Speeches 1998 - 17 October 1998





Saturday, 17 October 1998

1. Dear pilgrims of Belarus, I greet you with great joy and affection. I greet in particular Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, Metropolitan Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev and Administrator of Pinsk, and I thank him for his words. The Cardinal is very dear to me and therefore I am pleased to be able to welcome him at this meeting. I greet the Bishop of Grodno, together with his Auxiliary Bishop, the representatives of the clergy, the religious congregations and the faithful of the Church of Belarus. I thank you for your presence and the prayers offered for the intentions of my service to the universal Church. God reward you!

2. Most of you have come to the Eternal City for the first time. This is certainly an historic pilgrimage, for you have come from a country that has regained its independence; in it the Church can now freely carry out her evangelizing mission. This has happened as a result of the historical events that occurred in Central and Eastern Europe during the years 1989-1990. How many of you still carry in your hearts the painful memories and wounds of those tragic experiences and the injustices suffered in the ruthless forced deportations to distant unknown lands or to concentration camps! How many of your loved ones never returned home. How many are still suffering today because of the separation and death of those so dear to them. I wish to mention also the persecutions suffered at the time by the Catholic Church. Who can count all the suffering of the lay faithful, the priests, the men and women religious in Belarus? I speak of it today because I carry deep in my heart all that you were forced to suffer in the terrible years of the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period. In this way I would also like to pay homage to those who maintained their dignity in those inhuman conditions, often giving a heroic witness of love to God and to the Church. At this moment I would like to acknowledge His Eminence, whose life, marked by suffering and humiliation, in some way reflects the destiny of whole families and individuals.

3. You have come to the tombs of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul to give thanks to God for supporting you with his strength in the time of trial and oppression. You have thanked God for the gift of faith and for the courage with which you defended your Christian tradition. You also came here to seek strength for the road that lies ahead. It is not enough to possess freedom; it must be constantly achieved and moulded. Good or bad use can be made of it, by putting it at the service of an authentic good or else of an apparent one. Today the world is pervaded by a distorted concept of freedom. There are many who proclaim a false freedom. It is important that everyone realizes this. We must pray to God that he will increase the good that was accomplished in your land and continues to be accomplished, so that your hearts may not lack strength, generosity and hope.

4. Fix your gaze on Christ, “be rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col 2,7). He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14,6) for every person, for entire societies and nations. Build the future of your families and your State on Christ. He alone can grant the light and strength to meet every challenge your society is facing. On the way to the third millennium, may you be accompanied by the Holy Mother of God and may she help you preserve your great, precious heritage of faith.

I take this occasion to extend a cordial greeting to all the citizens of Belarus. I wish your country every good thing and a beneficial spiritual and material development. May everyone in your country be happy. Build your present and your future together.

I receive many letters from you inviting me to visit Belarus. Perhaps divine Providence will permit me to accept your invitation. Let us hope so. We must pray fervently for this.

I sincerely bless all of you present here, and also your families and loved ones.




Quirinale, 20 October 1998

Mr President,

1. Here I am again in this historic palace, the residence of the highest official of the Italian Republic, for a visit which has been planned for a long time and officially announced last month. Thank you for the courteous welcome you have given me, conveying the sentiments of the Italian people. Thank you for the attention with which, while recognizing their respective responsibilities, you work to achieve that collaboration between the State and Church “for human advancement and the good of the nation”, which was among the desires expressed in the Agreements of 18 February 1984. Today’s visit follows other productive meetings and shows that in Italy co-operation between Church and State can have beneficial effects on the concrete life of the Italian citizen and on institutions. I can only rejoice at this and publicly thank the Lord on such a significant occasion.

2. I am here today as the Successor of Peter and Pastor of the universal Church. Indeed, it is from Rome — from “our” Rome — that I have been granted to exercise this apostolic mission. By virtue of the mandate entrusted to me by Christ, who appointed me Bishop of Rome and Primate of Italy, even though I come from a distant country, I feel completely Roman and Italian. My involvement in the history of this city and of Italy is not only a formal fact: with the passing of time, there has been an increase in my heartfelt participation in the life of a people to whom Providence brought me as a young man, when, after my priestly ordination, I was sent by my Bishop to complete my academic studies in this city. At the time I could already sense the vivacious humanity and sincere piety of Romans. I will always remember Via del Quirinale, because I lived at number 26 in that street, at the Belgium College. Every day in the morning and afternoon, I walked the Via del Quirinale, passing by the Presidential Palace. It was from 1946 to 1948. This closeness was later deepened during my frequent visits to Rome and strengthened during the Second Vatican Council. By appointing me Cardinal, my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, made me a member of the Roman clergy, assigning me the Title of St Caesarius on the Palatine. Then, on the afternoon of 16 October 20 years ago, the Lord called me to become Successor of Peter, binding my life to Italy forever in his mysterious plan. But I would like to mention other circumstances. It was here in Italy, especially at Monte Cassino, where my classmates fought. Many of them lost their lives and are buried near Ancona and elsewhere. In a certain sense, they too prepared the way for me. In these 20 years of Pontificate, I have increasingly shared in the joys and sufferings, the problems and hopes of the Italian nation, establishing close relations during my pastoral visits and frequent meetings with the faithful of every religion, and welcoming the expressions of esteem and affection everywhere.

3. Rome and the See of Peter! For 2,000 years these two realities, despite the succession of individuals and institutions, have been meeting and engaging each other. Down the centuries this relationship has endured many vicissitudes, in which moments of light and shadow were intermingled. Nevertheless, it is apparent to all that they belong to each other and that it is impossible to understand the history of one without referring to the mission of the other. This particular relationship over the centuries highlights how these two institutions have benefited from their providential closeness. Rome and the Italian people owe to the presence of Peter and his Successors the greatest treasure of their spiritual heritage and cultural identity: the Christian faith. Here we cannot fail to think of the amazing vistas of art, law, literature, urban structures and charitable works, as well as the varied legacy of popular traditions and customs, which are an eloquent expression of the deep-rooted and fortunate presence of Christianity in the life of the Italian people. From these riches of humanity and culture, the Church of Christ later drew valuable resources for spreading the Gospel to every part of the world.

4. The energetic harmony between Italy and the Catholic Church must now be strengthened and indeed intensified in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. With this celebration Christians want to give thanks to the Lord for the decisive event of the Incarnation of the Son of God and to prepare to cross the threshold of the third millennium spiritually renewed. The Jubilee is primarily a spiritual event, an occasion for reconciliation and conversion, offered to Christ's followers and to all people of goodwill so that they can become the soul and ferment of the new millennium, marked by true justice and genuine peace. Our century has known the tragedies caused by ideologies which, in opposing every form of religion, deluded themselves that they could build a society without God or even contrary to God. May the forthcoming Jubilee offer everyone the opportunity to reflect on the urgent responsibility of building a world that will be a “human home” for all, with full respect for human life from its beginning to its natural end. In this regard, Christians have the mission of proclaiming and testifying that Christ is the centre and heart of the new humanity, in order to make the “civilization of love” a reality. The Jubilee will also be a valuable opportunity for the Italian people to rediscover their authentic identity and to commit themselves, in the light of the great Christian values of their own tradition, to building a new era of progress and fraternal harmony.

5. The commitment and co-operation of all will ensure that the next Holy Year is another chapter in the extraordinary history of fidelity to the Gospel and of its willing acceptance which distinguishes Italy. One naturally thinks of the abundant number of saints among the Italian people. We must also remember the countless ranks of priests and religious who were teachers and inspired so much good in every corner of Italy and in so many parts of the world. And what can we say of all the parents who, with their discreet, loving and faithful dedication, have passed on to their children models of life that are unusually rich in human and Christian wisdom? It is precisely in looking at these results and at the formative role of the family on which they depend that I feel it my duty to make an anguished appeal that this primordial institution be protected and supported in accordance with the plan willed by the Creator. It is in the steadfast fidelity of husband and wife and in their generous openness to life that the resources are found for the moral and civil growth of the country. Healthy families, healthy country: we must not be deluded that we can have one without being concerned about what is necessary to have the other. A healthy family can pass on the values on which every ordered society is based, starting with the fundamental value of life: the degree of a people's civilization is measured by the extent of their respect for this value. In this light, I hope that every effort will be made for the prompt and enlightened defence of every expression of human life, to overcome the scourge of abortion and to prevent any form of legalized euthanasia. In the broad context of service to life, I also hope that the principles of freedom and pluralism contained in the Italian Constitution will be reflected in appropriate legislation, including the right of parents to choose the type of education they consider best suited to their children’s cultural development. All this entails not only that the right to learning be effectively guaranteed, but that they be given the possibility of choosing the type of school they prefer without discrimination or penalization, as is already the case in most European countries.

6. Love and concern for Italy urge me to recall the serious problems still afflicting the nation, the most important of which is unemployment. I would also like to express my solidarity and concern for the many immigrants, for the victims of kidnapping and violence, for young people who are wondering anxiously about their future. In this regard, I express my deep appreciation for everyone who is working to solve these problems in institutions and in the many praiseworthy forms of volunteer service. In recent years the Church has not only accompanied Italian events with the “Great Prayer for Italy”, but with the timely offer of guidance and ideals to help the nation recover its very soul and make its great heritage of faith and culture fruitful. I am very aware of the difficult moment Italy is experiencing, and I assure you of a constant remembrance in my prayer to the Lord for this people who are so dear to me.

Mr President, on this solemn occasion my wish is that the Italian nation, mindful of its traditions and faithful to civil and spiritual values which distinguish it, will draw from this great wealth of potential the guidance and energy to reach the goals of authentic morality, prosperity and justice to which it aspires, and to offer the assembly of nations its distinguished contribution to the cause of development and peace.

With these wishes, as I invoke the intercession of your patron saints, especially of the Virgin Mary, so tenderly loved in every corner of this country, I hope that you and all Italians will be constantly blessed by the Lord.



23 October 1998

Mr Ambassador,

I am very pleased to welcome you to the Vatican today and to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ireland. I thank you for the expression of good wishes which you convey from Her Excellency President McAleese and I gladly reciprocate with good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the beloved Irish people, with whom the Holy See has had a long and special bond of faith and friendship since the fifth century.

The history of your country testifies to a deep-rooted commitment to the Christian faith. That commitment inspired the monks who brought the light of faith and learning to so many parts of Europe in the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire; it sustained the many priests, religious and lay people who shed their blood in a supreme testimony of fidelity to the Church in times of persecution; and it heartened the countless Irish missionaries who carried the Gospel to the ends of the earth in more recent times. Ireland's impressive Christian heritage has contributed in no small way to deepening the sense of concern which the Irish have always shown for other peoples striving for freedom, justice and development. Today it underlies their willingness to play an active role in promoting progress and peace among the peoples of the world.

You have mentioned that Ireland and the Holy See participate and cooperate in many International Organizations and in important International Meetings. One of the international community's most significant initiatives in recent years has been the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen. At that meeting countries of differing cultures and economic levels were able to reach a broad consensus on the principles to be followed for the development of society and the achievement of better living conditions for all. It was encouraging to note the commitment to place the human person at the centre of development efforts and to strive for a human advancement that would take into account and respect ethical, cultural and religious values. A country's progress in fact can never be reduced to the simple accumulation of wealth and the greater availability of goods and services. A deep-rooted sense of the inviolable dignity of the human person must be the basis of social, economic and educational projects which aim at bettering people's lives and at meeting genuine human needs more effectively. To recognise every man and woman as the subject of inalienable rights and freedoms means that nations and the international community must effectively guarantee that the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of life are always and everywhere respected and promoted.

To bring about authentic human and social development, it is essential to defend the family and promote its well-being. It is the family that is the first school of the social virtues which are the animating principle of society's development and progress (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio FC 42). Secure and united families train their members to respect the rights and dignity of others, to recognise the sacredness of all human life, especially of the most vulnerable, and to practise those qualities and virtues which foster and build up the common good. Whatever undermines the fabric of family life or reduces the family's distinctive responsibilities inflicts grave harm on society as a whole. In my Letter to Families, written on the occasion of the 1994 International Year of the Family, I emphasised the importance of family life for the well-being of nations: “A truly sovereign and spiritually vigorous nation is always made up of strong families who are aware of their vocation and mission in history” (No. 17). Appreciation of the family's indispensable contribution to the welfare of your country prompted the framers of the Irish Constitution to place great emphasis on the family as the primary and fundamental grouping in society, possessing "inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law" (Bunreacht na hÉireann, Art. 41, 1, 1·). It led them to defend the right of parents to be the principal agents of the religious, moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children (cf. ibid., Art. 42, 1). Drawing on these basic principles, which reflect your country's precious cultural and religious heritage, Ireland can continue to be a convincing voice in the international forum whenever it is a question of safeguarding and strengthening an international culture of respect for the human person, the family and the transcendent dimension of human existence.

As we approach the end of the twentieth century, a period which has witnessed so much violence, warfare, ideologically fuelled persecution and attempts by totalitarian regimes to annihilate whole peoples, it should be clear that efforts to bring about a renewed social order at the national and international levels will succeed only by guaranteeing in law universal and unchanging moral norms, founded in human nature and accessible to reason. The Christian view is that fundamental human rights are consequent upon human nature, deriving ultimately from God and not simply conferred by human authorities. The failure to recognise the existence of a truth which transcends social and cultural realities is a fast path towards the exclusive dominion of the State over every aspect of life. The way is then open to totalitarian impositions of all kinds (cf. Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 44). When sure moral reference points are removed and moral relativism takes over, the threat to fundamental rights and fundamental freedoms exists even in a society which appears to be democratic (cf. Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 101). “If there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism” (Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 46). As we prepare to enter the new Millennium, the nations of Europe in particular are faced with the challenge of determining the principles of their future development. Your own country, Mr Ambassador, whose experience is based on a deeply rooted sense of the presence of God in all human affairs (cf. Bunreacht na hÉireann, Preamble) is well placed to make an invaluable contribution to the establishment of the new Europe on its authentic spiritual and cultural foundations.

I always remember with affection my Pastoral Visit to your country in 1979, when I witnessed at first hand the wonderful human and spiritual qualities of the Irish people. At that time Northern Ireland was immersed in the violence which has caused so much suffering in past decades. A new era of hope has opened with the signing of the so-called Good Friday Agreement, establishing a new basis for government and co-operation between all parts of the population. Permanent peace always remains a fragile reality and requires the diligent efforts of everyone. The way forward demands of all concerned not only a willingness to compromise but above all a positive commitment to creating "the sum of those conditions by which individuals, families and groups can achieve their fulfilment" (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes GS 74). I pray that the future of all the people of Ireland, without distinction, will be grounded in justice, equity and harmony.

Mr Ambassador, as you begin your mission, following a long line of distinguished Irish Ambassadors, I assure you of my prayers for its success. You may be certain that the various departments of the Roman Curia will be only too willing to assist you in the discharge of your duties. Guím beannacht Dé ar phobal na hÉireann.




Friday, 23 October 1998

Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. On the occasion of the second European meeting of politicians and legislators organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, I am pleased to welcome you to the home of the Successor of Peter. I extend my warm thanks to Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of this Council, for his words on your behalf.

I express my deep gratitude to you all for having agreed, on the initiative of the Pontifical Council for the Family, to take part in the Holy See’s reflections on questions that continue to arise regarding the family and the ethical domain. Scientific and technological progress demand serious, in-depth moral reflection as well as appropriate legislation, so that science may be put at the service of man and society. In fact, they dispense no one from asking fundamental moral questions and from finding suitable answers for the right ordering of society (cf. Encyclical Veritatis splendor VS 2-3). While concerned to know clearly the different scientific aspects, those whose duty it is to make political and social decisions in their nations are called to base their approach on essential anthropological and moral values, and not on technological progress which in itself is not a criterion of either morality or lawfulness. During this century, we have often seen in Europe that when values are denied, the public decisions taken can only oppress the individual and peoples.

2. As has been the case since antiquity with Sophocles and Cicero, the contemporary philosopher, Jacques Maritain, recalls that “the common good of human individuals”, consists in “the good life of the multitude” (Les droits de l’homme et la loi naturelle, p. 20). The starting point of this philosophy is the human person, who “has an absolute dignity, because it is in direct relationship with the absolute” (ibid., p. 16). Everyone knows that in our day some would like to justify the work of the politician who “in his or her activity [would] clearly separate the realm of private conscience from that of public conduct” (Evangelium vitae EV 69). But, in fact, the value of the latter, especially in the framework of democratic life, “stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the ‘common good’ as the end and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental and not to be ignored” (ibid., n. 70).

3. In the realm of social life, the Church pays great attention to primordial institutions such as the family, the basic cell of society, which can only survive if its principles are respected. The family represents a good of the highest importance for every nation and for all humanity. Already in antiquity, as Aristotle showed, it was recognized as the primary and fundamental social institution, which was antecedent and superior to the State (cf. Nicomachean Ethics, VII, 12, 18), and effectively contributes to the good of society itself.

It is therefore important that all who are called to guide the destiny of nations recognize and strengthen the institution of marriage; in fact, marriage has a particular juridical status that recognizes the rights and duties of the spouses to one another and to their children, and families play an essential role in society, whose permanence they guarantee. The family fosters the socialization of the young and helps curb the phenomena of violence by transmitting values and the experience of brotherhood and solidarity which it allows to become a reality each day. In the search for justified solutions for modern society, the family cannot be put on the same level as mere associations or unions, and the latter cannot enjoy the particular rights exclusively connected with the protection of the conjugal commitment and the family based on marriage, a stable community of life and love, the result of the total and faithful gift of the spouses, and open to life. From the standpoint of the leaders of civil society, it is important that they can create the conditions required by the specific nature of marriage, its stability and acceptance of the gift of life. In fact, while respecting the legitimate freedom of individuals, to make other forms of interpersonal relationships equivalent to marriage by legalizing them is a grave decision that can only jeopardize the conjugal and family institution. In the long term it would be harmful for laws that are no longer based on the principles of the natural law but on the arbitrary will of individuals (cf. CCC CEC 1904), to give the same juridical status to different forms of common life, which would cause great confusion. Reforms involving family structure, then, must first be concerned to reinforce the conjugal bond and to provide ever stronger support for family structures, while keeping in mind that children, who will play the leading role in social life tomorrow, are the heirs to the values they have received and the care invested in their spiritual, moral and human formation.

One can never subordinate the dignity of the person and of the family to political or economic factors alone, nor to the mere opinion of possible pressure groups, even if these are important. The exercise of power is based on the search for objective truth and on the dimension of service to man and to society, by recognizing the transcendent and inviolable personal dignity in every human being, even the poorest and the smallest. This is the foundation for working out the political and juridical decisions indispensable for the future of civilization.

4. Moreover, children are one of a nation's chief treasures, and parents should be helped to carry out their educational role, with respect for the principles of responsibility and subsidiarity, thus strengthening the eminent value of this service. This is a duty and an act of legitimate solidarity on the part of all national communities. In a certain way, a society and its structure depend on the family policy it implements.

5. Today, the many actions against life, which claim to be acts of freedom, constitute what I have called the “culture of death” (cf. Encyclical Evangelium vitae EV 12), which threatens unborn children and the sick or elderly. It is clear that we are faced with a weakening of the sense and value of life, as well as a certain anaesthetizing of consciences. Furthermore, any attack on a person’s life is also an attack on humanity, for there is a bond of brotherhood between all beings, and what happens to a brother or sister cannot leave one indifferent. Christians and people of goodwill are therefore called to join forces with firmness and patience, to make the “culture of life” triumph, particularly with regard to young people, who should be given an appropriate education at the moral, anthropological and biological levels. Freedom and a sense of responsibility must be taught from the earliest age, so that they become what they truly are: “inalienable self-possession and openness to all that exists” (Encyclical Veritatis splendor VS 86). Thus young people will be able to understand what the human person is, to take responsible action on behalf of life and become its defenders for those around them.

Protecting life in a world without reference-points implies the use of clear and objective anthropological data to show that from his beginning until his natural end, a person is unique and worthy of the respect due to every human being by the very virtue of his origin and destination. All attacks on life are a form of denial of the human being’s personal dignity, which also disfigures humanity and solidarity between human beings, for they are a violation of “the ‘spiritual’ kinship uniting mankind in one great family, in which all share the same fundamental good: equal personal dignity” (Encyclical Evangelium vitae EV 8). All people are called to seek the good of individuals and the common good by promulgating just and impartial laws, for the force of law leads to personal rectitude and the trust necessary for social harmony (cf. ibid., n. 59). I thus invite them to have renewed concern for the formation of people's moral and civic conscience, which, through right reason, will enlighten citizens in their personal and community conduct, based on the principles of truth, justice, equality and charity.

Dear participants in this meeting, whether you are legislators, politicians, or the heads of family or university associations, I encourage you to continue your reflection and to pass on your moral and spiritual convictions to those with whom you work. This is a service for men and women, so that their lives may be in harmony with what they are truly called to be. It is important to help our contemporaries to seek the truth and to base their life on a sound anthropology: these alone provide the profound meaning of a life, as I stressed in my recent Encyclical Fides et ratio.

At the end of this meeting, as I ask Christ to put his Spirit within so that you will remain faithful to the fundamental values and convictions that must guide your mission in society, I cordially grant my Apostolic Blessing to you, to your co-workers and to the members of your families.




To their Excellencies
the Presidents of
the Republic of Ecuador and
the Republic of Peru

I am pleased to be present in spirit at the solemn signing of the comprehensive, definitive agreement between Ecuador and Peru, which concludes the peace process begun with the Peace Declaration of Itamaraty on 17 February 1995.

I share in the joy of your noble peoples, so dear to me, who are united by many common bonds of Christian faith and culture, and who today see the close of a painful chapter in the history of their relations and the beginning of lasting prospects of peace.

The agreement is highly significant, both for the American continent, in search of ever greater integration, and for the entire international community.

I would like to offer my warm congratulations to President Jamil Mahuad of Ecuador and President Alberto Fujimori of Peru for what they have achieved.

I would also like to express special gratitude to the guarantor countries of the “Rio de Janiero Protocol on Peace, Friendship and Borders” — Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States — and their Heads of State, who have shown constant willingness to help the parties and whose active collaboration, effectively co-ordinated by President Henrique Cardoso, was crucial in enabling this goal to be reached.

I am also thinking of the Catholic communities in Ecuador and Peru, who, under the guidance of their Pastors, have been able with appropriate initiatives — e.g., the days of prayer for peace — to encourage an authentic “pedagogy of peace”. I have no doubt that they will continue on this path.

I earnestly hope that your sister nations will continue to advance with a firm and persevering will on the ways marked out by this agreement, as I entrust everyone to the intercession of St Marianita of Quito, St Rose of Lima and, especially, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, so deeply loved and revered by the peoples of both countries.

Mr Presidents, I cordially invoke almighty God’s blessing upon you, upon Ecuador and Peru, and upon all those present.

From the Vatican, 23 October 1998.

Speeches 1998 - 17 October 1998