S. John Paul II Homil. 907
3 October 1998
1. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12,24). Christ’s words, which we have just heard, bring us to the very heart of the Mystery which we are celebrating. In some sense they contain within themselves the entire Paschal Event: they direct us to the death of the Redeemer on the Cross on Good Friday, and at the same time they point us toward the morning of Easter.
908 We refer to this Mystery every day during Holy Mass when, after the consecration of the bread and the wine, we say: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, we proclaim your resurrection; we await your return in glory”. The “grain of wheat which falls into the earth” is first and foremost Christ, who on Calvary died and was buried in the earth in order to give life to all. But this mystery of death and life also comes about in the earthly existence of Christ’s followers: for them too, being cast into the earth to die remains the condition for all authentic spiritual fruitfulness.
Was this not the secret also of your unforgettable and unforgotten Archbishop, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, whom today we contemplate in the glory of the Beati? He took part in a unique way in the Paschal Mystery: as a grain of wheat he “fell into the earth” in this land of Croatia and, by dying, bore fruit, much fruit. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates this life in this world, will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12,25).
The words of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, which we have just heard, are closely bound up with the Event which we are celebrating. Saint Paul writes: “As the sufferings of Christ abound for us, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2Co 1,5). Are these words not a meaningful commentary on Christ’s words about the grain of wheat which dies? Those who abound in sharing Christ’s sufferings also experience, thanks to him, the profound consolation which derives from the outpouring of good which has its origin in the Cross.
2. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12,24). Today we are filled with joy as we join in thanking God for the new fruits of holiness which Croatia offers to the Church in the person of the martyr Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church.
Through the centuries, martyrs have abounded in these lands, from the time of the Roman Empire on, with figures like Venantius, Domnius, Anastasia, Quirinus, Eusebius, Pollio, Maurus and many others. In later centuries they were joined by Nicholas Tavelic and Marcus of Krizevci, and many confessors of the faith during the Ottoman rule, up to those of our own time, among whom the luminous personality of Cardinal Stepinac stands out.
By their sacrifice united to Christ’s suffering, they bore an extraordinary witness, which with the passage of time has lost none of its eloquence, but continues to spread light and to inspire hope. At their side many other Pastors and simple faithful, men and women, also sealed their adherence to Christ by shedding their own blood. They are part of the great assembly of those who, vested in white garments and bearing palms in their hands, now stand before the throne of the Lamb (cf. Rev Ap 7,9).
Blessed Alojzije Stepinac did not shed his blood in the strict sense of the world. His death was caused by the long suffering he endured: the last fifteen years of his life were a continual succession of trials, amid which he courageously endangered his own life in order to bear witness to the Gospel and the unity of the Church. In the words of the Psalm, he put his very life in God’s hands (cf. Ps Ps 16,5).
3. Very little time separates us from the life and death of Cardinal Stepinac: barely thirty-eight years. We all know the context of this death. Many present here today can testify from direct experience how much the sufferings of Christ abounded in those years among the people of Croatia and those of so many other nations of the continent. Today, reflecting on the words of the Apostle, we wish to express the heartfelt hope that, after the time of trial, the comfort of the Crucified and Risen Christ may abound in all who dwell in this land.
For all of us, a particular cause for comfort is today’s Beatification. This solemn act takes place in the Croatian national shrine of Marija Bistrica on the first Saturday of the month of October. Beneath the gaze of the Most Blessed Virgin, an illustrious son of this blessed land is raised to the glory of the altars, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. It is an historic moment in the life of the Church and of your nation. The Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb, one of the outstanding figures of the Catholic Church, having endured in his own body and his own spirit the atrocities of the Communist system, is now entrusted to the memory of his fellow countrymen with the radiant badge of martyrdom.
The Episcopate of your country asked that the Beatification of Cardinal Stepinac take place here, in the Shrine of Marija Bistrica. I know from personal experience the significance that the Shrine of Jasna Gora had for the Polish people at the time of Communist rule, a Shrine closely linked to the pastoral ministry of the Servant of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. I am not surprised that this Shrine, or that of Solona which I shall visit tomorrow, have had a similar importance for you. For some time I have wanted to visit the Shrine of Marija Bistrica. And so I gladly accepted the proposal of the Croatian Episcopate and today celebrate the solemn beatification ceremony in this significant place.
I cordially greet the Croatian Bishops assembled here, especially Cardinal Franjo Kuharic and the Most Reverend Josip Bozanic, Archbishop of Zagreb and President of the Croatian Episcopal Conference. I also greet the Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops from other countries who have joined us for this occasion. I cordially greet the priests, the men and women of consecrated life, and all the lay faithful, as well as the representatives of the other religious confessions present at this celebration. My respectful greetings also go to the President of the Republic, the Head of the Government, and to the country’s civil and military authorities, who honour us by their presence.
909 4. “If anyone serves me, he must follow me” (Jn 12,26). Blessed Alojzije Stepinac took the Good Shepherd as his sole Teacher, following his example to the end and offering his life for the flock entrusted to him at a particularly difficult period of history.
The person of the new Beatus sums up, so to speak, the whole tragedy which befell the Croatian people and Europe in the course of this century marked by the three great evils of fascism, national socialism and communism. He is now in the joy of heaven, surrounded by all those who, like him, fought the good fight, purifying their faith in the crucible of suffering. Today we look to him with trust and invoke his intercession.
Significant in this regard are the words spoken by the new Beatus in 1943, during the Second World War, when Europe was in the grip of unheard-of violence: “What system does the Catholic Church support today, while the whole world is fighting for a new world order? We, in condemning the injustices, all the killing of innocent people, the burning of peaceful villages, the destruction of the labour of the poor, ... give this answer: the Church supports that system which is as old as the Ten Commandments of God. We are for the system which is not written on impermanent tables, but which has been written by the hand of the living God on the consciences of men” (Homilies, Addresses, Messages, Zagreb, 1996, 179-180).
5. “Father, glorify your name!” (Jn 12,28). In his human and spiritual journey Blessed Alojzije Stepinac gave his people a sort of compass to serve as an orientation. And these were its cardinal points: faith in God, respect for man, love towards all even to the offer of forgiveness, and unity with the Church guided by the Successor of Peter. He knew well that no bargains can be made with truth, because truth is not negotiable. Thus he faced suffering rather than betray his conscience and not abide by the promise given to Christ and the Church.
In this courageous witness he was not alone. He had at his side other courageous souls who, in order to preserve the unity of the Church and defend her freedom, agreed to pay with him a heavy price in imprisonment, mistreatment and even bloodshed. To these generous souls - Bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay faithful - we offer today our admiration and gratitude. Let us listen to their urgent call for forgiveness and reconciliation. To forgive and to be reconciled means to purify one’s memory of hatred, rancour, the desire for revenge; it means acknowledging as a brother even those who have wronged us; it means not being overcome by evil but overcoming evil with good (cf. Rom Rm 12,21).
6. May you be blessed, “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2Co 1,3), for this new gift of your grace.
May you be blessed, Unbegotten Son of God and Saviour of the world, for your glorious Cross, which in the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, has won a splendid victory.
May you be blessed, Spirit of the Father and the Son, Paraclete Spirit, who continue to manifest your holiness among men and unceasingly carry on the work of salvation.
Triune God, today I wish to thank you for the strong faith of this your people, despite the many trials encountered through the centuries. I wish to thank you for the countless martyrs and confessors, men and women in every age, who have arisen in this blessed land.
“Father, glorify your name!” (Jn 12,28).
Blessed be Jesus and Mary!
4 October 1998
910 1. “We are unworthy servants” (Lc 17,10).
These words of Christ surely kept echoing in the hearts of the Apostles when, obedient to his command, they set out on the highways of the world in order to proclaim the Gospel. They travelled from one city to another, from one region to the next, spending themselves in the service of the Kingdom and always taking to heart the admonition of Jesus: “When you have done all that is commanded you, say: 'We are unworthy servants; we have done only what was our duty'” (Lc 17,10).
The Apostles handed on this same realization to their disciples, including those who first crossed the Adriatic Sea and brought the Gospel to Roman Dalmatia, to the people who then dwelt along this beautiful coast and in the other, no less beautiful, lands reaching as far as Pannonia. The faith thus began to spread among your ancestors, who in turn handed it down to you. This has been a long historical process, which goes back to the time of Saint Paul and which had a forceful new beginning in the seventh century, with the arrival of the Croatian people.
Today we want to thank the Most Holy Trinity for the Baptism received by your ancestors. Christianity arrived here from the East and from Italy, from Rome, and it shaped your national tradition. Remembering this evokes a lively and deep sense of gratitude to Divine Providence for this two-fold gift: first and foremost, the gift of your call to faith, and then the gift of the fruits which that faith has borne in your culture and your way of life.
Along the Croatian coast, down the centuries, there arose wonderful architectural masterpieces, which inspired awe in countless people in every age. Everyone could enjoy this splendid heritage, standing out amid the lovely countryside. Tragically, as a result of war, many of these treasures have been destroyed or damaged. The eye of man can no longer rejoice in them. How can we not feel regret for this?
2. “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty”. Jesus’ words raise questions which cannot be avoided: have we really done what was our duty? And what must we do now? What tasks lie before us? What resources and what forces do we have at hand? The questions are complex and so the answer to them must be carefully thought through. Today we ask these questions as Christians, as followers of Christ, and with this awareness we read the page of Saint Paul’s Letter to Timothy. There the Apostle, listing some of the disciples, also mentions the name of Titus, recalling his mission in Dalmatia. Titus was thus one of the first evangelizers of these lands, singular evidence of the Apostle’s concern that the Gospel should be brought here.
In the words of the aged Paul, we hear an echo of the apostolic concern which marked his whole life. Now, at the moment when he must depart from this life (cf. 2Tm 4,6), he writes to his disciple: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2Tm 4,7). This is both a testimony and a testament. In this context, Paul’s final words take on greater significance: “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the message fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it” (2Tm 4,17).
Those who today, at the end of the Second Millennium, must continue the work of evangelization can draw light and strength from these words. In this work, at once divine and human, we need to call upon the power of the Lord. On the threshold of the new Millennium, we rightly speak of the need for a new evangelization: new in method, but always the same with regard to the truths it proclaims. The new evangelization is an immense task: universal in its content and destination, it must take on new and diverse forms, adapting to the needs of different places. How can we not sense the need of God’s help to sustain our weakness and limitations?
Let us pray that the Church in your Catholic nation will be able to see clearly, with God’s help, the challenges and tasks associated with the new evangelization and rightly direct all her efforts, “tertio millennio adveniente”.
3. I thank the Metropolitan Archbishop, Ante Juric, for the words of welcome which he addressed to me at the start of this Eucharistic celebration, in your name and in the name of all the people of good will in this beloved land of Croatia.
I greet the Bishops of the ecclesiastical Province of Split-Makarska and all the other Bishops of Croatia, particularly Cardinal Franjo Kuharic. I also welcome with gratitude the Pastors of the Church in nearby Bosnia-Hercegovina: the Archbishop of Sarajevo, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, with his Auxiliary, Bishop Pero Sudar; the Bishop of Mostar-Duvno and Apostolic Administrator of Trebinje-Mrkan, Bishop Ratko Peric, and the Bishop of Banja Luka, Franjo Komarica. I likewise greet all the other Bishops present.
911 Finally, I greet the President of the Republic, the Head of Government and the civil and military authorities, who have wished to be present here with us.
4. Dear friends, Split and Solin make up the second and final stage of my Pastoral Visit to Croatia. These two places have a very special significance in the growth of Christianity in this region - from Roman times and, later, Croatian times - and they evoke a long and wonderful history of faith from the time of the Apostles until our own days.
“If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed...” (Lc 17,6), Jesus said just now in the Gospel reading. God’s grace has made that grain of faith sprout and grow to become a great tree, rich in fruits of holiness. Even at the harshest moments of your history, there have always been men and women who have kept repeating: “The Catholic faith is my vocation” (the Servant of God Ivan Merz, in Positio super vita, virtutibus et fama sanctitatis, Rome, 1998, p. 477); men and women who have made the faith their programme of life. So it was for the martyr Domnius in Roman times, so it was also for the many martyrs during the Turkish occupation, up to the Blessed martyr Alojzije Stepinac in our own time.
The decision of your forefathers to accept the Catholic faith, the faith proclaimed and professed by the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, has played a central role in the religious and civil history of your Nation. “This was an event of capital importance for the Croats, because from that moment on they accepted with alacrity the Gospel of Christ as it was disseminated and taught in Rome. The Catholic faith has permeated the national life of the Croats”: so wrote your Bishops (Pastoral Letter, 16 March 1939) in preparation for the Jubilee of the evangelization of the Croats, planned for 1941 and then postponed because of events which overwhelmed your country, Europe and the entire world.
5. This is a heritage which makes demands of you. In the Letter I wrote for the Year of Branimir, one of the stages of the celebration of the Jubilee of the Baptism of your People, I told you: “By your perseverance you have entered into a sort of pact with Christ and his Church: you must remain faithful to this pact, all the more so when the times are in contrast with it. Remain always as you were in that glorious year of 879” (15 May 1979). Today I repeat these words to you, in the new social and political climate which has emerged in your country.
The Lord has not failed to enlighten your days with hope (cf. Eph Ep 1,17-18), and now, with the coming of freedom and democracy, it is legitimate to expect a new springtime of faith in this land of Croatia. The Church is now able to employ many means of evangelization and can approach all sectors of society. This is a promising moment which Providence is offering to this generation in order to proclaim the Gospel and bear witness to Christ Jesus, the one Saviour of the world, and thus to contribute to the building of a society worthy of man.
Concretely, the Christians of Croatia are today called to give a new face to their country, above all by committing themselves to the renewal in society of the ethical and moral values undermined by past totalitarianism and by the recent violence of war. This is a task which calls for the expenditure of much energy and a firm and persevering will. It is an urgent task, for without values there can be no true freedom or true democracy. Fundamental among these values is respect for human life, for the rights and dignity of the person, as well as for the rights and dignity of peoples.
The Christian knows that he has a very specific responsibility, together with his fellow-citizens, for the destiny of his own country and for the promotion of the common good. Faith is always a commitment to the service of others, of one’s fellow-citizens, considered as brothers and sisters. And there can be no effective witness without a deeply-lived faith, without a life anchored in the Gospel and imbued with love for God and for neighbour, following the example of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, to bear witness means to reveal to others the marvels of God’s love, working in union with one’s brothers and sisters to build that Kingdom of which the Church is “on earth, the seed and first growth” (Lumen Gentium LG 5).
6. “If you had faith...”. “We are unworthy servants...”. Faith does not seek the extraordinary, but strives to be useful by serving our brothers and sisters in the light of the Kingdom. Its grandeur lies in humility: “We are unworthy servants...”. A humble faith is an authentic faith. And an authentic faith, even if it is as small “as a grain of mustard seed”, can make extraordinary things happen.
How many times has this happened in this land! May the future prove once more the truth of these words of the Lord, so that the Gospel may continue to bear abundant fruits of holiness among generations yet to come.
May the Lord of history accept the petitions which rise up today from this land of Croatia. May he hear the prayer of all those who profess the holy Name of God and ask to persevere in fidelity to the great baptismal Covenant of their forefathers.
912 Sustained by faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, may this people build its future on its ancient Christian roots, dating to the time of the Apostles!
Praised be Jesus and Mary!
Sunday, 11 October 1998
1. “Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ga 6,14).
St Paul’s words to the Galatians, which we have just heard, are well suited to the human and spiritual experience of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who has been solemnly enrolled among the saints today. She too can repeat with the Apostle: Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Cross of Christ! Ever blossoming, the tree the Cross continues to bear new fruits of salvation. This is why believers look with confidence to the Cross, drawing from its mystery of love the courage and strength to walk faithfully in the footsteps of the crucified and risen Christ. Thus the message of the Cross has entered the hearts of so many men and women and changed their lives.
The spiritual experience of Edith Stein is an eloquent example of this extraordinary interior renewal. A young woman in search of the truth has become a saint and martyr through the silent workings of divine grace: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who from heaven repeats to us today all the words that marked her life: “Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
2. On 1 May 1987, during my Pastoral Visit to Germany, I had the joy of beatifying this generous witness to the faith in the city of Cologne. Today, 11 years later, here in Rome, in St Peter's Square, I am able solemnly to present this eminent daughter of Israel and faithful daughter of the Church as a saint to the whole world.
Today, as then, we bow to the memory of Edith Stein, proclaiming the indomitable witness she bore during her life and especially by her death. Now alongside Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux, another Teresa takes her place among the host of saints who do honour to the Carmelite Order.
Dear brothers and sisters who have gathered for this solemn celebration, let us give glory to God for what he has accomplished in Edith Stein.
3. I greet the many pilgrims who have come to Rome, particularly the members of the Stein family who have wanted to be with us on this joyful occasion. I also extend a cordial greeting to the representatives of the Carmelite community, which became a “second family” for Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
913 I also welcome the official delegation from the Federal Republic of Germany, led by Helmut Kohl, the outgoing Federal Chancellor, whom I greet with heartfelt respect. Moreover, I greet the representatives of the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate and the Mayor of Cologne.
An official delegation has also come from my country, led by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek. I extend a cordial greeting to them.
I would particularly like to mention the pilgrims from the Dioceses of Wroclaw (Breslau), Cologne, Münster, Speyer, Kraków and Bielsko-Zywiec who have come with their Cardinals, Bishops and pastors. They join the numerous groups of the faithful from Germany, the United States of America and my homeland, Poland.
4. Dear brothers and sisters! Because she was Jewish, Edith Stein was taken with her sister Rosa and many other Catholic Jews from the Netherlands to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, where she died with them in the gas chambers. Today we remember them all with deep respect. A few days before her deportation, the woman religious had dismissed the question about a possible rescue: “Do not do it! Why should I be spared? Is it not right that I should gain no advantage from my Baptism? If I cannot share the lot of my brothers and sisters, my life, in a certain sense, is destroyed”.
From now on, as we celebrate the memory of this new saint from year to year, we must also remember the Shoah, that cruel plan to exterminate a people — a plan to which millions of our Jewish brothers and sisters fell victim. May the Lord let his face shine upon them and grant them peace (cf. Nm 6:25f.).
For the love of God and man, once again I raise an anguished cry: May such criminal deeds never be repeated against any ethnic group, against any race, in any corner of this world! It is a cry to everyone: to all people of goodwill; to all who believe in the Just and Eternal God; to all who know they are joined to Christ, the Word of God made man. We must all stand together: human dignity is at stake. There is only one human family. The new saint also insisted on this: “Our love of neighbour is the measure of our love of God. For Christians — and not only for them — no one is a ‘stranger’. The love of Christ knows no borders”.
5. Dear brothers and sisters! The love of Christ was the fire that inflamed the life of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Long before she realized it, she was caught by this fire. At the beginning she devoted herself to freedom. For a long time Edith Stein was a seeker. Her mind never tired of searching and her heart always yearned for hope. She traveled the arduous path of philosophy with passionate enthusiasm. Eventually she was rewarded: she seized the truth. Or better: she was seized by it. Then she discovered that truth had a name: Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the incarnate Word was her One and All. Looking back as a Carmelite on this period of her life, she wrote to a Benedictine nun: “Whoever seeks the truth is seeking God, whether consciously or unconsciously”.
Although Edith Stein had been brought up religiously by her Jewish mother, at the age of 14 she “had consciously and deliberately stopped praying”. She wanted to rely exclusively on herself and was concerned to assert her freedom in making decisions about her life. At the end of a long journey, she came to the surprising realization: only those who commit themselves to the love of Christ become truly free.
This woman had to face the challenges of such a radically changing century as our own. Her experience is an example to us. The modern world boasts of the enticing door which says: everything is permitted. It ignores the narrow gate of discernment and renunciation. I am speaking especially to you, young Christians, particularly to the many altar servers who have come to Rome these days on pilgrimage: Pay attention! Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.
6. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was able to understand that the love of Christ and human freedom are intertwined, because love and truth have an intrinsic relationship. The quest for truth and its expression in love did not seem at odds to her; on the contrary she realized that they call for one another.
In our time, truth is often mistaken for the opinion of the majority. In addition, there is a widespread belief that one should use the truth even against love or vice versa. But truth and love need each other.St Teresa Benedicta is a witness to this. The “martyr for love”, who gave her life for her friends, let no one surpass her in love. At the same time, with her whole being she sought the truth, of which she wrote: “No spiritual work comes into the world without great suffering. It always challenges the whole person”.
914 St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.
7. Finally, the new saint teaches us that love for Christ undergoes suffering. Whoever truly loves does not stop at the prospect of suffering: he accepts communion in suffering with the one he loves.
Aware of what her Jewish origins implied, Edith Stein spoke eloquently about them: “Beneath the Cross I understood the destiny of God’s People.... Indeed, today I know far better what it means to be the Lord’s bride under the sign of the Cross. But since it is a mystery, it can never be understood by reason alone”.
The mystery of the Cross gradually enveloped her whole life, spurring her to the point of making the supreme sacrifice. As a bride on the Cross, Sr Teresa Benedicta did not only write profound pages about the “science of the Cross”, but was thoroughly trained in the school of the Cross. Many of our contemporaries would like to silence the Cross. But nothing is more eloquent than the Cross when silenced! The true message of suffering is a lesson of love. Love makes suffering fruitful and suffering deepens love.
Through the experience of the Cross, Edith Stein was able to open the way to a new encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith and the Cross proved inseparable to her. Having matured in the school of the Cross, she found the roots to which the tree of her own life was attached. She understood that it was very important for her “to be a daughter of the chosen people and to belong to Christ not only spiritually, but also through blood”.
8. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4,24).
Dear brothers and sisters, the divine Teacher spoke these words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. What he gave his chance but attentive listener we also find in the life of Edith Stein, in her “ascent of Mount Carmel”. The depth of the divine mystery became perceptible to her in the silence of contemplation. Gradually, throughout her life, as she grew in the knowledge of God, worshiping him in spirit and truth, she experienced ever more clearly her specific vocation to ascend the Cross with Christ, to embrace it with serenity and trust, to love it by following in the footsteps of her beloved Spouse: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is offered to us today as a model to inspire us and a protectress to call upon.
We give thanks to God for this gift. May the new saint be an example to us in our commitment to serve freedom, in our search for the truth. May her witness constantly strengthen the bridge of mutual understanding between Jews and Christians.
St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us! Amen.
20th ANNIVERSARY OF PONTIFICATE
Sunday, 18 October 1998
915 1. “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lc 18,8).
Throughout the 2,000 years of the Christian era, this question which Christ once asked his disciples has often challenged the men whom divine Providence has called to take up the Petrine ministry. I am thinking at the moment of all my Predecessors, recent and remote. I am thinking especially of myself and of what happened on 16 October 1978. At today’s celebration, I give thanks to the Lord with you for these 20 years of Pontificate.
I remember that 26 August 1978, when the words addressed to my immediate Predecessor by the first Cardinal in the order of precedence and Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church rang out in the Sistine Chapel: “Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme Pontiff?”. “I accept”, Cardinal Albino Luciani replied. “By what name do you wish to be called?”, Cardinal Villot continued. “John Paul” was the answer.
At the time who would have thought that a few weeks later this same question would be addressed to me as his successor? To the first question: “Do you accept”, I replied: “In the obedience of faith before Christ my Lord, abandoning myself to the Mother of Christ and the Church, and conscious of the great difficulties, I accept”. And to the next question: “By what name do you wish to be called”, I too said: “John Paul”.
After the Resurrection, Christ asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” (cf. Jn Jn 21,15-17). The Apostle, aware of his own weakness, answered: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you”, and received from him the mandate: “Feed my sheep” (Jn 21,17). The Lord entrusted this mission to Peter and, through him, to all his successors. He addressed these same words to the one who is speaking to you today, when he was entrusted with the task of strengthening the faith of his brethren.
How many times my thoughts have returned to Jesus’ words, which Luke has recorded for us in his Gospel. Shortly before facing his Passion, Jesus said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and you, when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lc 22,31-33). “Strengthening his brethren in the faith” is thus one of the essential aspects of the pastoral service entrusted to Peter and his successors. In today’s liturgy Jesus asks the question: “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”. This is a question that challenges everyone, but in particular the successors of Peter.
“When he comes, will he find...?”. His coming draws closer with the passing of each year. In celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we always say after the consecration: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, we proclaim your resurrection; we await your return in glory”.
When he comes, will he find faith on earth?
2. This Sunday’s liturgical readings can suggest a twofold answer to his question.
We find the first in St Paul’s exhortation to his trusted co-worker, Timothy. The Apostle writes: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” (2Tm 4,1-2).
This text presents in summary form a precise plan of action. Indeed, the apostolic ministry, especially the ministry of Peter, consists first and foremost in teaching. Anyone who teaches divine truth must himself “remain faithful”, as the Apostle also writes to Timothy, “to what he has learned and believed” (2Tm 3,14).
916 The Bishops, and even more so the Pope, must constantly return to the sources of wisdom that lead to salvation. They must love God’s word. After 20 years of service in the Chair of Peter, I cannot fail to ask myself a few questions today. Have you observed all this? Are you a diligent and watchful teacher of faith in the Church? Have you sought to bring the great work of the Second Vatican Council closer to the people of today? Have you tried to satisfy the expectations of believers within the Church, and that hunger for truth which is felt in the world outside the Church?
And St Paul’s invitation echoes in my thoughts: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word” (2Tm 4,1-2)! Preach the word! This is my duty, to do all I can so that when the Son of man comes, he will find faith on earth.
3. There is another answer we can draw from the first biblical reading taken from the Book of Exodus. It presents the symbolic image of Moses in prayer with his hands held up to heaven, while from a hilltop he follows the battle his people are fighting against the Amalekites. Whenever Moses raised his hands Israel prevailed, and since Moses felt his arms growing weary, a stone was found for him to sit on while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, held up his hands. And he continued to pray until sunset when Joshua defeated Amalek (cf. Ex Ex 17,11-13).
This image has extraordinary expressive power: the image of the pastor at prayer. It would be hard to find a more eloquent reference for all the situations in which the new Israel, the Church, must combat various “Amalekites”. In a certain sense, everything depends on Moses raising up his hands.
The shepherd’s prayer supports the flock. This is certain. However, it is also true that the people’s prayer supports whoever has the task of leading them. So it has been since the beginning. When Peter was imprisoned in Jerusalem to be condemned to death, like James, after the festival, the whole Church prayed for him (cf. Acts Ac 12,1-5). The Acts of the Apostles recount that he was miraculously released from prison (cf. Acts Ac 12,6-11).
So it has happened countless times down the ages. I myself can attest to this, since I have experienced it personally. The prayer of the Church is very powerful!
4. Here I would like to thank all who have expressed their solidarity to me in recent days. Thank you for your many messages of congratulations; thank you especially for constantly remembering me in prayer. I am thinking in a special way of the sick and suffering, who are close to me with the offering of their pain. I am thinking of the cloistered monasteries and the many men and women religious, of the young people and families who never cease praying with one voice to the Lord for me and my universal ministry. During these days I have felt the Church’s heart beating close beside me!
I thank all of you present in St Peter’s Square, who have joined today in my prayer of praise to God for 20 years of service to the Church and to the world as Bishop of Rome. I extend a special word of gratitude to the President of Italy and to all who have accompanied him here this morning to honour me with their presence.
With fraternal affection I also thank Cardinal Camillo Ruini who, at the beginning of the celebration, expressed the fidelity you all feel to Christ and to the Successor of Peter. I am deeply moved by the presence of so many Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, and especially by the priests of the Diocese of Rome and the Curia who are taking part in this solemn Eucharistic concelebration. At this moment, dear friends, I would like to tell you how much I have appreciated your support during these years of service to the Church in the Chair of Peter. I would like publicly to express my gratitude to the city of Rome and to Italy for the warm welcome they have given me since the very first days of my Petrine ministry. I ask the Lord to reward you generously for all you have done and are doing to assist me in the task I have been given.
Dear brothers and sisters of Rome, Italy and the world! This is the meaning of our prayerful assembly in St Peter’s Square: to give thanks to God for his provident care in constantly guiding and sustaining his People on their journey through history; to renew, on my part, the “yes” I gave 20 years ago, trusting in divine grace; to offer, on your part, a commitment to pray always for this Pope, so that he may fulfil his mission.
With all my heart I once again entrust my life and ministry to the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Church. To her I repeat with filial abandonment: Totus tuus!
S. John Paul II Homil. 907