Speeches 2005-13 241




Vatican Gardens Saturday, 30 May 2009

Venerable Brothers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet you all with affection at the end of the traditional Marian Vigil that concludes the month of May in the Vatican. This year it has acquired a quite special value because it occurs on the eve of Pentecost. In gathering together in spiritual recollection around the Virgin Mary and contemplating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary, you have relived the experience of the first disciples, who gathered in the Upper Room together with "the Mother of Jesus" and "with one accord devoted... to prayer", awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Ac 1,14). Let us too, on this penultimate evening of May, pray for the outpouring of the Spirit Paraclete upon us, upon the Church in Rome and upon the entire Christian People.

The great Feast of Pentecost invites us to meditate on the relationship between the Holy Spirit and Mary, a very close, privileged and indissoluble relationship. The Virgin of Nazareth was chosen in advance to become the Mother of the Redeemer through the power of the Holy Spirit: in her humility, she found favour in God's eyes (cf. Lc 1,30). In fact, in the New Testament we see that Mary's faith, so to speak, "attracts" the gift of the Holy Spirit. First of all in the conception of the Son of God, a mystery that the Archangel Gabriel himself explains in this way: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Lc 1,35). Immediately afterwards Mary went to help Elizabeth, and when she arrived and greeted her, the Holy Spirit caused the child to leap in the womb of her elderly kinswoman (cf. Lc 1,44); and the whole dialogue between the two mothers is inspired by God's Spirit, especially the Magnificat, the hymn of praise in which Mary expresses her innermost sentiments. The whole event of Jesus' birth and early childhood is guided almost tangibly by the Holy Spirit, although he is not always mentioned. Mary's heart, in perfect unison with the divine Son, is a temple of the Spirit of truth in which every word and every event are preserved in faith, hope and charity (cf. Lc 2,19).

We may therefore be certain that the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, in the whole of his hidden life in Nazareth always found in his Mother's Immaculate Heart, a "hearth" ever alight with prayer and with constant attention to the voice of the Spirit. The events at the Wedding at Cana are an attestation of this unique harmony between the Mother and the Son in seeking God's will. In a situation laden with symbols of the Covenant, such as the wedding feast, the Virgin Mother intercedes and provokes, so to speak, a sign of superabundant grace: the "good wine" that refers to the mystery of Christ's Blood. This leads us directly to Calvary, where Mary stands beneath the Cross together with the other women and with the Apostle John. The Mother and the disciple receive spiritually the testament of Jesus: his last words and his last breath, in which he begins to pour out the Spirit; and they receive the silent cry of his Blood, poured out entirely for us (cf. Jn 19,25-34). Mary knew where that Blood came from: it had been formed within her by the power of the Holy Spirit and she knew that this same creative "power" was to raise Jesus, as he had promised.

Thus Mary's faith sustained that of the disciples until their encounter with the Risen Lord and continued to accompany them also after his Ascension into Heaven, as they waited for "[Baptism] in the Holy Spirit" (cf. Ac 1,5). At Pentecost the Virgin Mother appears anew as the Bride of the Spirit, for a universal motherhood of all those who are generated by God through faith in Christ. This is why, for all the generations, Mary is an image and model of the Church which together with the Spirit journeys through time, invoking Jesus' glorious return: "Come, Lord Jesus" (cf. Ap 22,17).

Dear friends, let us too learn at the school of Mary to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to listen to his inspirations and to follow them with docility. He makes us grow in accordance with the fullness of Christ, in accordance with those good fruits which the Apostle Paul lists in his Letter to the Galatians: "Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Ga 5,22). I hope you will be filled with these gifts and that you will always walk with Mary, in accordance with the Spirit, and, while I express my gratitude and praise for your participation in this evening's celebration, I warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to all of you and to your loved ones.

                                                            June 2009


Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Monsignor Rector,
Dear Priests and Seminarians,

I welcome you with joy on the occasion of the celebrations of these days that mark an important moment in the history of the Pontifical French Seminary in Rome. After a century and a half of faithful service, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, which had been in charge of conducting the Seminary since its foundation, has now handed it over to the Bishops' Conference of France.

We must thank the Lord for the work carried out in this institution where, since it opened, almost 5,000 seminarians or young priests have been trained for their future vocation. In acknowledging the work of the members of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, Fathers and Brothers, I would like to entrust to the Lord in particular the apostolates which the Congregation founded by Venerable Fr Libermann preserves and develops across the world and most especially in Africa based on his charism which has lost none of its power and justice. May the Lord bless the Congregation and its missions.

The task of forming priests is a delicate mission. The formation offered by the Seminary is demanding, because a portion of the People of God will be entrusted to the pastoral solicitude of the future priests, the People that Christ saved and for whom he gave his life. It is right for seminarians to remember that if the Church demands much of them it is because they are to care for those whom Christ ransomed at such a high price. Many qualities are required of future priests: human maturity, spiritual qualities, apostolic zeal, intellectual rigour.... To achieve these virtues, candidates to the priesthood must not only be able to witness to them to their formation teachers but even more, they must be the first to benefit from these same qualities lived and shared by those who are in charge of helping them to attain maturity. It is a law of our humanity and our faith that we are all too often capable of giving only what we ourselves have previously received from God through the ecclesial and human mediation that he has established. Those who are placed in charge of discernment and formation must remember that the hope they have for others is in the first place a duty for themselves.

This passing on of witnessing coincides with the beginning of the Year for Priests. This coincidence is a grace for the new team of priest-formation teachers gathered by the Bishops' Conference of France. While the team receives its mission, like the whole Church, it is given the possibility to examine more deeply the identity of the priest, a mystery of grace and mercy. I would like to mention here the eminent figure of Cardinal Suhard, who said of Christ's ministers: "Eternal paradox of the priest. He bears within him those who are contrary. He reconciles, at the price of his life, fidelity to God with fidelity to man. He seems poor and feeble.... He has neither political power nor financial means, nor the force of arms that others use to conquer the earth. His strength lies in being unarmed and being "able to do all things in the One who gives him strength'" (Fulget Ecclesia, n. 141, p. 21, 14 December 1960). May these words that so vividly evoke the figure of the Holy Curé d'Ars ring out as a vocational appeal to numerous young Christians in France who desire a useful and fruitful life in order to serve God's love.

The particular characteristic of the French Seminary is its location in the city of Peter; echoing the desire of Paul VI (cf. Address to the Alumni of the French Pontifical Seminary, 12 September 1968; ORE, 26 September 1968), I hope that during their stay in Rome the seminarians will give priority to becoming acquainted with the Church's history in order to discover the breadth of her catholicity and her living unity around the Successor of Peter, and that love of the Church will thus be rooted in their hearts for ever.

As I invoke upon you all the Lord's abundant graces through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Clare and Blessed Pius IX, I very warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to all of you and to your families, to the former seminarians who have been unable to come here and to all the Seminary's lay personnel.


Your Eminence,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

I warmly welcome you Pastors of the Church of Venezuela to this meeting during your ad limina visit. As Successor of Peter, I thank the Lord for this opportunity to strengthen my brothers in the faith (cf. Lc 22,32) and to share in their joys and worries, in their projects and their difficulties.

First of all I thank Archbishop Ubaldo Ramón Santana Sequera of Maracaibo, President of the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference, for his words expressing your communion with the Bishop of Rome and the Head of the Episcopal College, as well as the challenges and hopes of your pastoral ministry.

In fact the challenges you must face in your pastoral work are ever more numerous and difficult, aggravated moreover as they have been recently by the serious global economic crisis. Yet, the present time also offers many true reasons to hope, that hope which can fill the hearts of all human beings "can only be God God who has loved us and who continues to love us "to the end'" (Spe Salvi ). As he did with the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lc 24,13-35), the Risen Lord also walks beside us, imbuing us with his spirit of love and fortitude so that we may open our hearts to a future of hope and of eternal life.

You have before you, dear Brothers, an exciting task of evangelization and you have begun the "Mission for Venezuela" in line with the Continental Mission promoted by the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences at Aparecida. These are also times of grace for those who are dedicated to the Gospel cause without reserve. Trust in the Lord. He will make your self-giving and sacrifices fruitful.

I encourage you, therefore, to increase your initiatives to make Jesus Christ and his message known in their fullness and beauty. For this, in addition to the sound doctrinal formation of the entire People of God, it is important to encourage a profound life of faith and prayer. In the liturgy, in the intimate dialogue of personal or community prayer, the Risen Christ comes to meet us, transforming our hearts with his loving presence.

I would also like to remind you of the need of a spiritual life for Bishops. Configured fully to Christ the Head by the sacrament of Orders they are in a certain way a visible sign of the Lord Jesus (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 21). For this reason the pastoral ministry must be a consistent reflection of Jesus, Servant of God, showing to everyone the capital importance of faith and likewise the need to give priority to the vocation to holiness (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis ).

Fruitful pastoral action requires close affective and effective communion among the Pastors of the People of God who "should appreciate that they are closely united to each other and should be solicitous for all the Churches" (Christus Dominus CD 6). This unity, which today and always must be promoted and expressed in a visible manner, will be a source of comfort and apostolic effectiveness in the ministry entrusted to you.

The spirit of communion involves paying special attention to your priests. As the closest collaborators of the episcopal ministry, they must be the first recipients of your pastoral care and should be treated with closeness and brotherly friendship. This will help them to carry out with self-denial the ministry they have received and, when necessary, to accept advice in a filial spirit on some aspects they may need to improve or correct. I therefore encourage you to redouble your efforts to give an impetus to the pastoral zeal of your priests, especially during this coming Year for Priests which I have chosen to declare.

In addition to this is the interest that must be shown to the Diocesan Seminary, in order to encourage a thorough and competent selection of those called to be pastors of the People of God, without economizing on the human or material means this may require.

The lay faithful, for their part, participate in their own specific way in the Church's saving mission (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 33). As disciples and missionaries of Christ they are called to illumine and to order temporal realities in such a way that they respond to God's loving plan (ibid., n. 31). This requires a mature laity that bear a faithful witness to their faith and feel the joy of belonging to the Body of Christ. Among other things lay people must be offered an adequate knowledge of the Church's social doctrine. In this regard I appreciate your work to make the light of the Gospel shine on the most important events that affect your country, with no other interest than to disseminate the most genuine Christian values, with a view to encouraging the search for the common good, harmonious coexistence and social stability.

I entrust the needy to you in particular. Continue to encourage the many charitable projects of the Church in Venezuela so that your neediest brothers and sisters may feel the presence among them of the One who on the Cross gave his life for every human being.

I end with a word of hope and encouragement to you in your task; you may always count on my support, concern and spiritual closeness. Please convey my affectionate greeting to all the members of your particular Churches; to the Bishops emeritus, the priests, the religious and the lay faithful, especially married couples, young people, the elderly and those who are suffering. With these sentiments and as I invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Coromoto, so deeply loved throughout Venezuela, I cordially impart to you the Apostolic Blessing.


Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished and Dear Friends,

Thank you for your visit which fits into the context of your annual meeting. I greet you all with affection and am grateful to you for all that you do, with proven generosity, at the service of the Church. I greet and thank your President, Count Lorenzo Rossi di Montelera, who has expressed your sentiments with fine sensitivity, giving an overview of the Foundation's work. I also thank those who, in various languages, have wished to express your common devotion. Our meeting today acquires special meaning and value in the light of the situation that humanity as a whole is experiencing at this time.

Indeed, the financial and economic crisis which has hit the industrialized, the emerging and the developing countries, shows clearly that certain economic and financial paradigms which prevailed in recent years must be rethought. Therefore, at the international congress which took place yesterday your Foundation did well to address the topic of the search for, and identification of, the values and rules which the economic world should abide by in order to evolve a new model of development that is more attentive to the requirements of solidarity and more respectful of human dignity.

I am pleased to learn that you examined in particular the interdependence between institutions, society and the market, in accordance with my venerable Predecessor John Paul II's Encyclical, Centesimus annus. The Encyclical states that the market economy, understood as: "an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector" (n. 42), may be recognized as a path to economic and civil progress only if it is oriented to the common good (cf. n. 43). However, this vision must also be accompanied by another reflection which says that freedom in the economic sector must be circumscribed "by a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality", a responsible freedom, "the core of which is ethical and religious" (n. 42). The above-mentioned Encyclical appropriately states: "just as the person fully realizes himself in the free gift of self, so too ownership morally justifies itself in the creation, at the proper time and in the proper way, of opportunities for work and human growth for all" (n. 43).

I hope that by drawing inspiration from the eternal principles of the Gospel it will be possible, with the research inherent in your work, to elaborate a vision of the modern economy that is respectful of the needs and rights of the weak. My Encyclical dedicated to the vast topic of the economy and work is, as you know, due to be published shortly. It will highlight what for Christians are the objectives to pursue and the values to promote and to defend tirelessly, if we are to achieve a truly free and supportive human coexistence. I likewise note with pleasure all that you do for the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies (PISAI), to whose goals you and I attribute great value for an increasingly fruitful interreligious dialogue.

Dear friends, thank you once again for coming! I assure each one of you of my remembrance in prayer, while I warmly bless you all.


Dear Friends of the Council of the Alcide De Gasperi Foundation,

I deeply appreciate your visit and greet you all with affection. In particular, I greet Mrs Maria Romana, daughter of Alcide De Gasperi, and Hon. Giulio Andreotti who was his close collaborator for many years. I willingly take the opportunity that your presence affords me to recall this great figure who, in historical periods of profound social change in Italy and in Europe, beset with problems, was able to work effectively for the common good. Formed at the school of the Gospel, De Gasperi was able to express the faith he professed in consistent, concrete actions. Indeed, spirituality and politics were two dimensions that co-existed within him and characterized his social and spiritual commitment. He guided the reconstruction of Italy that was emerging from Fascism and from the Second World War with prudent foresight and courageously plotted the path to the future; he defended freedom and democracy in the country. He relaunched Italy's image on the international scene and promoted economic recovery, opening himself to collaboration with all people of good will.

Spirituality and politics were so well integrated in him that if one wishes to understand this esteemed government leader properly one should not limit oneself to taking stock of the political results he achieved, but rather must also note his fine religious sensibility and firm faith which never ceased to motivate his thought and action. In 1981, 100 years after his birth, my Venerable Predecessor John Paul II paid homage to him saying that "in him, faith was the centre of inspiration, the cohesive force, the criterion of values, and a reason for choice" (cf. Address to Leaders of the Christian Democrat Parties of Europe, Latin America and Africa for the centenary of the birth of De Gasperi, 2 April 1981; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 April 1981, p. 9). The roots of this sound evangelical testimony are to be sought in the human and spiritual formation he received in his region, the Trentino, in a family where love for Christ was the daily bread and reference for every decision. He was just over 20 when in 1902, taking part in the first Catholic Congress of the Trentino, he sketched the guidelines of the apostolic action that was to form the entire programme of his life: "It is not enough to preserve Christianity in itself", he said, "it is right to fight with the whole great Catholic army to regain for the faith the fields it has lost" (cf. A. De Gasperi, I cattolici trentini sotto l'Austria, Ed. di storia e letteratura, Rome 1964, p. 24). Won by Christ, he was to be faithful to this attitude until he died, even at the cost of great personal sacrifice. "I am not a bigot", he wrote to his future wife, Francesca, "and perhaps not even as religious as I ought to be; but the personality of the living Christ attracts me; it subjugates me, it uplifts me like a child. Come, I want you to be with me and to follow me in the same attraction, as if towards an abyss of light" (A. De Gasperi, Cara Francesca, Lettere, edited by M.R. De Gasperi, Morcelliana, Brescia 1999, PP 40-41).

We should not, therefore, be surprised to learn that in his day, overloaded as he was with institutional commitments, he always made ample room for prayer and for his relationship with God, when possible beginning every day by attending Holy Mass. Indeed, the summit of his spirituality corresponded with some of his most chaotic and eventful moments. When, for example, he experienced imprisonment, he wanted to have the Bible with him as his principal book and he subsequently retained the habit of noting Bible references on bits of paper as constant nourishment for his spirit. Towards the end of his government career after a harsh parliamentary confrontation he answered a colleague who had asked him what the secret of his political action was: "what do you expect? It is the Lord!".

Dear friends, I should like to reflect longer on this figure who honoured the Church and Italy but I limit myself to highlighting the recognition of his moral rectitude, based on indisputable fidelity to the human and Christian values, as well as the serene moral conscience that guided him in political decisions. "In the democratic system", he said in one of his discourses, "a political administrative mandate is conferred with a specific responsibility... but there is a parallel moral responsibility before one's own conscience, and in order to make a decision, one's conscience must always be illuminated by the Church's doctrine and teaching" (cf. A De Gasperi, Discorsi politici 1923-1954, Cinque Lune, Rome 1990, p. 243). Of course, some moments were fraught with difficulty and perhaps also misunderstanding on the part of the ecclesiastical world, but De Gasperi was unwavering in his adherence to the Church that was, as he testified in a discourse in Naples in June 1954, "full and sincere... also in the moral and social directives contained in the Papal Documents that have almost daily nourished and shaped our vocation to public life".

On that same occasion he noted that "to operate in the social and political field neither faith nor virtue suffices; it is right to create and to foster an instrument suited to the times... that has a programme and method of its own, an autonomous responsibility, a technique and a democratic management". Docile and obedient to the Church, he was therefore autonomous and responsible in his political decisions; he did not use the Church for political ends nor did he descend to making compromises with his upright conscience. At the end of his days he could say: "I have done all that was in my power, my conscience is at peace". He died comforted by the support of his relatives and friends, on 19 August 1954, after murmuring Jesus' name three times. Dear friends, while we pray for the soul of this statesman of international fame who served the Church, Italy and Europe with his political ability, let us ask the Lord to obtain that remembrance of his experience of government and his Christian witness may be an encouragement and an incentive to those who today are in charge of the future of Italy and of other peoples and, especially, to those inspired by the Gospel. With this wish, I thank you again for your visit and bless you all with affection.



Monumental entrance of the Home for the Relief of Suffering

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Sick People,

On my Visit to San Giovanni Rotondo, I could not omit a stop at the Home for the Relief of Suffering, conceived of and desired by St Pio of Pietrelcina as a "place of prayer and science where the human race united in the Crucified Christ becomes one flock with one Shepherd". For this very reason he wished to entrust it to the material and, above all, spiritual support of the Prayer Groups, who have here the centre of their mission of service to the Church. Padre Pio intended that in this well-equipped hospital one could experience first-hand that the commitment of science to treating the sick must never be separated from filial trust in God, who is infinitely kind and merciful. When he inaugurated the Home on 5 May 1956 he described it as a "creature of Providence" and spoke of this institution as "a seed planted on earth by God, which he will warm with the rays of his love".

Here I am among you, therefore, to thank God for the good that you have been doing in this "Home for the Relief of Suffering" for more than 50 years, faithful to the instructions of a humble Capuchin Friar with results recognized at both the scientific and medical levels. Unfortunately it is not possible for me, much as I would like to, to visit every ward and greet the patients one by one, together with those who nurse them. But I do wish to extend to each one the patients, doctors, relatives, health-care workers and pastoral workers a word of paternal comfort and encouragement to continue in this evangelical work together which aims to relieve peoples' suffering, making the most of every resource for the human and spiritual good of the sick and their relatives.

With these sentiments, I cordially greet you all, starting with you, brothers and sisters who are tried through illness. Next, I greet the doctors, the nurses and the health-care and administrative staff. I greet you, venerable Capuchin Fathers, who as chaplains are continuing the apostolate of your holy Confrère. I greet the Prelates, first of all Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, the former Pastor of this Diocese who is now called to guide the archdiocesan community of Lecce. I am grateful to him for the words he has kindly addressed to me on your behalf. I then greet the Director General of the Hospital, Dr Domenico Crupi, and the representatives of the sick, and I am grateful for the kind words they have just addressed to me, enabling me to be better acquainted with what is being achieved here and with the spirit in which you do it. Every time one enters a place of healing, one thinks naturally of the mystery of illness and pain, to the hope of healing and the inestimable value of good health, of which one becomes aware only when it has been lost. In hospitals one sees first-hand the preciousness of our existence but also its fragility. Following the example of Jesus who travelled throughout Galilee "healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (
Mt 4,23), the Church, from her origins moved by the Holy Spirit, has considered it one of her duties and privileges to be at the side of those who suffer cultivating a preferential attention to the sick.

Illness, which is manifested in so many forms and strikes in different ways, gives rise to disturbing questions: why do we suffer? Can the experience of pain be considered positive? Who can free us from suffering and death? These are existential questions that more often than not remain humanly unanswerable, since suffering constitutes an enigma that is inscrutable to human reason. Suffering is part of the very mystery of the human person. I emphasized this in the Encyclical Spe Salvi, noting that: it "stems partly from our finitude, and partly from the mass of sin which has accumulated over the course of history, and continues to grow unabated today". And I added that: "certainly we must do whatever we can to reduce suffering: ... but to banish it from the world altogether is not in our power. This is simply because... none of us is capable of eliminating the power of evil,... which,... is a constant source of suffering" (cf. n. 36).

God alone can eliminate the power of evil. Precisely because Jesus Christ came into the world to reveal to us the divine plan of our salvation, faith helps us to penetrate the meaning of all that is human, hence also of suffering. Thus an intimate relationship exists between the Cross of Jesus the symbol of supreme pain and the price of our true freedom and our pain, which is transformed and sublimated when it is lived in the awareness of God's closeness and solidarity. Padre Pio sensed this profound truth and, on the first anniversary of the inauguration of this Institution, he said that in it "the suffering person must experience God's love through the wise acceptance of his sufferings in serene meditation on his own destiny" (Discourse, 5 May 1957). He noted further that in the Home for the Relief of Suffering "the patients, doctors and priests shall be reservoirs of love" and that "the more abundant love is in oneself, the better communicated it will be to others" (ibid.).

To be "reservoirs of love": this, dear brothers and sisters, is the mission of which, this evening, our Saint reminds you who in various capacities form the great family of this Home for the Relief of Suffering. May the Lord help you to realize the project initiated by Padre Pio with the contribution of all: doctors and scientific researchers, health-care workers and various administrative personnel, volunteers and benefactors, Capuchin Friars and other Priests. We must not forget the Prayer Groups who "alongside the Home for the Relief of Suffering are in the front line of this citadel of charity, nurseries of faith and hearts of love" (Padre Pio, Discourse, 5 May 1966). I invoke upon each and every one the intercession of Padre Pio and the motherly protection of Mary, Health of the Sick. I thank you again for your welcome and as I assure you of my prayers for each one of you, I warmly Bless you all.

MEETING WITH THE PRIESTS, RELIGIOUS AND YOUTH New Church of San Pio of Pietrelcina Sunday, 21 June 2009


Dear Priests,
Dear Men and Women Religious,
Dear Young People,

My pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo ends with our Meeting. I am grateful to the Archbishop of Lecce, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, Apostolic Administrator of this Diocese, and to Fra Mauro Jöhri, Minister General of the Friars Minor Capuchin, for their cordial welcome on your behalf. My greeting is now addressed to you, dear priests, engaged in serving the People of God every day as wise guides and diligent workers in the Lord's vineyard. I also greet with affection the beloved consecrated people, called to bear a witness of total dedication to Christ through the faithful practice of the Evangelical Counsels. A special thought for you, dear Capuchin Friars, who lovingly care for this oasis of spirituality and evangelical solidarity, welcoming pilgrims and devotees recalled by the vivid memory of your holy confrère, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. I warmly thank you for this precious service that you offer to the Church and souls who rediscover here the beauty of faith and the warmth of divine tenderness. I greet you, dear young people to whom the Pope looks confidently as the future of the Church and of society. Here, in San Giovanni Rotondo, everything speaks of the holiness of a humble friar and zealous priest who also invites us this evening to open our hearts to the mercy of God; he is urging us to be holy, that is, to be sincere and true friends of Jesus. Thank you too for the words of your young representatives.

Dear priests, the day before yesterday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and a day of priestly holiness, we inaugurated the Year for Priests, during which we shall commemorate with veneration and affection the 150th anniversary of the death of St John Mary Vianney, the Holy Curé d'Ars. In the Letter I wrote for the occasion, I wanted to stress how important the holiness of priests is for the Church's life and mission. Like the Curé d'Ars, Padre Pio also reminds us of the dignity and responsibility of the priestly ministry. Who was not struck by the fervour with which he relived Christ's Passion in every Eucharistic celebration? In him, as in the Curé d'Ars, a total willingness to accept the faithful, especially sinners, flowed from love for the Eucharist. Furthermore, if in a turbulent and difficult epoch St John Mary Vianney sought in every possible way to enable his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of sacramental repentance, the holy Friar of the Gargano was consumed until the end of his life by his longing to care for souls and to convert sinners. How many people changed their way of living thanks to his patient priestly ministry; what long hours he spent in the confessional! Like the Curé d'Ars, it was his ministry as confessor itself that constituted this holy Capuchin's distinctive feature and his greatest claim to glory. Consequently how can we fail to understand the importance of taking part devoutly in the Eucharistic celebration and of receiving the sacrament of Confession frequently? The sacrament of Penance in particular should be increasingly appreciated and priests must never resign themselves to seeing their confessionals deserted, or limit themselves to noting loss of interest in the faithful for this extraordinary source of serenity and peace.

Then there is another important lesson we can learn from Padre Pio's life: the value of and need for prayer. He would answer those who asked him to express an opinion of himself: "I am only a poor friar who prays". And effectively he prayed always and everywhere with humility, trust and perseverance. Here then is a key point, not only for the spirituality of the priest but also for that of every Christian, and especially for you, dear men and women religious, chosen to follow Christ more closely through the practice of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. One may sometimes be overcome by a certain discouragement at the weakening or even abandonment of faith which is recorded in our secularized societies. It is certainly necessary to find new channels for communicating the Gospel truth to the men and women of our time, but if the essential content of the Christian proclamation is always to remain the same, we must turn to its original source, to Jesus Christ who is "the same yesterday and today and for ever" (
He 13,8). The human and spiritual life of Padre Pio teaches us that only a soul closely united with the Crucified One succeeds in communicating the joy and riches of the Gospel even to those who are remote.

Love for Christ is inevitably linked to love for Christ's Church, guided and enlivened by the power of the Holy Spirit, in which each one of us has a role and mission to carry out. Dear priests, dear men and women religious, the tasks entrusted to you and the charisms which you interpret may differ but may the spirit in which you carry them out always be the same so that your presence and action among the Christian people become an eloquent witness of God's primacy in your lives. Was it not perhaps precisely this that everyone perceived in St Pius of Pietrelcina?

May I now be permitted to address a special word to the young people whom I see here in such large numbers and so enthusiastic. Dear friends, thank you for your warm welcome and for the fervent sentiments which your representative has expressed. I noted that the pastoral plan of your diocese for the three-year period 2007-2010 pays great attention to the mission to young people and families, and I am certain that this approach of listening, confrontation, dialogue and verification to which you are committed will lead to an ever greater care of families and regular listening to the real expectations of the new generations. I have in mind the problems that confront you, dear young men and women, and that risk stifling the enthusiasm characteristic of your youth. Among these, in particular, I mention the phenomenon of unemployment that is dramatically affecting many young men and women in Southern Italy. Do not lose heart! Be "young people with great hearts", as you have often heard repeated to you this year since the Diocesan Youth Mission, animated and guided by the Regional Seminary of Molfetta last September. The Church does not abandon you. Do not abandon the Church! Your contribution is necessary for building living Christian communities and societies that are more just and open to hope. And if you want to have "great hearts", learn at the school of Jesus. Just the other day we contemplated his great Heart overflowing with love for humanity. He will never abandon you or betray your trust, he will never lead you on the wrong paths. Like Padre Pio, may you too be faithful friends of the Lord Jesus, keeping up a daily relationship with him through prayer and listening to his Word, with an assiduous practice of the Sacraments and cordial membership in his family which is the Church.

This must be the basis of the programme of life of each one of you, dear young people, as well as you, dear priests and you, dear men and women religious. I assure each and every one of you of my prayers, as I implore the motherly protection of St Mary of Grace, who watches over you from her Shrine in whose crypt Padre Pio's remains repose. I warmly thank you once again for your welcome and I bless you all, together with your families, your communities your parishes and your entire diocese.

Speeches 2005-13 241