Speeches 1998 - 14 December 1998





Tuesday, 15 December 1998

Mr Deputy Prime Minister and distinguished authorities,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,

On the occasion of the exchange of the instruments of ratification for the Agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Croatia regarding Economic Questions, which took place yesterday in this Apostolic Palace, you wished to express your feelings of devotion and gratitude to the Pope. I thank you sincerely. I also thank you for recalling my second Apostolic Visit to Croatia, which remains deeply impressed in my heart. Through the intercession of Bl. Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, I ask the Lord that this visit will continue to bear much fruit for the good of all the members of the dear Croatian nation.

I am pleased to greet your delegation, led by Dr Jure Radiae, Deputy Prime Minister and President of the State Commission for Relations with Religious Communities. I also extend a cordial greeting to the representatives of the Croatian Episcopal Conference, led by His Excellency Archbishop Josip Bozaniae of Zagreb.

The Agreement regarding Economic Questions, happily concluded between the Holy See and the Republic of Croatia, seeks to make amends for the injustices caused in the past by the confiscation of ecclesiastical goods, in the desire of providing the Catholic Church with the necessary means for carrying out her pastoral work. The Church has always claimed the right to possess and administer temporal goods. However, she does not ask for privileges in that area, but rather the possibility to use the means at her disposal for a threefold purpose: "to order divine worship; to provide decent support for the clergy and other ministers; to perform the works of the sacred apostolate and of charity, especially towards the needy" (can. 1254, §2 of the Code of Canon Law ). I noted with satisfaction that this purpose indicated in the Code of Canon Law is clearly present in the text of the Agreement.

This also represents a challenge for the Church and the State. The Catholic Church must consider, among other things, an adequate way to maintain the clergy, according to the directives of the Second Vatican Council, providing her ministers with fair and decent support (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis PO 20-22). She will then have to reorganize and strengthen her social and charitable activity. For its part, the State will have to compensate for the injustices of the past, while acknowledging the social benefit of the Church's work of caring for the needs of her less fortunate brethren, who must be the object of the special and combined care of Church and State.

While expressing my best wishes for the correct application of this Agreement for everyone's benefit, I sincerely impart to you and to all of Croatia my Apostolic Blessing, which I accompany with my most fervent wishes for a Happy Christmas.

Praised be Jesus and Mary!






Thursday, 17 December 1998

Mr. Ambassador,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the Vatican for the presentation of the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Mongolia to the Holy See. I am grateful for the greetings which you bring from President Natsagiin Bagabandi, and I ask you kindly to convey to him and the Government my own good wishes together with the assurance of my prayers for the progress, peace and prosperity of the nation. Your presence here today is a further sign of the friendship and cooperation which continue to grow between your country and the Holy See since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992.

Mongolia has made significant advances in recent years, taking its place in the world community and committing itself to policies of peace and friendship among nations. Much effort has been devoted to bringing about a more representative and democratic form of government, particularly through the ratification of the new Constitution and the legal recognition and protection of human rights. Essential to the national good is the creation of a healthy political community which is the necessary condition and sure guarantee of the development of the individual and society . Such a community finds expression in the free and responsible participation of all citizens in public affairs, in the rule of law and in respect for and promotion of human rights (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis SRS 44).

Economic reform has also been a major concern, involving a difficult transition from the centrally-planned economy of the past to one which, by leaving more room for individual creativity and initiative, is more subject to the fluctuations of market forces. As with any major change, this reform involves both opportunities and risks. While offering the possibility of promoting new contacts with other nations and of increasing national prosperity, it can also lead to the widening of the gap between rich and poor. One of the significant challenges facing your country in this new phase is to ensure that everyone has a chance to benefit and that increased wealth does not have adverse effects on the needy and indigent. Indeed, eliminating poverty and correcting situations which give rise to it or perpetuate it must be priorities for everyone, at both the national and the international levels (Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1998, No. 5).

Although progress may require certain structural reforms, the human person must ever be at the heart of all development projects. Indeed, the good of nations hinges on the promotion of an authentic and integral human development which “cannot consist in the simple accumulation of wealth and in the greater availability of goods and services, if this is gained at the expense of the development of the masses, and without due consideration for the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions of the human being” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis SRS 9). Your country’s precious cultural heritage, which includes its strong social bonds, its ancient customs and spiritual traditions, has an important role to play in promoting the common good and ensuring authentic progress. By drawing on this patrimony and bringing about those conditions which lead to the full personal development of all citizens, a great investment is made in the future of society and in its harmonious advancement.

In this regard, your country rightly recognizes the importance of education and is currently devoting much attention to increasing the rate of literacy and broadening access to education. Young people need to be taught their cultural, moral and spiritual heritage. This enables them to think in a mature and informed way, to understand what is essential in life and to discover true wisdom. Educators must therefore be engaged in the vital task of imparting moral and civic values to their students, instilling in them a lively sense of rights and duties. The implementation of such a vision of education can only be of benefit to a nation, helping to bring about its future development in harmony, and not in discontinuity, with the riches of its heritage, while at the same time preserving and strengthening a social fabric grounded in sound moral principles.

You mention your Government’s desire to increase cultural, educational and humanitarian cooperation with the Holy See and I take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the openness which the political authorities show towards the Catholic community in Mongolia. Although this community is numerically small, its members are committed to playing an active role in meeting the challenges which the development of society continues to present. Christians seek no special privileges but only the freedom to contribute to the spiritual and material progress of their fellow citizens and to practise their faith openly and peacefully. Catholic missionaries themselves, on principle, are respectful of Mongolia’s spiritual and cultural traditions in their involvement in various social and humanitarian projects which contribute to the common good. It is my ardent hope that their work will continue in a climate of mutual understanding and cooperation with Government and people.

Mr Ambassador, I am confident that in the fulfilment of your mission you will contribute all your personal qualities and skills to further strengthening the ties of friendship already existing between Mongolia and the Holy See. I assure you that the various departments of the Roman Curia will always be willing to assist you as you carry out your duties. I invoke abundant divine blessings upon Your Excellency and your country.






Thursday, 17 December 1998

Mr Ambassador,

1. I joyfully welcome you to the Vatican today at the start of your mission as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kyrgyz Republic to the Holy See. As I did with your predecessor, I would also like to extend a cordial welcome to you, and to congratulate you on this new, honourable post.

2. In your address to me, for which I thank you sincerely, you speak of Kyrgyzstan as a common home, mentioning the over 80 nationalities that must live together under the roof of a united, flourishing State. In this regard, you recalled that it is impossible to speak of true democracy and true humanity until foundations have been laid of respect for the human person, his dignity and his inalienable rights.

3. This is a conviction that I fully share, not only because it is timely, but because it is so closely connected with today's historical situation. Fifty years ago, after the end of a war which for some peoples meant even the denial of their right to exist, the General Assembly of the United Nations issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was a formal act achieved after the sad experiences of the war. The same rights must be solemnly accorded to all individuals and all peoples. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of this Declaration, celebrated recently, I would like to confirm a fundamental statement that is very dear to my heart: "Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world" (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Preamble).

4. Of course, these words did not merely aim at distancing us from the dreadful experiences of the last world war. Those principles were also meant to serve as the basis for a continual revision of societal norms, programmes and systems, to be carried out from the one basic standpoint of man's well-being as a person in society. While the Church expresses her joy at the increased sensitivity to human rights and their implementation in your country, at the same time she shares with all people of good will the concern that acceptance of the Declaration of Human Rights in "letter" will mean their application everywhere in "spirit".

5. As you recalled in your address, the country you represent is pursuing a lofty objective: the peaceful transition to a market economy. I appreciate the fact that you are aware of the intrinisic contradiction of a development that would be limited to the economic aspect. Such a conception would too easily subordinate the human person with his deepest desires and needs to the economic programme or to profit alone. The intrinsic connection between a country's true development and respect for human rights reveals the moral dimension of the economic process. True human advancement in harmony with the essential, historical vocation of each person is not achieved by striving exclusively for material goods and services or by having perfect infrastructures available. Filling only people's hands would be doing too little. It is also a question of satisfying their heart's desires, for man's "being" is at least as important as his "having".

6. In these efforts for man's integral development, the Church is ready and willing to work with the members of Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, but also with those belonging to other religions. This is because each and every man and woman, society and nation has the duty to promote the development of every person and of the whole person in a way that corresponds to his dignity as a person.

7. When individuals and communities do not see moral, cultural and spiritual requirements being respected, requirements which are based on the dignity of the person and on the identity of every community, from the family to religious associations, all prosperity and every standard of living will, in the long run, be inadequate. Therefore, respect for human rights within a country has great importance: the right to life at every stage of its existence, the right of the family as a basic social community or "cell of society"; justice in working conditions and especially those rights which stem from the transcendent vocation of the human being. First among these is the right to the freedom to profess and practise one's own religious belief, as the Second Vatican Council stated in great detail in the Declaration Dignitatis humanae.

8. The restriction of the religious freedom of individuals and communities is not only a painful experience but touches the core of a person's dignity, regardless of the religion he professes or the world-view that sustains him. The restriction and violation of religious freedom cannot be reconciled with the dignity of the human person and his objective rights. I therefore consider it my duty to renew the appeal I made at the beginning of my Pontificate to all those on whom the organization of social and public life in some way depends. We earnestly request them "to respect the rights of religion and of the Church's activity. No privilege is asked for, but only respect for an elementary right. Actuation of this right is one of the fundamental tests of man's authentic progress" (Encyclical Redemptor hominis RH 17).

9. In this regard, I am sure that you will succeed in further deepening the already good and friendly relations between the Holy See and the Kyrgyz Republic. Concrete steps could be the recognition of the Church as a reality with juridical personality and certain progress towards the conclusion of an agreement between the Holy See and the Kyrgyz Republic.

10. Mr. Ambassador, I gladly reciprocate the greetings you have conveyed to me from your President, to whom I express my respects. As I offer you my cordial wishes at the beginning of your mission, I pray the Lord to pour out abundant heavenly gifts upon you, your relatives and your co-workers in the embassy of your beloved country.






Thursday, 17 December 1998

Mr Ambassador,

I extend a warm welcome to you as I accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Holy See. I take this opportunity to reaffirm my sentiments of affection and esteem for the Nigerian people, whose hospitality, enthusiasm and earnest hopes for the future I was blessed to experience at first hand earlier this year during my second Pastoral Visit to your country. I arrived “as a friend, as one who is deeply concerned for the destiny of Nigeria” (cf. Arrival Address at Abuja, 21 March 1998, No. 2); and I receive Your Excellency today with that same friendship and concern for your people and nation.

In this regard, I am very pleased to hear you refer to your Government’s firm commitment to pursue the programme for transition to civilian rule, and your mention of the efforts being made to put into place the structures and institutions necessary to ensure enduring democratic rule in the new millennium. Indeed, I cannot fail to be encouraged by the prospects for political stability and social progress which these steps represent, not for Nigeria alone but for other African countries as well. At this moment in history, your nation can become a beacon for the rest of the continent, by showing that the cooperation of Government, private interest groups and all sectors of the population — when they are genuinely committed to work together for harmony and national unity — can truly build a society that respects all its members in their dignity, rights and freedoms.

Such a society is of course possible only if it is founded upon the ideals of truth and justice, which are also the prerequisites for another allimportant quest in our modern world: the quest for reconciliation and peace. In fact, no lasting peace can ever come about merely as the result of structures and mechanisms; rather it depends on a style of human coexistence marked by mutual respect and by an ability both to seek and to grant forgiveness. Such forgiveness does not preclude the search for truth but actually requires it; any evil which has been done must be acknowledged and, as far as possible, corrected. There is no contradiction between forgiveness and justice, for “forgiveness neither eliminates nor lessens the need for reparation which justice requires, but seeks to reintegrate individuals and groups into society, and States into the community of Nations. No punishment can suppress the inalienable dignity of those who have committed evil. The door to repentance and rehabilitation must always remain open” (Message for the 1997 World Day of Peace, 5). It is in this context that I wish to say a word of appreciation for the readiness with which General Abubakar and the Nigerian Government have listened to the appeals made by the Holy See and others on behalf of political prisoners held in your country. The action taken by your Leaders in response to these appeals is an indication of their sincerity and their commitment to serving the common good of all Nigerians and to overcoming the tensions and divisions of the past.

As Your Excellency has commented, the Catholic Church in Nigeria has for many years worked zealously for human development, especially in the fields of education and health care, bringing great benefit to society. Being profoundly convinced of the universal brotherhood of all men and women as God’s beloved children, created in his image and likeness, Catholics seek to foster the common good and encourage people to take a healthy and legitimate pride in their country. In this context, and looking to the new political era which is about to dawn in Nigeria, I express the hope that the individual Nigerian States, with the encouragement and support of the Federal Government, will take the steps necessary to start the process of returning to the Church the schools which were taken over more than two decades ago. In this way an extensive network of Catholic schools will begin to flourish once more and will be able to make a valuable contribution to the nation’s future.

Another important factor for the development and progress of any country is solidarity with the poorest and neediest members of the population, both individuals and groups. This should also include those hard hit by natural or man-made disasters. My thoughts go in a particular way to the hundreds of victims of the recent oil pipeline explosion and fire in Southern Nigeria. Immediate assistance and long-range plans to alleviate so much suffering are urgently necessary. The aim must be to preserve the human dignity of those facing hardship and difficulty; society has to show its commitment to safeguarding the rights of all its members without distinction.

Mr Ambassador, I am grateful for the warm greetings which you bring from General Abubakar, and I ask you kindly to convey to him and the Government my personal best wishes. As you take up your high responsibilities, I assure you of the full cooperation of the offices of the Roman Curia for the success of your mission. Upon yourself and the beloved people of Nigeria I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.






17 December 1998

Mr Ambassador,

It is with pleasure that I welcome you at the beginning of your mission as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana to the Holy See. I am especially happy to welcome you as the first Ambassador since diplomatic relations were established between us in 1997; and I trust that this important step will favour an even more fruitful relationship between us in the years to come. In accepting your Letters of Credence, I ask you to convey to President Janet Jagan and to your fellow citizens my 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 a quite distinctive service, always on the side of peace and harmony among peoples, and with an eye to the common good and the integral development of individuals and nations. The Church offers this service at a time when diplomacy itself is passing through a period of transition. The task of diplomacy nowadays is increasingly determined by the challenges of globalization and the new threats to world peace which this entails. The key questions no longer concern territorial sovereignty — borders and territory — even if in some parts of the world this remains a problem. By and large, the threats to stability in the world now are extreme poverty, social inequalities, ethnic tensions, environmental pollution, the absence of democracy and the failure to respect human rights. These are the situations which diplomacy is called to address.

Some of these problems are not unknown in your own country. You yourself have noted that the values of democracy, good governance, human rights, dialogue and peace are close to the heart of the Government and people of Guyana; and since the return to democratic rule your Government has striven to strengthen the democratic process and to ensure that respect for human rights becomes a fundamental element of the national ethos. The Holy See is fully supportive of this process, since there is no other basis which will enable Guyana to build a future worthy of the human dignity of its citizens. Smaller countries such as your own are especially vulnerable to the economic pressures which come with the process of globalization. There is the danger that economic globalization will increase the gap between rich and poor in the world, leaving developing countries to face ever more difficult challenges.

In such a situation, the Church will continue to work for a globalization of solidarity, aimed at ensuring that its potential benefits are enjoyed by all. This is a sure way of working for peace in today’s world. The Church will also continue to plead for an alleviation of the crushing debt which condemns countries such as yours to a poverty from which there is no escape. In part, this debt is the result of unjust structures in the world economy, as the Holy See has not ceased to point out in recent years. But it is also true that in some places inept and even corrupt financial administration has contributed to the problem. The Holy See is confident that the determination of the Government of Guyana will ensure that its financial administration is part of the solution rather than part of the problem. External efforts without internal cooperation are of course unlikely to succeed.

Ethnic tension is another of the scourges of the planet which has not left Guyana untouched. To the extent that any group or groups are left feeling disenfranchised or unjustly treated, tension will remain and grow worse. It is clear that if the sorrows of the past are to be left behind and a new future built justice must be available to all. Insofar as the culture of the common good prevails, the fundamental causes of ethnic tension will disappear. Here again the Church pledges support for all efforts to construct a culture of dialogue rather than confrontation, of reconciliation rather than conflict.

The experience of recent years in other parts of the world has shown that, after long years of authoritarian rule by a government of materialist ideology, the task of reconstruction is slow and complex. The wounds inflicted by an ideology which denied the truth of the human person remain. The process of healing therefore demands a long and patient process of education which is not just a matter of communicating economically useful skills. If it were no more than this it would remain tied to the materialism which has done such damage in the past. The deeper education needed concerns the transcendent truth of the human person, without which it is meaningless to speak of human rights, which, as you yourself recognize, are absolutely essential for sustainable development. In this task of education the Church pledges her support, drawing as she does upon her extensive educational tradition and the religious commitment of so many of her members.

Given the Church’s involvement in these areas, the Holy See’s diplomatic activity strives to promote the values and ideals without which human society is bound to fail. Through diplomacy based upon ethical principles which place the human person at the centre of all analysis and decision-making, the Church looks unequivocally to the spiritual, moral and material well-being of the human family. This is the interest and love which the Successor of Peter and the Church as a whole have for the people of Guyana as they move into a new future.

Mr Ambassador, as you enter the diplomatic community accredited to the Holy See, I assure you of the ready assistance of the various offices and agencies of the Roman Curia. May your mission serve to strengthen the bonds of understanding and cooperation between your Government and the Holy See. Upon you, your family and all the people of Guyana I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.







Thursday, 17 December 1998

Your Excellencies,

1. I am very pleased to welcome you as you present the Letters accrediting you as Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of your countries to the Holy See: Guyana, whose representative I am receiving for the first time, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. On this occasion I greet the leaders of each of your nations as well as your compatriots. I warmly thank your Heads of State for the messages you have addressed to me and I would be great grateful if you would, in turn, express my respectful sentiments and best wishes for them and for their lofty mission at the service of their peoples.

2. In the Bull of Indiction for the Great Jubilee, I recalled the need “to create a new culture of international solidarity and co-operation” (n. 12). It is imperative that at the dawn of the third millennium humanity should advance resolutely on this way, so that all peoples will experience new hope in an ever more equitable society.

In this perspective, I again express my hope that the debt question which weighs on so many poor countries will be re-examined; it prevents them from making significant progress in the well-being of their people and leads to situations of often uncontrollable violence. Nevertheless, vigorous action should also be taken on the causes of indebtedness, particularly by reducing pointless and excessive expenditures, by equitably repaying the producing countries and by ensuring that the funds of international solidarity effectively reach the people for whom they are intended.

3. This year, when we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I salute the advances made in the quest for greater justice and freedom among individuals and in societies. All men and women and all peoples now have the same rights formally recognized. Scorning them has become an intolerable attack on human dignity for every conscience. However, tragic situations of injustice, extreme poverty and the violation of human rights are still an open wound in humanity's side. New forms of slavery, the result of a culture of death, are appearing in our day, depriving many men, women and children of their freedom and marginalizing them. It is the duty of national leaders to work tirelessly to eliminate these scourges which demean and enslave the human person, so that social relations can be established which will allow each individual to live in dignity and respect for his nature as a child of God.

4. Lastly, I once again express my ardent desire to see lasting peace established everywhere, particularly on the African continent. The ongoing conflicts there can only foster a spirit of hatred and revenge between nations and the human groups which comprise them. Peace is also threatened again in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, from where we have received alarming news. Reconciliation, based on dialogue, justice and the right of every individual and every nation to live in security and the recognition of their specific identity is more urgent than ever. It is up to the international community in particular to promote solutions that will lead to harmony and the renewal of life in society, and to take responsibility for preventing the deviations that make populations innocent victims.

5. I hope that the mission you are beginning today to the Holy See will give you many opportunities to discover the life and concerns of the universal Church. On you and your families, on your staffs and on the nations you represent, I invoke an abundance of God's blessings.




Saturday, 19 December 1998

Venerable Brother in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. We all feel deeply honoured by the Christmas tree that you have brought to Rome from your country. The fir-tree from the Black Forest is a sign of your union with the Successor of Peter, and at the same time it is an eloquent greeting from the Church in Freiburg to those from the city of Rome and the whole world who come together at Christmas time in the centre of Christianity.

I thank all who have made this gift possible. In particular I greet Auxiliary Bishop Wolfgang Kirchgässner, who leads your group on behalf of Archbishop Oskar Saier. I ask you to give him my best wishes for a speedy recovery. In presenting the entire delegation, I would like to mention some particular individuals by name: the President of the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg, the President of the Waldshut District and the Mayor of Bad Säckingen. I am pleased to know that you are building bridges to the different countries of Europe. I extend my cordial welcome to the representatives of your twin cities.

2. Over the last few days, as I looked down at St Peter's Square from the window of my study, the tree prompted some spiritual reflections. In my own country I always loved trees. When you look at them, they begin in a way to speak. A poet who was born not far from your country and who lived on Lake Constance saw trees as effective preachers: "They do not preach doctrines or remedies; they proclaim the fundamental law of life".

In the blossoming of spring, the ripeness of summer, the autumn harvest and the death of winter, trees tell the mystery of life. For this reason, since ancient times men have used the tree as an image for the fundamental questions of life.

3. Unfortunately, in our time the tree is also an eloquent reflection of how man often treats his environment, God's creation. Dying trees are a silent warning that there are persons who obviously do not regard either life or creation as a gift, but only see what use can be made of them. It gradually becomes clear that wherever trees die, eventually man perishes, too.

4. Like trees, men need deep roots, because only those who are deeply rooted in fertile ground can remain steadfast. They can reach up to receive the light of the sun and at the same time resist the wind which shakes them. Yet the existence of those who believe that they can do without this foundation remains suspended in the air like roots without soil.

Sacred Scripture shows us the foundation in which we must root our lives if we are to remain firm. The Apostle Paul offers us the best advice: remain well rooted and founded in Jesus Christ, established in the faith as you were taught (cf. Col Col 2,7).

Speeches 1998 - 14 December 1998