Speeches 1989 - Fornebu International Airport, Oslo
Friday, 2 June 1989
1. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ep 1,2). These words of Saint Paul aptly describe my own prayerful good wishes for each of you and for all the people of Norway. I thank God for this opportunity to listen to God’s word together with you and to reflect with you on its meaning for the life of the Church and the world.
My special greeting goes to the bishops of the Lutheran Church of Norway, the representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, the State and Municipal officials, my fellow Catholics and to all who are present here today. I am especially grateful to Bishop Bremer for inviting me in the name of the Lutheran Church of Norway to this venerable place of worship.
2. This cathedral at Nidaros was built by your ancestors over the grave of the great Saint Olav, who played such a crucial role in the spread of Christianity in this land. In this and in many other ways, the cathedral bears witness to the spiritual, political and cultural history of your nation. It also speaks to us of an age when Christians had not yet suffered the sadness of divisions. Both Protestants and Catholics in Norway look to Saint Olav for their roots in the past and for the inspiration they need to live in the present a truly Christian life.
To be sure, this cathedral is more than a building of stone. It is a place where, for centuries, people have been reborn as children of God in Baptism, where they have heard the word of God proclaimed in the Scriptures as we have today, and have offered him the Church’s worship; a place where in personal prayer they have made known to God their needs and have thanked him for his blessings. For medieval pilgrims who came to Nidaros after a long and arduous journey, the cathedral was also a reflection of the heavenly Jerusalem towards which we move on our earthly pilgrimage. Truly a cathedral such as this is more than a building of stone. It turns our spiritual gaze heavenward. It lifts our minds and hearts to God.
3. Dear brothers and sisters: we must surely recognize that the mind and heart of modern man need to be lifted up to God. We must acknowledge that for all the advances of modern science and technology which are transforming the way we live, humanity, in the words of Saint Paul, still “groans inwardly” (Cfr. Rom Rm 8,23) in expectation of something further. Indeed, the whole of creation “groans in travail” (Cfr. ibid.8, 20. 22) for something beyond our human power to give.
Science and technology, by which the material cares and burdens of life are increasingly lightened are true achievements of man’s creative energy and intelligence. But knowledge of this kind creates problems as well as solving them. We have only to think of the environmental and social impact of our modern way of life, or of the dangers created by our use of the atom or of biomedical techniques. Science and technology, like the economic life that they generate, cannot of themselves articulate the meaning of existence or of human striving. They cannot of themselves explain, much less eliminate, evil, suffering and death.
Nor may we forget that the “modern man” of whom we speak is not an abstraction, but rather the concrete person that each of us is, a human being with a heart as well as a mind. Here, too, many dilemmas beset us. We strive for love, without which we cannot live, yet today the most basic relationships of love in marriage and the family are threatened by divorce, broken homes and a radical questioning of the very meaning of manhood and woman-hood. We strive for security, wellbeing and a sense of self-worth, yet the traditions of community, family, home and work are being undermined by transformations which do not always acknowledge the ethical dimension inherent in all human activity and endeavour. We wish to be free, but unless there is a common understanding of what we ought to do and not simply what we can do, freedom ends in the tyranny of selfishness and superior force.
What is needed in the midst of these personal and social ills is a higher wisdom which transforms the mind and heart and will: a wisdom which perfects the human intellect by gently drawing it to look for and to love what is true and good, thus leading man through visible realities to those which cannot be seen. The Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council warned that: “Our era needs such wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanized. For the future of the world stands in peril unless wiser people are forthcoming” (Gaudium et Spes GS 15).
4. Dear friends: today in this Cathedral of Nidaros, built to the glory of God as a beacon pointing heavenward in the midst of the modern world, we stand together in order to proclaim the Good News of redemption in Jesus Christ. Through him we come to know the meaning of creation and of human activity within the plan of God. Jesus Christ is our wisdom. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Cfr. Io Jn 14,6). If creation is still “subject to futility”, it is so in the hope of being transformed in Christ. If humanity “groans in travail”, it does so to the extent that people’s minds and hearts are not lifted up with Christ to God, that consciences are not conformed through Christ to the wisdom that comes from God.
As Christians we proclaim a wisdom that recognizes and upholds the priority of ethics over technology, the primacy of the person over things, the superiority of spirit over matter (Cfr. Ioannis Pauli PP. II Redemptor Hominis RH 16). We are able to make these assertions because Christ has shown us that our human destiny is a personal moral and spiritual one; it lies in a filial relationship to God.
Through faith and baptism we have come to know that wisdom is offered as a divine gift but it also confounds the human intellect if it remains closed to the transcendent. It is a revealed wisdom which teaches us that the God of the universe is not an impersonal or unknowable force but a Father. In moments of interior enlightenment, Jesus’ words re-echo in our hearts: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes” (Mt 11,25).
5. Our task is to open the mind of modern man to divine wisdom, to open the heart of modern man to God. We do so in the manner of Christ, who is “gentle and lowly in heart”, whose “yoke is easy and burden light” (Cfr. ibid. 11, 29-30). By proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed, we bear witness before all to the path that leads to life. And we do this not as isolated individuals, but as persons united in Christ through our baptism.
Clearly such witness constitutes an ecumenical challenge for all those who, as Saint Paul says, “have heard the word of truth “and have been” sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ep 1,13). Today on the eve of the third Christian millennium, the world needs to hear the Good News of salvation no less than it did in the first and second millennia. It is all the more urgent that Christians work for the gradual elimination of their differences and bear common witness to the Gospel.
Today in this cathedral, I give thanks to God for the grace of the ecumenical movement which we have experienced in our time. Through the working of the Holy Spirit new relationships have begun to develop between Christians who have been divided from one another for centuries. I also wish to express gratitude to all those in Norway who have responded to this grace and have worked with dedication to promote the unity of Christians in accordance with Christ’s will. May you persevere along this path with patience and love, so that the dialogue between us will continue with mutual respect and trust as we seek unity in the full truth of Christ.
Preparations for the millennium celebration in 1997 of the foundation of Trondheim will be an opportunity for Lutherans, Catholics and all Christians in Norway to reflect further on the common roots of your faith and on the gospel values which have shaped your common history. It will also be an opportunity for prayer – fervent unceasing prayer for the unity of all Christ’s followers, since in the end we know that unity will come only as a gift from God.
6. Dear brothers and sisters: before us lies the duty of opening a new Christian chapter in history in response to the many challenges of a changing world. In centuries past the Church led the peoples of Europe to the baptismal font and the cultural identity of Europe grew out of the Christian faith. The centrality of the person, the role of the family in society, the rights of the individual and of groups the moral and ethical values which gave direction and inspiration to human behaviour, all developed in contact with the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. In today’s Europe, however, there is taking place a cultural clash of enormous consequences: it is a clash between two visions of life, the one revealed in Christ wherein God is accepted as the ultimate and recognized source of truth, goodness and freedom and the other of the world, closed to transcendence, wherein all is to be built on humanity’s efforts to give meaning and direction to itself through social consensus. Christians understand what is at stake. The history of our own century clearly shows that where no transcendent norm is acknowledged, people are in danger of surrendering themselves to forces which take command of society without concern for individuals and their freedoms.
The Catholic Church seeks no privilege but expects only that civil and religious freedom should be effectively guaranteed so that she can proclaim her message and address the basic questions posed by human existence in the contemporary world. Speaking to the European Parliament in October of last year I stressed that “if the underlying religious and Christian fabric of this continent were to be denied as an inspiration to morality or as a positive factor in society, not only would the entire heritage of our European past be negated, but the future dignity of the people of Europe... would be gravely endangered” (Ioannis Pauli PP. II Allocutio ad "Parlamento Europeo", 11, die 11 oct. 1988).
The time for wisdom on the part of everyone is now! The time for a renewed witness of faith on the part of Christians is now! We are being challenged to bring to humanity the Gospel of Christ, the Good News of redemption and of adoption as God’s children. We are being challenged to bear witness to the wisdom of the Incarnate Word, Christ the “Light of the Nations” (Cfr. Luc Lc 2,32), a light that leads to fullness of life for those who accept it. In the face of such great challenges, the Spirit of truth is urging us to persevere in the ecumenical task.
With confidence in God “who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask” (Ep 3,20) let us take up the challenge of a new evangelization. Let us proclaim once more the wisdom of the Beatitudes to a world in need of peace, of love and of brotherhood. Let us proclaim once more the truth of Christ, our Crucified and Risen Saviour. He is the “goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the centre of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings” (Gaudium et Spes GS 14). May God be with you all. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Amen.
Saturday, 3 June 1989
Mr Prime Minister and Members of the Government,
Dear Bishop Jolson,
Beloved People of Iceland,
1. It is with great joy and satisfaction that I set foot upon the soil of Iceland and greet her people. As I drew near to your country and marvelled at her magnificent landscapes and mountain peaks, I gave thanks to Almighty God for this moment and for the precious time that we will spend together. May God, who is the Lord of all creation and the Father of all nations, bless Iceland with peace and prosperity. May he continue to inspire you and your children to treasure all that is beautiful, all that is noble and all that is true.
For many centuries, Iceland has shared her natural beauty and her ancient traditions of generosity and honour with visitors who have come to this island from afar. I am deeply grateful to Her Excellency the President of the Republic, to you, Mr Prime Minister, and to the members of the Government for the kind invitation and the warm welcome which have been given to this most recent visitor to your land. My visit to Iceland is an expression of my own personal interest and deep esteem for your country and for her place within the family of nations. Indeed, because of the rich spiritual heritage reflected in the treasure of poetry and saga which your ancestors bequeathed to you, Iceland has much to say to a world that yearns to be inspired by the truth and to create a society of justice, peace and universal harmony.
2. I have come to Iceland, as you know, in fulfilment of my ministry as the Bishop of Rome. Within the Catholic Church, I have been entrusted with the task of building up the communion of the local Churches in the unity of faith, hope and love. This task has carried me to countries and peoples across the world, as I seek to be of service to my brothers and sisters in the faith, and to bear witness to Jesus Christ, “the Son of the living God” (Mt 16,16). In this pastoral visit to the Church in Iceland, I look forward to praying with Bishop Jolson, the priests and religious of the Diocese of Reykjavik, and the entire Catholic community. In our celebration of the Church’s liturgy, we shall praise God for the gift of faith and for the many blessings which he has bestowed upon us.
In addition, my pastoral visit seeks to encourage the good relations which have developed between Iceland’s Catholics and the members of other ecclesial communities. Despite the tragic divisions which have long separated Christians, all of us must strive, in fidelity to the Lord’s will, to be instruments of his reconciliation, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Cfr. Eph Ep 4,3). Here in Iceland, the name of Christ has been preached for a thousand years. The message of the Gospel has formed the heart and the conscience of your people throughout her history. At Thingvellir where Christ’s Church first took root in Iceland, I will join in prayer with our brothers and sisters from the Lutheran Church and other ecclesial communities. In thanking God for all that we have received, we shall pray for the peace of Iceland and the spiritual health of all her people.
3. Today, in Iceland and throughout the world, men and women of good will are increasingly aware of the need for enduring peace among nations and peoples. They understand that this peace can only be the fruit of a just economic and social order. In the face of new forms of violence and oppression, they continue to long for the day when all nations will be secure in their freedom, and all men and women will enjoy their just share of the world’s goods. In their concern for the future of the world in which their children will live, they have come to recognize the threat of a materialism that would sacrifice the environment itself to the pursuit of a sterile material progress.
Iceland and her people have much to say to a world that increasingly longs for stability, harmony and peace, yet senses its own fragile condition and the fateful choices that it must even now begin to make. The thousand-year history of your country has given you a vision that can still inspire a world that often fears to lose its very soul. Dear friends: I encourage you to stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you have received (Cfr. 2Thess 2Th 2,15). Remain faithful to the noble values that have shaped your Christian history and your life as a people.Those values are Iceland’s greatest treasure, and they offer the surest hope for your future and the future of our world. They have the power to inspire and sustain you as you seek to build what my predecessor Pope Paul VI called “the civilization of love”: a society based on a genuine solidarity, an openness to the needs of all, and a respect for the weak and those least able to defend themselves.
4. Dear people of Iceland: the message I proclaim among every people I visit is the same. It is the message of the grace and peace which come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Cfr. Rom Rm 1,7). That message has inspired your ancestors and guided your growth as a people down through the centuries. May it continue to yield a rich harvest in your lives, in your homes and in the hearts of your children. May it inspire you to be faithful to the best of Iceland’s noble heritage, and guide you in your every contribution to a world that longs to know the truth, the truth that alone can set us free (Cfr. Io Jn 8,32).
God bless Iceland! God bless you all!
Saturday, 3 June 1989
Dear Bishop Jolson,
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. As I begin my pastoral visit to Iceland I make my own the words of Saint Paul: “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2Th 1,2). I greet my brother in the episcopate, Bishop Jolson, and the priests, the religious and the lay people who are gathered here. I thank you for your presence and for your warm welcome.
Iceland has enjoyed a long Christian tradition. The roots of the Catholic Church go back to the year one thousand, when the Legislative Assembly (Althing) accepted Christianity. Even before that memorable date, the seeds of “new life” had already been sown thanks to the courageous efforts of the earliest settlers. Down to our own day, the Catholic faith in Iceland has been lived with perseverance, with an ecclesial spirit which is not easily dampened. Even though you are small in numbers, you provide a powerful witness of faithful perseverance, an indomitable will and a steadfastness which comes from knowing Christ.
2. I would now like to speak directly to my brothers in the priesthood. I wish to affirm straightaway that your ministry of word and sacrament is indispensable for the Christian life of God’s people in Iceland. As men who love Christ and keep his word, you can be confident that he and the Father have come to you and made their home with you (Cfr. Io Jn 14,23). You in turn must abide in Christ through personal holiness rooted in an ever deeper spiritual life. Since you act in persona Christi when you celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments, you will want to make him the centre of your priesthood, of all that you are and do. With Saint Paul you must say “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Ga 2,20).
Today’s cultural and social environment also requires a deep doctrinal formation on the part of all priests. This is essential if you are to be effective teachers of Christian doctrine in collaboration with your bishop. Continuing formation ensures that you will be able to present the Church’s faith in all its fullness, “in season and out of season”, in response to the many questions of our day. It will also help you to deepen your understanding and love of the priesthood. Through serious study you will be challenged to seek the light, to grow in your knowledge of the mysteries of faith and to pray for the wisdom that can only come from the Holy Spirit.
Finally, I ask you to encourage and pray for vocations to the priesthood in Iceland. Young men will respond generously to this noble call when they are inspired by your faith, your commitment and your perseverance. They will respond to the challenge of the priesthood when they see Christ in holy and faithful priests. Do not be afraid to invite – to call by name – generous young men to give their lives in service to the Lord. Let them see by the example of your own priestly lives what a joy it is to be Christ’s priest in Iceland today.
3. I also wish to address the women religious who are present: your lives are a sign to all people, even to those who do not believe in God, that you have dedicated yourselves to something special. For people of faith, your profession of chastity, poverty and obedience is a gift which Christ has made to his Church. Within the entire People of God, you have been called to a particular consecration, one which is “rooted in that of Baptism and is a fuller expression of it” (Cfr. Perfectae Caritatis PC 5). By responding to God’s call with a profound and free surrendering of self, you invite a response on the part of others to the Kingdom of God, already present in our midst. By God’s grace, you can show what it means to make a total gift of oneself as Jesus dad to the Father.
From the beginning of the Church’s life in Iceland, consecrated men and women have made an important contribution to the human and Christian development of the nation. At one point in history there were nine monasteries of the Benedictine and Augustinian Orders in Iceland and two convents of Benedictine Sisters. Many of the masterpieces of Icelandic literature were created during that time, thus linking the cultural and artistic patrimony of this land to the monastic presence. This outpouring of the Spirit was also manifested in the care of children, the sick and the elderly, a tradition that is continued today by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary, the Carmelite Sisters and the Sisters of Mercy who devote themselves to the care of the sick and the education of children.
Heute möchte ich meine aufrichtige Dankbarkeit den Sankt-Josefsschwestern bekunden, die ihr Apostolat auf dieser Insel mit der Gründung eines Pflegeheimes für Kranke begonnen haben; zuerst für die Fischer in Faskruösfjöröur. Dann errichteten sie das erste Hospital Islands.
Durch Euch, liebe Schwestern, haben viele Menschen zum Glauben an Gott gefunden; durch Eure liebende Sorge sind verhärtete Herzen umgewandelt worden. Auch nach Eurem Ausscheiden aus dem aktiven Dienst setzt Ihr Euer apostolisches Wirken durch Gebet und Opfer fort. Ich grüße Euch alle von Herzen: Euch, die Ihr hier anwesend seid, aber auch Euch, die Ihr krank seid. Von Herzen versichere ich Euch meines beständigen Gebets mit meinem besonderen Apostolischen Segen.
J’adresse un salut cordial aux Soeurs Franciscaines Missionnaires de Marie, qui se dévouent si généreusement au soin des malades et à l’instruction des enfants. Au nom de l’Eglise, je vous remercie de votre présence à Stykkisholmur, Reykjavik et maintenant Hafnarfjöröut! Vous avez en héritage la joie de saint François! Il ne connaissait pas de plus grand bonheur que de se dévouer à ceux qui sont pauvres matériellement ou spirituellement. En approfondissant votre charisme franciscain, vous serez en mesure de toucher ceux qui, malgré l’abondance des biens de ce monde, demeurent angoissés et insatisfaits. Par votre vie consacrée et par les services que vous rendez, vous guidez votre prochain vers le Christ, source de vie et source de joie, d’une joie que nul ne peut ravir (Cfr. Io Jn 16,22).
Wam, drogie Siostry Karmelitanki, dziekuje serdecznie za wasze modlitwy, poswiecenie i ofiarna prace. Poprzez milczenie uwazne wsluchanie sie w slowo Boze i szczególne nabozenstwo do Eucharystii, stajecie sie narzedziami zbawienia, jak Maryja zjednoczona ze swym Boskim Synem. Dajecie wymowne swiadectwo zyciu oddanemu samotnosci, modlitwie i pokucie. Jako zakonnice kontemplacyjne zajmujecie uprzywilejowane miejsce w zyciu Kosciola. Modle sie goraco o to, aby wielu mlodych ludzi dostrzeglo w waszym zyciu te radosc, która jest owocem zupelnego oddania sie Chrystusowi.
4. Finally, I wish to say a special word to all the lay people who are present. As I mentioned earlier, perseverance is the sign of Icelandic life and faith! The farmer and the fisherman struggle against the forces of nature and at times have to overcome great obstacles. We are on the eve of a day honouring the seamen of Iceland and their families – all of whom understand the meaning of courage and perseverance.
Perseverance and fidelity on the part of all is much needed in order to fulfil the Church’s mission. There is the perennial challenge of building up the community of believers, and of handing on the faith to young people, especially by good example as authentic followers of Christ. There is the challenge of upholding moral life in accordance with the Gospel. Icelandic Catholics are called to make a positive Christian contribution to society as did their ancestors before them. Like your national hero, Bishop Jon Arason, you are called to build on your Catholic identity and to reflect your obedience to Christ in all that you say and do.
In this great task you who are the lay faithful of Iceland – parents, single people and children – have an essential role to play. The recent Post-Synodal Exhortation spoke at length on your dignity as laity and the fruitfulness of your vocation (Cfr. Christifideles Laici CL 5). Among other things, it pointed out that the distinctive feature of the lay state of life is its secular character. Your calling bears witness within the Church to the significance of earthly temporal realities in the salvific plan of God (Ibid. 55).
The concerns of marriage, family, work and home – the responsibilities of social, political, cultural and economic life: none of those are foreign to the call to holiness that you have received from God. Nor are these realities alien to your participation in the Church’s mission. The challenge for all of us is to renew the life of society with the Gospel. The task of re-evangelization summons each of us to a deeper love and knowledge of our faith and a stronger commitment to bring it to others: “Everyone is called to grow continually in intimate union with Jesus Christ, in conformity to the Father’s will, in devotion to others, in charity and justice” (Ibid. 60).
I wish also to say a special word of greeting to the young people present who will soon receive the Sacrament of Confirmation! Dear young people: Confirmation will bind you more closely to Christ and the Church. You will be strengthened with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in order to bear the witness of faith to others in the community, especially to your own generation. Remember, Christ calls you to be his friends, and the Church needs each of you to carry the Good News of salvation to others.
5. My dear friends: priests, sisters and lay people, I appeal to all Catholics in Iceland and to all Christian believers to cooperate in making the gospel message of Jesus Christ the soul of your nation: its inspiration and strength, its light and its measure. In this way God will be glorified and all the citizens of Iceland will satisfy their deepest longings for what is true and good, for what is worthy of man’s life and eternal calling.
The challenge of Christian living is demanding, but we know by faith that “with God nothing will be impossible” (Lc 1,37). Christ’s grace and love will not be lacking. Never lose courage, for it is precisely in your weakness that God’s power will be manifested (cfr. 2Cor 2Co 12,9). Through his Spirit you will be able to say: “when I am weak, then I am strong” (Ibid. 12, 10). When you feel the burdens of the day or of the years, know that Christ is there to support you with the grace of your Christian calling.
To all of you who proclaim Christ’s Gospel by your perseverance in faith, hope and love I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Saturday, 3 June 1989
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Thingvellir. This National Shrine is forever linked to the Christian and civil history of Iceland, and I am well aware of the particular significance of holding this ecumenical service in this place.
“Höfum allir ein lög og einn sid”
(“We all have one law and one religion”)
It was here, at “All Men’s Chasm”, Almanagja, that Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi uttered this decision after the twenty-four hour “vigil of the cloak”. It was then, almost a thousand years ago, that Iceland became Christian.
Madam President: thank you for your presence at this special event which is also in tribute to great moments of the history of your country.
Bishop Jolson, and brothers and sisters of the Catholic faith: again I greet you all in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To you, Bishop Pétur Sigurgeirsson, I wish to extend a special word of thanks for all you have done to underline the significance of this event, as an expression of friendship and Christian charity. Your presence is dear to me, and I greet you in the fellowship which is ours through Christ. I also cordially greet you, Bishop Olafur Skulason and wish you well in the new ministry you will undertake shortly.
In the grace of God and the peace of Jesus Christ I salute this ecumenical gathering. Together with you, my Catholic and Lutheran brothers and sisters, I give thanks to the Father for the Good News of our salvation through our Baptism and faith in Jesus Christ.
2. The Christian religion was brought to Iceland by missionaries who responded to the words of Christ which we have just heard from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28,19-20). Your ancestors answered this call by accepting Christ and striving to forge a society based on his teachings. A great Christian era of religion, culture and sanctity began so that the words of the Psalmist can well express what was accomplished by faith for centuries afterwards: “O Lord; you have been our refuge from one generation to the next” (Ps 89,1).
More than five hundred years later the divisions which shook Christian Europe were brought here. A painful time in Christian history had begun, and the effects of it persist to this day. The staunch Bishop Jon Arason resisted the shifts taking place in Icelandic faith and culture and gave his life for his beliefs. Frail and human though he was, he showed the typical courage of an Icelander, a churchman and a bishop, by shedding his blood at Skalholt.
Yet the changes became accepted. In this new context, too, many Icelanders served the Lord in holiness and were generous in works of evangelical love and mercy. To mention one example, the great Hallgrimur Petersson called the nation to the Lord through his Hymns of the Passion.A prayer which he wrote fits well the spiritual hopes and struggles of many in our own times:
“Oft am I unbelieving –
Thou knowest me, my Lord,
Fast to my error cleaving,
Unmindful of thy word.
Yet I would now seek truly
Thy counsels to obey,
Turn from my ways unruly.
Grant me thy grace, I pray”.
3. Deep wounds were inflicted on the western Christian world, wounds which are still in need of healing. We must persevere on the path to unity, not for reasons of convenience, but because this is the declared will of Christ, “the head of the Church, his body” (Ep 5,23).
It is important to remember that down the centuries Lutherans and Catholics and other Christians have continued to have much in common. Through Baptism we are all incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ. In the reading we have just heard, Saint Paul addresses the Corinthians and, in recognition of the fact that they are united with him in one and the same faith, he reminds them that they “where all baptized into one body... and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1Co 12,13). Baptism, as the beginning of salvation in each individual, contains an internal dynamism which is “wholly directed towards the acquiring of the fullness of life in Christ” (Cfr. Unitatis Redintegratio UR 22). It is thus “oriented towards a complete profession of faith, a complete incorporation into the system of salvation as Christ himself willed it to be, and finally towards a complete participation in Eucharistic communion” (Ibid.). The challenge before us is to overcome little by little the obstacles to this communion and grow together into that unity of the one Church of Christ, that unity with which he endowed her from the beginning. The seriousness of the task forbids rashness or impatience, but the duty of responding to Christ’s will demands that we remain steadfast on the path towards peace and unity among all Christians.
We know that it is not ourselves who will heal the wounds of division and re-establish unity – we are merely instruments that God can use. Unity among Christians will be God’s gift, in his own moment of grace. Humbly we strive towards that day, growing in love, in mutual forgiveness and trust.
4. While we honour Iceland’s Christian foundations, our eyes turn to the future. We see on the horizon the approach of a new millennium, only a decade away. The headlong pace of modern life shows that this nation, indeed the world, is facing new challenges as we move towards the twenty-first century. Developments in economic and political life, and new possibilities in the life-sciences, call you to a wise discernment of the truths and values inherent in your best traditions. They are truths and values which must be firmly upheld if the spiritual freedom and genuine well-being of future generations of Icelanders is to be safeguarded.
Family life has already been deeply affected by change, and not always for the good. The traditional Icelandic home has always been a school of faith, love and moral teaching. Its spirit is reflected in a story written by your late beloved Father Jon Svensson, of the Society of Jesus, affectionately known as “Father Nonni”. Nonni’s mother bibs farewell to him in simple words which go to the heart of your traditions: “Be honest”, she says, “and don’t forget God”. But the fact is that families are facing new and serious pressures which can only be met by a renewed and deeper respect for life and love. It is essential to recover an awareness of the primacy of moral values, to reflect on the ultimate meaning of life and its transcendent destiny.
In this important matter there is so much that all Christians can do together. I encourage you to continue to cooperate in identifying the deeper questions affecting your society and to answer these questions with evangelical wisdom.
5. The uncertainty and confusion brought by certain changes in social and family life call to mind three priorities which are pastoral in nature and which are fully in conformity with the decision to accept Christianity which was made here a thousand years ago. These priorities have great meaning for Christians always and everywhere.
The first is this: as Christians, our lives must be rooted firmly in Christ. He is the “rock of our salvation” (Ps 93,22), “the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14,6). Iceland recognized this in the year 1000, and Iceland is called to renew that faith in our own time. It is significant that Jesus’ command to his disciples to go and teach all nations is immediately followed by his promise: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28,20). Yes, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever” (Hebr. 13, 8). In the midst of change, Christ remains our steadfast hope. No one should think that the Christian message is in some way contrary to human progress or to humanity’s legitimate aspirations to truth, freedom and justice.
Does not the Gospel of Saint John promise the fulfilment of such aspirations in the deepest possible sense when it proclaims: “the Son continues for ever... if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn 8,35-36).
The second priority is this: because we are rooted in Christ we must also bear public witness to him. It is of the very nature of being a Christian to evangelize, to spread the word in season and out of season (Cfr. 2Tim 2Tm 4,2), to witness to the Gospel in times of calm and in times of turmoil, by the way we live. It is especially when civilization is in transition, and when it seems that a new set of secular values is emerging, that humanity needs to hear the Gospel of God’s love for us in Christ, the good news that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us... therefore we are now... reconciled to God” (Rm 5,8-10). Now especially is the time for all Christians to bear witness with vigour to the great act of reconciliation accomplished for us by God through Jesus Christ.
The third priority involves our responsibility for unity.Is it not obvious that those who witness to Christ, “through whom we have now received our reconciliation” with the Father (Ibid. 5, 11; cfr. 2Cor 2Co 5,18-20), must also be reconciled to one another? We cannot ignore the ecumenical task. In this predominantly Lutheran country, I wish to express my encouragement for the international dialogue now taking place between the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, a dialogue which seeks to resolve the historical and doctrinal difficulties which have been obstacles between Lutherans and Catholics. Let us support these efforts and pray for their success.
6. It is true that the world is facing new challenges. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is our hope. For Christians a time of change is not a time for fear, but a time to build and a time to bring the Good News of salvation to all. The decade ahead, leading to the third Christian millennium, offers the Christians of this celebrated nation of explorers, brave seafarers, hardy farmers and dedicated men and women a great opportunity to bear common witness to the Gospel in response to society’s deepest needs.
Here in “All Men’s Chasm” Almanagja, can we not imagine a decade in which Icelandic Catholics and Lutherans will go forward together in facing the tasks of our time? Prayerful dialogue can help clarify what you have in common and where the points of difference and division lie. You can come to know one another better, in order to build on the real though imperfect communion already existing between fellow Christians by reason of their Baptism and faith in Christ.
May this podium – specially built to mark this historic meeting – stand as a symbol of your determination to walk hand in hand as brothers and sisters in the One Lord.
7. Your ancestors worshipped the Lord and centred their lives in him. Among the ways in which they praised God down the centuries was the special reverence they showed to Mary, the Mother of the Redeemer. Children from generation to generation have been given her name: Maria. This reverence is immortalized in the Maria Saga. The Marian Hymn Lilja composed in 1350 sings Mary’s praises. Stefan fra Hvitadal reflected this devotion when he wrote:
“Lystu theim hédan
Er lokast bra
Today, when the Catholic Church is celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it is fitting for me to ask her to intercede for you and for Iceland. May the prayers of the Blessed Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ accompany you always!
Dear brothers and sisters: I thank you for your welcome and for this time of prayer we are sharing together in Thingvellir. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2Th 3,18). Amen.
Speeches 1989 - Fornebu International Airport, Oslo