Speeches 1997 - Friday, 20 June 1997
To Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy
President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" (2Co 13,14).
1. With this greeting of the Apostle Paul I express my good wishes to you and to the participants in the Second European Ecumenical Assembly taking place at Graz. I ask you kindly to convey the assurance of my prayerful closeness to the Brothers and Sisters of the Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities of Europe who in the name of the Lord and in a spirit of reconciliation have gathered to hear the word of God calling us to reconciliation and communion. That greeting of Saint Paul to the Corinthians is both a proclamation and a blessing of which Christians of every age have felt the need. It introduces us into the mystery of the redeeming love of God, who loved us so much as to give us his only Son, Jesus Christ. The Redemption accomplished by the Son transformed our relationship with God, not only by conquering sin but by pouring out his grace upon us and establishing a new communion of life: "while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son" (Rm 5,10). Christians live in communion with the Father by the power of the forgiveness which they have received through the Cross of Christ.
The theme of the Second European Ecumenical Assembly, reconciliation as "Gift of God and Source of New Life", is indeed timely. As Saint Paul reminds us, reconciliation is God's work (cf. 2Co 5,18). It is rightly seen as the foundation of every act of ecclesial and social reconciliation. Reconciliation with God is closely related to and consequent upon reconciliation with others, and in fact the Lord considers the efficacy of the very act of worship itself as dependent upon it. "If you are offering your gift at the altar" - he says - "and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Mt 5,23-24).
2. This Assembly is taking place after intense development in relations and in theological dialogue between Christians, a development which has resulted in a new atmosphere among us. With joy I observe that a particularly valuable result of our contacts and dialogue is the strengthening of our commitment to full unity on the basis of our increased awareness of the elements of faith which we have in common (cf. Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint, 49). In a special way, the clearer understanding of the existing elements of communion which has resulted from previous dialogues forms the very basis of this present gathering of Christians with different confessional affiliations. I am confident that your encounter will be a source of great joy as you discern ever more clearly in one another the countenance of the Lord himself and recognize in each other's words the yearning to proclaim together the one faith in Christ.
3. "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2Co 5,18). Dear Brothers and Sisters, we are called to place ourselves at the service of reconciliation, in all its many aspects. It is not to the credit of Christians to proclaim the message of reconciliation while ourselves remaining divided, and even at times hostile to one another. There is still a need for the purification of our historical memory, marred by the wounds of a confused and sometimes violent past.
Europe has a very special responsibility with regard to ecumenism. It is in Europe that the major divisions between East and West and within the West have arisen. However, it is also in Europe that serious efforts directed towards Christian reconciliation and the search for full visible unity have taken place. This Assembly bears testimony to how much is being achieved in promoting theological dialogue by fostering that spiritual movement known as the dialogue of charity, which creates the conditions in which theological dialogue can evolve with clarity, frankness and mutual trust.
4. At another level, the European continent yearns today for the reconciliation of its peoples and the elimination of divisive social conditions. A more positive relationship has emerged between East and West following the decline of communist regimes. However, new problems and new tensions have also arisen, sometimes expressing themselves violently in open conflict. Christians have a special responsibility in these struggles, for their very spiritual inheritance embodies the spirit of forgiveness and peace.
In a Europe which is seeking not only economic but also political and social cohesion, Christians of the East and West can offer a common yet distinct contribution to the spiritual dimension of the continent. We must neither forget nor mislay the values which Christianity has conferred on the history of Europe. As followers of Christ we must all be deeply convinced that we have a common responsibility for promoting respect for human rights, for justice and peace, and for what pertains to the sacredness of life. In particular, in the midst of increasing indifferentism and secularization, we are called to bear witness to the values of life and to faith in the Resurrection which embodies the entire Christian message.
May God bless the work of the Assembly, that it may be a tangible expression of our journey towards reconciliation in the name of the Lord. With his help may Christians everywhere be able to celebrate together the start of the Third Millennium and, inspired by our common faith in Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour of the world, may we implore from him, with renewed enthusiasm and a deeper awareness, the grace to prepare ourselves, together, to offer the sacrifice of unity: for to God the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf. Ut Unum Sint UUS 102).
From the Vatican, 20 June 1997
Dear Members of the “Circolo San Pietro”,
1. I am pleased to greet you at this welcome meeting that enables me once again to show my appreciation and gratitude to you for your generous commitment to serving the Holy See. This audience is taking place during the novena in preparation for the liturgical Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. In a certain sense, it enables us to have a foretaste of the joy of that feast, so significant for your worthy sodality and for the whole Church.
My affectionate thought first goes to your chaplain, Bishop Ettore Cunial, who has guided and supported your association for so many years with admirable zeal. I then thank your President, Marquis Marcello Sacchetti, for his kind words on behalf of you all and for his interesting description of the sodality’s activities and projects. Lastly, I cordially greet each one of you present here, expressing my gratitude to Marquis Giovanni Serlupi Crescenzi for the generosity and spirit of faith with which he has led the Circolo for several years.
2. As has just been recalled, today you have gathered to present to me the “Peter's Pence” collected in the churches of Rome. I thank you for this concrete sign of solidarity and for the generous collaboration you offer me in charitable works for your brothers and sisters. Indeed, your act is, as it were, a meeting point between two complementary movements which converge in a single witness of Gospel charity. On the one hand it shows the affection of this city’s inhabitants for the Successor of Peter, and on the other, it expresses the Pope’s effective solidarity to the needy who live in Rome, whose gaze takes in the many situations of wretchedness and poverty that unfortunately persist in so many parts of the world.
By drawing close to the Roman parishes you have personally contacted the many pockets of poverty which still exist, but you have also been able to see how most people have a strong desire to know and love Christ. With your human and spiritual preparation, as well as meeting the needs of the less fortunate, you contribute to spreading a word of hope which flows from faith and love for the Lord, thus making yourselves heralds of his Gospel.
Charity and witness must therefore be the guidelines of your commitment. I encourage you to continue with constancy and generosity in your activity, inspired by perennial Christian values and drawing ever new energy from prayer and the spirit of sacrifice — as your motto says — in order to continue to bring abundant fruits of good to both the Christian community and to civil society.
3. As you know, the presentation of Mark’s Gospel to all Roman families began last Lent, within the framework of the great city mission. It is a pressing invitation to spiritual, cultural and social renewal addressed to all contexts of life in the metropolis, in order to prepare properly for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. I had the opportunity on the occasion of the solemn Vigil of Pentecost a year ago, to stress that “with this apostolic initiative the Church which is in Rome intends to open her arms to every person and family in the city and, like leaven, to penetrate every social context, work, suffering, art and culture, proclaiming and bearing witness to the risen Lord, to those both near and far” (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 29 May 1996, n. 5, p. 2).
Dear members of the “Circolo San Pietro”, I urge you to offer your qualified collaboration to this priority comitment of the whole diocesan community of Rome, with a view to the Jubilee. May you know how to be generous missionaries of the Gospel, proclaiming it in the various contexts to which your appreciated social assistance and charitable activities are addressed. Continue in the path of the Roman people’s great tradition of hospitality, which your President appropriately mentioned in his speech. Try to be a concrete sign of the Pope’s charity to those in need, both in the material and the spritual sense, as well as to the pilgrims who will come here from all parts of the world for the Jubilee.
I entrust your activities and resolutions to the motherly protection of the Most Holy Virgin, Salus Populi Romani, that she may guide your steps, making you workers of solidarity and peace in the daily life of the city and its citizens. With these sentiments, as I invoke the heavenly intercession of Sts Peter and Paul, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to each one of you, to your families and to all those whom you assist.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am pleased to extend a cordial welcome to each one of you who have come to Rome from the five continents to take part during these days in the World Congress of Gynaecological Endoscopy. I especially greet Prof. Carlo Romanini, Director of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the University of Rome-Tor Vergata, and I thank him for his kind words on behalf of those present.
With your Convention, you have wished to emphasize the contribution that the application of the extraordinary developments of science can make to the quality of human life, at the same time stressing the profound meanings present in your scientific and professional activity. In fact, gynaecological endoscopy brings you daily to the very threshold of the mystery of life, which the scientist is called to approach with a humble and trusting soul, resisting every temptation to manipulate it.
During your intense days of study, you have had the opportunity to examine the prospects opened by the encounter between scientific research and the “Gospel of life” and, overcoming the restrictions of specialized areas of responsibility, you carefully examined all the aspects based in the originality of the human person. Your research thus assumed a strong cognitive value, because of the global anthropological and ethical vision in which it was carried out.
And rightly so. In fact, science, separated from the authentic values that define the person, can deteriorate to the level of an experimental exercise, to satisfy the law of supply and demand. Instead of responding to man's deep needs, it is then limited to producing partial solutions for his immediate requirements. Thus the intimate connection which links man’s activity with the depths of his being created in God's image is cut short.
2. The historical task that unites believers and men of goodwill in scientific research, consists in promoting, beyond all juridical convention, whatever favours human dignity. Those who have the gift of faith know that there is a creative act of God at every person's origin, a plan of love that awaits fulfilment. This fundamental truth, accessible even with the limited power of reason, permits one to catch a glimpse of the very lofty mission inscribed in human sexuality: it is, in fact, called to co-operate with the creative power of God.
Precisely in this co-operation human freedom finds its highest expression and its insurmountable limit. Hence derives also the particular significance of your professional and scientific activity, aimed at studying the secrets of nature in order to decipher their profound truth, thus making the choices it inspires concretely possible. By diverging from predominant ideologies, this path often exposes one to misunderstanding and marginalization and therefore demands constant fidelity to the truth of God and the truth of man. But it is also a path, which by forming mentalities open to the truth, becomes an eminent exercise of love.
3. For all this a clear assumption of ethical responsibility is necessary. In our time this commitment can often be difficult especially in the face of the “attacks, affecting life in its earliest and in its final stages, attacks which present new characteristics with respect to the past and which raise extraordinarily serious questions. It is not only that in generalized opinion these attacks tend no longer to be considered as ‘crimes’; paradoxically they assume the nature of ‘rights’...” (Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, n. 11). The ethical question is thus situated in the area of culture and at the root of personal and collective life.
Faced with the temptation of autonomy and appropriation, the Church reminds people today that “man’s life comes from God; it is his gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life” (ibid. n. 39), and that life is such when it is spread and given: in fraternity, in solidarity, in generating new lives, in the supreme witness of martyrdom; before the temptation of self-destructive denial, it reminds us that “life is always a good” (ibid. n. 34).
This prospect, which is not beyond rational investigation, finds fullness of light in Christian revelation. In fact, on the path of faith man can perceive an authentic possibility for good and for life precisely in the realities of suffering and death, that pass dramatically through his life. In the disfigured face of the Crucified One he then recognizes the likeness of God; in his Cross, the tree of life.
4. After centuries of a gradual separation between faith and culture, the results of modernity, for certain aspects worrying, challenge believers to take on a leading and prophetic role and become a driving force for the construction of the civilization of the third millennium.
Christian faith does not consider anxiety about man’s future contingent or transitory. In the perspective of the eschatological goal, it spurs believers to commit themselves in this world to a development respectful of every human dimension, because “The glory of God is the living man” (St Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, IV, 20:7).
It is necessary therefore to determine, in the renewed relationship between faith, social practice and scientific research, professional features suited to the requirements of our time and to man's perennial values, capable of achieving the integration between faith and life. Indeed, “the Gospel of life is for the whole of human society. To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good” (Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, n. 101).
Distinguished professors, on the threshold of the third millennium I renew my invitation to you to become champions of the civilization of love, supporting the training process of your young students and assistants so that the front in defence of life is reinforced and extended.
With these wishes, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you and to those who work with you in this important scientific field.
Monday, 23 June 1997
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. My heart is filled with holy joy as I welcome His Beatitude Jean Pierre XVIII Kasparian, Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenians, and the Synod of Bishops of the Armenian Catholic Church. The doors of the house of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the doors of universal brotherhood, are open to welcome you all with a holy kiss, brothers in Christ and faithful witnesses of his Gospel.
I know that in these days you have gathered here in Rome to complete the study of the ius particulare envisaged by the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.This is a most important and significant task. Indeed, if the purpose of the Code is to gather directives common to all the Eastern Churches already in full communion with this Apostolic See, nevertheless the Catholic Church knows that each of the Eastern Churches has her own history and specific traditions not only regarding the liturgy but also discipline. The Second Vatican Council recalls that “from the earliest times, the Churches of the East followed their own disciplines, sanctioned by the holy Fathers, by Synods, and even by Ecumenical Councils. Far from being an obstacle to the Church’s unity, such diversity of customs and observances only adds to her beauty and contributes greatly to carrying out her mission, as has already been stated. To remove all shadow of doubt, then, this holy Synod solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while keeping in mind the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to their own disciplines, since these are better suited to the character of their faithful and better adapted to foster the good of souls” (Unitatis redintegratio UR 16). The Council says further, “for the Catholic Church wishes the traditions of each particular Church or rite to remain whole and entire, and she likewise wishes to adapt her own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (Orientalium Ecclesiarum OE 2).
2. Thus what you are finishing during these days is in a certain way the completion of the work represented by the Eastern Code: you are codifying the specific norms that concern your Tradition and are bringing to completion, while respecting the proper autonomy and freedom of your specific patrimony, the body of the legislation concerning your Church.
There is a symbolic value here which I want to recall: if the Holy See takes measures to guarantee the elements of common catholic membership, it also defends and safeguards the rights of the Eastern Churches sui iuris to express in established forms what is legitimately theirs, according to the following principle: “The evangelization of the nations should be so done that, preserving the integrity of faith and morals, the Gospel can be expressed in the culture of individual peoples; namely, in catechetics, their own liturgical rites, in sacred art, in particular law, and, in short, the whole ecclesial life” (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, can. 584, §2). The universal and the particular are therefore combined and mutually involved in the construction of the una sancta.
Being Catholic is in no way detrimental to your being Armenian; on the contrary, it supports and protects it, bringing it into intimate communion with many other expressions of the common faith and enabling other Churches to enjoy the contribution of your originality.
3. Venerable Brothers, may the codification of the ius particulare inspire you to model your pastoral action on it, so that you can “return to [your] ancestral traditions”, as the Council hopes, even if you have fallen away “due to circumstances of times or persons” (Orientalium Ecclesiarum OE 6). In fact, from respect for one's own identity comes the effort to live it integrally, both by striving to recover it fully and to make it as communicable as possible to the faithful of today. This involves a constant, concrete effort to rediscover your patristic and liturgical sources, so that catechesis, the spirtual life and even your sacred art may be inspired by them.
I keenly hope that your Church’s life will always bear the imprint of the Armenian people’s spirit, a spirit which is explictly evidenced by so many religious monuments, as well as by literary works of priceless value. Some of these monuments have already been restored to their pristine splendour and to liturgical use, others, unfortunately, are still left to the ravages of time. By involvement in this enterprise, you will effectively contribute to rediscovering the common religious roots of the whole Armenian people, and you will be able to give a notable impetus to the progress of the ecumenical cause.
4. Dear and venerable Brothers, I know that you are preparing to recall with a solemn celebration the 17th centenary of the Armenian people’s conversion to Christianity. This event offers the universal Church an opportunity for reflection and thanksgiving to the Lord, since you are the first people who, as such, embraced the faith and became Christian. For this act, as well as for your history of fidelity to Christ, for which you paid so dearly with your blood, I feel I must express heartfelt gratitude to you on behalf of the whole Christian People.
The events of that time show that no mass conversion is possible without personal, inner conversion: the history of King Tiridates and the deep travail of his soul, which led him from persecutor to defender of Christ and his People, is an eloquent sign of this profound truth.
Then the close link between the baptism of Armenia and the Church of Cappadocia, brought about by the figure of Gregory the Illuminator, reveals that fruitful ecumenical openness which has marked the whole history of the Armenian people and has led them to accept gratefully not only Cappadocian, but also Syrian, Byzantine and even Latin contributions. Armenians have known how to accept these contributions with great openness of spirit, combining them with the original elements of their own sensitivity: the result is an ecclesial and cultural model that is open and fruitful, and is a modern reference point for many other peoples.
5. With all my heart I hope and pray to God that Armenians may always be worthy witnesses to their glorious past. I trust that the celebration of the 17th centenary of your people’s baptism may be a precious opportunity for you to strengthen the common bond of attachment, not only to your ethnic roots, but also to the common Christian faith, which is so closely identified with this attachment. In fact, to celebrate so important an event of the past becomes an even more eloquent message of hope for people today, the more clearly it shows the unity of the contemporary effort of evangelization. A common origin cannot fail to lead to a common commitment to a common witness. Moreover, the more unity is reinforced by historical and religious memory, the stronger and more convincing will be the proclamation of the Christ who died and rose, which you are already called to renew in our time, in view of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.
With these sentiments I assure you of my prayers for you present here, for your beloved Church, for the children of the Armenian people and especially for all who are suffering either spiritual or material hardships and trials. I invoke an abundance of heavenly favours upon each one of you through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and your patron saints, as a pledge of which I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to all.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I welcome you with great joy and brotherly affection on the occasion of your ad limina visit. Your coming to Rome is first and foremost a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul, examples of witnessing to Christ to the point of bloodshed; it also expresses the communion of the local Churches, spread throughout the world, with the Successor of Peter. Your presence in the Eternal City, shortly before the feast of the blessed Apostles, emphasizes the aspect of unity among all Catholic communities. I thank your Patriarch for his kind words, which allow me to be close to the faithful whose Pastors you are.
As I receive you here, I am thinking of your communities; they are the heirs of the Evangelist St Mark who brought the Gospel to your region almost 2,000 years ago, after he himself had been strengthened in his faith and mission by contemplation of the Lord and by closeness to the Apostles. I pray that the Christians in your Dioceses, after the example of their forebears, may be authentic disciples of Christ, drawing strength for their witness from reading the Gospel and from the sacraments. In the Church you are called to show Christ’s face to your land, so that our contemporaries may discover the splendour and light of our God, who illumines all human action and and gives life its full meaning.
2. Through your Episcopal ordination, you have been chosen to lead the People of God, to teach them and to organize the various diocesan services with affective and effective charity. You wish to be close to your priests and faithful, thus forming united communities in which each person is prepared to help and support his brothers and sisters. I am particularly pleased by the relations of trusting, fraternal collaboration you foster with your diocesan priests, based “before all else on supernatural charity” (Second Vatican Council, Christus Dominus CD 28). They are sometimes painfully burdened with the weight of the day and difficult situations. Support them in their spiritual life, because their apostolate depends above all on being close to the Master, who gives them the grace for pastoral service and the courage to engage in prophetic acts of dialogue and reconciliation.
With you, I urge priests not to neglect their time of personal prayer and meditation. Life in intimacy with Christ shapes their inmost being and day by day conforms them to the High Priest. By diligently celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours, alone or with others, they join in the prayer of the whole Church and become aware that the primary mission of the ordained minister is each day to offer to God the people of our time, so that the Lord may make them a holy people and instill in them his Spirit.
In order to exercise their ministry, priests must also have suitable living conditions, which allow them to dedicate themselves to their pastoral tasks. I know how attentive you are to seeing that in every Eparchy the sacred ministers have the same benefits and social protection, so that they can devote themselves unreservedly to their responsibilities with no apprehension about the future.
I would like to acknowledge the courage and the patient work of priests, and in particular their ministry of presence. They are eager to meet their faithful regularly, to help them live their Christian life and deepen their understanding of the sacraments, and to support them in the various decisions they must make each day. You also emphasize the care they take in proclaiming the Gospel in their Sunday homilies, prepared with great attention and deep pedagogical care. Thus they introduce the faithful into the mystery of Christian dogma. In this area, thanks to the catechetical programmes established at the level of the parish, Eparchy and the whole local Church, and thanks to your teaching, the faithful are strengthened in their faith so as to become sound witnesses. The function of catechetical instruction “is to develop in men a living, explicit and active faith, enlightened by doctrine” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Christus Dominus CD 14).
3. In your episcopal office, pay particular attention to the pastoral care of vocations, by exercising attentive discernment of candidates for the priesthood and by forming seminarians to be ready to become your closest co-workers. The Church's future vitality depends to a great extent on the attention we pay to preparation for the priesthood. Do not hesitate to call young people to consecrate themselves totally and radically to Christ. For their part, priests can lead young men to commit themselves to following Christ in the ordained ministry by their own radiance and spiritual joy.
4. I give thanks to the Lord for the long tradition and rich history of the Coptic Catholic Church and for the active apostolate of all the faithful. You show your fraternal ties during your various periodic meetings. In fact, within the patriarchal institutions, you actively co-operate in setting up the necessary structures for better pastoral endeavour, taking care to involve closely in your mission the different commissions of the Patriarchate and the Eparchies, priests, religious and laity.
5. You have now worked out a marriage preparation programme to help the faithful understand the meaning of this sacrament and fully assume their responsibilities as spouses and parents, with respect for the meaning of sexuality in marriage lived according to God’s plan, for the dignity of woman and for the value of every human life entrusted to them by the Creator. Those priests and lay people called to assist engaged couples should receive suitable theological, spiritual and psychological formation so that they can present the Church’s thought in this area. The serious preparation of young people for married life is especially important, because they are called to be witnesses to Christ for their children and their fellow countrymen by their exemplary lives and their specific moral decisions. Their brothers and sisters will discover the joy of living in the freedom of God’s children.
I am pleased with what you have done to reform the different rites and to translate them into modern language, guided by the desire to maintain your particular liturgical and spiritual patrimony and to transmit it to the young generations. You thus enable the Christian people to have a better understanding of Christian dogma and to take part more actively in the Divine Liturgy.
6. It is an eloquent sign for people, that, among all the Catholic communities of Egypt, there is a just distribution of goods and gifts by which God’s love is manifested. I thank the local Churches and the movements that support you financially. I encourage them to continue and to intensify their efforts on behalf of your Eparchies. There must also be more and more sharing within your Patriarchate, so that the Eparchies receiving more subsidies will aid those that are poorer and recently established. Thus you will carry out among yourselves and with your brothers and sisters from other countries a charitable work like the one that existed in apostolic times, when “the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea” (Ac 11,29).
7. The Coptic Catholic Patriarchate and the Latin Vicariate in your country have a long tradition of education. I know of the sacrifices that this work involves for your communities. By offering free instruction in certain schools, you are taking into account the current living conditions that sometimes threaten family life, since fewer and fewer families have the means to meet their basic needs in raising and educating the young. Priests, religious and lay people are involved in the intellectual training of Egyptian youth, both Christian and Muslim. Furthermore, the educational community is involved in developing young people's whole personality by holding up to them essential human, spiritual and moral values, respectful of those who do not share Christian beliefs; but parents who enrol their children in Catholic schools must accept the fact that Christ’s disciples cannot be silent about the Christian values on which their beliefs, their teaching and their way of life are based.
Please convey my warm encouragement to everyone who is involved in this service to individuals and to the Church. May teachers and parents remember that the young need models and that school is a place of friendship and social integration, where each one is called to recognize the other, to accept him with his own sensitivity and to recognize him as a brother. Young people will thus learn that what matters most for building up society is solidarity among all and respect for each individual. These are the essential conditions for peace and for the development of individuals. We appreciate the attention given by the Egyptian authorities and all your fellow citizens to the high quality of instruction and to the human and moral education given in Catholic schools, as well as to the commitment of the faithful to charitable activities and to health care and social assistance.
8. In your quinquennial reports you have recalled the fraternal bonds that unite you with the Coptic Orthodox Church and the opportunities for collaboration that are offered at the level of religious education and charitable assistance. These are the first steps in the ecumenical dialogue, which call for others. I would like to invite you to continue your openness to the other Churches and your ecumenical relations with them. I also gladly share the sufferings you told me about, which you experience regarding the misunderstandings of those who are your dear brothers and sisters and with whom you share the and spiritual tradition and desire to make the Lord known and loved. Despite the difficulties, may Catholic Pastors and faithful never tire of making fraternal gestures! May they remember that love calls for love and that a charitable attitude is an invitation to reciprocity! Witnesses to charity help to re-establish and maintain a calm atmosphere among the Churches and to find ways for solving the problems which are still an obstacle to full communion. In this area I rejoice at the tangible signs made by your communities to help generously the Coptic Orthodox Church, particularly the transfer of churches, which enables them to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with their faithful.
Dialogue and rapprochement do not in the least prevent each community from respecting the sensitivities of the other ones, as well as their specific way of expressing our common faith in Christ and of celebrating the sacraments, which Churches must mutually recognize as taking place in the name of the same Lord. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly recalls that “Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians” (n. 1271), for it is “the sacramental bond of unity existing among all those who through it are reborn” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Unitatis redintegratio UR 22).
9. It is important that all people of goodwill join forces to reduce the misunderstandings, ruptures and divisions that can hamper daily life; everyone must work so that all groups in a country’s population, even the smallest, are shown the respect and attention to which they have a right in society, and that every person is recognized as a fully-fledged citizen. In the area of defending individuals and peoples, the Church has a particular mission within each nation. She “feels challenged by the specific responsibility of healing these divisions” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa ), and to build bridges between all the cultural elements of a people. In this spirit, the Church tirelessly invites Christians and Muslims to strive sincerely for mutual understanding, as well as to protect and to promote together social justice, moral values, peace and freedom for all people. As the Catholic Patriarchs of the East recently recalled: “Islam is not the enemy, but the partner in a dialogue indispensable for the building of a new human civilization”. Likewise: “Christianity ... is not the enemy, but the basic partner in the indispensable dialogue for building a new world” (Third Pastoral Letter, Christmas 1994, n. 40).
Hence Christians have the legitimate right and duty to be involved in public life and to put their skills at the service of local groups, to participate in the building up of society, in peace between all and in the administration of the common good. In her teaching, the Church has frequently recalled the principles of justice and equity in participating in social life. In fact, no one can be excluded from the res publica in the name of his political or religious opinions. Each specific culture is always marked by the religious and civil contributions of the different civilizations which have prevailed in a specific region and which must be considered elements of the common culture (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Une espérance nouvelle pour le Liban, n. 93). Thus it is the task of social leaders to guarantee the necessary freedom to religious and moral life, in the name of simple reciprocity, without excluding the people to which one belongs and loves, because they are one’s roots and the people of one’s ancestors. In this perspective, I invite the Christians of your communities not to tire in being the leaven of harmony and reconciliation.
10. In your reports you stressed the important place of men and women religious among the Egyptian people in areas such as education, health care, charitable activities, the promotion of woman’s equality with man, and relations with Christians of other denominations and with Muslims. Please convey my cordial greetings to them. I give thanks to the Lord for what he has enabled them to accomplish. In the midst of human society, consecrated persons prophetically recall, through the practice of the evangelical counsels, that Christ is first and that he can fulfil those who are committed to following him. The Christian people need men and women who are totally dedicated to the Lord and to their brothers and sisters, and can express this love of God and neighbour in consistent choices and concrete projects. I am grateful to the congregations and institutes for regularly sending new persons to your country, to respond to the most urgent pastoral needs.
11. Beloved Brothers of the Coptic Catholic Church, you must face numerous difficulties in the growth of your communities, which do not always have the places of worship necessary for their liturgical gatherings, and whose faithful are sometimes driven to leave their Church merely because of the social conditions in which Christians live. May you be able to give the members of your Eparchies the spiritual means for standing firm in the faith among their fellow citizens, so that the Church remains legitimately present and visible in this country!
I recently went to Lebanon to present to that country’s Christians the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Une espérance nouvelle pour le Liban, the fruit of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. I also invite you to give attention to this document, which includes aspects on the different Eastern Catholic communities and their links with people of other religions.
12. Your Beatitude, I would like to offer you my warm wishes on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of your episcopal ordination, to stir up in you the gift of God received through the imposition of hands. I also address my cordial greetings to all of you and to all your priests who are celebrating the anniversary of their ordination in this month of June. I pray the Holy Spirit to accompany you and to fill you with his gifts! My prayer is also joined to all the Catholics of the Coptic rite and of the Latin Vicariate Apostolic. Please convey to them all the affectionate greeting and warm encouragement of Peter's Successor. May Christ’s disciples never lose hope amid the difficulties of the present time, and may the Spirit inspire sentiments of harmony and peace in everyone! Through the intercession of the Apostle St Mark, I wholeheartedly grant my Apostolic Blessing to you and to the members of the People of God entrusted to your pastoral care.
Speeches 1997 - Friday, 20 June 1997