S. John Paul II Homil. 1361
Baku Sports Palace
Thursday, 23 May 2002
1. "Honour to you who believe!" (1P 2,7).
Yes, beloved brothers and sisters of the Catholic community of Baku, and all of you who come from the Catholic communities in the neighbouring countries, "honour to you who believe!" I greet the Christians of the Orthodox Church who have joined us for this solemn moment of prayer, with their Bishop, Alexander. To them too I address the words of the Apostle Peter to the first Christians: "Honour to you who believe!".
The universal Church pays tribute to all those who succeeded in remaining faithful to their Baptismal commitments. I am thinking in particular of those who live permanently in this country and who experienced the tragedy of Marxist persecution, and bore the consequences of their faithful attachment to Christ. Brothers and sisters, you saw your religion mocked as mere superstition, as an attempt to escape the responsibilities of engagement in history. For this reason you were regarded as second class citizens and were humiliated and marginalized in many ways.
2. "Honour to you who believe!" Honour to your grandfathers and grandmothers, to your fathers and mothers, who nurtured the seed of faith in you, nourished it with prayer, and helped it to grow and bear fruit. I wish to repeat once again, honour also to you, the holy Orthodox Church; you opened your doors to the Catholic faithful, who were without fold or shepherd. May the Lord reward your generosity.
I extend a special greeting to the Superior of the mission sui iuris, and the Salesian community that works with him looking after the Catholics. Brothers and Sisters, you are the living proof that faith in God works miracles. Though you are few in number, and belong to different ethnic groups, scattered over a vast territory, the Good Shepherd has kept you together in unity.
3. "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me" (Jn 10,14), says the Lord in the Gospel passage we have just heard. Truly, Lord Jesus, you knew your sheep, even when they were persecuted and forced to hide. You knew them and were close to them, and supported them when they were disheartened by severe physical and moral isolation and tempted to scatter.
1362 For their part, your sheep continued to know and recognize you, to experience your comforting presence, and to follow you despite the tribulations of the journey. What a marvellous exchange! You had offered your life for them, and they offered theirs for you, praying that their faith would not falter. And just as you took up your life again, so too the community of survivors, restored to freedom, rediscovered the joy of gathering together to celebrate their faith in your house, from which the prayer of praise and thanksgiving, like the fragrance of incense, now rises once more to heaven.
4. Brothers and Sisters, beloved sons and daughters of the Catholic Church, today the Pope is with you. He too knows of your suffering, and has carried you in his heart during the years of wandering in the desert of persecution. Today he is here to share in your joy at freedom restored, and to support you on the journey which has as its final goal the promised land of Heaven, where the Lord of life will wipe away every tear: "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away" (Ap 21,4).
Sustained by this certainty, you know that this is a time of joy, a time of hope. A sign of this is the foundation stone of the parish church to be built, which I shall bless at the end of Mass. The Pope brings you the greetings and the esteem of the entire Catholic Church. Today, the eyes of all are turned to you, the "little flock" (Lc 12,32). Do not be afraid! Open your hearts, and hope in the Lord. You are already experiencing the resurrection; in a way you are enjoying a foretaste of the final meeting with the glorious Christ.
5. O Church present in Azerbaijan, today I would like to leave you as your task what we asked for in the Opening prayer of today’s Eucharist. Know that you are "a people gathered from all the nations of the earth in the unity of the one spirit".
Your community, Brothers and Sisters, is a symbolic expression of that universality, made up as it is of people from various backgrounds, some with a past and the prospect of stability, others on their way to other lands. We all form one people, inspired by the one Holy Spirit. Wherever the Eucharist is celebrated, the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic" Church is present.
It seems to me, at this moment, that Bernini’s colonnade, those arms stretching out from the Basilica of Saint Peter to embrace the world, reaches out to hold you too, the little Catholic community of Azerbaijan, close to the bosom of Christ and the Church. In this embrace, the heart of the whole Church beats with affection and love for you. With the Church, and in her, beats the heart of the Pope, who has come here to tell you that he loves you and has never forgotten you.
6. Be faithful to your mission! You were faithful in the time of trial, when in tears you carried the seed for sowing. Be faithful now in joy, as you prepare to gather the sheaves (cf. Ps Ps 125,6). Your mission is to preserve the faith and bear witness to it with a life which is truly prophetic, so that the world may believe. In seeing you, may your brothers and sisters in this country see how much you believe, how much you hope, how much you love. This will be your way of showing that the Risen One is present. Let your witness, which cannot count on abundant resources, exercise its influence through the strength of Christ’s grace, the leaven which, though invisible, can make the whole loaf rise.
You share the joys and hopes of the people who live close to you and with you: you are part of them and with them you must hope and work for a better future for all. Be cautious, but have the courage to make things new. There is need for renewal here too, in this land! Not the novelty that only brings uncertainty and insecurity, no! Rather, the newness that will restore to all, especially the young, a desire to live and work for a world of greater justice and solidarity.
7. Look at them, these young people! They run the risk of succumbing to the illusion of aimless idleness, of easy but dishonest gain. But they are also able to commit themselves to an ideal and risk the heroism of sacrifice in order to bring about the victory of justice and promote the establishment of freedom and peace. They must be taught not to be afraid to dare. We have to reveal to them the radiant perspective of faith, of the friendship of Christ. There is no enthusiasm for good that Christ does not understand, for he himself is eternally young!
O Church that prays, hopes and loves in this land of Azerbaijan, the Pope invokes upon you the blessing of the Lord. Take his blessing to your poor, sick and suffering. Take it to everyone, as an outpouring of grace and love. Never forget that you are called to be the leaven and the soul of the world, for the Lord is with you and he goes before you on your journey.
1363 Plovdiv - Central Square
Sunday 26 May 2002
1. "To you be praise and glory for ever!"
A few moments ago we sang these words in the Responsorial Psalm. Our assembly, dear brothers and sisters, has come together today, on the Lord's Day, to celebrate the grandeur and the holiness of our God and to profess the faith of the Church.
The descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is the crowning of the cycle of events by which God, in successive historical stages, came to meet men and women and offered them the gift of salvation. The Liturgy invites us today to go back to the supreme Source of this gift: God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Most Holy Trinity.
2. The Old Testament emphasizes that God is one. In the First Reading we heard God proclaim before Moses: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Ex 34,6). Moses, for his part, exhorts his people: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord" (Dt 6,4).
The New Testament reveals to us that the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one divine nature in three Persons, perfectly equal and really distinct. Jesus names these Persons explicitly, when he orders the Apostles to baptize "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28,19).
The whole New Testament is one continuous and explicit proclamation of this mystery which the Church, the faithful guardian of the word of God, has always proclaimed, explained and defended. For this reason we too say to God, Most High and Omnipotent, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: "To you be praise and glory for ever!".
3. With the Apostle Paul, I invoke upon everyone "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit" (2Co 13,14). With particular affection I greet you, dear brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the Catholic Church, assembled here with your Bishops from the Dioceses of Sofia-Plovdiv and Nicopoli and from the Apostolic Exarchate for the faithful of the Byzantine-Slav rite. I thank the Pastor of this Particular Church, Bishop Gheorghi Jovev, for his words of welcome and I offer cordial greetings to my Brothers in the Episcopate, Bishop Christo Proykov, President of the Episcopal Conference, and Bishop Petko Christov, Bishop of Nicopoli. I also greet the Cardinals and Bishops who have come from nearby countries in order in order to share this day of celebration with the Church in Bulgaria.
I would like to address a particular greeting to His Eminence Arsenij, the Orthodox Metropolitan of Plovdiv, who with exquisite thoughtfulness has wished to take part in the celebration of this holy Liturgy; I thank him most sincerely for the cordial words which he addressed to me at the beginning of the celebration. With him I greet in the Lord all the faithful of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church who have joined us. Their presence here is a most welcome sign of brotherhood, giving us a foretaste in hope of the joy of full unity, when it will be granted us to celebrate together the Eucharistic Sacrifice, memorial of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord.
I also wish to greet with respect the followers of Islam, who also worship, although in a different way, the One and All-powerful God.
1364 Finally, I greet the civil authorities who honour us by their presence. I thank them for their help in making possible my visit to Bulgaria.
4. God, One and Three, is present in his people, the Church. We are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; in this same name the other Sacraments are administered. In a special way the Mass, "the centre of all Christian life", is characterized by the remembrance of the Divine Persons: the Father to whom the offering is made; the Son, priest and victim of the sacrifice; the Holy Spirit, invoked to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and to make those who partake of them one body and one spirit.
The life of Christians is completely directed towards this mystery. The success of our journey here below depends on our faithful response to the love of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This truth was ever before the eyes of the three Assumptionist priests whom today I have the joy of beatifying. The cause for which Fathers Kamen Vitchev, Pavel Djidjov and Josaphat Chichkov did not hesitate to give their lives was their faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; it was love of Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, to whom they gave themselves unreservedly in the service of his Church.
Father Josaphat Chichkov declared: "We seek to do as best we can everything that is expected of us in order to become holy", and he added: "The most important thing is to draw near to God by living for him; everything else is secondary". Several months before the infamous trial which condemned them to death together with Bishop Bossilkov, foreseeing in some way what awaited them, Father Kamen Vitchev wrote to his Provincial Superior: "Obtain for us by prayer the grace of being faithful to Christ and to the Church in our daily life, so that we may be worthy of bearing witness when the time comes". And Father Pavel Djidjov said: "We await our turn: may God's will be done".
5. In thinking of the three new Beati, I also feel in duty bound to honour the memory of the other confessors of the faith who were sons and daughters of the Orthodox Church and who suffered martyrdom under the same Communist regime. This tribute of fidelity to Christ brought together the two ecclesial communities in Bulgaria, even to the supreme witness. "This gesture cannot fail to have an ecumenical character and significance. Perhaps the most convincing form of ecumenism is the ecumenism of the saints and of the martyrs. The communio sanctorum speaks louder than the things which divide us" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente TMA 37).
How could that communion not already be perfect, when it is realized "in what we all consider the highest point of the life of grace, martyria unto death"? (Ut Unum Sint UUS 84). Is this not "the truest communion possible with Christ who shed his Blood, and by that sacrifice brings near those who once were far off (cf. Eph Ep 2,13)"?
6. The courageous fidelity in the face of suffering and imprisonment shown by Fathers Josaphat, Kamen and Pavel was acknowledged by their former students - Catholics, Orthodox, Jews and Muslims -, by their parishioners, the members of their religious communities, and their fellow prisoners. By their dynamism, their fidelity to the Gospel, their selfless service to the Nation, the new Beati stand out as models for Christians today, especially for Bulgaria's young people, who are looking to give meaning to their lives and who wish to follow Christ whether as laypersons, in religious life or in the priesthood.
May the special commitment with which the new Beati encouraged candidates to the presbyterate be an incentive for everyone: I exhort the local Church in Bulgaria to consider seriously the possibility of re-establishing a Seminary in which young men, by means of a solid human, intellectual and spiritual training, can prepare themselves for the ministerial priesthood in the service of God and their brothers and sisters.
7. The mystery of the Trinity reveals to us the love which is in God, the love which is God himself, the love with which God loves all men. "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3,16). The Crucified and Risen Son, for his part, has sent in the Father's name the Holy Spirit, to nourish in the hearts of believers the desire for and the expectation of eternity.
The new Beati actively experienced this expectation, and they now enjoy the all-satisfying contemplation of the Most Holy Trinity. Let us entrust ourselves to their intercession by praying, in the words of the Byzantine Liturgy (Sext, Dismissal Prayer):
1365 "Eternal God, you dwell in inaccessible light...
Protect us who put our hope in you,
fill us with your divine and august grace.
For yours is the power, yours the majesty, might and glory,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.
1. "Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem, lauda ducem et pastorem in hymnis et canticis": "Praise your Saviour, Zion, praise with hymns and canticles, Christ, your king and shepherd".
With faith and devotion we have sung these words of the traditional Sequence that forms part of the liturgy of Corpus Christi.
Today is a solemn feast, a feast on which we relive the first Sacred Supper. With a public and solemn act, we glorify and adore the Bread and the Wine become the true Body and true Blood of the Redeemer. "Signs not things are all we see", the Sequence stresses, but "here beneath these signs lie hidden priceless things".
1366 2. "Special theme for glad thanksgiving is the lifegiving Bread set before you today".
Today we are celebrating a solemn feast that expresses the awesome wonder of the People of God:a wonder filled with gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist. In the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus wanted to perpetuate his living presence in our midst in the same form in which he gave himself to the Apostles in the Upper Room. He left to us what he did at the Last Supper and we faithfully renew his action.
According to established custom, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi consists of two moments: the Mass, in which the offering of the Sacrifice takes place and the procession, that manifests the public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
3. "Obedient to his command, we consecrate the Bread and wine, our sacrifice of salvation". Above all, we renew the memorial of Christ's Passover.
Days, years and centuries go by, but this most holy act in which Jesus condensed his entire Gospel of love does not pass away. He never ceases to offer himself, the Lamb immolated and risen, for the salvation of the world. With this memorial the Church responds to the command of God's Word, which we heard in the First Reading: "Remember ... Do not forget" (Dt 8,2 Dt 8,14).
The Eucharist is our living Memorial. In the Eucharist, as the Council recalls, "is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself our Pasch and the living bread which gives life to men through his flesh - that flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit. Thus men are invited and led to offer themselves, their works and all creation with Christ ..." (Presbyterorum ordinis PO 5).
From the Eucharist, "the source and the summit of all preaching of the Gospel" (ibid.), even our Church of Rome must daily draw the strength and enthusiasm for her missionary action and for every form of Christian witness in the world.
4. "Good shepherd, True Bread, have mercy on us, nourish and defend us".
Good Shepherd, you will shortly pass through the streets of our city. On this feast, every city, metropolis or small village, becomes spiritually Zion, the Jerusalem who praises the Saviour: they are the new People of God, gathered from every nation and nourished with the one Bread of life.
This People has need of the Eucharist. Indeed, it is the Eucharist that makes the People a missionary Church. But is it possible without priests, who renew the Eucharistic mystery?
This is why, on this solemn day, I invite you to pray for the success of the diocesan ecclesial convocation to be held in the Basilica of St John starting on Monday (June 3), that will give special attention to the theme of vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life.
1367 Young Romans! I repeat to you the words I addressed to the young people gathered at Tor Vergata during the World Youth Day 2000. "If any of you, dear young men and women hear the Lord's inner call to give yourselves completely to him in order to love him "with an undivided heart'" (cf. 1Co 7,34) do not be held back by doubts or fears. Say "yes' with courage and without reserve, trusting him who is faithful to his promises" (cf. Homily, n. 6).
5. "Ave verum Corpus, natum de Maria Virgine" ("Hail true Body, born of the Virgin Mary").
We adore you, our Redeemer who became incarnate in the pure womb of the Virgin Mary. To the most important Marian church of the West, the Basilica of St Mary Major, we will move in solemn procession.
We give you thanks, Lord, for your Eucharistic presence in the world. For us you accepted suffering and on the cross you manifested your love for all humanity to the very end. We adore you, daily viaticum for us, all pilgrims on earth.
"You who know and can do all things, who nourish us on earth, lead your brothers and sisters to the table of heaven to be fellow heirs and guests with your saints forever". Amen.
Sunday, 16 June 2002
1. "For my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt 11,30).
Jesus' words to his disciples, which we just heard, help us to understand the most important message of this solemn celebration. Indeed, in a certain sense, we can consider them as a magnificent summary of the whole life of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, today proclaimed a saint.
The evangelical image of the "yoke" recalls the many trials that the humble Capuchin of San Giovanni Rotondo had to face. Today we contemplate in him how gentle the "yoke" of Christ is, and how truly light is his burden when it is borne with faithful love. The life and mission of Padre Pio prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens onto the horizons of a greater good, known only to the Lord.
2. "But may I never boast except in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ga 6,14).
Is it not, precisely, the "glory of the Cross" that shines above all in Padre Pio? How timely is the spirituality of the Cross lived by the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina. Our time needs to rediscover the value of the Cross in order to open the heart to hope.
1368 Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified, since he was very conscious of having been called to collaborate in a special way in the work of redemption. His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.
In God's plan, the Cross constitutes the true instrument of salvation for the whole of humanity and the way clearly offered by the Lord to those who wish to follow him (cf. Mk Mc 16,24). The Holy Franciscan of the Gargano understood this well, when on the Feast of the Assumption in 1914, he wrote: "In order to succeed in reaching our ultimate end we must follow the divine Head, who does not wish to lead the chosen soul on any way other than the one he followed; by that, I say, of abnegation and the Cross" (Epistolario II, p. 155).
3. "I am the Lord who acts with mercy" (Jr 9,23).
Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making himself available to all by welcoming them, by spiritual direction and, especially, by the administration of the sacrament of Penance. I also had the privilege, during my young years, of benefitting from his availability for penitents. The ministry of the confessional, which is one of the distinctive traits of his apostolate, attracted great crowds of the faithful to the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo. Even when that unusual confessor treated pilgrims with apparent severity, the latter, becoming conscious of the gravity of sins and sincerely repentant, almost always came back for the peaceful embrace of sacramental forgiveness. May his example encourage priests to carry out with joy and zeal this ministry which is so important today, as I wished to confirm this year in the Letter to Priests on the occasion of Holy Thursday.
4. "You, Lord, are my only good".
This is what we sang in the responsorial psalm. Through these words, the new Saint invites us to place God above everything, to consider him our sole and highest good.
In fact, the ultimate reason for the apostolic effectiveness of Padre Pio, the profound root of so much spiritual fruitfulness can be found in that intimate and constant union with God, attested to by his long hours spent in prayer and in the confessional. He loved to repeat, "I am a poor Franciscan who prays" convinced that "prayer is the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God".
This fundamental characteristic of his spirituality continues in the "Prayer Groups" that he founded, which offer to the Church and to society the wonderful contribution of incessant and confident prayer. To prayer, Padre Pio joined an intense charitable activity, of which the "Home for the Relief of Suffering" is an extraordinary expression. Prayer and charity, this is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching, which today is offered to everyone.
5. "I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because ... these things ... you have revealed to little ones" (Mt 11,25).
How appropriate are these words of Jesus, when we think of them as applied to you, humble and beloved Padre Pio.
Teach us, we ask you, humility of heart so we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel, to whom the Father promised to reveal the mysteries of his Kingdom.
1369 Help us to pray without ceasing, certain that God knows what we need even before we ask him.
Obtain for us the eyes of faith that will be able to recognize right away in the poor and suffering the face of Jesus.
Sustain us in the hour of the combat and of the trial and, if we fall, make us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness.
Grant us your tender devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother.
Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage toward the blessed homeland, where we hope to arrive in order to contemplate forever the glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
1. "Wrap your mantle round you and follow me" (Ac 12,8).
This is how the angel spoke to Peter, detained in prison in Jerusalem. As the sacred text recounts, Peter "went out and followed him" (Ac 12,9).
With this extraordinary intervention God comes to the help of his Apostle so that he could continue on his mission. It was not an easy one and entailed a complicated and tiring route, that was to end with his martyrdom in Rome, where still today Peter's tomb is the goal of unceasing pilgrimage from every part of the world.
2. "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?... Arise, and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do" (Ac 9,4-6).
1370 Paul was struck down by divine grace on the road to Damascus and from being persecutor of Christians became the Apostle to the Gentiles. Having met the Lord on the road, he dedicated himself without reserve to the cause of the Gospel.
For Paul too, Rome the capital of the empire, was reserved as a distant goal, where, with Peter, he was to preach Christ, our only Lord and the Saviour of the world. For the faith he was also destined one day to pour out his blood here, so that his name would be linked forever to Peter's in the history of Christian Rome.
3. Today the Church is joyfully celebrating the memory of both of them. The "Rock" and the "Chosen Instrument" definitively met each other here in Rome. Here they brought to completion their apostolic ministry, sealing it with the shedding of their blood.
The mysterious route of faith and love that led Peter and Paul from their native land to Jerusalem, then to other parts of the world, and finally to Rome, is a model of the journey that every Christian is called to accomplish to witness to Christ in the world.
"I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears" (Ps 33,5).
How can we fail to see in the experience of both the saints we commemorate today the fulfilment of the words of the Psalmist? The Church is constantly put to the test. The message that has always come to her from the holy Apostles Peter and Paul is clear and eloquent: by God's grace, in every circumstance it is possible for the human being to become a sign of the victorious power of God. For this reason he must not be afraid. Those who put their confidence in God, freed from all fear, feel the consoling presence of the Spirit, especially in moments of trial and sorrow.
4. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate! The example of Peter and Paul challenges us who by episcopal ordination have been established as successors of the Apostles. Like them, we are invited to pursue a process of conversion and love for Christ. Isn't he the one who has called us? Isn't it he whom we must announce with coherence and faithfulness?
I turn in particular to you Metropolitans who have come from many countries of the world to receive the pallium from the Successor of Peter. I greet you cordially, with all those who have accompanied you. The special bond with the Apostolic See which this liturgical insignia expresses is a stimulus to a more intense diligence in seeking the spiritual and pastoral communion that will benefit the faithful, and foster in them a sense of the unity and universality of the Church. In yourselves and in those entrusted to you, keep faithfully that holiness of life which is a supernatural gift of grace of the Lord.
I also greet with special affection the Delegation sent by Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, led by the Metropolitan Panteleimon. The traditional visit of the Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul is a providential moment in the journey towards re-establishing full communion between us. At the beginning of the third millennium, we powerfully realize that we must "set out anew from Christ", the foundation of our common faith and mission. "Heri, hodie et in saecula" (Yesterday, today and forever) (He 13,8), Christ is the solid rock on which the Church is built.
5. "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" (Mt 16,16). The profession of faith that Peter made at Cesarea Philippi when the Master asked the disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" (ibid., v. 15), assumes a particularly unique value and meaning for us who make up the ecclesial community of Rome. The witness of Peter and Paul, sealed by the final sacrifice of their lives, reminds this Church of the mission that obliges her to "preside in charity" (Ignatius of Antioch, ).
Faithful of my beloved Diocese, we are more and more conscious of our responsibility. Let us persevere in prayer with Mary, Queen of the Apostles.
1371 In following the example of our glorious Patrons and with their constant support, let us try to repeat at every moment to Christ: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God! You are the only Redeemer", the Redeemer of the world!
At the end of the Mass, the Holy Father thanked those who were present and greeted the Delegation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.
At the end of this solemn celebration, I want to thank you all, dear brothers and sisters, who with your devout participation have honoured the commemoration of Sts Peter and Paul. I cordially greet the Delegation of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, led by Metropolitan Simeon. I shall always remember my recent visit to Bulgaria, and invoke heavenly blessings upon the faithful of that beloved nation.
Best wishes today to all who are named Peter or Paul.
17th WORLD YOUTH DAY
Toronto, Downsview Park, Sunday July 28, 2002
"You are the salt of the earth!
You are the light of the world!" (Mt 5,13-14)
Dear Young People of the Seventeenth World Youth Day,
Chers Frères et Soeurs,
1372 1. On a hillside near the lake of Galilee, Jesus's disciples listened to his gentle and urgent voice; as gentle as the landscape of Galilee itself, as urgent as a call to choose between life and death, between truth and falsehood. The Lord spoke words of life that would echo for ever in the hearts of his followers.
Today he is speaking the same words to you, the young people of Toronto and Ontario, of the whole of Canada, of the United States, of the Caribbean, of Spanish-speaking America and Portuguese-speaking America, of Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Listen to the voice of Jesus in the depths of your hearts! His words tell you who you are as Christians. They tell you what you must do to remain in his love.
2. But Jesus offers one thing, and the "spirit of the world" offers another. In today's Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul tells us that Jesus leads us from darkness into light (cf. Eph Ep 5,8). Perhaps the great Apostle is thinking of the light that blinded him, the persecutor of Christians, on the road to Damascus. When later he recovered his sight, nothing was as before. He had been born anew and nothing would ever take his new-found joy away from him.
You too are called to be transformed. "Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light" (Ep 5,14), says Saint Paul.
The "spirit of the world" offers many false illusions and parodies of happiness. There is perhaps no darkness deeper than the darkness that enters young people's souls when false prophets extinguish in them the light of faith and hope and love. The greatest deception, and the deepest source of unhappiness, is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility.
3. The Lord is calling you to choose between these two voices competing for your souls. That decision is the substance and challenge of World Youth Day.Why have you come together from all parts of the world? To say in your hearts: "Lord, to whom shall we go?" Who has the words of eternal life? "You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6,68). Jesus - the intimate friend of every young person - has the words of life.
The world you are inheriting is a world which desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity. It is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty and richness of God's love. It needs witnesses to that love. The world needs salt. It needs you - to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
4. Salt is used to preserve and keep. As apostles for the Third Millennium, your task is to preserve and keep alive the awareness of the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, the memorial of his saving death and glorious resurrection. You must keep alive the memory of the words of life which he spoke, the marvellous works of mercy and goodness which he performed. You must constantly remind the world of the "power of the Gospel to save" (Rm 1,16)!
Salt seasons and improves the flavour of food. Following Jesus, you have to change and improve the "taste" of human history. With your faith, hope and love, with your intelligence, courage and perseverance, you have to humanize the world we live in, in the way that today's Reading from Isaiah indicates: "loose the bonds of injustice ... share your bread with the hungry ... remove the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil.... Then your light shall rise in the darkness" (Is 58,6-10).
5. Even a tiny flame lifts the heavy lid of night. How much more light will you make, all together, if you bond as one in the communion of the Church! If you love Jesus, love the Church! Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members. The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame.But think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good! There are many priests, seminarians and consecrated persons here today; be close to them and support them! And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done.
You are young, and the Pope is old, 82 or 83 years of life is not the same as 22 or 23. But the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope.
1373 Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.
6. I finish with a prayer. O Lord Jesus Christ, keep these young people in your love. Let them hear your voice and believe what you say, for you alone have the words of life.
Teach them how to profess their faith, bestow their love, and impart their hope to others.
Make them convincing witnesses to your Gospel in a world so much in need of your saving grace.
Make them the new people of the Beatitudes, that they may be the salt of the earth and the light of the world at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium!
Mary, Mother of the Church, protect and guide these young men and women of the Twenty-first Century. Keep us all close to your maternal heart. Amen.
S. John Paul II Homil. 1361