I am happy to extend a cordial welcome to Your Excellency as I receive from you the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Uganda. I thank you for the kind greetings which you have conveyed from His Excellency Dr Apolo Milton Obote, and I would ask you to reciprocate his best wishes and assure him of my continuing warm regard for all the citizens of your country. Indeed, as you have pointed out in your address, it was my pleasure recently to Welcome the President to the Vatican, thus demonstrating the interest and concern that I have for your nation and its development. Since that time I have nominated a new Pro-Nuncio in Uganda, Archbishop Rauber, and I trust that this appointment will continue to strengthen the bond of communication and co-operation between Uganda and the Holy See.
It was with much interest that I noted your references to the social rebirth and reconstruction that your country is now experiencing. I am keenly aware of the struggle that is accompanying the process of re-establishing a more stable order so that the common good may be safeguarded and advanced. Internal peace is always of primary importance for a nation properly to fulfil its responsibilities to its own people and to contribute to the international activities of the world community. Citizens should be able to live in a climate of peace so that their search for well-being may bear results. They have the legitimate expectation that their Government will do its best to ensure greater stability and security, protect the inalienable rights of the human person and promote the value of human life. As I said in my message for the 16th World Day of Peace, this effort within a nation requires a “dialogue for peace” demanding that all parties - civic and military leaders as well as private citizens - ceaselessly work for reconciliation and understanding. It is my hope that your country will succeed in resolving the difficulties that at present confront it, and by means of dialogue arrive at the peaceful social order to which it aspires.
For this reason I am particularly grateful for your reference to the fact that the entire Catholic Church is willing to cooperage in fostering both the material and spiritual development of the people. While underlining the truth of your statement, I also pledge my own prayers for the attainment of this goal. The clergy and laity of the Church in Uganda are positively disposed towards every effort that aims at promoting the well-being of the human person. The Church, in fact, desires to share in “the joys and the hopes, the grief and anxieties of the people of this age”, as mandated by her Divine Redeemer.
Mr Ambassador, I am filled with hope for the future of Uganda. I am confident that the same heroic courage that characterised the lives of the Martyrs of Uganda is reflected in the people of your nation today, as they seek to meet the challenges that lie before them. Thus as we embark upon this New Year, I ask Almighty God to pour forth an abundance of blessings upon you and upon the noble nation you represent.
I am very pleased to comply with your request for a meeting this morning. Your presence here today gives me yet another opportunity to extend through you my cordial greetings to your fellow-citizens of the United States of America.
As Representatives of the United States Congress you are entrusted by your office with the task of promoting and enacting legislation which serves the best interests not only of your individual constituencies but likewise those of the whole American people. This sacred charge, confirmed by your nation’s Constitution and Bill of Rights, calls you to work for the benefit of all your fellow citizens, respecting the will of the majority of your people while at the same time protecting the rights of the minority.
You come here as members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and are led by your distinguished Chairman, the Honourable Clement J. Zablocki. In general terms, your duty as such is to safeguard the welfare of your own nation as it interacts with the other nations of the world. However, in a broader sense, it is also your task to respect the interests of the entire international community in its quest for the promotion of those higher human aims that deserve the attention of all men and women of good will. These include: peace, the progress of peoples, human development, harmony among nations - all those noble endeavours that call out the best in man and are the goals to which he always legitimately aspires.
As elected officials of a people that holds as self-evident the truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you cannot fail to see that "the more closely the world comes together, the more widely do people’s obligations transcend particular groups and gradually extend to the world".
I urge you, therefore, to uphold the ideals proclaimed in your Declaration of Independence and to rededicate yourselves to those sound moral principles formulated by your Founding Fathers. I make this appeal to you not only in your role as leaders of a truly prominent nation in today’s world, but also as persons committed to those same truths which inspired your forefathers’ struggle for freedom and which remain a treasured legacy of your country’s tradition.
I invoke God’s blessing upon you, your families and your loved ones.
I am happy to receive from Your Excellency the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of your country. I warmly welcome you and I express my gratitude for the kind greetings you have conveyed from His Excellency the Head of State, and I would ask you to reciprocate his good wishes.
Prompted by the words of your address, I am pleased to acknowledge that the diplomatic relations which exist between the Holy See and the Republic of Liberia are a sign of our mutual desire to work for the advancement of the human person and of society.
The Catholic Church is dedicated to fostering the dignity of man, not as an abstract reality, but man as he is in the concrete. Citing this fact in my first Encyclical, I added that according to his spiritual and corporeal nature man writes his personal history “through numerous bonds, contacts, situations and social structures linking him with other men” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Redemptor Hominis RH 14). The Church and governments become involved in man’s personal history for the purpose of promoting his welfare. But the degree to which the Church or governments successfully contribute to the advancement of man’s progress will be determined by the degree to which the whole man has been considered in the multiplicity of his relationships. For this reason it is important that both the Church and governments seek to share a common vision of man so that they may assist him in achieving his full potential.
Within this context, I very much appreciate your reference to the Church’s insistent call for peace in a world threatened by the increasing build-up of those weapons of war that are capable of bringing about enormous human destruction. The Church fervently seeks to contribute to the mission of peace by affirming the possibility of a dialogue for peace wherein nations will be persuaded not to resort to warfare in settling disputes. I am deeply encouraged therefore by the sentiments which Your Excellency has expressed concerning world peace and I pray that your country will always exercise the role that belongs to it in working for peace within the international community.
At the same time, I thank you for mentioning the contribution that the Church makes to the development of your country. I assure you that these efforts reflect a hopeful conviction about human progress. While the Church strives, to the extent of our resources, to help provide for the material needs of people, this is never her only concern. Above all the Church endeavours to strengthen the human spirit so that man’s daily living will be influenced by the exercise of those moral principles according to which good is clearly distinguished from evil. Engendering this moral consciousness the Church nurtures within man a sensitivity to that dignity which he has been given by Almighty God.
Mr Ambassador, I trust that your stay here will be a fruitful one. In the accomplishment of your mission you have my assurance of the interest and co-operation of the Holy See. May God bless you and all the citizens of the Republic of Liberia.
1. I am pleased to welcome here today the members of the sixty-first class of the NATO Defence College. Your participation in this programme has permitted you to study the fundamental principles and organisational structures of your Alliance. But it has also allowed you to recall the primary aim for which it was founded - an aim that is the aspiration of all men and women of our time: the building of a true and lasting peace.
2. As your sessions of study and reflection draw to a close, you are no doubt conscious more than ever of the usefulness, indeed the necessity, of dialogue for any fruitful interaction between individuals or between representatives of different nations. Furthermore, as people committed to the preservation of peace you understand the importance of the theme which I chose for my message on the occasion of the celebration of this year’s Day of Peace, namely: “Dialogue for Peace, a Challenge for our Time”.
Yes, to adopt an attitude of dialogue is truly one of the most significant factors in attaining lasting peace. Patiently introducing the mechanisms and phases of dialogue whenever peace is threatened or already compromised is indeed a pre-eminent means for the establishment of union and harmony among peoples.
3. As I have outlined in the Peace Day Message, a dialogue for peace is not merely a utopian ideal. Peace is a basic desire of man, rooted in the depth of the human person. As a man of hope and a Christian I have confidence in our capacity as human beings for being reasonable and for engaging in fraternal dialogue.
On the international level, dialogue between nations must be based on the strong conviction that the good of one people cannot be finally accomplished at the expense of another people Peace must be born of mutual trust between nations rather than imposed on them by fear of one anther’s weapons.
4. So in extending a cordial greeting to you and your familiar today I ask Almighty God to give you the strength to go forward with perseverance and courage in the work of building a peaceful world. As agents of security and freedom on behalf of your individual nations, you can make a genuine contribution to the establishment of peace. By doing so you will perform a work of supreme love for mankind.
May God bless you and sustain you in this urgent task.
You have come to Rome, dear brothers and sisters, from Chicago, from Cincinnati and from other cities, to be present for the elevation to the College of Cardinals of your Ordinary or former Pastor, your esteemed friend, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin. I welcome all of you today in the charity and peace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The mystery that we are celebrating during these days is a deep one: it is the mystery of the unity of the Catholic Church expressing itself in a dynamic spiritual and visible communion of local Churches with the See of Peter; it is the mystery of that unity willed by Christ and so beautifully exemplified in the apostolic Church where “the community of believers were of one heart and one mind” and were “with power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great respect was paid to them all”.
During the Consistory yesterday I already spoke directly to the new Cardinals, reminding them of the “grave responsibility” that rests on each of them. In particular I told them: “The People of God look to you as secure points of reference. From you the faithful and also the Pastors of the particular Churches round the world seek light and guidelines in order to live more fully their communion with the See of Rome”.
And today I would like to enlist the wholehearted support of all of you, my brother Bishops, beloved priests, sisters and laity, in promoting the great cause of the Church’s unity. Working together, professing the Catholic faith in unity and charity, we shall all be able to bear a powerful witness to the Risen Lord and to give authentic Christian service in his name. Today the Church in Chicago is linked ever more closely to the Apostle Peter in his Successor and through him, to the one “Chief Shepherd”, our Lord Jesus Christ.
May he, the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, ever care for the Church in Chicago and throughout the United States.
Friday, 4 February 1983
In you, venerable brother, dear Cardinal Michael Michai Kitbunchu, I greet the whole Church in Bangkok and in Thailand, invoking grace and peace in our Lord upon all the clergy, religious and laity.
In you I wish to honour all the people of your noble land, rich in culture and in spiritual values. I am deeply grateful for the fact that today you are surrounded in this audience by illustrious personages, who represent your Government to the Holy See, your fellow-citizens and your fellow Catholics in the household of the faith. To all I extend a welcome as wide and all-embracing as the colonnade of Saint Peter’s Square. In her universality and Catholic unity, the Church in Rome opens her heart to each of you.
In a special way my thoughts turn to those who sustain you at home in your ministry as pastor of the flock: those who collaborate wish you in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to anyone who may freely wish to hear the Good News of Redemption in Jesus Christ. I wish to evoke and bless the memory of all the generations of missionaries, past and present, who have offered the Gospel message to you and to your forebears and who have borne witness in friendship and respect to an immense esteem for the Thai people.
I give thanks to the Lord who has brought us to this day that emphasises how beautifully the Church in Thailand lives her mission of Christian witness and evangelical service, rejoicing in the consolation of the Holy Spirit, and striving to be faithful to the mandate of the Lord in faith, hope and charity.
When you return home to meet, together with your people, the challenges of daily living, you shall have the assurance - you must be convinced more than ever before that you are one with the Pope and with the universal Church in proclaiming Christ, in loving your neighbour, and in working for the well-being of all your brothers and sisters in Thailand and throughout Asia and the whole world.
May God’s love be always in your hearts!
Dear brothers and sisters from New Zealand,
When the ordinary of a Diocese comes to Rome on pilgrimage, he may or may not be accompanied by members of the local Church, but in either case he is never alone. The Bishop carries in his heart the hopes and aspirations of all his people; he comes supported by their prayers and brings with him - to present them to Christ - the strengths and weaknesses of his flock. He comes as a high priest of Catholic unity and universality.
This is especially true today of the Archbishop of Wellington, who comes as a pilgrim to the See of Peter, and as one selected by the Successor of Peter to render a specific service to the universal Church. At the same time, I am sure that the entire Archdiocese - indeed the whole Church in New Zealand - wishes to be associated in this special task, by their prayers, their collaboration and their fidelity to the perennial message of salvation in Jesus Christ, which transcends the originality of any and all cultures and which remains the unchanging patrimony of the universal Church and of every local Church in every generation: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebr. 13, 8). Your local Church, although geographically distant, is today linked ever more closely with the universal Church and with her Pastor, and through this union is brought closer to all the other local Churches. And in this ecclesial communion she finds the guarantee of her own Catholicity.
In your task of universal service, dear Cardinal Williams, you will bring with you the great contribution of the sick and suffering, the prayers of your cloistered religious, the dedication of numerous Catholic families, the fidelity of priests, brothers and sisters, and the holiness of young and old alike. And in Catholic unity and love we shall work together, so “that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph” (2Th 3,1).
To all the citizens of New Zealand, and especially to the religious and civil authorities of your land, I send my greetings of respect and esteem. God bless New Zealand.
Friday, 18 February 1983
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am happy to greet all of you who have assembled this morning as representatives of the beloved people of Nigeria. In a special way I wish to welcome Archbishop Arinze, all my brother bishops, and all the religious and civil representatives.
A year ago, you warmly welcomed me to your country and honoured me with countless gestures of hospitality during my stay. Through the loving Providence of Almighty God, I had the great joy of being among you for several days - speaking with you, praying in union with you and coming to know you better. Now on this first anniversary of my pastoral visit, you have made the long journey to Rome, so that together we may be one in giving thanks to God our Father for the marvellous bond that so closely unites us in Christ Jesus. On my arrival in Nigeria I said that I had come as a friend and as a brother of all the inhabitants of your nation. Today I repeat those same sentiments, endeavouring by our meeting to show once again my love for you and for all Nigerians.
During my visit I spoke of the Church’s gratitude for the sublime witness of your faith in Jesus Christ which has been demonstrated in various circumstances of your nation’s history. But the achievements of the past, however sublime they may be, cannot blind us to the challenges of the present. In every age the Gospel must be preached anew in word and action. In this regard, I am well aware of the serious difficulties which so many people residing in your country experienced in recent weeks. Generous aid from public and private organisations throughout the world and from many individuals helped to relieve acute needs but so much more remains to be done. I express my heartfelt concern for those whose lives have been affected by this sad situation and I fervently pray that a just and effective solution will be found to help the people that are still suffering from the results of these events.
My dear friends, the Pope always close to you in his thoughts and in his prayer. It is the love of Jesus that makes us responsible for the welfare of our brothers and sisters and it is his grace within us that makes us ready to extend our hands to others. May the peace of Jesus fill your hearts and the hearts of all Nigerians this day and may you and your families be blessed with his strength for your Christian living.
Dear brothers and sisters from the Graduate School of Bossey,
Your are almost at the end of your course. I am grateful that you have made this visit to Rome part of it, so that you might have these contacts with the Catholic Church before you complete your work and return home with a renewed will to work and pray for the full organic unity of all Christians. Your visit in itself is an opportunity for us to share spiritual gifts and to find encouragement in what we already have in common (Cfr. Rom Rm 1,12). It is likewise a tribute to the ecumenical movement, which in turn gives abundant evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit in many hearts.
The last decade of ecumenical activity has demanded perseverance. But we must thank God, who gives unity to his people, that it is blessed with results. In so many places Christians are praying and working and suffering together, striving to bring into being the kind of world God wants. We see too that the quiet and patient work of the many dialogues is beginning to produce rich fruits in charity and truth. Surely we must rejoice in all of this and tell it joyfully to others, to encourage the ecumenical vision in all Christians. Above all we must be convinced of the value of prayer and penance and holiness of life as being our greatest personal contribution to the restoration of Christian unity - that great action whereby, in the Holy Spirit, Christ Jesus gathers “together in unity the scattered children of God” (Jn 11,52).
May God bless you and your families and the countries from which you come.
Your Excellency the Governor-General,
My Brother Bishops,
Dear citizens of Belize,
1. I praise the divine Providence that has brought me to Belize! I give thanks to God for this opportunity to be in your midst today; for this opportunity to speak to you about God’s love, his peace, charity; and for this opportunity to proclaim God’s design for a world where justice, freedom and mutual respect are the authentic expression of a civilisation of love.
I am grateful to the authorities of this land for the invitation to come among you, and I am grateful to all of you, the people, for your manifestation of good will in my regard and for your wonderful welcome.
2. As a new nation in this part of the world, you rightfully place great emphasis on unity. Indeed, it is only by working together in close harmony that you will fulfil your destiny, build a lasting society and prepare a peaceful future for your children and your children’s children. And today you have a right to have your hopes confirmed and all your worthy efforts and resolutions blessed.
3. As Pastor of the universal Church, I have come to visit the Catholic faithful of Belize and to encourage them to live their Christian lives according to the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I commend them all to the loving protection of the Mother of Jesus, under her well-beloved title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But I have also come to proclaim to everyone the love of God. I have come to proclaim the dignity of the human person, and the hope that fills the world when brothers and sisters of all beliefs and ethnic backgrounds live according to that pattern so clearly and forcefully laid down by Jesus Christ when he said: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you” (Mt 7,12).
With profound respect, with friendship and with love, I ask the Lord to guide the destinies of this land, so that life in all its aspects “may conform ever more to man’s surpassing dignity and be rendered more human” (Cfr. Ioanni Pauli PP. II Redemptor Hominis RH 13). God bless Belize!
It is a great pleasure for me to accept the Letters which accredit you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Sweden. I truly appreciate the good wishes that you extend on behalf of His Majesty King Carl Gustaf XVI and I would ask you to assure him of my own cordial sentiments of respect and esteem.
The historical nature of our meeting today must be acknowledged and noted in all its significance. The first ties between the Holy See and Sweden go back centuries. This fact alone gives special importance to your presence here at the Vatican. Yet still more meaning is to be found in the expectation that our encounter will mark the beginning of a new chapter in the history of the relations between your country and the Holy See.
As you have just noted, over the years the Holy See and Sweden have not been deprived of informal contacts on various matters of common interest. Our joint participation in international organisation has provided the forum for mutual interaction and collaboration. But now that bilateral relations have been established, we are able to engage even more closely in friendly exchange and productive co-operation.
You have rightly stated that the evangelical zeal of Catholic missionaries some thousand years ago has left an indelible imprint on the history and traditions of Sweden. The cultural and religious heritage of your country has been greatly enriched by the labours of those early pioneers in the Christian faith. Rome, in its turn, has been enriched by the activity and influence of Saint Birgitta and her daughter Catherine, and in later times by the presence of Queen Christina.
Thanks to the climate of religious freedom and the ecumenical spirit of brotherhood existing among Christians in your country today, the Catholics in Sweden are happy to be able to work together with members of other Churches and ecclesial communities for the promotion of those spiritual and moral values of the Gospel that serve the common good.
One of the most precious legacies of your Christian tradition has been the desire of the Swedish people to live and work in peace. In fact, this steadfast desire is a praiseworthy characteristic of your country in the present age. Swedes have remained in the forefront of those who strive to achieve a just and peaceful international order. Such a situation has enabled Sweden to hold a privileged position within the family of nations, allowing her to be a fertile ground in which the roots of harmony and mutual understanding among nations can grow strong and prosper.
In this regard, I am eager to reaffirm the position of the Holy See in encouraging all legitimate initiatives which promote and further peace in our world. As you have so wisely observed, the work of building a peaceful world cannot be limited exclusively to the question of disarmament; it must be joined to efforts to bring freedom to the oppressed and to help in the pursuit of their integral development those peoples who suffer from hunger, disease and ignorance.
Mr Ambassador, I am happy to reiterate my welcome to you today and to pledge the support of the Holy See for the goals which have been set out for you in this mission. It is my earnest desire that through the expression of good will which the establishment of diplomatic relations implies the Holy See and Sweden may be joined even closer in bonds of friendship and mutual collaboration. For the success of this common venture I ask God’s abundant blessings.
Dear Brothers in our Lord Jesus Christ,
1. It is a great joy for me to welcome you as the first group of American Bishops making your ad Limina visit in this Holy Year of the Redemption. I wish to tell you immediately how close I feel to the faithful of the New York region and of the Military Ordinariate and to all the faithful of the United States, who are very much in my thoughts and prayers. But I wish to emphasise above all my spiritual union with you my brother Bishops. I am sure that all of you like me find special strength in our meeting today, because, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are actuating the Episcopal collegiality of the Church. For you, moreover, it is right and just to know that you do not work and toil alone. You are supported by the Successor of Peter and the entire College of Bishops.
2. Today I wish to reflect with you on our common mission as Bishops: to proclaim Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and Reconciler of humanity. I wish to do so within the double context of the Holy Year of the Redemption and the forthcoming Synod of Bishops that has its theme: “Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church”. In my Letter of January 25 last to the Bishops of the Church, I endeavoured to point out how these two events are intimately linked: “Reconciliation”, I wrote, “is nothing other than the Redemption which the Father has offered to every person in the death and Resurrection of his Son, and which he continues still today to offer to every sinner, waiting, like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son, for the repentant return of his son through conversion” (IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Epistula ad totius mundi Episcopos occasione oblata praesentationis “Instrumenti Laboris” pro VI Sessione Generali Synodi Episcoporum preparati, 2, die 25 ian. 1983).
The Synod, linked to the Holy Year, will seek ways of more effectively proclaiming the reconciliation of the Redemption and of eliciting from the faithful a response of conversion and penance to God’s call; and we can be sure that the Synod will bring immense insights to its collegial task. But already as Bishops we have the task every day of proclaiming reconciliation according to the rich apostolic patrimony of the Church. Ours is truly, in the expression of Saint Paul, “the ministry of reconciliation” (2Co 5,18).
3. And today I would propose for your consideration this ministry of reconciliation in all its implications. We are truly called to proclaim the reconciliation of humanity with God. This means reviving a sense of God, of his word, of his commandments - of the need for accepting his will as the real criterion for human action. Proclaiming reconciliation means reviving a sense of sin among our people; this in turn can lead us to recognise the roots of human responsibility in the varied fields of economic, social, historical, cultural and political ills. When man understands his alienation from God, he can begin to perceive how he is in opposition with his brothers and sisters and with creation itself. The proclamation can then become an effective call to peace. Proclaiming reconciliation means insisting on the greatness of God’s pardon and on his compassionate love. To offer the response of the Redemption to a world made conscious of sin is to proclaim the revelation of mercy and the message of hope which is in “Christ Jesus our hope” (1Tm 1,1).
4. To proclaim reconciliation means, in particular way, promoting the Sacrament of Penance. It means stressing the importance of the Sacrament as it relates to conversion, to Christian growth, to the very renewal of society that cannot be healed without the forgiveness of sins.
It is our role as Bishops to point out that both original sin and personal sin are at the basis of the evils that affect society and that there is a constant conflict between good and evil, between Christ and Satan. It is salutary for our people to realise that they are involved in the continuation of the Paschal conflict - Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando - but that they are fortified by the strength of the Risen Christ. Only when the faithful recognise sin in their own lives are they ready to understand reconciliation and to open their hearts to penance and personal conversion. Only then are they able to contribute to the renewal of society, since personal conversion is also the only way that leads to the lasting renewal of society. This personal conversion, by divine precept, is intimately linked to the Sacrament of Penance.
Just five years ago this month, Paul VI spoke to the New York Bishops during the last ad Limina visit. With prophetic insistence he emphasised both the importance of conversion and its relationship to the Sacrament of Penance. He stated at that time: Conversion constitutes the goal to be achieved by our apostolic ministry: to awaken a consciousness of sin in its perennial and tragic reality, a consciousness of its personal and social dimensions, together with a realisation that ‘grace has far surpassed sin’ (Rm 5,20). His solicitude for conversion and its various sacramental aspects is my own today. His words retain their total relevance for the Church in the United States and throughout the world, and I propose them once again to your pastoral zeal and responsibility.
In particular he requested that priests be encouraged by the Bishops to give special priority to the ministry of the Sacrament of Penance. He wrote: “If priests deeply understand how closely they Sacrament of Penance, with the Saviour in the work of conversion, they will give themselves, with ever greater zeal to this ministry. More Confessors will readily be available to the faithful. Other works, for lack of time, may have to be postponed or even abandoned, but not the Confessional”. Our ministry as priests and Bishops certainly means that we are called upon to go in search of those who have sinned, so as to invite them to return to the fullness of the Father’s love. In doing so, let us holp up hope and proclaim mercy. Let us, together with our priests, concentrate the attention of the faithful on the person of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, who personally forgives and reconciles each individual. For the glory of the Father let us encourage our people to understand the great truth that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Io. 1, 7). Yes, dear Brothers, let us emphasise over and over again the immense value of a personal encounter with the God of mercy through individual confession. Let us, with our people, raise a hymn of praise to “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Hebr. 9, 14).
5. In speaking to the group of New York Bishops, Paul VI also dealt with the question of general absolution, and its proper application. The experience of the universal Church confirms the need on the part of all the Bishops for further pastoral vigilance. The new Code of Canon Law points out again the exceptional character of this practice, repeating that general absolution is not envisioned solely because of large numbers of penitents assembled for a great celebration or pilgrimage: “Ratione solius magni concursus paenitentium, qualis haberi potest in magna aliqua festivitate aut peregrinatione” (Codex Iuris Canonici CIC 961, § 1, 2°).
I would ask once again for your zealous pastoral and collegial solicitude to help ensure that these norms, as well as the norms regulating the First Confession of children, are understood and properly applied. The treasures of Christ’s love in the Sacrament of Penance are so great that children too must be initiated into them. The patient effort of parents, teachers and priests needed to prepare children for this Sacrament are of great value for the whole Church.
6. In this Holy Year of the Redemption I would ask that a whole pastoral program be developed around the Sacrament of Penance and be effected by practical means. This will include a renewed effort at catechises, so that the Sacrament can be made a dynamic part of the lives of young and old alike. Frequent penitential celebrations including the individual confession and absolution of sins will be a great help to the faithful in grasping better the realities of sin and grace, and in experiencing the great joy of meeting Christ in an encounter of love, mercy and pardon. The availability of Confessors, emphasised and publicised in different ways, such as Church bulletins, can give a great impetus to the faithful to go to Confession, since God’s grace has already awakened a desire or a need for the Sacrament in the hearts of many. Something- totally consonant with our priestly and apostolic ministry is for us to invite the faithful repeatedly to reconciliation with God and with the ecclesial community. As pastors, we must be humbly conscious of our weaknesses and our sins, and yet, in God’s plan of mercy, we have been given the charism and obligation to call the faithful to repentance and conversion, and to lead the way.
As mentioned in the Ordo Paenitentiae, the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance is always permitted during any season or on any day (Cfr. Ordo Paenitentiae, 12). Yet it is particularly appropriate during Lent, so as to prepare the faithful for a fitting celebration of the Paschal Mystery, the grace of which is so effectively presented to them during the liturgy of the Sacred Triduum. The faithful are certainly to be encouraged to confess their sins before these last days of Holy Week as a spiritual preparation for them; at the same time this will help to diminish the heavy pressure on Confessors. Nevertheless, I would ask that Bishops urge their priests to do everything possible in their pastoral generosity and zeal to make Confessions available also during the last days of Holy Week. There will inevitably be people who, in spite of everything, will need this opportunity of grace. This generous sacrifice on the part of priests will allow them to share even more deeply in the Paschal Mystery and will be amply rewarded by Christ.
The Holy Year is also an excellent time to help our people reflect on the rich content of the “Our Father” as a prayer of reconciliation: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. By the grace of God and through your apostolic ministry may the Holy Year find the Church ever more as a reconciling and reconciled community, attentive to the word of God as the criteria according to which the whole “ministry of reconciliation” is applied
7. As we pursue our ministry of reconciliation let us always look to both aspects of the person’s return to God: the reconciling action of God and the response of the individual through penance and conversion. There is no doubt that penance and conversion involve great effort, and are sometimes extremely painful. There is no doubt that the word of God is demanding and sometimes the human being is confused in concrete situations which call for much more than human effort and which require humble and persevering prayer. And yet as pastors we must not underestimate the limitless power of Christ’s grace, nor can we attempt to alter the requirements of the Gospel. We are accountable to Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd for exercising true pastoral compassion, and we must not be surprised if the world falsely equates fidelity to the eternal word of God with insensitivity to human weakness. On the contrary, the Redemption touches hearts precisely through the revelation of God’s world. What we must do is to give the prophetic example of reconciliation, conversion and penance in our own lives, proclaiming by word and example that Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer and Reconciler of humanity.
Let us dear Brothers, walk this path together, united with Mary the Mother of Jesus and united among ourselves and with the world-wide Episcopate. In this great bond of collegiality between all the Bishops and the Successor of Peter there is strength for your pastoral initiatives and the important guarantee of their supernatural effectiveness. In the ministry of reconciliation, in the dispensation of the mystery of the Redemption through the Sacrament of Penance, supernatural effectiveness is of supreme importance. Be convinced, dear Brothers, that if we walk together, the Lord Jesus will reveal himself to us; he will convert us ever further to his love; he will use us as servant pastors to bring his Redemption to the world.