Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Married Couples,
1. I am happy to welcome you for the Fifteenth Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. To everyone a cordial greeting. I thank Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council, for the kind words he addressed on behalf of everyone who is present. I wish to thank each of you and also those who are on the staff of the Council for carrying out with generosity and competence such an important mission for the Church and for society to serve the family, the domestic church and the cradle of life.
Much has been done in these years, much remains to be done. I encourage you not to be discouraged by the immensity of the challenge today, but continue without hesitation to fulfill the duty of safeguarding and promoting the immeasurable good of marriage and the family. On this endeavour, to a great extent, depend the destiny of society and the future of evangelization.
The theme of your plenary meeting is very timely: The Pastoral Care of the Family and of Couples in Difficulty. This is a broad and complex topic; you will deal with only a few aspects since you have had the opportunity to examine it on other occasions. In this regard, I would like to offer you a few starting points for your reflection and guidance.
2. In a world that is becoming ever more secularized, the great task of the believing family is to become conscious of its own vocation and mission. In every circumstance, the starting point for this work is to safeguard and intensify prayer, an unceasing prayer to the Lord to increase one's faith and make it more vigorous. As I wrote in the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae: "The family that prays together, stays together" (n. 41).
It is true that, when one goes through difficult times, the support of science can be of great help, but nothing can replace an ardent, personal and confident faith that is open to the Lord, who said, "Come to me, all you labour and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest" (Mt 11,28).
The indispensable source of energy and renewal, when frailty and weakness increase, is the encounter with the living Christ, Lord of the Covenant. This is why you must develop an intense spiritual life and open your soul to the Word of life. In the depths of the heart the voice of God must be heard, even if at times it seems to be silent, in reality it resounds continually in the heart and accompanies us along the path that can have its burden of sorrow as happened to the two travellers of Emmaus.
Special care must be shown to young spouses so that they do not surrender in the face of problems and conflicts. Prayer, frequent recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation, spiritual direction, must never be abandoned with the idea that one can replace them with other techniques of human and psychological support. We must never forget what is essential, namely, to live in the family under the tender and merciful gaze of God.
The richness of the sacramental life, in the life of the family, that participates in the Eucharist every Sunday (cf. Dies Domini, n. 81) is undoubtedly the best antidote for confronting and overcoming obstacles and tensions.
3. This is even more necessary when there abound lifestyles, fashion and cultures that bring into doubt the value of the marriage, even reaching the point of holding that it is impossible to realize the mutual gift of self in marriage until death in joyful fidelity (cf. Letter to Families LF 10). Human frailty grows if the divorce mentality dominates, something that the Council denounced with such vigour because it leads so often to separations and definitive break-ups. Even a bad education for sexuality harms the life of the family. When there is lacking an integral preparation for marriage that respects the gradual stages of the maturation of the engaged couple (cf. Familiaris consortio FC 66), in the family this lessens the possibility of defence.
There is no difficult situation that cannot be adequately confronted when one cultivates a genuine atmosphere of Christian life. Love itself, wounded by sin, is still a redeemed love (cf. CCC, CEC 1608). It is clear that, if sacramental life is weak, the family yields more easily to snares because it is deprived of any defences.
How important it is to foster family support for couples, especially young couples, by families who are spiritually and morally solid. It is a fruitful and necessary apostolate at this time in history.
4. I would like to offer a reflection on the dialogue that should go on at home in the formation of the children. Often there is no time to live and dialogue in the family. Many times parents do not feel prepared and even fear to assume what is their duty, the task of the integral education of their children. It might be that, due to the lack of any dialogue, the children feel serious obstacles when it comes to seeing in their parents genuine models to imitate, and look elsewhere for models and lifestyles that are often false and harmful to human dignity and to genuine love. The trivialization of sex in a society that is saturated with eroticism, and the lack of any reference to ethical principles, can ruin the life of children, adolescents and youth, preventing their being formed in a responsible, mature love and in the harmonious development of their personality.
5. Dear Brothers and Sisters, thank you for the attention that you dedicate in your plenary assembly to such a timely topic that I have very much at heart. May God help you to focus on what is most useful for families today. Continue to prepare with enthusiasm for the World Family Day that will be held in Manila in January of the coming year.
I heartily hope that the convention that I convoked during the observance of the Jubilee of the Family and for which I assigned the theme: The Christian Family: Good News for the Third Millennium, might foster the missionary zeal of families around the world.
I entrust all of this to Mary, Queen of the Family. May she accompany and protect you always. With affection I bless you and those who collaborate with you in the service of the true good of the family.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate!
1. "Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her" (Ep 5,25).
I am pleased to recall this affirmation of the Letter to the Ephesians in receiving you today, Bishops of Maranhão, and welcome this occasion to share with you the richness of the pastoral ministry which was given to us by Christ. Meeting with you personally over the past few days, I was delighted with your apostolic zeal, that has as its source and model the gift of self of Christ to which St Paul refers in his Letter.
I embrace you with esteem, dear Brothers, and, particularly, I embrace those among you who have recently begun pastoral service. I thank you for the words addressed to me in your name by Bishop Affonso Felippe Gregory, Bishop of Imperatriz and President of the Northeast Region 5, referring to the current state of the Christian communities entrusted to you, whom I fondly remember from my second pastoral visit to your country.
2. The fundamental mission of the Bishop is evangelization, a work to be carried out not only individually, but also as a Church; it is a mission which unfolds in the threefold function of teaching, sanctifying, and governing.
As vicars and ambassadors of Christ, you are called primarily to offer a clear and vigorous proclamation of the Gospel, in a way that embraces the entire existence of the Christian. It is proclaimed with words, without which the apostolic value of good actions loses its lustre. It is proclaimed with acts of charity, that are a living witness of the faith, remembering to include the spiritual works of mercy along with material works. Charitable actions cannot be separated from the Word of Christ out of a poorly interpreted sense of respect for the convictions of others. It is not charity to leave others in the dark with regard to the truth; it is not charity to feed the poor or visit the sick and offer them human resources without speaking to them the Word that saves.
"Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col 3,17).
3. As we know, Maranhão participated in the beginnings of Brazil's history of evangelization, during which, in the second half of the 17th century, its Church was a suffragan of the ecclesiastical province of Bahía. From the beginning, your State became the centre for the missionary action of great religious families - Jesuits, Capuchins, Mercedarians, etc. - many of which continue to offer their collaboration to the pastoral action of the greater part of your Dioceses. Thanks are due to Almighty God for the evangelizing work carried out there, which the Successor of Peter desires to promote with "grace ... and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rm 1,7).
The Gospel, preached with faithfulness by the Pastors as "teachers of the faith" and defenders of the Truth which sets us free, is something which will always be the common denominator for each of our encounters. The difficulties which you meet in carrying out your pastoral mission are not unknown to me: the lack of jobs and housing for many people (I think specifically of the problems connected with migration from rural areas to the city), and the problems related to basic education and health care in many sectors of society, which, together with the social inequalities and the aggressive presence of sects, are factors that give rise to uncertainty when you define your pastoral priorities.
While keeping in mind the complex social problems that exist in your regions, it is necessary not to reduce pastoral action to the temporal and earthly dimension. It is impossible to think, for example, of the challenges of the Church in Brazil as limited to certain important but contingent issues, related to local politics, land concentration, the environment and other factors. To apply to the Church a political model, where the decisions are voted upon by a "base" that is limited to the poor and the marginalized of society, excluding the presence of all sectors of the People of God, would alter the original redemptive message Christ proclaimed.
4. This same Son, sent by the Father, entrusted the Apostles with the mission of instructing "all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28,19-20). Christ's solemn mission to announce the salvific Truth of the faith was passed on from the Apostles to the Bishops, their successors, who are called to carry it to the farthest ends of the earth (cf. Acts Ac 1,8), "for the building up of the body of Christ" (Ep 4,12) which is the Church.
The Bishops are called by the Holy Spirit to take the place of the Apostles, as Pastors of the Particular Churches. They are therefore clothed with a power which "is not diminished by the supreme and universal power. On the contrary, it is affirmed, strengthened, and vindicated thereby" (Lumen gentium LG 27). Together with the Supreme Pontiff and under his authority, the Bishops have the mission of carrying out the work of Christ, the eternal Pastor. In fact, our Saviour gave to the Apostles and their successors the mandate and the power to teach all the nations, to sanctify men in the truth and to govern them (cf. Christus Dominus CD 2). Before reflecting upon the threefold dimension of this pastoral mission, I want to emphasize above all the centre toward which all of your activities must converge: "The mystery of Christ as the basis of the Church's mission" (Encyclical Letter, Redemptor hominis, n. 11). He who, in some way, participates in the mission of the Church must grow in faithful adherence to the mandate received. This is especially true for Bishops who have been, so to speak, "inserted" into the mystery of Christ in a special way. Clothed in the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, the Bishop is called to propose and to live the integral mystery of the Master (cf. Christus Dominus CD 12) in the Dioceses entrusted to him. It is the mystery which contains "unsearchable riches" (Ep 3,8). Let us preserve this treasure!
5. In the threefold ministry of Bishops, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, the preaching of the Gospel has an eminent place. Pastors must principally be "preachers of the faith who lead new disciples to Christ" (Lumen gentium LG 25). As one "rightly handling the word of truth" (II Tm 2,15), we must together transmit what we ourselves receive: not our poor words, however learned they may be, since we preach not ourselves but the revealed Truth, which must be transmitted with faithfulness in conformity with the teachings of the Church.
The ministry to teach presents its own difficulties due to the illiteracy of adults and children, although the results of the last census showed an encouraging increase in the average years of study among the poorest people.
On the other hand, fragile marriages, child violence, and malnutrition remain prevalent; connected with these are problems of housing, the lack of basic slum clearance in many places, and the evident, at times negative, influence of the means of social communication. These in particular, when directed toward today's widespread mentality which excludes from public life questions about the ultimate truths, confine religious faith and convictions about moral values to the private sphere. Society runs the risk that laws which exercise a strong influence on the thought and behaviour of men, leave aside the Christian moral foundation of society.
Dear Brothers, you know that it is the fundamental duty of the Bishop, as Pastor, to invite the members of the Particular Churches entrusted to him to accept the teaching of the Church in all of its fullness with regard to questions of faith and morals. We must not become discouraged if, at times, the preaching of the Word is only partially welcomed. With the help of Christ, who conquers the world (cf. Jn Jn 16,33), the most effective remedy is to proceed "in season and out of season" (II Tm 4,2), in the steady yet courageous spreading of the Gospel.
May these commitments be made with the youth of your State especially in mind, who, in the capital for instance, make up half of the population. In carrying out your ecclesial ministry of teaching, in union with your priests and collaborators in catechesis, give particular attention to the formation of the moral conscience, which must be respected as the "sanctuary" of man alone with God, whose voice resounds in the intimacy of the heart (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 16). Remind your faithful with equal fervour, furthermore, that the conscience is an exacting tribunal whose judgement must always be conformed to the moral norms revealed by God and proposed with authority by the Church, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.
A clear and unambiguous teaching on these themes can only positively influence the necessary return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which unfortunately has been largely abandoned, even in the Catholic regions of your country.
6. With regard to the mission to sanctify, "the Bishop is to be considered the high priest of his flock. In a certain sense it is from him that the faithful who are under his care derive and maintain their life in Christ" (Sacrosanctum concilium SC 41). For this reason he is, so to speak, the "first liturgist" of his Diocese and the principal dispenser of the Mysteries of God, organizing, promoting, and defending the liturgical life in the Particular Church entrusted to him (cf. Christus Dominus CD 15).
To this end, I heartily recommend to you the two fundamental sacraments of the Christian life: Baptism and the Eucharist. After being elevated to the Chair of Peter, I approved the Instruction on the Baptism of Children, in which the Church confirmed the practice of infant baptism, in use since the beginning. In your local Churches the need to administer Baptism only when there is a realistic hope that the child will be educated in the Catholic faith is rightly insisted upon, so that the sacrament can bear fruit (cf. CIC CIC 868,2). At times, however, the norms of the Church are interpreted in a restrictive manner, neglecting the greater good of souls. It then happens, in certain circumstances, that parents are put off and ultimately refused the Baptism of their children. It is right that parents and godparents be fittingly prepared for the Baptism of their children, but it is also important that the first sacrament of Christian initiation is seen primarily as a free gift of God the Father, since "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn 3,5).
Given the duly justified need of preparing parents and godparents, pastoral prudence and goodness are needed. We cannot require from adults of good will who themselves have not been formed with an apposite understanding of the need for catechesis. When Baptism is requested, the opportunity should be taken to begin to offer catechesis to the parents, enabling them better to understand the Sacrament and so to give a Christian education to the new member of the family. In any case, one must never put out the existing flame, but rather one needs to create new modes of evangelization adapted to the world of today and to the needs of the people. The Bishop is primarily responsible that all priests, deacons, and pastoral workers should have the necessary zeal, good will, and patience with less educated people.
Another fundamental task of our priestly ministry consists in reaffirming the vital role of the Eucharist as "source and culmination of the whole Christian life" (Lumen gentium LG 11). The service of the Bishops and priests not only culminates in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice, but in it the life of all the other members of the Body of Christ finds its dynamic centre. A shortage of priests as well as the uneven distribution, and the worrying decrease in the number of those who regularly attend Sunday Mass, present a constant challenge for your Churches. It is evident that this situation suggests a temporary solution which risks a progressive spiritual impoverishment. The incomplete sacramental character of liturgical functions carried out by non-ordained persons (lay or religious), must therefore compel the entire parish community to pray with greater fervour that the Lord send laborers into His harvest (cf. Mt Mt 9,38).
7. Finally, a word on the mission to govern which has been entrusted to you. In the exercise of this duty, you certainly keep before you the image of the Good Shepherd, who came not to be served but to serve (cf. Mt Mt 20,28) In this regard, I especially recommend to you the priests of your local Churches, for whom, as Bishops, you constitute "the visible principle and foundation of unity" (Lumen gentium LG 23). Taking care of your priests is a very exacting service, especially when the fruits of pastoral work are slow in coming, and there is a possible temptation to give in to discouragement and sadness. Many Pastors have the impression that they work not in an evangelical vineyard but in an arid desert.
I know the weight of the daily tasks related to your ministry. Above all, with paternal solicitude, I remember the clear and feeling words of the Second Vatican Council: "Therefore, on account of this communion in the same priesthood and ministry, the bishop should regard priests as his brothers and friends. As far as in him lies, he should have at heart the material and especially spiritual welfare of his priests.... He should gladly listen to them, indeed, consult them, and have discussions with them about those matters which concern the necessities of pastoral work and the welfare of the diocese" (Presbyterorum ordinis PO 7). "With active mercy a bishop should attend upon priests who are in any sort of danger or who have failed in some respect" (Christus Dominus CD 16).
8. In the face of the immensity of the mission which has been entrusted to you, dear Brothers, never be defeated by tiredness or discouragement, since the Risen Lord walks with you and makes your efforts fruitful. It is true that there are many pressing pastoral matters, but the human and spiritual resources upon which you can depend are likewise considerable. The work of leading this People of God to the fullness of faithful response to the Divine plan belongs to you.
May Mary accompany you in this difficult but joyful journey. To each one of you, as well as to the priests, the consecrated, and to all of the faithful of your Communities, I impart my heartfelt Blessing.
To my Dear Brother Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini,
President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care
1. The celebration in Rome of the Sixth Annual Conference of the International Institute for Research on the Face of Christ, gives me the chance to extend my cordial greetings to you, Your Eminence, and to express my heartfelt pleasure at the contribution which the Conference will certainly make to the study of this important topic. In collaboration with the Benedictine Congregation of the Reparation Sisters of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and, with exemplary perseverance and growing enthusiasm, you continue to invite renowned academics from every part of the world, enriched by the most varied cultural preparation to study this relevant theme of evangelization more profoundly. Indeed, "the Kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a programme subject to free interpretation, but is before all else a Person with the Face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God" (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, n. 18).
I want to express my grateful appreciation to you, dear Cardinal, for having chosen as this year's theme of study on the doctrine, spirituality and devotion to the Holy Face of Christ, my own teaching and pastoral ministry in this field: a teaching and ministry which have emphasized the special reference to the Person of Christ from my first Encyclical Redemptor hominis (4 March 1979) through my most recent documents.
At the conclusion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 I affirmed: "And is it not the Church's task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his Face shine also before the generations of the new millennium? Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face" (Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, 6 January 2001, n. 16).
2. In enthusiastically encouraging the contribution of many renowned academics, researchers, theologians, writers and artists to the study of the Face of Christ, the International Institute for Research makes a significant and authoritative contribution to the presentation of the human and divine figure of Christ, contributing to the growth in understanding on the level of theological reflection as well as of pastoral practice.
On the level of theological reflection, since "only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man become clear" (Gaudium et spes GS 22), the study of the Face of Christ, prefigured in the Psalms and in the Prophets and richly described in the New Testament, becomes the way to an ever deeper Christological and anthropological understanding. Besides, on the level of pastoral practice, the Church, teacher of humanity, recognizes in the Face of Christ, suffering and risen, the truest and most profound face of the human person to whom Christ offers redemption and salvation. The contemplation of the Face of Christ, therefore, proposes to us that lived theology of the Saints, which is the striking witness of the true following of Jesus and the valid support for an effective Christian catechesis in our time.
Your Eminence, the ecumenical value of the contemplation of the Face of Christ cannot be ignored. In the ever more profound study of those holy features, the East and the West meet and complement each other, as one can see from the contributions to the series of Conferences that the International Institute for Research on the Face of Christ have dedicated to this topic.
3. In the hope that this Sixth Conference on the Face of Christ may be fruitful, I ask you, dear Cardinal, to represent my spiritual presence during the work of the Conference and convey my best wishes to the honoured contributors, participants, and those who, in many varied ways, support the activity and the initiatives of this International Institute. In particular, I wish you to convey my loving encouragement to the members of the Benedictine Congregation of the Reparation Sisters of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who assist you in your diligent activity with praiseworthy devotion.
Entrusting your work, and that of all those taking part in the Conference in various ways, to the heavenly intercession of the Most Holy Virgin, honoured Brother, I send to you all a special, heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 19 October 2002.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am happy to welcome you this morning. With affection I greet you. I offer a special greeting to the Cardinals, Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Men and Women Religious.
We are in October, the month dedicated in a special way to the Rosary, "a prayer loved by a great number of saints" (Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, n. 1). In this context, we wish to reflect again on "the great things" God has done through the new Blesseds whom the Church presents to us as models to imitate and as our powerful intercessors with God.
2. I am pleased to greet the pilgrims who have come from Uganda, accompanied by Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala, as well as those from other parts of Africa and from other regions of the world to celebrate the beatification of Blessed Daudi Okelo and Blessed Jildo Irwa. As we noted yesterday, these two young catechists are a shining example of fidelity to Christ, commitment to Christian living and selfless dedication to the service of neighbour. With their hope firmly set on God and with a deep faith in Jesus' promise to be with them always, they set out to bring the Good News of salvation to their fellow countrymen, fully accepting the difficulties and dangers that they knew awaited them. May their witness serve to strengthen you as you seek to bear true Christian witness in every aspect of your lives. Through their intercession may the Church be an ever more effective instrument of goodness and peace in Africa and in the world. God bless Uganda.
3. I now speak to the faithful of the diocese of Treviso, accompanied by Bishop Paolo Magnani, who rejoice for the elevation to the glory of the altars their previous zealous and enlightened Pastor, Andrea Giacinto Longhin. I greet along with them with affection the dear Capuchin Friars.
Bishop Longhin devoted a great deal of attention to the formation of the clergy. In his spiritual testament he wished to share a special thought with his priests, exhorting them: "Become saints". He was always their attentive and loving father, as he was for all his people, especially for the humble and the poor.
The fruitfulness of the episcopal ministry of Blessed Longhin was expressed in the three pastoral visits he accomplished in the diocese, in the celebration of a Eucharistic Congress and a Catechetical Congress, in the realization of what can be considered his masterpiece, the diocesan Synod. He continues to be a very timely example of true evangelization.
4. A profound missionary yearning defines the life and spirituality of Blessed Marcantonio Durando. I am happy to great Cardinal Severino Poletto, Archbishop of Turin, and the Fathers of the Congregation of the Mission and those who make up the great Vincentian religious family, that rejoices for the enrollment of one of their more illustrious members in the list of the Blesseds.
Defined by one of his confreres as "the St Vincent of Italy", he shone for the extraordinary charity that he knew how to infuse into every work he touched: from the activity of governing the community to the popular missions; from the spiritual guidance of the Daughters of Charity to the initiative of the "Centres of Mercy", a true and real anticipation of the modern centres for receiving and assisting the poor; and the founding of the "Nazarene Sisters" with their mission of taking care of the sick in their homes.
How much we need today this deep reminder of the roots of charity and evangelization. From the example of Blessed Marcantonio we should learn how to place ourselves in our turn at the service of the poor and most destitute, who are present even in today's society of well-being.
5. Dear pilgrims who have come to celebrate the beatification of Mary of the Passion, I am pleased to welcome you. I greet the Superior General of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and the new Councillors. Dear Sisters, I thank God for your vocation that joins contemplation and mission, and for the valuable witness of your international communities, sign of fraternity and reconciliation among peoples. I encourage you to grow ever more in your fraternal love in a climate full of Franciscan joy and simplicity. I invite you to continue with charity and truth the dialogue you have begun with other cultures. In deepening your approach to the rich spirituality of your Foundress, may you help young people discover the joy of giving themselves entirely to Christ. To those faithful present, to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, to the persons who work with them and who benefit from their apostolate, I whole-heartedly impart my Apostolic Blessing.
6. Finally, I greet the pilgrims who have come for the beatification of Liduina Meneguzzi, from the diocese of Padua with Archbishop Antonio Mattiazzo, their bishop, and the Sisters of St Francis de Sales, known as the Salesian Sisters. The more living and concrete dimension that characterizes the life of Sister Liduina is her profoundly missionary soul. In Africa she made herself "all things to all" in charity, assisting the injured, encouraging the afflicted and consoling the dying.
Sr Liduina impels us to love life from its first beginning to its natural sunset; to respect every human being, finding the response to the love of God in the generous and unselfish gift of self. This is the message full of joy and optimism with which the new Blessed invites us to open ourselves generously to the action of the grace of God.
7. Dear Brothers and Sisters, the new Blesseds impel and support our path to the Lord. The maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary accompanies us whom we invoke in the month of October in a special way as we pray the Rosary.
While I entrust you and your activities to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and the new Blesseds, I wholeheartedly bless you along with your loved ones and those whom you meet in your missionary and charitable service.