Speeches 1998 - Tuesday, 1 December 1998





5 December 1998

Your Eminence,
Dear Brother Bishops,

1. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life” (1Jn 1,1) this is our theme. With special intensity during these days of the Special Assembly for Oceania of the Synod of Bishops our thoughts are on the Word of life, Jesus Christ, who has called us to shepherd his people, and in his name to preach the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth. Your visit ad Limina Apostolorum, too, is in a sense an accounting to him of the mission which is yours among the peoples of the Pacific. In greeting you, the members of the Episcopal Conference of the Pacific, I give glory to God because “in the islands of the sea, we hear songs of praise to the name of the Lord” (cf. Is Is 24,15-16).

On your ad Limina visit you span time as you pray at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and acknowledge the bond of faith which connects you and your people to their witness to the Gospel; and space itself disappears as you come to the heart of the Church to visit the Successor of Peter. You come representing a complex tapestry of races, cultures and languages; yet diversity is transcended in the communion which is ours in the Body of Christ, the Church.

2. The history of evangelization in your countries is not a long one, but it is already rich in the fruits of holiness, justice and peace which only the Gospel can produce. You are witnesses to the heroic work of the missionaries who sowed the seed of faith in the hearts of your peoples. They are the men and women, priests and religious, who heard the call of Christ and, leaving behind what was naturally theirs, took his message to the peoples you represent. They preached in his name and their preaching “came...not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1Th 1,5). They preached with the testimony of their lives, some even unto death. It is above all this sacrifice, grafted onto the paschal mystery of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord, which opens human hearts to the peace of the Holy Spirit. New developments in evangelization are now required; but the sacrifices of the early missionaries and especially of the martyrs like Saint Peter Chanel and Blessed Diego de San Vitores must not be forgotten. Indeed, as we move towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 their story must be reclaimed and told with heartfelt gratitude and joy.

3. This is a delicate time in your various countries, a time of profound change. The immediate post-colonial phase of your history is past. Independence is no longer a new experience, even if the consolidation of civil rights and freedom remains a pressing task. Your peoples are troubled by the elusiveness of the development and wellbeing to which they aspire, especially now that in the Asia-Pacific region there has appeared unexpected economic and even political instability. There was a time when the seas kept your societies very much to themselves, but eventually those same seas became the highways bringing other cultures, which have now merged with your own. The rapid development of communications is leading to a process of cultural globalization which is already having a great impact upon your societies.Some effects are positive, but others are certainly negative. In such a situation the Pastors of the Church must be wise in their discernment and courageous in their decisions.

It is paradoxical that the process of greater unification which globalization promises sometimes leads to greater disunity and alienation. Instead of fostering a spirit of co-operation and solidarity, it can engender an attitude of “sauve qui peut” both within nations and between them. This can mean the exploitation of weaker nations by stronger ones; it can mean corruption which divides leaders from the people whom they are supposed to serve; it can ignite conflict between diverging interests in a way which makes it impossible to order society on the basis of the common good. The voice of the Bishops must be clearly heard in favour of the spirit of co-operation and solidarity which alone can ensure the well-being of your peoples.

For the Church in the Pacific nations today no task is more necessary than the new evangelization required to meet the needs of present fast changing circumstances. The new evangelization is the next phase of the plantatio Ecclesiae in your islands, and it calls for the Gospel to be preached in ways that are new in ardour, methods and expression (cf. Veritatis splendor VS 106). It is not that the ways of the first missionaries were misconceived: on the contrary, in their time they were magnificently conceived and implemented. But the changing scene which you now face brings new challenges, and this will demand no less imagination and courage than was shown by the early missionaries. The task may be daunting, dear Brothers, but “he who calls you is faithful and he will accomplish it” (1Th 5,24).

4. Evangelization calls for leadership, which in the first phase of its history in your lands was provided by the missionaries. Yet that will not be the case in this new phase. As Successors of the Apostles, the Bishops remain the prime agents of evangelization; and your closest collaborators are the priests and religious, both missionary and those locally born whom God calls within your own communities. Lay people too are ever more ready to play a decisive role in this new phase of evangelization, responding to their particular vocation within the context of the polyphonic and hierarchical nature of the Church. I wish then to reflect with you briefly upon some aspects of the relationship between Bishops, priests and lay people.

The Bishop's role as prime agent of evangelization makes him the first servant of communion. This service has many implications, but none as immediately important as that of strengthening the bonds of grace, co-operation and friendship between the Bishop and his priests. This can be difficult, given that amidst the daily administration of Dioceses and parishes it is not always easy to find the time and energy which the building of communion requires. Yet it is essential that such time and energy be found. In some cultures, traditional customs and modes of leadership can influence the exercise of leadership by the Bishop, tending to make him a remote figure rather than the father who is always willing and able to listen to his priests and people. Sometimes, if necessary, the Bishop's leadership has to be exercised in ways that are counter-cultural, on the clear understanding — so important for the new evangelization — that inculturation of the faith does not mean absolutizing any culture to the point where no element of it can be questioned or tempered.

5. Modes of leadership which stress privilege rather than service always create problems in the relationship between priests and lay people. This is why it is important that seminaries and houses of formation should teach a way of leadership which is wholly geared to service and which fills the candidates with the same zeal to preach the Gospel which we see in the early missionaries. This will demand a thorough induction into the spirituality of the Cross, the total giving of self which is learned only with difficulty, but without which priestly ministry becomes a form of self-service and self-glorification. In their years of preparation, candidates for ordination need to grasp the truth that this self-emptying is the only way to a truly satisfying priestly life, indeed that it is the essential condition for abiding joy in their lives. Without it, priestly life can turn sour and unsatisfying, opening the way to destructive modes of behaviour. It is a sign of hope that in your part of the world at the moment there is a good number of vocations; and it is vital that these candidates be trained to be true servants of Christ and the Church, who know how to work in harmony and obedience with the Bishop and in close collaboration with religious and the lay faithful.

6. Increasingly in recent years lay people have assumed greater responsibility within the Church community. This is not just because priests are not always available; it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Yet at times lay responsibility has been stressed in a way that sets it in opposition to priestly ministry. The truth is that priestly leadership and lay responsibility are complementary: where lay responsibility is rightly exercised, the priest’s ministry emerges in all its richness, and vice versa. The two vocations need to be carefully distinguished, not separated, so that they may work together in the deep harmony which the God-given nature of the Church presumes. Priestly vocations flourish in situations where priests and lay people work together in mutually enriching ways.

At a time of radical change, with all the uncertainty it brings, it is more important than ever for the Church to prepare lay men and women to assume roles of leadership in society which work in favour of the common good (cf. Christifideles Laici CL 42-43). Your particular Churches are increasingly blessed with lay men and women who take an active part in the liturgy, in catechesis and other forms of Christian service. This is a cause of great satisfaction, but it is not enough. The specifically lay contribution to the work of the Gospel must reach out to embrace those vast areas of human life and culture which lie beyond the community of the Church in an ever more secularized society. Especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium has stressed consistently the secular charism of the lay vocation (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 31 Evangelii Nuntiandi EN 70 Christifideles Laici EN 17). This means that the chief arena for the evangelizing work of lay people is the secular world of family, workplace, politics, culture, professional and intellectual life. How effectively they perform this work in these areas will in large part determine how effective the new phase of evangelization of the Pacific will be.

To equip lay people for this task will demand concerted attention to the theology of the lay vocation and to the social teaching of the Church, especially to those values and principles which shape the Catholic understanding of the natural law and the common good. All Christians should have an unassailable sense of the supreme value of human life, the inalienable dignity of the human person and the unique importance of the family as the basic cell of society. The abandonment of these moral points of reference is the core of a destructive secularization. And because they are abandoned only when God is excluded from the world and from human hearts, lay people need to be taught a way of prayer which opens them more and more to the mystery of God’s loving providence in every aspect of life. A great effort is also needed in the area of education, with all the educational institutions of your particular Churches contributing to the Christian formation of young people. Such an education, far from aggravating the erosion of what is good in the traditional ways of your societies, will enhance the values which these ways embody and will lead to that convergence of Pacific traditions and Catholic teaching which the inculturation of the Gospel requires.

7. The Churches over which you preside in the love of Christ are part of the world of Oceania, a name which suggests that it is water – the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean – which has determined your history and your culture. But it is water of a different kind – the waters of Baptism – which reveal your identity at a deeper level. The Christians of the Pacific have been buried with Christ in Baptism and raised with him to newness of life (cf. Rom Rm 6,4). May the Holy Spirit move anew over the deep of your hearts, dear Brothers, and over the hearts of your people, so that in celebrating the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and entering the new millennium the whole Church throughout the Pacific “will set forth upon the ocean of light which is the Trinity” (Letter to Priests 1998, 7). The spiritual renewal which should accompany the Jubilee will bring the energies needed for the evangelizing and missionary task before you, for the apostolate of catechesis and Christian formation, for the defence of human life and dignity, and for the application of Catholic social teaching to political, economic and cultural issues. May Mary, Star of the Sea and Star of Evangelization, lead you safely to the haven where “night will be no more, nor will there be need for lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall be the light” (Ap 22,5). In the love of Jesus Christ who alone is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14,6), I gladly impart to you and the priests, religious and lay faithful of your lands my Apostolic Blessing.




Saturday, 5 December 1998

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to extend a cordial welcome to each of you, gathered here on the occasion of the annual study conference of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists. In particular I greet your President, Prof. Giuseppe Dalla Torre, and thank him for the kind words that he wished to address to me on behalf of you all. My thoughts turn to all the members of your association who in the academic context, as in that of law, wish according to the directives of the Council (cf. Apostolicam actuositatem AA 7) to give a Christian inspiration to the temporal order through their professional involvement in society and through research in juridical institutes for whatever best promotes the good of the individual and the community.

Today's meeting is very special, because it forms part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists: it arose in 1948 from the Graduates Movement of Catholic Action and was the result of a serious crisis of conscience that affected a generation of jurists faced with the ideological postulates of the ethical State, which in Italy as in all of Europe marked the totalitarian experience. They realized how refined juridical instruments, to whose formulation they had contributed, had served reprehensible political ends and had strengthened totalitarian regimes. They were also well aware of the tragic and false conclusions which could be reached by a purely positivist conception of law, including the devastation of human rights represented by the extermination camps and by the dreadful world conflict itself.

2. With the foundation of your union, those jurists wished to respond to the need to recover the authentic basis of law by removing it from arbitrary political uses based on the logic of the stronger. They saw in natural law the solid and authentic foundation of positive law and made this conviction the systematic reference point of their scholarly work.

In these 50 years, your association has promoted the development of the juridical order in accordance with the Italian Constitution of 1948, and above all with the three fundamental directives contained in the first part: the personalist principle, the pluralist principle ordered according to the criterion of subsidiarity, and "the principle of the preexistence of the rights of the individual and of communities with respect to every grant made by the State.

In observing these directives, the members of the Union served as a critical conscience in the wider community of Italian jurists, both by recalling the values of the Constitution whenever ongoing juridical experience revealed growing divergences, and by finding in those values the solution to the new questions raised by scientific and technological progress. It was these noble motives that inspired the courageous cultural commitment of Italian Catholic jurists to opposing the divorce law in 1970, and that of abortion in 1978, as well as their valuable contribution to the issues of ecology and bioethics at a time when they were not yet an object of attention on the part of Italy's legal community.

How can we not take satisfaction in the great professional progress you have made in these five decades? How can we not thank the Lord for the passion and competence with which in a half century of history the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists has upheld the primacy of the person and the importance of the common good, as society and legal experience evolve?

The motto "50 years for the justice of the law", which you have chosen for this jubilee, calls to mind the constant fidelity to ethics on the part of believing jurists and expresses your renewed commitment to serve a law that is inspired by the great human and Christian values. You will thus continue to offer Italian society and juridical science a contribution that appears to be increasingly useful and appreciated.

3. Your association has always taken the affirmation of the natural law as its constant reference point and regarded it as fundamental for the authentic development of the individual and of society.

Today this reference point serves as a significant point of contact with modern legal theory, in which there is a universal consensus on the issue of human rights, which embodies the age-old requirements of natural law doctrine.

A common concern of jurists today is to put human rights into full effect in the face of their grave violations, which are reported in various parts of the world despite the solemn statements of principle. But this resolution runs the risk of obtaining modest results or of confusing authentic rights with subjective and selfish demands, if a widespread, universal consensus on their foundation is lacking. Your effort to affirm a healthy doctrine of natural law is both praiseworthy and meritorious, as it represents the sole guarantee for putting human rights on a sure and absolute basis.

4. The convention you are holding these days has for its theme: "Solidarity between ethics and law". In the perspective of the new millennium, you wished to identify the theme of solidarity as a logical outcome of your 50 years of reflection on the natural law.

This is a very important subject, closely connected with that of the natural law: the dimension of solidarity expresses a right that is not an arbitrary tool in the hands of the more powerful, but a sure means of justice.

My wish is that these issues, meant to guide the research of Catholic jurists, may help effectively to challenge the individualistic concepts that distort positive law by reducing it to the mere explication of individual demands without considering the requirements of justice and the duties of solidarity.

With these wishes, I entrust each one of you and your work to the maternal protection of the Sedes Sapientiae and I invoke constant divine assistance, while, as a pledge of heavenly favours, I sincerely impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.





Tuesday, 8 December 1998

1. O Mary!
Here we are again at your feet on the day we celebrate your Immaculate Conception, and we beg you, as the beloved daughter of the Father, during this year of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, to teach us to walk in unity to the Father’s house, to make all humanity one family.

2. O Mary!
From the very first moment of life you were preserved from original sin through the merits of Jesus, whose Mother you were to become. Sin and death have no power over you. From the moment you were conceived, you have enjoyed the unique privilege of being filled with the grace of your blessed Son, to be holy as he is holy. For this reason the heavenly messenger, sent to announce the divine plan to you, greeted you saying:
“Hail, full of grace” (Lc 1,28).
Yes, O Mary, you are full of grace; you are the Immaculate Conception. In you is fulfilled the promise made to our first parents, the primordial Gospel of hope at the tragic moment of the fall: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed” (Gn 3,15). Your seed, O Mary, is the blessed Son of your womb, Jesus, the immaculate Lamb who took upon himself the sin of the world, our sin. Your Son, O Mother, has preserved you, to offer all humanity the gift of salvation. For this reason, from generation to generation, the redeemed ceaselessly repeat the angel’s words:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lc 1,28).

3. O Mary!
From East to West, from the very beginning, the People of God profess with faith that you are the all pure, the all holy, the sublime Mother of the Redeemer. The Fathers of the Church unanimously attest to it; pastors, theologians and the greatest confessors of the faith proclaim it. Then, in 1854 my venerable Predecessor, Pope Pius IX, officially recognized the truth of this your privilege. In everlasting memory of that event, this column was erected here, in the heart of Rome, from where you watch over the city with a mother’s love. Every year since then, on this solemn feast, the Church and the city of Rome come here with their Bishop to Piazza di Spagna, to honour you, a sign of sure hope for all men and women. With this annual act of veneration, we profess that we want to return to the original, eternal plan of our Creator and Father, and with the Apostle Paul we repeat:
“Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.... He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ep 13-4).

4. O Mary!
You are the witness to this primordial choice. Guide us, O Mother, who know the Way! Today the People of God and the whole city of Rome entrust themselves to you, the Immaculate Conception. Protect us always and lead us all on the ways of holiness. Amen!

The Holy Father then spoke extemporaneously:

We sang of this Mother in the Liturgy of the Word. We beheld the Lord’s marvels. In today’s liturgy, the first words of our hymn were “Tota pulchra es Maria”: you are all beautiful, O Mary. In the presence of this beauty, perhaps we find ourselves thinking of the words of the great Fyodor Dostoevski, who wrote that beauty can save the world: your beauty, Mary, which is expressed in the Immaculate Conception. We entrust our city, the Church and the whole world to you. May you be the “Tota Pulchra” who guides us in all hope through the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 towards the future, because you, O Mary, are the Mother of hope. Praised be Jesus Christ!

At the end of the prayer meeting, the Holy Father added:

Let us conclude this contemplative celebration: we have beheld your marvels, O Lord. Yes, the “Tota Pulchra” must save the world in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception.
Praised be Jesus Christ!




Dear Brothers and Sisters of Brazil,

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers" (Mt 20,1).

1. With these words of Sacred Scripture, I would like to join the entire Church in Brazil in opening this year's Campaign for Fraternity, whose theme is: "Fraternity and Unemployment: Let us walk resolutely towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000". In this perspective, I reaffirm that "a commitment to justice and peace in a world like ours, marked by so many conflicts and intolerable social and economic inequalities, is a necessary condition for the preparation and celebration of the Jubilee" (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 51).

2. To be able to work in the Lord's vineyard is certainly a divine gift. This vision of the definitive possession of the kingdom of heaven, presented in the parable of the vineyard workers, does not exclude, but indeed reinforces the need to understand the right to work in this world. Lent, as a special time for conversion to God through penance and prayer, is an opportunity for reflection and good intentions, so that all men and women of goodwill will realize they have an important role in "the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice and liberty, which find their full attainment in Christ" (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 52). Bread is something "which earth has given and human hands have made", but the disconcerting world phenomenon of unemployment and underemployment must increasingly challenge the conscience of all Christians with the distressing question posed by the Campaign for Fraternity: "Unemployed ... why?" (cf. Encyclical Solicitudo rei socialis, n. 18).

3. In expressing the wish that all available means be used to alleviate the tragedy of unemployment, as I have already suggested in the celebration of the World Day of Peace this year (Message, n. 8), I invoke abundant light from on high and a Blessing for all who hear me.

Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ!

From the Vatican, 8 December 1998.






14 December 1998

Dear Cardinal Clancy,

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. I warmly greet you, the Bishops of Australia, with the words of the Apostle Peter: “Peace to all of you who are in Christ” (1P 5,14). Your ad Limina visit is taking place at the same time as the Special Assembly for Oceania of the Synod of Bishops when, in the midst of the joys and anxieties of your priestly service, you have entered into the colloquium fraternitatis with your brother Bishops from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands and the whole Pacific region on the centrality of Christ, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life of the peoples of your continent. Representatives of your Conference have also met various heads of Dicasteries of the Holy See to discuss aspects of your ministry in the particular situation of the Church in your land. I wish to encourage you to look to the profound strengths of the Catholic community in Australia, which in the midst of often disconcerting change continues to listen to the word of God and to bear abundant fruits of holiness and evangelical service.

2. Your meetings with some of the Congregations of the Roman Curia have focused on questions of doctrine and morality, the liturgy, the role of the Bishop, evangelization and mission, the priesthood and religious life, and Catholic education. In each of these areas, your own personal responsibility as Bishops is absolutely vital, and so I will make this the underlying theme of these brief reflections. From the Second Vatican Council, the figure of the diocesan Bishop emerged with new vigour and clarity. With your fellow Bishops and in union with the Successor of Peter, you have by the power of the Holy Spirit received the task of caring for the Church of God, the Bride purchased at the cost of the blood of the only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Acts Ac 20,28).

The Bishops are “the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches”, just as the Successor of Peter is “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of unity” of all the Bishops and with them of the whole body of the faithful. Since the particular Churches over which the individual Bishops preside represent a portion of the People of God assigned to the Bishop's pastoral governance, they are not complete in themselves but exist in and through communion with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. For this reason “all the Bishops have the obligation of fostering and safeguarding the unity of the faith and upholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church” (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 23). Each individual Bishop, then, is called to assume his full responsibility, setting his face resolutely against all that might harm the faith that has been handed down (cf. 1Co 4,7). In order for his ministry of sanctifying, teaching and governing to be truly effective, it goes without saying that the manner of a Bishop's life must be irreproachable: he must openly strive for holiness, and give himself wholeheartedly and without hesitation to the service of the Gospel.

3. Until recently, the Catholic community in Australia knew nothing but consistent growth. Yours is the remarkable story of a great institution built quickly, despite limited resources. Dioceses, parishes, religious communities, schools, seminaries, organizations of every kind appeared, as testimony to the strength of the Catholic faith in your land and the immense generosity of those who brought it there. Now perhaps it appears that the momentum has slackened, and the Church in Australia faces a complex situation which calls for careful discernment on the part of the Bishops, and a confident and committed response on the part of all Catholics.

The underlying question concerns the relationship between the Church and the world. This question was fundamental to the Second Vatican Council and it remains fundamental to the life of the Church more than thirty years later. The answer we give to this question will determine the answer we give to a range of other important and practical questions. The advanced secularization of society brings with it a tendency to blur the boundaries between the Church and the world. Certain aspects of the prevailing culture are allowed to condition the Christian community in ways which the Gospel does not permit. There is sometimes an unwillingness to challenge cultural assumptions as the Gospel demands. This often goes hand in hand with an uncritical approach to the problem of moral evil, and a reluctance to recognize the reality of sin and the need for forgiveness. This attitude embodies a too optimistic view of modernity, together with an uneasiness about the Cross and its implications for Christian living. The past is too easily dismissed, and the horizontal is so stressed that the sense of the supernatural grows weak. A distorted respect for pluralism leads to a relativism which questions the truths taught by faith and accessible to human reason; and this in turn leads to confusion about what constitutes true freedom. All this causes uncertainty about the distinctive contribution which the Church is called to make in the world.

In speaking of the Church’s dialogue with the world, Pope Paul VI used the phrase colloquium salutis; not just dialogue for its own sake, but a dialogue which has its source in the Truth and seeks to communicate the Truth that frees and saves. The colloquium salutis requires that the Church be different precisely for the sake of dialogue. The unfailing source of this difference is the power of the Paschal Mystery which we proclaim and communicate. It is in the Paschal Mystery that we discover the absolute and universal truth – the truth about God and about the human person – which has been entrusted to the Church and which she offers to the men and women of every age. We Bishops must never lose confidence in the call we have received, the call to a humble and tenacious diakonia of that truth. The apostolic faith and the apostolic mission which we have received impose a solemn duty to speak that truth at every level of our ministry.

4. As “the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood” (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 26), the Bishop’s service to the truth has a specific and primary application in the liturgical life of his diocese. He must do everything necessary to ensure that the liturgy through which “the work of our redemption is exercised” (Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 2) remains true to its most intimate nature: praise and worship of the Eternal Father (cf. ibid., 7). It is particularly important for the Bishop to provide for the sound teaching of liturgical theology and spirituality in seminaries and similar institutions. He must also see to the creation of the resources which his diocese needs, in the form of specially trained priests, deacons and lay people, properly functioning commissions and working groups for the promotion of the liturgy and of liturgical music and art, and for the construction and maintenance of churches which in their design and furnishings will be in close harmony with underlying values of the Catholic tradition. Again, among both clergy and laity, appropriate means must be available for permanent formation and for a constant catechesis regarding the deeper meaning of the various liturgical celebrations. In many cases, it will be helpful to pool resources with neighboring dioceses or at a national level. Such arrangements should not, however, diminish the Bishop’s task of ordering, promoting, and guarding the liturgical life of the particular Church (cf. Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 21).

Since the Sacrifice of the Mass is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium LG 11), I encourage you to exhort priests and lay faithful alike to be willing to make substantial sacrifices in order to make available and to attend Sunday Mass. Earlier generations of Catholics in Australia showed the depth of their faith by their high regard for the Eucharist and the other sacraments. That spirit is an integral part of Catholic life, a part of our spiritual tradition which needs to be reaffirmed.

5. In preparing and celebrating the forthcoming Great Jubilee as a time of conversion and reconciliation, there is also ample room for a great catechizing effort in relation to the Sacrament of Penance. Today it is possible and necessary to overcome certain superficial applications of the human sciences in the approach to the formation of consciences. The Church in Australia should invite Catholics to encounter anew the saving mystery of the Father’s love and mercy through that uniquely profound and transforming human experience that is individual, integral confession and absolution. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, this remains the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church (cf. No. 1484). The personal nature of sin, conversion, forgiveness and reconciliation is the reason why the Second Rite of Penance demands the personal confession of sins and individual absolution. It is for this same reason that general confession and general absolution are appropriate only in cases of grave necessity, clearly determined by liturgical and canonical norms.

As those primarily responsible for Church life and discipline, you will know how to make clear to the faithful the theological, pastoral and anthropological reasons for the Church’s practice of having children who have reached the age of reason receive the Sacrament of Penance before making their First Holy Communion (cf. Canon 914). At stake is respect for the integrity of their personal, individual relationship with God.

6. As has been repeatedly made clear in the present Synod, there is a direct link between the ministry of the Bishop and the state of the priesthood in his diocese, with regard both to the recruitment of suitable candidates to the priesthood and to the exercise of priestly ministry. You have reported a decline in the numbers of those responding to God's call to the priesthood and religious life, a decline in the numbers of those in active ministry, and the increasing age of those presently serving the Church. You have rightly responded to this pastoral problem with prayer and various vocational promotion programmes. The fact that the shortage of vocations is not everywhere felt to the same degree would indicate that the ideal of commitment, service and unconditional self-giving for the sake of Jesus Christ still speaks to many hearts, especially where young people find priests who live out, as radically as possible, the love of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (cf. Jn Jn 10,11 Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 40). Today the younger generation of Catholics shows a remarkable capacity to respond to the call to a self-giving and demanding spiritual life, precisely because they are quick to perceive that the prevailing self-centred culture is incapable of satisfying the deeper needs of the human heart. In this search they are looking for guidance; they need genuine witnesses to the Gospel message.

In many ways the decline in the number of priests in active ministry is offset by greater participation of the laity in the parish setting. Lay women and men often work closely with their parish priests in liturgical matters, in catechesis, in the material administration of the parish, and in efforts to draw others to the Church by their own works of the apostolate (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem AA 10). It falls to the Bishop to order this collaboration properly, in particular by ensuring that the parish priest is not perceived as merely one minister among many, with particular responsibility for the sacraments, but whose teaching office and governance is limited by the will of the majority or of a vocal minority. The Australian sense of equality must not be used as an excuse for stripping the parish priest of the authority and duties that pertain to his office, making it appear that the ministerial priesthood is less essential to the local Church community.

Every Bishop recognizes how important it is to be close to his priests, being a father to them, affirming them, and correcting them when necessary. In a cultural climate dominated by subjective thought and moral relativism, the transmission of the faith and the presentation of the Church’s teaching and discipline has to be a matter of grave concern to the Successors of the Apostles. Unfortunately, the teaching of the Magisterium is sometimes met with reservation and questioning, a tendency which is sometimes fuelled by media interest in dissent, or in some cases by the intention to use the media as a kind of stratagem to force the Church into changes she cannot make. The Bishops’ task is not to win arguments but to win souls for Christ, to engage not in ideological bickering but in a spiritual struggle on behalf of truth, to be concerned not with vindicating or promoting themselves but with proclaiming and spreading the Gospel.

7. There is a great need to speak the truth clearly and with love, and to do so confidently, since the truth we proclaim belongs to Christ and is in fact the truth for which all people long, no matter how uninterested or resistant they may seem. Our colloquium salutis will produce good results only if the Holy Spirit breathes through our being and becomes our voice. Let us, then, at this moment of communion, invoke that same Holy Spirit “whose coming is gentle”, as Saint Cyril of Jerusalem says, “whose burden is light. . . for he comes to save, to heal, to teach, to admonish, to strengthen, to exhort and to enlighten the mind” (Catecheses, XVI, 16). I earnestly recommend to your prayer and reflection, to your responsibility and action, the document which summarizes your meetings with the various Dicasteries of the Holy See. We all well know that the Bishop’s threefold ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing is a difficult and often burdensome one, which involves suffering and the Cross. Yet, as the document itself states: “in the mystery of the Cross we learn a wisdom which transcends our own weakness and limitations: we learn that in Christ truth and love are one, and in him we find the meaning of our vocation” (No. 17).

It is above all the Mother of the Redeemer who, in her Spiritfilled Magnificat, leads us in praise of God who has called us “out of darkness into his own wonderful light” (1P 2,9). May Mary, Help of Christians, watch over your land and its people. As a pledge of grace and peace in him who is always “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14,6), I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to the priests, religious and lay faithful who dwell in Australia.

Speeches 1998 - Tuesday, 1 December 1998