Dear sick brothers and sisters, you are "on the front line" to intercede for these two great designs.
May your life, marked by trial, instil in everyone that hope and serenity which can only be experienced in meeting Christ. Let us entrust this hope and all our special intentions to Mary Immaculate, Health of the Sick.
To you who are here, and to your loved ones, I affectionately impart my Apostolic Blessing.
The Holy Father gave his blessing from his study window to the candlelight procession in St Peter's Square
I warmly thank you for this candlelight procession. Let us remember all the sick across the world. Let us join Our Lady of Lourdes and the sick people who are in Lourdes. Let us also join those in Washington, where this year the World Day of the Sick is being celebrated.
Esteemed Chief Rabbi of Rome,
Dear Brothers in the faith of Abraham,
1. I am glad to meet you, esteemed Dr Riccardo Di Segni, after your election as Chief Rabbi of Rome, and I cordially greet you and the representatives who have accompanied you. I renew my congratulations to you for the important office which has been entrusted to you, and on this important occasion, I would like to recall with deep esteem your illustrious predecessor, Prof. Elio Toaff.
Today's visit allows me to emphasize the deep desire of the Catholic Church to strengthen the bonds of friendship and reciprocal collaboration with the Jewish community. Here in Rome, the Synagogue, a symbol of the faith of the children of Abraham, is very close to St Peter's Basilica, the centre of the Church, and I am grateful to God who granted me on 13 April 1986, to travel the short distance that separates these two temples. That historic and unforgettable visit was a gift from the Almighty, and an important milestone on the path of understanding between Jews and Catholics. I hope that the memory of that event may continue to exercise a beneficial influence and that the path of reciprocal confidence that has developed so far will serve to intensify relations between the Catholic community and the Jewish community of Rome, the most ancient one in Western Europe.
2. It must be recognized that in the past our two communities lived side by side, at times writing "a turbulent history", that in some cases was not free of hostility and distrust. The document Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council, the gradual application of the conciliar directive, the gestures of friendship made by both parties have contributed in these years to guide our relations towards a greater reciprocal understanding. I hope that this effort may continue, that it may be shaped by initiatives of fruitful collaboration in the social, cultural and theological fields, and may deepen the consciousness of those spiritual bonds that unite us.
3. In these days we can hear resounding in the world dangerous shouts of war. We, Jews and Catholics, perceive the urgent mission of imploring peace from God, the Creator and Eternal One, and of being ourselves peacemakers.
Shalom! This beautiful word, so dear to you, means salvation, happiness, harmony; it highlights the fact that peace is a gift of God; a fragile gift, placed in human hands, that has to be safeguarded by the dedication of our communities.
May God make us builders of peace, with the consciousness that, when man works for peace, he becomes capable of making the world better.
Shalom! This is my cordial greeting to you and to the entire Jewish community of Rome. May God, in his goodness, protect and bless each one of us. May he especially bless all who forge a path of friendship and peace among the men and women of every race and culture.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I am pleased to offer my cordial welcome to this meeting, which is held in the context of the spiritual conference of the Bishops who are friends of the Focolare Movement. The theme is "Spirituality of communion: ecclesial unity and universal brotherhood". With affection I greet you all. I greet especially Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, Archbishop of Prague, and I thank him for his courteous words on behalf of those present; he has given me a general idea of your exercises. I cordially greet Chiara Lubich, Foundress of the Movement, who spoke at your conference.
In these days of reflection, exchange of witnessing and pastoral experiences, you have wished to deepen the "the spirituality of communion", responding to my invitation, expressed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, "to promote a spirituality of communion" and "to make the Church the home and the school of communion" (cf. n. 43).
Your personal reflections and mutual dialogue have helped to shed greater light on the permanent need for an authentic spirituality of communion that may more decisively invigorate the life and activities of the Christian people.
2. The "spirituality of communion" is articulated into different elements that are rooted in the Gospel and enriched by the contribution made to the entire Christian community by the Focolare Movement, committed to witnessing to the "spirituality of unity". Among other things, I would like here to mention unity as the "testament" that Jesus left to his disciples (cf. Jn Jn 17), the mystery of the crucified and abandoned Christ as the "way" to reach it, the celebration of the Eucharist as the bond of communion, the unifying and lifegiving action of the Holy Spirit in the Mystical Body of Christ and in its members, the presence of the Virgin Mary, Mother of unity, who leads us all to Christ.
Nor should we forget the dynamic character of the "spirituality of communion" that derives from the existing bond between love of God and love of neighbour. In this perspective, it is indispensable to learn the art of "beingsanctified together" in a personal and communal way. A more organic communion "between the institutional and the charismatic dimensions" of the Church is likewise necessary. Indeed, these are both co-essential dimensions, which "help to make the Mystery of Christ and his saving work present in the world" (Message to the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, n. 5; ORE, 10 June 1998, p. 2).
3. The commitment to a "spirituality of communion" gives a renewed impetus to ecumenism, since it is an incentive to identify forms and ways that will better favour the concrete realization of the longing for the unity of Christians that Jesus left to us at the Last Supper as gift and mission.
A spirituality of communion also opens up great possibilities for interreligious dialogue, which, however, as I recalled in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, cannot be founded on religious indifferentism. Nor should we fear "that it will be considered an offence to the identity of others what is rather the joyful proclamation of a gift meant for all, and to be offered to all with the greatest respect for the freedom of each one: the gift of the revelation of the God who is Love" (n. 56).
4. Venerable and dear Brothers, the effort to build a "spirituality of communion" requires that we overcome every difficulty, misunderstanding and also failure. It is necessary to continue without pausing on the path undertaken, confident of the support of divine grace to give life to a genuine "ecclesial unity" and a solid "universal brotherhood".
For this I ask Our Lady of the Holy Rosary for her motherly protection, and, as I assure you of my affection, combined with my constant remembrance in prayer, I cordially impart to each one of you present here, a special Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly extend to the communities entrusted to your pastoral care and to all your loved ones.
To His Beatitude Christodoulos
Archbishop of Athens and All Greece
"Persevere in brotherly love. Do not neglect hospitality" (He 13,1-2).
Recalling this exhortation from the Letter to the Hebrews to build our relations on that brotherly love that we must nourish for one another, I have the joy of sending you this Message, Your Beatitude, through Cardinal Walter Kasper and the Delegation of the Holy See which is visiting the Orthodox Church of Greece.
The representatives of the Holy See, invited by Your Beatitude to visit Athens, intend in this way to return the kind visit of the Delegation of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece to Rome in March last year. This is also a concrete sign of our will to persevere in brotherly love. We do not forget that duty of hospitality which must distinguish relations between Christians. Wherever they meet one another, they can meet and rediscover one another as brothers in Christ. Together, they can set out anew from Christ.
The Delegation of the Holy See will then be able to resume the topics we proposed for the consideration of Europe in our Common Declaration on the Areopagus of Athens on 4 May 2001, and continue the fruitful exchanges between the representatives of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece and those in charge of the various offices and institutions of the Holy See, which took place last March in Rome.
All this is a cause of joy and pleasure for me. The Catholic Church knows she has a mission to fulfil on the continent of Europe, at this time in history, and the responsibility she perceives coincides with that of the Orthodox Church of Greece. This responsibility constitutes the common ground on which to develop reciprocal collaboration. The future of Europe is so important that it impels us to go beyond our past of divisions, misunderstandings and reciprocal drifting apart. What is at stake is the promotion in Europe, here and now, of human and religious values, of the recognition of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities, of the protection of the sacredness of life and of the safeguard of creation. We are motivated by the deep conviction that the "old continent" must not lose the Christian riches of its cultural heritage, and must not forego any of what made it great in the past. We are conscious of the need to give a new and more decisive form to our witness of faith, so that the Christian roots of Europe may thrive on new sap, the sap of our more harmonious witness.
This collaboration, to be developed and increased, could be an effective remedy to the ideological relativism that is so widespread in Europe, to an ethical pluralism that forgets the perennial values and to a form of globalization that leaves the human being dissatisfied because it erodes the legitimate differences that have enabled the spread of so many treasures in the East and West of Europe. It is up to us to work together to achieve these important and urgent objectives.
Your Beatitude, I hope that this new contact may inspire concrete forms of cooperation between us. The Church of Rome is available for reciprocal collaboration, conscious of the need to integrate the Greek, Latin and Slav traditions of contemporary Europe, so that they may be joined together in a harmonious whole.
With these sentiments, I assure Your Beatitude of my brotherly love.
From the Vatican, 8 February 2003.
Dear Brother Bishops,
1. It is with great joy and affection in our Lord Jesus Christ that I welcome you, the Bishops of the Gambia, Liberia and Sierra Leone, on the occasion of your ad Limina visit. Through you I extend warm greetings to the clergy, religious and laity in your countries. You have come to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul to bear witness to your faith, and you bring also the devotion of your people to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, founded by Christ and spread to the ends of the earth. Indeed, the faithful of your individual communities, often despite great adversity and trials, have not failed to show the zeal of a people who have truly become "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Godís own people" (1P 2,9).
2. Members of the Catholic Church form a very small part of the population in your countries, and at times the social, political and even religious climate makes evangelization and interreligious dialogue difficult. But the Lord himself has spoken words of encouragement in this regard: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Fatherís good pleasure to give you the Kingdom" (Lc 12,32). Drawing comfort and strength from the Lordís promise, your communities effectively proclaim the Gospelís power to transform human hearts and lives. They contribute to the improvement of society through a strong and constructive Catholic presence in the fields of education, heath care and assistance to the poor. In fact, the Churchís social welfare programmes in your countries are praised by people and government alike. Through your continuing efforts in these areas you give eloquent expression to the missionary vocation, which "belongs to the very nature of Christian life" (RMi 1).
Historically, Christian minorities have found themselves in a unique position to spread Christís message to their brothers and sisters who still do not know him. Obedience to the word of God, as it is authentically proclaimed by the Church, must form the basis for your relationship with other Christian communities. As you are aware, this same word of God can also act as a fundamental point of departure for essential dialogue with the followers of African traditional religions and Islam. It is your task to continue to foster an attitude of mutual respect which avoids religious indifference and militant fundamentalism. You must remain vigilant to ensure that the truth is never silenced. This form of social stewardship requires efforts to protect a fundamental religious freedom, but a freedom which must never be exploited for political ends. At no time should anyone be punished or criticized for speaking the truth.