Speeches 1998 - Thursday, 18 June 1998
Mr Federal President,
Mr Federal Chancellor,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
1. It is a special joy and honour for me to meet you today, Mr Federal President, together with the members of the Federal Government and representatives of the political and public life of the Republic of Austria. Our meeting once again underscores the good partnership that has long existed between Austria and the Holy See.
At the same time we can visibly experience that this harmonious and fruitful relationship is integrated into the broad network of diplomatic relations, which links Austria with States throughout the world. I thank the diplomatic representatives present here for the honour they pay me by their attendance and for their commitment to the “art of peace”.
This historic site is a very appropriate place, first, for broadening our vision beyond the borders of this country towards the Europe which is growing in unity and towards its integration into the family of nations on all continents, and then for looking into the interior of Austria itself.
2. My first Pastoral Visit to Austria, in 1983, began with Vespers dedicated to Europe and celebrated under the sign of the Cross. At the time Cardinal Franz König said to the assembly: “In our small country on the dividing line between two worlds ... one can, one must speak of Europe!”.
Six years later, as the Wall began to crumble and the Iron Curtain fell, the dividing line between the two worlds seemed a thing of the past. Since then, however, much of the euphoria has vanished and many hopes have been dashed. It is not enough for man to fill his hands with material goods alone, if his heart thus remains empty and finds no meaning. Even if he is not always aware of it and often prefers short-lived, superficial pleasures to lasting, inner joy, eventually he must realize: man does not live on bread and play alone.
3. Actually, the dividing line between the two worlds has disappeared neither from economic affairs nor from human hearts. Even in a socially well-ordered and economically prosperous country such as Austria, a feeling of being lost and anxiety over the future are spreading.
Does it not seem that dangerous rifts have appeared in the well-established structure of co-operation between social groups, which has contributed substantially to the country’s well-being and to the welfare of its citizens?
Are not Euroscepticism and frustration spreading, only a few years since Austrians voted to join the European Union?
4. After many decades, Austria has gone from being a borderland to a bridge-land in European geography. In a few days it will be Austria’s turn to preside over the Council of the European Union. Vienna, often the focal point of European history in the past, will now be the centre of many hopes for those countries which are now beginning negotiations to join the European Union. I hope that steps can be taken to bring the East and West of this continent closer together: the two lungs Europe needs in order to breathe.
The diversity of Eastern and Western traditions will enrich European culture and will serve, through preservation and mutual exchange, as the basis of the longed-for spiritual renewal. Therefore, one should speak not so much of an “expansion to the East” as of a “Europeanisation” of the entire continent.
5. Let me expand a little on this idea. At the start of my Pontificate I appealed to the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square in Rome: “Open the doors to Christ!” (Homily, 22 October 1978). Today in this city of such historical, cultural and religious significance, I once again repeat my invitation to the old continent: “Europe, open your doors to Christ!”.
I am not saying this out of boldness or reverie, but out of hope and realism, because European culture and art, the past and the present were and still are so greatly moulded by Christianity that there cannot be a totally dechristianized or really atheistic Europe.
This is evidenced not only by the churches and monasteries in many European countries, the roadside chapels and crosses throughout Europe, the Christian prayers and hymns in every European language. Countless living witnesses speak even more vividly: searching, inquiring, believing, hoping and loving men and women; saints of the past and present.
6. Nor can we forget that European history is closely linked with the history of that people from whom the Lord Jesus came. Unspeakable suffering was inflicted on the Jewish people in Europe and we cannot say that all the roots of these injustices have been removed. Reconciliation with the Jews is thus one of the fundamental duties for Christians in Europe.
7. The builders of Europe face a further task: creating an all-European area of freedom, justice and peace out of a Western European island of prosperity. The wealthier countries will have to make material sacrifices so that the inhuman disparity in affluence within Europe will be gradually eliminated. Spiritual help is needed to hasten the further building and strengthening of democratic structures and to foster a political culture in accordance with the requirements of a State ruled by law. For these efforts the Church offers her social teaching as a guide, centred on care and responsibility for man, who has been entrusted to her by Christ: “We are not dealing here with man in the ‘abstract’, but with the real, ‘concrete’, ‘historical’ man”, whom the Church cannot abandon (Centesimus annus CA 53).
8. Here we see the whole world, which seems to be developing more and more into a “global village”. Today those who are involved in large-scale economic processes speak of globalization. If the world’s regions are moving closer together economically, this must not involve a globalisation of poverty and misery, but priority must be given to a globalisation in solidarity.
I am convinced that Austria will play a part in the globalisation process not only for political and economic reasons, but also because of the ties that bind this people to other nations, as shown by her exemplary commitment to her needy brothers and sisters in South-Eastern Europe and her constant aid to developing countries. I also wish to recall Austria’s willingness to open her doors to people from other countries where they have been deprived of their religious freedom, their freedom of opinion and or respect for their human dignity. My compatriots also have many things to thank you for in the past. Remain faithful to the good traditions of this country! Maintain your willingness to welcome the foreigners who must leave their homeland.
9. With this wish I would like to address an issue that is becoming ever more urgent. Not only you, who live in this country and are responsible for it, must deal with a problem that weighs increasingly on the hearts of individuals, but so must entire families and social classes. I am referring to the growing exclusion of many, especially young and middle-aged people, from the right to work.
Conditioned by economic competition, the labour market is not improving, despite positive results. Therefore, I feel duty-bound to raise my voice on be- half of the weak: the subject of work is man as a person! Even in the modern working world there must be a place for the weak and the less gifted, for the elderly and the disabled, and for the many young people who have no access to adequate training. Even an era of sophisticated technology cannot forget man! In evaluating human work, one’s effort and commitment, loyalty and reliability must also be considered besides the objective result.
10. This brings me to a final topic which is very close to my heart. One of the fundamental concerns of my Pontificate is building a “culture of life” to counteract an expanding “culture of death”. For this reason I will never tire of pleading for the unconditional protection of human life from the moment of its conception until natural death. Allowing abortion during the first three months, as is the case in Austria, re- mains a bleeding wound in my heart.
Then there is the problem of euthanasia: death too is part of life. Every person has the right to die with dignity, when God wills it.Whoever thinks of depriving a person of this right is, in the end, depriving him of life. The value of every person is so great that it cannot be measured in terms of money. There- fore it must never be sacrificed either to unlimited private autonomy or to any constraints of a social or economic nature. Many of our older contemporaries recall, and not just from history books, the dark chapters that the 20th century has written, including in this country. If the law of God is disregarded, who can guarantee that at some time a human power will not again claim for itself the right to determine the value or non-value of some phase of human life?
Mr Federal President,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
11. Loyalty to your homeland and openness to Europe, beholden to the past and ready for the future — these were the main points of the reflection I wanted to present to you today.
From all the pride with which I gratefully look upon the rich treasure of Christianity, I ask you to consider this patrimony as something that the living Church would like to offer at the end of the second Christian millennium. No one wants to consider the universalisation of this patrimony as a victory or a confirmation of superiority. The profession of certain values only means the effort to work together in building a true universal human community: a community that no longer knows dividing lines between different worlds.
It will also depend on us Christians whether in its temporal endeavours Europe will turn in on itself and its own selfishness, thereby renouncing its vocation and historical role, or will find its soul again in the culture of life, love and hope.
Austria must serve as a bridge in the heart of Europe!
Neither my address on man nor this assessment is abstract, but very concrete: I wish you all great courage in building this bridge!
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I am grateful that this meeting gives us an opportunity to reflect in fraternal communion on the responsibility we bear on our shoulders as Successors of the Apostles. I cordially greet you all, as a college and as individuals. I make St Peter’s words my own: “By God’s power [you] are guarded through faith In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials” (1P 1,5-6).
2. You have been tested in various ways. Even if this is not the time to at- tempt an overall evaluation, I would like nonetheless to admit that in this entire period I have kept you particularly present in my prayers. As a travelling companion in difficult times, my heart beats constantly in Rome for those who have been entrusted with the pastoral care of this beloved country. As I pray before the Blessed Sacrament, I have often commended you to the Lord, together with your priests, deacons and co-workers in the care of souls, as well as the men and women entrusted to you, young and old, believers, sceptics and the discouraged. My presence among you today gives me the opportunity to visibly demonstrate this continuous closeness in spirit. Thus you will be better able to feel the full affection with which I support you. In fact, I “work with you for your joy” (2Co 1,24).
On our personal journey, as on the road which the Church takes through history, there are stretches where it is difficult to bear witness to joy. There are times when the tangle of thorny problems makes it particularly difficult for us to exercise our ministry, also be- cause it is subject to misinterpretations and misunderstandings. However painful these experiences may be, we have the common duty to “preach good news” (Rm 10,15) to the Church and to the world, and to all those expecting great things from the third millennium now close at hand. When the Episcopal ministry weighs heavily on our shoulders as a burden rather than a dignity, it is advisable to turn our hearts and minds back to the beginning, gratefully recalling it to revive the grace which was transmitted to us by the laying on of hands. “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2Tm 1,6-7).
3. Thinking back to the day when hands were laid upon us to ordain us first priests and then Bishops, we relive the eloquent dialogue in which, before being ordained, we gave our Adsum before the Bishop: I am ready and willing. In this dialogue it was not we who were the first to speak. Our part was to give a generous reply: I am ready to put myself at the Lord’s service with my gifts and abilities, with my hopes and efforts, with my lights and shadows. We kept all this in mind when we joyously said that Adsum.
This word of willingness, unequivocally expressed in public by each of us, took on new meaning for me when, as a young Bishop during the Second Vatican Council, I had the opportunity to repeat it with the other members of that ecumenical assembly: Adsumus, Domine, Sancte Spiritus! Here we are Lord, Holy Sprit! All the Council’s sessions began with these words. In this prayer I experienced and understood that the personal Adsum was part of the community’s Adsumus. Just as the Lord Jesus, after calling his Apostles by their own names, also constituted them as the “Twelve” (cf. Mk Mc 3,13-19), the Lord’s call and the generous response of each one represent the basis of our personal dedication to forming a steadfast community, sealed by the laying on of hands and by prayer. This community is created by the Lord’s call and the mission to carry out a shared task. In fact, since the Church’s origins, the pastoral ministry has not been conferred only on individuals taken separately, but on each one considered as part of a whole, of a college. Therefore we can rightly say Adsumus. We are ready. One Bishop alone cannot achieve Christ’s plan. The Bishops united with one another and with Christ in their midst constitute the full subject of pastoral ministry in the Church, according to the Founder’s plan.
4. The close link between the Adsum and the Adsumus invites us to reflect on the practical ways to express communion in our day. Just as each community must make room for the individual’s development, so within the Adsumus even the distinctive Adsum has its own right and place. Deep respect for the vocation and mission proper to each is also necessary in the community. In the area of what is common to all, the individual Bishop must have the opportunity to express himself and to exercise his proper pastoral responsibility. Apart from the differences in abilities and personal qualities of individual Bishops, they are invested with their own authority and are rightly said to be prelates of the people they govern (cf. Lumen gentium LG 27). This authority, exercised personally in the name of Christ, is not, however, aimed at domination, but takes its example from the Good Shepherd who came not to be served, but to serve (cf. Mt Mt 20,28). The words of St Peter are addressed to each Bishop: “Not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock” (cf. 1P 5,3).
The Adsumus, which leaves fitting room for the Adsum of the individual, must also be expressed in the common effort of all to stay united. Otherwise the one Magisterium of Christ would disintegrate into a variety of individual voices. Harmony would be replaced by noisy confusion. This is not appropriate for those who find themselves in the long line of apostolic succession, whose origins date back to the Lord of the Church herself. A close union with Christ means mutual responsibility. Therefore, Episcopal work includes support for one another in the pastoral ministry, in fraternal interchange, in public life and, not last, in prayer for one another. It is good for each to know that he is not alone. A valuable help to this end is the Bishops’ Conference, which, as the Second Vatican Council desired, should foster “a holy joining of forces for the common good of the Church” (Christus Dominus CD 37) through an exchange of information, experiences and mutual consultation. As Pastors of the flocks entrusted to you, you stand together before God, linked to one another in collegial communion to which each makes his distinctive contribution. A beautiful sign that in your respective Dioceses you are jointly leading the pilgrim People of God in Austria would be for you to devote a few days together to spiritual exercises as a Bishops’ Conference.
5. The Adsumus at the Council was not only a prayer, but also a programme. When the Bishops gathered as a community in prayer at the Council, they also became a community in dialogue under the protection and assistance of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore not surprising that the relationship of the Triune God with man should be de- scribed as a dialogue (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 19 Dei Verbum DV 8, 12, DV 25). In the light of the mystery of salvation, the Church’s mission is fulfilled in the form of dialogue. In Christ, the one Mediator between God and man, the Church, his Mystical Body, finds her place as a universal sacrament of salvation for the world (Lumen gentium LG 1, 9, 48, 59; Gaudium et spes GS 42,45 Ad gentes AGD 15 Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 5,26).
It is therefore the Church’s task to carry on a “dialogue of salvation” internally and externally, so that all may see in her “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ep 3,8). I have been committed to this dialogue from the very beginning of my Pontificate, seeking to contribute to it during the almost 20 years of my ministry (cf. Redemptor hominis RH 4). In this regard, I am pleased to recall my Predecessor of venerable memory, Pope Paul VI, who devoted his first Encyclical Ecclesiam suam to the theme of sincere dialogue, at the same time establishing competent and effective organs for this dialogue. In these years I have sought to use these organs to further dialogue, especially in those areas which have experienced the greatest difficulties (cf. most recently the Encyclical Ut unum sint UUS 28-29).
With deep appreciation, I look at the numerous structures that in many areas give concrete form to the Church’s dialogue, both internally and externally, and make it so fruitful. You too, dear Brothers, at the level of your Bishops’ Conference, have taken up an initiative which aims to stimulate and deepen dialogue. With the Dialog für Österreich you intend to foster joint discussion between the local Churches you head, the orders, religious communities, movements and groups. With this aim, you have widened the circle of possible partners in dialogue and have turned to the parish councils and “apostolic groups”, to public bodies and associations, as well as to individuals and communities (cf. Grundtext zum “Dialog für Österreich”, p. 3).
6. With this dialogue initiative, from which you want no one to be excluded, not only do you intend to encourage a very civilized way of relating today or a neutral method for bringing people together. Dialogue can take a wide range of forms. There are friendly exchanges of ideas, objective considerations, scientific discussions or processes for building social consensus. Although in recent decades the term “dialogue” has suffered certain misunderstandings and distortions, it must not be discredited. Dialogue conducted by the Church and invited by her is never an innocuous form of openness to the world nor a sort of superficial adaptation. It is meant, instead, as a way of speaking and acting supported by God’s action and marked by faith in the Church. In this sense the Dialog für Österreich must become a “dialogue of salvation”. It would be too shallow were it to take place at an exclusively horizontal level, limited to an exchange of viewpoints in the sense of a stimulating conversation. Instead it should be open to a vertical dimension which leads it towards the Saviour of the world and the Lord of history, who reconciles us with God and with one another (cf. Encyclical Ut unum sint UUS 35).
7. This sort of dialogue is a challenge for all those taking part in it, a real form of spiritual experiment. It is a question of listening to the other and of opening oneself in personal witness, but also of learning to risk, leaving the outcome of the dialogue to God. Dialogue, as opposed to superficial conversation, aims at the shared discovery and recognition of the truth. How often, Pastors, have you tried and are still trying to lead the priests and lay people entrusted to your care to the truth through a patient and loving dialogue! You know from experience that a successfully concluded dialogue can put an end to a problem or a controversy previously unresolved. At the same time, however, you sometimes experience the painful failure of your efforts: instead of leading to truth and understanding, the dialogue does not go beyond an unsubstantial conversation which, in the end, is uninterested in the truth.
This idea does not correspond to the dialogue of salvation, which for everyone who takes part always stands under the Word of God. It therefore presupposes a minimum of shared communication and basic unity. It is the living faith transmitted by the universal Church which represents the basis of dialogue for all the parties. Anyone who abandons this common basis denies every dialogue in the Church the pre-requisite for becoming a dialogue of salvation. It is therefore important to know whether a particular disagreement might possibly be traced to fundamental differences. Should this be the case, such differences must first be resolved. Otherwise the dialogue risks being reduced to vagueness or evaporating into marginal hair-splitting. In any case, no one can sincerely take a role in a dialogue process if he is not ready to open himself to the truth and to grow increasingly in it.
Openness to the truth means willingness to change. Indeed, dialogue will lead to the truth only when, in addition to the necessary understanding of the issue, it takes place with sincerity and honesty, with willingness to hear the truth and to correct oneself. Without readiness to be converted to the truth, every dialogue atrophies. A dubious compromise would be a mockery. It must therefore be guaranteed that the parties’ agreement is not merely feigned or reached by deception, but stems from the heart. In this context, Pastors, your task is the discernment by which you become “fellow workers in the truth” (3Jn 8).
8. The dialogue of salvation is a spiritual undertaking. It deepens the insight into the richness of the ecclesial community and the mystery of faith. For those who are seriously involved in it, it creates a place for communication in the truth. Those taking part experience it as an “exchange of gifts” (Lumen gentium LG 13). If dialogue takes place convincingly in a community, it has an external effect. Dialogue is thus a useful pastoral tool for evangelization. In fact, an authentic dialogue has a radiating force. Obviously, it must be undertaken with honesty. However open one wants to be, the profession of ecclesial faith must remain uncompromising. Interlocutors with clear contours have the best chance to make themselves understood and to meet with sincere respect, even if dialogue on a specific point can be difficult and tiring, and the opposite party is not initially willing to accept the viewpoint presented.
9. It is nevertheless clear that in encouraging dialogue I do not simply mean that we should talk more. Today a lot is said, but this does not necessarily facilitate mutual understanding. Un- fortunately, dialogue can also fail. I would therefore like to point out two dangers in particular which are certainly not unknown to you.
The first danger is the demand for power. This is the case when the parties in dialogue are not guided by the intention to understand, but claim the whole realm of dialogue for themselves alone. With this approach, soon there is no open exchange. Enriching diversity becomes aggressive opposition seeking a stage to present its own monologue. A cold wall is erected between the interlocutors, separating worlds closed in on themselves. Demands, threats and dictates replace sincere common searching. This clashes with the meaning of the dialogue of salvation, which requires the believer’s readiness to respond to anyone who asks him to account for his hope, remembering what the Apostle Peter advised, that it be done with gentleness and reverence (cf. 1 Pt 3:15f.).
Another danger is the interference of public opinion while the dialogue is in progress. The Church in our time is striving more and more to become a “glass house”, transparent and credible. And that is to be welcomed. But since every house has special rooms which from the outset are not open to all the guests, so the Church’s family dialogue can and should have rooms for conversation behind closed doors. This has nothing to do with secrecy, but with mutual respect to the advantage of the question being examined. In fact, the success of the dialogue is jeopardized if it takes place before a public insufficiently qualified or prepared, and with the use of the not always impartial mass media. Rash or inappropriate attention from the public can seriously interfere with a dialogue process which is promising in itself.
In view of these dangers, it will be your concern to continue your dialogues of salvation with sensitivity and deep respect. The Church in Austria must be more and more “a sign of brotherhood which allows and strengthens sincere dialogue. Above all, such a mission requires the Church herself to foster respect, mutual esteem and harmony, acknowledging all legitimate diversity. In this way, all who constitute the one People of God will be able to engage in ever more fruitful dialogue, whether they are pastors or other members of the faithful. For the ties which unite the faithful together are stronger than those which separate them: let there be unity in what is necessary, freedom in what is doubtful, and charity in everything (Gaudium et spes GS 92).
10. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, after opening my heart to you today and confiding to you my thoughts and concerns about the Church in your beloved country, I would like to conclude by urging you: create space within you for the Holy Spirit! Let us imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose life was a dialogue of salvation. In the Holy Spirit she conceived the Word so that he could become flesh. Let us learn from her who stood calmly and silently beneath the Cross until the end, when he gave up his Spirit for us men. Let us turn our gaze to her who was praying with the Apostles when they implored the Holy Spirit to come down upon the newborn Church. The Virgin Mary is not only the one who intercedes for us; she is also our model of life in the Holy Spirit. We can learn from her how to work together for the world’s salvation. Thus we will become co-workers in joy and truth. Just as the Virgin Mary called herself the “handmaid of the Lord” (Lc 1,38), we too are humble “ministers of Christ” and faithful “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1Co 4,1).
From my heart I ask you: do not give up the dialogue! In the future as well, I will be close to you in prayer. May they all be one, so that Austria may believe! With this wish I cordially give you my Apostolic Blessing.
To my beloved brothers and sisters
of the Rennweg Hospice
of Caritas Socialis
and to all who live and work
in the world of pain and suffering
1. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53,4), I greet you with great affection. My Pastoral Visit to Austria would have missed an important stop if I did not have the opportunity of meeting you, the sick and the suffering. In addressing this Message to you, I take the opportunity to express to all who work full- or part-time in hospitals, clinics, homes for the elderly and hospices my deep appreciation of their devotion to this self-sacrificing service. May my presence and my words support them in their commitment and their witness. Today, when I have the opportunity to visit the Caritas Socialis Hospice, I would like to confirm that the meeting with human pain contains good news. In fact, the “Gospel of suffering” (Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, n. 25), is not only written in Sacred Scripture, but in places like this it is rewritten day after day.
2. We are living in a society which seeks to remove pain, suffering, illness and death from personal and public awareness. But at the same time, the subject is being increasingly discussed in the press, on television and at conferences. The avoidance of death is also evident in the fact that many sick people die in hospitals or other structures, that is, outside their customary surroundings. Actually, most people would like to close their eyes to this world in their own home, among their relatives and trusted friends, but a great many families feel neither psychologically nor physically able to satisfy this desire. In addition, there are many people living alone who have no one to be close to them at the end of their life. Even if they die in a home, their heart is “homeless”.
To meet this need in past years, various ecclesial, municipal and private initiatives were undertaken to improve home, hospital and medical care, as well as to provide better pastoral care for the dying and competent help for their relatives. One of these important initiatives is the hospice movement, which has done exemplary work at the Caritas Socialis home in Rennweg. In it the sisters are inspired by the concern of their foundress, Hildegard Burjan, who wanted to be present at the focal points of human suffering as the “charismatic messenger of social love”.
No one who visits this hospice goes home disappointed. On the contrary, the visit is more than a tour. It becomes an encounter. By their mere presence, the sick, suffering and terminally ill patients invite the visitor who meets them not to hide the reality of suffering and death from himself. He is encouraged to be aware of the limits of his own life and to face them openly. The hospice makes one understand that dying means living before death, because even the last phase of earthly life can be lived consciously and organized individually. Far from being a “home for the dying”, this place becomes a threshold of hope which leads beyond suffering and death.
3. Most sick people, after learning the results of the medical tests and the diagnosis of a terminal illness, live in fear of the progress of their disease. In addition to the suffering of the moment comes the fear of further deterioration and the feeling that their lives are meaningless. They are afraid of facing a path possibly marked by suffering. An anguish-filled future casts a shadow over the still bearable present. Perhaps those who have had a long and fulfilled life can wait for death with a certain tranquillity and accept their dying “full of years” (Gn 25,8). But for the majority death comes too soon. Many of our contemporaries, even the very elderly, hope for a quick, painless death; others ask for a little more time to take their leave. But fears, questions, doubts and desires are always present in this last phase of life. Even Christians are not spared the fear of death, which is the last enemy, as Sacred Scripture says (cf. 1Co 15,26 Ap 20,14).
4. The end of life raises profound questions for man: What will death be like? Will I be alone or surrounded by my loved ones? What awaits me after death? Will I be welcomed by God’s mercy?
To face these questions with gentleness and sensitivity — this is the task of those who work in hospitals and hospices. It is important to speak of suffering and death in a way that dispels fear. Indeed, dying is also part of life. In our time there is an urgent need for people who can revive this awareness. While in the Middle Ages “the art of dying” was known, today even Christians hesitate to talk to each other about death and to prepare for it. They prefer to be immersed in the present, seeking to distract themselves with work, professional recognition and amusement. Despite or perhaps because of today’s consumer-, achievement- and experience-oriented society, there is an increasing thirst for transcendence among our contemporaries. Even if concrete concepts of life after death seem very vague, fewer and fewer believe that everything ends with death.
5. Death conceals even from the Christian the direct vision of what is to come, but the believer can trust in the Lord’s promise: “Because I live, you will live also” (Jn 14,19). Jesus’ words and the testimony of the Apostles reflect the new world of the resurrection for us in evocative language that expresses the hope: “We shall always be with the Lord” (1Th 4,17). To make the acceptance of this message easier for the critically ill and dying, it is necessary that all who approach them show by their own conduct that they take the words of the Gospel seriously. Therefore care and concern for people close to death is one of the most important signs of ecclesial credibility. Those who in the last phase of life feel supported by sincere Christians can more easily trust that Christ truly awaits them in the new life after death. Thus the pain and suffering of the present can be illumined by the joyful message: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love!” (1Co 13,13). And love is stronger than death (cf. Song Ct 8,6).
6. Just as the knowledge of being loved lessens the fear of suffering, so respect for the sick person’s dignity helps him in this critical and difficult phase of life to discover something that fosters his human and Christian maturation. In the past, man knew that suffering was part of life and accepted it. Today he strives instead to avoid suffering in every way, as is shown by the wide range of pain-killing medicines for sale. Without detracting from their usefulness in many cases, it must still be pointed out that the overhasty elimination of suffering can prevent a person from facing it and acquiring greater human maturity through it. However, in this growth process, he needs competent people who can really accompany him. Giving practical help to another requires respect for his particular suffering and recognition of the dignity he still has despite the decline that suffering brings with it.
7. Hospice work arose from this conviction. Its goal is to respect the dignity of the elderly, sick and dying by helping them understand their own suffering as a process of growth and fulfilment in their life. Thus what I expressed as the leitmotiv of the Encyclical Redemptor hominis, that man is the way of the Church (cf. n. 14), is put into practice in the hospice. Its focus is not sophisticated, high-technology medicine, but man in his inalienable dignity.
Willingness to accept the limits imposed by birth and death, learning to say “yes” to the basic passivity of our life, does not lead to alienation. It is rather the acceptance of one’s own humanity in its full truth with the riches that belong to every phase of earthly life. Even in the frailty of the last hour, human life is never “meaningless” or “useless”. A fundamental lesson for our society, tempted by modern myths such as the zest for life, achievement and consumerism, can be learned precisely from patients who are seriously ill and dying. They remind us that no one can determine the value or the non-value of another person’s life, not even his own. As a gift of God, life is a good for which he alone can make the decisions.
8. From this standpoint, the decision actively to kill a human being is always an arbitrary act, even when it is meant as an expression of solidarity and com- passion. The sick person expects his neighbour to help him live his life to the very last and to end it, when God wills, with dignity. Both the artificial extension of human life and the hastening of death, although they stem from different principles, conceal the same assumption: the conviction that life and death are realities entrusted to human beings to be disposed of at will. This false vision must be overcome. It must be made clear again that life is a gift to be responsibly led in God’s sight. Hence the commitment to the human and Christian support of the dying which the hospice attempts to put into practice. From their different standpoints, doctors, nurses, pastors, sisters, relatives and friends strive to enable the sick and the dying personally to organize the last phase of their life, as far as their physical and psychological strength allows. This commitment has great human and Christian value. It aims to reveal God as One who “loves the living” (Sg 11,26) and to perceive, beyond pain and death, the glad tidings: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10,10).
9. We discover the face of God, who is a friend of life and of man, above all in Jesus of Nazareth. One of the most vivid illustrations of this Gospel is the parable of the Good Samaritan. The injured man lying by the wayside arouses the compassion of the Samaritan, who “came to where he was ... and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Lk 10:33ff.). In the Good Samaritan’s inn lies one of the roots of the Christian hospice idea. Precisely along the medieval pilgrim routes, hospices used to offer travellers refreshment and rest. For the weary and the exhausted, they offered first aid and relief, for the ill and the dying they became places of physical and spiritual assistance.
Down to our day, hospice work has been committed to this legacy. Just as the Good Samaritan stopped beside the suffering man, so those who accompany the dying are advised to pause, to be sensitive to the patients’ wishes, needs and concerns. Many spiritual actions can spring from this sensitivity, such as listening to the word of God and praying together, and human ones, such as conversation, a silent but affectionate presence, the countless services which make the warmth of love tangible. Just as the Good Samaritan poured oil and wine on the wounds of the suffering man, the Church must not withhold the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick from those who wish it. Offering this enduring sign of God’s love is one of the duties of true pastoral care. This palliative care needs a spiritual element that will give the dying person the feeling of a “pallium”, that is, a “mantle” for shelter at the moment of death.
Just as the wounded man’s suffering aroused the compassion of the Samaritan, so encountering the world of suffering in the hospice can make a community of suffering out of all those who ac- company a patient in the last phase of his life. Feelings of closeness and sympathy can grow from this, as an expression of true Christian love. Only those who weep themselves can dry the tears of this world. A special role is played in this house by the sisters of Caritas Socialis, to whom the foundress wrote: “In the sick we can always care for our suffering Saviour and thus unite ourselves to him” (Hildegard Burjan, Letters, 31). Here is an echo of the Good News: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25,40).
10. My deepest appreciation goes to all who are tirelessly involved in the hospice movement, including all who serve in hospitals and clinics, as well as those who care for their seriously ill or dying relatives. I am particularly grateful to the sick and dying, who teach us how better to understand the Gospel of suffering. Credo in vitam. I believe in life. Sister life and brother death take us in their midst when our hearts feel anxious before the last challenge we must face on this earth: “Let not your hearts be troubled In my Father’s house are many rooms” (Jn 14:1f.).
I bless you with all my heart.
Speeches 1998 - Thursday, 18 June 1998