Speeches 1999 - Thursday, 20 May 1999



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. With affection in the risen Lord I greet you, the members of the Kenya Episcopal Conference, and just as you graciously welcomed me to Kenya four years ago so I welcome you to the Vatican today. It is indeed a great joy for me to meet you once again, and on the occasion of your visit ad limina Apostolorum I give heartfelt thanks to our God and Father for the "partnership in the Gospel" (Ph 1,5) which is ours in the service of God's people. I ask you to assure the clergy, religious and laity of your Dioceses that they remain ever in my heart: I do not cease to pray for their continued growth in grace and holiness.

It is with gratitude to the Lord of the harvest that I note the vigour and vitality of the Church in Kenya as she continues to increase, "adding day by day to the number of those who are being saved" (cf. Ac 2,47). Since your last visit to the tombs of the Apostles, two new Dioceses have been established and an Apostolic Vicariate erected. I am very pleased to greet the Bishop of Kericho, the Bishop of Kitale and the Vicar Apostolic of Isiolo on the occasion of their first ad limina visit. In like manner I greet those among you who, in the last five years, have been ordained to the episcopate: the Bishops of Kissi, Kitui, Bungoma and of the Military Ordinariate. "The God of peace be with you all. Amen" (Rm 15,33).

2. In the pastoral letters which you have published in these last few years you have shown praiseworthy concern for the spiritual and religious welfare of your people in the context of the overall political, social and economic situation of your country. This context has immediate repercussions in the lives of the faithful, indeed of all Kenyans, and initiatives at the parish and diocesan levels to address the situations involved not only respond to a very real need on the part of the nation but also provide effective forums for presenting the Church's social teaching.In fact, the healthy social order to which the citizens of Kenya aspire calls for a renewed moral and political culture of responsibility; the sound democratic system which they desire is dependent on a widespread positive response to the summons for ethical renewal. A fundamental requirement here, as I noted in the Encyclical Letter Centesimus annus, is "the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in true ideals, and of the 'subjectivity' of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility" (n. 46). Without a solid moral formation no citizenry would be capable of properly exercising its political functions. Only in prudence, justice, temperance and courage (cf. Sg 8,7) can the choices be made - whether in regard to the leaders selected or the policies chosen - which are truly conducive to the well-being of the nation.

As many of you have pointed out in your quinquennial reports, changes in the economy and in other aspects of the social milieu present Catholics with challenges for the living out of their Christian commitment, especially in the area of family life.Economic difficulties coupled with the rapid and intense urbanization of society give rise to situations in which the temptation of making immoral responses to the resulting pressures exerts a powerful influence. It is therefore imperative that in your service as shepherds and spiritual guides you should place a high priority on the pastoral care of families. I encourage you never to grow weary of exhorting and encouraging the faithful to strive always to be steadfast in embracing the ideals of Christian marriage and family life. It is also appropriate to seek greater dialogue and cooperation in these same areas with other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communions: for these are matters which affect the lives of all Kenyans, and such joint efforts and collaboration will offer a clearer witness to Christ and the Gospel.

Since the values of which we are speaking here are first transmitted in the family and then reinforced in school, both the family and education should be objects of your constant pastoral concern. The family itself must be safeguarded and promoted, for it remains "the basic cell of society" (Familiaris consortio FC 46 cf. ibid., n. 42); and "in the sphere of education the Church has a specific role to play ... [which] is not only a matter of entrusting the Church with the person's religious and moral education, but of promoting the entire process of the person's education 'together with' the Church" (Letter to Families LF 16). The Church's role in education - especially through Catholic schools and programmes of religious education - must therefore be defended and enhanced.

3. It is in this very context that a significant image which was highlighted in the work of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops takes on ever greater importance: the concept of the Church as God's family. This expression of the Church's nature is particularly appropriate for your continent, for it "emphasizes care for others, solidarity, warmth in human relationships, acceptance, dialogue and trust" (Ecclesia in Africa ). Thus, the new evangelization, which is such an integral part of the Church's mission in preparing for the third Christian millennium, will aim at "building up the Church as Family, avoiding all ethnocentrism and excessive particularism, trying instead to encourage reconciliation between different ethnic groups, favouring solidarity and the sharing of personnel and resources among the particular Churches, without undue ethnic considerations" (ibid.).

This concept must be an integral part of all formation within the Church, especially of the lay faithful: you must help the laity to see themselves as active members of the family that is the Church, and to come to understand that in a very real way they belong to the Church and the Church belongs to them; they share responsibility for her! This understanding and commitment will help Catholics to avoid being lured away from the practice of their faith by other religious traditions and by the sects which are becoming ever more numerous in Kenya. It will also prove invaluable in programmes aimed at the formation of youth, for there is perhaps no other group in Kenyan society which is more susceptible to the materialistic, consumeristic and otherwise spiritnumbing attitudes which are so prevalent today and often promoted by the mass media.

4. The formation which takes place in your seminaries and in institutes of consecrated life must also be among your chief concerns as Pastors. The increase in the number of candidates to the priesthood and religious life is a great gift, and calls for careful discernment in the selection and training of those preparing for a life of service in the Church. Moreover, in light of the need to form an ever more active laity, care must be taken to avoid imparting models of the priesthood which are too clerical or authoritarian in nature, with the result that future priests find it difficult to work closely with lay people and to acknowledge their role and talents. Rather, your priestly co-workers must be encouraged to involve as many of the lay faithful as possible in a shared responsibility for parish life: the parish priest remains the leader, but he cannot - and should not - do everything himself. As I noted in my Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis: "It is particularly important to prepare future priests for cooperation with the laity ... they should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes and recognize their experience and competence" (n. 59).

You can be sure that if your seminaries conform to the fundamental requirements of the Church's programme of priestly formation, especially as presented in the conciliar Decree Optatam totius and in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, they will bear much fruit for generations to come. Among the more important attitudes and dispositions to be cultivated in seminarians, the documents single out the loving acceptance of the celibate life, a spirit of poverty and simplicity, and an unfailing solicitude and zeal for the "salus animarum", particularly for the salvation of those who have strayed or are ensnared by sin. In the advancement of candidates to Holy Orders, the Bishop has a responsibility which he must exercise personally. For the good of the Church, he should not admit candidates to ordination without being morally certain of their mature commitment to the priestly ideal.

Your concern for priestly formation does not cease on the day you ordain your spiritual sons. Rather, you must continue to seek ways to foster their continuing formation, as a means of ensuring that your priests are "generously faithful to the gift and ministry received, that they are priests such as the People of God wishes and has a 'right' to" (Pastores dabo vobis PDV 79). You should be particularly close to those priests who may be faltering in fidelity to their vocation, and you must never tire of insisting that ministerial priesthood is not a profession or a means of social advancement. Rather, it is a sacred ministry. The Gospel demands that Bishops should deal promptly, frankly and resolutely with any situation which scandalizes the flock or weakens the credibility of the Church's witness. Following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd, you are to seek out those in difficulty and gently "admonish them as beloved children" (cf. 1Co 4,14). Above all, you must pray without ceasing for your priests, that the gift of God which they have received through the laying on of hands may be constantly rekindled.

5. Likewise, while respecting the legitimate autonomy of institutes of religious and apostolic life, a Bishop has precise pastoral responsibilities for the care of those who belong to these communities. You should always be willing to support young Kenyans who aspire to consecrate their whole lives to the service of their brothers and sisters through the observance of the evangelical counsels. Of particular value is the support you offer Superiors in the delicate task of prudently discerning the fitness of candidates to religious life. I join you in expressing appreciation to the generous missionary priests, brothers, sisters and lay men and women who, receptive to the promptings of the Spirit, have come to Kenya, bearing witness to that exchange of spiritual gifts between the particular Churches which is a natural fruit of ecclesial communion. In like manner, and with equal satisfaction, I note that many Kenyan priests and religious have also heeded the Spirit's lead and are now serving as missionaries outside their Dioceses of origin and even outside the country.

Nor can we fail to recognize with keen gratitude the indispensable role of catechists in transmitting the truths of the faith and in bringing others to the Lord. I am mindful of the important witness they bear and of the selflessness with which they devote themselves to Christ and his Church in their work of making the Gospel ever better known and accepted. No effort should be spared in ensuring that they receive the proper training and formation required for the fulfilment of their duties; nor should they lack support and encouragement, either material or spiritual.

6. Beloved Brothers in the Episcopate, I am consoled by the wisdom and zeal with which you shepherd God's people in Kenya. I pray that your pilgrimage to the city where the Apostles Peter and Paul shed their blood in testimony to the Gospel will fill you with renewed strength for the apostolic ministry which has been entrusted to you, so that you will never grow weary of preaching the word of God, celebrating the sacraments and guiding the flock given to your care. It is a particular joy to learn of the establishment in Subukia of a national shrine dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, and to learn of the programme of Marian pilgrimages which will take place throughout the Jubilee Year in each Diocese. Commending you and your clergy, together with the religious and laity of your local Churches, to the loving protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and our Mother, I impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in her Son, our risen Saviour.



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Your Excellencies,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you today in the Apostolic Palace and to receive the Letters accrediting you as Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of your respective countries to the Holy See: Ukraine, Australia, Yemen, Malta, Barbados, Monaco, Iceland and Thailand. I would like to thank you kindly for the cordial messages you have brought me from your Heads of State. I would be grateful if you would convey, in turn, my respectful greetings and cordial wishes for them and for their lofty mission in the service of their peoples. Our meeting is an opportunity for me to greet the leaders of your nations and your compatriots, and to extend my fervent best wishes to the Catholics of your countries, who are keen to participate in all areas of life with their fellow citizens.

On this solemn occasion I would like once again, through you, to make an appeal to all nations that, on all continents, the civil authorities and all people of good will will continue and intensify their efforts for peace, cooperation, solidarity and understanding among peoples. You know the Apostolic See's involvement in these areas so that weapons will be silenced and give way to negotiations, in order that each country may be assisted, with respect for the law, in setting up its institutions and be helped in integrating the different cultures and ethnic groups that comprise it. In fact, it is inconceivable that a State would reject part of its population by using criteria that lead to segregation. Society's leaders are called to be mindful of the conditions for "living well together", so that brotherhood may prevail over hatred and violence.

It is our responsibility to prepare an inhabitable world for the generations to come, giving young people reasons to hope and to commit themselves to administering the earthly city by basing their action on fundamental principles of justice, integrity and respect for others. We should likewise enable the people of our time, particularly young people, to discover the moral and spiritual values that will allow them to grasp the meaning of their personal lives and the meaning of history; these values are the driving force of one's interior life and the life of society.

As you begin your mission, I offer you my best wishes and invoke an abundance of God's blessings upon you, your families, your staffs and the nations you represent.



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Mr Ambassador,

It is with pleasure that I welcome you at the beginning of your mission as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Commonwealth of Australia to the Holy See. In accepting your Letters of Credence, I thank you for the greetings which you bring from the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, and the Prime Minister, the Honourable John Howard. I would ask you to convey to them and to the Australian people my own good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the peace and prosperity of the nation.

In its diplomatic relations, the Holy See seeks to offer to all peoples a quite distinctive service, in support of a fully human life in peace and harmony, with an eye to the common good and the integral development of individuals and nations. I am pleased to note, Mr Ambassador, that you have spoken of “the quest to attain fundamental human dignity for all”, since this is at the heart of the diplomatic activity of the Holy See. In so far as Australia and the Holy See undertake this quest together, we may speak, as you have, of “shared values and a common approach to protecting the lives of citizens and their rights”.

In this light, the Holy See follows with interest the preparations in Australia for the celebration of the centenary of Federation. The centenary provides Australia with an opportunity to focus upon the question of national identity, which inevitably entails the question of fundamental values. The coming of the new millennium poses this crucial question to all in some way; but it seems especially pertinent at this time in Australian history.

At the core of the question of fundamental values there lies the still deeper question of the vision of the human being upon which Australian society is grounded and which is expressed in a document like the Constitution. Is it a vision which in the end denies human dignity and therefore subverts the common good? Or is it a vision which nourishes the sense of the dignity of the person and therefore works in favour of the common good?

Such questions are more than theoretical when we consider an issue as concrete as the reconciliation of the Aboriginal people of your land with those who have settled there in more recent times. Who can forget the painful history of the first inhabitants of Australia and the need now for reconciliation and healing? Yet, even among people of good will, there is disagreement as to how this might be achieved. In the midst of such complexity, however, one thing is clear: the issue will not be resolved except on the basis of an unambiguous vision of the dignity of every human being (cf. Address to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, Alice Springs, 1986, No. 11) and a firm sense of human rights which no individual, group or government can claim either to concede or deny, since these are transcendent rights innate to every man and woman.

The question of human dignity and human rights is focused no less clearly by issues associated with the beginning and end of human life. The Holy See has made it plain that it views with concern the trend in legislation to sanction the killing of those who are unborn and those whose life is approaching its end. This is because the Holy See considers abortion and euthanasia as offensive to human dignity and subversive of the common good. It is one of the great paradoxes of today that the rhetoric of human rights is at times accompanied by the denial of the most basic right of all, the right to life itself. This century has shown that once the right to life of some category of people is denied, then all human rights are in jeopardy. Australia enjoys a hard-won freedom, but freedom is always a fragile good and it can never be taken for granted. Respect for the right to life is decisive because it amounts in the end to respect for freedom.

A sound and integral vision of the human being will also provide the best basis for Australia’s exercise of its regional responsibilities. It is no small thing that Australia has attained such stability and prosperity in a relatively short time and in the face of many difficulties. But this stability and prosperity also confer special obligations in a region which knows both poverty and political uncertainty. From a pragmatic viewpoint, it is in Australia’s interests to have stable and prosperous neighbours; yet pragmatism alone cannot decide the full scope of Australia’s response to the challenges facing the entire region. It is true that every nation must defend and promote its own interests, yet self-interest alone cannot determine Australia’s role in the region. Beyond pragmatism and self-interest, those afflicted by instability and poverty have a right to be helped by those who are not so afflicted; and this right to be helped implies a duty to help.

Every society will be judged ultimately upon how it treats the weak, which is why the questions of Aboriginal reconciliation, of the beginning and end of life, and of regional responsibility are important now as Australia considers its identity and sets its course for the future. The Catholic Church in Australia, in fulfilling its religious, social and cultural mission, seeks to ensure that the new century and the new millennium will see the still greater growth of a nation where the weak are cherished because the inalienable dignity of every human being is the criterion of all personal, social and political life.

Mr Ambassador, as you enter the community of diplomats accredited to the Holy See, I assure you of the ready collaboration of the various offices of the Roman Curia. May your mission serve to strengthen the bond of friendship between your Government and the Holy See, and may that bond contribute richly to the well-being of your country. Upon you, your family and your fellow Australians, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome you today and to accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Commonwealth of Barbados to the Holy See, and I extend to you my good wishes for the success of your mission. I thank you for the greetings which you bring from the Prime Minister, Mr Owen Arthur, and I ask you to convey to him, to the Government and to the people of Barbados my own greetings and the assurance of my prayers for the well-being of the nation.

I also thank you, Mr Ambassador, for your gracious words of appreciation of the Holy See’s efforts “to direct attention to the plight of the poor, the destitute, the deprived, the dispossessed and the down-trodden all over the world”. In fact, in the international forum the Holy See seeks to ensure that the needs of the weakest individuals and peoples are not disregarded and that the spiritual and moral dimensions of the great human problems of our day are not overlooked. The key questions of diplomacy no longer concern territorial sovereignty, borders and territory, even if in some parts of the world these remain a problem. The task nowadays has much to do with identifying responses to the challenges of globalization and the increased interdependence of nations. By and large, the threats to stability in the world now are different, as recent events have shown so dramatically. Ethnic tensions, the absence of democracy and respect for human rights, extreme poverty, social inequalities, environmental pollution: these are some of the questions which diplomacy is called to address.

Barbados enjoys a degree of stability and prosperity, which is a significant achievement among the countries of the Caribbean region and makes Barbados well able to accept wider regional responsibilities. Yet this stability and prosperity are more fragile than they may seem: they can never be taken for granted and must always be vigorously defended. In the end, this will mean that both must be grounded upon a sure vision of the truth of the human person, the truth of the inalienable dignity and inviolable rights of every human being. Where this basis does not exist, political stability degenerates sooner or later into a political culture dominated by power and not service, by self-interest and not the common good. Similarly, when the truth of the human person is disregarded material prosperity comes to mean gross wealth for some and abject poverty for many. Society then becomes a battlefield, and all kinds of violence, both explicit and implicit, are unleashed.

This is why it is heartening to learn of the Government’s decision to establish the Ministry of Social Transformation. In a sense, this is the task of government as a whole – a service of the common good which transforms human society into a kind of family hearth where all have their rightful place. But there is always a need for agencies which focus specifically upon the weakest and most vulnerable members of society such as those you mention – “disabled children, the elderly, the homeless”. There are many criteria for assessing the health of a particular society, among them political stability and material prosperity. Yet the prime criterion is how that society treats those who are the weakest and most vulnerable, and ultimately it is on this basis that society will be judged. Time and again through this century we have witnessed the emergence of societies where the weak are cast aside and judged to be a burden, and we have seen the horrors that this has produced and is still producing. It must be everyone’s determination not to let such things happen.

To transform society and set it upon a firm foundation, we need in the first place to do all in our power to strengthen the basic cell of human society, the family. Where the family is weak, all other attempts to transform society will be ineffective. Where families are troubled and unsupported, we find a range of other problems appearing: unemployment, violence, sexual delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse are among the more common. I am happily aware, Mr Ambassador, that the Catholic Church in Barbados is a willing partner in efforts to support and strengthen family life. There are few more fundamental services which the Church can offer.

Another vital element in the transformation of society is education, and Barbados has made outstanding efforts in this regard. Education must look to the integral development of the person, to those fundamental values without which the human being is reduced to an economic unit or a technical cypher. An integral education, however, is grounded upon the truth of the human person, and will therefore teach the young a sense of their own dignity and rights, which will lead them to respect both themselves and other people. With its long and varied experience in the field of education, the Catholic Church is well placed to help Barbados in this vital area.

Mr Ambassador, I trust most sincerely that your service will further strengthen the bonds of friendship and understanding between the Commonwealth of Barbados and the Holy See. I assure you of the ready assistance of the various offices of the Holy See as you perform your duties. Upon yourself, your family and your country I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Mr Ambassador,

I gladly respond to your greeting with Our Lord's words which, as you recalled, are repeated at every Eucharistic celebration: "Peace be with you!". May peace be with you, Mr Ambassador, with the Churches of Malta and Gozo and with all the Maltese people!

I was able to repeat this greeting many times to the Maltese people nine years ago during my Pastoral Visit to that beloved country. Indeed, we are close to the anniversary of those unforgettable days of May 1990, when I had the grace, Mr Ambassador of visiting and praying in your country mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. St Paul, shipwrecked, and the other survivors of the storm were received there with "unusual kindness"; "the chief man of the island, named Publius", welcomed them and received them as his guests "hospitably" and, when they left, the Maltese "put on board whatever [they] needed" (cf. Acts Ac 28,2-10).

Tradition dates the beginning of the Church in Malta and the faith of the Maltese in Jesus Christ to Paul's stay there. This faith grew and vigorously persevered down to our time, strengthened by the numerous trials and difficulties that it had to face over the centuries.

I noticed this faith while praying with the people of Malta in the Co-Cathedral of St John, at the shrine of Mellieha, in the stadium with the young people, in St Paul's Grotto at the shrine of Our Lady of "Ta' Pinu" and on St Paul's island.

This same faith is expressed in the hundreds of churches, both small and monumental that, often built through the sacrifices of ordinary people, characterize many of the island's city and country roads.

It is the same faith that I hope is the genuine reason for the many beautiful feasts of the saints that, rooted in the tradition of the Maltese people and celebrated with special outward effort, offer an excellent opportunity for serious catechesis and for an authentic growth in Christian life.

Mr Ambassador, you mentioned great moral and civil values, such as peace, life and the family. In particular I would like to stress the importance of the family, the little Church, where, together with life, the seed of faith also sprouts and grows, and where children are taught to follow the law of God. Today the family institution is subject to fierce attacks in various parts of the world. Even Malta is experiencing the spread of a mentality that threatens to contaminate the healthy convictions of the population in this regard. This is why the Maltese Episcopate recently took a stand on the issue in a public statement reaffirming the principles of the natural law on which this fundamental institution is based, and it recalled that "stable and united families are a nation's most important and valuable resource".

They are also an essential value for the Church. In fact, it is in the family that vocations to lay commitment as well as to the priesthood, still numerous today in Malta, are born and mature. It is an immense grace and joy for the Church and for all the people of Malta to be able to continue that same generosity shown to the shipwrecked Paul. Malta can offer priests and religious to other Churches which need them. I hope that the missionary spirit of the Apostle Paul will always be kept alive in the heart of all the island's people.

I also hope that there will be an increase in the number of Maltese who distinguish themselves in the consecrated life and in pastoral zeal, as faithful representatives of faith, popular piety and missionary spirit. Let us hope that the Church in Malta, together with the ecclesial communities of the whole world, can rejoice in seeing some of its sons and daughters recognized for their heroism and holiness!

Malta, in the centre of the Mediterranean, is today more than ever a meeting place for different peoples and cultures. The wellknown spirit of acceptance that characterizes the Maltese people strengthens this vocation of the island to be a place of meeting and dialogue. It is an important role that the Maltese and their authorities can exercise for knowledge and understanding among peoples, thus fostering peace and cultural, scientific and economic cooperation. The Pope offers this wish with hope and great love for the people of Malta.

Mr Ambassador, you also mentioned the relations between the civil institutions and the Church in Malta. Thanks be to God, they are excellent and inspired by a desire for constructive, continual and honest dialogue. This is an attitude which is already well tested and in past years has helped to overcome some difficulties and to conclude fruitful bilateral agreements. I am certain that this same spirit will continue to mark future relations between the Apostolic See and the Maltese nation.

I assure you, Mr Ambassador, that, for the Church's part, this desire for collaboration is constant. It is also demonstrated by the cordiality with which today I receive and welcome the Letters of Credence appointing you as Ambassador of the Republic of Malta to the Holy See. This same sentiment of cordiality is extended, through you, to the people of Malta, to the authorities and to the newly elected Head of State, His Excellency Mr Guido de Marco.

For your new task as ambassador, which crowns a long life devoted to the service of your country, in which you held many important public offices, I offer you my warmest wishes and bless you together with your loved ones and the entire Maltese people.

Speeches 1999 - Thursday, 20 May 1999