Speeches 1997 - Thursday, 13 November 1997




Saturday, 15 November 1997

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. It gives me great joy to receive you today, Archbishops and Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Valladolid, Toledo, Mérida-Badajoz, Madrid and the Military Archdiocese, who have come to Rome to renew your faith at the tomb of the Apostles. This is the first time that the Archdiocese of Mérida-Badajoz, established during the last five years, is making the ad limina visit by which all Bishops strengthen their bond of communion with the Successor of Peter.

I am deeply grateful to Archbishop José Delicado Baeza of Valladolid for his address in the name of all, and to each one of you for the opportunity you have given me, during our individual conversations, to know the feelings of the people you serve as Pastors, thus sharing in the desire that your flock may grow "in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ep 4,15).

In order to encourage your pastoral concern, I now wish to share with you some reflections prompted by the concrete situation in which you exercise the ministry to make known and to "declare the mystery of Christ" (Col 4,3).

2. I am pleased to note the efforts you are making, both jointly and in the various Dioceses, to forge a vital, evangelizing ecclesial community that experiences a deep Christian life nourished by the Word of God, prayer and the sacraments, that is consistent with Gospel values in its personal, family and social life, and is able to express its faith in the world despite the temptation to relegate the human being’s trascendent, ethical and religious dimension to the private sphere alone.

To this you have dedicated various documents of your Episcopal Conference, especially your "Pastoral Action Plans" which in recent years have followed one another with regularity and rigorous method. Your concern is focused on the impact that profound and rapid social, economic and political changes have had on the overall concept of life and on the world of ethical and religious values in particular. Although this is indeed an enormous task, since it encompasses virtually all areas of ecclesial life, I invite you to pursue your intention to encourage, with creative fidelity to the Gospel, a Christian life-style worthy of your rich heritage and in accordance with the demands of the current era. In times of difficulty or uncertainty, remember Peter’s exclamation: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6,68). Only unswerving adherence to Christ will enable you to keep steadfast hope in him, "the one Saviour of the world" (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 40) and to proclaim him with joy on the threshold of the third millennium.

3. In the mission of bringing the Gospel to people today, you count on the support of a very ancient and deeply-rooted Christian tradition. Your land has produced models of holiness and figures outstanding for their theological knowledge, daring missionaries and many forms of consecrated life and apostolic movements, in addition to significant expressions of piety, all of which cover your history with glory.

You can also count on the examples of art that represent a splendid religious and cultural heritage. And I am pleased to see that the Church in Spain appreciates this historical legacy, which is rightly admired by many and tangibly shows how faith in Christ ennobles man, inspires his creativity and leads him to express God’s inexhaustible beauty in works of incomparable artistic value.

In this respect, it is important that the cultural and artistic property of churches, especially sacred places and objects, should not remain mere relics of the past to be passively contemplated. We must remember and retain as far as possible their original purpose, in order not to diminish their cultural value. These churches were built as places for prayer and religious celebration; these writings or melodies were composed to praise the Lord and to accompany the People of God on their pilgrimage; these are images of the models of holiness held up to believers and representing the mysteries of salvation so that they can nourish their faith and hope.

This rich heritage also serves the Church as a precious means of catechesis and evangelization. Today, as in the past, it is a strong incentive to anyone who sincerely seeks God or wants to meet him again. This is why it is not enough to preserve and protect this heritage, but "we must make it part of the lifeblood of the Church’s cultural and pastoral activity" (Address to the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, 12 October 1995; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 25 October 1995, p. 5). In this regard the reception given to the series of exhibitions organized in recent years, entitled The Ages of Man, deserves mention. They have certainly contributed to the beneficial effect this heritage has had on the evangelization of the present generations.

4. Your patrimony also includes the many forms of popular piety so deeply rooted in Spanish towns and villages. Despite the prevailing rationalism of certain periods in our recent history, this popular piety reflects a "thirst for God that only the poor and simple can know" (Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi EN 48) and has shown that God speaks plainly to the heart of the human being, who has the right to express due worship in the way best suited to him.

This is how it was understood by the Second Vatican Council, which recommends "popular devotions of the Christian people, provided they conform to the laws and norms of the Church" (Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 13). Doubtless, in some cases customs pass on elements foreign to authentic Christian religious expression. Nonetheless the Church, concentrating more on the profound dispositions of the soul than on ritual formalism, shows understanding and patience, in accordance with St Augustine’s warning: "what we teach is one thing and what we can allow another" (cf. Contra Faustum, 20, 21). That is why "she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact anything in these people’s way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error" (Sacrosanctum Concilio, n. 37).

I encourage you then to maintain and foster with paternal affection and pastoral prudence those forms of piety in which Eucharistic adoration, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary or veneration of saints are concretely practised, avoiding illegitimate distortions and improper exaggerations through appropriate catechesis, and above all, by integrating devotion with active participation in the sacraments and the celebration of the liturgy, whose centre is Christ's paschal mystery.

5. I would also like to call your attention to one aspect that affects many of your Dioceses and which you have certainly had the opportunity to see during your pastoral visits to towns and villages where only the parents or grandparents of those who have gone to the city remain. Indeed, in a short time a predominantely rural farming society is now concentrated in the cities.

First of all, this situation requires a special effort to enable those who feel left out of this new society to experience as intensely as possible the Church’s closeness and the love of God, who never forgets any of his children. It will frequently be necessary to provide special help for those priests who despite the problems are still living in small country parishes, sharing the lot of their parishioners and sowing Christian hope among them. And where a permanent presence is impossible, pastoral programmes must ensure the necessary attention to religion and the proper celebration of the sacraments. We must be able to say with Jesus: "I have guarded them and none of them is lost" (Jn 17,12).

Moreover, many of these now impoverished towns actually possess a great spiritual wealth, expressed in their art, customs and especially in the vigorous faith of their residents. In no way can their existence be considered useless; it enables those who return, even if only temporarily, to redisover the faith of their elders and the religious events they sometimes still miss.

6. You are not alone in your mission of bringing the Gospel to today’s people. Working closely with you is each priest who, by celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments, is united to his Bishop and "so makes him present in a certain sense in individual assemblies of the faithful" ( Presbyterorum ordinis PO 5).

The remarkable number of seminarians in several of your Dioceses and the appreciable increase in some of them is a source of special satisfaction. It is a sign of Christian vitality and hope for the future, especially in recently created Dioceses.

Another great treasure of the Churches over which you preside are the many religious communities of both the contemplative and active life. Each one is a gift for the Diocese, which it helps to build up by offering the experience of the Spirit proper to its charism and the evangelizing activity characteristic of its mission. Precisely in order to be an inestimable gift for the whole Church, the Bishop is urged "to support and help consecrated persons, so that, in communion with the Church, they open themselves to spiritual and pastoral initiatives responding to the needs of our time" ( Vita consecrata VC 49).

In this important task, respectful and fraternal dialogue will be the best way to join forces and to assure the necessary coordination of pastoral activity in each Diocese under the guidance of its Pastor.

7. All this requires the decisive contribution of the laity, who must be urged to fulfil their specific mission by encouraging them to take part regularly in the liturgy and to collaborate in catechesis, or indeed to make a responsible commitment to the movements or various ecclesial associations, always in complete communion with their own Bishop.

In fact, if the Gospel is to enlighten human life, the witness of believers' lives, consistent with the faith professed, and adequate training are necessary for giving "a Christian spirit" to the world of education or work, culture or communication, the economy or politics. This requires a thorough formation, which first of all includes a sound spirituality, based on baptismal consecration, and solid, systematic doctrinal knowledge making it possible for them "‘to give a reason for their hoping’ in view of the world and its grave and complex problems" ( Christifideles laici CL 60).

A solid formation can only be achieved by a renewed and creative catechesis, incisive and ongoing, among both young people and adults. This is a priority task for Pastors, since they are called to exercise with care their educational role as "authentic teachers ... who preach the faith to the people assigned to them, the faith which is destined to inform their thinking and direct their conduct" (Lumen gentium LG 25). In this regard you will find a great help in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose value I wished to reaffirm when I recalled that it is the "most suitable instrument for the new evangelization" (Address to the Presidents of the Episcopal Commissions for Catechesis, 29 April 1993, n. 4; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 12 May 1993, p. 5). Its dogmatic, liturgical, moral and spiritual wealth must reach everyone, especially children and young people, through diversified catechisms for parish, family, or school use, or for formation in the various movements or associations of the faithful. Dear Bishops, neither you nor your priests lack illustrious examples of preachers who, preparing themselves by prayer and diligent study, have been able to speak to peoples’ hearts, preserving them in the purity of the faith and guiding them in their Christian commitment.

8. At the end of this meeting, I earnestly ask you to convey my cordial greetings to the members of your Dioceses: priests, religious communities and lay faithful. I especially remind the ecclesial communities of Extremadura, which in the past few days have been sorely tried by natural disasters that have taken a heavy toll of victims and caused much damage. Share with them the experience you have had in these days, and encourage them to live joyfully their faith in Christ our Saviour.

I entrust your intentions and pastoral projects to the motherly intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is so fervently invoked in those beloved lands, and I am pleased to impart to you my Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to all those who work with you in your episcopal ministry.





Saturday, 15 November 1997

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am pleased to receive you on this solemn occasion for the presentation of the Letters of Credence accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Peru to the Holy See. As I offer you my cordial welcome, I would like to thank you for your kind words and for President Alberto Fujimori's thoughtful greeting which you conveyed to me and which I reciprocate, asking you kindly to pass on to him my best wishes for the peace and well-being of all the noble Peruvian people.

2. This is the second time you are fulfilling the honourable office of representing your nation to the Apostolic See. Your nation has been blessed and is blessed by a broad, profound presence of the Catholic faith in its citizens’ lives and has offered the Church and humanity some admirable examples of holiness: St Rose of Lima and St Martin de Porres, St Turibius of Mogrovejo, St John Macías and St Francis Solano, Bl. Anna of Monteagudo and others.

3. The Church in your country, under the Bishops’ wise and careful guidance, is working with generosity and enthusiasm to fulfil her mission, thus ensuring that moral values and a Christian conception of life, so deeply rooted there, continue to inspire the citizens’ life so that those who have various forms of responsibility will take these values into account, in order to build day by day an ever better and more prosperous homeland, where everyone can see his inalienable rights fully respected.

The Church carries out the mission entrusted to her by her divine Founder in various fields such as, among others, the defence of life and the family institution. At the same time, in accordance with her social doctrine, she strives to promote a peaceful and orderly existence among citizens and between nations. The Church herself, far from claiming to impose concrete criteria of governance, nevertheless has the inescapable duty of shedding the light of faith on the development of the social reality where she finds herself.

In your address you referred to the fact that the Peruvian nation considers her multiracial elements a treasure. This fact demands special attention from leaders, to prevent the emergence of unjust inequalities, and to ensure that all citizens have access to public institutions and services, by recognizing that every person is endowed by God with a dignity that nothing and no one can violate.

In this regard, the Church teaches that institutional structures must provide "all citizens without any distinction with ever improving and effective opportunities to play an active part in the establishment of the juridical foundations of the political community, in the administration of public affairs, in determining the aims and the terms of reference of public bodies, and in the election of political leaders" (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes GS 75). This involves for each citizen "his right and his duty to promote the common good by using his vote" ( ibid.), and to have access to various public services such as education and health care. In this regard, I encourage them to continue to work for the full integration of all people into national life, in dignified conditions for everyone and with respect for the traditions and cultures that constitute this rich framework; this will certainly help to avoid the danger of divisions among the Peruvian people and to overcome possible tensions.

4. You also referred to the struggle your Government is waging against poverty. Indeed, this cannot be considered an endemic evil, but the lack, brought about by various circumstances, of the goods necessary for personal development. In this respect, the Church feels as her own the hard plight of so many brothers and sisters who are caught in the web of poverty and, in fidelity to the Gospel, she constantly reaffirms her commitment to them as an expression of the merciful love of Jesus Christ. This is why the Church herself is close to those who are working hard so that social institutions are effectively committed to human advancement, in order to alleviate the precarious situations in which so many individuals and families find themselves.

The moral and social scar of poverty certainly requires technical and political solutions, ensuring that economic activity and the benefits it produces effectively redound to the common good. As I wrote in my Message for the World Day of Peace in 1993: "A State, whatever its political organization or economic system, remains fragile and unstable if it does not give constant attention to its weakest members and if it fails to do everything possible to ensure that at least their primary needs are satisfied" (n. 3; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 16 December 1992, p. 2). However, it should not be forgotten that all these measures will be insufficient if they are not inspired by authentic ethical and spiritual values. For this reason, the eradication of poverty is also a moral duty in which Christian justice and solidarity have an indispensable role.

5. In your address you pointed out that one of the objectives of your country’s foreign policy is to contribute to international peace and security, and to foster co-operation with all peoples and, in particular, neighbourly relations. In this regard I am pleased to recall the value of dialogue as a pivileged vehicle for establishing and maintaining peaceful relations with other nations, thus overcoming possible controversies that can arise, and for keeping in mind the importance of solidarity and international co-operation. I hope that the process under way in Brasília will reach a successful conclusion, with the effective help of the guarantor countries, in order to put an end to differences with the sister nation of Ecuador.

On the other hand, peace in the international order currently requires many contacts with various forums. By actively participating in the concert of nations and in the organizations of which it is composed, it will be possible to overcome the temptation to national isolation and will enable peoples to recover from international marginalization and impoverishment (cf. Encyclical Centesimus annus CA 33). Peace is not limited to the economic aspects but must also be applied to the world of ideas, basic rights and values. Moreover, it should not be fogotten that peace between peoples will be more easily achieved if diplomatic initiatives are accompanied by an authentic pedagogy of peace which will help to encourage an attitude of co-operation and harmony among all.

6. Mr Ambassador, at the end of this meeting I would like to express my best wishes to you for your mission to this Apostolic See, which seeks to maintain and consolidate the good relations that already exist with the Republic of Peru, and to help overcome difficulties which may arise betweeen the Church and State in your country. I assure you of my prayers to the Almighty that, through the intercession of Our Lady of Evangelization, deeply venerated in the cathedral of Lima, he may always assist you with his gifts, as well as your distinguished family, your co-workers and the leaders and citizens of your noble country, which I remember with great affection and upon which I invoke an abundance of blessings from the Most High.





Saturday, 22 November 1997

Your Eminences,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen of the Diplomatic Corps,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the memory and heart of the Church and the world, as Cardinal Casaroli clearly stated in his heartfelt remembrance, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI has a monument that no one can destroy. This evening’s solemn celebration is further proof of it. In this hall named after him, his figure, more alive than ever in all of us, has been so effectively recalled by the generous commitment of so many people, to whom I now address a word of greeting and gratitude.

I first address my thanks to the members of the International Festival Orchestra of Brescia and Bergamo and to the Prague Chamber Choir, and to Maestro Agostino Orizio, who directed them so well. Their magnificent performance raised all our spirits to that dimension of harmonious beauty which Paul VI frequently indicated as a vehicle for knowing and communicating the truth.

In particular, I express my cordial gratitude to dear Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, for long years my appreciated and closest co-worker, who has illumined this commemoration with his ample and profound account, which in certain passages had the tone of a touching witness reinforced by many years of sharing the great Pontiff’s pastoral concerns.

Veneration and filial affection for Pope Paul VI have brought a great many people here this evening. Many of them knew him personally; some, the more fortunate, benefited from his friendship. I address my fraternal wishes to each of them.

First of all I respectfully greet President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro of Italy, and all the other authorities and dignitaries present. I next greet the Cardinals, with a special thought for Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Cardinal Montini’s successor in the cathedra of St Ambrose. I also greet Archbishop Pasquale Macchi, Bishop John Magee and Auxiliary Bishop Vigilio Mario Olmi of Brescia, who has come here with the President of the Paul VI Institute of Brescia, the mayor of that city and the parish priest of Concesio. Lastly, with particular feeling, I greet all his relatives and friends here with us this evening.

In mentioning Concesio, the birthplace of Giovanni Battista Montini, I naturally think of his family home and the baptismal font where he received the sacrament of new birth on the very day that — how can we fail to remember it? — the soul of St Thérčse of Lisieux departed this world. We can certainly link the spirituality of this Carmelite saint with the religious desire of Pope Paul VI, who expressed his great love for Christ through his long, wise service to the Church.

During these 100 years, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council was without doubt the most important ecclesial event. The Lord desired a frail son of the Brescian region to become the sturdy helmsman of the barque of Peter precisely during the celebration of the Council and in the first years of its implementation. We are all deeply grateful to God for the gift of this great Pope, who knew how to guide the Church in a historical period of vast, sudden and unforeseeable changes. Let us praise the Lord with sincere gratitude for the priceless legacy of teaching and virtue left by Paul VI to believers and to all humanity. It is our task to treasure this wise legacy. May God help us to continue his apostolic and missionary work, through the intercession of Mary, whom my venerable Predecessor especially honoured with the title "Mother of the Church".

With my Blessing I again express my sentiments of gratitude to all.




Saturday, 29 November 1997

This use of the Latin language greatly pleases and encourages me, since - unfortunately! - it is rarely heard anywhere. Therefore, it is with all the more enthusiasm that I welcome you, the directors and members of the Latinitas Foundation, and greet you with even warmer cordiality. To you Mother Church has entrusted, as it were ex officio, the cultivation and promotion of this magnificent language, through the foresight of my Predecessor Paul VI and his chirograph Romani sermonis.

Your painstaking skill and diligence are shown in the text Lexicon recentis latinitatis, a successfully completed copy of which I am pleased to hold in my hands and peruse. In congratulating you for this expression of learning and useful tool, I cannot fail to praise your hard work, encourage you in your fruitful endeavours and grant you my Apostolic Blessing, and thus the future of the Latin language, through your efforts, may undoubtedly be assured.

December 1997






6 December 1997

Mr Ambassador,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Turkey to the Holy See. I am grateful for the cordial greetings which you bring from His Excellency President Süleyman Demirel. I wish to take this occasion to reaffirm my deep respect for the people of Turkey, and I ask you to convey to His Excellency the assurance of my prayers and my best wishes for the peace and well-being of the nation.

You have mentioned the friendship which for many years has marked relations between your country and the Holy See. I share the hope that ever more effective forms of cooperation will develop between the Holy See and Turkey. When both are concerned to find ways of strengthening world peace, it follows that there are many areas open to mutual understanding and support.

Two general principles constitute the basis of all social organization and the foundation of peace in the world. The first is the inalienable dignity of each human person, irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, cultural or national character, or religious belief. The second is the fundamental unity of the human race, which takes its origin from the one God, the Creator (cf. Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace of 1989, No. 3). The Holy See's work in the promotion of peace is based on the commitment to defend the dignity of every human being. Human dignity concerns not only the person's individual existence but also the cultural and religious dimensions essential to his relationships with others. Hence, true harmony within a nation and between countries can only be maintained if the natural and legitimate differences between peoples, rather than being repressed as a cause of division, are seen as an enriching reality. Your Excellency has referred to the problem of discrimination against those forced to find work in other countries. In the light of the principles mentioned, this is clearly a question which needs to be addressed in a spirit of dialogue and of openness to the contribution which immigrants, in the diversity of their experience and customs, can make to the society which welcomes them. Genuine harmony is the result of the patient and painstaking dialogue between the parties involved, a dialogue in which each side seeks the good of the other while safeguarding its own.

Turkey's rich historical and cultural heritage inspires many of your fellow citizens to look towards a fuller integration into the European family of nations. The ever increasing interdependence of nations in terms of commercial and political relationships is an acknowledged fact of the contemporary global situation. However, it is imperative that this interdependence be elevated and transformed into effective international solidarity. Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the general good of everyone and that of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis SRS 38). This applies also to countries: there will never be genuine peace if one country prospers while its neighbour is in need. The richer and stronger nations have a duty to assist developing nations, not only financially but also in the educational and scientific fields, leading to their real promotion and progress (cf. Populorum Progressio PP 48). As a bridge between Europe and Asia, your country serves as a reminder that the more prosperous countries of this continent should be ever more ready to respond to the needs of peoples even beyond its borders.

Integral human development involves more than material prosperity. Rigorous respect for the cultural, moral and spiritual needs of individuals and communities, based on the dignity of the person and on the specific identity of each community, is an essential requirement for the well-being of every society (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis SRS 33). In this respect I am heartened to hear your kind words about the contribution of Catholics to Turkish society and your assurances regarding their freedom to practise their faith. Religious freedom, which includes freedom to worship and to educate future generations in the faith, is of fundamental importance for civic harmony. It is a condition for minority religious groups to consider themselves full citizens of the State and it encourages them to take a full part in the development of the nation. The members of the Catholic Church in your country, though few, are proud of their national heritage and have the good of their homeland very much at heart.

It is important that the various religious groups present in a nation should relate to one another with mutual respect and tolerance. Interreligious dialogue will do much to foster such relationships. The existence within a country of different religious and ethnic groups represents both a challenge and an opportunity, particularly to political leaders and legislators. Civil authorities need to be very much aware of the legitimate claims of the various groups and respond to them in an appropriate way. Respect for the various cultural and spiritual traditions of the peoples living within the borders of the State allows that country to present itself within the international community as an example of that peace and harmony which should prevail throughout the world.

Your Excellency has spoken of the important occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The land of Turkey is rich in memories of the missionary journeys of the great Apostle Paul. The first seven Ecumenical Councils took place in what is now your country. In these years of preparation, Christians are reflecting on the mysteries of faith, many of which were discussed by our Fathers in the faith at the great Councils held at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon. For Christians, these represent fundamental points of reference regarding our faith in God and the Incarnation. The Jubilee is above all a spiritual event. The Christians who will travel to the places connected with their faith will do so above all as pilgrims, for whom religious celebrations in the many places associated with the beginning of the Church's life will be the highlight of their visit. You emphasize the willingness of the Turkish Government to cooperate in the organization of the celebrations for the Jubilee, and I am grateful for its readiness to host the many who will visit these venerable sites, so dear to all Christians.

Your Excellency, I offer you my good wishes for the success of your mission as your country's Ambassador. The various departments and offices of the Holy See will be only too ready to assist you in the fulfilment of your lofty duties. Upon yourself and the Government and people of Turkey I invoke abundant divine blessings.

Speeches 1997 - Thursday, 13 November 1997