Speeches 2005-13 9097


Most Reverend Father Abbot,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Cistercian Monks of Heiligenkreuz,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life,
Distinguished Guests and Friends of the Monastery and the Academy,
Ladies and Gentlemen!

On my pilgrimage to the Magna Mater Austriae, I am pleased to visit this Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, which is not only an important stop on the Via Sacra leading to Mariazell, but the oldest continuously active Cistercian monastery in the world. I wished to come to this place so rich in history in order to draw attention to the fundamental directive of Saint Benedict, according to whose Rule Cistercians also live. Quite simply, Benedict insisted that “nothing be put before the divine Office”.[1]

For this reason, in a monastery of Benedictine spirit, the praise of God, which the monks sing as a solemn choral prayer, always has priority. Monks are certainly – thank God! – not the only people who pray; others also pray: children, the young and the old, men and women, the married and the single – all Christians pray, or at least, they should!

In the life of monks, however, prayer takes on a particular importance: it is the heart of their calling. Their vocation is to be men of prayer. In the patristic period the monastic life was likened to the life of the angels. It was considered the essential mark of the angels that they are worshippers. Their very life is worship. This should hold true also for monks. Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. “Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus! – Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is eternal!”: so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g.
Ps 106,1). Such prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called officium. It is “service” par excellence, the “sacred service” of monks. It is offered to the triune God who, above all else, is worthy “to receive glory, honour and power” (Ap 4,11), because he wondrously created the world and even more wondrously renewed it.

At the same time, the officium of consecrated persons is also a sacred service to men and women, a testimony offered to them. All people have deep within their hearts, whether they know it or not, a yearning for definitive fulfilment, for supreme happiness, and thus, ultimately, for God. A monastery, in which the community gathers several times a day for the praise of God, testifies to the fact that this primordial human longing does not go unfulfilled: God the Creator has not placed us in a fearful darkness where, groping our way in despair, we seek some ultimate meaning (cf. Ac 17,27); God has not abandoned us in a desert void, bereft of meaning, where in the end only death awaits us. No! God has shone forth in our darkness with his light, with his Son Jesus Christ. In him, God has entered our world in all his “fullness” (cf. Col Col 1,19); in him all truth, the truth for which we yearn, has its source and summit.[2]

Our light, our truth, our goal, our fulfilment, our life – all this is not a religious doctrine but a person: Jesus Christ. Over and above any ability of our own to seek and to desire God, we ourselves were already sought and desired, and indeed, found and redeemed by him! The gaze of people of every time and nation, of all the philosophies, religions and cultures, ultimately encounters the wide open eyes of the crucified and risen Son of God; his open heart is the fullness of love. The eyes of Christ are the eyes of a loving God. The image of the Crucified Lord above the altar, whose romanesque original is found in the Cathedral of Sarzano, shows that this gaze is turned to every man and woman. The Lord, in truth, looks into the hearts of each of us.

The core of monasticism is worship – living like the angels. But since monks are people of flesh and blood on this earth, Saint Benedict added to the central command: “pray”, a second command: “work”. In the mind of Saint Benedict, and Saint Bernard as well, part of monastic life, along with prayer, is work: the cultivation of the land in accordance with the Creator’s will. Thus in every age monks, setting out from their gaze upon God, have made the earth live-giving and lovely. Their protection and renewal of creation derived precisely from their looking to God. In the rhythm of the ora et labora, the community of consecrated persons bears witness to the God who, in Jesus Christ, looks upon us, while human beings and the world, as God looks upon them, become good.

Monks are not the only ones who pray the officium; from the monastic tradition the Church has derived the obligation for all religious, and also for priests and deacons, to recite the Breviary. Here too, it is appropriate for men and women religious, priests and deacons – and naturally Bishops as well – to come before God in their daily “official” prayer with hymns and psalms, with thanksgiving and pure petition.

Dear brother priests and deacons, dear brothers and sisters in the consecrated life! I realize that discipline is needed, and sometimes great effort as well, in order to recite the Breviary faithfully; but through this officium we also receive many riches: how many times, in doing so, have we seen our weariness and despondency melt away! When God is faithfully praised and worshipped, his blessings are unfailing. In Austria, people rightly say: “Everything depends on God’s blessing!”.

Your primary service to this world must therefore be your prayer and the celebration of the divine Office. The interior disposition of each priest, and of each consecrated person, must be that of “putting nothing before the divine Office”. The beauty of this inner attitude will find expression in the beauty of the liturgy, so that wherever we join in singing, praising, exalting and worshipping God, a little bit of heaven will become present on earth. Truly it would not be presumptuous to say that, in a liturgy completely centred on God, we can see, in its rituals and chant, an image of eternity. Otherwise, how could our forefathers, hundreds of years ago, have built a sacred edifice as solemn as this? Here the architecture itself draws all our senses upwards, towards “what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined: what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Co 2,9). In all our efforts on behalf of the liturgy, the determining factor must always be our looking to God. We stand before God – he speaks to us and we speak to him. Whenever in our thinking we are only concerned about making the liturgy attractive, interesting and beautiful, the battle is already lost. Either it is Opus Dei, with God as its specific subject, or it is not. In the light of this, I ask you to celebrate the sacred liturgy with your gaze fixed on God within the communion of saints, the living Church of every time and place, so that it will truly be an expression of the sublime beauty of the God who has called men and women to be his friends!

The soul of prayer, ultimately, is the Holy Spirit. Whenever we pray, it is he who “helps us in our weakness, interceding for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rm 8,26). Trusting in these words of the Apostle Paul, I assure you, dear brothers and sisters, that prayer will produce in you the same effect which once led to the custom of calling priests and consecrated persons simply “spirituals” (Geistliche). Bishop Sailer of Regensburg once said that priests should be first and foremost spiritual persons. I would like to see a revival of the word “Geistliche”. More importantly, though, the content of that word should become a part of our lives: namely, that in following the Lord, we become, by the power of the Spirit, “spiritual” men and women.

Austria (Österreich) is, in an old play on words, truly Klösterreich: a realm of monasteries and a land rich in monasteries. Your ancient abbeys whose origins and traditions date back many centuries are places where “God is put first”. Dear friends, make this priority given to God very apparent to people! As a spiritual oasis, a monastery reminds today’s world of the most important, and indeed, in the end, the only decisive thing: that there is an ultimate reason why life is worth living: God and his unfathomable love.

And I ask you, dear members of the faithful: see your abbeys and monasteries for what they are and always wish to be: not mere strongholds of culture and tradition, or even simple business enterprises. Structure, organization and finances are necessary in the Church too, but they are not what is essential. A monastery is above all this: a place of spiritual power. Coming to one of your monasteries here in Austria, we have the same impression as when, after a strenuous hike in the Alps, we finally find refreshment at a clear mountain spring… Take advantage of these springs of God’s closeness in your country; treasure the religious communities, the monasteries and abbeys; and make use of the spiritual service that consecrated person are willing to offer you!

Finally, I have come also to visit the Academy, now the Pontifical Academy, which is 205 years old and which, in its new status, the Abbot has named after the present Successor of Peter. Important though it is that the discipline of theology be part of the universitas of knowledge through the presence of Catholic theological faculties in state universities, it is equally important that there should be academic institutions like your own, where there can be a deeper interplay between scientific theology and lived spirituality. God is never simply the “object” of theology; he is always its living “subject” as well. Christian theology, for that matter, is never a purely human discourse about God, but always, and inseparably, the logos and “logic” of God’s self-revelation. For this reason scientific rationality and lived devotion are two necessarily complementary and interdependent aspects of study.

The father of the Cistercian Order, Saint Bernard, in his own day fought against the detachment of an objectivizing rationality from the main current of ecclesial spirituality. Our situation today, while different, nonetheless has notable similarities. In its desire to be recognized as a rigorously scientific discipline in the modern sense, theology can lose the life-breath given by faith. But just as a liturgy which no longer looks to God is already in its death throes, so too a theology which no longer draws its life-breath from faith ceases to be theology; it ends up as a array of more or less loosely connected disciplines. But where theology is practised “on bent knee”, as Hans Urs von Balthasar[3] urged, it will prove fruitful for the Church in Austria and beyond.

This fruitfulness is shown through fostering and forming those who have vocations to the priesthood or the religious life. Today, if such a vocation is to be sustained faithfully over a lifetime, there is a need for a formation capable of integrating faith and reason, heart and mind, life and thought. A life devoted to following Christ calls for an integration of one’s entire personality. Neglect of the intellectual dimension can give rise all too easily to a kind of superficial piety nourished mostly by emotions and sentiments, which cannot be sustained over a lifetime. Neglect of the spiritual dimension, in turn, can create a rarified rationalism which, in its coldness and detachment, can never bring about an enthusiastic self-surrender to God. A life devoted to following Christ cannot be built on such one-sided foundations; half-measures leave a person unhappy and, consequently, also spiritually barren. Each vocation to the religious life or to the priesthood is a treasure so precious that those responsible for it should do everything possible to ensure a formation which promotes both fides et ratio – faith and reason, heart and mind.

Saint Leopold of Austria – as we heard earlier - on the advice of his son, Blessed Otto of Freising, who was my predecessor in the episcopal see of Freising (his feast is celebrated today in Freising), founded your abbey in 1133, and called it Unsere Liebe Frau zum Heiligen Kreuz – Our Lady of Holy Cross. This monastery is dedicated to Our Lady not simply by tradition – like every Cistercian monastery –, but among you there burns the Marian flame of a Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard, who entered the monastery along with thirty of his companions, is a kind of patron saint of vocations. Perhaps it was because of his particular devotion to Our Lady that he exercised such a compelling and infectious influence on his many young contemporaries called by God. Where Mary is, there is the archetype of total self-giving and Christian discipleship. Where Mary is, there is the pentecostal breath of the Holy Spirit; there is new beginning and authentic renewal.

From this Marian sanctuary on the Via Sacra, I pray that all Austria’s shrines will experience fruitfulness and further growth. Here, as at Mariazell, I would like, before leaving, to ask the Mother of God once more to intercede for all of Austria. In the words of Saint Bernard, I invite everyone to become a trusting child before Mary, even as the Son of God did. Saint Bernard says, and we say with him: “Look to the star of the sea, call upon Mary … in danger, in distress, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary. May her name never be far from your lips, or far from your heart … If you follow her, you will not stray; if you pray to her, you will not despair; if you turn your thoughts to her, you will not err. If she holds you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you need not fear; if she is your guide, you will not tire; if she is gracious to you, you will surely reach your destination”.[4]

[1] Regula Benedicti RB 43,3.
[3] Cf. HANS URS VON BALTHASAR, Theologie und Heiligkeit, an essay written in 1948, in Verbum Caro. Schriften zur Theologie I, Einsiedeln, 1960, 195-224.
[4] BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX, In laudibus Virginis Matris, Homilia 2, 17.

MEETING WITH VOLUNTEER ASSOCIATIONS Wiener Konzerthaus, Vienna Sunday, 9 September 2007


Mr President,
Archbishop Kothgasser,
Dear Volunteers and Honorary Members
of the different Charitable Agencies in Austria,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
and above all: Dear young friends,

I have looked forward with particular joy to this meeting, which takes place near the end of my visit to Austria. And naturally there is the further joy of having heard not only a marvellous piece by Mozart, but also, unexpectedly, the “Vienna Choir Boys”. Heartfelt thanks! It is good to meet people who are trying to give a face to the Gospel message in our communities; to see people, young and old, who concretely express in Church and society the love which we, as Christians, must be overwhelmed: the love of God which enables us to see others as our neighbours, our brothers and sisters! I am filled with gratitude and admiration when I think of the generous volunteer work done in this country by so many people of all ages. To all of you, and to those who hold honorary and unremunerated positions in Austria, I would like today to express my special appreciation. I thank you, Mr. President, you, Archbishop Kothgasser, and, above all, you, the young people representing volunteer workers in Austria, for your beautiful and profound words of greeting.

Thanks be to God, many people consider it an honour to engage in volunteer service to individuals, groups and organizations, or to respond to specific needs concerning the common good. This kind of involvement is first of all an occasion for personal growth and for active and responsible participation in the life of society. The willingness to take up volunteer work can have various motivations. Frequently it is simply born of a desire to do something meaningful and helpful, and out of a desire for new experiences. Young people rightly and naturally also discover in volunteer work a source of joy, positive experiences and genuine camaraderie in carrying out a worthwhile project alongside others. Often these personal ideas and initiatives are linked to a practical love of neighbour; the individual thus becomes part of a wider community of support. I would like to express my gratitude and heartfelt thanks for the remarkable “culture of volunteerism” existing in Austria. I wish to thank every woman and every man, all the young people and all the children – the volunteer work carried out by children is at times impressive; we need only think of the activity of the Sternsinger at Christmastime; you, dear Archbishop, have already mentioned this. I would also like to express gratitude for the efforts, large and small, which often go unnoticed. Thank you and Vergelt’s Gott [May God reward you!] for your contribution to building a “civilization of love” at the service of everyone and the betterment of the nation. Love of neighbour is not something that can be delegated; the State and the political order, even with their necessary concern for the provision of social services, – as you, Mr President, have said – cannot take its place. Love of neighbour always demands a voluntary personal commitment, and the State, of course, can and must provide the conditions which make this possible. Thanks to such involvement, assistance maintains a human dimension and does not become depersonalized. Volunteers like yourselves, then, are not “stopgaps” in the social fabric, but people who truly contribute to giving our society a humane and Christian face.

Young people especially long to have their abilities and talents “awakened and discovered”. Volunteers want to be asked, they want to be told: “I need you” - “You can do it!” How good it feels to hear words like these! In their human simplicity, they unwittingly point us to the God who has called each of us into being and given us a personal task, the God who needs each of us and awaits our response. Jesus called men and women, and gave them the courage needed to embark on a great undertaking, one to which, by themselves, they would never have dared to aspire. To allow oneself to be called, to make a decision and then to set out on a path - without the usual questions about whether it is useful or profitable - this attitude will naturally bring healing in its wake. The saints have shown us this path by their lives. It is a fascinating and thrilling path, a path of generosity and, nowadays, one which is much needed. To say “yes” to volunteering to help others is a decision which is liberating; it opens our hearts to the needs of others, to the requirements of justice, to the defence of life and the protection of creation. Volunteer work is really about the heart of the Christian image of God and man: love of God and love of neighbour.

Dear Volunteers, Ladies and Gentlemen. Volunteer work reflects gratitude for, and the desire to share with others, the love that we ourselves have received. In the words of the fourteenth-century theologian Duns Scotus,[1] Deus vult condiligentes – God wants persons who love together with him. Seen in this light, unremunerated service has much to do with God’s grace. A culture which would calculate the cost of everything, forcing human relationships into a strait jacket of rights and duties, is able to realize, thanks to the countless people who freely donate their time and service to others, that life is an unmerited gift. For all the many different or even contradictory reasons which motivate people to volunteer their services, all are ultimately based on a profound solidarity born of “gratuitousness”. It was as a free gift that we received life from our Creator, it was as a free gift that we were set free from the blind alley of sin and evil, it was as a free gift that we were given the Spirit with his many gifts. In my Encyclical I wrote: “Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends”.[2] “Those who are in a position to help others will realize that in doing so they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no merit or achievement of their own. This duty is a grace”.[3] By our commitment to volunteer work, we freely pass on what we ourselves have received. This “inner logic” of gratuitousness goes beyond strict moral obligation.

Without volunteer service, society and the common good could not, cannot and will not endure. A readiness to be at the service of others is something which surpasses the calculus of outlay and return: it shatters the rules of a market economy. The value of human beings cannot be judged by purely economic criteria. Without volunteers, then, no state can be built up. A society’s progress and worth constantly depend on people who do more than what is strictly their duty.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Volunteer work is a service to human dignity, inasmuch as men and women are created in the image and likeness of God. As Irenaeus of Lyons, in the second century, said: “The glory of God is the living man, and the life of man is the vision of God”.[4] And Nicholas of Cusa, in his treatise on the vision of God went on to develop this insight: “Since the eye is where love is found, I know that you love me… Your gaze, O Lord, is love…. By gazing upon me, you, the hidden God, enable me to catch a glimpse of you… Your gaze bestows life… Your gaze is creative”.[5] God’s gaze – the gaze of Jesus fills us with God’s love. Some ways of looking at others can be meaningless or even contemptuous. There are looks that reveal esteem and express love. Volunteer workers have regard for others; they remind us of the dignity of every human being and they awaken enthusiasm and hope. Volunteer workers are guardians and advocates of human rights and human dignity.

Jesus’ gaze is connected with another way of seeing others. In the Gospel the words: “He saw him and passed by” are said of the priest and the Levite who see the man lying half-dead on the wayside, yet do not come to his help (
Lc 10,31-2). There are people who see, but pretend not to see, who are faced with human needs yet remain indifferent. This is part of the coldness of our present time. In the gaze of others, and particularly of the person who needs our help, we experience the concrete demands of Christian love. Jesus Christ does not teach us a spirituality “of closed eyes”, but one of “alertness”, one which entails an absolute duty to take notice of the needs of others and of situations involving those whom the Gospel tells us are our neighbours. The gaze of Jesus, what “his eyes” teach us, leads to human closeness, solidarity, giving time, sharing our gifts and even our material goods. For this reason, “those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, – as important as this is – but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern… This heart sees where love is needed, and acts accordingly”.[6] Yes, “I have to become like someone in love, someone whose heart is open to being shaken up by another’s need. Then I find my neighbour or - better – then I am found by him”.[7]

Finally, the commandment of love for God and neighbour (cf. Mt 22,37-40 Lc 10,27) reminds us that it is through our love of neighbour that we Christians honour God himself. Archbishop Kothgasser has already quoted the saying of Jesus: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25,40). If Jesus himself is present in the concrete man or woman whom we encounter, then unremunerated service can bring us to an experience of God. Sharing in human situations and needs leads to a “new” and meaningful kind of togetherness. In this way, volunteer work can help bring people out of their isolation and make them part of a community.

To conclude, I would like to mention the power of prayer and its importance for everyone engaged in charitable work. Praying to God sets us free from ideologies or a sense of hopelessness in the face of endless needs. “Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world about them, Christians continue to believe in the ‘goodness and loving kindness of God’ (Tt 3,4). Immersed like everyone else in the dramatic complexity of historical events, they remain unshakably certain that God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible”.[8]

Dear members and volunteer workers of charitable organizations in Austria, Ladies and Gentlemen! Whenever people do more than their simple duty in professional life and in the family – and even doing this well calls for great strength and much love – , and whenever they commit themselves to helping others, putting their precious free time at the service of man and his dignity, their hearts expand. Volunteers do not understand the term “neighbour” in the literal meaning of the word; for them, it includes those who are far away, those who are loved by God, and those who, with our help, need to experience the work of redemption accomplished by Christ. The other, whom the Gospel calls our “neighbour”, thus becomes our privileged partner as we face the pressures and constraints of the world in which we live. Anyone who takes seriously the “priority” of his neighbour lives and acts in accordance with the Gospel and shares in the mission of the Church, which always looks at the whole person and wants everyone to experience the love of God. Dear volunteers, the Church fully supports your service. I am convinced that the volunteers of Austria will continue to be a source of great blessing and I assure you of my prayers. Upon all of you I invoke the joy of the Lord which is our strength (cf. Neh Ne 8,10). May God in his goodness be ever close to you and guide you constantly by the help of his grace.

[1] Opus Oxoniense III d. 32 q. 1 n. 6.
[2] BENEDICT XVI, Deus Caritas Est, .
[3] Ibid., .
[4] Adversus Haereses IV, 20, 7.
[5] De visione Dei / Die Gottesschau, in Philosophisch-Theologische Schriften, hg. und endgef. von Leo Gabriel, übersetzt von Dietlind und Wilhelm Dupré, Wien, 1967, Bd. III, 105-111.
[6] BENEDICT XVI, Deus Caritas Est, .
[7] JOSEPH RATZINGER / BENEDICT XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, New York, 2007, p. 194.
[8] BENEDICT XVI, Deus Caritas Est, .

FAREWELL CEREMONY International Airport of Vienna/Schwechat Sunday, 9 September 2007


Mr President,

As I prepare to leave Austria at the conclusion of my pilgrimage for the 850th anniversary of the National Shrine of Mariazell, I recall with gratitude these days filled with memorable experiences. I feel that I have come to know even better this beautiful country and its people.

I offer heartfelt thanks to my Brother Bishops, to the Government, to the public authorities and, not least, to the many volunteers who assisted in the organization of this visit. I pray that you will share richly in the graces we have received in these days. My warm, personal thanks go in particular to you, Mr President, for your gracious words of farewell, for having accompanied me on this pilgrimage, and for all the attention you have shown me. Thank you!

Once again I was able to experience Mariazell as a particularly grace-filled place, a place which in these days welcomed all of us and gave us inner strength for the road ahead. The throngs of people who joined in our celebration in the Basilica, in Mariazell itself and throughout Austria should inspire us, with Mary, to look to Christ and, as persons whom God looks upon with love, and to face with confidence the path to the future. It was nice that the wind and the bad weather could not stop us, but, in the end, added even more to our joy.

At the very beginning of my pilgrimage, our common prayer in the Square “Am Hof” brought us together in a way which transcended national borders and directly showed us Austria’s open hospitality, which is one of this country’s finest qualities.

May the quest for mutual understanding, and the creative development of ever new ways of building trust between individuals and peoples, continue to inspire the national and international policies of this nation. Vienna, faithful to its rich history and its location in the vital centre of Europe, can offer a specific contribution in this regard, by consistently upholding the traditional values of the continent, values shaped by the Christian faith, to the European institutions and to the work of promoting international, intercultural and interreligious relations.

On life’s pilgrimage we frequently pause to consider with gratitude the progress already made, and to look with prayerful hope at the road still before us. I made just such a stop at the monastery of Heiligenkreuz. The tradition cultivated there by the Cistercian monks puts us in touch with our roots, whose strength and beauty ultimately derive from God himself.

Today I was able to celebrate Sunday, the Lord’s Day with you – representing all the parishes of Austria – in the Cathedral of Saint Stephen. This gave me an opportunity to be united in a special way with the faithful in all the parishes of Austria.

Finally, a very moving moment for me was my meeting with volunteers from the charitable organizations which are so many and varied in Austria. The thousands of volunteers I was able to see represent the many thousands more who, throughout the country, by their readiness to help others, show forth humanity’s noblest features and help believers to recognize the love of Christ.

Gratitude and joy fill my heart at this moment. To all of you who have been with me during these days, to all who put so much effort and hard work into making this very full programme proceed so smoothly, and to all who joined in my pilgrimage and shared in our celebrations, I once more express my deep gratitude. As I leave you, I entrust the present and the future of this country to the intercession of the Gracious Mother of Mariazell, Magna Mater Austriae, and to all the saints and beati of Austria. With them we want to look to Christ, our life and our hope. With great affection I offer to one and all a sincere “Vergelt’s Gott”!

TO H.E. Mr JOZEF DRAVECKÝ NEW AMBASSADOR OF THE SLOVAK REPUBLIC TO THE HOLY SEE Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gandolfo Thursday, 13 September 2007


Your Excellency,

I am very pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Republic to the Holy See. I thank you for the cordial greetings which you have brought to me from President Gašparovic, and I ask you kindly to convey to him my own respectful greetings, together with my prayerful good wishes for the well-being and prosperity of the Republic. Indeed, the bonds uniting the Bishop of Rome to the people of your country stretch back to the time of Saints Cyril and Methodius, and your presence here today is but another example of the mutual respect and affection the Holy See and Slovakia have for one another.

Next year will mark the Fifteenth Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See. This cooperation has been especially fruitful in recent years, as evidenced by your Government’s ratification of two of the four items contained in the Basic Agreement signed in 2000. I am grateful for Your Excellency’s reassurance that the Republic is committed to fulfilling the other two points of the Basic Agreement regarding conscientious objection and the financing of Church activities. In this regard, I reaffirm the Holy See’s readiness to assist you and your colleagues in whatever way possible to bring these important matters to a successful conclusion.

A key approved item of the Basic Agreement, as noted by Your Excellency, concerns education. It is important that States continue to guarantee the Church the freedom to establish and administer Catholic schools, affording parents the opportunity to choose a means of education that fosters the Christian formation of their children. As they grasp Christian teaching, young people appreciate their personal dignity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God (
Gn 1,27), and thus recognize a purpose and direction for their lives. Indeed, a solid education that nourishes all the dimensions of the human person, including the religious and spiritual, is in the interest of both Church and State. In this way, young people can acquire habits that will enable them to embrace their civic duties as they enter adulthood.

The combined efforts of Church and civil society to instruct young people in the ways of goodness are all the more crucial at a time when they are tempted to disparage the values of marriage and family so vital to their future happiness and to a nation’s social stability. The family is the nucleus in which a person first learns human love and cultivates the virtues of responsibility, generosity and fraternal concern. Strong families are built on the foundation of strong marriages. Strong societies are built on the foundation of strong families. Indeed, all civic communities should do what they can to promote economic and social policies that aid young married couples and facilitate their desire to raise a family. Far from remaining indifferent to marriage, the State must acknowledge, respect and support this venerable institution as the stable union between a man and a woman who willingly embrace a life-long commitment of love and fidelity (cf. Familiaris Consortio FC 40). The members of your National Council are engaged in serious discussions on how to promote marriage and foster family life. The Catholic Bishops, too, in your country are worried about increases in the rate of divorce and the number of children conceived out of wedlock. Thanks to the efforts of the Council for Family and Youth, the Conference of Bishops has expanded educational initiatives that raise awareness of the noble vocation to marriage, thus preparing young people to assume its responsibilities. Such programmes open the door to further collaboration between Church and State and help to ensure a healthy future for your country.

As the Republic strives to achieve social progress at home, she also looks beyond her borders towards the wider international community. The rich cultural and spiritual heritage of Slovakia holds great potential for revitalizing the soul of the European continent. Your Excellency has drawn attention to the heroic sacrifices made by countless men and women in your nation’s history who, in times of persecution, laboured at great cost to preserve the right to life, religious liberty, and the freedom to place oneself at the charitable service of one’s neighbour (cf. Deus Caritas Est ). Such essential values are imperative to building a peaceful and just European Union. I am confident that the celebrations marking the 1150th Anniversary of Saints Cyril and Methodius will renew Slovakia’s vigour to bear witness to these timeless values. In this way, she will inspire other member States of the European Union to strive for unity while recognizing diversity, to respect national sovereignty while engaging in joint activity, and to seek economic progress while upholding social justice.

Your Excellency, I am confident that the diplomatic ties between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See, which already enjoy a spirit of goodwill and mutual esteem, will continue to support the integral development of your nation. I assure you that the various offices of the Roman Curia are eager to assist you in the fulfilment of your duties. With my sincere good wishes, I invoke upon you, your family and all the beloved people of the Slovak Republic abundant divine blessings.

Speeches 2005-13 9097