Speeches 1998 - 13 June 1998
3. Over a considerable period religious life in the United States has been characterized by change and adaptation, as called for by the Second Vatican Council and codified in Canon Law and other magisterial documents. This has not been an easy time, since a renewal of such complexity and far-reaching consequences, involving so many people, could not take place without much effort and strain. It has not always been easy to strike a proper balance between necessary change and fidelity to the spiritual and canonical experience which had become a stable and fruitful part of the Church’s living tradition. All of this has sometimes resulted in suffering for individual religious and for whole communities, a suffering which in some cases has brought new insights and a new commitment but which in other cases has resulted in disenchantment and discouragement. Ever since the beginning of my Pontificate I have tried to encourage the Bishops to engage religious communities in a dialogue of faith and fidelity, with the aim of helping religious to live their ecclesial vocation to the full. Down the years I have many times discussed the state of religious life in your country with religious themselves, as well as with the Bishops and others concerned. In all the initiatives undertaken in this regard, it has been my intention on the one hand to affirm the personal and collegial responsibility for religious life which belongs to the Bishops as the ones primarily responsible for the Church’s holiness, doctrine and mission, and on the other to affirm the importance and value of the consecrated life, and the extraordinary merits of so many consecrated women and men in every kind of service, at the side of suffering humanity.
Today I wish to invite the United States Bishops to continue to foster personal contacts with the religious actually living and working in the individual Dioceses in order to encourage and challenge them. Generally speaking your relations with religious are truly friendly and cooperative, and in many cases they play an important part in your pastoral plans and projects. It is a matter of confirming that relationship in its natural setting, the context of dynamic communion with the local Church. The mission of religious places them in a definite particular Church: their vocation to serve the universal Church, then, is exercised within the structures of the particular Church (cf. Address to Superiors General, November 24, 1978). This is an important point, for many errors of judgement can result when a sound ecclesiology gives way to a concept of the Church too marked by civil and political terms, or so “spiritualized” that the individual’s subjective choices become the criteria of behavior.
4. As Bishops you have a duty to safeguard and proclaim the values of religious life, in order that they may be faithfully preserved and passed on within the life of your diocesan communities. Poverty and self-possession, consecrated chastity and fruitfulness, obedience and freedom: these paradoxes proper to the consecrated life need to be better understood and more fully appreciated by the whole Church, and in particular by those who have a part in educating the faithful. The theology and spirituality of the consecrated life need to be a part of the training of diocesan priests, just as attention to the theology of the particular Church and to the spirituality of the diocesan clergy should be included in the formation of consecrated persons (cf. Vita Consecrata VC 50).
In your contacts with religious, you will point to the importance of their community witness and show your willingness to help in whatever way possible to ensure that communities have the spiritual and material means to live the common life serenely and joyfully (cf. Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Fraternal Life in Community, February 2, 1994). One of the most valuable services that a Bishop can provide is to ensure that good and experienced spiritual guides and confessors are available to religious, especially to monasteries of contemplative nuns and motherhouses with many members. Likewise, an Institute’s capacity to conduct a common or community apostolate is of vital concern to the life of a particular Church. It is not enough that all members of an Institute subscribe to the same general values, or work “according to the founding spirit”, with each one responsible for finding some place of apostolic activity and a residence. Obviously not every member of an Institute will be suited to work in only one apostolate, but the identity and nature of the common apostolate, and the willingness to engage in it, should be an essential part of an Institute’s discerning of the vocation of its candidates. Only when a Diocese can rely on a religious Institute’s commitment to a community apostolate can it engage seriously in long-range pastoral planning. Where Institutes are already engaged in community apostolates such as education and health care, they should be encouraged and helped to persevere. Sensitivity to new needs and to the new poor, however necessary and laudable, should not entail neglect of the old poor, those in need of genuine Catholic education, the sick and the elderly. You should also encourage religious to give explicit attention to the specifically Catholic dimension of their activities. Only on this basis will Catholic schools and centers of higher learning be able to promote a culture imbued with Catholic values and morality; only in this way will Catholic health-care facilities ensure that the sick and needy are taken care of “for the sake of Christ” and according to Catholic moral and ethical principles.
5. In many Dioceses consecrated life is facing the challenge of declining numbers and advancing age. The Bishops of the United States have already shown their readiness to lend assistance, and the Catholic faithful have demonstrated great generosity in providing financial support for religious Institutes with particular needs in this area. Religious communities themselves need to reaffirm their confidence in their calling and, relying on the help of the Holy Spirit, re-propose the ideal of consecration and mission. A presentation of the evangelical counsels merely in terms of their usefulness and convenience for a particular form of service is not enough. It is only personal experience, through faith, of Christ and of the mystery of his kingdom at work in human history which can make the ideal come alive in the minds and hearts of those who may be called. At the approach of the new Millennium, the Church urgently needs a vital and appealing religious life that shows forth concretely the sovereignty of God and bears witness before the world to the transcendent value of the “total gift of self in the profession of the evangelical counsels” (Vita Consecrata VC 16), a gift which overflows in contemplation and service. This is surely the kind of challenge to which young people will respond. If it is true that the person becomes himself or herself through the sincere gift of self (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 24), then there should be no hesitation in calling the young to consecration. It is in fact a call to full human and Christian maturity and fulfilment.
Perhaps the Great Jubilee might be an occasion for Institutes of consecrated life to set up and support new communities of their members who are seeking an authentic, stable and community centered experience according to the spirit of the Founders and Foundresses. In many cases this would permit religious to commit themselves more serenely to these goals, free from burdens and problems which ultimately cannot be resolved.
6. The two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of the Savior invites the whole Church to be absorbed with bringing Christ to the world. She must proclaim his victory over sin and death, a victory brought about in his Blood on the Cross, and every day made truly present in the Eucharist. We know that genuine hope for the future of the human family lies in presenting clearly to the world the incarnate Son of God as the exemplar of all human life. Religious in particular should be ready to make this proclamation in openness to the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit and with complete inner freedom from any residual fear of displeasing the “world”, understood as a culture which promises a liberation and salvation different from those of Christ. This is no vain triumphalism or presumption, for in every age Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Co 1,24). In our day, as throughout the history of the Church, consecrated women and men stand out as living icons of what it means to make the following of Jesus the whole purpose of one’s life and to be transformed by his grace. In fact, as the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata points out: religious “have set out on a journey of continual conversion, of exclusive dedication to the love of God and of [their] brothers and sisters, in order to bear ever more splendid witness to the grace which transfigures Christian life” (No. 109). Because Christ will never fail his Church, religious have “not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished!” (ibid., 110).
Dear Brother Bishops, through you I earnestly exhort the women and men religious who have borne the “burden of the day and the scorching heat” (Mt 20,12) to persevere in their faithful witness. There is a way of living the Cross with bitterness and sadness, but it breaks our spirit. There is also the way of carrying the Cross as Christ did, and then we perceive clearly that it leads "into glory" (cf. Lk Lc 24,26). Through you, I appeal to all consecrated persons, and to the men and women who may be thinking of entering a community, to renew each day their awareness of the extraordinary privilege that is theirs: the call to serve the holiness of God’s People, to “be holiness” in the heart of the Church.
With your leadership and guidance, the future of the consecrated life in your country will certainly be glorious and fruitful. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, since she belongs completely to God and is totally devoted to him, is the sublime example of perfect consecration, accompany the renewal and the new flourishing of the consecrated life in the United States. To you and to the priests, religious and laity of your Dioceses, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. “Give reason for the hope that is in you!”. With this motto, you inaugurated the 93rd celebration of the Deutschen Katholikentag in Mainz. From Rome, I greet those who have gathered to celebrate the Divine Office in Volkspark, Mainz, and also those who have taken part in this solemnity by means of radio and television. I convey a particular greeting to you, dear Bishop Lehmann; this meeting is taking place in your Diocese. You have combined your task as President of the German Bishops’ Conference with service to the Church throughout the world and worked with generous apostolic concern for the success of this Katholikentag. Through you, I also greet all the Bishops of Germany and of all the countries of the earth who have come to Mainz in these days.
2. Remembrance full of gratitude is an important source of hope. Mainz has an honoured place in the memory of the Church in Germany, since in the second century Christians laid the foundations in the mid-Rhine area for a shining history of which Mainz, an Episcopal city and Diocese, ought justly to be proud. Exceptional Pastors such as Boniface, Willigis and Rabanus Maurus governed this former Metropolis of Germany.
I myself have a special relationship with this Diocese. In fact, I cherish in my heart many personal memories of Mainz and of the Message of Bishop Ketteler whose tomb I visited when I was a student. The memory of my stay in this city, about 20 years ago, when I was welcomed by the then-Bishop, Cardinal Hermann Volk, to whom I was bound by close ties of friendship, is still particularly vivid.
3. The first pages of the Katholikentag were written here in Mainz 150 years ago. The first meeting of this kind was the result of an ecclesial renewal, which had strengthened the self-awareness of Catholics to the point of enabling them to take an active stand against the secular world and a frequently hostile State.
This year, various commemorations recall those burning issues: the national meeting which took place in St Paul’s Church, Frankfurt, in 1848 sustained German society’s quest for unity and freedom and its attempt to put human rights into effect and to resolve social problems. Catholics acquired a new consciousness of their own mission to intervene in social life so that they might become the salt of the earth and the light of the world (cf. Mt 5,13-16). Many gathered together in associations. That same year, when Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto appeared and Europe experienced a wave of revolutions, the Catholic faith also displayed new vitality. In 1848 the first Katholikentag in Mainz together with the sixth centenary of Cologne Cathedral were a visible and effective proof that Catholicism was increasingly gaining strength.
Mainz, 100 years later, was again the place in which the first Katholikentag of the post-war period was able to give to the many, who met there among the ruins, precious stones to build a social, economic and ecclesial future. The theme “Christ in the needs of the time” questioned your fellow citizens in the depths of their hearts and enabled them to find new courage and new hope to continue on their way. Several vocations to the priesthood and religious life sprang from that Katholikentag.
You have now once again gathered in Mainz to address the challenges Christians must face after almost two millenniums of history if they wish not only to preserve the heritage of the faith in the next millennium, but also to bear a forceful and lively witness for the next generations. I would like to remind you of the words of the Jesuit, Fr Ivo Zeiger, in his opening address for Katholikentag in 1948: “Germany has become a land of mission”. Millions of people no longer rely on God in their own lives; “they do not oppose him, but are merely indifferent to him”.
4. Fifty years lie between this analysis of the times and the jubilee of Katholikentag, whose motto, addressed to the “missionary Germany” of today, says: Account for the hope that is in you. It is taken from a prayer in St Peter’s First Letter which the Apostle expresses as follows: “in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1P 3,15).
Not only in the period of rebuilding, but also in our day, hope concerns goods which cannot be bought with money. In fact, what use is it to own many things if we do not know who we are or why we are living? Man’s thoughts and sentiments are determined by much anxiety, insecurity, fear and foreboding. Blind trust in progress gives way to disappointment. Social developments, which affect peoples' lives like the high unemployment rate, can result in hostility to foreigners and give rise to doubt in many hearts. Alarming questions arise: does the progress achieved by science and technology correspond to moral and spiritual progress? Is there an increase in neighbourly love and mutual respect? Or does selfishness prevail in the small and in the great world?
These are questions on which the Church must maintain a dialogue with all people of goodwill. The Katholikentag is a suitable forum for this dialogue. It is the laity in particular who are involved in this task. I thank the sponsors of the Katholikentag for their efforts. I especially ask the Central Committee of German Catholics and the Bishops, priests and laity to speak and act in unison in this important testimony and also to guarantee their deep union with the Successor of Peter and with the whole Church throughout the world, which has gathered so impressively in your home town. Account for the hope that is in you!
Since hope in many places is no longer a sturdy tree but often only a frail plant that can soon be crushed underfoot in the tumult of a feverish world, I ask you to present the Gospel of hope to your neighbours in the various walks of life, so that this plant may recover its strength or germinate and flower anew. I do not know anywhere which cannot become a biotype of hope with God’s help and through man’s concern. Indeed, there is always room for hope: in the family and in friendships, in urban neighbourhoods and villages, in schools and offices, in factories and hospitals. I remind you that the first form of witness is life, since “people today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories” (Redemptoris missio RMi 42).
5. If an increasing number of women and men were to witness faithfully to the Gospel, this would be a service to the whole of society which not only hungers and thirsts for justice, but also yearns for a hope that goes beyond the transient and the visible. In the contemporary social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between the “culture of life” and the “culture of death”, I urge you, as my allies, to help build a new culture of life also in your esteemed land (cf. Evangelium vitae EV 95). Only those who are aware of the inalienable dignity of each person and respect it absolutely can serve life in all its phases. Indeed, no one is a hopeless case.
6. Building a culture of life begins at home, in the Church. We must courageously and honestly ask ourselves what culture of life is promoted among us: among individual Christians, in families, groups, spiritual movements, parishes and Dioceses. Concrete decisions at personal, family and social levels must have as their parameters the priority of being over having, of the person over things and of solidarity over selfishness, which often requires the courage to start a new life-style.
This also has repercussions on a dialogue that is sincere, based on truth and love. When we speak of the Church as communio in relation to the Second Vatican Council, we must not be limited only to sacramental communion; we must commit ourselves to a communication worthy of those who are in the community of the Triune God.
7. I express special gratitude to the numerous women and the many men who, in the particular Churches of your country, have long since discovered and credibly live their dignity and task as lay people, multiplying the talents God has given them. They are Christ’s best letters (cf. 2Co 3,3) to a world yearning for a hope that is certain. The laity are called to devote themselves in particular to being witnesses in society and to “contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven” (Lumen gentium LG 31).
I urge Bishops, priests and deacons, religious and lay people, in mutual esteem, with kindness and the willingness to collaborate, to weave a net that unites everyone in that hope which is Jesus Christ. What a convincing and persuasive image the Church would portray were she to become increasingly a net of hope that could gather even those who have slipped through the meshes of the world.
8. During the Katholikentag many young people have contributed to weaving this net of hope. I extend a particularly affectionate greeting to them. With your presence you express your hope in Christ. I have faith in you and urge you: be the hope of the Church. May you give a young face to the Church in the third millennium!
The Church looks at you with sympathy and understanding. She expects a great deal of you. Not only does the Church have so much to say to you young people, but you too, dear young people, have so much to share with the Church (cf. Christifideles laici CL 46). I know that your hearts are open to friendship, fraternity and solidarity. You commit yourselves to the causes of justice and peace, to improving the quality of life and the preservation of the environment. However, you also have painful experiences such as disappointment, poverty, fear, and attempt to quench your interior, deeper thirst with superficial pleasures.
I give you a word of advice: listen inwardly to yourselves and hear what God wants to tell you through his words and the voice of your conscience. Share your experiences of hope. Since you are preparing to cross the threshold of the third millennium, examine in your heart what plan the Lord has for you and how you can achieve it with determination.
9. A short time separates us from that date. The stretch of the ecumenical path we have covered since the Second Vatican Council is not a short one. The steps that still await us require fervent prayer, a resolute will for change, diligent theological work and spiritual perseverance as well as suitable ecumenical initiatives. In this way we will later be able to face the Great Jubilee, if not completely united, at least with the certainty of being much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 34). The next Holy Year must spur us to bear a more tangible common witness to the central truth of our faith “so that the world may believe” (Jn 17,21).
10. Dear brothers and dear sisters, to describe better the testimony of the Church, the Fathers of the Church often use an effective image. Just as the moon receives the sun’s light by day and shines in the darkness of night, so the Church must receive and radiate Christ’s light in the darkness of the world. However, the moon can only draw the strength to shine if it continues to wax and wane in rhyme with the seasons, if from being full it plunges into darkness, to return once again to being full and bright.
In this image, while Jesus Christ is the sun, the Church interprets the role of the moon. Even she has not been spared, down the ages, the constant experience of having to “wane” in order to shine again. A part of her historical aspect must be purified by the Holy Spirit, so that she may radiate Christ’s light. Only the readiness to penetrate the darkness of history, although a part of her exterior aspect must die, will enable her, with God’s help, to overcome the darkness and shadows, the defeats and failures. I am thinking, in this regard, of the light of the paschal candle: its small, frail flame dispels the shadows. It overcomes the darkness.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rm 15,13). With this sincere wish which Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, addressed to the Romans, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you.
From the Vatican, 14 June 1998.
Your Eminence, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Members and Friends of ROACO,
1 . I extend a cordial welcome to you all on the occasion of the biannual assembly of ROACO. I first greet Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, whom I thank for his cordial words expressing your sentiments and, at the same time, for mentioning the many activities in which you are involved.
With him I greet the Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Archbishop Miroslav Stefan Marusyn, to whom I renew my cordial wishes for the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination. I also greet the Undersecretary, Mons. Claudio Gugerotti, and all the officials and staff of the dicastery, together with the members and friends of ROACO.
As I turn my gaze to the territories which are the object of your concern, I can only reiterate my hope for a just and peaceful solution to the tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea that have arisen in recent weeks. May the Lord enlighten the leaders of these two sister nations and all who are generously working to find a negotiated resolution of their respective demands.
2. We have just celebrated, to the great joy of the whole Church, the proclamation of two new blesseds linked to the Eastern Churches, who with love and courage gave witness of their complete fidelity to Christ and to the Catholic Church.
First there was the martyr Vincent Eugene Bossilkov, a Bishop and Passionist religious, beatified last 15 March. A fearless herald of the Cross of Christ, he was one of the many victims sacrificed by the atheistic communist regime in its determination to wipe out the Church in Bulgaria and elsewhere. Today he is held up to us and to the children of the Eastern Churches as an example and a shining figure, not only for his erudition, but especially for his constant ecumenical zeal and heroic dedication to defending the attachment of his flock to the See of Peter.
With the monk Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini of the Lebanese Maronite Order, raised to the honours of the altar last 10 May, I wished to remind everyone of the value of monastic life. As I said on that happy occasion, the new blessed is a sign of hope for all Christians in Lebanon, but he also invites that nation, which I had the joy of visiting one year ago, to continue to abound in witnesses and saints, presenting herself, through generous inculturation of the faith, as a land where justice, peace and harmony flourish. Bl. Hardini is a distinguished witness of monasticism understood as a model of baptismal life. I hope that he will be an encouragement for the young people of the Eastern Catholic Churches to recover their identity, to live fully the wealth of their traditions and with wisdom to draw the strength of the saving mystery from contemplation and the Divine Liturgy.
3. In Orientale lumen I wrote: “When God’s call is total, as it is in the monastic life, then the person can reach the highest point that sensitivity, culture and spirituality are able to express For the Eastern Churches ... monasticism was an essential experience and still today is seen to flourish in them, once persecution is over and hearts can be freely raised to heaven” (n. 9).
I hope that this exemplarity will serve as an effective reference point for all the seminarians, priests and religious who, also in Rome, are discerning their vocation and preparing for their ecclesial tasks, and to whom the Congregation for the Oriental Churches devotes so much of its energy.
One of the dicastery’s projects is the establishment of St Benedict College, where Arabic-speaking priests of different rites can find a suitable place for study and prayer and an appropriate introduction to new pastoral experiences. The rebuilding of the former Ukrainian Minor Seminary in Via Boccea, with the foundation of the Pontifical Ukrainian Institute of the Protection of Holy Mary, will soon make it possible to receive candidates for the priesthood who are completing their studies in the ecclesiastical disciplines. The structures being prepared for the theological formation and pastoral training of Eastern women religious who are sent to Rome for this purpose will help answer an urgent and now pressing need.
Dear friends of ROACO, I beg you to share with ever greater attention in this fundamental work of formation for those who will be the leaders of the Catholic communities in the East.
4. We are advancing towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and next year, 1999, will be dedicated to reflection on the heavenly Father. This will conclude the immediate preparation for the Jubilee celebration, which invites us to gather with renewed fidelity and profound conversion on the banks of the “river” of Revelation, Christianity and the Church, which flows through the history of humanity, starting 2,000 years ago with the events in Nazareth and then in Bethlehem. It is truly that “river” whose “streams”, in the words of the psalm, “make glad the city of God” (46 :5).
The Christian attitude to the Holy Land developed in a way similar to that of the history of liturgical prayer in the Church. Just as the liturgical year has slowly spread to various days what was once concentrated on Sunday, the weekly Easter, so the places where our Saviour lived and worked have become stages on a single spiritual journey, which helps us to walk in the footsteps of the God who became man and a victim of love for the world’s salvation.
Aid and support for the Holy Land do not only serve as a reminder of the times and places in which the Lord Jesus lived: above all they are meant to foster a spiritual attitude in the faithful which, in those who experience it with inner intensity, is expressed in a journey of faith towards that summit of every Christian experience which the Apostle to the Gentiles expressed in the words: “To me, to live is Christ”.
5. I know that through the responsibilities of every agency, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, together with the Custody of the Holy Land, is responsible for linking and co-ordinating the charity of all. To you I entrust the task of being present in the name of Christianity, of supporting ecclesial life and of meeting the sociocultural needs of those places dear to the hearts of all who believe in the incarnate Word of God. I repeat to you, and through you to the entire Church throughout the world, my invitation to maintain your high level of service in the land of our Saviour.
May the constant help of God and the motherly protection of the Virgin of Nazareth accompany you in your work. I am also close to you and cordially impart my Blessing to you, which I willingly extend to the works you represent here and to everyone to whom your activity is directed.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I am pleased to receive you here, Pastors of Christ’s Church in the Netherlands, during your ad limina visit to the Successor of Peter, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the Bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (Lumen gentium LG 23). It is also a time of grace for you in Rome. Thus it gives you an opportunity to experience more intense mutual relations. I ask the Lord to accompany you so that your meetings with my assistants, in the different dicasteries of the Roman Curia, and with one another, may be an occasion to deepen and reinforce the affectus collegialis. May they help you continue in your apostolic ministry in ever more trusting collaboration within your Bishops’ Conference, close to the President you have elected, and sustain you in your particular diocesan duties as you share in the “responsibility of the Bishops towards the universal Church and her mission, in affective and effective communion around Peter” (Final Address at the Eighth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 27 October 1990, n. 1; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 November 1990, p. 7).
You have come on pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the pillars of the Church, to renew your hope and apostolic dynamism so as to teach and proclaim the Good News more intensely to the People of God entrusted to your pastoral care. I ask the Holy Spirit to keep you steadfast in the faith so that, in this difficult period which the Church is going through in your country, you may zealously and confidently exercise your episcope and authority as a service to unity and communion. I thank Your President, Cardinal Adrianus Johannes Simonis, for his words which brought out some salient aspects of social and ecclesial life in the Netherlands.
2. In your quinquennial reports you informed me of your principal concerns about the priestly ministry, which is experiencing a deep identity crisis in your country. I know that your diocesan priests have a special place in your hearts, since “in order to care for a particular section of the Lord’s flock, [they] form one priestly body and one family of which the Bishop is the father” (Christus Dominus CD 28). First of all, I ask you to convey to the priests of your Dioceses my trustful affection and encouragement for the ministry they carefully provide. I appreciate their tire- less commitment and their efforts in frequently difficult situations. Despite their small numbers and their ever more exhausting tasks, they willingly bear the burdens of the day and devote them- selves heart and soul to the ministry Christ and his Church entrust to them.
In order constantly to discover and maintain the joy of mission, it is most important that the Lord’s ministers strengthen their spiritual life, particularly through daily prayer, which is “the remedy of salvation” (St Paulinus of Nola, Letters 34, 10), and through the intimate meeting with the Lord in the Eucharist, which is the focal point of the priest’s day (cf. General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 1). In the same way, regular reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, which re- establishes the sinner in grace and restores friendship with God, helps the priest in turn to bring forgiveness to his brothers and sisters. These are a source of indispensable nourishment for Christ’s disciples, and even more for those who are responsible for leading and sanctifying the Christian people. I would also like to insist on the need to celebrate worthily the Liturgy of the Hours, which helps to enrich the People of God with a mysterious apostolic fruitfulness (cf. General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 18), and on time for daily prayer: in this way the priest revives the gift of God within him, prepares for his mission, strengthens his priestly identity and builds up the Church. Indeed, it is before God that the priest becomes aware of the call he has received and renews his availability for the particular mission entrusted to him by the Bishop in the Lord’s name, thereby showing that he is available for the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives growth to every action (cf. 1Co 3,7).
Priests are called to be joyful witnesses to Christ through their teaching and the witness of an upright life corresponding to the commitment they made on the day of their ordination. They are your “sons and friends” (Christus Dominus CD 16 cf. Jn Jn 15,15). You must remain attentive to their spiritual and intellectual needs, reminding them that, although they live among men and take modern life into account, like all the faithful they must not model themselves on today’s world, but must conform their lives to the Word they proclaim and the sacraments they celebrate (cf. Rom Rm 12,2 Presbyterorum ordinis PO 3); thus they will express “the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 2). Encourage them to pray personally and to support one another in this regard. Also, invite them constantly to deepen their knowledge of theology, which is necessary to spiritual and pastoral life. In fact, how can they preach the Gospel and be “dispensers of a life other than that of this earth” (Presbyterorum ordinis PO 3), if they do not remain close to the heart of Christ like the Apostle he loved, and if they do not apply themselves through continuing formation to a true understanding of the faith?
3. I encourage priests to reinforce their priestly fraternity, especially among the different generations, first of all through common prayer which changes mutual relations and enables them to support one another in mission through dialogue, friendship and the sharing of pastoral tasks. This is an incomparable treasure for the priesthood. On your part, you are concerned to encourage the harmonious collaboration of all, which can only help to strengthen the Church’s dynamism. Everyone, priests and laity, should pay special attention to young priests by helping them with their first steps in the ministry, even when the way they view the priesthood does not correspond exactly to the way it was lived by their predecessors. The reality of the priesthood and the Church transcends specific pastoral methods or practices.
My thoughts also turn to the elderly priests. Together with them, I give thanks for all they have done with fidelity. Insofar as they can, may they be willing to serve in an assistant capacity, guiding with their fraternal advice and the wisdom of their experience younger priests who justifiably receive heavy ecclesial responsibilities! The service of Christ can in no way be compared to or finish under the same conditions as professional work.
4. I would also like to recall the important role of the priest in catechesis and in teaching the faith at every phase in the life of the faithful and in their discovery of the sacraments; he should organize a dynamic ministry for young people. Guiding children and young people on their way to the Lord is a very important mission which involves their future as adults and Christians. The local Christian community is built on the teachings of the faith. Therefore, it is important for priests who are especially suited to this essential aspect of the Church’s mission because of their theological and pastoral training to support catechists and work with them. It is your task to continue developing new and serious catechetical programmes, with great pedagogical concern and particular attention to your country’s specific culture, in order to offer priests and lay people the tools they need and the necessary handbooks for teaching that is faithful to the faith of the Church. To this end, the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides the doctrinal norms of reference. I therefore urge priests and laity to renew their commitment to this service for young people, in order to help them meet the person of Christ. They will discover what Christ accomplishes in children’s hearts, sowing in them that seed of eternal life which remains throughout their life. In this regard, in order to remain convinced of how essential their work is, educators should always remember what Cardinal John Henry Newman said about the impressions of his childhood, namely: “God’s presence is not discerned at the time when it is upon us, but afterwards, when we look back upon what is gone and over” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, IV, 17).
5. For the Church of the future, Bishops must always be particularly attentive to the formation of seminarians. To this end, you have considered it necessary to reorganize your seminaries. Some of you have made great efforts to create new diocesan seminaries. Continue to put great importance on the pastoral care of vocations, in which all the faithful should participate. How will young men discover Christ’s call if the Church does not transmit it through priests and lay people, and if she does not show what happiness there is in serving the Lord? Also, watch over the discernment of the candidates and their gradual human maturation: you are aware of the personal and family difficulties that young people have experienced in recent decades. It is therefore essential to guide them in their spiritual and ecclesial growth, so that they can commit themselves with interior freedom and the human balance required for the priestly ministry. Therefore, be attentive to the quality of their spiritual formation and programmes of intellectual formation — philosophical, theological and moral — so that future priests will be suited to preaching the Gospel in a world whose subjectivist tendencies and an exclusively scientific way of speaking frequently replace a sound anthropology and try to give meaning to life independently of faith in God. They will thus be able to give suitable answers to the questions debated in public opinion and the assertions which tend to confuse truth and sincerity. The wise norms given in the Ratio institutionis sacerdotalis are particularly useful for structuring priestly formation. In a society in which the Christian life and celibacy are often viewed as obstacles to a person’s development, it is useful to teach young people asceticism and self-control, sources of inner balance. Families may be uneasy about seeing their sons or daughters leave everything to follow Christ; it is therefore necessary to educate them “regarding the evangelical, spiritual and pastoral reasons proper to priestly celibacy, so that they will help priests with their friendship, under- standing and co-operation” (Pastores dabo vobis PDV 50). May the ecclesial community as a whole show the greatness and beauty of self-giving in celibacy that is freely chosen for love of the Lord as “a value that is profoundly connected with ordination” (ibid.), as your Bishops’ Conference had also recalled in a pastoral letter in 1992! This in no way detracts from lay life and marriage!
6. Although few in number in the majority of your Dioceses, the lay faithful active in pastoral life take on many commitments in co-operation with the Church’s Pastors, the Bishops, priests and deacons who, as ordained ministers, have the duty to instruct and govern God’s People in the name of Christ the Head (cf. Code of Canon Law CIC 1008). In rejoicing over their deep sensus Ecclesiae, I would like to acknowledge the work of the men and women who carry out important roles in various areas of ecclesial life, especially in liturgical services and the guidance of youth groups. Many of you have expressed to me your concern to develop the pastoral care of marriage and the family in order to resist ideologies that destroy this basic cell of society, and the subjectivist and extremely liberal trends in sexual matters which are continuing to increase. I gladly encourage Christians who take responsibility for preparing couples for marriage and supporting families in trouble, in full accord with the Church’s teaching. Offer all the faithful of your Dioceses my affectionate greetings and my encouragement to continue to take an active part in the Church’s one mission (cf. Christifideles laici CL 25). In this area the tasks, charisms, vocations and services are different and complementary. It is essential that the ecclesial communities recognize the role of priests, particularly their liturgical and sacramental functions, with respect for the norms in force.
Recognition of the specific nature of each vocation is a sign of Christian maturity and of the awareness that the faithful have their own vocation and specific tasks “that find their foundation in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and for many of them, in marriage” (ibid., n. 23). Indeed, it is impossible to think of lay activity as a substitute for the particular mission of ordained ministers. Thus, attention should be paid to the laity’s place in the Christian community and in human affairs. In this regard, it would be good to reflect on what the Second Vatican Council said in chapter IV of the Constitution Lumen gentium (nn. 30-38) on the laity’s role in the Church. Their union with Christ in the ecclesial body obliges them to carry out their own specific activities for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the growth of God’s People, particularly by taking an active part in the life of the Christian community and of the city, and by fulfilling their own mission of giving a Christian inspiration to temporal matters (cf. ibid., n. 31; Apostolicam actuositatem AA 7). From this perspective, it is the duty of Pastors to give them a proper formation for fulfilling their tasks.
7. Do not be afraid to remind the laity that their service depends on a serious spiritual life. You have stressed the growing interest of the faithful in making a retreat in monasteries and in receiving spiritual direction. You also note with joy the increase in the number of adult Baptisms and Confirmations. Invite the Christian people to draw constantly from the sources of life through participation in the Sunday Eucharist, which is nourishment for their journey and where Christ is truly present through his Body and Blood (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 1375); presided over by the priest as “a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, the Head and Shepherd” (Pastores dabo vobis PDV 15), Holy Mass builds up the Christian community. In this regard, the Christian people must have an abiding awareness of the importance of the parish as a centre of local ecclesial life. Also invite the faithful to receive the sacrament of Penance more regularly: it enables them to discover the gift of God and to be merciful towards our brothers and sisters. Confession “helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 1458).
8. In your quinquennial reports, you have told me of your deep concern for the future of Catholic education, whose mission includes the human, moral and spiritual formation of young people. This represents its truly Catholic character. It is important to do all you can so that the Church, strong in her traditions and experience, can pursue her specific educational goals. It is the task of the lawful authorities, in sincere dialogue with Church leaders, to offer parents the possibility of freely exercising their educational responsibilities by choosing the schools that in their judgement correspond to their values, which they naturally want to pass on to their children. I would also like to underscore the eminent role of Catholic universities in the intellectual, scientific and technical fields. Whatever their subject, teachers must strive to communicate Catholic anthropological and moral values to their students; in these institutes, theologians have the exalted task of explaining the depth of the divine mysteries by faithfully teaching Christian dogma and morals based on Revelation and the Magisterium, and through dialogue with the other university disciplines (cf. Dei Verbum DV 10 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, Donum veritatis CDF 24 May CDF 1990). It is up to them in particular to recall, in season and out of season, the basic principles of respect for human life. Total fidelity to the Magisterium is therefore required of them, “for they teach in the name of the Church” (Pastores dabo vobis PDV 67). Therefore, theological teaching can- not be limited to mere personal reflection; it is at the service of the truth and of communion. A theologian whose teaching is not in harmony with the Magisterium can only bring harm to the university, lead the faithful astray and wound the Church.
9. You have told me of your worries about the future of religious life in your country because of the lack of vocations and the ageing of the various institutes’ members. I first of all entrust you with the task of telling religious that the Church still counts on them today with hope and trust, and invites them to tirelessly pass on the Lord’s call, to live the evangelical counsels with courage and fidelity and not to hastily abandon the essential areas of pastoral life, especially education, where they can impart to young people human and Christian values, but also the field of health care and assistance to the elderly and the poor. May those responsible for religious institutes, in consultation with the Bishops, continue to take an active part in pastoral life! Also convey my warm greetings to the institutes of contemplative life. They have an essential function, since they “are for the Church a reason for pride and a source of heavenly graces”; “they offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the Church’s love for her Lord” and they contribute to the growth of the People of God (Vita consecrata VC 8). Their houses and spiritual retreats are valuable for Pastors and faithful, who can thus find in solitude and silence a time of rest and inner refreshment with the Lord, in order to carry out their mission with renewed strength. In a period of fewer vocations, it is important for the whole Church to have an ever greater awareness of the value of consecrated life.
10. In this year dedicated to the Holy Spirit, in which we are all invited to prepare for the Great Jubilee, the Church ceaselessly renews her prayer to the One whom the Lord promised and gave to his Apostles to guide and build up the Mystical Body of Christ. If we remain faithful to the mission we have received, we can be convinced that God will never abandon his People and will give them his grace and the means to ensure his mission in the world. With faith in God’s loving care, I entrust you to the intercession of the saints of your land and that of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church, to whom we must continuously turn as our protectress and our guide. I whole- heartedly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, to the priests, deacons, seminarians and religious, as well as to the lay people of your Dioceses.
Speeches 1998 - 13 June 1998