Speeches 1987 - New Orleans
Saturday, 12 September 1987
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation" (Marc. 16, 15). With these words, our Lord Jesus Christ directed the Church to speak his own message of life to the whole human family. The Apostles first responded to the Saviour’s call and travelled throughout the known world, sharing with every one who would listen what they had seen and heard (Cfr. 1 Io. 1, 3), speaking about God’s Kingdom and about reconciliation in Christ.
Today, almost two thousand years later, the Church still seeks to respond generously to Christ’s command. The world we must serve today is much bigger, and the people who long to hear the word of life are numerous indeed. While the words of the Lord remain true, "The harvest is good but laborers are scarce" (Mt 9,37), still we rejoice that the Holy Spirit has enriched the Church with many hands for the harvest. There are worthy laborers in every corner of the earth, people of every culture, who are eager to live the Gospel and to proclaim it by word and example.
I am especially happy to meet you who make up the black Catholic leadership in the United States. Your great concern, both as blacks and as Catholics, is – and must always be – that all your black brothers and sisters throughout America may hear and embrace the saving and uplifting Gospel of Jesus Christ. I willingly join my voice to those of the bishops of your country who are encouraging you to give priority to the great task of evangelization, to be missionaries of Christ’s love and truth within your own black community. To all the members of the black community throughout the United States, I send my greetings of respect and esteem.
2. My dear brother bishops who share with me the burdens and joys of the episcopacy: I am pleased that the universality of the Gospel and the cultural diversity of your nation are increasingly mirrored in the composition of the American hierarchy. While your apostolic ministry draws you to serve all the faithful of your respective dioceses – and in collegial unity the whole Body of Christ – it is fitting for many reasons that your own black brothers and sisters should have a special right to your pastoral love and service. United with the Successor of Peter in the College of Bishops, you are a sign of the unity and universality of the Church and of her mission. As bishops, we are entrusted with the task of preserving in its integrity the Good News of salvation and of presenting it as effectively as possible to our people, so that they may all discover in Jesus Christ "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14,6).
Our brothers in the priesthood, ministering in the person of Christ and in union with us, transmit the teaching of the faith and celebrate the sacred mysteries of salvation. How fruitful it is for the mission of the Church in America when so many priests from different racial and ethnic groups proclaim together Christ’s liberating Gospel and thus bear witness to the fact that it rightfully belongs to everyone.
The Church in the United States is distinguished by its large number of deacons, among whom are several hundred from the black Catholic community. As heralds of the Gospel and servant ministers of Christ, dear brothers, you complete the threefold ministry of the Sacrament of Order. In the Church you are called to the service of the word, of the Eucharist and of charity. Your generous response is a clear indication of the growing maturity of the black Catholic community, a maturity emphasized by the black bishops of your country in their Pastoral Letter "What We Have Seen And Heard".
Even in those days – by the grace of God now long past – when your people struggled under the terrible burden of slavery, brave spirits within the community embraced the evangelical counsels and dedicated themselves to the religious life. Thus they bore eloquent witness to the power of the Holy Spirit accomplishing the work of spiritual freedom even in the moment of physical oppression. Black religious today offer a comparable witness to the Church and society, proclaiming God’s Kingdom to a world shackled by consumerism, mindless pleasureseeking and irresponsible individualism – shackles of the spirit which are even more destructive than the chains of physical slavery.
I am close to the whole black community in the great mission and responsibility of encouraging more and more young Americans of their race to respond to the Lord’s invitation to religious life and the priesthood. I urge you to be faithful to prayer and to do all you can to ensure that those who are called will find the support and the assistance which they need in order to pursue these vocations and to persevere in them.
3. The Church’s work of evangelization finds entry into the human community in a special way through the lives of lay people. As my predecessor Paul VI pointed out, the laity’s "own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media". By fulfilling worthily the broad range of their temporal involvement, lay men and women bear witness in a unique way to the universal call to holiness. The witness of their faithful lives speaks an uplifting message to the world.
I express my deep love and esteem for the black Catholic community in the United States. Its vitality is a sign of hope for society. Composed as you are of many lifelong Catholics, and many who have more recently embraced the faith, together with a growing immigrant community, you reflect the Church’s ability to bring together a diversity of people united in faith, hope and love, sharing a communion with Christ in the Holy Spirit. I urge you to keep alive and active your rich cultural gifts. Always profess proudly before the whole Church and the whole world your love for God’s word; it is a special blessing which you must for ever treasure as a part of your heritage. Help us all to remember that authentic freedom comes from accepting the truth and from living one’s life in accordance with it – and the full truth is found only in Christ Jesus. Continue to inspire us by your desire to forgive – as Jesus forgave – and by your desire to be reconciled with all the people of this nation, even those who would unjustly deny you the full exercise of your human rights.
4. I am sure that you share with me a special concern for that most basic human community, the family. Your faithful Christian families are a source of comfort in the face of the extraordinary pressures affecting society. Today, you must rediscover the spirit of family life which refuse to be destroyed in the face of even the most oppressive forces. Surely that spirit can be found in exploring your spiritual and cultural heritage. The inspiration you draw from the great men and women of your past will then allow your young people to see the value of a strong family life. Know that the Pope stands united with the black community as it rises to embrace its full dignity and lofty destiny.
The family is the first setting of evangelization, the place where the Good News of Christ is first received, and then, in simple yet profound ways, handed on from generation to generation. At the same time, families in our time vitally depend upon the Church to defend their rights and to teach the obligations and responsibilities which lead to the fullness of joy and life. Thus, I urge all of you, especially the clergy and religious, to work for the promotion of family values within the local community. And I remind those responsible for making and administering laws and public policies that social problems are never solved, but only worsened, by positions which weaken or destroy the family.
5. Even in this wealthy nation, committed by its Founding Fathers to the dignity and equality of all persons, the black community suffers a disproportionate share of economic deprivation. Far too many of your young people receive less than an equal opportunity for a quality education and for gainful employment. The Church must continue to join her efforts with the efforts of others who are working to correct all imbalances and disorders of a social nature. Indeed, the Church can never remain silent in the face of injustice, wherever it is clearly present.
In the most difficult hours of your struggle for civil rights amidst discrimination and oppression, God himself guided your steps along the way of peace. Before the witness of history the response of non-violence stands, in the memory of this nation, as a monument of honour to the black community of the United States. Today as we recall those who with Christian vision opted for non-violence as the only truly effective approach for ensuring and safeguarding human dignity, we cannot but think of the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, and of the providential role he played in contributing to the rightful human betterment of black Americans and therefore to the improvement of American society itself.
My dear brothers and sisters of the black community: it is the hour to give thanks to God for his liberating action in your history and in your lives. This liberating action is a sign and expression of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, which in every age is effective in helping God’s people to pass from bondage into their glorious vocation of full Christian freedom. And as you offer your prayer of thanksgiving, you must not fail to concern yourselves with the plight of your brothers and sisters in other places throughout the world. Black Americans must offer their own special solidarity of Christian love to all people who bear the heavy burden of oppression, whatever its physical or moral nature.
6. The Catholic Church has made a profound contribution to the lives of many members of the black community in this land through the gift of education received in Catholic schools. Because of the splendid commitment of dioceses and parishes, many of you here today have joined us at the Table of unity and faith as a result of the evangelization carried out in these institutions. Catholic schools have a special place in the work of spreading the Gospel of Christ. They are a great gift from God. Keep your Catholic schools strong and active. Their uncompromising Catholic identity and Catholic witness at every level must continue to enrich the black communities of this nation.
7. In addition to the schools, others means of evangelization should also be given priority. Among these the means of social communication deserve special attention. The mass media are also a great gift of God’s Providence and should be fully utilized in the service of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They can be of immense service to the millions of black people who long to hear the Good News of salvation proclaimed in ways that speak to their own heritage and traditions.
While remaining faithful to her doctrine and discipline, the Church esteems and honours all cultures; she respects them in all her evangelizing efforts among the various peoples. At the first Pentecost, those present heard the Apostles speaking in their own languages. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we try in every age to bring the Gospel convincingly and understandably to people of all races, languages and cultures. It is important to realize that there is no black Church, no white Church, no American Church; but there is and must be, in the one Church of Jesus Christ, a home for blacks, whites, Americans, every culture and race. What I said on another occasion, I willingly repeat: "The Church is catholic... because she is able to present in every human context the revealed truth, preserved by her intact in its divine content, in such a way as to bring it into contact with the lofty thoughts and just expectations of every individual and every people" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Slavorum Apostoli, 18).
Dear brothers and sisters: your black cultural heritage enriches the Church and makes her witness of universality more complete. In a real way the Church needs you, just as you need the Church, for you are part of the Church and the Church is part of you. As you continue to place this heritage at the service of the whole Church for the spread of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit himself will continue through you his work of evangelization. With a joyful and a hopeful heart, I entrust you and the whole black community to the loving care of Mary, Mother of our Saviour. May she, who both listened to the word and believed in it, guide your lives and those of future generations of black Catholics within the one People of God, the one Mystical Body of Christ. Through her intercession may grace be to all of you "who love our Lord Jesus Christ with unfailing love" (Ep 6,23).
Saturday, 12 September 1987
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I thank all of you for your warm welcome and I praise our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who gives me this opportunity to meet you, the representatives of Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools and leaders in Religious Education. My first word to you is one of esteem and encouragement: I wish to assure you that I fully appreciate the extraordinary importance of your commitment to Catholic education. I commend you for your concern for the vitality and Catholic identity of the educational centres in which you work, throughout the length and breadth of the United States. I encourage you to continue to fulfil your special role within the Church and within society in a spirit of generous responsibility, intelligent creativity and the pursuit of excellence.
2. It is fitting that we should be meeting in this historic city, itself the meeting-point of several rich cultures, where the Capuchin fathers and the Ursuline Sisters founded schools at the very dawn of your emergence as a nation. You are preparing to observe the 200th Anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. There is no doubt that the guarantee of religious freedom enshrined in the Bill of Rights has helped make possible the marvellous growth of Catholic education in this country.
Over the years much has been attempted and much has been achieved by Catholics in the United States to make available for their children the best education possible. Much has been done in the specific area of bringing the wealth of our Catholic faith to children and through religious education programs. The presence of the Church in the field of education is wonderfully manifested in the vast and dynamic network of schools and educational programs extending from the preschool through the adult years. The entire ecclesial community – bishops, priests, religious, the laity – the Church in all her parts, is called to value ever more deeply the importance of this task and mission, and to continue to give, it full and enthusiastic support.
3. In the beginning and for a long time afterwards, women and men religious bore the chief organizational and teaching responsibilities in Catholic education in this country. As pioneers they met that challenge splendidly and they continue to meet it today. The Church and – I am certain – the nation will forever feel a debt of gratitude towards them. The importance of the presence of committed religious, and of religious communities, in the educational apostolate has not diminished with time. It is my heartfelt prayer that the Lord will continue to call many young people to the religious life, and that their witness to the Gospel will remain a central element in Catholic education.
4. In recent years, thousands of lay people have come forward as administrators and teachers in the Church’s schools and educational programs. By accepting and developing the legacy of Catholic thought and educational experience which they have inherited, they take their place as full partners in the Church’s mission of educating the whole person and of transmitting the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to successive generations of young Americans. Even if they do not "teach religion", their service in a Catholic school or educational program is part of the Church’s unceasing endeavour to lead all to profess the truth in love and grow to the full maturity of Christ the head" (Ep 4,15).
I am aware that not all questions relating to the organization, financing and administration of Catholic schools in an increasingly complex society have been resolved to the satisfaction of all. We hope that such matters will be settled with justice and fairness for all. In this regard it is important to proceed in a proper perspective. For a Catholic educator, the Church should not be looked upon merely as an employer. The Church is the Body of Christ, carrying on the mission of the Redeemer throughout history. It is our privilege to share in that mission, to which we are called by the grace of God and in which we are engaged together.
5. Permit me, brothers and sisters, to mention briefly something that is of special concern to the Church. I refer to the rights and duties of parents in the education of their children. The Second Vatican Council clearly enunciated the Church’s position: "Since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children" (Gravissimum Educationis GE 3). In comparison with the educational role of all others their role is primary; it is also irreplaceable and inalienable. It would be wrong for anyone to attempt to usurp that unique responsibility (Cfr. Ioannis Pauli PP. II Familiaris Consortio FC 36). Nor should parents in any way be penalized for choosing for their children an education according to their beliefs.
Parents need to ensure that their own homes are places where spiritual and moral values are lived. They are right to insist that their children’s faith be respected and fostered. As educators you correctly see your role as cooperating with parents in their primary responsibility. Your efforts to involve them in the whole educational process are commendable. This is an area in which pastors and other priests can be especially supportive. To these I wish to say: try to make every effort to ensure that religious education programs and, where possible, parish schools are an important part of your ministry; support and encourage teachers, administrators and parents in their work. Few efforts are more important for the present and future well-being of the Church and of the nation than efforts expended in the work of education.
6. Catholic schools in the United States have always enjoyed a reputation for academic excellence and community service Very often they serve large numbers of poor children and young people, and are attentive to the needs of minority groups. I heartily encourage you to continue to provide quality Catholic education for the poor of all races and national backgrounds, even at the cost of great sacrifice. We cannot doubt that such is part of God’s call to the Church in the United States. It is a responsibility that is deeply inscribed in the history of Catholic education in this country.
On another occasion, speaking to the bishops of the United States, I mentioned that the Catholic school "has contributed immensely to the spreading of God’s word and has enabled the faithful ‘to relate human affairs and activities with religious values in a single living synthesis’ (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Sapientia Christiana, 1). In the community formed by the Catholic school, the power of the Gospel has been brought to bear on thought patterns, standards of judgment and norms of behavior. As institution the Catholic school has to be judged extremely favorably if we apply the sound criterion: ‘You will know them by their deeds’ (Mt 7,16), and again, ‘You can tell a tree by its fruit’ (Ibid. 7, 20)" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Allocutio ad quosdam episcopos e Civitatibus Foederatis Americae Septemtrionalis occasione oblata "ad limina" visitationis coram admissos, 6, die 28 oct. 1983: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VI, 2 (1983) 890).
At this point I cannot fail to praise the financial sacrifices of American Catholics as well as the substantial contributions of individual benefactors, foundations, organizations and business to Catholic education in the United States. The heroic sacrifices of generations of Catholic parents in building up and supporting parochial and diocesan schools must never be forgotten. Rising costs may call for new approaches, new forms of partnership and sharing, new uses of financial resources, but I am sure that all concerned will face the challenge of Catholic schools with courage and dedication, and not doubt the value of the sacrifices to be made.
7. But there is another challenge facing all those who are concerned with Catholic education. It is the pressing challenge of clearly identifying the aims of Catholic education, and applying proper methods in Catholic elementary and secondary education and religious education programs. It is the challenge of fully understanding the educational enterprise, of properly evaluating its content, and of transmitting the full truth concerning the human person, created in God’s image and called to life in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
The content of the individual courses in Catholic education is important both in religious teaching and in all the other subjects that go to make up the total instruction of human persons and to prepare them for their life’s work and their eternal destiny. It is fitting that teachers should be constantly challenged by high professional standards in preparing and teaching their courses. In regard to the content of religion courses, the essential criterion is fidelity to the teaching of the Church.
Educators are likewise in a splendid position to inculcate into young people right ethical attitudes. These include attitudes towards material things and their proper use. The whole life style of students will reflect the attitudes that they form during their years of formal education.
In these tasks you will find guidance in many documents of the Church. Your own bishops, applying the universal teaching of the Church, have helped point the way for you, notably in their pastoral letter To Teach As Jesus Did, and in the National Catechetical Directory. I would also remind you of the Holy See’s documents on The Catholic School and Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith.There we are reminded that it is the school’s task to cultivate in students the intellectual, creative and aesthetic faculties of the individual; to develop in students the ability to make correct use of their judgment, will and affectivity; to promote in them a sense of values; to encourage just attitudes and prudent behaviour; to introduce them to the cultural patrimony handed down from previous generations; to prepare them for their working lives, and to encourage the friendly interchange among students of diverse cultures and backgrounds that will lead to mutual understanding and love.
8. The ultimate goal of all Catholic education is salvation in Jesus Christ. Catholic educators effectively work for the coming of Christ’s Kingdom; this work includes transmitting clearly and in full the message of salvation, which elicits the response of faith. In faith we know God, and the hidden purpose of his will (Cfr. Eph Ep 1,9). In faith we truly come to know ourselves. By sharing our faith we communicate a complete vision of the whole of reality and a commitment to truth and goodness. This vision and this commitment draw the strands of life into a purposeful pattern. By enriching your student’s lives with the fullness of Christ’s message and by inviting them to accept with all their hearts Christ’s work, which is the Church, you promote most effectively their integral human development and you help them to build a community of faith, hope and love.
This Christian message is the more urgent for those young ones who come from broken homes and who, often with only one parent to encourage them, must draw support and direction from their teachers in school.
In your apostolate of helping to bring Christ’s message into the lives of your students, the whole Church supports you and stands with you. The Synod of Bishops, in particular, has recognized the importance of your task and the difficulties you face. For these reasons it has called for concerted efforts to compose a universal catechism. This project will not eliminate the great challenge of a need for creativity in methodology, nor will it minimize the continued need for the enculturation of the Gospel, but it will assist all the local Churches in effectively presenting in its integrity the content of Catholic teaching. In the Church in America, an important part of the truly glorious chapter of Catholic education has been the transmitting of Christ’s message through religious education programs designed for children and young people outside Catholic schools. For this too I give thanks to God, recalling all those who throughout the history of this nation have so generously collaborated in this "work of faith and labour of love" (1Th 1,3).
9. Community is at the heart of all Catholic education, not simply as a concept to be taught, but as a reality to be lived. In its deepest Christian sense community is a sharing in the life of the Blessed Trinity. Your students will learn to understand and appreciate the value of community as they experience love, trust and loyalty in your schools and educational programs, and as they learn to treat all persons as brothers and sisters created by God and redeemed by Christ. Help them to grasp this sense of community by active participation in the life of the parish and the diocese and especially by receiving the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council explicitly includes learning to adore God in spirit and in truth among the aims of all Christian education (Cfr. Gravissimum Educationis GE 2).
A sense of community implies openness to the wider community. Often, today, Catholic education takes place in changing neighbourhoods; it requires respect for cultural diversity, love for those of different ethnic backgrounds, service to those in needs without discrimination. Help your students to see themselves as members of the universal Church and the world community. Help them to understand the implications of justice and mercy. Foster in your students a social consciousness which will move them to meet the needs of their neighbours, and to discern and seek to remove the sources of injustice in society. No human anxiety or sorrow should leave the disciples of Jesus Christ indifferent.
10. The world needs more than just social reformers. It needs saints. Holiness is not the privilege of a few; it is a gift offered to all. The call to holiness is addressed also to you and to your students To doubt this is to misjudge Christ’s intentions: for "each of us has received God’s favour in the measure in which Christ bestowed it" (Ep 4,7).
Brothers and sisters: take Jesus Christ the Teacher as the model of your service, as your guide and source of strength. He himself has told us: "You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and fittingly enough, for that is what I am" (Jn 13,13-14). He taught in word and deed, and his teaching cannot be separated from his life and being. In the Apostolic Exhortation on Catechesis I stated: "The whole of Christ’s life was a continual teaching: his silences, his miracles, his gestures, his prayer, his love for people, his special affection for the little and the poor, his acceptance of the total sacrifice on the Cross for the redemption of the world, and his Resurrection... Hence for Christians the crucifix is one of the most sublime and popular images of Christ the Teacher" (Ioannis Pauli PP.II Catechesi Tradendae CTR 9).
11. Dear friends: Jesus shares with you his teaching ministry. Only in close communion with him can you respond adequately. This is my hope, this is my prayer: that you will be totally open to Christ, that he will give you an ever greater love for your students and an ever stronger commitment to your vocation as Catholic educators. If you continue to be faithful to this ministry today, as you have been in the past, you will be doing much in shaping a peaceful, just and hope filled world for the future. Yours is a great gift to the Church, a great gift to your nation.
Saturday, 12 September 1987
Dear Young People of New Orleans,
Dear Young People of America,
1. Listening to what you are telling me by your presence and through your representatives, I know that you are very much conscious of having a special mission in this world, of being partners in the mission of the Church.
I also know that in fulfilling your mission you are willing to give, you are willing to share, and you are willing to serve. And you are willing to do all this, together, not alone! In this you are like Jesus: Jesus gave and he served and he was never alone. He tells us: "The one who sent me is which me. He has not left me alone" (Jn 8,29).
Yes, dear young people, I too want to speak about your mission, the reason for your life on earth, the truth of your lives. It is extremely vital for you to have a clear idea of your mission, to avoid being confused or deceived. In speaking to the Christians of his time, Saint Paul explicitly urged them: "Let no one deceive you in any way" (2Th 2,3). And today I say the same to you, young people of America: "Let no one deceive you in any way" – about your mission, about the truth, about where you are going. Let no one deceive you about the truth of your lives.
2. But what is the opposite of deception? Where can you turn to find answers that satisfy, answers that will last? The opposite of deception is truth – the person who tells the truth, the person who is the truth. Yes, the opposite of deception is Jesus Christ, who tells us: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14,6). Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He reveals the truth of God. But he is also man. He shares in our humanity and came into the world to teach us about ourselves, to help us discover ourselves.
You young people are proud to live in a free country and you should be grateful to God for your freedom. But even though you can come and so as you like, and do what you want, you are not really free if you are living under the power of error or falsehood, or deceit or sin. Only Jesus Christ can make you fully free through his truth. And that is why he said: "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Ibid. 8, 32. 36). And that is why he added: "if the Son frees you, you will really be free". Dear young people: the whole message of Jesus in the Gospels and through his Church helps you to discover who you really are, to discover all the dimensions of your lives.
3. Each of us is an individual, a person, a creature of God, one of his children, someone very special whom God loves and for whom Christ died. This identity of ours determines the way we must live, the way we must act, the way we must view our mission in the world. We come from God, we depend on God, God has a plan for us – a plan for our lives, for our bodies, for our souls, for our future. This plan for us is extremely important – so important that God became man to explain it to us.
In God’s plan we are individuals, yes, but we are also part of a community. The Second Vatican Council emphasized the fact that God did not call us to share his life merely as unrelated individuals. Rather he wanted to mould us into a people as his sons and daughters (Cfr. Ad Gentes AGD 2). This aspect of our being a community, of our sharing God’s life as a people is part of our identity – who we are, what we are, where we are going.
Right away we can see that as persons we have responsibilities and that these responsibilities are part of our freedom. The Vatican Council went so far as to say that "man is defined first of all by his responsibilities towards his brothers and sisters and towards history" (Gaudium et Spes GS 55).
To understand ourselves as members of a community, as individuals linked together to make up the People of God, as persons with responsibility for others is a great insight – an insight that is necessary for fulfilling our mission properly.
4. As Christians you have these insights and Christ today wants to reinforce them in you. You speak about "being partners", of sharing and serving and working together. And all of this is linked to God’s plan, according to which we are brothers and sisters in Christ – brothers and sisters who belong to the People of God and who are made to live in community, to think about others, to help others. Dear young people of America: in the Church there are many different gifts. There is room for many different cultures and ways of doing things. But there is no room in the Church for selfishness. There is no room in the world for selfishness. It destroys the meaning of life; it destroys the meaning of love; it reduces the human person to a subhuman level.
When we speak about the need of being open to others, of taking into account the community, of fulfilling our responsibilities to all our brothers and sisters, we are actually talking about the whole world. Your mission as young people today is to the whole world. In what sense? You can never forget the interdependence of human beings wherever they are. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbour he does not set a geographical limit. What is needed today is a solidarity between all the young people of the world – a solidarity especially with the poor and all those in need. You young people must change society by your lives of justice and fraternal love. It is not just a question of your own country, but of the whole world. This is certainly your mission, dear young people. You are partners with each other, partners with the whole Church, partners with Christ.
5. In order, however, to accomplish this great work, to be in a condition to change the world in the name of Jesus, you yourselves must actually be living according to your own identity – according to God’s plan for your lives. Once again it is the world of Jesus that directs your lives and tells you what that plan is. You remember how much Jesus insisted on the commandment of love, how much he insisted on living according to certain norms called the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the meek... Blessed are the merciful... Blessed are the clean of heart... Blessed are the peacemakers". All of this is part of the plan.
When Saint Paul says, "Let no one deceive you", he is in effect saying: Do not believe anyone who contradicts Jesus or his message which is transmitted to you by the Church, Jesus speaks to you young people and tells you the value of meekness, mercy and humility. Other voices in the world will immediately shout out: "weakness!". In the Gospel Jesus emphasizes the value of honesty, uprightness, justice and fairness. But when you practice these virtues, you are liable to be accused of being "naive". Jesus and his Church hold up to you God’s plan for human love, telling you that sex is a great gift of God that is reserved for marriage. At this point the voices of the world will try to deceive you, with powerful slogans, claiming that you are "unrealistic", "out of it", "backward", even "reactionary". But the message of Jesus is clear: purity means true love and it is the total opposite of selfishness and escape.
6. Jesus’ message applies to all the areas of life. He reveals to us the truth of our lives and all aspects of this truth. Jesus tells us that the purpose of our freedom is to say "yes" to God’s plan for our lives. What makes our "yes" so important is that we say it freely; we are able to say "no". Jesus teaches us that we are accountable to God, that we must follow our consciences, but that our consciences must be formed according to God’s plan for our lives In all our relationships to other people and to the world, Jesus teaches us what we must do, how we must live in order not to be deceived, in order to walk in truth. And today, dear young people, I proclaim to you again Jesus Christ: the way, and the truth and the life – your way, your truth and your life.
What is in accord with the truth of Jesus is fulfilment, joy and peace, even if it means effort and discipline. What is not in accord with his truth means disorder, and when done deliberately it means sin. Deliberate or not, it eventually means unhappiness and frustration.
7. It is with the truth of Jesus, dear young people, that you must face the great questions in your lives, as well as the practical problems. The world will try to deceive you about many things that matter: about your faith, about pleasure and material things, about the dangers of drugs. And at one stage or another the false voices of the world will try to exploit your human weakness by telling you that life has no meaning at all for you. The supreme theft in your lives would be if they succeeded in robbing you of hope. They will try, but not succeed if you hold fast to Jesus and his truth.
The truth of Jesus is capable of reinforcing all your energies. It will unify your lives and consolidate your sense of mission. You may still be vulnerable to attack from the pressures of the world, from the forces of evil, from the power of the devil. But you will be invincible in hope: "in Christ Jesus our hope" (1Tm 1,1).
Dear young people: the word of Jesus and his truth and his promises of fulfilment and life are the Church’s response to the culture of death, to the onslaughts of doubt and to the cancer of despair.
Let me just add two practical thoughts from the Second Vatican Council. The Council tells us that we must avoid thinking that we have at hand the solutions to all the particular problems of life (Cfr. Gaudium et Spes GS 33). But at the same time the Church knows that she possesses the light in which the solutions to the problems of humanity can be discovered (Ibid. 12). What is this light? What can it be? Only the truth of Jesus Christ!
Dear Young People,
8. I would like to add something else to what I have already said to you. I would like to speak to you briefly about prayer, about communion with God, a communion that is deeply personal between ourselves and God.
In prayer we express to God our feelings, our thoughts, our sentiments. We wish to love and be loved, to be understood and to understand. Only God loves us perfectly, with an everlasting love. In prayer, we open our hearts and our minds to this God of love. And it is prayer that makes us one with the Lord. Through prayer we come to share more deeply in God’s life and in his love.
9. One of the most striking things about Jesus was his habit of prayer. In the midst of an active public ministry, we find him going away by himself to be alone in silence and communion with his Father in heaven. On the Sabbath, he made it a practice to go to the synagogue and pray with others in common. When he was together with his disciples, or when he was by himself, he prayed to the Father whom he dearly loved.
Saint Mark’s Gospel describes an evening in Capernaum when Jesus cured many who were sick and expelled many demons. After giving us this description of Christ’s generous care for others, Saint Mark adds: "Rising early the next morning, he went off to a lonely place in the desert; there he was absorbed in prayer" (Marc. 1, 35).
And Saint Luke informs us that, before Jesus selected the Twelve to be his Apostles, "he went out to the mountain to pray, spending the night in communion with God" (Lc 6,12). In fact, it seems that it was his example of prayer that prompted his disciples to want to pray: "One day he was praying in a certain place", Luke tells us, and "when he had finished, one of his disciples asked him, "Lord, teach us to pray"" (Ibid. 11, 1). That was the occasion when Jesus taught them the prayer that we call the "Lord’s prayer", or the "Our Father".
10. If you really wish to follow Christ, if you want your love for him to grow and last, then you must be faithful to prayer. It is the key to the vitality of your life in Christ. Without prayer, your faith and love will die. If you are constant in daily prayer and in the Sunday celebration of Mass, your love for Jesus will increase. And your heart will know deep joy and peace, such as the world could never give.
But many young people tell me that they do not know how to pray or they wonder if they are praying in a way that is correct. Here again, you must look to the example of Christ. How did Jesus himself pray?
First of all, we know that his prayer is marked by a spirit of joy and praise. "Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said: ‘I offer you praise, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth" (Ibid. 10, 21). In addition, he entrusted to the Church at the Last Supper the celebration of the Eucharist, which remains for all ages the most perfect means of offering to the Father glory and thanksgiving and praise.
Yet, there were also times of suffering when, in great pain and struggle, Jesus poured out his heart to God, seeking to find in his Father both comfort and support. For example, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the inner struggle became even more difficult, then "in his anguish he prayed with all the greater intensity, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Lc 22,44). "He prayed with all the greater intensity" – what an example for us when we find life difficult, when we face a painful decision or when we struggle with temptation. At times like these, Jesus prayed with all the greater intensity. We must do the same!
When it is difficult therefore to pray, the most important thing is not to stop praying, not to give up the effort. At these times, turn to the Bible and to the Church’s liturgy. Meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Ponder the wisdom and counsel of the apostles and the challenging messages of the prophets. Try to make your own the beautiful prayers of the Psalms. You will find in the inspired word of God the spiritual] food you need. Above all, your soul will be refreshed when you take part wholeheartedly with the community in the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church’s greatest prayer.
11. Do you recall the story of Jesus and his Mother Mary at the wedding feast of Cana? At a certain point in the feast, when they have run out of wine, Mary tells those waiting on table, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2,5). When the waiters follow Mary’s advice, Jesus rewards their faith and changes water into wine, a wine that far surpasses the quality of what had been served before. And Mary’s advice still holds true today. For the true success of our lives consists in knowing and doing the will of Jesus, in doing whatever Jesus tells us. When you pray, you must realize that prayer is not just asking God for something or seeking special help, even though prayers of petition are true ways of praying. But prayer should also be characterized by thanksgiving and praise, by adoration and attentive listening, by asking God’s pardon and forgiveness. If you follow Jesus’ advice, and pray to God constantly, then you will learn to pray well. God himself will teach you.
Prayer can truly change your life, for it turns your attention away from yourself and directs your mind and your heart towards the Lord. If we look only at ourselves, with our own limitations and sins, we quickly give way to sadness and discouragement. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, then our hearts are filled with hope, our minds are washed in the light of truth, and we come to know the fullness of the Gospel with all its promise and life.
12. Prayer also helps us to be open to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and love, the Spirit who was given to the Church so that she could fulfil her mission in the world. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the strength to resist evil and do good, to do our part in building up the Kingdom of God.
It is significant that the symbol of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was tongues of fire. In fact, fire is often the symbol that the Bible uses to speak of the action of God in our lives. For the Holy Spirit truly inflames our hearts, engendering in them enthusiasm for the works of God. And when we pray, the Holy Spirit stirs up within us love of God and love of our neighbour.
The Holy Spirit brings us joy and peace. The modern technological world can offer us many pleasures, many comforts of life. It can even offer us temporary escapes from life. But what the world can never offer is lasting joy and peace. These are the gifts which only the Holy Spirit can give. And these are the gifts that I ask for you, so that you may be strong in hope and persevering in love. But the condition for all of this is prayer, which means contact with Christ, communion with God. Dear young people: my message to you is not new. I have given it before and, with God’s grace, I will give it again. And so, as long as the memory of this visit lasts, may it be recorded that I, John Paul II, came to America to call you to Christ, to invite you to pray!
Speeches 1987 - New Orleans