Speeches 1998 - Friday, 11 September 1998





11 September 1998

Dear Abbot Primate,
Dear Sisters in Christ,

1. Giving thanks to God, “because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Rm 1,8), I welcome you, the participants in the Third International Symposium of Benedictine Women, on the theme: “The Experience of God and the Benedictine Approach to Prayer”. I greet you as heirs to the great tradition of Christian holiness which has its roots in Saint Benedict’s prayer in the silence of Subiaco, a tradition which lives on through your communities, which are “schools in the service of God” (Rule, Prol., 45).

2. Saint Benedict lived in the dark times that came with the collapse of the Roman Empire. For many, disorder brought despair and the escapism which despair always breeds. But Benedict’s response was different. Obeying impulses long known in the Christian East, he turned from all that was familiar and entered his cave, “searching for God” (Rule, 58,7). There Benedict grasped the very core of biblical revelation which begins with the original chaos described in the Book of Genesis and comes to its summit in the light and glory of the Paschal Mystery. He learned that even in darkness and in emptiness we can find the fullness of light and life. The mountain that Benedict climbed was Calvary, where he found the true light that enlightens all men (cf. Jn Jn 1,9). How right it is then that the Sacro Speco at Subiaco contains the image of Benedict contemplating the Cross, since from the Cross alone comes the light, the order and the fullness of God for which all men and women long. There alone does the human heart find rest.

The first word of his Rule reveals the core of Benedict’s experience in the cave: Ausculta, Listen! This is the secret: Benedict listens, trusting that God is there and that God will speak. Then he hears a word in the silence; and thus he becomes the father of a civilization, a civilization born from contemplation, a civilization of love born from listening to the word which springs from the depths of the Trinity. Benedict became the word which he heard, and slowly his voice “went forth through all the world” (cf. Ps. Ps 19,4): disciples came, then monasteries appeared, then a civilization grew around them, not only salvaging what was precious in the classical world but opening as well an unimagined path into a new world. It was the sons and daughters of Saint Benedict who reclaimed the land, who organized society, who preached the Gospel as missionaries, who wrote the books as scholars, nurturing all that makes for a truly human life. It is astonishing to consider how much came from so little: “this is the Lord’s doing and a marvel in our eyes” (Ps 118,23).

3. The Rule which Benedict wrote is unforgettable not only for its burning passion for God and its wise concern for the discipline without which there is no discipleship, but also for its radiant humanitas. The Rule breathes a spirit of hospitality grounded upon the belief that the other is no enemy but is Christ himself who comes as guest; and this is a spirit given only to those who have known the magnanimity of God. In the Rule of Benedict, we find an order which is strict but never stern, a light which is clear but never cold, and a fullness which is absolute but never overwhelming. In a word, the Rule is radical but always hospitable – which is why, when other monastic Rules disappeared, the Rule of Benedict triumphed and continues to work its power even today in the lives of your communities.

4. Dear Sisters, our society too knows much darkness at the end of this century and on the threshold of the new millennium. In such a time, the luminous figure of Benedict stands in our midst, pointing as always to Christ. You have been called in a special way into that mystery of light – which is why the Church continues to look to you and your communities so expectantly. We look to you because you are those who are not afraid to enter the cave which is dark and empty; those who listen in a truly contemplative silence; those who hear the word of God and become that word; those who help shape a truly civilized world where anxiety and despair lose their power, and the peace of Easter is experienced in the tranquillitas ordinis.

5. The Church looks to you with special eagerness as we undertake the new evangelization to which the Holy Spirit is now summoning us at the dawn of the new millennium. There will be no evangelization without the contemplation which is the heart of Benedictine life. The whole Church must learn more of the meaning of “Ora et labora”, and who will teach us that, if not the sons and daughters of Saint Benedict? The world is longing for the truth which Benedict knew and taught so well; and now, no less than in the past, people are looking to the witness of prayer and work which your communities so joyfully offer.

In all your prayer and work, it is the Virgin Mary who sheds light upon your path, since she is “Mother of the Star that never sets”, as the Liturgy of the Christian East still sings. She it is who teaches you to listen, who leads you into the depths of contemplation that you may bear witness in the power of the Holy Spirit to what you have heard. May Mary guard you and your communities with a mother’s love; may Benedict, Scholastica and the great host of Benedictine saints be your inspiration and your strength; and may the grace and peace of Christ, “the faithful witness and first-born from the dead” (Ap 1,5), be with you always. As a pledge of this, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.




Sunday, 13 September 1998

To the Leaders of the International Catholic Scouting Conference,

1. On the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the International Catholic Scouting Conference, I willingly join in the thanksgiving of the men and women who have participated in the Catholic Scout movement since its beginning and have received a spiritual and human formation that helps them in their daily lives.

The meeting of the Scout method with the insights of Fr Sévin, S.J., has made it possible to develop an educational programme based on Gospel values, in which each young person is led to grow and to develop his personality, thus making his talents fruitful. The Scout law, training young people in the way of virtue, invites them to moral rectitude and a spirit of asceticism, thus directing them to God and calling them to serve their brethren; by striving to do good, they become men and women who can play a responsible role in the Church and in society. In a troop, at camp and in other situations, Scouts discover the Lord through the wonders of creation, which they are called to respect. They also have a valuable experience of ecclesial life, meeting Christ in personal prayer, to which they can become accustomed, and in the Eucharistic celebration. In addition, Scout unity gives young people the opportunity of an apprenticeship for life in society with mutual respect.

2. The international brotherhood of Scouting creates bonds between people of different cultures, languages or creeds, and is an opportunity for dialogue between them. In this spirit, I greet the Scout leaders and groups who are concerned about offering the ideals and educational programme of their movement to young people from the cities and suburbs, who often have nothing to do. Here there is a truly fraternal dimension, which contributes to the evangelization of people who are often very far from Christ and the Church, and to the fostering of peace and co-operation between individuals and peoples. I salute the attitude of the leaders and young members of the movement, which encourages meetings with members of other Ecclesial Communities in an ecumenical spirit, thus teaching them dialogue and respect for others. Without denying the specific principles of Catholic Scouting, this openness to young people of other cultures and religious convictions will enable the Church to be better known and better loved.

I have not forgotten that Scouting is a place for vocations to mature in the young people who hope to commit themselves to the priesthood or religious life or to marriage according to the Church's principles. In this educational framework, they receive fraternal support and valuable assistance in their discernment from their leaders and comrades so that they can respond fully to the Lord’s call.

3. As the Year 2000 approaches, I keenly hope that the Scout movement will continue to examine its way of living more radically the Gospel commitment and to bear witness to harmonious
co-operation and communion. In this regard, it will be important to recognize the particular sensibilities of certain units within the federations themselves, with an openness to dialogue and understanding. It would also be particularly significant for the unity of the Scout movement, sometimes harmed in the past, to become a reality during the Great Jubilee; thus, in the eyes of the world, a witness of fraternal love and reconciliation would be given, by which the Lord’s disciples can be recognized (cf. 1Jn 4,7-9).

4. As I implore upon all Scouts the support of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Our Lady, I warmly encourage the movement to continue and to intensify its service to the world’s young people, offering them an ideal and giving them Christ as the model of a perfectly fulfilled human life and as the way to happiness, for he is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14,6). To all the members of the International Catholic Scouting Conference, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.




Monday, 14 September

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. Welcome to Peter’s house! I would like to repeat to you the words the Lord Jesus addressed to the Twelve when he gathered them round on their return from a mission: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (Mc 6,31).

Today’s meeting extends the short but very significant series of my meetings with the Pastors of the Church in the Czech Republic after the political changes of 1989. My journey of 1990 there remains unforgettable, as does the historic ad limina visit made two years ago by all the Bishops of the Czech and Slovak Episcopal Conferences, which were then still united. After the division of Czechoslovakia, I have visited your country twice.

My visit in 1995 has left lasting impressions in my mind. I had the joy of enrolling among the saints Jan Sarkander and Zdislava of Lemberk, two distinguished figures who honour the age-old history of your Church and have been added to the numerous ranks of chosen souls who have flourished down the centuries in the lands of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.

These observations and remarks are a continuation of the more general and detailed ones I made to your Episcopal Conference during my visit last year for the millennium of St Adalbert.

2. I am pleased to see this ad limina visit in the special light which shines from these courageous witnesses to the Gospel. Sts Adalbert and Jan Sarkander show the way to profess and bear witness to the faith to the point of bloodshed, in response to the various trials which the ecclesial community is called to face in changing situations. And St Zdislava points to the family as the Church’s privileged way to renew individuals and society with the leaven of the Gospel.

In fact, commitment to the faith and the family apostolate give fundamental direction to the Church’s action: faith recalls the vertical axis, so to speak, the priority task to proclaim God and lead people to him; the family is more representative of the horizontal dimension, the social fabric to be enlivened with Christian values.

On every continent and in every country this is the twofold commitment which pastoral activity must fulfil. In particular, in a situation like yours, marked on the one hand by the region’s rich spiritual tradition and, on the other, by the wounds of dechristianisation and the challenges of the new sociocultural phase, the objectives of faith and the family stand out in all their urgency.

May I draw your attention to two phenomena which for some time now have been a subject of special concern to the Pastors of the Church in every part of the world, and in which you are also directly involved, as well I know: I am referring to the new evangelization, today opposed by the spread of sects, and to the problems connected with family morality and respect for life. Now you know well that these phenomena require particular study and targeted responses: they cannot be addressed with short-range solutions. Specific interventions are necessary, which must be part of an overall pastoral plan that aims to strengthen the basic convictions on which the private and public behaviour of the faithful depends.

3. First of all, as for faith, a serious effort must be made to strengthen the foundations of Christian life, since your Dioceses are equipped with generally effective structures, of which they can be justly proud. However, such a wealth of individuals and means needs to be replenished and constantly kept up-to-date, so that it will continue to be effective in its task of transmitting the message to the people of our time. This was the spirit that motivated you throughout the decade of preparation for the millennium of St Adalbert’s martyrdom: a period of spiritual renewal promoted by the late and revered Cardinal František Tomášek and it will not fail to bear its fruits far beyond the threshold of the third millennium.

In this perspective, I encourage you first of all to advance the liturgical and catechetical apostolate, which is well rooted and developed in your parishes, as are the many forms of charitable work which bear valuable fruits of witness in everyday life, yet display continual imagination in emergencies, as happened during the floods last year and again recently. In this regard, I would like to add a word of praise to what the faithful in your Dioceses, parishes, associations, and in particular the Charita institutions throughout the republic have accomplished in Moravia and are accomplishing this year in eastern Bohemia, by organizing an extensive inter-linking network, together with general projects and concrete interventions. They were not intimidated by the immense problems posed by the destructive fury of the waters and gave a magnificent sign of active solidarity. Convey the Pope’s concern and satisfaction to your volunteer workers who gave their help so effectively and modestly, with- out asking for any reward and with admirable altruism.

4. The Church today must face the challenge of secularism, which demands renewed zeal for deeper spirituality and missionary commitment. This is urgently necessary for the new evangelization, which involves the whole Christian community.

For this reason I urge each one of you to foster a close and cordial unity with your respective diocesan presbyterates, so that the lines of action worked out by the Bishop may be shared in theory and in practice, and pastoral dynamism may develop all its effectiveness.

At the same time, and precisely through the formative work conducted by the priests, it is necessary to nurture the spirituality and co-responsibility of the laity, according to the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council. To achieve this goal, the work of the associations and movements is very valuable, on condition that they act in constant harmony with the Pastors and do not turn in on themselves, so that the various charisms may effectively contribute to building up the entire ecclesial community.

To this end, effective pastoral involvement in culture and social communications is indispensable: I am pleased with the liveliness your Dioceses are also showing in this area. It is up to you above all to encourage such attention and to watch over the quality of the content. In this creative field it will be particularly interesting and useful to compare and exchange experiences with other European countries, in a constructive dialogue which will prove advantageous to everyone.

5. Another important field of action is the pastoral care of the family: it must be stressed as a priority need requiring attention. Without serious, thorough-going work with families, the pastoral care of vocations and young people in the broad sense inevitably becomes weaker in the present cultural context. As you have experienced, the families of the faithful have been the bulwark of faith in the dark periods of persecution, and vocations are naturally born in those environments where the faith is lived and tried like gold in a crucible. I therefore express my appreciation of the many initiatives on behalf of the family, on which, indeed, the preparation of favourable ground for the education of the young and for vocations depends. A good formation network at the service of families, which starts at the parish level, is assisted by movements and associations and seeks to involve families themselves by being a discreet but effective presence wherever people live and suffer, also seems the most effective answer to the proselytism of the sects and to the hedonistic and permissive mentality that undermines the fruitfulness of Christian life.

Commitment to the establishment, defence and growth of Catholic schools should also be seen as an indispensable service to families. They also make a precious contribution to the culture of the nation itself, as experience widely confirms. I therefore urge you to support them, while at the same time promoting the teaching of religion in State schools, because this corresponds to a fundamental right of young people and their parents.

In this regard, I also express my appreciation of your dedication to ensuring that relations with the civil authorities are always marked by honesty and co-operation. This will make it possible to deal more successfully with the various unsolved problems, to which finding a solution is in the interest of both Church and State.

6. Dear Brothers, I would now like to address you more directly, with a personal word of gratitude and appreciation for your generous pastoral work and especially to tell you: take heart, the Lord is with you! The more you feel the strain, the greater your personal difficulties or those caused by your surroundings, precisely then you will be able to count on the special presence of Christ the Good Shepherd, who calls you to be conformed more closely to him in faith and the grace of your state.

Be close to the priests who Providence continues to raise up among your people. Know how to listen to, to support, to appreciate, to direct and to ad-onish them when necessary, but al- ways with wisdom and above all with paternal love. Teach them discernment, so that in turn they too will be able to teach the communities entrusted to them to discern and pursue what the Spirit suggests to nourish their faith and maintain the spiritual fervour which has distinguished Czech families, especially in the period of atheistic oppression.

May the Church, which bears witness to her faith in Christ in your land, experience a flourishing of charisms and initiatives which, thanks to your ministry as Pastors, will bear abundant fruits of Christian life on the threshold of the third millennium.

With these wishes I entrust you to the Virgin Mary, who is venerated with such devotion in countless shrines throughout the republic. May she obtain for you the graces you most desire and always sustain you in your service to the Church. May my Blessing also accompany you, which I cordially impart to each of you and to your diocesan communities.





Monday, 14 September 1998

Your Excellency,

1. I am pleased to offer you a cordial welcome at the presentation of the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Nicaragua to this Apostolic See. On this occasion I would also like to express my gratitude to you for your kind words, which attest to the closeness and loyalty to the Chair of Peter present in the hearts of so many Nicaraguan citizens.

I am also particularly grateful for the respectful greeting you have brought me from President Arnaldo Alemán Lacayo, which I reciprocate, with my best wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the progress and spiritual well-being of all the children of this beloved nation.

2. Madam Ambassador, your words clearly underscore the respect and gratitude for the particular mission of the Church in this nation, which amid many complex challenges, works and teaches under the wise and prudent guidance of her Bishops, so that moral values and the Christian concept of life may inspire those who in one way or another work to defend the dignity and cause of man, which is the “way for the Church” (Redemptor hominis RH 14). For this reason, concern for the social order “is part of the Church’s evangelizing mission” (Sollicitudo rei socialis SRS 41), in which human advancement takes priority, because evangelization aims at the total liberation of the person (cf. Address to the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Bishops, n. 13, 12 October 1992; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 October 1992, p. 8).

You also mentioned my second Pastoral Visit to your beloved country. In this regard, it gives me deep satisfaction to know that decisive steps are being taken in the work of reconciliation, as well as in the sociopolitical development of institutions and of society itself, thus combatting situations of poverty. Therefore, measures must be undertaken to create a more just society in which the rights of every citizen are recognized, but which at the same time take into consideration his duty and responsibility to others.

3. For five centuries the Church has been present in Nicaragua, guiding the life of the people on their way to God. Attentive to the deepest human needs, she carries out her pastoral work by shedding the light of her doctrine and spiritual and moral principles on various aspects of society. In accordance with her mission, she is willing to continue working with the various public institutions so that Nicaraguans will find adequate solutions to current problems.

To continue on the path already undertaken, it is indispensable to have an educational programme that encourages respect for human life and dignity, as well as political guidelines which guarantee social harmony, the right to work and which, above all, promote justice and peace. In this way it will be possible to ask citizens to commit themselves to defending such indisputable values as truth, freedom, mutual understanding and solidarity.

4. In many parts of the world, a crisis of values can be observed which affects institutions such as the family, and broader sectors of society such as youth and the complex world of work. In this regard, it is urgent for Nicaraguans to become more aware of their own responsibilities and, before God and in view of their duties as citizens, to continue building a more fraternal and welcoming society. Therefore, the Christian concept of life and the Church’s moral teachings and values must be taken into consideration by those who work for the nation.

Above all, one must remember that the human being is the primary goal of development. In the past, this concept was thought of primarily in economic terms; today it is obvious that the development of the person and of the people must be total. This means that social development must take into account the political, economic, ethical and spiritual aspects.

5. A crucial contemporary problem which is becoming increasingly evident in Latin America is the great social inequalities between the rich and poor. In this regard, despite the enormous wealth of the land's natural resources, the data on the number of human groups living in extreme poverty is a cause for grave concern. There is no doubt that these inequalities seriously harm interpersonal relations and social harmony itself, and lead to the deterioration of moral values. They result in the break-up of many family units, the erosion of morals and scant respect for life.

This pressing situation requires that preferential options be made to help restore these values through programmes and joint actions that enable citizens to find dignified, stable employment allowing them to fight the material poverty in which many of them live. It is also necessary to protect the family institution and to ensure that everyone receives at least a basic education, thus overcoming situations of illiteracy, which so degrade human dignity. The various public institutions are thus responsible for intervening on behalf of the family, working to strengthen it by seeking to protect and defend the rights, abilities and duties of its members. Special attention must therefore be paid to society’s most vulnerable groups such as women, the elderly and children, because of the particular needs they experience or the discrimination they suffer. In this regard, the Catholic Church is making a significant contribution to the common effort to foster a society more attentive to the needs of its weakest members.

6. As you begin the high office to which you have been appointed, I would like to offer you my most cordial wishes for a happy and fruitful mission to this Apostolic See, which is always pleased to maintain and reinforce its good relations with Nicaragua. As I ask you kindly to convey my sentiments and hopes to the President of the Republic, to the Government, to the authorities and to the beloved Nicaraguan people, I assure you of my prayers to the Almighty that, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, he may always help you and your distinguished family, your staff, the leaders and the citizens of your noble country, which I always remember with special affection.




Tuesday, 15 September 1998

Venerable Brother,
Dear Priests and Seminarians,

1. I am very pleased to meet you, who form the communities of the major and minor seminaries of the Diocese of Treviso. I cordially greet Bishop Paolo Magnani and thank him for his kind words which vibrantly expressed the deep bond of faith and affection that the Church of Treviso cherishes for the Successor of Peter.

Dear seminarians, I am delighted to welcome both you and your teachers, and I thank you for this visit which brings back pleasant memories of the days I spent at the house that for several years your Diocese has made available to me in Lorenzago di Cadore. I am thinking in particular of the meeting I had there last July with a large representation from your diocesan community. You constitute a most important group in the local Church, because of your values and the hopes you are able to nurture: in a certain sense, you represent the future of the Diocese.

Dear boys, who are beginning to open your minds and hearts to life’s great questions, and to you, young men who are already facing those questions in the light of scientific, philosophical and theological research, I hope that your human and spiritual growth will proceed smoothly and fruitfully.

2. The Church, which has given you a new birth in faith and guides you on your vocational journey, looks with confidence at your educational experience and offers you the best ways for this journey to achieve its goal. She knows these ways not only from a human educational wisdom, a wisdom which she does not refuse to question, but especially from that “fullness of grace and truth” (cf. Jn Jn 1,14 Jn 17) which she contemplates everyday in the mystery of Christ.

Jesus is the way (cf. Jn Jn 14,6). With him and through him we can reach the full truth about God and ourselves, about the world and history, about good and evil; through him we can obtain life and freedom.

May Jesus then be the constant guidepost on your daily journey. May your educational experience have this first and foremost goal: to learn how “to be with Jesus” (cf. Pastores dabo vobis PDV 42).

3. Of course, it is not simply a matter of being physically in a place or of a merely theoretical and intellectual knowledge of a person: even Judas “was” with Jesus, but he did not share his love or his plan; he did not let himself be taught and transformed by Christ.

To be able “to be with him”, we must be willing to let the threefold dynamism of vocation, conversion and communion become a reality within us.

Vocation means thinking of one's whole life as a response. At every moment the Lord, through his Word, communicated through in one's studies, the Superiors' directives and concrete circumstances themselves, calls each individual to perfection and holiness (cf. ibid., n. 20), and awaits a generous response.

Conversion means being gradually conformed to Jesus Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit (cf. ibid., n. 21), seeking to remove from this path, rather this “race” towards him, “every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (He 12,1).

Communion means living in Christ and letting Christ live in me, as the Apostle Paul expressed it so powerfully (cf. Rom Rm 6,10 Ga 2,20), to become, like him and in him, effective instruments in the loving plan of the Blessed Trinity, who through the Church wants to make one family of all people (cf. Pastores dabo vobis PDV 12).

4. In its fundamental demands, this is the way of every Christian and of the entire ecclesial community. It is ex- pressed, within the great organism of the Church enlivened by the Spirit, in the many concrete forms of “call and response”, among which the orientation to the ordained ministry and the priesthood stands out.

On this path, each of your personalities, with its needs and its potential, will find its most authentic growth: the quest for human maturity (cf. ibid., n. 43) and affective vitality (cf. ibid., n. 44), intellectual dynamism (cf. ibid., nn. 51-56) and the yearning to be committed to building a more human and more Christian world (cf. ibid., nn. 57-59).

Today, you are going through a particularly significant phase of your life: the period of vocational discernment and formation oriented to the priestly life. It is a period in which you have the grace and the opportunity to share with your contemporaries the same journey in search of the same ideals. A period in which, almost physically, you experience that “apostolic community gathered about Jesus, listening to his word, proceeding towards the Easter experience, awaiting the gift of the Spirit for the mission” (ibid., n. 60). Be worthy of this extraordinary moment of grace! Welcome with constant attention the educational opportunity that is offered to you each day, reproducing in yourselves the “icon” of the young Jesus who, in loving dialogue with the Father and in docility to Mary and Joseph, his human teachers, “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Lc 2,52).

5. On today’s liturgical memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, I would like to entrust each of you to her motherly care. May she help you to follow Jesus with generous availability, to “be with him” always, even and above all at the hour of the Cross, because it is precisely in the total gift of self that one experiences God’s love and receives the light and strength of the Holy Spirit.

With these sentiments, dear friends, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, which I gladly extend to your relatives and to all who guide you on your vocational journey.

Speeches 1998 - Friday, 11 September 1998