Speeches 1998 - Saturday, 14 February 1998






Monday, 16 February 1998

Your Excellency,

1. I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican on the solemn occasion of the presentation of the Letters of Credence as Head of Mission of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Great Jamahiriya to the Holy See.

I would first like to thank H.E. Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi for his greetings and the expressions of appreciation he has conveyed to me through you, and I ask you to express my cordial wishes to him for his person and for the wellbeing of all the Libyan people.

2. Your Excellency, in the address you have just given you stressed the Libyan people's desire to contribute to world peace on the basis of mutual understanding between nations, especially at the end of this millennium, with a view to improving the future that awaits the human race.

The Church constantly works so that this good for which all are longing may be ever more firmly rooted in every nation and thereby guarantee true and lasting peace for all humanity. Today, more than in the past, she is certain that peaceful coexistence among the many human, spiritual and cultural realities which make up our world is only possible if all human action is based on dialogue, respect and collaboration.

In the Message this year for the World Day of Peace, in a world seeking new order and a more stable balance, I recalled the close relationship between the justice of each and peace for all, stressing how these values, as our common heritage, are innate in every person's heart.

3. Every nation is called to be fully involved in this sincere effort to build a better world, where the objective of each person's collaboration is not merely the improvement of external conditions but the growth of the human person viewed in its totality, in order to restore those values which unfortunately risk being lost or, at least, being no longer considered as concretely achievable ideals.

The Catholic Church always seeks collaboration among peoples, convinced that human beings, as God's creatures, must respect one another and avoid discrimination, in order to live together and serve all humanity.

As human beings and believers, Christians and Muslims have many things in common. The dialogue between them stems from fidelity to God and implies the ability to recognize him with humble submission and to bear witness to him in word and deed, in a world ever more tempted by secularization and often even by atheism.

Obedience to God involves us in respect for the human person and his rights, seen as an expression of the divine will and a requirement of human nature, especially regarding basic freedoms, particularly, freedom of religion and conscience.

In a world that wants unity and peace but is unfortunately still experiencing tension and conflict, faith must encourage understanding between peoples and promote dialogue, so that differences and conflicts are not resolved by destructive means but by mutual co-operation.

4. Your Excellency, with the plurality of its members, your country is certainly a place where meeting and dialogue can increasingly become a means of understanding and peace. My hope is that understanding and dialogue, while taking place within Libyan society, will also be extended to the other countries of the Mediterranean region, and will increasingly mark relations within the entire international community.

Everyone knows that dialogue between countries and between peoples is primarily based on recognition of the dignity of others, on mutual trust and on the readiness to co-operate for the common good of humanity.

The Catholic Church has always collaborated through her involvement in the cultural, economic, and social development of the nation. She intends to continue in this direction by offering, in addition to specific professional skills, friendship and brotherhood in accordance with the Christian view of life, in full harmony with what is required for the authentic progress of the civil community.

5. I am certain that the collaboration generously offered by the Church will meet with the consent and approval of your country's authorities and people, and I express my wish that the Catholic community, through its members, organizations and structures, will continue not only to give spiritual help to her faithful, but also to develop her work of human and social advancement.

At the beginning of your official mission to the Holy See, Your Excellency, I would like to add to my best wishes for its success the assurance that you will always find an attentive welcome and cordial understanding from those who work with me.

On Your Excellency, on your family, on all the Libyan people and their leaders, I cordially invoke an abundance of blessings from the Most High.






Thursday, 19 February 1998

Your Eminence,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

1. I have frequently expressed my hope that on the threshold of the third millennium Christians may find themselves if not completely united, at least much closer to resolving their differences (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 34). In reviewing the activities of the past two years, the plenary session of your Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has wished to situate its reflection in this perspective.

In my Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, I wished to stress the importance of one of the fruits of the ecumenical movement: rediscovered brotherhood among Christians. I continuously experience this in my apostolic journeys throughout the world. Christians, regardless of their differences and the validity of what divides them, have acquired a renewed awareness of being brothers and sisters to one another. I ask you: is this not the revival of a fundamentally Christian attitude? And by acting this way are we not fulfilling the primary requirement of the commandment Jesus wished to call "his" (cf. Jn Jn 15,12)?

Our awareness of being brothers requires that we regard ourselves as brothers even in our disagreements; it calls us to treat each other as brothers in the various circumstances where our personal and community life brings us together. In this area continual progress is essential. We cannot be satisfied with intermediary stages, necessary perhaps, but always insufficient on the spiritual and ecclesial journey to which we are committed. The goal, to which the Lord Jesus calls us, guides us and expects of us, is full unity with all those who, having received the same Baptism, have become part of the one Mystical Body.

2. In this atmosphere of rediscovered brotherhood, your reflection on current relations between the Christian Churches and Communions acquires its full significance, just as the various theological dialogues also acquire their full significance. They are based on the dialogue of love, which must continue to accompany and nourish them. It is necessary to deepen the dialogue of love in order to overcome the difficulties which occurred in the past and still exist today, and which we will continue to encounter. In this context, on this intellectual journey, we must also make gradual progress. The progress achieved fills us with joy; it increases the authenticity of the rediscovered brotherhood. However, these are only stages, and we cannot be content with having completed them. Our steps must advance even further in this direction. We must help one another. We will need courage to pursue our search for the truth in fidelity to the One who is the Truth. The goal is the full communion he wants to see prevail among us. Two thousand years ago he asked us to bear unanimous witness to his coming. In this age, when we are urging the world to recognize fully that Christ is "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1,9), we must reinvigorate our efforts, in order to fulfil our one Teacher and Lord's desire for unity.

The progress made in the dialogue of love and conversion, as well as in the doctrinal dialogues, fills our heart with gratitude and hope. Gratitude for all that has been given and is being given to us. Hope in him who is the only One to bring to completion what he alone could and can fulfil in our midst.

3. Thus during your plenary session you reviewed your activities over the past two years. You have been able to note what must be corrected and what must be intensified. You have also looked to the future. The ecumenical formation of those who will dedicate themselves to pastoral ministry in the years ahead assumes a particular importance in this future perspective.

Assimilation of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Church and on ecumenism is the condition for disseminating the intermediate results of dialogue in a sound way. As I have stressed, "they cannot remain the statements of bilateral commissions but must become a common heritage" (Ut unum sint UUS 80). Those responsible for pastoral activity must acquire a global vision of ecumenical activity, its principles and requirements. This vision will be the means and the context enabling them to situate and understand, to receive and rigorously examine what has been achieved. They will thus be able to inform the faithful and to involve them in an attitude of gratitude and hope. They will be able to avoid simplifications and untimely haste. They will help them to adapt to the pace that the Holy Spirit sets for the movement he inspires in the Church. They will encourage them to deepen their ecumenical conversion and to grow in their rediscovered brotherhood. They will urge them to intensify their prayer so that full communion will soon be achieved.

4. As I thank you for the work you have done at your meeting and for your impassioned service to unity, I would like to remind you of St Cyprian's words on the Lord's Prayer at the end of my Encyclical Letter on commitment to ecumenism: ""God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit". At the dawn of the new millennium, how can we not implore from the Lord, with renewed enthusiasm and a deeper awareness, the grace to prepare ourselves, together, to offer this sacrifice of unity?"" (Ut unum sint UUS 102).

I repeat this prayer with deep feeling, and I ask the Lord to support you in everything you do to help the Bishop of Rome in his service to unity, with trust in the work of divine mercy.

With these sentiments, I affectionately impart my Blessing to all.





Thursday, 19 February 1998

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I joyfully welcome you, the third group of Pastors of God's Church in Spain to make your ad limina visit to Rome, the city that preserves the memory of Sts Peter and Paul. I extend my cordial greetings to the Cardinal Archbishop of Barcelona, with his Auxiliaries, to the Archbishop of Oviedo, with his Auxiliary, and to the Bishops of León, Astorga and Santander; to the Archbishop of Tarragona, with the Bishops of Urgell, Lleida, Vic, Solsona and Tortosa, with a special thought for the Bishop of Girona, absent because of surgery. Through you I would like to extend my greetings to the priests, deacons, men and women religious and faithful of your particular Churches, telling them once again of the affection and esteem I owe them as Pastor of the universal Church (cf. Lumen gentium LG 22).

I am grateful for Cardinal Ricardo María Carles Gordó's kind words on behalf of you all, telling me of your hopes and concerns as well as the pastoral charity that motivates you in the ministry of guiding the People of God, at whose head you have been placed as leaders (cf. Christus Dominus CD 4). I thank you and assure you of a constant prayer to the Lord that amid the trials which your mission sometimes involves, you will not lack anything; neither fortitude (Ac 4,33) nor the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

2. In Catalonia, Asturias, León and Cantabria, regions with deep Christian roots, important changes have taken place, as in other parts of Spain, and are continuing to occur in the population and in economic activity. In fact, the accelerated transformation of a rural society into one that is mainly industrial and commercial has given rise in recent decades to a greater mobility of people, whose focus of interest and cultural development are changing, and whose way of life is notably altering the face of society itself.

In your quinquennial reports you reflected on this situation in which you feel spurred to renew your pastoral activity, new conditions in which the Good News can be proclaimed and the People of God guided and gathered through the sacramental presence of Christ. In this regard, I would like to encourage you, so that God's Church in these noble lands will continue to be a place of love and hospitality where all the faithful feel they are brothers and sisters, no one is excluded and there is no distinction of origin or culture, so that she may be a leaven of unity, "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" (Mt 5,13-14).

3. In hearing my call to prepare suitably for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, you, the Bishops in Spain, are carrying out your Pastoral Plan of Action for the Four-Years 1997-2000, entitled Proclaiming the Year of the Lord's Favour. In this plan, echoing my Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, you recall that "the primary objective of the Jubilee [is] the strengthening of Christians' faith and witness" (n. 42). In fact, faith, a gift of God and a person's free response, and witnessing to it are based on one overall pastoral objective at this time. I am pleased in this regard to recall, as you have pointed out: "In order that no separation may arise between faith and life and that they do not run parallel to each other without converging, it is necessary to inspire and encourage our faithful to be consistent in their faith and life in each personal situation and in the concrete circumstances of contemporary society, where new questions are being raised in various areas, many of which are also new" (Pastoral Plan of Action, n. 107).

4. One of these areas, so called into question in our times but so important for the present and future of society, is the family. I am aware of your commitment to defending and promoting this institution which originates in God and his plan of salvation (cf. Familiaris consortio FC 49). Today we see a trend, very widespread in some regions, which tends to weaken its true nature. Indeed, there are many attempts to put the family on the same level in public opinion and civil legislation as mere unions not recognized by constitutional law. Some even seek the recognition of same-sex unions as families. The crisis of marriage and the family impels us to proclaim with pastoral firmness, as an authentic service to the family and to society, the truth about marriage and the family as God has established it. To neglect to do so would be a grave pastoral omission that would lead believers into error as well as those who have the important responsibility of taking decisions for the common good of the nation. This truth is valid not only for Catholics but for all men and women without distinction, since marriage and the family are an irreplaceable good of society, which cannot remain indifferent to their degradation or disappearance.

Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the family must give witness to its own values before society and itself: "The role that God calls the family to perform in history derives from what the family is; its role represents the dynamic and existential development of what it is. Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are" (ibid., n. 17). In this regard, Pastors and married couples involved in the Church must delve deeper into the theology of marriage, help young married couples and families in difficulty to recognize more clearly the value of their sacramental commitment and receive the grace of the covenant. Married lay persons must likewise be the first to witness to the greatness of conjugal and family life based on commitment and fidelity. Through the sacrament, their human love acquires an infinite value so that the couple can manifest Christ's love for his Church in a particular way and assume an important responsibility in the world: to give birth to children called to become children of God, and to help them in their human and spiritual growth.

Dear Brothers: guide Christian families, encourage the family apostolate in your Dioceses and promote movements and associations of marital spirituality; stir up their apostolic zeal so that they will make their own the task of the new evangelizaiton, open the doors to those who are homeless or living in difficult situations, and bear witness to the great dignity of disinterested and unconditional love.

5. For the defence and promotion of the family institution, it is important that those who intend to contract the sacrament of marriage be properly prepared for it (cf. can. 1063, 1061 CIC). This is the way to encourage the formation of authentic families who live according to God's plan. To do this, not only must the anthropological aspects of human love be explained to the engaged couple, but also the basis of a genuine conjugal spirituality, by understanding marriage as a vocation that enables the baptized to incarnate faith, hope and charity in their new social and religious situation.

The completion of this specific preparation can also lead to the re-evangelization of the baptized who approach the Church to ask for the sacrament of marriage. Indeed, as you have pointed out, "many adolescents and young people, having participated in the catechesis or catechumenate for Confirmation, later give up their Christian formation, which must be ongoing" (Pastoral Plan of Action, n. 127). Although today, because of widespread education, young people have aquired a culture superior to that of their parents, in many cases Christian life is not at the same level, since not only ignorance of religion but a certain moral and religious emptiness can be noted in the younger generations.

In this area it is important for you to prepare the ecclesial communities so that once they have experienced and can witness to God's love they will be able effectively to show its depth to those who need to know it.

6. I would also like to mention the urgent need to encourage catechesis at all levels, since in order to strengthen faith and the witness to it, evangelization must be intensified by ardently proclaiming Jesus Christ as the one Saviour of the world, in the total reality of his mystery, expressed in his life and his word, and confessed by the Church. Catechesis introduces the person of Jesus to the men and women of our time so that they will follow him, thereby strengthening their life in the Spirit, which encourages full human development.

I therefore urge you to spare no effort to ensure that catechetical activity, an essential aspect of the evangelizing mission the Lord has entrusted to us, is always carried out in your Dioceses, relying on properly formed catechists and adequate means in order to offer the faithful a more vivid knowledge of Christ's mystery. For this I appreciate and admire the generosity of the many catechists who work in parishes and other pastoral centres and dedicate their time and energy to an activity so essential to the Church. Lack of religious instruction or poor assimilation of the faith would leave the baptized unprepared for the real dangers of secularism, moral relativism or religious indifference, with the consequent risk of losing your people's deep piety, which is beautifully expressed in the worthy and evocative Christian displays of popular devotion. I encourage you then, before the Great Jubilee, to promote a new phase of catechesis which will help contemporary man to be conscious of God's mystery and his own, and which will foster a prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the gift of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and his redemptive work (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 32).

7. There is a continual need for the Church to be involved in the education of young people and children, giving a pastoral response to their educational requirements. She does so through her option for man and her desire to collaborate in the school with families and society, advocating integral formation and defending the right of parents to give their children a religious and moral upbringing in accordance with their own beliefs. In this task, the Church is present through Catholic educators whose work is inspired by their faith, as well as through her own educational institutions. This is a service to society, which must be recognized and encouraged.

In any formation that claims to be complete, the religious dimension cannot be neglected; young people must be educated in a way that develops all the capacities of the human being. In this regard, the Church, while respecting other possible ways of thinking, has the right to teach the values that flow from the Gospel and the moral norms proper to Christianity.

However, as you have said, "the teaching of Catholic religion and morality, or ethical teaching, in the context of primary education and especially in middle- or secondary-school education, has been marginalized for many years by the public authorities" (Pastoral Plan of Action, n. 51). Taking into account the primary aspect of service, which must also seek continuous improvement in the quality of teaching and the careful selection and qualification of the teaching staff who impart it, I encourage you to continue your effort to find as quickly as possible, together with the competent civil administration, the solution to pending problems regarding the juridical status of religion and those who teach it.

8. Dear Brothers, I wanted to present these reflections to you and to share with you some desires that will certainly help you in your pastoral work. In closing this meeting, I would like once again to express to you my joy at having shared the concerns and hopes of your episcopal ministry and at having observed your efforts to strengthen the Church's vitality in your Dioceses. I hope that this visit to the Successor of Peter, your prayer at the tombs of the Apostles and your meetings with the dicasteries of the Roman Curia will be a source of energy and confidence in the future for you, in communion with the universal Church.

I encourage you to continue preparing for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, inviting all the Catholics of Spain to reach out to their brothers and sisters in order to proclaim this Good News to them.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, so deeply venerated in your lands and at whose shrines in Covadonga and Montserrat I have had the opportunity to kneel in prayer asking for her maternal intercession for this important portion of God's People on pilgrimage in those lands, help you in your episcopal mission. With these sentiments, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to each of you and to all the priests, religious and faithful of your Dioceses.





Friday 20 February 1998

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I wish to express my appreciation to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, represented here by the Rector, Prof. Adriano Bausola, to the Director of the Institute of Bioethics of the same university, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, and to the Director of the Center for Medical Ethics of Georgetown University, for having organized this international conference on such a timely theme for society and for the Church: women’s health issues. To reflect on this topic is in fact a duty and a debt of recognition not only for the dignity of every woman, whose right to treatment and access to means for improving health must be acknowledged, but also in relation to the special role that women are called to exercise in the family and in society. In this respect we cannot fail to remember a great number of women — children, adolescents, wives, mothers of families, the elderly — who live in conditions of poverty, with a total lack of health services, and who are burdened by the difficulties involved in supporting a family in vast areas of the world, often aggravated by disaster and war.

2. In my Message to the Secretary General of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, I mentioned the “terrible exploitation of women and girls which exists in every part of the world”. And I added: “Public opinion is only beginning to take stock of the inhuman conditions in which women and children are often forced to work, especially in less developed areas of the globe” (n. 7, 26 May 1995; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 31 May 1995, p. 2). No true development without respect for life at every stage It is essential for every society that such rights be guaranteed and that societies which enjoy full economic development and sometimes a superfluous level of goods turn their attention and their assistance to these people. This cannot be done without an appropriate and corresponding recognition of the role of women, of their dignity and of the importance of their specific contribution to the society in which they live: “When women are able fully to share their gifts with the whole community, the very way in which society understands and organizes itself is improved” (Message for 1995 World Day of Peace, n. 9; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 14 December 1994, p. 2).

3. In particular, I consider it significant that at your international conference you wished to examine all aspects of women’s health: the prevention and treatment of illness, respect for their integrity and their procreative capacities, the psychological and spiritual aspects of the various situations in which they find themselves. In fact, an idea of health is spreading that, paradoxically, exalts and at the same time impoverishes its meaning and this particularly applies to women. Indeed, health has been defined as a striving for “complete physical, psychological and social well-being and not just the absence of illness”. When, however, well-being is taken in a hedonistic sense without any reference to moral, spiritual and religious values, this aspiration, in itself noble, can be confined to a narrow horizon that stifles its zeal with negative consequences for health itself. Interpreted in this reductive sense, the quest for health as well-being has reached the point that, even in important political documents, motherhood itself is regarded as a burden and illness, thus creating the pretext, in the name of health and quality of life, for the justification of contraception, sterilization, abortion and even euthanasia. This distortion must be rectified because “there will never be justice, including equality, development and peace, for women or for men, unless there is an unfailing determination to respect, protect, love and serve life — every human life at every stage and in every situation” (Message for the Fourth World Conference on Women, n. 7; cf. Encyclical Evangelium vitae EV 87).

4. Promoting the authentic, balanced, overall health of women means helping them to harmonize their physical, psychological and social well-being with moral and spiritual values. In this perspective of personal and specifically feminine fulfilment, in which spousal and maternal self-giving is lived in the family or in consecrated life and a sense of social solidarity is expressed, health represents both a fundamental condition and a dimension of the person. For this reason the concept of health must be based on a complete anthropological vision that considers respect for life and for the dignity of every person to be indispensable values. The quest for health cannot, therefore, ignore the ontological value of the person and his personal dignity: even where physical and mental health are deficient, the person still preserves his full dignity.

5. In promoting women’s health, procreation has a special role from the standpoint of the fulfilment of both the feminine personality and possible motherhood. To promote the procreative health of women will therefore imply the primary prevention of those illnesses that can jeopardize fertility, as well as treatment, counseling and assistance aimed at preserving the female organism in its integrity or at restoring its functionality; but it can never mean offending the personal dignity of the woman or the dignity of the newly conceived life. Church recognizes women’s contribution to society In this regard the moral commitment of the woman herself will always have great importance: in her daily conduct she must assume and respect the values of her own corporality, trying to assure their conformity with the demands of health. This promotion of woman's overall health must also involve society and this will only take place with the contribution of women themselves: “The Church”, I wrote to the Secretary General of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, “recognizes that women’s contribution to the welfare and progress of society is incalculable, and the Church looks to women to do even more to save society from the deadly virus of degradation and violence which is today witnessing a dramatic increase” (n. 5).

6. The whole dimension of culture and society, and in the first place health care, must be measured against the dignity of women, in joint responsibility with men and for the good of families and the human community itself. I wish here to repeat the gratitude I expressed to women in the Letter addressed specifically to them in 1995 during International Women’s Year: thank you to women who are mothers, to women who are wives, to women who are daughters, to working women and to consecrated women. Today I would also like to thank women who practise medicine: more and more of them help to promote the health of others, becoming guardians of life in a special capacity. I hope that all people, society as a whole and political authorities will make their contribution to the achievement of health for every woman and every man, as a guarantee of a civilization that conforms to the dignity of the human person.

With these wishes, I impart my Blessing to all.






Friday, 20 February 1998

Your Eminence,
Dear Brothers in Christ,

1. I am pleased to welcome you on the occasion of the Rome meeting of the Joint Committee of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) and the Conference of European Churches (KEK). Your fraternal meeting and the many expressions of ecumenical reflection, prayer and brotherhood which take place regularly in the different countries of the European continent give me great pleasure. In the light of the Great Jubilee, in which I hope all Christians will take an active part, the sustained attention of all the European Churches to the cause of ecumenism is an encouraging sign on the way to Christian unity.

2. The Second Vatican Council gave a new impetus to the ecumenical movement by stressing the importance of the dialogue between brothers and sisters, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; thus Christians must show their common charity and their desire for conversion in order to overcome their infidelities, the source and cause of division, and "to live more purely according to the Gospel" (cf. Second Vatican Council, Unitatis redintegratio UR 7). "The commitment to ecumenism must be based upon the conversion of hearts and upon prayer, which will also lead to the necessary purification of past memories" (Ut unum sint UUS 2).

To overcome the obstacles and resentments which may still exist, it is fitting to be more and more committed to ecumenical life and prayer, and it is useful to undertake common projects, while respecting the activities developed by the various Christian denominations. Through a constantly strengthened spiritual life, Christian individuals and communities will let themselves be guided by the Spirit, who will lead them to the whole truth and make them bold in their steps. Christ is urging us today more than ever, and "the approaching end of the second millennium demands of everyone an examination of conscience and the promotion of fitting ecumenical initiatives" (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 34).

3. It is fortunate that ecumenical questions are now an integral part of the theological studies in seminaries, ecclesiastical institutions of education and continuing formation. In this way, all those who receive a Christian formation in their own Church will be attentive to whatever can foster Christian unity and they will be eager to take an active part. They will help their brothers and sisters to acquire a better knowledge of the other Christian Churches, which is indispensable for advancing on the path of brotherhood and unity. I am also pleased that the teacher and student exchanges between the different formation centres and Christian denominations have been continued and increased.

Speeches 1998 - Saturday, 14 February 1998