Speeches 1987 - "Louisiana Superdome" Stadium






Xavier University of New Orleans

Saturday, 12 September 1987

Dear Friends,
Dear Leaders in Catholic Higher Education,

1. At the end of this day dedicated to the prayerful celebration of Catholic education in the United States, I greet you and all those whom you represent, with esteem and with affection in our Lord Jesus Christ. I thank the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities for having arranged this meeting. I express my gratitude to DR Norman Francis and to all at Xavier University for their hospitality at this institution, which, in so many ways, serves the cause of Catholic higher education.

"I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Glorify the Lord with me,
Let us together extol his name" (Ps 34,2-4).

Yes, let us join in thanking God for the many good things that he, the Father of Wisdom, has accomplished through Catholic colleges and universities. In doing so, let us be thankful for the special strengths of your schools–for their Catholic identity, for their service of truth, and for their role in helping to make the Church’s presence felt in the world of culture and science. And let us be thankful above all for the men and women committed to this mission, those of the past and those of today, who have made and are making Catholic higher education the great reality that it is.

2. The United States is unique in its network of more than two hundred and thirty-five colleges and universities which identify themselves as Catholic. The number and diversity of your institutions are in fact without parallel; they exercise an influence not only within the United States but also throughout the universal Church, and they bear a responsibility for her good.

Two years from now you will celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the founding by John Carrol of Georgetown University, the first Catholic university in the United States. After Georgetown, through the leadership of religious congregations and farseeing bishops, and with the generous support of the Catholic people, other colleges and universities have been established in different parts of this vast country. For two centuries these institutions have contributed much to the emergence of a Catholic laity, which today is intimately and extensively involved in industry, government, the professions, arts and all forms of public and private endeavour – all those activities that constitute the characteristic dynamism and vitality of this land.

Amidst changing circumstances, Catholic universities and colleges are challenged to retain a lively sense of their Catholic identity and to fulfill their specific responsibilities to the Church and to society. It is precisely in doing so that they make their distinctive contribution to the wider field of higher education.

The Catholic identity of your institutions is a complex and vitally important matter. This identity depends upon the explicit profession of Catholicity on the part of the university as an institution and also upon the personal conviction and sense of mission on the part of its professors and administrators.

3. During my pastoral visit to this country in 1979, I spoke of various elements that contribute to the mission of Catholic higher education. It is useful once again to stress the importance of research into questions vital for the Church and society – a research carried out "with a just sense of history, together with the concern to show the full meaning of the human person regenerated in Christ"; to emphasize the need for educating men and women of outstanding knowledge who, "having made a personal synthesis between faith and culture, will be both capable and willing to assume tasks in the service of the community and of society in general, and to bear witness to their faith before the world"; and finally, to pursue the establishment of a living community of faith, "where sincere commitment to scientific research and study goes together with a deep commitment to authentic Christian living" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Allocutio ad moderatores et doctores Universitatis Catholicae Vashintoniensis et ad legatos Collegiorum Universitatumque catholicarum totius Nationis, 3, die 7 oct. 1979: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, II, 2 (1979) 687).

4. To appreciate fully the value of your heritage, we need to recall the origins of Catholic university life. The university as we know it began in close association with the Church. This was no accident. Faith and love of learning have a close relationship. For the Fathers of the Church and the thinkers and academics of the Middle Ages, the search for truth was associated with the search for God. According to Catholic teaching – as expressed also in the First Vatican Council – the mind is capable not only of searching for the truth but also of grasping it, however imperfectly.

Religious faith itself calls for intellectual inquiry; and the confidence that the re can be no contradiction between faith and reason is a distinctive feature of the Catholic humanistic tradition, as it existed in the past and as it exists in our own day.

Catholic higher education is called to exercise, through the grace of God, an extraordinary "share in the work of truth" (3 Io. 8). The Catholic university is dedicated to the service of the truth, as is every university. In its research and teaching, however, it proceeds from the vision and perspective of faith and is thus enriched in a specific way.

From this point of view one sees that there is an intimate relationship between the Catholic university and the teaching office of the Church. The bishops of the Church, as Doctores et Magistri Fidei, should be seen not as external agents but as participants in the life of the Catholic university in its privileged role as protagonist in the encounter between faith and science and between revealed truth and culture.

Modern culture reflects many tensions and contradictions. We live in an age of great technological triumphs but also of great human anxieties. Too often, today, the individual’s vision of reality is fragmented. At times experience is mediated by forces over which people have no control; sometimes there is not even an awareness of these forces. The temptation grows to relativize moral principles and to privilege process over truth. This has grave consequences for the moral life as well as for the intellectual life of individuals and of society. The Catholic university must address all these issues from the perspective of faith and out of its rich heritage.

5. Modern culture is marked by a pluralism of attitudes, points of view and insights. This situation rightly requires mutual understanding; it means that society and groups within society must respect those who have a different outlook from their own. But pluralism does not exist for its own sake; it is directed to the fullness of truth. In the academic context, the respect for persons which pluralism rightly envisions does not justify the view that ultimate questions about human life and destiny have no final answers or that all beliefs are of equal value, provided that none is asserted as absolutely true and normative. Truth is not served in this way.

It is true, of course, that the culture of every age contains certain ambiguities, which reflect the inner tensions of the human heart, the struggle between good and evil. Hence the Gospel, in its continuing encounter with culture, must always challenge the accomplishments and assumptions of the age (Cfr. Rom Rm 12,2). Since, in our day, the implications of this ambiguity are often so destructive to the community, so hostile to human dignity, it is crucial that the Gospel should purify culture, uplift it, and orient it to the service of what is authentically human. Humanity’s very survival may depend on it. And here, as leaders in Catholic education in the United States, you have an extremely important contribution to make.

Today there exists an increasingly evident need for philosophical reflection concerning the truth about the human person. A metaphysical approach is needed as an antidote to intellectual and moral relativism. But what is required even more is fidelity to the word of God, to ensure that human progress takes into account the entire revealed truth of the eternal act of love in which the universe and especially the human person acquire ultimate meaning. The more one seeks to unravel the mystery of the human person, the more open one becomes to the mystery of transcendence. The more deeply one penetrates the divine mystery, the more one discovers the true greatness and dignity of human beings.

6. In your institutions, which are privileged settings for the encounter between faith and culture, theological science has a special role and deserves a prominent place in the curriculum of studies and in the allocation of research resources. But theology, as the Church understands it, is much more than an academic discipline. Its data are the data of God’s Revelation entrusted to the Church. The deeper understanding of the mystery of Christ, the understanding which theological reflection seeks, is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit given for the common good of the whole Church. Theology is truly a search to understand ever more clearly the heritage of faith preserved, transmitted and made explicit by the Church’s teaching office. And theological instruction serves the community of faith by helping new generations to understand and to integrate into their lives the truth of God, which is so vital to the fundamental issues of the modern world.

7. Theology is at the service of the whole ecclesial community. The work of theology involves an interaction among the various members of the community of faith. The bishops, united with the Pope, have the mission of authentically teaching the message of Christ; as pastors, they are called to sustain the unity in faith and Christian living of the entire People of God. In this they need the assistance of Catholic theologians, who perform an inestimable service to the Church. But theologians also need the charism entrusted by Christ to the bishops and, in the first place, to the Bishop of Rome The fruits of their work, in order to enrich the life-stream of the ecclesial community, must ultimately be tested and validated by the Magisterium. In effect, therefore, the ecclesial context of Catholic theology gives it a special character and value, even when theology exists in an academic setting.

Here, the words of Saint Paul concerning the spiritual gifts should be a source of light and harmony for us all: "There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1Co 12,4-7). In the different offices and functions in the Church, it is not some power and dominion that is being divided up, but rather the same service of the Body of Christ that is shared according to the vocation of each. It is a question of unity in the work of service. In this spirit I wish to express cordial support for the humble, generous and patient work of theological research and education being carried out in your universities and colleges in accordance with the Church’s mission to proclaim and teach the saving wisdom of God (Cfr. ibid. 1, 21).

8. My own university experience impels me to mention another related matter of supreme importance in the Catholic college and university, namely, the religious and moral education of students and their pastoral care. I am confident that you too take this special service very seriously, and that you count it among your most pressing and most satisfying responsibilities. One cannot meet college and university students anywhere in the world without hearing their questions and sensing their anxieties. In their hearts your students have many questions about faith, religious practice and holiness of life. Each one arrives on your campuses with a family background, a personal history, and an acquired culture. They all want to be accepted, loved and supported by a Christian educational community which shows friendship and authentic spiritual commitment.

It is your privilege to serve your students in faith and love; to help them deepen their friendship with Christ; to make available to them the opportunities for prayer and liturgical celebration, including the possibility to know the forgiveness and love of Jesus Christ in the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. You are able, as Catholic educators, to introduce your students to a powerful experience of community and to a very serious involvement in social concerns that will enlarge their horizons, challenge their life styles and offer them authentic human fulfilment.

University students, for example, are in a splendid position to take to heart the Gospel invitation to go out of themselves, to reject introversion and to concentrate on the needs of others. Students with the opportunities of higher education can readily grasp the relevance for today of Christ’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Cfr. Luc Lc 16, 19ss), with all of its consequences for humanity. What is at stake is not only the rectitude of individual human hearts but also the whole social order as it touches the spheres of economics, politics and human rights and relations.

Here in the Catholic university centers of this nation, vivified by the inspiration of the Gospel, must be drawn up the blueprints for the reform of attitudes and structures that will influence the whole dynamic of peace and justice in the world, as it affects East and West, North and South. It is not enough to offer to the disadvantaged of the world crumbs of freedom, crumbs of truth and crumbs of bread. The Gospel calls for much more. The parable of the rich man and the poor man is directed to the conscience of humanity, and, today in particular, to the conscience of America. But that conscience often passes through the halls of Academe, through nights of study and hours of prayer, finally to reach and embrace the whole prophetic message of the Gospel. "Keep your attention closely fixed on it", we are told in the Second Letter of Peter, "as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2 Petr. 1, 19).

9. Dear brothers and sisters: as leaders in Catholic university and college education, you have inherited a tradition of service and academic excellence, the cumulative effort of so many who have worked so hard and sacrificed to much for Catholic education in this country. Now there lies before you the wide horizon of the third century of the nation’s constitutional existence, and the third century of Catholic institutions of higher learning serving the people of this land. The challenges that confront you are just as testing as those your forefathers faced in establishing the network of institutions over which you now preside. Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge is, and will remain, that of preserving and strengthening the Catholic character of your colleges and universities – that institutional commitment to the word of God as proclaimed by the Catholic Church. This commitment is both an expression of spiritual consistency and a specific contribution to the cultural dialogue proper to American life. As you strive to make the presence of the Church in the world of modern culture more luminous, may you listen once again to Christ’s prayer to his Father for his disciples: "Consecrate them by means of truth – 'Your word is truth'" (Jn 17,17).

May the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and Spirit of Truth, who has enlivened and enlightened the Church of Christ from the beginning, give you great confidence in the Father’s word, and sustain you in the service that you render to the truth through Catholic higher education in the United States of America.





San Antonio Municipal Auditorium

Sunday, 13 September 1987

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am grateful for your presentation of the vast network of Christian love and human solidarity in which you are engaged. May the Lord sustain you in your zeal. “May mercy, peace and love be yours in ever greater measure” (Iud. 1).

1. Catholic Charities is a title that speaks wonderfully well of the generous commitment of the Catholic people of the United States to the cause of human solidarity and Christian love. It gives me great joy to be among you, members of Catholic Charities USA, your associated agencies and your colleague organizations in social ministry. Through your efforts you help to make the loving compassion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ present to human needs.

Jesus Christ was born poor, lived poor, and died poor. He loved the poor. In his kingdom the poor have a special place. The Church cannot be any different. She must be ever more fully aware of her fundamental duty to reflect in her life and action the very love with which God loves his creatures. For what is at stake is the mystery of God’s love as explained in the First Letter of John: "We, for our part, love because he first loved us” (1Io. 4, 19). All service has its first moment in God.

2. You carry on a tradition and you live out a teaching grounded in Sacred Scripture, proclaimed by the Church and relevant to every age. Service to the needy not only builds up social harmony, it reveals God, our Father, the rescuer of the oppressed. In the Old Testament it was God’s love for his people that decreed a special concern, for the stranger, the widow and the orphan. As God had treated his people, so were they to treat others. The year of jubilee and the sabbatical year restored economic balance: slaves were set free, land was returned to its original owners, debts were cancelled (Cfr. Ex. 21ss.; Lv 25). Justice and mercy alike were served. The Prophets repeatedly drew attention to the inner qualities of heart that must animate the exercise of justice and service: "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart" (1S 16,7).

In the New Testament the mystery of God’s love is further revealed: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3,16). Through the heart of Jesus the fullness of God’s infinite mercy appeared in the world.Marvelling at the Incarnation of God’s Son, Mary exclaims that through this child the lowly shall be lifted up, their hunger shall be satisfied, and God’s mercy shall be extended to all (Cfr. Luc Lc 1,46-55). Years later, in announcing his own ministry, Jesus sums up his life’s program in the words of Isaiah: "to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favour from the Lord" (Ibid. 4, 18-19). Jesus identifies himself with the poor and the defenseless: what we do for them is done for him, the service we fail to render them is service denied to him (Cfr. Matth Mt 25,31-46).

Gross disparities of wealth between nations, classes and persons re-enact the Gospel parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus. And with the same dire consequences of which the Gospel speaks: “'My child', replied Abraham, 'remember that you were well off in your lifetime, while Lazarus was in misery. Now he has found consolation here, but you have found torment'” (Lc 16,25). The warning is as valid today as it was two thousand years ago.

3. From the beginning the Church has worked to carry out this teaching in her ministry. It is not necessary here to trace the extremely varied history of Christian service. The Church has always sought to respond to the stranger, the widow and the orphan; she has founded countless schools, hospitals, hospices, child-care facilities and shelters. In our own times the Second Vatican Council has forcefully reaffirmed the Church’s vocation, in fidelity to her Lord, to love all those who are afflicted in any way: to recognize in the poor and the suffering the likeness of her poor and suffering Founder; to do all she can to relieve their needs, striving to serve Christ in them. Twenty years after the Council, the Christian community is more than ever aware that the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the sick and the handicapped share in a special way in the Cross of Christ and therefore need the Church’s ministry.

Works of mercy, justice and compassion are basic to the history of the Church in the United States. The two American women who have been numbered among the saints, Frances Xavier Cabrini and Elizabeth Ann Seton, haven been thus honoured principally because of their work for their poorer brothers and sisters. The initiatives of Catholic charities in the United States go back to before the Declaration of Independence. Countless institutions and structures have been established to assist the orphan, the immigrant, the ethnic groups, all persons in need - of every race and creed. Countless Americans of all extractions have made the compassionate service of their fellow human beings the whole purpose and method of their lives. In particular, generations of religious, women and men, have consumed themselves in selfless service, under the sign of love.

4. The Church has always proclaimed a love of preference for the poor. Perhaps the language is new, but the reality is not. Nor has the Church taken a narrow view of poverty and the poor. Poverty, certainly, is often a matter of material deprivation. But it is also a matter of spiritual impoverishment, the lack of human liberties, and the result of any violation of human rights and human dignity. There is a very special and pitiable form of poverty: the poverty of selfishness, the poverty of those who have and will not share, of those who could be rich by giving but choose to be poor by keeping everything they have. These people too need help.

The Christian view is that human beings are to be valued for what they are, not for what they have. In loving the poor and serving those in whatever need, the Church seeks above all to respect and heal their human dignity. The aim of Christian solidarity and service is to defend and promote, in the name of Jesus Christ, the dignity and fundamental human rights of every person. The Church "bears witness to the fact that this dignity cannot be destroyed, whatever the situation of poverty, scorn, rejection or powerlessness to which a human being has been reduced. She shows her solidarity with those who do not count in a society by which they are rejected spiritually and sometimes even physically. She is particularly drawn with maternal affection towards those children who, through human wickedness, will never be brought forth from the womb to the light of day, as also for the elderly, alone and abandoned. The special option for the poor, far from being a sign of particularism or sectarianism, manifests the universality of the Church’s being and mission" (Congr. Pro Doctr. Fidei Libertatis Conscientia, 68).

For "the poor in spirit" the Church has a very special love. She has inherited it from Christ, who called them “blest” (Mt 5,3). On the one hand the Church knows, from the words of Christ, that despite all human efforts the poor will always be with us (Cfr. ibid. 26, 11). On the other hand, in all her efforts to uplift the poor she knows and proclaims the ambivalence of possessions. Indeed, where the pursuit of wealth is treated as the supreme good, human beings become imprisoned in the hardening of their hearts and in the closing of their minds (Cfr. Pauli VI, Populorum Progressio PP 19). For this reason too, the Church, in the very act of serving the poor and relieving their sufferings, must also continue to proclaim and serve their higher needs, those of the spirit.

5. Service to those in need must take the form of direct action to relieve their anxieties and to remove their burdens, and at the same time lead them to the dignity of self-reliance. In this respect I wish to express the Church immense gratitude to the many Americans who are working to help their fellow human beings, in all the different forms which relief and development take in today’s world. And I solemnly thank the American people for the generous way in which they respond to the appeal for financial support for the many splendid programs of assistance carried out in their name. In the case of the many programs run by the Catholic Church, I wish to invite all who have responsibility for them to ensure that they will always be, and be seen to be, in full accord with Catholic principles of truth and justice.

The organizational and institutional response to needs, whether in the Church or in society, is extremely necessary but it is not sufficient in itself. In this regard I would repeat a concern I mentioned in my Apostolic Letter on Human Suffering: institutions are very important and indispensable; nevertheless, no institution can by itself replace the human heart, human compassion, human love or human initiative, when it is a question of dealing with the sufferings of another. This refers to physical sufferings, but it is even more true when it is a question of the many kinds of moral suffering and when it is primarily the soul that is suffering" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Salvifici Doloris, 29).

Furthermore, in the necessary organizational and institutional response to needs, it is essential to avoid reducing human beings to mere units or categories of political or social planning and action. Such a process leads to new and other unjust forms of anonymity and alienation.

6. Service to the poor also involves speaking up for them, and trying to reform structures which cause or perpetuate their oppression. As committed Catholics involved in helping to meet people’s many concrete needs, you are still called to reflect on another dimension of a worldwide problem: the relationship between rich societies and poor societies, rich nations and poor nations. Your insights must be prayerfully joined to those of many other people to see what can be done as soon as possible to purify the social structures of all society in this regard.

In the final analysis, however, we must realize that social injustice and unjust social structures exist only because individuals and groups of individuals deliberately maintain or tolerate them. It is these personal choices, operating through structures, that breed and propagate situations of poverty, oppression and misery. For this reason, overcoming "social" sin and reforming the social order itself must begin with the conversion of our hearts. As the American bishops have said: "The Gospel confers on each Christian the vocation to love God and neighbour in ways that bear fruit in the life of society. That vocation consists above all in a change of heart: a conversion expressed in praise of God and in concrete deeds of justice and service ".

To many people, mercy and conversion may seem like poor tools for solving social problems. Some are tempted to accept ideologies that use force to carry out their programs and impose their vision. Such means sometimes produce what appear to be successes. But these successes are not real. Force and manipulation have nothing to do with true human development and the defense of human dignity. Catholic social teaching is totally different, not only as regards goals, but also as regards the means to be used. For the Christian, putting right human ills must necessarily take into account the reality of Creation and Redemption. It means treating every human being as a unique child of God, a brother or sister of Jesus Christ. The path of human solidarity is the path of service; and true service means selfless love, open to the needs of all, without distinction of persons, with the explicit purpose of reinforcing each person’s sense of God-given dignity.

7. Solidarity and service are above all a duty of Christian love which must involve the whole community. When we are tempted to congratulate ourselves on what we have done, we must bear soberly in mind the words of Jesus: “When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty” (Lc 17,10). When we are faced with the vastness of this duty of love, with the boundless needs of the poor in America and throughout the world, when we are disappointed by slowness and setbacks in the reform of structures and in our own conversion, let us not lose heart, and let us not settle for what has already been accomplished. Love can overcome great obstacles, and God’s love can totally transform the world.

As the Church tries to express Christian solidarity in generous service, she also wishes to draw attention to the importance of worship and prayer and their relationship to service. In looking to the example of Christ, the Church can never forget that all Christ’s actions were accompanied by prayer. It is in prayer that the Church develops and evaluates her social consciousness and unceasingly discovers anew her vocation to serve the needy of the world, as Jesus did. Addressing a group of American bishops during their last ad limina visit. I spoke of this specifically Christian and ecclesial dimension of all social and charitable action: “Only a worshipping and praying Church can show herself sufficiently sensitive to the needs of the sick, the suffering, the lonely especially in the great urban centers - and the poor everywhere. The Church as a community of service has first to feel the weight of the burden carried by so many individuals and families, and then strive to help alleviate these burdens. The discipleship that the Church discovers in prayer she expresses in deep interest for Christ’s brethren in the modern world and for their many different needs. Her concern, manifested in various ways, embraces - among others - the areas of housing, education, health care, unemployment, the administration of justice, the special needs of the aged and the handicapped. In prayer, the Church is confirmed in her solidarity with the weak who are oppressed, the vulnerable who are manipulated, the children who are exploited, and everyone who is in any way discriminated against" (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Allocutio ad quosdam episcopos e Civitatibus Foederatis Americae Septemtrionalis occasione oblata "ad limina" visitationis coram admissos, 6, die 3 dec. 1983: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VI, 2 (1983) 1238).

8. Catholic Charities and related organizations exist essentially to spread Christian love.It is especially through charitable activities at the parish level that the entire Church in the United States joins in the tasks of mercy, justice and love. We have seen today how Catholic Charities and all its colleague associations have lent God their own flesh - their hands and feet and hearts - so that his work may be done in our world. For your long and persevering service creative and courageous, and blind to distinctions of race or religion - you will certainly hear Jesus’ words of gratitude: "you did it for me" (Mt 25,40).

Gather, transform and serve! When done in the name of Jesus Christ, this is the spirit of Catholic Charities and of all who work in this cause, because it is the faithful following of the One who did "not come to be served but to serve" (Marc.10, 45). By working for a society which fosters the dignity of every human person, not only are you serving the poor, but you are renewing the founding vision of this nation under God! And may God reward you abundantly!

Speeches 1987 - "Louisiana Superdome" Stadium