Speeches 1997 - Saturday, 18 January 1997




Monday, 20 January 1997

1. I am pleased to address my cordial greetings to you and your sisters who have gathered in Rome, from the various parts of the world where this religious congregation is present, to take part in the Elective General Chapter, which is now reaching its conclusion.

First of all I would like to congratulate you, Reverend Mother, on your reelection to the office of Superior General. I extend my greeting to the religious who constitute the new General Council, to whom I offer my best wishes for generous and fruitful work in fostering the spiritual and apostolic progress of the entire institute. Finally, my affectionate greetings go to all the Daughters of St Anne who live and work in the various communities dispersed on different continents.

2. During the meetings of these busy days, which to a large extent have coincided with the liturgical season of Advent and Christmas, the Chapter delegates reflected with you, Reverend Mother, on the congregation's recent progress, studying the value of its works and pastoral and charitable commitments, in order to respond better to the institute's specific charism. I hope that the guidelines that have resulted from the chapter may instil renewed zeal in the life and activity of your religious family, especially in these years of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, I emphasized how, in the effort of discernment and community renewal, it is necessary to follow some basic criteria which, in particular, include fidelity to the original charism and attention to the new needs and forms of poverty of contemporary society: “For example, it is necessary to safeguard the significance of an institute’s own charism, to foster community life, to be attentive to the needs of both the universal and particular Church, to show concern for what the world neglects, and to respond generously and boldly to the new forms of poverty through concrete efforts” (n. 63).

3. In this commitment to renewal, every sister of the institute must be able to draw inspiration and strength from the rich spiritual heritage left by the foundress, Mother Rosa Gattorno. In her meeting with Pope Pius IX, she expressed her firm intention to fulfil faithfully the will of God in her life: “Yes, Holy Father, I want to do God's will”. Every Daughter of St Anne must make these words of the foundress her own, nourishing with prayer and an intense spiritual life the work of charity that she is called to offer to her brothers and sisters, and thus by her humble and faithful activity prepare for the coming of God's kingdom.

Our age is marked by renewed attention to the special role of the feminine vocation in the Church and in society. It is necessary that consecrated life in general, and individual institutes in particular, respond in a suitable way to the new challenges of today's culture. In this regard I am pleased to stress what I stated in the recent post-synodal document: “By virtue of their dedication lived in fullness and in joy, consecrated women are called in a very special way to be signs of God’s tender love towards the human race and to be special witnesses to the mystery of the Church, Virgin, Bride and Mother” (Vita consecrata VC 57).

4. I hope that under your enlightened guidance, Reverend Mother, the religious of this congregation will study with greater clarity their identity as women and as religious, making the most of the great potential of their feminine genius and putting it at the service of the welfare of their brothers and sisters, especially the materially and spiritually impoverished. I hope that each of you will live your vocation intensely, allowing yourselves to be won over by the love of God and effectively witnessing to his merciful presence at the side of every human being.

With these sentiments, as I invoke the heavenly protection of St Anne and the Virgin Mother of the Saviour, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, Reverend Mother, to the capitulars, to their respective communities and to the whole congregation.




Friday, 24 January 1997

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Welcome to the Pope’s home! I greet you with affection, dear itinerant lay people and priests, together with your leaders who promote the Neocatechumenal Way. Your visit today is a great comfort to me.

I know that you have come directly from your meeting on Mount Sinai and the shores of the Red Sea. For various reasons this has been an historic moment for you. For your spiritual retreat, you chose a place highly significant in the history of salvation, one very appropriate for listening to and meditating on the word of God, in order better to understand the Lord’s plan for you.

This is how you wished to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way. How far you have come with the Lord’s help! In recent years the Way's growth and spread in the Church has been truly impressive. Begun in the slums of Madrid, 30 years later it has become, like the Gospel mustard seed, a great tree which has now spread to more than 100 countries of the world, with a significant presence also among Catholics of the Eastern-rite Churches.

2. Like every anniversary, seen in the light of faith, yours too becomes an opportunity for praise and thanksgiving for the abundant gifts that in these years the Lord has granted you and, through you, to the whole Church. For many people the Neocatechumenal experience has been a journey of conversion and maturing in the faith through the rediscovery of Baptism as a true source of life, and of the Eucharist as the culminating moment in Christian life; through the rediscovery of the word of God which, shared in fraternal communion, becomes a light and guide for life; through the rediscovery of the Church as an authentic missionary community.

How many young people have actually discovered their own priestly or religious vocation thanks to the Way! Your visit today also offers me a happy opportunity to join in your hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the “great things” (magnalia) which God is doing in the experience of the Way.

3. Its history belongs to that blossoming of movements and ecclesial groups which is one of the most beautiful fruits of the spiritual renewal begun by the Second Vatican Council. This flourishing was and still is a great gift of the Holy Spirit and a radiant sign of hope on the threshold of the third millennium. Both pastors and lay faithful must be able to welcome this gift with gratitude, but also with a sense of responsibility, keeping in mind that “in the Church, both the institutional and the charismatic aspects, the hierarchy and the associations and movements of the faithful, are co-essential and, although in different ways, contribute to her life, renewal and sanctification” (To participants in the International Colloquium of Ecclesial Movements, Insegnamenti, Vol X/1, 1987, 478).

In today’s deeply secularized world, the new evangelization represents a fundamental challenge.The ecclesial movements, which are marked precisely by their missionary zeal, are called to a special commitment in a spirit of communion and collaboration. In the Encyclical Redemptoris missio I wrote in this regard: “When these movements humbly seek to become part of the life of local Churches and are welcomed by Bishops and priests within diocesan and parish structures, they represent a true gift of God both for the new evangelization and for missionary activity properly so-called. I therefore recommend that they be spread, and that they be used to give fresh energy, especially among young people, to the Christian life” (n. 72).

For this reason, for the year 1998, which within the framework of preparation for the Great Jubilee is dedicated to the Holy Spirit, I am hoping for a common witness of all the ecclesial movements, under the guidance of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. It will be a moment of communion and renewed commitment in the service of the Church’s mission. I am certain that you will not fail to keep this significant appointment.

4. The Neocatechumenal Way is 30 years old: the age, I would say, of a certain maturity. Your meeting at Sinai has, in a certain sense, opened a new stage before you. Therefore you have appropriately sought not only to look back at the past in a spirit of faith, but also to look ahead to the future, asking yourselves what God’s plan for the Neocatechumencal Way is at this historic moment. The Lord has put a precious treasure in your hands. How to live it to the full? How to develop it? How to share it with others? How to defend it from various present and future dangers? These are some of the questions you have asked yourselves, as leaders of the Way or as its first itinerants.

To answer these questions, in an atmosphere of prayer and deep reflection, at Sinai you began the process of drafting Statutes for the Way. This is a very important step that will lead to its formal juridical recognition by the Church, and it gives you a further guarantee of the authenticity of your charism. As we know, “those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts [the charisms], through their office not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good” (Lumen gentium LG 12). I encourage you to continue the work you have begun under the guidance of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and especially, of its Secretary, Bishop Stanislaw Rylko, present here with you. My special prayers go with you on this path.

Before concluding, I would like to give a cross to several sisters as a sign of their fidelity to the Church and their total dedication to the evangelizing mission. May the Lord Jesus be your comfort and support at difficult moments. May the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Church, be your model and guide in every circumstance.

With these wishes, I impart my affectionate Blessing to you here present and to all who are involved in the Neocatechumenal Way.




Friday, 24 January 1997

Your Eminences,
Beloved Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am pleased to welcome and greet you on the occasion of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. I thank the President, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, for his kind words introducing this very important meeting. In fact, the theme of your reflection: “The Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried”, is at the centre of the attention and concern of the Church and of her Pastors having the care of souls, who continually lavish their pastoral attention on those who are suffering because of difficult family situations.

The Church cannot be indifferent to this distressing problem, which involves so many of her children. In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio I had already acknowledged that in dealing with a wound that is more widely affecting even Catholic environments, “the problem must be faced with resolution and without delay” (n. 84). The Church, Mother and Teacher, seeks the welfare and happiness of the home and when it is broken for whatever reason, she suffers and seeks to provide a remedy, offering these persons pastoral guidance in complete fidelity to Christ’s teachings.

2. The 1980 Synod of Bishops on the family considered this painful situation and gave appropriate pastoral guidelines for these circumstances. In the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, taking the Synod Fathers’ reflections into consideration, I wrote: “The Church, which was set up to lead to salvation all people and especially the baptized, cannot abandon to their own devices those who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second marriage. The Church will therefore make untiring efforts to put at their disposal her means of salvation” (n. 84).

It is in this clearly pastoral setting, as you have explained in your presentation of the work of this plenary assembly, that the reflections of your meeting are framed, reflections aimed at helping families to discover the greatness of their baptismal vocation and to practise works of piety, charity and repentance. Nevertheless, pastoral help presupposes that the Church’s doctrine be recognized as it is clearly expressed in the Catechism: “The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom” (n. 1640).

However, let these men and women know that the Church loves them, that she is not far from them and suffers because of their situation. The divorced and remarried are and remain her members, because they have received Baptism and retain their Christian faith. Of course, a new union after divorce is a moral disorder, which is opposed to precise requirements deriving from the faith, but this must not preclude a commitment to prayer and to the active witness of charity.

3. As I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, the divorced and remarried cannot be admitted to Eucharistic Communion since “their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist” (n. 84). And this is by virtue of the very authority of the Lord, Shepherd of Shepherds, who always seeks his sheep. It is also true with regard to Penance, whose twofold yet single meaning of conversion and reconciliation is contradicted by the state of life of divorced and remarried couples who remain such.

However, there are many appropriate pastoral ways to help these people. The Church sees their suffering and the serious difficulties in which they live, and in her motherly love is concerned for them as well as for the children of their previous marriage: deprived of their birthright to the presence of both parents, they are the first victims of these painful events.

It is first of all urgently necessary to establish a pastoral plan of preparation and of timely support for couples at the moment of crisis. The proclamation of Christ's gift and commandment on marriage is in question. Pastors, especially parish priests, must with an open heart guide and support these men and women, making them understand that even when they have broken the marriage bond, they must not despair of the grace of God, who watches over their way. The Church does not cease to “invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the divine mercy by other ways ... until such time as they have attained the required dispositions” (Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia RP 34). Pastors “are called to help them experience the charity of Christ and the maternal closeness of the Church, receiving them with love, exhorting them to trust in God’s mercy and suggesting, with prudence and respect, concrete ways of conversion and participation in the life of the community of the Church” (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful, 14 September 1994, n. 2). The Lord, moved by mercy, reaches out to all the needy, with both the demand for truth and the oil of charity.

4. How is it possible not to be concerned about the situations of so many people, especially in economically developed nations, who are living in a state of abandonment because of separation, especially when they cannot be blamed for the failure of their marriage?

When a couple in an irregular situation returns to Christian practice, it is necessary to welcome them with charity and kindness, helping them to clarify their concrete status by means of enlightened and enlightening pastoral care. This apostolate of fraternal and evangelical welcome towards those who have lost contact with the Church is of great importance: it is the first step required to integrate them into Christian practice. It is necessary to introduce them to listening to the word of God and to prayer, to involve them in the charitable works of the Christian community for the poor and needy, and to awaken the spirit of repentance by acts of penance that prepare their hearts to accept God’s grace.

A very important aspect concerns the human and Christian formation of the children born of the new union. Making them aware of the full content of the Gospel's wisdom, in accordance with the Church’s teaching, is a task that wonderfully prepares parents’ hearts to receive the strength and necessary clarity to overcome the real difficulties on their path and to regain the full transparency of the mystery of Christ, which Christian marriage signifies and realizes. A special, demanding but necessary task concerns the other members who belong, more or less closely, to the family. With a closeness that must not be confused with condescension, they should assist their loved ones, especially the children who, because of their young age, are even more affected by the consequences of their parents' situation.

Dear brothers and sisters, my heartfelt recommendation today is to have confidence in all those who are living in such tragic and painful situations. We must not cease “to hope against all hope” (Rm 4,18) that even those who are living in a situation that does not conform to the Lord’s will may obtain salvation from God, if they are able to persevere in prayer, penance and true love.

5. Lastly, I thank you for your help in preparing the Second World Meeting of Families which will take place in Rio de Janeiro on 4-5 October next. I address my paternal invitation to the world’s families to prepare for this meeting with prayer and reflection. For families unable to travel to this meeting, I know that a useful tool is being prepared for all: catechesis, which will serve to instruct parish groups, associations and family movements and encourage an effective interiorization of important topics concerning the family.

I assure you that I will remember you in my prayers, so that your work may help restore to the sacrament of marriage all the joy and lasting freshness which the Lord gave it by raising it to the dignity of a sacrament.

In the hope that you will be generous and attentive witnesses to the Church’s concern for families, I cordially impart my Blessing to you and willingly extend it to all your loved ones.




Saturday, 25 January 1997

Beloved Brother,

During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Your Holiness has come to visit the Bishop of Rome, at the place of martydom of the holy Apostles, Peter and Paul; we are holding this meeting in thanksgiving and the joy of hope. In welcoming the Armenian Pastor of the Great House of Cilicia, how can we fail to recall Paul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle par excellence of communion between the Churches, St Nerses IV the Gracious, the first Catholicos of Cilicia to undertake ecumenical dialogue systematically, and a few years later, St Nerses of Lambron, Bishop of Tarsus, known as “the second Paul of Tarsus” because of his burning zeal for unity? Thus, after the Second Vatican Council had irrevocably committed the Catholic Church to the ecumenical movement, the two Catholicoses of venerable memory, Khoren I and Vasken I, were keen to renew fraternal relations with my predecessor Pope Paul VI. Finally in 1983, I myself had the joy of receiving your predecessor in the See of Antélias, His Holiness Karekin II, who last December, as Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, returned to pay a visit to the Successor of Peter, thereby confirming our fraternal ties.

Your visit, Holiness, therefore is in keeping with our common will to advance on the way to perfect communion between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church. I know the determination with which you laboured to create the Council of Churches of the Middle East, and then to develop it during your 17 years as prelate of your Church for Lebanon. Your experience in the service of Christian unity has been enriched since the World Council of Churches chose you as chairman of its Central Committee. And now you are the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.

Our meeting is not only one of two brothers who are happy to know one another and to pray together. It also signifies our responsibility to proceed together, to give a more visible expression to the spiritual reality of the communion that must join Christians in unity. You responded to the wishes I addressed to you in my Message on the occasion of your enthronement: “The Catholicate of Cilicia will deepen and extend its ecumenical commitment. I can assure you that the long-standing relations between the Catholicate of Cilicia and the Catholic Church will continue, with a growing ecumenical spirit and a vision of Christian unity”.

Before touching on the concrete areas of our collaboration, there is one event, beloved Brother, which I cannot recall without emotion and which unites us in thanksgiving: the land of the Armenian nation is at last free and independent! You kept me fraternally informed of the progress of events, and in your reply after your enthronement you stated your primary concern: “Closer collaboration will be established between the Catholicate of Etchmiadzin in Armenia and the Catholicate of Cilicia in Antélias. I am firmly committed to it. The same commitment had been made by His Holiness Karekin I, Catholicos of All Armenians”. In fact, it is in this framework, and with respect for both these jurisdictions, that we are seeking here to deepen our present relations.

The first link in our communion is that of the faith we have received from the Apostles. At this level, I am happy that we have succeeded in explicitly declaring our common faith in the one incarnate Word, true God and true Man. These declarations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic, Ethiopian and Syriac Churches have already signified openly the unity of these Churches in their faith in Christ the Lord, after centuries of misunderstanding. We can give thanks to God, because in her new-found unity and freedom, the Armenian Apostolic Church has been able to join her voice to this praise of faith.

In this perspective, two important moments in the years to come will give us the opportunity for fraternal co-operation in both their preparation and celebration: the Great Jubilee of the Mystery of the Incarnation and, the following year, the 17th centenary of the Baptism of the Armenian nation. On the occasion of this second celebration, all the Churches will be able to discover the spiritual riches of the Armenian Church and draw inspiration from them.

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which will lead to impressive celebrations, requires the conversion of every Christian’s heart, for the good of his community and that of inter-Church relations. We are called to see to it that the Mystery of the Incarnation, the source of salvation, will encourage everyone to act with brotherhood and solidarity. The Churches can only respond together to the mission of the Saviour who comes “to proclaim the Good News to the poor”, by word and deed. The Armenian Church has learned the meaning of effective solidarity through suffering. Your Holiness, an immense field is open here for collaboration between our two Churches. In this service, the Owner of the vineyard is constantly hiring: pastors and theologians, men and women of all walks of life; everyone can work there.

At the level of pastoral collaboration, several signs invite us to persevere enthusiastically in our common efforts. During the Special Assembly for Lebanon of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Ardavatz Terterian was the Catholicate’s fraternal delegate and I had the pleasure to discuss this viewpoint with him. You yourself, Your Holiness, recently took part in a meeting of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East and the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch and, with trust and determination, you were able to take decisions together about pastoral problems. It is fortunate that these joint endeavours are regularly pursued. I also hope that the fraternal relations between the Catholicate of Cilicia and the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate will be strengthened. All these endeavours will lead to unity.

Lastly, there is one area which you and I hold especially dear, beloved Brother: that of culture. For decades, the Catholicate of Cilicia has been the creative centre for spreading Armenian culture through its theological seminary, its various institutes and its many publications, thanks to a large number of clerics and lay specialists. You know that a Catholic committee for cultural co-operation exists for the sake of more fruitful collaboration, and is intended to support the training of specialists. Finally, may I be permitted to add one wish: since the exchange of spiritual gifts strengthens the faith of each side and is essential to communion between the Churches, the translation of the extensive writings of the Armenian tradition into other languages can be useful to many Christians. I know that Mariological texts have already been translated, and I warmly hope that this invaluable work will extend to other fields of spiritual expression proper to the Armenian soul.

In communion with the All-Holy Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, I pray with you to our great God and Saviour to bless our meeting and make it fruitful for his glory and for the coming of his kingdom.



TO THE Bishops' Conference of France

ON ITS ‘Ad limina Apostolorum’ VISIT

25 January 1997

Your Eminence,

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. During your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles, I am pleased to welcome you, the Pastors of the 10 Dioceses of the Apostolic Region of South Western France. With you, I invoke Peter and Paul, the pillars of the Church. May the first of the Apostles and the Apostle to the nations grant you success in carrying out your pastoral ministry with the light and strength that the Spirit of the Lord gives!

I thank Cardinal Pierre Eyt, Archbishop of Bordeaux and president of your Apostolic Region, for his enlightening reflections on the Church’s situation in your Dioceses. The difficulties and limitations you suffer were emphasized, but it is also possible to give thanks for the many expressions of real dynamism in your communities.

2. At this time, many Dioceses feel the need to reorganize and especially to consolidate or revise their territorial structures. Indeed, important changes have taken place and are recurring in the population and in economic activity. Life-styles are changing. One must also note that there is a greater mobility of people whose centres of interest and culture are evolving. The appearance of society is being markedly transformed.

For the Church, the most obvious facts are the decline in the number of priests and often in the number of her practising members. The causes of these disturbing developments are complex and it is impossible to ignore the influence of social changes on the practice of the faithful and Christian communities long-established in these lands; indeed, institutional adjustments are far from being caused solely by fluctuations in the number of clergy. Established customs and habits abandoned today may be regretted by some, but it is not a question of cherishing nostalgic memories of a past which has sometimes been idealized, nor of blaming anyone. In your quinquennial reports your analyses show that you are aware of the situation and are working to build in these new conditions.

Changes are also occurring in a positive way in the attitude of Catholics. You have taken stock of the spiritual journeys, conversions, and involvement within the Church which express a deep qualitative renewal of Christian faith and action. We see a true source of hope in the willingness of a considerable number of lay people to play a more active and diversified role in ecclesial life, and to take the necessary steps to train seriously for this.

In this context, your essential mission as Pastors spurs you to reorganize your communities. You have shown that developments are guided by large-scale consultations which do not only consider the practical conditions of the consolidation of parishes or the creation of new pastoral units. Priests and faithful must create the conditions so that the Good News can be proclaimed and the People of God guided and assembled by Christ’s sacramental presence. Diocesan Synods have often been the framework for a remarkable maturing of the baptized, revealing to them their inalienable responsibilities and complementarity in ecclesial life.

With regard to the current situations and renewed structures you are setting up, I would simply like to share a few reflections with you on the life of pastoral groups. My intention is to encourage you, with the clergy and faithful of the Dioceses in your country, to base the daily fulfilment of your common mission ever more firmly on the rock of Christ and on the communion of the whole Church.

3. In making the changes I have just mentioned, the vital forces in many of your Dioceses have clearly understood the importance of the territorial structure of the Church: in close co-ordination with the other pastoral groups, it is essentially the parish which gives the Church concrete life, so that she may be open to all. Whatever its size, it is not merely an association. It must be a home where the members of the Body of Christ gather together, open to meeting God the Father, full of love and Saviour in his Son, incorporated into the Church by the Holy Spirit at the time of their Baptism, and ready to accept their brothers and sisters with fraternal love, whatever their condition or origins.

The parish institution is meant to provide the Church’s great services: prayer in common and the reading of God’s Word, celebrations, especially that of the Eucharist, catechesis for children and the adult catechumenate, the ongoing formation of the faithful, communication designed to make the Christian message known, services of charity and solidarity and the local work of movements. In brief, in the image of the sanctuary which is its visible sign, it is a building to be erected together, a body to bring to life and develop together, a community where God’s gifts are received and where the baptized generously make their response of faith, hope and love to the call of the Gospel. At this time when pastoral structures are being renewed, it will be appropriate to resume the in-depth study of the ecclesiological teaching of the Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium and in the various documents providing directives, especially those concerning priests and the laity.

It seems to me that the main concern in this necessary reorganization is to allow the parish effectively to fulfil its functions which I have just recalled. It should therefore not be too small and, as far as possible, it should continue to be close to the practising faithful and all their brothers and sisters. Even when a new consolidation joins Church members from several localities, it is essential to make the greatest efforts to safeguard their historical, material and human patrimony, doing all you can to provide Christians with the spiritual help they need, and seeing that shrines remain places of habitual prayer and that popular devotional practices are not forgotten.

4. An essential question is obviously that of leaders. To guide and enliven pastoral units, the collaboration of priests and lay persons is increasingly necessary. Around the pastor, the pastoral councils, leadership teams and the pastoral rotas play an indispensable role. In particular, they allow the best structuring of the various levels of ecclesial life: the local community, sometimes small, but a living and active team, the parish itself, then the district or the larger pastoral region, and lastly, the whole Diocese. It is important to see that exchanges are fostered in both directions: that leaders hear the requests from the grassroots and that the instructions given by the leaders themselves, beginning with those of the Bishop, unite everyone.

All this presupposes that priests and lay people clearly co-ordinate, without confusion, the concerns of the ministerial priesthood and of the universal priesthood according to the Council’s teaching in the Constitution on the Church, as I stressed in Reims (cf. Address to pastoral workers in the cathedral, n. 4, 22 September 1996; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 2 October 1996, p. 8). The lay faithful who carry out ecclesial duties know they do not replace the priest, but co-operate in a common task, which belongs to the whole Church.

One of the main concerns of pastors and of the faithful who have responsibilities is to promote harmonious unity in the community. This is an essential condition if the local Church is to be a transparent sign of Christ’s presence in the eyes of the baptized who do not take part in her daily life and in society as a whole. Among Christians, there is an enormous diversity of social backgrounds, cultures, interests as well as charisms. The parishes’ vocation is precisely to enable each individual to express himself and to be part of the unity of the body formed by different but complementary members. Let us not cease to meditate on St Paul’s lessons in this regard (cf. 1Co 12).

In particular, the ecclesial community must continue to be a meeting place for the generations, despite the gaps which are often observed. Without passively waiting, adults must keep in touch with young people, must be able to accept them, listen to their requests, understand their problems and their worries about the future, give them a place to which they are fully entitled, and a share in their reponsibilities. Diocesan synods have often been concerned about this; it is right to do all we can to enable young people to continue their Christian formation among themselves as they often wish to do, but also to help them fit into the adult world to which they have a great deal to contribute. I will return to the pastoral care of youth, but at this point I am keen to stress that we should be careful not to isolate them from the whole context of pastoral life.

5. The ecclesial community’s vitality emerges in its fidelity to the mission which the Lord entrusted to his disciples: evangelization. We are the guardians and messengers of the Good News. In all its forms the apostolate consists first of all in transmitting and preaching the word of salvation, and knowledge of the Word who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. God’s Word alone can truly illumine each individual's path, give full meaning to family life, to professional activities and to the thousand tasks of social life, and open the way to hope.

The Word we acclaim in the liturgy and for which we glorify God is directly addressed to the faithful who are present. The community gathered together must itself be constantly evangelized: each believer always needs to let himself be challenged by Christ and to be converted by listening to the Word which makes great demands but at the same time is a priceless gift, for it is the proclamation of salvation, reconciliation and the victory of life over death.

The preparation of children and young people to accept the Word of life is a fundamental mission of evangelization for communities. “That ... which we have heard ... which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1Jn 1,1), we must proclaim from generation to generation. Awakening the faith in children, catechesis and Christian initiation must inspire the deepest devotion in those who dedicate themselves to this task and to acquiring skills without which the other parishioners might lose interest in what continues to be a mission for all.

Should Catholics not also be constantly challenged about what they do to present Christ’s message to those who only occasionally go to church, to baptized persons who let the grace received in childhood remain buried? May they find at their side convinced and welcoming witnesses, respectful of each one's way but ready to account for the hope that is in them (cf. 1P 3,15)! We are fortunate to believe, and must know how to share it.

If we are imbued with the grace of the faith enlivened by hope and inspired by charity, there is no happy or sad aspect of village or neighbourhood life which can fail to move us. Thus evangelization will take different forms in social solidarity, family life, work, neighbourly relations. An isolated witness has its limitations, but witnesses stimulated by the community will be better able to share the “hope [that] does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”?(Rm 5,5).

Within the context of parishes or pastoral districts, as I briefly recalled, movements and associations of the faithful give the mission a valuable incentive, seeing to its good co-ordination and integration in the whole. They help develop the spiritual life, form youth, share apostolic concern in the different walks of life and see that the service of the most underprivileged is effective and constant (cf. Apostolicam actuositatem AA 24 Exhortation Christifideles laici CL 30).

Invite people to pray for priestly vocations Today I would once again like to encourage the faithful of your Dioceses to renew their commitments to evangelization as individuals, in the family and in the groups which have been formed. They will be encouraged by the Letter to the Catholics of France recently adopted by your Episcopal Conference.

6. After dealing with the question of responsible community leadership by priests and lay people, and that of evangelization missions, it would now be appropriate briefly to recall the heart of ecclesial life: for the parish is the most important place for the celebration of the sacraments, and in particular, for the Eucharist, the source of sanctification for every state of life. A parish’s vocation can be defined only according to the Church’s sacramental structure. It is here that Christ’s presence in the paschal mystery is visibly signified. At Mass, the offerings of all converge: of happiness and suffering, apostolic efforts and fraternal services of all kinds. The Lord associates the sacrifices of his brothers and sisters with his own sacrifice. He gathers us in his Holy Spirit, he strengthens our faith and our charity, he listens to our petitions to the Father to extend reconciliation, salvation and peace to the whole world and unites us with the saints of every age as we wait for full communion in his kingdom.

It is true that many of the faithful suffer from the fact that Mass can no longer be celebrated near their homes nor as often as formerly. Priests are less numerous and further away. For this reason it is all the more important that we give the Eucharist its full value. A community is impoverished if it does not fervently discover this vital link with the Lord, the source of all Christian life and every apostolate. The Eucharistic gathering is the place where this fundamental reality of the faith is tangibly recognized.

No effort should be spared to make available the principal gifts, which are the sacraments, at every stage of our life. Christian life begins with the sanctifying grace of Baptism; young people’s entry into Christian maturity is strengthened by Confirmation; the constitution of the couple and foundation of a family are consecrated by participation in the covenant of Marriage; in facing evil and sin, the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation is granted and explicitly signified by the sacrament of Penance; suffering is linked to the Cross in the Anointing of the Sick. At the heart of the Christian communities’ mission, preparation for the sacraments is obviously of primary importance.

Doubtless a keener awareness of the gifts bestowed upon his Church by the Lord will invite people to value vocations to the priestly ministry, so that God’s word may be imparted, Christ be made sacramentally present and the People of God be guided. May your pastoral communities never cease to beg the Lord to call young people to total consecration in order to serve him among their brothers and sisters!

7. It is true that the vastness of your mission may seem to exceed the possibilities of communities which know their limitations and their poverty. It is by faith that they must discover that they are created in the image of the Son of man and the little band of his disciples who had their weaknesses; nonetheless, they laid the foundations of the Church, which received the promise of fidelity from Christ the Good Shepherd.

Poverty of numbers, means and abilities must invite us to rely truly on the Lord. The Church knows she is vulnerable but signs of grace are apparent in the apostolic dynamism to which you witness and for which we must thank Christ who never abandons his flock but guides it by the Holy Spirit.

May your meeting with the Bishop of Rome strengthen you in your ministry! Please convey my affectionate greetings and encouragement to the diocesan priests, deacons, religious and lay people who are involved in pastoral councils, leadership teams or the pastoral rotas, to the sick and to all the faithful, that they may advance in their various missions as baptized persons in the organic unity of the Church, the Body of Christ.

I invoke Our Lady’s motherly intercession and the grace of divine blessings on you and on all your diocesan communities.

Speeches 1997 - Saturday, 18 January 1997