Speeches 1979 - TO THE YOUNG PEOPLE GATHERED IN THE VATICAN BASILICA
Wednesday, 28 February 1979
I am happy, beloved Sisters in Christ, at this meeting which you so greatly desired. Addressing an affectionate greeting to you, I wish to remind you with what great motherly solicitude the Church looks to your commitment of prayer, contemplation, and sacrifice.
To attend to God is considered by the master's of spiritual life to be the most noble and lofty form of activity of the human being, in that the latter concentrates the whole of himself in worshipping and listening to the Infinite Being, who desires the salvation of all mankind. It is understandable, then, how this prayer of praise is accompanied by prayer of propitiation and supplication in order that the divine will may be accomplished.
And the more innocent and pure the soul that presents the prayer, the more acceptable it is to God. Here, then, is the precious form of collaboration that you, enclosed nuns of eminently contemplative life, offer to the Church for the good of souls.
Not only do I ask you to persevere in your generous resolutions, but I exhort you to advance more and more in friendship with God, to stir up continually the flame of love, as it were, volcanoes covered with snow. In the present time with all its difficulties, may your prayer, nourished by sacrifice in solitude and silence, draw God's merciful goodness upon the earth. And with this wish I invoke divine assistance on the whole Community and I bless you paternally.
I AM HAPPY to have this opportunity to greet a group of students studying art in Rome. The Church is always eager to repeat her love and esteem for students. The Church in Rome in particular is pleased to welcome you and to show you the tradition of art of which she is the faithful custodian and the earnest promoter.
And the Church hopes that through the beauty of this City and her art you will be led to a greater insight into the mystery of man, who is the centre of all things on earth. At the same time, the Church holds and professes, and offers to everyone, Christ as "the key, the centre and the goal of all human history".
Dear young people, in your studies I pray that you will encounter Christ, in all his humanity, in all his divinity! God bless you all.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Young Men,
I am deeply happy to receive you and to express to you my sincere gratitude for the kind thought and the deep faith that have brought you here.
I address my cordial greeting to the Authorities, and in the first place to the Minister for Defence, the Heads of the General Staff, the Officers and Representatives of all branches of the Army, the Personnel of the Medical Corps, members of the various services, the ladies of the Aid Association, Sisters of the military hospitals and Red Cross nurses; and I intend to extend my thought also to all the persons dear to you.
In particular, I greet you young men who are doing your military service, and I am happy to stress that what I see in you above all is youth, always generous and bold in its aspirations, in its deep sentiments, in its ideals, in its demands before the great choices of life. Then, I see in you Italy, your native land, this inspiring and privileged nation, loved and visited by all peoples of the world, and to which other nations look with admiration because of Peter's See and because of the incalculable treasures of art, literature, and natural beauties which have induced great poets and thinkers of the whole world to describe it and sing of it as the "country" of the heart. I also see in you, in the uniform you wear, the testimony of a solemn commitment for the defence of the fundamental values of freedom, order, justice, and peace.
Reflecting now for a moment on your youthful age and your present task, and including also all your Italian friends whom you represent here, I wish to express some thoughts which occur spontaneously to me,
1. Yours is the age of the supreme question: what is the meaning of life? And consequently, what is the meaning of man's history?
This is certainly the most dramatic and also the most noble question which really stamps man in his nature as a person, intelligent and volitive. Man, in fact, cannot confine himself within the limit of time, the circle of matter, the knot of an immanent and self-sufficient existence. He can try to do so, he can also affirm in words and acts that his homeland is merely time and his dwelling merely the body. But actually the supreme question agitates him, goads him, and torments him. It is a question that cannot be eliminated.
Unfortunately, we know how a great part of modern, atheistic, agnostic, secularized thought insists on affirming and teaching that the supreme question is an illness of man, a put-up affair of a psychological and sentimental kind, from which it is necessary to be cured, facing courageously up to the absurd, death and nothingness.
It is a subtly dangerous philosophy, because, above all, a young person, still immature in thought, shaken by the painful events of past and present history, by the instability and uncertainty of the future, sometimes betrayed in his deepest affections, dispossessed, misunderstood, unemployed, may feel driven by this to seek escape in drugs, in violence or in despair.
2. Yours is the age of responsible and deliberate meeting with Christ.
Beloved youths, Jesus Christ alone is the adequate and ultimate answer to the supreme question about the meaning of life and history.
While respecting those who have other ideas, and well aware that faith in Christ has its times and its seasons and demands a personal development, bound up with God's "grace", I tell you with confident frankness that, having passed the ingenuous age of childhood and the sentimental period of adolescence, and having arrived at youth, that is, your exuberant and critical age, the most beautiful and stirring adventure that can happen to you is the personal meeting with Jesus, who is the only one who gives real meaning to our life.
It is not enough to look; it is necessary to look in order to find certainty. And certainty is Jesus who states: "I am the way, and the truth and the life!..." (Jn 14,6); "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness..." (Jn 8,12); "For this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth!..." (Jn 18,37).
Only Jesus has convincing and consoling words; only he has words of life, in fact of eternal life: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 5,16-17).
There is no solution for scepticism and despair except in faith in Christ. Only Jesus reveals the meaning of our existence in the boundless mystery of the universe, in the dark and unforeseeable turmoil of history! The great and well-known French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, when he finally arrived at the definitive and joyful meeting with Christ, wrote with unequalled lucidity in his Pensées: "Not only do we know God only through Jesus Christ, but we, know ourselves only through Jesus Christ. We do not know life and death, unless through Jesus Christ. Outside Jesus Christ we do not know what is our life or our death, God and ourselves. For this reason, except for the Scripture, the object of which is Jesus Christ alone, we know nothing and see nothing but darkness and confusion in the nature of God and in our nature" (Pensées, n. 548). And the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council emphasized that "it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (Gaudium et Spes GS 22).
3. Finally, and it is the practical conclusion, yours is the age of the most important decision. Whatever path you will choose in life, the most important decision is to live everywhere, always, and with everyone, the Christian ideal of love for God and one's neighbour.
Do not move away from Christ! Decide to be for him! Mankind needs, above all, good Samaritans because it needs Christ!
I am happy to recall an exhortation that Paul VI, my revered predecessor, addressed two years ago to twelve thousand young people in this hall: "Do not let yourselves be deceived by those who would like to bring into your heart ideals that are different from, and even in conflict with, those of your faith. Only in Christ is there the solution to all your problems. It is he who frees man from the chains of sin and of all slavery. He is the light that shines forth in the darkness; He is "the truth which raises us so very high" (Dante, Par.22:43); it is he who gives to life the reasons for which it is worth living, loving, working, and suffering; he is our support and our solace." (L'Osservatore Romano, 24 April 1977)
To succeed in this decision, so sublime and so necessary, open your hearts and your consciences to the priest who is Christ's minister; now to your Chaplains and afterwards to the priests in charge of your spiritual care. You will find in them help and support for your Christian life.
Pass this period of service with a sense of friendship, brotherhood, and with a commitment of love; keep alive in your hearts nostalgy for your dear ones who are following you and waiting for you, as also respect for your Superiors, in the conviction that the greatness and honour of one's country depend on the honesty and seriousness of every citizen.
With these wishes, while I invoke continual assistance and the abundance of heavenly favours from God and from the Blessed Virgin for you and your families, I willingly bless you all.
2 March 1979
1. We meet at the beginning of Lent. In this period, each of us must renew, that is, find again in some way, above all, his own "Christian being"; the identity that springs from belonging to Christ, first of all through Baptism. The whole tradition of the Lenten period is turned in this direction, and in the ancient practice of the Church its completion was precisely, the Baptism of catechumens. Let us recall that the fundamental substratum of our "priesthood" is our "Christian being": our "priestly identity" has its roots in our "Christian identity" (christianus—alter Christus; sacerdos—alter Christus). Preparing with all our brothers in the faith for the renewal of baptismal promises on the vigil of Holy Saturday, we are preparing in a special way for the renewal of priestly promises in the liturgy of Holy Thursday—the day of priests. The whole time of Lent must serve for this preparation.
2. The Second Vatican Council set forth clearly and precisely the essence of the holiness characteristic of priests (Presyterorum Ordinis). We must seek the concrete forms of this holiness. by exercising the many tasks that belong to our vocation and our pastoral ministry. If we ask ourselves what are the elements that characterize the holiness to which the priest is called, the elements that constitute, so to speak, its specificum, they can rightly be indicated in two closely complementary aspects. These I would formulate as follows: a) a man completely possessed by the mystery of Christ; b) a man who builds the community of the People of God in a quite special way.
a) The priest is placed at the very centre of the mystery of Christ who constantly embraces humanity and the world, the visible creation and the invisible one. He acts, in fact, in persona Christi, particularly when he celebrates the Eucharist: by means of his ministry Christ continues to carry out his work of salvation in the world. Rightly, therefore, with the apostle Paul every priest can exclaim: "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1Co 4,1). It is not difficult to perceive the implications that spring from this fact. I will limit myself to indicating the following:
— If the purpose of his ministry is the sanctification of others, it is obvious that the priest must feel involved in a commitment of personal holiness. He cannot "stand aside", he cannot "dispense himself" from this commitment, without condemning himself thereby to a life that is not authentic, or, to use the words of the Gospel, without changing from a "good shepherd" into a "hireling" (cf. Jn Jn 10,11-12).
— Then there is the implication constituted by the old theological problem of the relationship between opus operatum and opus operantis. The supernatural efficacy of the sacraments depends directly on opus operatum; but the Second Vatican Council stressed forcefully the importance of opus operantis. Do you remember the words of the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis? "While it is possible for God's grace to carry out the work of salvation through unworthy ministers, yet God ordinarily prefers to show his wonders through those men who are more submissive to the impulse and guidance of the Holy Spirit and who because of their intimate union with Christ and their holiness of life, are able to say with St Paul: 'It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.' (Ga 2,20)" (n. 12).
— Finally, the problem of the "style" of the interior life of the priest in care of souls, has its place here. The Council tackled it with courageous clarity: "Priests"—the Decree, just quoted, points out— "who are perplexed and distracted by the very many obligations of their position may be anxiously enquiring how they can reduce to unity their interior life and their programme of external activity. This unity of life cannot be brought about merely by an outward arrangement of the works of the ministry nor by the practice of spiritual exercises alone, though this may help to foster such unity. Priests can however achieve it by following in the fulfilment of their ministry the example of Christ the Lord, whose meat was to do the will of him who sent him that he might perfect his work" (n. 14). These words constitute a specific reinterpretation of the many precious reflections that have matured in the course of the centuries on the relationship between active life and contemplative life. One thing is certain: if the priest's conscience is imbued with the immense mystery of Christ, if it is completely possessed by it, then all his activities, even the most absorbing ones (active life) will find a root and nourishment in contemplation of the mysteries of God (contemplative life), whose "steward" he is.
b) The second aspect of the priest's vocation to holiness I have located in his task of building the community of the People of God. It might seem an "exterior" aspect, bound up with the institutional dimension of the Church and therefore not significant from the point of view of personal holiness. Yet the whole teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which goes back, moreover, to the most genuine sources of ecclesiology, indicates also in this sector the proprium of priestly holiness. The priest, won over by the mystery of Christ, is called to win others over to this mystery: he lives this "social" dimension of his priesthood within the structures of the Church-institution. The priest is not only the man "for others"; he is called to help "others" to become a community, that is, to live the social significance of their faith. In this way, the commitment with which the priest "gathers" (and does not "scatter": cf. Mt Mt 12,30), the commitment with which he "builds" the Church, becomes the measure of his holiness. The greeting with which he begins the eucharistic liturgy: "the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all", becomes his programme: the priest is the spokesman and the intermediary of this communion. He must therefore cultivate in himself an attitude of brotherhood and solidarity, he must learn the art of collaboration, the sharing of experiences, and mutual aid. A living part of the presbyterium, which gathers closely round its Bishop, he must feel continually urged to a missionary projection towards those who are far off, who are not yet part of the "one fold" (cf. Jn Jn 10,16). And finally: since believers walk in time, sustained by hope of the definitive meeting with Christ in his glory, the priest builds the community of brothers by taking his place within it as a witness to eschatological hope. The faithful, to whom he is sent, expect from him, as the decisive seal of his mission, a clear and unmistakable testimony to eternal life and to the resurrection of the flesh. Also the commitment of celibacy must be considered in this light; it then appears as a very important contribution to the building up of the Church and, therefore, as an element characterizing the spirituality of the priest.
3. Beloved Sons, I have lingered over a sketch of the main features of our priestly identity, because the period of Lent is really "the acceptable time" (2Co 6,2) for an opportune revision of life before the extraordinary gift of vocation. It is a revision that each one must carry out within the community both of the presbyterium and of the parish, so that it may be expressed in a renewed commitment of Christian life on the part of all. Lent has always marked a relaunching of pastoral activities within the parishes: once there used to be parish missions, special practices of piety, community penitential exercises. Today, in the changed environmental conditions, the commitment for the renewal of Christian life will have to be expressed in other forms. The meetings which I have already been able to have with leaders of the diocesan presbyterium have permitted me to realize the promising flourishing of initiatives planned for this Lent, in the sectors of catechesis, liturgical celebrations, and commitment of charity. I wish to take advantage of this circumstance to express to you my sincere appreciation and cordial encouragement. Work, beloved Sons, without letting yourselves be discouraged by difficulties and failures. Profit from experience to perfect new initiatives, to seek new ways on which to go to meet men, our brothers, and bring them the "Word that saves", a Word for which they are hungering, perhaps without knowing it. The priest as pastor must always imitate Christ—the Pastor who seeks. This search, carried out together with the Good Shepherd in a disinterested and often deeply felt way, confers on his priesthood that stamp of authenticity which is so essential both from the point of view of his priestly personality and from the merely human one which impresses itself on the consideration and esteem of all those who approach him. We must take great care not to "split" our personality as priests. We must take great care not to allow our priesthood to stop being the "most essential" thing for us, the "unifying" element of all our concerns. It must never become something "secondary" and "supplementary".
4. This is the fundamental object of our work on ourselves, of our interior life, in a word, of permanent priestly formation, in its threefold aspect: spiritual, pastoral, and intellectual. We are formed "in order to" carry out priestly activity and we are formed "through" priestly activity. In this field we must have a genuine healthy ambition. It must be important for us to carry out the service of the word as effectively as possible (How do I preach? How do I catechize?). It must be our concern to reach souls, to help men in their problems of conscience: confession, spiritual direction—particularly of the persons consecrated to God (sometimes complaints are heard of the lack of good directors). We must, certainly, be with the suffering and the needy. On their side. But we must always be with them "as priests".
5. I have been Bishop of Rome for only a few months. I am gradually beginning to know my new diocese. I realize that my "universal" mission is based on that "particular" one, and therefore I am trying to dedicate myself to the latter as much as I can, availing myself of the great help of the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, of Monsignor the Vicegerent, and of the auxiliary Bishops. In these months I have had the opportunity to visit some parishes, first contacting the pastors of each of them. They have been very fine experiences, in which I had confirmation of the attractive spontaneity of the people, of the open and confident availability of the priests, of the generous vivacity of the laity, especially of the young. In this connection, I am happy to take the opportunity to thank the Cardinal Vicar, their Excellencies the bishops of the zones, the clergy and faithful, for the cordiality and warmth of their welcome. I am counting on these meetings a great deal. It is my intention to make them coincide, as far as possible, with the more thorough visits carried out by the individual bishops of the pastoral areas. I consider it very useful, in these circumstances, to contact directly the groups of laity who are apostolically committed in the parish. Among the latter, I would like to stress in particular the catechetical groups, made up both of parents and of young people, whose work, especially in this time in which there is a lack of priests, is seen to be more and more necessary. Only the commitment of select and well-prepared groups, who are able to involve also the families of the children in that effort of reaching maturity in faith which catechesis must be, can cope with the serious problems raised by a secularized society.
On the basis of collaboration with the families and in the context of a deep dialogue with the young, the apostolate of vocations must be developed. It is really unnecessary for me to dwell on its urgency here. Of course, the fact that this specific pastoral action is more difficult in a city with millions of inhabitants must not be found surprising. If, however, it is carried out methodically and with commitment, it might turn out in the long run to be even more effective in such a wide sphere. I would lay stress, in any case, particularly on the necessity that priests should ask the Lord of the harvest to help them to be effective mediators, by their own lives and by their own instructions, in this work of promotion of vocations.
6. Concluding this meeting with you, my thought flies to the forth coming Holy Thursday, when the whole presbyteriuin, secular and religious priests, will again be gathered around its Bishop. That is the day of our priestly unity. We must seek a concrete form of this unity, particularly here in Rome, where—as is known—the clergy is particularly differentiated. We must think of what can serve to deepen this unity and also of what can be done to grasp that which might hinder it.
From the report that was presented to your assembly on 15 February last, the subject of which was "The clergy of Rome faced with the requirements of the diocese", I was able to realize the effort you are making to revive and increase the structures of participation and collegiality, as well as to consolidate the ties of solidarity and communion. It is a programme that deserves all encouragement, because it corresponds responsibly to those requirements of brotherhood which are derived from common priestly ordination, common service, and a common mission. Cultivate, as the usual and conscious attitude of your spirit, a real affectus collegialis, as I would call it on analogy with the bond of collegiality which unites the Bishops. This, too, is part of your specific spirituality. Taking leave of you, I clasp you all to me in one spiritual embrace and I bless you all willingly. When, at Easter time, you visit the families of your parishes, take to them the greeting and the blessing of the Bishop of Rome, the humble Successor of Peter, Pope John Paul II.
THE PRESENCE here this morning of a group of Rectors of seminaries, including important Pontifical Colleges in this City, brings to my mina many considerations. There are many thoughts that I, as Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the universal Church, wish to share with you, my beloved brothers and sons in the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I also hope that my words today will be known by other seminary Rectors throughout the world, and that through them the expression of my love will reach all their students.
Today, then, my first thought is for all the seminarians. I ask you to take back to them my greetings, assuring them, in my name, how much their fidelity means to the Church, how much the future of evangelization depends on their generosity, and how great a role they are called to play in that authentic renewal of the People of God that was willed by the Second Vatican Council. Yes, my message to the seminarians is one of profound interest in their welfare and of deep affection for them as future partners in the Gospel of Christ.
Precisely because of the great hope that I have in the seminarians of this generation, I am particularly pleased to reflect with you, their Rectors, on the task that is yours. You have been called by your Bishops to exercise a role of special spiritual leadership in the Church of Christ. And today I wish to speak to you about certain fundamental issues, in order to confirm you in your mission.
By meditating yourselves on these issues you will see ever more clearly the goal of your own specific ministry of service in the training of future priests. You will thus have clear criteria for knowing what the Church desires, above all else, to be at the foundation of seminary life; you will have clear guidelines for determining the priorities of your institutions, and those means that are truly apt to put these priorities into practice.
In a word, the first priority for seminaries today is the teaching of God’s word in all its purity and integrity, with all its exigencies and in all its power. The word of God – and the word of God alone – is the basis for all ministry, for all pastoral activity, for all priestly action.
The power of God’s word constituted the dynamic basis of the Second Vatican Council, and John XXIII pointed out clearly on the day it opened: "The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught".
And if the seminarians of this generation are to be adequately prepared to take on the heritage and challenge of this Council, they must be trained above all in God’s word: in "the sacred deposit of christian doctrine". We all know what love Saint Paul had for the word of God, and with what urgency his words apply to all the priests of the Church: "guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit". In fulfilling this holy responsibility, seminaries must play a primary role and give an outstanding witness.
A second issue of great importance that deeply affects seminaries today is that of ecclesiastical discipline. With simplicity and forthrightness John Paul I spoke to his clergy about the "great discipline". On that occasion he stated: "The ‘great discipline’ requires a suitable atmosphere. And first of all, an atmosphere of recollection" (raccoglimento). It is my conviction that with this suitable atmosphere, and through the grace of God, the great discipline required for seminaries will be achieved and joyfully maintained. And the reason for all of this is found in the impelling love of Christ and his brethren. The sacrifice, effort and generosity entailed in the preparation for the priesthood have meaning only if the are done propter regnum Dei. They are possible only with prayer.
When the word of God is seen as the basis of all seminary life and training, and when the great discipline of the Church is embraced by the seminarians as a service to charity, then the seminaries themselves become, in the words of Paul VI, "houses of deep faith and authentic Christian asceticism, as well as joyful communities sustained by Eucharistic piety".
In the years ahead all of us must work for the purification of the Church, in accordance with the Gospel, and following the directives of the Second Vatican Council. In so doing, we hope to offer to the Saviour his Church – holy and worthy of his love: a Church in which numerous young men are imbued with the mystery of Christ, and, basing their lives on his word, give themselves in generous preparation for his ministry.
This preparation and training depends to a great extent on you. I repeat: you have been called to exercise a role of special spiritual leadership in the Church. Christ depends on you and is with you. And the Pope is with you and blesses you.
 Ioannis XXIII Allocutio in sollemni SS. Concilii inauguratione, die 11 octobris 1962.
 2 Tim. 1, 14.
 Ioannis Pauli I, Allocutio, die 7 septembris 1978.
 Pauli VI Allocutio, die 16 aprilis 1975.
Before expressing my thanks at the end of the retreat, I wish to manifest my deep sorrow on the death of Cardinal Giovanni Villot, Secretary of State, who was dear to all of us.
Although his illness began about two weeks ago, his death came as an unforeseen blow. When worrying news began to arrive from the "Gemelli" hospital where he had been taken last Monday, I went immediately to visit him and I assured him of our united prayers during this retreat. Those prayers continue now to accompany him, in the fervent confidence that Christ the Lord will reward his faithful servant, to whom were entrusted such high responsibilities in the Church.
I personally am deeply grateful to him for having been willing to collaborate with me in this first difficult period of my pontificate. And I should add that, while accepting completely what the Lord has disposed, I feel a very great sorrow for the death of the man who was my closest collaborator.
At this moment we want, above all, to express together our gratitude to Christ the Lord who, during the past days, has gathered us in this place, in St Matilda's Chapel in the Vatican, where the Pope and his closest collaborators have taken part in the spiritual Exercises of Lent. These Exercises are a special time of God's grace for us. They are the Lenten gift that our Lord and Master has prepared for us. They are so indispensable for us; our souls were looking forward to them intensely. Among the many tasks, among the important duties to which we attend, each of us appreciates particularly the days that permit us to consider exclusively the most essential problems and to apply, in a certain way, to all the other matters that compose our everyday life, the deepest measure, which is Christ himself.
The Father Preacher of the Exercises has tried in the first place to make everyone see Christ. We are heartily grateful to him for this, and now I express this gratitude on behalf of all the participants. The Father Moderator raised, together with us, the fundamental questions; we could say, the eternal questions: he raised them in the old way, which is, however, always fresh and new. These questions, in fact, never lose their topicality; they never fall into decay, and we always listen to them as new and original problems. Cur Deus homo? Cur Deus panis? Quomodo Christum predicare? The Father Preacher of these Exercises outlined the great themes of our faith, our life, our ministry, illustrating them with his own pastoral experiences and referring to the characteristic aspects of our times. He left space for the reflection of each one. He was sincere with his particular audience. He followed the great movement of the thought and life of the modern Church, while always remaining in this concrete place, which was our "upper room" of Spiritual Exercises, with the men gathered in it, that is, us.
Speeches 1979 - TO THE YOUNG PEOPLE GATHERED IN THE VATICAN BASILICA