Speeches 2005-13 16121


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am glad to welcome you and to address my cordial greeting to each one of you. I greet H.B. Sviatoslav Schevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyc, Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv for Latins and Bishop Milan Šašik, Eparch of Mukachevo, together with my other Brothers in the Episcopate and in the presbyterate of the Greek-Catholic Church and the Latin Church. I extend my affectionate thought to all the faithful of Ukraine represented here. I greet with respect the civil authorities and in particular Mr Kolesnikov Borys, Vice-Prime Minister. I thank him for his courteous words and for the gift of the fine Christmas tree that adorns St Peter’s Square as well as for the Icon. I address a special thought to the distinguished representatives of the Orthodox Church, with the Archbishop of Poltava and Myrhorod, expressing my sincere appreciation of their meaningful presence. Lastly, I greet all the Ukrainians, those in the homeland, those scattered across the world and also those present here in Rome.

This decorated tree will stand beside the crib, until the end of the Christmas festivities, to be admired by the inhabitants of Rome and by the pilgrims coming here from every part of the world. It is a significant symbol of Christ’s Nativity because, with its evergreen branches, it evokes the continuing of life. The fir is also a sign of the popular piety of your land and of the Christian roots of your culture. I hope these roots will increasingly strengthen your national unity and foster the promotion of authentic and shared values. Down the centuries your country has been a crossroads of different cultures, a meeting point between the spiritual riches of East and West. Adhering tenaciously to the values of faith, may it continue to respond to this particular vocation.

You have wished to accompany this impressive red fir-tree with smaller trees for the Apostolic Palace and other parts of the Vatican. These plants, together with the traditional costumes, evocative music and local produce will make known to Rome come characteristic elements of your country. May this pilgrimage of yours awaken throughout the Christian Ukrainian community a renewed desire to live and witness joyfully to faith and to promote the values of life, solidarity and peace which Christ’s birth presents to us every year anew.

In this Advent season the Church invites us to prepare ourselves for the Nativity of the Saviour, intensifying our spiritual journey and our relationship with Christ. Our epoch needs holy Christians, enthusiastic about their faith! The Virgin Mary is our model and our guide: to understand God’s will for her life and the meaning of the events that concerned the Son of God, she adopted a unique contemplative approach: listening, observing, preserving, meditating and praying. How necessary it is to recover the taste for prayer! How careful we must be not to let ourselves be swept on by the hectic pace of life that prevents us from re-entering ourselves and finding ourselves as we stand before the marvellous mystery of God who dwells in our heart!

Dear friends, the tree and the crib are elements of the typical Christmas atmosphere that is part of our communities’ spiritual legacy: an atmosphere steeped in religious devotion and family closeness that we must also preserve in today’s society, in which consumerism and the quest for material goods sometimes seem to prevail. Christmas is a Christian feast and its symbols are important references to the great mystery of the Incarnation and Birth of Jesus, which the liturgy constantly calls to mind. The Creator of the universe, in making himself a child, came to live among us to share our journey. He made himself little to enter the human heart and thus to renew it with his love. Let us prepare to welcome him with faith.

I express my deep gratitude anew to all of you, to your collaborators who have stayed at home and to all those who contributed to the transport of the tree. Thank you for the contribution that each one of you has made with great generosity.

I take this favourable opportunity to offer you my most fervent good wishes for Christmas, now at hand, and for the Christmas celebrations. I assure you of my remembrance in prayer for you yourselves, for your families, for Ukraine and for all the Ukrainians, as I warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you. Happy Christmas!



Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,

I am pleased to offer you a warm fraternal welcome on the occasion of your visit ad Limina Apostolorum.This gathering is a tangible sign of our communion in faith and charity in the one Church of Christ. I wish to thank Archbishop Dew and Bishop Mafi for the kind words offered on your behalf. My cordial greetings go to the priests, the men and women religious, and those entrusted to your pastoral care. Please assure them of my prayers for their growth in holiness and of my affection for them in the Lord.

With gratitude to Almighty God, I note from your reports the many blessings which the Lord has bestowed upon your Jurisdictions. I am also aware of the challenges to the Christian life which are common to all of you, in spite of the many social, economic and cultural contexts in which you work. You have mentioned in particular the challenge set before you by the secularism characteristic of your societies, a reality that has a significant impact on the understanding and practice of the Catholic faith. This is seen specifically in a weakened appreciation for the sacred nature of Christian marriage and the stability of the family. In such a context, the struggle to lead a life worthy of the our baptismal calling (cf. Ep 4,1) and to abstain from the earthly passions which wage war against ours souls (cf. 1P 2,11) becomes ever more challenging. Yet we know that, ultimately, Christian faith provides a surer basis for life than the secular vision; for “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear” (Gaudium et Spes GS 22).

Thus, the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization was recently established. Since the Christian faith is founded on the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, the new evangelization is not an abstract concept but a renewal of authentic Christian living based on the teachings of the Church. You, as Bishops and Pastors, are called to be protagonists in formulating this response according to local needs and circumstances in your various countries and among your peoples. By strengthening the visible bonds of ecclesial communion, build among yourselves an ever stronger sense of faith and charity, so that those whom you serve, in their turn, may imitate your charity and be ambassadors of Christ both in the Church and in the civil arena.

As you face this historic challenge, you must do so under the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, who also calls forth, consecrates and sends priests as “co-workers of the Order of Bishops, with whom they are joined in the priestly office and with whom they are called to the service of the people of God” (Rite of Ordination of Priests). Dear Brother Bishops, I encourage you to have a special care for your priests. As you know, one of your first pastoral duties is to your priests and to their sanctification, especially those who are experiencing difficulties and those who have little contact with their brother priests. Be a father who guides them on the path to holiness, so that their lives may also attract others to follow Christ. We know that good, wise and holy priests are the best promoters of vocations to the priesthood. With the confidence that comes from faith, we can say that the Lord is still calling men to the priesthood, and you are aware that encouraging them to consider dedicating their lives fully to Christ is among your top priorities. In our day young people need more assistance with spiritual discernment so that they may know the Lord’s will. In a world affected by a “profound crisis of faith” (Porta Fidei, 2), ensure too that your seminarians receive a well-rounded formation that will prepare them to serve the Lord and love his flock according to the heart of the Good Shepherd.

In this context, I wish to acknowledge the significant contribution to the spread of the Gospel made by the men and women religious present throughout your region, including those active in pastoral, catechetical, and educational fields. Together with those living a contemplative life, may they remain faithful to the charisms of their founders, which are always united with the life and discipline of the entire Church, and may their witness to God continue to be a beacon that points towards a life of faith, love and right living.

Likewise, the lay faithful’s role in the well-being of the Church is essential since the Lord does not expect pastors “to undertake by themselves the entire saving mission of the Church” (Lumen Gentium LG 30). I understand from your reports that your task of spreading the Gospel often depends on the assistance of lay missionaries and catechists. Continue to ensure that a sound and ongoing formation be afforded them, especially within the context of their associations. In so doing, you will equip them for every good work in the building up of the body of Christ (cf. 2Tm 3,17 Ep 4,12). Their zeal for the faith under your continued leadership and support will surely bear much fruit in the vineyard of the Lord.

My dear Brother Bishops and Priests, as I have had this opportunity to discuss with you the New Evangelization, I do so mindful of the recently proclaimed Year of Faith, which “is intended to give a fresh impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead human beings out of the wilderness in which they find themselves” (Homily, 16 October 2011). May this privileged time serve as an inspiration as you join the entire Church in the ongoing efforts of the New Evangelization, for although you are spread among many islands and we are separated by great distances, together we profess “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all” (Ep 4,5-6). May you continue to be united among yourselves and with the Successor of Peter. Commending you to the intercession of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and assuring you of my affection and prayers for you and for those entrusted to your pastoral care, I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.



Dear Children and Educators of ACR,

I too am really glad to welcome you and to see the joy and the life that you bring to the Pope’s house. Thank you so much for your greetings on behalf of the whole Italian Catholic Action. I would then sincerely like to say “Well done!” to you, for the initiative you promoted in the month of January; in this way too you show that you are a group of good and attentive children, because your concern is not limited solely to your classmates or to the friends you play with but reaches out to those of your peers who cannot flourish or be happy as you are because they lack what they need to live a dignified life.

Always be sensitive to those who need help; do as Jesus did, who left no one alone with his or her problems but welcomed all, shared their difficulties, helped them and gave them God’s strength and peace.

I know that this year you are reflecting on Bartimaeus’ invitation: “Rise, he is calling you” [Mk 10:49]. You too must listen to this invitation every day. When your mother or your father wakes you up in the morning to go to school, Rise! At times, true, it is not so easy to listen and the answer is not always immediate. I am not only inviting you to be quick but also to see that within this everyday word there is a call from someone who loves you, there is God’s call to life, to be Christian children, to begin a new day that is his great gift in order to meet many friends, as you are, so as to learn, to do good and also to say to Jesus, “thank you” for everything you give me.

When you wake up in the morning remember your Friend, who is Jesus, with a prayer. I hope you do it every day. This invitation: “rise, he is calling” has been repeated many times in your life and is repeated today. You received the first call with the gift of life; always be careful with this great gift, treasure it, be grateful to the Lord for it, ask him to give the gift of a joyful life to every child in the world: may all of them always be respected and may none of them lack what they need to live.

Another important day was the day on which you received baptism, even if you do not remember it; at that moment you became a brother or a sister of Jesus, who cares for you more than anyone and wants to help you grow. Lastly, another call was when you received Holy Communion: on that day your friendship with Jesus became very close, and he accompanies you always on your life’s journey. Dear ACR children, respond generously to the Lord who is asking for your friendship: he will never disappoint you! He might call you to be the gift of love to someone in order to form a family, or he might ask you to make your life a gift to him and to others as priests, religious or missionaries. Be courageous in answering him; as you said, “aim high”; you will be happy about it for the rest of your life!

However at this moment, I would also like to take the opportunity to thank all your educators, especially those of Catholic Action, and your parents, they are precious because they have helped and will help you to respond to the Lord, to make this journey; indeed, they will travel it with you!

I am particularly glad that our Bishop Sigalini has returned: he had fallen — as you know — and was very ill. But the Lord needs him. Thus we are grateful for his return.

Dear friends, I would like to ask to you to do one thing: take to your companions too this lovely invitation — rise, he is calling you — and tell them: Look I have answered Jesus’ call and I am happy because in him I have found a great Friend, one whom I meet in my prayers, whom I see in my friends, and whom listen to in the Gospel. The Christmas that I wish for you is this: while you are setting up the crib, imagine that you are saying to Jesus: come into my life and I will always listen to you.

Happy Christmas to you, to your Chaplain, who is recovering — as I said — from a serious accident, to your president and to the whole of Italian Catholic Action.



Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The occasion that brings us together today is always particularly moving. The holy feast of Christmas is almost upon us and it prompts the great family of the Roman Curia to come together for a gracious exchange of greetings, as we wish one another a joyful and spiritually fruitful celebration of this feast of the God who became flesh and established his dwelling in our midst (cf. Jn 1,14). For me, this is an occasion not only to offer you my personal good wishes, but also to express my gratitude and that of the Church to each one of you for your generous service; I ask you to convey this to all the co-workers of our extended family. I offer particular thanks to the Dean of the College, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who has given voice to the sentiments of all present and of all who work in the various offices of the Curia and the Governorate, including those whose apostolate is carried out in the Pontifical Representations throughout the world. All of us are committed to spreading throughout the world the resounding message that the angels proclaimed that night in Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will” (Lc 2,14), so as to bring joy and hope to our world.

As this year draws to a close, Europe is undergoing an economic and financial crisis, which is ultimately based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent. Even if such values as solidarity, commitment to one’s neighbour and responsibility towards the poor and suffering are largely uncontroversial, still the motivation is often lacking for individuals and large sectors of society to practise renunciation and make sacrifices. Perception and will do not necessarily go hand in hand. In defending personal interests, the will obscures perception, and perception thus weakened is unable to stiffen the will. In this sense, some quite fundamental questions emerge from this crisis: where is the light that is capable of illuminating our perception not merely with general ideas, but with concrete imperatives? Where is the force that draws the will upwards? These are questions that must be answered by our proclamation of the Gospel, by the new evangelization, so that message may become event, so that proclamation may lead to life.

The key theme of this year, and of the years ahead, is this: how do we proclaim the Gospel today? How can faith as a living force become a reality today? The ecclesial events of the outgoing year were all ultimately related to this theme. There were the journeys to Croatia, to the World Youth Day in Spain, to my home country of Germany, and finally to Africa – Benin – for the consignment of the Post-Synodal document on justice, peace and reconciliation, which should now lead to concrete results in the various local churches. Equally memorable were the journeys to Venice, to San Marino, to the Eucharistic Congress in Ancona, and to Calabria. And finally there was the important day of encounter in Assisi for religions and for people who in whatever way are searching for truth and peace, representing a new step forward in the pilgrimage towards truth and peace. The establishment of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization is at the same time a pointer towards next year’s Synod on the same theme. The Year of Faith, commemorating the beginning of the Council fifty years ago, also belongs in this context. Each of these events had its own particular characteristics. In Germany, where the Reformation began, the ecumenical question, with all its trials and hopes, naturally assumed particular importance. Intimately linked to this, at the focal point of the debate, the question that arises repeatedly is this: what is reform of the Church? How does it take place? What are its paths and its goals? Not only faithful believers but also outside observers are noticing with concern that regular churchgoers are growing older all the time and that their number is constantly diminishing; that recruitment of priests is stagnating; that scepticism and unbelief are growing. What, then, are we to do? There are endless debates over what must be done in order to reverse the trend. There is no doubt that a variety of things need to be done. But action alone fails to resolve the matter. The essence of the crisis of the Church in Europe is the crisis of faith. If we find no answer to this, if faith does not take on new life, deep conviction and real strength from the encounter with Jesus Christ, then all other reforms will remain ineffective.

On this point, the encounter with Africa’s joyful passion for faith brought great encouragement. None of the faith fatigue that is so prevalent here, none of the oft-encountered sense of having had enough of Christianity was detectable there. Amid all the problems, sufferings and trials that Africa clearly experiences, one could still sense the people’s joy in being Christian, buoyed up by inner happiness at knowing Christ and belonging to his Church. From this joy comes also the strength to serve Christ in hard-pressed situations of human suffering, the strength to put oneself at his disposal, without looking round for one’s own advantage. Encountering this faith that is so ready to sacrifice and so full of happiness is a powerful remedy against fatigue with Christianity such as we are experiencing in Europe today.

A further remedy against faith fatigue was the wonderful experience of World Youth Day in Madrid. This was new evangelization put into practice. Again and again at World Youth Days, a new, more youthful form of Christianity can be seen, something I would describe under five headings.

1. Firstly, there is a new experience of catholicity, of the Church’s universality. This is what struck the young people and all the participants quite directly: we come from every continent, but although we have never met one another, we know one another. We speak different languages, we have different ways of life and different cultural backgrounds, yet we are immediately united as one great family. Outward separation and difference is relativized. We are all moved by the one Lord Jesus Christ, in whom true humanity and at the same time the face of God himself is revealed to us. We pray in the same way. The same inner encounter with Jesus Christ has stamped us deep within with the same structure of intellect, will and heart. And finally, our common liturgy speaks to our hearts and unites us in a vast family. In this setting, to say that all humanity are brothers and sisters is not merely an idea: it becomes a real shared experience, generating joy. And so we have also understood quite concretely: despite all trials and times of darkness, it is a wonderful thing to belong to the worldwide Church, to the Catholic Church, that the Lord has given to us.

2. From this derives a new way of living our humanity, our Christianity. For me, one of the most important experiences of those days was the meeting with the World Youth Day volunteers: about 20,000 young people, all of whom devoted weeks or months of their lives to working on the technical, organizational and material preparations for World Youth Day, and thus made it possible for the whole event to run smoothly. Those who give their time always give a part of their lives. At the end of the day, these young people were visibly and tangibly filled with a great sense of happiness: the time that they gave up had meaning; in giving of their time and labour, they had found time, they had found life. And here something fundamental became clear to me: these young people had given a part of their lives in faith, not because it was asked of them, not in order to attain Heaven, nor in order to escape the danger of Hell. They did not do it in order to find fulfilment. They were not looking round for themselves. There came into my mind the image of Lot’s wife, who by looking round was turned into a pillar of salt. How often the life of Christians is determined by the fact that first and foremost they look out for themselves, they do good, so to speak, for themselves. And how great is the temptation of all people to be concerned primarily for themselves; to look round for themselves and in the process to become inwardly empty, to become “pillars of salt”. But here it was not a matter of seeking fulfilment or wanting to live one’s life for oneself. These young people did good, even at a cost, even if it demanded sacrifice, simply because it is a wonderful thing to do good, to be there for others. All it needs is the courage to make the leap. Prior to all of this is the encounter with Jesus Christ, inflaming us with love for God and for others, and freeing us from seeking our own ego. In the words of a prayer attributed to Saint Francis Xavier: I do good, not that I may come to Heaven thereby and not because otherwise you could cast me into Hell. I do it because of you, my King and my Lord. I came across this same attitude in Africa too, for example among the Sisters of Mother Teresa, who devote themselves to abandoned, sick, poor and suffering children, without asking anything for themselves, thus becoming inwardly rich and free. This is the genuinely Christian attitude. Equally unforgettable for me was the encounter with handicapped young people in the Saint Joseph Centre in Madrid, where I encountered the same readiness to put oneself at the disposal of others – a readiness to give oneself that is ultimately derived from encounter with Christ, who gave himself for us.

3. A third element, that has an increasingly natural and central place in World Youth Days and in the spirituality that arises from them, is adoration. I still look back to that unforgettable moment during my visit to the United Kingdom, when tens of thousands of predominantly young people in Hyde Park responded in eloquent silence to the Lord’s sacramental presence, in adoration. The same thing happened again on a smaller scale in Zagreb and then again in Madrid, after the thunderstorm which almost ruined the whole night vigil through the failure of the microphones. God is indeed ever-present. But again, the physical presence of the risen Christ is something different, something new. The risen Lord enters into our midst. And then we can do no other than say, with Saint Thomas: my Lord and my God! Adoration is primarily an act of faith – the act of faith as such. God is not just some possible or impossible hypothesis concerning the origin of all things. He is present. And if he is present, then I bow down before him. Then my intellect and will and heart open up towards him and from him. In the risen Christ, the incarnate God is present, who suffered for us because he loves us. We enter this certainty of God’s tangible love for us with love in our own hearts. This is adoration, and this then determines my life. Only thus can I celebrate the Eucharist correctly and receive the body of the Lord rightly.

4. A further important element of the World Youth Days is the sacrament of Confession, which is increasingly coming to be seen as an integral part of the experience. Here we recognize that we need forgiveness over and over again, and that forgiveness brings responsibility. Openness to love is present in man, implanted in him by the Creator, together with the capacity to respond to God in faith. But also present, in consequence of man’s sinful history (Church teaching speaks of original sin) is the tendency that is opposed to love – the tendency towards selfishness, towards becoming closed in on oneself, in fact towards evil. Again and again my soul is tarnished by this downward gravitational pull that is present within me. Therefore we need the humility that constantly asks God for forgiveness, that seeks purification and awakens in us the counterforce, the positive force of the Creator, to draw us upwards.

5. Finally, I would like to speak of one last feature, not to be overlooked, of the spirituality of World Youth Days, namely joy. Where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly, there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being. If ever man’s sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable. Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably. We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness, that can be read on so many human faces today. Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within. That is one of the wonderful experiences of World Youth Days.

It would take too long now to go into detail concerning the encounter in Assisi, as the significance of the event would warrant. Let us simply thank God, that as representatives of the world’s religions and as representatives of thinking in search of truth, we were able to meet that day in a climate of friendship and mutual respect, in love for the truth and in shared responsibility for peace. So let us hope that, from this encounter, a new willingness to serve peace, reconciliation and justice has emerged.

As I conclude, I would like to thank all of you from my heart for shouldering the common mission that the Lord has given us as witnesses to his truth, and I wish all of you the joy that God wanted to bestow upon us through the incarnation of his Son. A blessed Christmas to you all! Thank you.

Gennaio 2012



Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is always a particular pleasure for me to receive you, the distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, in the splendid setting of this Sala Regia, and personally to offer you my cordial good wishes for the New Year. Before all else, I thank your Dean, Ambassador Alejandro Valladares Lanza, and the Vice-Dean, Ambassador Jean-Claude Michel, for the respectful sentiments which they expressed on your behalf, and I offer a special greeting to all those taking part in our meeting for the first time. Through you my good wishes extend to all the nations which you represent and with which the Holy See maintains diplomatic relations. It is a joy for us that Malaysia joined this community in the past year. The dialogue which you maintain with the Holy See favours the exchange of views and information, as well as cooperation in areas of common interest which are bilateral or multilateral in nature. Your presence today evokes the important contribution which the Church makes to your societies in areas such as education, health care and social services. A sign of the cooperation existing between the Catholic Church and States is seen in the Accords reached in 2011 with Azerbaijan, Montenegro and Mozambique. The first has already been ratified; I trust that this will also be the case with the two others, and that those currently under negotiation will soon be concluded. The Holy See also desires to establish a fruitful dialogue with international and regional organizations, and in this context I note with satisfaction that the member states of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have accepted the appointment of an Apostolic Nuncio accredited to that organization. Nor can I fail to mention that last December the Holy See strengthened its longstanding cooperation with the International Organization for Migration by becoming a full member. This is a sign of the commitment of the Holy See and the Catholic Church, alongside the international community, in the search for suitable solutions to this phenomenon which presents a number of aspects ranging from the safeguarding of the dignity of persons to concern for the common good of both the communities which receive them and those from which they come.

In the course of the year just ended, I personally met many Heads of State and Government, as well as the distinguished representatives of your nations who took part in the ceremony of the Beatification of my beloved predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Representatives of your countries were also graciously present for the celebrations marking the sixtieth anniversary of my priestly ordination. To all of them, and to those whom I met during my Apostolic Journeys to Croatia, San Marino, Spain, Germany and Benin, I renew my gratitude for the kindness which they showed me. My thoughts also turn in a special way to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean which in 2011 celebrated the bicentenary of their independence. On 12 December last, they emphasized their bond with the Catholic Church and with the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles by taking part, alongside distinguished representatives of the ecclesial community and institutional authorities, in the solemn celebration held in Saint Peter’s Basilica, during which I announced my intention to visit Mexico and Cuba in the near future. Finally, I wish to greet South Sudan, which last July became a sovereign state. I am happy that this was achieved peacefully. Sadly, tensions and clashes have ensued in recent months, and I express my hope that all may unite their efforts to enable the people of Sudan and South Sudan to experience at last a period of peace, freedom and development.

Your Excellencies,

Today’s meeting traditionally takes place at the end of the Christmas season, during which the Church celebrates the coming of the Saviour. He comes in the dark of night and so his presence is immediately a source of light and joy (cf. Lc 2,9-10). Truly the world is gloomy wherever it is not brightened by God’s light! Truly the world is dark wherever men and women no longer acknowledge their bond with the Creator and thereby endanger their relation to other creatures and to creation itself. The present moment is sadly marked by a profound disquiet and the various crises – economic, political and social – are a dramatic expression of this.

Here I cannot fail to address before all else the grave and disturbing developments of the global economic and financial crisis. The crisis has not only affected families and businesses in the more economically advanced countries where it originated, creating a situation in which many people, especially the young, have felt disoriented and frustrated in their aspirations for a serene future, but it has also had a profound impact on the life of developing countries. We must not lose heart, but instead resolutely rediscover our way through new forms of commitment. The crisis can and must be an incentive to reflect on human existence and on the importance of its ethical dimension, even before we consider the mechanisms governing economic life: not only in an effort to stem private losses or to shore up national economies, but to give ourselves new rules which ensure that all can lead a dignified life and develop their abilities for the benefit of the community as a whole.

I would like next to point out that the effects of the present moment of uncertainty are felt particularly by the young. Their disquiet has given rise in recent months to agitation which has affected various regions, at times severely. I think first and foremost of North Africa and the Middle East, where young people, among others, who are suffering from poverty and unemployment and are fearful of an uncertain future, have launched what has developed into a vast movement calling for reforms and a more active share in political and social life. At present it is hard to make a definitive assessment of recent events and to understand fully their consequences for the stability of the region. Initial optimism has yielded to an acknowledgment of the difficulties of this moment of transition and change, and it seems evident to me that the best way to move forward is through the recognition of the inalienable dignity of each human person and of his or her fundamental rights. Respect for the person must be at the centre of institutions and laws; it must lead to the end of all violence and forestall the risk that due concern for popular demands and the need for social solidarity turn into mere means for maintaining or seizing power. I invite the international community to dialogue with the actors in the current processes, in a way respectful of peoples and in the realization that the building of stable and reconciled societies, opposed to every form of unjust discrimination, particularly religious discrimination, represents a much vaster horizon than that of short-term electoral gains. I am deeply concerned for the people of those countries where hostilities and acts of violence continue, particularly Syria, where I pray for a rapid end to the bloodshed and the beginning of a fruitful dialogue between the political forces, encouraged by the presence of independent observers. In the Holy Land, where tensions between Palestinians and Israelis affect the stability of the entire Middle East, it is necessary that the leaders of these two peoples adopt courageous and farsighted decisions in favour of peace. I was pleased to learn that, following an initiative of the Kingdom of Jordan, dialogue has been resumed; I express my hope that it will be maintained, and that it will lead to a lasting peace which guarantees the right of the two peoples to dwell in security in sovereign states and within secure and internationally recognized borders. For its part, the international community must become more creative in developing initiatives which promote this peace process and are respectful of the rights of both parties. I am also following closely the developments in Iraq, and I deplore the attacks that have recently caused so much loss of life; I encourage the nation’s leaders to advance firmly on the path to full national reconciliation.

Blessed John Paul II stated that “the path of peace is at the same time the path of the young”,[1] inasmuch as young people embody “the youth of the nations and societies, the youth of every family and of all humanity”.[2] Young people thus impel us to take seriously their demand for truth, justice and peace. For this reason, I chose them as the subject of my annual World Day of Peace Message, entitled Educating Young People in Justice and Peace.Education is a crucial theme for every generation, for it determines the healthy development of each person and the future of all society. It thus represents a task of primary importance in this difficult and demanding time. In addition to a clear goal, that of leading young people to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth, education needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life and, as I pointed out during my visit to Croatia, “openness to life is a sign of openness to the future”.[3] In this context of openness to life, I note with satisfaction the recent sentence of the Court of Justice of the European Union forbidding patenting processes relative to human embryonic stem cells, as well as the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemning prenatal selection on the basis of sex.

More generally, and with particular reference to the West, I am convinced that legislative measures which not only permit but at times even promote abortion for reasons of convenience or for questionable medical motives compromise the education of young people and, as a result, the future of humanity.

Continuing our reflection, a similarly essential role in the development of the person is played by educational institutions: these are the first instances which cooperate with the family and they can hardly function properly unless they share the same goals as the family. There is a need to implement educational policies which ensure that schooling is available to everyone and which, in addition to promoting the cognitive development of the individual, show concern for a balanced personal growth, including openness to the Transcendent. The Catholic Church has always been particularly active in the field of education and schooling, making a valued contribution alongside that of state institutions. It is my hope that this contribution will be acknowledged and prized also by the legislation of the various nations.

In this perspective. it is clear that an effective educational programme also calls for respect for religious freedom. This freedom has individual, collective and institutional dimensions. We are speaking of the first of human rights, for it expresses the most fundamental reality of the person. All too often, for various reasons, this right remains limited or is flouted. I cannot raise this subject without first paying tribute to the memory of the Pakistani Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, whose untiring battle for the rights of minorities ended in his tragic death. Sadly, we are not speaking of an isolated case. In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes. At times they are forced to leave the countries they have helped to build because of persistent tensions and policies which frequently relegate them to being second-class spectators of national life. In other parts of the world, we see policies aimed at marginalizing the role of religion in the life of society, as if it were a cause of intolerance rather than a valued contribution to education in respect for human dignity, justice and peace. In the past year religiously motivated terrorism has also reaped numerous victims, especially in Asia and in Africa; for this reason, as I stated in Assisi, religious leaders need to repeat firmly and forcefully that “this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction”.[4] Religion cannot be employed as a pretext for setting aside the rules of justice and of law for the sake of the intended “good”. In this context I am proud to recall, as I did in my native country, that the Christian vision of man was the true inspiration for the framers of Germany’s Basic Law, as indeed it was for the founders of a united Europe. I would also like to bring up several encouraging signs in the area of religious freedom. I am referring to the legislative amendment whereby the public juridical personality of religious minorities was recognized in Georgia; I think too of the sentence of the European Court of Human Rights upholding the presence of the crucifix in Italian schoolrooms. It is also appropriate for me to make particular mention of Italy at the conclusion of the 150th anniversary of her political unification. Relations between the Holy See and Italy experienced moments of difficulty following the unification. In the course of time, however, concord and the mutual desire for cooperation, each within its proper domain, prevailed for the promotion of the common good. I hope that Italy will continue to foster a stable relationship between Church and State, and thus serve as an example to which other nations can look with respect and interest.

On the continent of Africa, to which I returned during my recent visit to Benin, it is essential that cooperation between Christian communities and Governments favour progress along the path of justice, peace and reconciliation, where respect is shown for members of all ethnic groups and all religions. It is painful to realize that in different countries of the continent this goal remains distant. I think in particular of the renewed outbreak of violence in Nigeria, as we saw from the attacks against several churches during the Christmas period, the aftermath of the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, the continuing instability in the Great Lakes region and the humanitarian emergency in the countries of the Horn of Africa. I once again appeal to the international community to make every effort to find a solution to the crisis which has gone on for years in Somalia.

Finally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation. We cannot disregard the grave natural calamities which in 2011 affected various regions of South-East Asia, or ecological disasters like that of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development. For this reason, I hope that, pursuant to the XVII session of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change recently concluded in Durban, the international community will prepare for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio + 20”) as an authentic “family of nations” and thus with a great sense of solidarity and responsibility towards present and future generations.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The birth of the Prince of Peace teaches us that life does not end in a void, that its destiny is not decay but eternal life. Christ came so that we might have life and have it in abundance (cf. Jn 10,10). “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well”.[5] Inspired by the certainty of faith, the Holy See continues to offer its proper contribution to the international community in accordance with the twofold desire clearly enunciated by the Second Vatican Council, whose fiftieth anniversary takes place this year: to proclaim the lofty grandeur of our human calling and the presence within us of a divine seed, and to offer humanity sincere cooperation in building a sense of universal fraternity corresponding to this calling.[6] In this spirit I renew to all of you, and to your families and your staff, my most cordial good wishes for the New Year.

Thank you for your attention.

[1] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dilecti Amici (31 March 1985), 15.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Homily at the Mass for the National Day of Croatian Catholic Families, Zagreb (5 June 2011).

[4] Address for the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, Assisi (27 October 2011).

[5] Spe Salvi, 2.

[6] Cf. Gaudium et Spes, 3.


Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Once again I have the joy of meeting you at the beginning of the New Year for the traditional exchange of greetings. I thank Hon. Ms. Renata Polverini, President of the Regional Board of Lazio; Hon. Mr Giovanni Alemanno, Mayor of Rome; and Hon. Mr Nicola Zingaretti, President of the Province of Rome, for their courteous words to me on behalf of all. I would like to express to you all my fervent good wishes for the new year, which I extend to the people of Rome and of Lazio, who are particularly close to me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome.

For several years now Lazio has also been suffering the effects of the economic and financial crisis that has hit various areas of the world and whose deepest roots, as I have had occasion to recall, lie in an ethical crisis. The etymology of the word “crisis” recalls the dimension of “separating” and, in a broad sense, of “evaluating” and “judging”. The current crisis may therefore also serve as an opportunity for the entire civil community to ascertain whether the values on which social life is founded have generated a more just, fair and supportive society or whether, on the contrary, profound rethinking is necessary in order to recover the values that are the basis of a true renewal of society and to encourage a recovery that is not solely financial but also seeks to promote the integral good of the human person.

In this context the Christian community is involved in a ceaseless task of education, particularly for the new generations, to ensure that the values which have made Rome and its territory a beacon for the world for centuries are adopted in a renewed form as the basis of a better future for all.

It is important that a renewed humanism be developed, in which the human identity equates with the category of person. The current crisis, in fact, is also rooted in individualism which obscures people’s relational dimension and leads them to withdraw in their own small world, concerned primarily with satisfying their own needs and desires, with scant consideration for others. Are not speculation in leases, the increasingly difficult integration of young people in the labour market, the loneliness of so many of the elderly, the anonymity which often characterizes life in the neighbourhoods of the city and the at times superficial view of situations of marginalization and poverty a consequence of this mindset?

Faith tells us that the human person is a being called to live in relationships; that the “I” can find itself precisely by approaching a “you” who accepts and loves him or her. This “You” is first and foremost God, the only One who can give the human being unconditional acceptance and infinite love; and it is also others, starting with those who are closest. Rediscovering this relational dimension as a constitutive element of one’s existence is the first step to bringing a more human society into being. Moreover it is also the task of institutions to foster the growth of the awareness that we are part of one reality in which each one, like the parts of the human body, is important to the whole, as Menenius Agrippa said in his famous apology recorded by Titus Livius [Livy] in his History of Rome (cf. Ab Urbe Condita, II, 32).

The awareness of being one “body” will increase if the value of acceptance — already deeply rooted in the hearts of the inhabitants of Rome and of Lazio — is consolidated. We had recent proof of this in the days of the Beatification of John Paul II: thousands of pilgrims who came to the City were able to live peaceful and brotherly days, thanks too to your invaluable collaboration. May the diocesan Caritas and the Christian communities spare no effort in this task of welcoming especially those, coming from countries in which poverty may often be the cause of death, or fleeing from them in order to ensure their own safety, who arrive in our cities and knock at parish doors. However, it is necessary to encourage the process of full integration that leads to insertion in the social fabric so that they may offer to all the riches that they bear. In this way each one will learn to view the place in which he or she lives as a “common home” in which to dwell and to care for, in the conscious and necessary respect for the laws that regulate community life.

Together with acceptance, the value of solidarity must be strengthened. It is a requirement of charity and justice with which, in difficult moments, those who have greater assets take care of those who are living in needier circumstances. Then, it is the task of institutions always to give attention and support to the realities on which the good of society depends. In this regard, special support must be guaranteed to families — particularly if they are numerous — which often have to face difficulties which the lack or insufficiency of work sometimes makes more acute.

I encourage you to defend the family founded on marriage as an essential cell of society, also through aid and fiscal facilitation that encourage births. I likewise encourage you to do your utmost to ensure that all family nuclei are guaranteed the necessary conditions for a dignified life. Solidarity must then be shown to young people, the most heavily penalized by the lack of employment. A supportive society must always have at heart the future of the new generations, providing adequate policies that guarantee housing at fair prices, and do everything possible to guarantee some form of work. All this is important in order to avoid the risk that young people fall prey to illegal organizations that offer easy earnings and do not respect the value of human life.

At the same time — the third point — it is necessary to promote a culture of legality, helping citizens to realize that laws serve to channel the many positive energies present in society and hence permit the promotion of the common good. The recent episodes of violence in the territory are an incentive to continue in the commitment to inculcate respect for the law and to safeguard security. The institutions, in addition to being exemplary in their respect for the law, are entrusted with the task of bringing into force just and fair measures which also take into account the law that God has inscribed on the human heart and that can be recognized by all through reason.

Distinguished Authorities, the challenges are numerous and complex. It is only possible to get the better of them to the extent that the knowledge that each person’s destiny is linked to the destiny of all is strengthened. And this is why I wished to emphasize that acceptance, solidarity and legality constitute the fundamental values to face the year that has just begun with greater serenity. I assure you of my constant prayers for your work on behalf of society and I entrust you to the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary. With these wishes, I warmly impart to you all my Apostolic Blessing which I gladly extend to the inhabitants of Rome, of its Province and of the entire Region.
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