16 September 1998


1. Repeating a statement in the book of Wisdom (
Sg 1,7), the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council teaches us that “the Spirit of the Lord”, who bestows his gifts upon the People of God on pilgrimage through history, “replet orbem terrarum”, fills the whole universe (cf. Gaudium et spes, GS 11). He ceaselessly guides people to the fullness of truth and love which God the Father revealed in Jesus Christ.

This profound awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action has always illumined the Church’s consciousness, guaranteeing that whatever is genuinely human finds an echo in the hearts of Christ's disciples (cf. ibid., GS 1).

Already in the first half of the second century, the philosopher St Justin could write: “Everything that has always been affirmed in an excellent way and has been discovered by those who study philosophy or make laws has been accomplished by seeking or contemplating a part of the Word” (Apologia II, 10, 1-3).

2. The opening of the human spirit to truth and goodness always takes place in the perspective of the “true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1,9). This light is Christ the Lord himself, who has enlightened man’s steps from the very beginning and has entered his “heart”. With the Incarnation, in the fullness of time, the Light appeared in this world in its full brilliance, shining in the sight of man as the splendour of the truth (cf. Jn 14,6).

Already foretold in the Old Testament, the gradual manifestation of the fullness of truth which is Jesus Christ takes place down the centuries by the work of the Holy Spirit. This particular action of the “Spirit of truth” (cf. Jn 14,17 Jn 15,26 Jn 16,13) concerns not only believers, but in a mysterious way all men and women who, though not knowing the Gospel through no fault of their own, sincerely seek the truth and try to live an upright life (cf. Lumen gentium, LG 16).

In the footsteps of the Fathers of the Church, St Thomas Aquinas can maintain that no spirit can be “so darkened as not to participate in some way in the divine light. In fact, every known truth from any source is totally due to this 'light which shines in the darkness', since every truth, no matter who utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit” (Super Ioannem, 1, 5 lect. 3, n. 103).

3. For this reason, the Church supports every authentic quest of the human mind and sincerely esteems the patrimony of wisdom built up and transmitted by the various cultures. It expresses the inexhaustible creativity of the human spirit, directed towards the fullness of truth by the Spirit of God.

The encounter between the word of truth preached by the Church and the wisdom expressed in cultures and elaborated by philosophies calls on the latter to be open to and to find their own fulfilment in the revelation which comes from God. As the Second Vatican Council stresses, this encounter enriches the Church, enabling her to penetrate the truth ever more deeply, to express it in the languages of the different cultural traditions and to present it — unchanged in its substance — in the form most suited to the changing times (cf. Gaudium et spes, GS 44).

Trust in the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, even in the travail of the culture of our time, can serve as a starting point, at the dawn of the third millennium, for a new encounter between the truth of Christ and human thought.

4. In view of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, it is necessary to look more closely at the Council’s teaching on this ever fresh and fruitful encounter between revealed truth, preserved and transmitted by the Church, and the many different forms of human thought and culture. Unfortunately, Paul VI’s observation in the Encyclical Letter Evangelii nuntiandi that “the division between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the tragedy of our time” (EN 20) is still valid.

To prevent this division which has serious consequences for consciences and behaviour, it is necessary to reawaken in Christ’s disciples that vision of faith which can discover the “seeds of truth” scattered by the Holy Spirit among our contemporaries. This can also contribute to their purification and maturation through the patient art of dialogue, whose particular goal is to present Christ’s face in all its splendour.

It is particularly necessary to keep well in mind the great principle formulated by the last Council, which I wanted to recall in the Encyclical Dives in misericordia: “While the various currents of human thought both in the past and at the present have tended and still tend to separate theocentrism and anthropocentrism, and even to set them in opposition to each other, the Church, following Christ, seeks to link them up in human history, in a deep and organic way” (DM 1).

5. This principle proves fruitful not only for philosophy and humanistic culture but also for the areas of scientific research and art. In fact, the “humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are” (Gaudium et spes, GS 36b).

On the other hand, the true artist has the gift of perceiving and expressing the luminous and infinite horizon in which the existence of man and the world is immersed. If he is faithful to the inspiration that dwells within him and transcends him, he acquires a hidden connaturality with the beauty with which the Holy Spirit clothes Creation.

May the Holy Spirit, the Light that enlightens minds and the divine “artist of the world” (S. Bulgakov, Il Paraclito, Bologna 1971, p. 311), guide the Church and contemporary humanity on the paths of a new and surprising encounter with the splendour of the Truth!

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I welcome to this audience the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Denmark, Sweden, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, 23 September 1998

1. In the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, I urged the whole Church, with regard to the year dedicated to the Holy Spirit, to “gain a renewed appreciation of the Spirit as the One who builds the kingdom of God within the course of history and prepares its full manifestation in Jesus Christ, stirring people’s hearts and quickening in our world the seeds of the full salvation which will come at the end of time” (
TMA 45).

With the eyes of faith we can see history, especially after the coming of Jesus Christ, as totally enveloped and penetrated by the presence of God’s Spirit. It is easy to understand why, today more than ever, the Church feels called to discern the signs of this presence in human history, with which she — in imitation of her Lord — “cherishes a feeling of deep solidarity” (Gaudium et spes GS 1).

2. So that the Church may fulfil this “responsibility she carries at all times” (cf. ibid., GS 4), she is invited to rediscover in an ever deeper and more vital way that Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, is “the key, the centre and the purpose of all human history” (ibid., GS 10). He is “the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the centre of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings” (ibid., GS 45). At the same time, the Church recognizes that only the Holy Spirit, by impressing on the hearts of believers the living image of the Son of God made man, can enable them to search history and to discern in it the signs of God’s presence and action.

The Apostle Paul writes: “What person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1Co 2,11-12). Sustained by this unceasing gift of the Spirit, the Church experiences with deep gratitude that “faith throws a new light on all things and makes known the full ideal which God has set for man, thus guiding the mind towards solutions that are fully human” (Gaudium et spes GS 11).

3. The Second Vatican Council, using an expression taken from the language of Jesus himself, describes the significant clues to the presence and action of God's Spirit in history as the “signs of the times” (ibid., GS 4).

Today, Jesus’ admonition to his contemporaries rings clear and salutary for us as well: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Mt 16,3-4).

In the eyes of Christian faith, the invitation to discern the signs of the times corresponds to the eschatological newness introduced into history by the coming of the Logos among us (cf. Jn 1,14).

53 4. In fact, Jesus invites us to discern the words and deeds which bear witness to the imminent coming of the Father’s kingdom. Indeed, he indicates and concentrates all the signs in the enigmatic “sign of Jonah”. By doing so, he overturns the worldly logic aimed at seeking signs that would confirm the human desire for self-affirmation and power. As the Apostle Paul emphasizes: “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1Co 1,22-23).

As the first-born among many brethren (cf. Rm 8,29), Christ was the first to overcome in himself the diabolic “temptation” to use worldly means to achieve the coming of God’s kingdom. This happened from the time of the messianic testing in the desert to the sarcastic challenge flung at him as he hung upon the cross: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt 27,40). In the crucified Jesus a kind of transformation and concentration of the signs occurs: he himself is the “sign of God”, especially in the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. To discern the signs of his presence in history, it is necessary to free oneself from every worldly pretense and to welcome the Spirit who “searches everything, even the depths of God” (1Co 2,10).

5. If we were to ask when the kingdom of God will be fulfilled, Jesus would reply as he did to the Apostles that it is not for us to “know times (chrónoi) or seasons (kairói)which the Father has fixed by his own authority (exousía)”. Jesus asks us, too, to welcome the power of the Spirit, in order to be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Ac 1,7-8).

The providential ordering of the signs of the times was at first hidden in the secret of the Father’s plan (cf. Rm 16,25 Ep 3,9), broke into history and made its advance in the paradoxical sign of the crucified and risen Son (cf. 1P 1,19-21). It was welcomed and interpreted by Christ’s disciples in the light and power of the Spirit, in watchful and diligent expectation of the definitive coming which will bring history to fulfilment beyond itself, in the heart of the Father.

6. By the Father's design, time is thus extended as an invitation “to know the love of Christ which surpassess all knowledge”, to “be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ep 3,18-19). The secret of this path is the Holy Spirit, who guides us “into all the truth” (Jn 16,13).

With a heart trustfully open to this vision of hope, I implore from the Lord an abundance of the Spirit's gifts for the whole Church, “so that the 'springtime' of the Second Vatican Council can find in the new millennium its 'summertime', that is to say, its full development” (Address at the Ordinary Public Consistory, 21 February 1998, n. 4; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 25 February 1998, p. 2).

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend a special greeting to the members of the General Chapter of the Sisters of Notre Dame. May the Chapter be for all the sisters a time of grace and rededication. I warmly welcome the pilgrims from the Diocese of Hiroshima, led by Bishop Misue. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Finland, Japan, the Philippines, Australia and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

30 September 1998

1. In this second year of preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, a renewed appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s presence focuses our attention especially on the sacrament of Confirmation (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente
TMA 45). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “it perfects baptismal grace; it ... gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (CEC 1316).

In fact, the sacrament of Confirmation closely associates the Christian with the anointing of Christ, whom “God annointed with the Holy Spirit” (Ac 10,38). This anointing is recalled in the very name “Christian”, which derives from that of “Christ”, the Greek translation of the Hebrew term “messiah”, whose precise meaning is “anointed”. Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

Through the seal of the Spirit conferred by Confirmation, the Christian attains his full identity and becomes aware of his mission in the Church and the world. “Before this grace had been conferred on you”, St Cyril of Jerusalem writes, “you were not sufficiently worthy of this name, but were on the way to becoming Christians” (Cat. Myst., III, 4: PG 33,1092).

2. To understand all the riches of grace contained in the sacrament of Confirmation, which forms an organic whole with Baptism and the Eucharist as the “sacraments of Christian initiation”, it is necessary to grasp its meaning in the light of salvation history.

In the Old Testament, the prophets proclaimed that the Spirit of God would rest upon the promised Messiah (cf. Is 11,2) and, at the same time, would be communicated to all the messianic people (cf. Ez 36,25-27 Jl 3,1-2). In the “fullness of time” Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lc 1,35). With the Spirit’s descent upon him at the time of his baptism in the River Jordan, he is revealed as the promised Messiah, the Son of God (cf. Mt 3,13-17 Jn 1,33-34). All his life was spent in total communion with the Holy Spirit, whom he gives “not by measure” (Jn 3,34) as the eschatological fulfilment of his mission, as he had promised (cf. Lc 12,12 Jn 3,5-8 Jn 7,37-39 Jn 16,7-15 Ac 1,8). Jesus communicates the Spirit by “breathing” on the Apostles the day of the Resurrection (cf. Jn 20,22) and later by the solemn, amazing outpouring on the day of Pentecost (cf. Ac 2,1-4).

Thus the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, begin to “proclaim the mighty works of God” (cf. Ac 2,11). Those who believe in their preaching and are baptized also receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Ac 2,38).

The distinction between Confirmation and Baptism is clearly suggested in the Acts of the Apostles when Samaria is being evangelized. It is Philip, one of the seven deacons, who preaches the faith and baptizes. Then the Apostles Peter and John arrive and lay their hands on the newly baptized so that they will receive the Holy Spirit (Ac 8,5-17). Similarly in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul lays his hands on a group of newly baptized and “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Ac 19,6).

3. The sacrament of Confirmation “in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CEC 1288). Baptism, which the Christian tradition calls “the gateway to life in the Spirit” (ibid., CEC 1213), gives us a rebirth “of water and the Spirit” (cf. Jn 3,5), enabling us to share sacramentally in Christ’s Death and Resurrection (cf. Rm 6,1-11). Confirmation, in turn, makes us share fully in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by the risen Lord.

The unbreakable bond between the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is expressed in the close connection between the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. This close bond can also be seen in the fact that in the early centuries Confirmation generally comprised “one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a 'double sacrament', according to the expression of St Cyprian” (CEC 1290). This practice has been preserved to the present day in the East, while in the West, for many reasons, Confirmation came to be celebrated later and there is normally an interval between the two sacraments.

Since apostolic times the full comunication of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the baptized has been effectively signified by the laying on of hands. An anointing with perfumed oil, called “chrism”, was added very early, the better to express the gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, through Confirmation Christians, consecrated by the anointing in Baptism, share in the fullness of the Spirit with whom Jesus is filled, so that their whole life will spread the “aroma of Christ” (2Co 2,15).

4. The differences in the rite of Confirmation which evolved down the centuries in the East and West, according to the different spiritual sensitivities of the two traditions and in response to various pastoral needs, express the richness of the sacrament and its full meaning in Christian life.

In the East, this sacrament is called “Chrismation”, anointing with “chrism” or “myron”. In the West, the term Confirmation suggests the ratification of Baptism as a strengthening of grace through the seal of the Holy Spirit. In the East, since the two sacraments are joined, Chrismation is conferred by the same priest who administers Baptism, although he performs the anointing with chrism consecrated by the Bishop (cf. CEC 1312). In the Latin rite, the ordinary minister of Confirmation is the Bishop, who, for grave reasons, may grant this faculty to priests delegated to administer it (cf. ibid., CEC 1313).

Thus, “the practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the Bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church” (CEC 1292).

5. From what we have said not only can we see the importance of Confirmation as an organic part of the sacraments of Christian initiation as a whole, but also its irreplaceable effectiveness for the full maturation of Christian life. A decisive task of pastoral ministry, to be intensified as part of the preparation for the Jubilee, consists in very carefully training the baptized who are preparing to receive Confirmation, and in introducing them to the fascinating depths of the mystery it signifies and brings about. At the same time, confirmands must be helped to rediscover with joyful wonder the saving power of this gift of the Holy Spirit.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I cordially welcome Cardinal Mahony and the American Bishops from California on a visit “ad limina”.

I extend a special welcome to the new students of the Pontifical Beda College. May this period of training here in Rome help you to grow in the love of Christ and his Church. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Australia, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

                                                                            October 1998

Wednesday 7 October 1998


1. I made my second Pastoral Visit to Croatia from Friday to Sunday last. While the images of this pilgrimage are still fresh in my mind, I would like to reflect briefly on its meaning, putting it in the context of the historical events that involved not only Croatia, but all of Europe.

First of all I thank God who allowed me to have this very intense experience. My gratitude also goes to the beloved Bishops of Croatia as well as to the President of the Republic, to the authorities and to everyone who made it possible for the Successor of Peter to have another meeting with the Croatian nation, which has remained faithful to him for more than 13 centuries.

The theme of the visit echoed the words of the risen Christ to the Apostles: “You shall be my witnesses” (
Ac 1,8). A pilgrimage, then, whose hallmark was witness. And it is from this viewpoint that I could embrace in spirit almost two millenniums of history: from the martyrs of the Roman persecutions to those of the recent communist regime; from St Domnius, Bishop of Salona [Solin], the ancient primatial see, to Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb, whose beatification crowned my stay in Croatia. The solemn liturgical celebration must be seen then against the background of historical events dating back to ancient Rome, when the country was not yet inhabited by Croats.

The other focal point of my apostolic visit was the celebration of the 1,700th anniversary of the city and the Church of Split. Both these events were accompanied by a Marian pilgrimage: first to the national shrine of Marija Bistrica and then to Our Lady of the Island in Solin, the oldest shrine in Croatia dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. This is a very important fact. Indeed, when a people experiences the hour of the passion and the cross, it feels closer than ever to the Mother of Christ, who becomes a sign of hope and comfort. So it was for my homeland, Poland; so it was for Croatia, and for every Christian nation sorely tried by historical events.

2. In Te, Domine, speravi: this was the motto of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, at whose tomb I paused in prayer as soon as I had arrived in Zagreb. His figure symbolizes the entire tragedy which struck Europe in this century, marked by the great evils of fascism, nazism and communism. In him the Catholic response shines brightly in its fullness: faith in God, respect for man, love for all confirmed by forgiveness, and unity with the Church guided by the Successor of Peter.

His persecution and show trial resulted from his refusal to comply with the regime's insistence that he break with the Pope and the Apostolic See and become head of a “national Croatian church”. He preferred to remain faithful to the Successor of Peter. For this reason he was slandered and then condemned.

In his beatification we see the victory of Christ’s Gospel over totalitarian ideologies; the victory of the rights of God and conscience over violence and oppression; the victory of forgiveness and reconciliation over hatred and revenge. Bl. Stepinac thus symbolizes the Croatia which wants to forgive and be reconciled, to purify its memory of bitterness and overcome evil with good.

56 3. For some time I have wanted to make a personal visit to the famous Shrine of Marija Bistrica.Providence arranged that this should take place on the occasion of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac’s beatification. From the beginning of his episcopate, he personally led the annual votive pilgrimage, on foot, from the city of Zagreb to the shrine, located about 50 km. from the capital, until the communist authorities forbade any public display of religion.

The ancient and revered wooden statue of Our Lady and Child, which the faithful were forced to hide in order to preserve it from sacrilege and destruction during the Ottoman invasion in the 16th century, represents in a certain sense the painful history of the Croatian people for over 1,300 years. Cardinal Stepinac’s beatification at that shrine, with the visit to Split the next day, was cast against the background of events dating back to ancient times when the city was part of the Roman Empire.

Hidden in the centre of the modern city of Split, which includes the ancient episcopal see of Salona, are the palace and mausoleum of the Emperor Diocletian, one of the most cruel persecutors of Christians. A few centuries later the mausoleum was transformed into a cathedral, and within its walls are the relics of St Domnius, the martyred Bishop of Salona. I paused in prayer before his tomb, thinking back over the long history that extends from Diocletian to the events of our century, marked by equally ferocious persecutions but also illumined by martrys who were no less glorious than those of antiquity.

4. The oldest remnants of Christianity in the region are found in Solin, where the Marian shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Island is located. It is precisely here that I wished to meet the catechists, teachers and members of ecclesial associations and movements, who are mainly young: near the memorials of our Christian roots, we prayed for the future of the Church and of evangelization.

The areas were the greatest work is called for are those of the family, life and youth, as I recalled at the meeting with the Croatian Episcopal Conference. In each of these areas Christians are called to bear a witness of Gospel integrity in both their personal and collective decisions. The healing of the wounds caused by the war, the building of a just and lasting peace and, especially, the restoration of the moral values undermined by the previous totalitarian regimes require long and patient work in which you must continually return to the spiritual legacy bequeathed by your ancestors.

The figure of Bl. Alojzije Stepinac is a reference point for everyone to look to for inspiration and support. With his beatification that struggle between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel which runs through history is unveiled before us against the backdrop of the ages. This contemporary martyr, still remembered by the elderly, became a great symbol of this battle: ever since a new society began to take shape on the ruins of the Roman Empire and the Croats reached the shores of the Adriatic, through the difficult times of Ottoman rule to our own turbulent and tragic century, the Church has continued to meet the challenges of evil by proclaiming the word of the Gospel with fearless strength.

In a span of over 13 centuries, Croats, after accepting this Word and receiving Baptism, have preserved their fidelity to Christ and the Church, and have confirmed it on the threshold of the third millennium. The blessed martyr Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb, is a witness to this! His figure is linked to that of the ancient martyrs: despite Diocletian’s intentions, the persecutions of the early centuries only strengthened the Church’s presence in the ancient world. Let us pray to the Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Advocata Croatiae, Mater fidelissima, that the persecutions of modern times will lead to a new flourshing of ecclesial life in Croatia and throughout the world.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, the Holy Father said:

I cordially welcome the group of seminarians from the Pontifical North American College who will be ordained to the diaconate tomorrow. I greet the participants in the World Equestrian Games being held here in Rome. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, India and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the risen Lord.

Wednesday 14 October 1998

1. In the preceding catechesis we reflected on the sacrament of Confirmation as the fulfilment of baptismal grace. We will now examine the salvific value and spiritual effect expressed by the sign of anointing, which indicates the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Divinae consortium naturae, 15 August 1971; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 23 September 1971, p. 4).

Through this anointing, the confirmand fully receives that gift of the Holy Spirit which he had already received in Baptism in an initial and fundamental way. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “a seal is a symbol of a person (cf.
Gn 38,18 Ct 8,6), a sign of personal authority (cf. Gn 41,42), or ownership of an object (cf. Dt 32,34) ...” (CEC 1295). Jesus himself says that “God the Father set his seal” on him (Jn 6,27). And so we Christians, having been incorporated into the Body of Christ our Lord by faith and Baptism, are marked by the seal of the Spirit when we receive this anointing. The Apostle Paul explicitly teaches this in speaking to the Christians of Corinth: “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us; he has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2Co 1,21-22 cf. Ep 1,13-14 Ep 4,30).

2. The seal of the Holy Spirit therefore signifies and brings about the disciple’s total belonging to Jesus Christ, his being always at the latter’s service in the Church, and at the same time it implies the promise of divine protection in the trials he will have to endure to witness to his faith in the world.

Jesus himself foretold this, shortly before his Passion: “They will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them.... And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mc 13,9 Mc 13,11ff.).

A similar promise recurs in Revelation, in a vision that embraces the Church’s entire history and sheds light on the dramatic situation which the disciples of Christ are called to face in union with their crucified and risen Lord. They are presented in the evocative image of those whose foreheads have been marked with God’s seal (cf. Ap 7,2-4).

3. By bringing baptismal grace to fulfilment, Confirmation unites us more firmly to Jesus Christ and to his Body, the Church. This sacrament also increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us, to give us “a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross” (CEC 1303; cf. Council of Florence, DS 1319 Second Vatican Council, Lumen gentium LG 11-12).

St Ambrose exhorts the confirmed in these vibrant words: “Recall that you have received the spiritual seal, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and fortitude, the Spirit of knowledge and piety, the Spirit of the fear of God. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign, Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed the Spirit in your hearts as a pledge” (De Mysteriis, 7, 42; PL 16, 402-403).

The gift of the Spirit obliges us to bear witness to Jesus Christ and to God the Father, and ensures that we have the ability and the courage to do so. The Acts of the Apostles tell us clearly that the Spirit was poured out upon the Apostles, so that they would become “witnesses” (Ac 1,8 cf. Jn 15,26-27).

St Thomas Aquinas wonderfully summarizes the Church’s tradition, saying that through Confirmation all the necessary help is communicated to the baptized so that they can profess publicly and in every circumstance the faith received in Baptism. “The fullness of the Holy Spirit”, he explains, “is given ad robur spirituale (for spiritual strength) which is appropriate to adulthood” (Summa Theologiae, III 72,2). This maturity is obviously not to be measured by human criteria, but from within the mysterious relationship of each individual to Christ.

This teaching, rooted in Sacred Scripture and developed by sacred Tradition, is expressed in the teaching of the Council of Trent, which says that the sacrament of Confirmation is imprinted on the soul like an “indelible spiritual mark”: the “character” (cf. DS 1609) which is precisely the sign Jesus Christ imprints on the Christian with the seal of his Spirit.

58 4. This specific gift conferred by the sacrament of Confirmation enables the faithful to exercise their “prophetic office” of bearing witness to the faith. “The confirmed person”, St Thomas explains, “receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi ex officio)” (cf. Summa Theologiae, III 72,5, ad. 2; CEC 1305). Furthermore, the Second Vatican Council, in explaining the sacred and organic nature of the priestly community in Lumen gentium, stresses that “by the sacrament of Confirmation they [the faithful] are more perfectly bound to the Church and endowed with the special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread the faith by word and deed” (LG 11).

The baptized who receive the sacrament of Confirmation with full and mature awareness solemnly declare before the Church, with the support of God’s grace, their readiness to let themselves be grasped by the Spirit of God in an ever new and ever deeper way, to become witnesses to Christ the Lord.

5. This readiness, thanks to the Spirit who penetrates and fills their hearts, spurs them even to martyrdom, as we are shown by the uninterrupted series of Christian witnesses who, from the dawn of Christianity to our century, have not been afraid to sacrifice their earthly lives for love of Jesus Christ. “Martyrdom”, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity” (CEC 2473).

On the threshold of the third millennium, let us invoke the gift of the Paraclete to revive the effectiveness of the grace of the spiritual seal imprinted on us in the sacrament of Confirmation. Animated by the Spirit, our lives will spread the “aroma of Christ” (2Co 2,15) to the very ends of the earth.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I warmly greet the members of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights. I extend a special welcome to the Rissho Kosei-Kai delegation from Japan. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Sweden, Finland, Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the end of the General Audience, after having greeted the young people, the sick and the newlyweds, the Pope added:

I am thankful for the best wishes and prayers that have been offered to me for the 20th anniversary of my election. I trust in the spiritual support of the People of God in order faithfully to fulfil my ministry. Praised be Jesus Christ.