To my Venerable Brother
Bishop Gastone Simoni of Prato
1. The notable increase in the population and in the economic and social development of the city of Prato, with the consequent spiritual needs of the Christian community centred around the Collegiate Church of St Stephen, persuaded Innocent X, my Venerable Predecessor in the middle of the 17th century, to respond to the entreaties of the faithful by promulgating the Bull Redemptoris Nostri.
Thus, on 22 September 1653, he established the Diocese of Prato, linking it aeque principaliter, in persona episcopi, to the Church of Pistoia.
On the 350th anniversary of this joyful event, I willingly join this Diocese in raising praise and gratitude to God. I extend a cordial greeting to you, venerable Brother, and to your beloved predecessor, Bishop Pietro Fiordelli, the first residential Bishop of the diocesan Church of Prato, which Pope Pius XII, of venerable memory, separated from the Diocese of Pistoia with the Apostolic Constitution Clerus Populusque of 25 January 1954. The commemoration of these two important phases in the life of your Diocese is also enriched by the commemoration of yet another ecclesial event, the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the monastery of the Dominican Sisters of St Vincent and St Catherine De' Ricci. I very gladly join in the joy of all the inhabitants of this region, and express the hope that with confidence and hard work they will build a society that is more and more supportive, on the basis of the ancient spiritual traditions that constitute its most precious heritage.
2. On 19 March 1986, during my Visit to the city of Prato, I had the opportunity of observing how the "city and the Church" in your Diocese have been closely in step down the ages, and this has benefited the whole population. Indeed, it was thanks to the presence of an active Christian community that the people of Prato, fostering a sincere devotion to St Stephen the proto-martyr and especially to the Blessed Virgin in the cult of the Sacred Girdle, have seen various fruits of holiness mature among them.
How can we fail to remember, for example, St Catherine De' Ricci, a great Dominican mystic of the 16th century who lived in that very convent whose 500th anniversary is being celebrated? Contemplating the mysteries of Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, the signs of whose Passion were impressed on her body, she strove to adhere totally to the Gospel, practising all the Christian virtues with spiritual heroism. Her memory, together with that of the other Saints and Blesseds who have enriched the Church of Prato, has continued to be both an example for the entire diocesan community and an incentive to people who seek the truth, as well as to those excessively concerned with worldly things who are unable to raise their gaze to heaven.
3. "City and Church developed in unison". This is what I said during my Visit to Prato mentioned above, pointing out the age-old collaboration between the religious and civil Authorities. I learned with joy that, in view of this special Jubilee year, the understanding between the ecclesial and civil Authorities has been further strengthened by the creation of a committee that includes members of the Diocese and of the Municipality and Province of Prato. I warmly hope that this will enable people to appreciate to the full the re-evocation of the events that have marked the history of this region. May the progress made so far give a special impetus to the new generations who, strengthened by the values of tradition, will thus advance towards new goals of concord and civilization.
In today's socio-cultural context, the affluence of material goods, the obsessive focus on the person, the needs induced by a consumer society, may at times drown the inner voice of God, who constantly invites us to keep our personal covenant with him intact. Today there is a risk of reducing faith to a religious sentiment lived only in private, forgetting that being Christian means assuming the commitment to be apostles of Christ in the world. Adherence to his Gospel in our life opens us wide to our brothers and sisters and prompts us to "always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us]" (cf. 1P 3,15).
4. May the Jubilee that begins today, 8 September, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and will conclude on 26 December 2004, the Feast of St Stephen, Patron of the City and of the Diocese, that will echo into the autumn of 2005, be for everyone a time of conversion, of the replenishment of faith, of a reactivation of the apostolate and of renewed ecclesial communion. May this anniversary be a providential opportunity to understand better that the vocation to holiness is open to one and all, and that the new generations also should be introduced to it with courage and patience.
May the Lord help the people of Prato persevere on the path of genuine moral, civil and spiritual progress, and may the Virgin Mary, who has been venerated in the chapel dedicated to her in the cathedral church for more than six centuries, watch with motherly tenderness over all the inhabitants.
With these earnest wishes, I assure you of my remembrance in prayer, and I impart to you, dear Brother, to your Venerable Predecessor, to the priests and to the consecrated men and women as well as to all those who will be taking part in various ways in the Jubilee celebrations, an affectionate Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of heavenly favours.
From Castel Gandolfo, 8 September 2003, Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
My Dear Brothers in the Episcopacy,
1. It is with immense joy that I greet you, the Filipino Bishops from the Provinces of Cagayan de Oro, Cotabato, Davao, Lipa, Ozamis and Zamboanga, on the occasion of your visit ad Limina Apostolorum. You are the first of three groups of Filipino Bishops who, over the course of the next two months, will be coming to Rome to "see Cephas" (cf. Gal Ga 1,18), to share with him "the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties" (Gaudium et Spes GS 1) of your local communities. These days are a time of grace for you as you pray at the tombs of the Apostles and seek to be strengthened in preaching "the unsearchable riches of Christ", making known "the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things" (Ep 3,8-9).
My words to you today, and those that I shall address to your fellow Bishops when the next two groups arrive, are meant for all of you in the Philippines whose task it is to "tend the flock of God that is your charge" (1P 5,2).
2. At the beginning of this new millennium, shortly after the close of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Filipino Bishops convoked the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal, taking up once more the theme that, ten years earlier, had been the inspiration for one of the most significant events in the ecclesial life of your local Church: the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. In fact, the National Consultation focused its attention squarely on the results of the Council, taking a careful and realistic look at the continuing implementation of the decrees arising from it.
As I share my thoughts with you, I too would like to place my reflections in the context of this Council and the recommendations that came from it. Three key pastoral priorities emerged from the plenary council: the need to be a Church of the poor, the pledge to become a true community of the Lord’s disciples, and the commitment to engage in renewed integral evangelization. Since the Filipino Bishops will be making their ad Limina visits to Rome in three groups, I shall use each of these points as a broad backdrop for my comments to each group. For you, I shall start with the first priority: the Church of the poor.
3. In the Vision-Mission Statement for the Church in the Philippines, we read the simple and incisive declaration: "Following the way of our Lord, we opt to be a Church of the poor". The plenary council dealt extensively with what it means to be a Church of the poor (cf. Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, 122-136). It gave a succinct description of the Church of the poor as a community of faith that "embraces and practices the evangelical spirit of poverty, which combines detachment from possessions with a profound trust in the Lord as the sole source of salvation" (ibid., 125). This echoes the first Beatitude — "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5,3).
We do well to note that this preference for the poor is in no way exclusive but embraces all people regardless of economic class or social standing. It is a Church, however, that gives preferential attention to the poor, seeking to share time and resources in order to alleviate suffering. It is a Church that works with all sectors of society, including the poor themselves, in search of solutions to the problems of poverty, in order to free people from lives of misery and want. It is a Church moreover that makes use of the talents and gifts of the poor, relying on them in the mission of evangelization. The Church of the poor is a Church in which the poor are welcomed, listened to and actively involved.
4. In a very real way, then, a true Church of the poor contributes much to the needed transformation of society, to social renewal based on the vision and values of the Gospel. This renewal is an undertaking that has the lay faithful as its principal and essential agents: therefore, the laity must be given the necessary tools to carry out this role successfully. This entails a thorough formation in the Church’s social doctrine, and constant dialogue with clergy and religious concerning social and cultural issues. As Pastors and spiritual leaders, your careful attention to these tasks will do much to serve the Church’s mission ad gentes: for "by the grace and call of Baptism and Confirmation, all lay people are missionaries; and the arena of their missionary work is the vast and complex worlds of politics, economics, industry, education, the media, science, technology, the arts and sport" (Ecclesia in Asia ).
5. Of course, we must not lose sight of the fact that the immediate and perhaps most important arena of lay witness to Christian faith is marriage and the family. When family life is healthy and flourishing, there is likewise a strong sense of community and solidarity — two essential elements for the Church of the poor. Not only is the family an object of the Church’s pastoral care but it is also one of the most effective agents of evangelization. In fact, "Christian families are today called to witness to the Gospel in difficult times and circumstances, when the family itself is threatened by an array of forces" (ibid., 46). You and your priests, therefore, should be ever ready to help couples to relate their family life in concrete ways to the life and mission of the Church (cf. Familiaris Consortio FC 49), nourishing the spiritual life of parents and children through prayer, the word of God, the sacraments, examples of holiness of life and charity.
The witness borne by being a Church of the poor will also be of inestimable value to the family in its Christian and social vocation. Indeed, without ignoring the deleterious effects of secularism or of legislation that corrupts the meaning of family, marriage and even human life itself, we may note that poverty is certainly among the major factors exposing Filipino families to the risk of instability and fragmentation. How many children have been left to live without mother or father because one or both parents have had to seek work abroad? Moreover, the many different types of exploitation that can undermine family life — child labor, pornography, prostitution — are often linked to dire economic conditions. A Church of the poor can do much to strengthen the family and to combat human exploitation.
Before moving on from the topic of the family, I must add a word of praise for the Filipino Bishops and all who worked with you to make the Fourth World Meeting of Families, held in Manila at the beginning of this year, such a success.
6. Dear Brothers, the sharing of my thoughts with you today would be incomplete if I failed to mention the unsettling presence of terrorist activity in the Philippines and the abhorrent episodes of violence erupting there. These are indeed a cause of grave concern, and I wish you to know that I share your preoccupations and am close to you and your people in these painful and distressing circumstances. With you, I cannot condemn such acts strongly enough. I call on the parties involved to lay down the weapons of death and destruction, rejecting the despair and hatred which these entail, and to take up the arms of mutual understanding, commitment and hope. These are the sure foundations for building a future of authentic peace and justice for all.
In the campaign against terrorism and violence, religious leaders have a vital role to play. "The various Christian confessions, as well as the world’s great religions, need to work together to eliminate the social and cultural causes of terrorism. They can do this by teaching the greatness and dignity of the human person, and by spreading a clearer sense of the oneness of the human family" (Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, 12). This, my Brothers, is an explicit call for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation, which are themselves further components of a true Church of the poor. I encourage your efforts in this regard and urge you to increase the opportunities for yourselves and your communities to engage in fruitful exchanges with other believers in Christ and with your Muslim brothers and sisters.
In a special way I recommend that the Bishops-Ulama Forum emphasize at the local level the joint "Commitment to Peace" presented at the Day of Prayer for Peace held in Assisi on January 24, 2002. Two hundred religious leaders joined me at that time in condemning terrorism, and together we committed ourselves "to proclaiming our firm conviction that violence and terrorism are incompatible with the authentic spirit of religion, and . . . to doing everything possible to eliminate the root causes of terrorism" (Commitment 1). This, my Brothers, must be the clear pledge of the religious leaders in Mindanao and throughout the Philippines.
7. These then are some of the reflections that I wish to share with you. With full support for your ongoing special commitment to the poor, I commend you and your priests, religious and lay faithful to Mary, the humble and obedient handmaid of the Lord. As a pledge of grace and strength in her Son, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
1. I learned with pleasure that your Congregation will be holding a Symposium on "The anthropology of moral theology according to the Encyclical "Veritatis Splendor'". Ten years since its publication, the doctrinal value of the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor is more timely than ever. Resplendent is the destiny of those who - called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1,9) - welcome and live the truth that Jesus communicates or, more precisely, the truth that he is, and so become "salt of the earth" and "light of the world" (cf. Mt Mt 5,13).
The mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, "centre of the universe and of history" (Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis, n. 1), forms the true horizon of man's being and acting. Not only does Jesus Christ give a wise answer to humanity's religious and moral questions, but he offers himself as the decisive response, because in his mystery of "Word made flesh", the mystery of the human person truly becomes clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 22). Like the young man in the Gospel (cf. Mt Mt 19,16), the man of the third millennium also turns to Jesus, the Good Teacher, to obtain from him the light of truth concerning what is good and evil.
2. To start afresh from Christ, contemplate his face, follow him with perseverance: these are the teachings that Veritatis Splendor continues to propose to us. Beyond transitory cultural changes, there are essential realities that do not change, but rather find their utmost foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever. "Christ is the "Beginning' who, having taken on human nature, definitively illumines it in its constitutive elements and in its dynamism of charity towards God and neighbour" (n. 53).
The main reference to Christian morality, therefore, is not the culture of man, but the project of God in creation and in redemption. In the paschal mystery and in the mystery of our adoption as children, the dignity of humanity's origin emerges.
3. Certainly, today, the formation of the faithful's mature conscience according to the truth is becoming increasingly difficult for the Pastors of the Church, scholars and teachers of Christian morality, in an atmosphere of widespread relativism in regard to the moral law, hostile to the saving truth. I therefore exhort all of the Symposium participants to deepen the essential bond that exists between truth, goodness and freedom. Such a relation, other than in the nature of the human being, has its ontological foundation in the Incarnation and finds itself renewed and revealed in the historic-salvific event of the cross of our Redeemer.
The vital secret of the Church exists in keeping her gaze fixed on the Crucified One and in proclaiming his redeeming sacrifice: "Contemplation of Jesus Crucified is thus the highroad which the Church must tread every day if she wishes to understand the full meaning of freedom: the gift of self in service to God and one's brethren. Communion with the Crucified and Risen Lord is the never-ending source from which the Church draws unceasingly in order to live in freedom, to give of herself and to serve" (ibid., n. 87).
The truth of Christian morality, sealed by the cross of Jesus, has become the new law of the People of God in the Holy Spirit. The answer it gives to modern man's request for happiness has the power and wisdom of Christ crucified, Truth which is given out of love.
4. To all of you attending this important Symposium, I wish to express, in conclusion, my thanks and best wishes. My thanks is intended especially for you, for your consistent loyal collaboration with the Magisterium of the Church through your commitment to researching and deepening Catholic doctrine in the field of morality. Such obedience to truth is the preferred way for its comprehension and application.
My wish is that the work achieved in this Symposium, your probings and wise intuitions, may serve to enlighten the Pastors and all the faithful more and more so as to keep alive in the Church that communio caritatis that is founded on the communio veritatis.
My Blessing to all!
From Castel Gandolfo, 24 September 2003
On the occasion of the Interreligious Congress taking place at Astana on the role of religions in the present global context filled with dangers for world peace I am pleased to send cordial greetings to the President of the Congress, His Excellency Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev, and to all the participants, to whom I wish every success in their deliberations.
In the spirit of Assisi, this new initiative of the Kazakhstan Authorities will help to promote respect for human dignity, the defence of religious freedom and the growth of mutual understanding among peoples, convinced as we are that religion, properly understood, shows itself to be a solid instrument for the promotion of peace. For this purpose the Catholic Church, on the basis of the revealed teaching living within her, is committed to support every sincere effort in favour of a genuine peace based on truth, justice, love and freedom.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am delighted to address this Message to you, distinguished theologians, philosophers and experts, participants in the International Thomistic Congress that is taking place in Rome in these days. I am grateful to the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas and to the International Society of Thomas Aquinas, Thomistic institutions well known in the scientific world, for organizing this meeting, as well as for the service they render to the Church by promoting deeper knowledge of the Angelic Doctor's teaching.
I warmly greet everyone present, with a special thought for Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, for Fr Abelardo Lobato, President of both the Academy and the International Society of Thomas Aquinas, and for the Secretary, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. To one and all I offer a most cordial welcome.
2. The theme of the Congress - "Christian humanism in the third millennium" - continues along the lines of the research on man that you began at your two previous Congresses. According to the perspective of St Thomas, the great theologian also described as Doctor humanitatis, human nature is in itself open and good. Man is naturally capax Dei (fit to receive God) (Summa Theologiae, I, II, 113, 10; St Augustine, De Trinit. XIV, 8; PL 42, 1044), created to live in communion with his Creator; he is a free and intelligent individual, integrated in the community with his own duties and rights; he is the connecting link between the two great spheres of reality, the material and the spiritual, and fully belongs to both. The soul is the unifying part of the person's being and makes him a person. In man, St Thomas observes, grace does not destroy nature but fulfils its potential: "gratia non tollit naturam, sed perficit" (Summa Theologiae, I, I, 8 ad 2).
3. The Second Vatican Council made room for Christian humanism in its documents, starting with the fundamental principle that "man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator" (Gaudium et Spes GS 14). Yet another striking insight comes from Vatican II: "It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (ibid., n. 22).
With profound anticipation, Aquinas had already placed himself in this perspective: from the very beginning of the Summa Theologiae, which focuses on the relationship between man and God, he sums up the plan of his future exposition in a concentrated but clear formula: "primo tractabimus de Deo; secundo de motu rationalis creaturae in Deum; tertio de Cristo, qui secundum quod homo, via est nobis tendendi in Deum" (Summa Theologiae, I, I 2,0, Prologue).
The Angelic Doctor probes reality from the point of view of God, the beginning and end of all things (cf. ibid., I, 1, 7). This perspective is an unusually interesting one because it permits us to penetrate the depths of the human being in order to grasp the essential dimensions. It is here that we find the distinctive feature of Thomistic humanism which, in the opinion of many scholars, assures the correct approach and consequently, the possibility for ever new developments. In fact, Aquinas' concept integrates and binds together the three dimensions of the problem: the anthropological, ontological and theological.
4. Now you are asking - this is, distinguished participants, the theme of your Congress - what specific contribution can St Thomas make to the understanding and fulfilment of Christian humanism at the beginning of the new millennium. If it is true that the whole of the first part of his great work, the Summa Theologiae, focuses entirely on God, it is nonetheless also true that the second part, more innovative and longer, is directly concerned with man's long journey towards God. In it, the human person is considered the protagonist of a precise divine plan for whose implementation not only natural but also supernatural resources have been provided. Thanks to them, he is able to respond to the exalted vocation reserved for him in Jesus Christ, true man and true God. In the third part, St Thomas recalls that the incarnate Word, precisely because he is true man, reveals in himself the dignity of every human creature and constitutes for the whole cosmos the way back to its origin: God.
Christ, therefore, is the true way of man. In the Prologue to Book III of the Sentences, St Thomas, summing up humanity's journey in three stages - origin, historical and eschatological - notes that each thing comes from the hands of God, from which rivers of goodness flow. All is concentrated in man, and in the first place in the God-man, who is Christ; all things must return to God through Christ and the Christians (cf. In III Sent., Prol.).
5. St Thomas' humanism thus rotates within this essential intuition: man comes from God and must return to him. Time is the context in which man can bring his noble mission to fulfilment, making the most of the opportunities offered to him by both nature and grace.
Certainly, God alone is the Creator. He has deigned, however, to entrust to his rational and free creatures the task of completing his work with their labour. When man cooperates actively with grace he becomes "a new man" who, to better respond to God's plan, draws benefits from his supernatural vocation (cf. Gn Gn 1,26). St Thomas maintains rightly, therefore, that the truth of human nature finds total fulfilment through sanctifying grace, since this is "perfectio naturae rationalis creatae" (Quodlib., 4, 6).
6. How enlightening this truth is for the man of the third millennium, constantly in search of his own self-fulfilment! In the Encyclical Fides et Ratio, I analyzed the factors that are obstacles in the process of humanism. Among the most common should be mentioned the loss of faith in reason and in its ability to arrive at the truth, the refusal of transcendence, nihilism, relativism, the forgetfulness of being, the denial of the soul, the prevalence of the irrational or feeling, the fear of the future and existential anxiety. To respond to this very serious challenge that affects the future prospects of humanism itself, I showed how the thought of St Thomas, with his strong faith in reason and clear explanation of the functions of nature and grace, can offer the rudiments of an effective response.
Christian humanism, as St Thomas demonstrated, has an ability to preserve the meaning of man and his dignity. This is the exalting task entrusted to his disciples today!
The Christian knows that the future of the human being and of the world is in the hands of divine Providence, and this provides a constant reason for hope and inner peace. However, the Christian also knows that God, moved by his love for man, asks him to collaborate in improving the world and in governing history's events. In this difficult beginning of the third millennium, many clearly perceive, even to the point of suffering, the need for teachers and witnesses who are able to demonstrate valid ways that lead to a world more worthy of man. It is the historical task of believers to propose Christ as "the way" by which to advance toward that new humanity which is in God's plan. It is clear, therefore, that one priority of the new evangelization consists precisely in helping the man of our time to encounter God personally and to live with him and for him.
7. Although St Thomas was firmly rooted in his own day and in medieval culture, he developed a teaching that goes beyond the conditioning of the time in which he lived and can still offer today fundamental guidelines for contemporary reflection. His doctrine and example are a provident reminder of those unchanging, perennial truths that are indispensable if we are to foster an existence that is truly worthy of man.
In the hope that your exchange of ideas in the course of the Congress sessions will be fruitful, I urge each of you who are taking part in it to persevere in your reflection on the riches of Thomistic teaching, drawing from the example of the Gospel "scribe", "what is new and what is old" (Mt 13,52).
I entrust the results of your research and in particular, of your International Congress, to the Virgin Mary, Sedes Sapientiae who gave Christ, the "New Man" to the world, and I wholeheartedly send my Blessing to you all.
From Castel Gandolfo, 20 September 2003
To the Right Reverend Hermenegild J. Noyens, O. Praem.
Abbot General Emeritus
and to all the Participants of the General Chapter
of the Canons Regular of Prémontré
With affection in the Lord, it gives me great pleasure to greet you, Canons Regular of Prémontré, on the occasion of your General Chapter. I thank Abbot General Emeritus Hermenegild J. Noyens for his words of affection and devotion and assure you all of my spiritual closeness as you prepare to elect your new Abbot General.
The Canons Regular of Prémontré, in their long and illustrious history, have contributed significantly to the growth and life of the Church, especially in Europe, and I join with you today in giving thanks to God for all the blessings which He has bestowed upon you over the many centuries of your existence. Consecrated life and its witness to the saving message of Jesus Christ has played a fundamental role in the evangelisation of Europe and in the shaping of its Christian identity. Just as Pope Gregory VII’s call to renewal was embraced by Saint Norbert, so the Church today looks to his spiritual sons to contribute with enthusiasm to the challenges posed by preaching the Gospel at the dawn of the Third Millennium. “Europe will always need the holiness, prophetic witness, evangelising activity and service of consecrated persons” (Ecclesia in Europa, 37).
In more recent years your Order has extended its presence to various parts of the world and has sought to serve the Church through new forms of the apostolate. These will always demand a genuine commitment to imitate, in the spirit of your founder, the example of the early Church, by living and promoting the ideal of “cor unum et anima una” (cf. Acts Ac 4,32). This witness to “koinonia” will be a powerful sign and source of hope for a world confronted with exaggerated forms of individualism and social fragmentation. In light of this, I urge you to continue to foster a spirit of fraternal charity, lived in the name of Jesus and in his love.