S. John Paul II Homil. 823
Sunday, 25 January 1998
1. "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep" (Ne 8,9). With great joy I celebrate Holy Mass in this José Martí Plaza on Sunday, the Lord's Day, which should be dedicated to rest, prayer and family life. The word of God calls us together to grow in faith and to celebrate the presence of the risen Lord in our midst, for "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1Co 12,13), the Mystical Body of Christ which is the Church. Jesus Christ unites all the baptized. From him flows the fraternal love among Cuban Catholics and Catholics everywhere, since all are "the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1Co 12,27). The Church in Cuba is not alone or isolated; rather, it is part of the Universal Church which extends throughout the whole world.
2. With affection I greet Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Pastor of this Archdiocese, and I thank him for his kind words at the beginning of this celebration, telling me of the joys and the hopes which mark the life of this ecclesial community. I likewise greet the Cardinals present from different countries, my Brother Bishops in Cuba, and the Bishops from other places who have wished to take part in this solemn celebration. I cordially greet the priests, the men and women religious and all the faithful assembled here in such numbers. I assure each one of you of my affection and closeness in the Lord. I respectfully greet President Fidel Castro Ruz, who has wished to take part in this Mass.
I also thank the civil authorities who have wished to be present today and I am grateful for the co-operation which they have provided.
3. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Lc 4,18). Every minister of God has to make his own these words spoken by Jesus in Nazareth. And so, as I come among you, I wish to bring you the Good News of hope in God. As a servant of the Gospel I bring you this message of love and solidarity which Jesus Christ, by his coming, offers to men and women in every age. In absolutely no way is this an ideology or a new economic or political system; rather, it is a path of authentic peace, justice and freedom.
824 4. The ideological and economic systems succeeding one another in the last two centuries have often encouraged conflict as a method, since their programmes contained the seeds of opposition and disunity. This fact profoundly affected their understanding of man and of his relations with others. Some of these systems also presumed to relegate religion to the merely private sphere, stripping it of any social influence or importance. In this regard, it is helpful to recall that a modern State cannot make atheism or religion one of its political ordinances.The State, while distancing itself from all extremes of fanaticism or secularism, should encourage a harmonious social climate and a suitable legislation which enables every person and every religious confession to live their faith freely, to express that faith in the context of public life and to count on adequate resources and opportunities to bring its spiritual, moral and civic benefits to bear on the life of the nation.
On the other hand, various places are witnessing the resurgence of a certain capitalist neoliberalism which subordinates the human person to blind market forces and conditions the development of peoples on those forces. From its centres of power, such neoliberalism often places unbearable burdens upon less favored countries. Hence, at times, unsustainable economic programmes are imposed on nations as a condition for further assistance. In the international community, we thus see a small number of countries growing exceedingly rich at the cost of the increasing impoverishment of a great number of other countries; as a result the wealthy grow ever wealthier, while the poor grow ever poorer.
5. Dear brothers and sisters: the Churchis a teacher in humanity. Faced with these systems, she presents a culture of love and of life, restoring hope to humanity, hope in the transforming power of love lived in the unity willed by Christ. For this to happen, it is necessary to follow a path of reconciliation, dialogue and fraternal acceptance of one's neighbour, of every human person. This can be called the social Gospel of the Church.
The Church, in carrying out her mission, sets before the world a new justice, the justice of the kingdom of God (cf. Mt Mt 6,33). On various occasions I have spoken on social themes. It is necessary to keep speaking on these themes, as long as any injustice, however small, is present in the world; otherwise the Church would not be faithful to the mission entrusted to her by Christ. At stake here is man, the concrete human person. While times and situations may change, there are always people who need the voice of the Church so that their difficulties, their suffering and their distress may be known. Those who find themselves in these situations can be certain that they will not be betrayed, for the Church is with them and the Pope, in his heart and with his words of encouragement, embraces all who suffer injustice.
After a long burst of applause, the Holy Father said:
I am not against applause because when you applaud the Pope can take a little rest!
On the threshold of the Year 2000, the teachings of Jesus maintain their full force. They are valid for all of you, dear brothers and sisters. In seeking the justice of the kingdom we cannot hesitate in the face of difficulties and misunderstandings. If the Master's call to justice, to service and to love is accepted as good news, then the heart is expanded, criteria are transformed and a culture of love and life is born. This is the great change which society needs and expects; and it can only come about if there is first a conversion of each individual heart, as a condition for the necessary changes in the structures of society.
6. "The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives ... to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Lc 4,18). The Good News of Jesus must be accompanied by a proclamation of freedom based on the solid foundation of truth: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8,31-32). The truth of which Jesus speaks is not only the intellectual grasp of reality, but also the truth about man and his transcendent condition, his rights and duties, his greatness and his limitations. It is the same truth which Jesus proclaimed with his life, reaffirmed before Pilate and, by his silence, before Herod; it is the same truth that led him to his saving Cross and his glorious Resurrection.
A freedom which is not based on truth conditions man in such a way that he sometimes becomes the object and not the subject of his social, cultural, economic and political surroundings; this leaves him almost no initiative for his personal development. At other times that freedom takes on an individualistic cast and, with no regard for the freedom of others, imprisons man in his own egoism. The attainment of freedom in responsibility is a duty which no one can shirk.For Christians, the freedom of the children of God is not only a gift and a task, but its attainment also involves an invaluable witness and a genuine contribution to the journey towards the liberation of the whole human race. This liberation cannot be reduced to its social and political aspects, but rather reaches its fullness in the exercise of freedom of conscience, the basis and foundation of all other human rights.
To the crowds who were shouting: "The Pope is free and wants us all to be free", the Holy Father replied:
Yes, he lives with that freedom for which Christ has set you free.
825 For many of the political and economic systems operative today the greatest challenge is still that of combining freedom and social justice, freedom and solidarity, so that no one is relegated to a position of inferiority. The Church's social doctrine is meant to be a reflection and a contribution which can shed light on and reconcile the relationship between the inalienable rights of each individual and the needs of society, so that people can attain their profound aspirations and integral fulfilment in accordance with their condition as sons and daughters of God and citizens in society. Hence the Catholic laity should contribute to this fulfilment by the application of the Church's social teachings in every sector open to people of goodwill.
7. In the Gospel proclaimed today, justice is seen as intimately linked to truth. This is also evident in the enlightened thinking of the Fathers of your country. The Servant of God Fr Félix Varela, inspired by his Christian faith and his fidelity to the priestly ministry, sowed in the heart of the Cuban people the seeds of justice and freedom which he dreamed of seeing blossom in an independent Cuba.
The teaching of José Martí on love between all people had profoundly evangelical roots, and thus overcame the false conflict between faith in God and love and service to one's country. This great leader wrote: "Pure, selfless, persecuted, tormented, poetic and simple, the religion of the Nazarene enthralled all honourable men.... Every people needs to be religious.Not only as part of its essence, but for its own practical benefit it needs to be religious.... An irreligious people will die, because nothing in it encourages virtue. Human injustices offend virtue; it is necessary that heavenly justice guarantee it".
As everyone knows, Cuba has a Christian soul and this has brought her a universal vocation.Called to overcome isolation, she needs to open herself to the world and the world needs to draw close to Cuba, her people, her sons and daughters who are surely her greatest wealth. This is the time to start out on the new paths called for by the times of renewal which we are experiencing at the approach of the third millennium of the Christian era!
8. Dear brothers and sisters: God has blessed this people with true educators of the national conscience, clear and firm models of the Christian faith as the most effective support of virtue and love. Today the Bishops, with the priests, men and women religious and lay faithful, are striving to build bridges in order to bring minds and hearts closer together; they are fostering and strengthening peace, and preparing the civilization of love and justice. I am present among you as a messenger of truth and hope. For this reason I wish to repeat my appeal: let Jesus Christ enlighten you; accept without reservation the splendour of his truth, so that all can set out on the path of unity through love and solidarity, while avoiding exclusion, isolation and conflict, which are contrary to the will of God who is Love.
May the Holy Spirit enlighten by his gifts those who, in different ways, are responsible for the future of this people so close to my heart. And may Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Queen of Cuba, obtain for her children the gifts of peace, progress and happiness.
At the end of his homily the Holy Father spoke extemporaneously:
This wind today is very significant because wind symbolizes the Holy Spirit. "Spiritus spirat ubi vult; Spiritus vult spirare in Cuba". My last words are in Latin, because Cuba also has a Latin tradition: Latin America, Latin Cuba, Latin language! "Spiritus spirat ubi vult et vult Cubam"! Goodbye.
1. “Today this scripture has been fulfilled” (Lc 4,21). Jesus begins his preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth by announcing to his fellow citizens that the ancient prophecies concerning the awaited Messiah are fulfilled in him. The “today” proclaimed by Christ is now valid for all time. This morning it resounds for us too in this church, reminding us of the timeliness of salvation. God comes to meet the men and women of all times in their concrete situation and invites them to accept the truth of the Gospel and to walk on the ways of goodness.
Jesus’ words in Nazareth caused a strong reaction in those who were listening to him: some were positively fascinated, while others rejected him and even tried to kill him (cf. Lk Lc 4,28-30). Jesus is thus revealed from very beginning as a sign of contradiction for all who meet him, and so he remains today for humanity in our time on the threshold of the third millennium.
826 2. “I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jr 1,5). The account of Jeremiah’s vocation, which we heard in the first reading, also stresses the universality of salvation. In fact, the prophet’s mission is not limited to the people of Israel, but expands to a universal dimension. The biblical text describes the sorrows and difficulties Jeremiah will encounter in the fufilment of his task. The prophet, however, is at the same time guaranteed the necessary strength to bring to completion what has been entrusted to him. The Lord reassures him: “I am with you ... to deliver you” (Jr 1,19). God is fully involved in the prophet’s mission and this promise is precisely the basis for the certitude of his belief that every obstacle will be surmounted.
What this significant passage from the Book of Jeremiah proclaims will be fulfilled in Jesus’s mission, and later in that entrusted to the Church. In fulfilling the mandate received from Christ, the Christian community will have to face many difficulties down the centuries. However, it knows it can count on the strength of the Holy Spirit and on the mysterious but real presence of the risen Christ.
3. Dear brothers and sisters of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Prati! As I greeted your brothers and sisters in Cuba, last week, today I greet you. I am pleased to celebrate the Eucharist here today with you in your lovely parish church, which is located not far from the Pope’s home. I have passed in front of this church so many times and have been impressed by its distinctive façade, with its wealth of spires, pinnacles and statues, a unique example of the NeoGothic style in Rome.
I cordially greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of this area, your zealous parish priest, Fr Roberto Zambolin, and all his co-workers from the religious family of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My affectionate thoughts also turn to the parish workers, to the members of the various groups and to all who have made themselves available to support the various activities of the City Mission.
Today, I myself will inaugurate the phase of the Mission called the “Visit to Families”. At the end of Mass in fact I will have the joy of visiting a family in this community, to whom I will leave as a memento a copy of the Acts of the Apostles, together with the Letter which I as Bishop of Rome have addressed to all the families of this beloved city. In meeting these people, I would in a waylike to be close to all the parish families and to extend to them the invitation I made to all the families in the city: “Open your door to Christ!”.
In the coming weeks, over 13,000 missionaries will visit Roman families and invite them to make room in their life for Christ, the one Redeemer of man. I ask everyone to welcome with trust and joy these missionaries who bring a message of hope. They are coming to homes to proclaim and witness to Christ and, at the same time, to express solidarity and friendship, offering concern for problems and bringing the comfort of faith. It will be the responsibility of the parish priests to organize meetings in the many listening centres which will be set up in all the parishes during the season of Lent. They will remind one and all of the various activities which are planned in every parish as part of the City Mission, which seeks to answer the deep need for God in our city.
4. The City Mission is also meant as a preparation for the Holy Year 2000, consisting not only of visible deeds but also and primarily of interior renewal, so that the Church and the people of Rome can give a fraternal welcome to the pilgrims of the Year 2000, witnessing to a courageous joyful faith.
Dear parishioners, your community, precisely because of its proximity to the seat of Peter, will be a significant meeting place with many pilgrims during the Holy Year. I invite you now to prepare for your task of offering them a fraternal welcome and a generous witness of common involvement in the prayer of praise, thanksgiving and intercession to God, who came to visit humanity 2,000 years ago and who constantly visits his Church.
Already your parish, which comprises a considerable number of inhabitants, is a stopover and a crossroads for pilgrims, citizens, politicians and professionals. Here there are many places of hospitality and meeting for young people and adults. Many public institutions have their offices here, starting with the Law Courts. Make sure that the parish pays attention to everyone and that it offers them the opportunity to listen to the proclamation of the Gospel.
5. Pay special attention to families and young people. Today the Italian Church is celebrating Pro-Life Day, and our diocesan community is beginning the Week for Families, which we will conclude together next Saturday in the Paul VI Auditorium at the Vatican. Every family unit, large or small, composed of the young and not-so-young, must feel loved and supported by the Church. In every family life must find room and be welcomed. It should in any case always be served with generosity; it is an inviolable good that must be welcomed, loved and defended from the moment of conception until its natural end.
In particular, I urge you to commit yourselves to supporting the life of those who are poor, elderly or alone, encouraging the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Senior Citizens’ Club, which do so much in your parish.
827 Pay special attention to young people, who are numerous and active in this parish. May the Christian community help them to be open to love, to live their engagement as a moment of grace, to prepare properly for marriage. Here Christian families which are already formed have a particular and demanding role to fulfil: that of transmitting to their children and grandchildren the fundamental values of marriage, such as fidelity, indissolubility and openness to the gift of life.
And what should be said about Catholic schools, which have an important formative role in this preparation for life and education in Christian love? In their basic mission may they feel encouraged by the Pope and assisted by all believers. I would like affectionately to greet the Institute of the Religious Teachers Venerini, who have their generalate here, and the Institute of the Sisters of Nazareth, who also work at the service of youth. May God bless and make fruitful their efforts of Christian education in the scholastic world, also with the help of families.
6. “If I ... have not love, I gain nothing” (1Co 13,3). After presenting the variety of gifts and charisms, St Paul points to the supreme law of love as the “still more excellent way” (1Co 12,31). This biblical text, which today’s liturgy presents in the second reading, reminds us that love must always be given pride of place: in the family, in society, in the parish, in the Church. Love is the soul of everything. It is a divine energy which gives strength to believers and makes them missionaries at the service of the Gospel.
Dear faithful of this parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, be witnesses to the Gospel of love. Spread God’s love among everyone who lives, works, studies or spends his free time in this neighbourhood. Serve Christ’s truth with tenacity, courage and fidelity. May the Lord, who promised to remain with his disciples always, accompany you on your way. Turn your gaze to him.
May Mary, Mother of Jesus, who is ceasely invoked by the Church, accompany you in the mission to families and make your parish community ever more fervent and zealous.
1. Lumen ad revelationem gentium! “Light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Lc 2,32).
These words resound in the temple of Jerusalem, as 40 days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph prepare to “present him to the Lord” (Lc 2,22). By emphasizing the contrast between the modest, humble action of the two parents and the glory of the event as perceived by Simeon and Anna, the Evangelist Luke apparently wants to suggest that the temple itself is waiting for the Child’s coming. In fact, in the prophetic attitude of the two elderly people, the entire Old Covenant expresses the joy of the meeting with the Redeemer.
Simeon and Anna go to the temple both longing for the Messiah, both inspired by the Holy Spirit, as Mary and Joseph take Jesus there in obedience to the precepts of the law. At the sight of the Child, they sense that it is truly he, the Awaited One, and Simeon, as if in ecstasy, proclaims: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which your have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Lc 2,29-32).
2. Lumen ad revelationem gentium!
828 With his inspired words, Simeon, a man of the Old Covenant, a man of the temple of Jerusalem, expresses his conviction that this Light is meant not only for Israel, but also for pagans and all the peoples of the earth. With him, the “aged” world receives in its arms the splendour of God’s eternal “youth”. However, the shadow of the Cross already looms in the background, because the darkness will reject that Light. Indeed, turning to Mary, Simeon prophesies: “This child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Lc 2,34-35).
3. Lumen ad revelationem gentium!
The words of Simeon’s canticle ring out in many temples of the New Covenant, where every evening Christ’s disciples finish the Liturgy of the Hours by praying Compline. In this way the Church, the people of the New Covenant, takes as it were the last word of the Old Covenant and proclaims the fulfilment of the divine promise, announcing that the “light for revelation to the Gentiles” has spread over all the earth and is present everywhere in Christ’s redemptive work.
Together with the Canticle of Simeon, the Liturgy of the Hours has us repeat Christ’s last words on the Cross: In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum — “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (cf. Lc 23,46). It also invites us to contemplate with wonder and gratitude the saving action of Christ, “light for revelation to the Gentiles”, for the sake of mankind: Redemisti nos, Domine, Deus veritatis — “You have redeemed us, Lord, God of truth”.
In this way the Church proclaims the fulfilment of the world’s Redemption, awaited by the prophets and announced by Simeon in the temple of Jerusalem.
4. Lumen ad revelationem gentium!
Today, with our lighted candles, we too go to meet him who is “the Light of the world” and we welcome him in his Church with the full enthusiasm of our baptismal faith. Everyone who sincerely professes this faith is promised the final, definitive “meeting” with the Lord in his kingdom. In Polish tradition, as well in that of other nations, these blessed candles have a special meaning because, after they have been brought home, they are lit in times of danger, during storms and disasters, as a sign of entrusting oneself, one’s family and all one possesses to God’s protection. This is the reason why these candles are called gromnice in Polish, that is, candles which avert lightning and protect against evil, and why this feast is called Candlemas (literally: St Mary of the Candles [“gromnice”]).
Even more eloquent is the custom of putting the candle blessed on this day in the hands of a Christian on his deathbed, that it may illumine his last steps on the way to eternity. This practice is meant to show that, by following the light of faith, the dying person is waiting to enter the eternal dwelling place, where there is no longer “need of light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (cf. Rv Ap 22,5).
Today’s responsorial psalm also refers to this entry into the kingdom of light: “Lift up, O gates, your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the Lord of glory may come in” (Ps 23 :7).
These words refer directly to Jesus Christ, who enters the temple of the Old Covenant in his parents’ arms, but we can also apply them to every believer who crosses the threshold of eternity, carried in the arms of the Church. Believers accompany his last journey by praying: “Let perpetual light shine on him!”, so that the angels and saints may welcome him, and Christ, Redeemer of man, may surround him with his eternal light.
5. Dear brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the Second Day of Consecrated Life, which is meant to arouse renewed concern in the Church for the gift of vocations to the consecrated life. Dear men and women religious, dear members of secular institutes and societies of apostolic life, the Lord has called you to follow him in a closer and more exceptional way! In our times, dominated by secularism and materialism, by your total and definitive gift of self to Christ you are a sign of an alternative life to the logic of the world, because it is radically inspired by the Gospel and oriented to future eschatological realities. Always remain faithful to this special vocation!
829 Today I would like once again to express my esteem and affection to you. I first greet Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who is presiding over this Eucharistic celebration. Together with him I greet the members of that dicastery and everyone who actively serves consecrated life. I am thinking especially of you, young aspirants to the consecrated life, of you, men and women already professed in various religious congregations and secular institutes, of you who because of advanced age or illness are called to offer the valuable contribution of your sufferings to the cause of evangelization. To you all, I repeat in the words of the Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata: “You know the one in whom you have put your trust (cf. 2Tm 1,12): give him everything! ... Live faithfully your commitment to God, in mutual edification and mutual support.... Do not forget that you, in a very special way, can and must say that you not only belong to Christ but that ‘you have become Christ’” (n. 109).
The lighted candles carried by each person in the first part of this solemn liturgy show the watchful expectation of the Lord which should mark every believer’s life, and particularly the life of those whom the Lord calls to a special mission in the Church. They are a strong reminder to bear witness in the world to Christ, the light that never fades: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5,16).
Dear brothers and sisters, may your total fidelity to the poor, chaste and obedient Christ be a source of light and hope for everyone you meet.
6. Lumen ad revelationem gentium!
May Mary, who was prompt in obedience, courageous in poverty and receptive in fruitful virginity as she fulfilled the Father’s will, obtain from Jesus that “all who have received the gift of following him in the consecrated life may be enabled to bear witness to that gift by their transfigured lives, as they joyfully make their way with all their brothers and sisters towards our heavenly homeland and the light that will never grow dim” (Vita consecrata VC 112).
Praised be Jesus Christ!
1. “This is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6,40).
Christ’s promise, which we have just heard in the Gospel, opens our heart to hope: he, who is the Lord of life, came so that “nothing of all the Father had given him would be lost”. As he faces death, the human being has precisely this fear of being lost. His heart trembles, every certainty becomes precarious and the darkness of the unknown throws him into dismay.
The word of Christ then becomes the only key to unlocking the enigma of death. It is the light that illumines the way of life and gives value to its every moment, even to pain, suffering and extreme detachment. “Every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life”, Jesus says. To believe in him is to trust in his words, relying solely on the power of his merciful love.
These considerations, dear brothers and sisters, rise spontaneously from our hearts as we find ourselves gathered in prayer by the mortal remains of our Brother, dear Cardinal Eduardo Francisco Pironio, whom we accompany today to his final dwelling-place. He witnessed to that courageous faith which can entrust itself to God even when, in the mysterious plans of his Providence, he allows a trial.
830 2. Yes, this Venerable Brother of ours believed with unshakeable faith in the Redeemer’s promises. With these words he begins his Spiritual Testament: “I was baptized in the name of the Blessed Trinity; I firmly believed in it, by God’s mercy; and I experienced its loving presence in the littleness of my soul.... I now enter into the ‘joy of my master’, into direct ‘face to face’ contemplation of the Trinity. Until now ‘from afar I have wandered towards the Lord’; now ‘I will see him as he is’. I am happy. Magnificat!”.
His was a faith learned at his mother's knee. A woman of solid yet simple Christian background, she was able to impress the genuine Gospel meaning of life on her children’s hearts. “In the history of my family”, the late Cardinal said one day, “there is something miraculous. When she gave birth to her first son, my mother was barely 18 years old and fell seriously ill. After her recovery the doctors told her that she would not be able to have any more children without risking her own life. So she went to consult the Auxiliary Bishop of La Plata, who told her: ‘Doctors can be mistaken: put yourself in God’s hands and do your duty as a wife’. My mother then gave birth to 21 more. I am the last, and she lived until she was 82. But the story does not end here, for in later years I was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of La Plata, replacing the very Bishop who had blessed my mother. On the day of my episcopal ordination”, Cardinal Pironio continued, “the Archbishop gave me that Bishop’s pectoral cross without knowing the story behind it. When I told him that I owed my life to the cross’s owner, he wept”.
I wanted to mention this episode recounted by the Cardinal himself, because it highlights the reasons which sustained his journey of faith. His life was a hymn of faith to the God of life. He says so again in his Spiritual Testament: “How beautiful it is to live! You have made us, O Lord, for life. I love it, I offer it, I await it. You are my Life, as you have always been my Truth and my Way”.
3. We have just heard the words of St Peter’s Letter: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith ... may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1P 1,6-7). They describe Cardinal Pironio’s priestly ministry. He witnessed to his faith with joy: the joy of being a priest and the constant desire to “communicate it to the young people of today, as my best testament and legacy”, as he himself has left it to us in writing. The joy of serving the Gospel, in the various burdensome tasks entrusted to him.
He was born on 3 December 1920 and was ordained a priest in the Basilica of Our Lady of Luján on 5 December 1943. In the first years of his ministry he carried out intense educational and didactic activities in the seminary of Buenos Aires. During the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council he was asked to take part in the work as a conciliar peritus. In 1964 Paul VI made him Auxiliary to the Archbishop of La Plata. He was then appointed Apostolic Administrator of Avellaneda and General Secretary of CELAM, of which he also became President. He was later promoted to the see of Mar del Plata. Paul VI wanted him to be close at hand, and entrusted him with the then Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes and in 1976 raised him to the dignity of Cardinal. On 8 April 1984 I myself called him to direct the Pontifical Council for the Laity, where he served until 20 August 1996, working throughout with youthful enthusiasm and total competence.
4. Thus his service to the Church gradually took on an ever vaster and more universal dimension: first a Diocese in Argentina, then the Latin American continent and later, after being called to the Roman Curia, the whole Catholic community. Here in Rome he continued the pastoral style he had always had, showing outstanding love for consecrated life and the laity, and particularly for young people. In his Spiritual Testament he wrote: “How I love men and women religious and all the consecrated lay people in the world! How I pray to Mary most holy for them! How joyfully I offer my life today, that they may be faithful.... I love them intensely, I embrace them and I bless them”. And he added: “I give thanks to God for having been able to spend my poor energies and talents in dedication to the beloved lay people, whose friendship and witness enriched me spiritually”.
How could his great contribution to the celebration of the World Youth Days be forgotten? Here I would like to make public my heartfelt gratitude to this Brother who was a great help to me in the exercise of the Petrine ministry.
5. His constant co-operation became even more apostolic in his last years marked by illness. The Apostle Peter spoke to us just now of the “genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold” and reminded us that we should not be surprised if we are subjected to trial since that metal, “though perishable, is tested by fire” (1P 1,7). Cardinal Pironio’s faith was sorely tried in the crucible of suffering. Physically weakened by a serious illness, he was able to accept the heavy trial demanded of him with resignation and patience. Of this arduous experience he has written: “I thank the Lord for the privilege of the Cross. I am very happy to have suffered so much. I am only sorry for not having endured it better and for not always having relished my cross in silence. Now at least I would like my cross to begin to shine and bear fruit”.
And in the twilight of his life, he could further draw from his faith that optimism and hope which characterized his whole life. “All things ... are yours, O Lord who loves the living” (Sg 11,26), he liked to repeat, and his Cardinal’s motto was in a way its seal: “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
6. In entrusting this beloved Brother’s chosen soul to the Lord’s mercy, let us make our own the words of the Book of Wisdom which we have heard: You, O Lord, “overlook men’s sins, that they may repent” (11:23).
Cardinal Pironio had a keen sense of human weakness: in his Spiritual Testament, which has guided our reflections, he repeatedly asks forgiveness. He asks for it with humility and faith. Before God’s holiness, every human creature can only beat his breast and confess: “You are merciful to all, for you can do all things” (Sg 11,23).
831 Now that he is entering the Father’s house, we accompany him with our prayer. We entrust him to Mary, Mother of hope and joy, to whom he had a deep devotion. At the end of his days, when it was already time to set sail for his last journey, he wrote in his Testament: “I embrace everyone with my whole heart, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I place them all in the heart of Mary, the poor, contemplative and faithful Virgin. Hail Mary! I ask her: ‘After this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus!’”.
May the Mother of God welcome him into her arms and bring him into the eternal dwelling-place which the Lord prepares for his faithful servants.
And you, dear Brother, rest in peace! Amen.
S. John Paul II Homil. 823