Speeches 1999



Thursday, 16 December 1999

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am pleased to greet your Excellency on the occasion of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Burundi to the Holy See.
I was touched by your kind words and I cordially thank you. I would be grateful if you would kindly convey my fervent wishes to President Pierre Buyoya of the Republic of Burundi, and to the Burundian people, whose sufferings and courage in times of distress I know, so that the country will at last rediscover peace and that all its inhabitants will be able to live in safety and brotherhood.

2. Peace, in fact, is a deep aspiration of the Burundian people, as well as of all the inhabitants of the Great Lakes region who have lived for many years in a situation of extreme violence and of frequent violations of their most basic human rights. Once again I would like to address a pressing appeal to all leaders, so that all forms of violence to their peoples will cease. I hope that, thanks to the appointment of a new mediator in the crisis your country is going through, the different parties involved will soon meet at the negotiating table with a sincere desire to end hostilities and come to a definitive solution which will respect the dignity of persons and peoples in law and justice, as well as the love they have for their land.

As you stressed in your speech, if your country is to regain real stability that will enable it to set out resolutely on the paths of development and prosperity, it must also be shown generous international solidarity. Moreover, the conclusion of a global agreement on problems concerning the region of the Great Lakes, with respect for the legitimate rights of each nation, must also make possible lasting peace and encourage fruitful cooperation among all the countries in this part of the African continent.

3. The various religious communities in the country can make an important contribution on the difficult path that leads to restoring peace in Burundi; it is therefore to be hoped that they will be trusted and will have an opportunity to express their viewpoints in the discussions under way, with a view to finding a solution to the crisis. As for the Catholic Church, whose important role at the service of the human person and of all Burundian society you have pointed out, she is prepared to be more and more actively involved in seeking harmony and true reconciliation among all the country's children, as well as in continuing her social action.

4. In the present situation, where so many men, women and children are still victims of blind violence, it is urgent that personal rights and the international conventions be respected by all the belligerents. Summary executions and all acts of homicidal violence are intolerable attacks on the respect due to life, which disfigure man and seriously jeopardize society's future. It should in fact be remembered that "human life is thus given a sacred and inviolable character, which reflects the inviolability of the Creator himself. Precisely for this reason God will severely judge every violation of the commandment "You shall not kill', the commandment which is at the basis of all life together in society" (Evangelium vitae, EV 53).

Moreover, to create an environment that will encourage the rapid return of normal living conditions for families, it is indispensable that those who have been uprooted from their regular lives, be free to return to their hills and homes in complete safety and that the exiled set out on the way back to their country, to share in building a society that is reconciled and fraternal throughout.

5. Through you, Mr Ambassador, I would like to extend my most cordial greetings to the Catholic community of Burundi. As I recall my recent meeting with the Bishops during their ad limina visit, I again encourage it in its fidelity to Christ and to the Church. I hope that the celebration of the Great Jubilee, which will begin in a few days, will be the opportunity for a vigorous spiritual renewal for all the faithful, and that Christ will be their steadfast hope in this time of trial which their country is going through. With all their compatriots, may they be daring and generous peacemakers!

6. Mr Ambassador, at the beginning of your mission to the Apostolic See, I offer you my best wishes for the noble task that awaits you. Be assured that you will find here with my co-workers the attentive and understanding welcome you may require.

I cordially invoke an abundance of divine Blessings upon Your Excellency, upon the nation's leaders and upon all the people of Burundi.




Friday, 17 December 1999

Your Eminence,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I extend my cordial greeting to all of you. I am very pleased to welcome you this evening, when we have the joy of inaugurating the new lighting system of St Peter's Basilica.

In particular, I greet and thank Cardinal Virgilio Noè, who has expressed the sentiments you share and has explained to me all the work completed and the results achieved. I greet the President of the ACEA, Dr Fulvio Vento, and the Managing Director, Dr Paolo Cuccia, to whom I also express my gratitude for their courteous words. With them I greet the representatives of the Board of Directors accompanied by their relatives and friends.

2. After the exacting restoration work which recently returned the façade to its original splendour, today another project is being completed to enhance this basilica, dear to all the Catholic world.

The imminent Jubilee of the Year 2000 spurred those in charge of the Fabric of St Peter's to think of an important project that would allow pilgrims and visitors to appreciate the beauty of this church even at night.

The new illumination of the façade, the drum, the dome, the smaller domes and the lantern was made a reality by the ACEA, using modern means and special equipment to accentuate the features which, precisely because of their form, make this sacred building unique in the world. In addition, the excellent solution adopted reduces the amount of energy used by about 40 per cent and, at the same time, considerably lessens light pollution, since the floodlights are shielded by the architectural elements.

The faithful who will come to Rome to pray at the tomb of the Apostle Peter and pass through the Holy Door to obtain the Jubilee indulgence will also be able to admire the whole complex of St Peter's and appreciate the worth of each architectural feature at night.

3. May the new illumination that bathes the basilica in light and shows all its impressiveness be an invitation to pilgrims and visitors to welcome into their lives Christ who is the Light of the world.

May it be a further incentive for believers to give proof in their lives of their fidelity to God and to the Church.

I congratulate everyone who had an active part in installing this new lighting system: the designers, the project directors, the technicians and the workmen. My grateful admiration goes to every one for the work achieved with competence and dedication.

As I invoke abundant gifts of serenity and peace from Christ, who became man for our sake 2,000 years ago, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to each of you and to your families.



Friday, 17 December 1999

Dear Passionist Sisters of St Paul of the Cross!

1. I am pleased to welcome you on the occasion of your 14th General Chapter and I greet you cordially. It is a greeting that through you I wish to extend to all your sisters present in 25 nations across four continents. Thank you for your visit which, besides being an act of filial devotion to the Successor of Peter, gives me the opportunity to know your religious family better and to appreciate the generosity which inspires its daily service to the Church.

I extend my congratulations to Mother Antonella Franci, elected as the institute's Superior General, and I invoke for her abundant heavenly light for fruitful efforts in her new and difficult role. I also hope that this assembly, with the Lord's help and the motherly assistance of the Blessed Virgin, may instil in each of you and in your entire congregation renewed spiritual fervour, centred on the living, grateful and sorrowful memory of the Passion of Jesus and the sorrows of Mary most holy, a more convinced apostolic commitment and faithfulness to the charism of Maria Maddalena Frescobaldi Capponi, a lay woman, wife and mother of a family.

I encourage you to continue on the path you have taken, always animated by divine love and by the desire to spread the Gospel of Christ everywhere.

2. The main objective of your General Chapter is to make more intense your love and service to those most in need, thus answering the Church's invitation to evangelize today's world, which is marked by many cultural, social and religious challenges. To this end your theme seems very significant: The internationalization of the congregation challenges the Passionist Sister to be a prophetic sign of communion in the inculturation of its charism in fidelity to its foundress.

I kindly urge you to develop a formation and action plan that will help your religious family and every consecrated individual to practise the commandment of love, according to your charism. By more closely following Jesus crucified, you will live your religious vocation, which will prompt you to give preference to the young and the poor to be educated, especially women exposed to the risk of inhuman exploitation. You will be able to recognize the face of Christ in every person in difficulty, and for everyone you meet you will be witnesses of God's love.

3. This is a demanding mission and calls for a profound spirituality rooted in the Gospel. Your first task, therefore, is to seek God by constantly listening to his word. You will thus be able to live fully your particular mission in the Church and in society.

Dear Sisters, strive more and more to adopt the teaching method of Maria Maddalena Frescobaldi Capponi, based on encounter, on an open, welcoming, caring dialogue that can create new relationships with God, with others and with nature. Foster your fraternal life based on contemplation and on the experience of God, which unites us to him and in him, making us capable of communion and of sharing in the diversity and richness of cultures. Invigorate your search for a wise inculturation of your charism and show that the Gospel is meant for all peoples. And pay particular attention to continuing formation, so that you will be consecrated women who are happy and can spread serenity and hope, mercy and solidarity.

4. Dear Sisters, your vocation is most timely! Be faithful to the spirit of your origins, remaining close to the needy with humility and concrete service. Love the austere life; by denying yourselves and by welcoming the cross of Christ in your life, it will be easier for you to fulfil the high mission God has entrusted to you. As the life of your foundress reminds us, society sorely needs this: a crucified love! Won over by the love of the cross, she made Calvary her sure place of refuge.

Today as then, you are called to this same mission, that is, to be spiritual mothers to the suffering and to whoever knocks at the door of your houses. As it was in the days of Maria Maddalena Frescobaldi Capponi, in our age too there is a great need for maternal sensitivity, for understanding and for practical help.

May your heavenly protector, St Paul of the Cross, sustain you and may the Mother of the Lord help you in your daily effort of self-giving and Gospel witness. With the wish for all of you that the grace of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 will be a joyous occasion of fervour and renewed fidelity to Christ, I cordially give you a special blessing, which I affectionately extend to your entire religious family.



17 December 1999

Distinguished Members of the Government,
Dear Cardinal and Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Scholars,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It gives me great pleasure to greet you on the occasion of your Symposium on John Hus, which has been another important step towards a deeper understanding of the life and work of the renowned Bohemian preacher, one of the most famous of the many great scholars to come from the University of Prague. Hus is a memorable figure for many reasons. But it is particularly his moral courage in the face of adversity and death that has made him a figure of special significance to the Czech people, who have themselves suffered much through the centuries. I am particularly grateful to all of you who have contributed to the work of the ecumenical Commission “Husovská”, established some years ago by Cardinal Miloslav Vlk in order to identify more precisely the place that Jan Hus occupies among those who sought a reform of the Church.

2. It is significant that scholars not only from the Czech Republic but also from neighbouring countries have taken part in this Symposium. No less significant is the fact that, despite the tensions that have marred relations between Czech Christians in the past, scholars from different Confessions have come together to share their knowledge. Now that you have brought together the best and latest scholarly work on Jan Hus and the events in which he was involved, the next step will be to publish the results of the Symposium, so that as many people as possible will have an insight not only into a remarkable man but also into an important and complex period of Christian and European history.

Today, on the eve of the Great Jubilee, I feel the need to express deep regret for the cruel death inflicted on John Hus, and for the consequent wound of conflict and division which was thus imposed on the minds and hearts of the Bohemian people. It was during my first visit to Prague that I declared my hope that precisely in your land decisive steps could be taken on the path of reconciliation and true unity in Christ. The wounds of past centuries must be healed through a new attitude and completely renewed relationships. May our Lord Jesus Christ, “who is our peace... and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ep 2,14), guide the path of your people’s history towards the rediscovered unity of all Christians, which we ardently hope for in the millennium that is about to begin.

3. Scholarly endeavours to reach a more profound and complete grasp of historical truth are crucial to this cause. Faith has nothing to fear from the work of historical research, for, in the final analysis, research too is directed towards the truth which has in God its source. Therefore, I give thanks to our Father in Heaven for your work as it reaches its end, just as I was keen to encourage you as you began.

The writing of history is sometimes beset by ideological, political or economic pressures, so that the truth is obscured and history itself becomes a prisoner of the powerful. Genuinely scientific study is our best defence against such pressures and the distortions they can bring. It is true that it is very difficult to attain an absolutely objective account of history, since personal convictions, values and experiences inevitably impinge upon historical study. Yet this does not mean that we cannot offer an account of history which is in a very real sense impartial and therefore true and liberating. Your own work is a proof that this is possible.

4. The truth can also prove uncomfortable when it asks us to abandon long-held prejudices and stereotypes. This is as true of Churches, ecclesial communities and religions as it is of nations and individuals. Yet the truth which sets us free from error is also the truth which sets us free for love; and it is Christian love which has been the horizon of what your Commission has sought to do. Your work means that a figure like Jan Hus, who has been such a point of contention in the past, has now become a subject of dialogue, of comparison and shared investigation.

At a time when many are working to create a new kind of unity in Europe, studies such as yours can help to inspire people to go beyond narrow ethnic and national confines to genuine openness and solidarity. It can help Europeans to understand that the continent will advance more assuredly to a new and enduring unity if it draws in fresh and creative ways upon its shared Christian roots and upon the specific identity which derived from them.

5. It is clear, then, that your work is an important service not only to the historical figure of Jan Hus but also to Christians and European society more generally. This is because, in the end, it is a service to the truth about man; and it is this truth above all which the human family needs to recover at the dawn of the Third Millennium of the Christian era.

In contemplating the truth about man, we turn inevitably to the figure of the Risen Christ. He alone teaches and embodies completely the truth of man created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen Gn 1,26). I pray most fervently that he who is “the same... for ever” (He 13,8) will send his light into your hearts. As a pledge of grace and peace in him, I invoke upon you, your loved ones, and upon the whole Czech nation the abundant blessings of Almighty God, to whom be “glory and wisdom and thanksgiving for ever and ever! Amen” (Ap 7,12).



Friday 17 December 1999

Madam Ambassador,

1. I am particularly pleased to welcome you and to receive the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Paraguay to the Holy See. I warmly thank you for your kind words and especially for the respectful greeting of the President of the Republic, Dr Luis Angel Macchi, to whom I ask you to convey my best wishes for peace and well-being, and for the prosperity and overall progress of the beloved Paraguayan nation.

2. You have come here to represent a nation which, in the year now ending, has experienced some very important events in a socio-economic and political situation which at times has been difficult and has included some critical episodes. Nevertheless, in the midst of this experience, the conscience of citizens has been aroused and they wish to improve the conditions of society without giving in to despair or fatalism. In these circumstances, high hopes have been placed in the Government of National Unity; they are a great responsibility and they challenge its creative capacity to build a more harmonious society based on truth, justice and solidarity. To achieve this it will be necessary to eradicate civil strife and to avoid a lack of political will, which would thwart the efforts to build a better future for everyone.

I would therefore like to encourage the political authorities responsible for leading Paraguayan society on its way to the threshold of the third millennium to be ever attentive to the legitimate cries and noblest aspirations of all the citizens. It will constantly spur them in the tireless struggle to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged, to check the corruption of the powerful at the expense of the weak, and to prevent the gradual impoverishment of large sectors of the population. Moreover, the lack of trust in democratic institutions will be combatted, a phenomenon that involves incalculable risks, and a social order will be fostered in which all citizens can participate in political decisions and have the possibility of electing their leaders and calling them to account.

3. Nevertheless, the common good of a people does not depend solely on the formal aspects of its political organization but on its fundamental decision to adhere to the profound truth of the human being and his social dimension. In this regard, I stated in my Encyclical Centesimus annus that, "as history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism" (n. 46), since, if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, human "ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power" (ibid.).

Basic human rights are at the very heart of the values that an authentic democratic system must protect and promote. The Holy See has spared no effort in encouraging the defence and promotion of these rights, in particular the right to life and respect for it from conception to its natural end, as well as of the rights and advancement of families, women, workers, indigenous peoples, migrants, the elderly and children. This is a noble cause to which the Church is firmly committed also in international forums, joining forces when possible with those of men and women of good will, in order to build a civilization of love and solidarity that can overcome old barriers, narrow horizons and bygone ideologies.

Paraguay, a fertile land, as you have so beautifully described it, both for the human qualities of its people and for its refined piety and tenacious struggle for national freedom and autonomy, combines all the necessary requirements for building "oñondivepa" - "all together" in the Guaraní language - that new civilization which can transform the country into a people of brothers and sisters.

4. This meeting to welcome you, Madam Ambassador, gives me the pleasure of recalling the Pastoral Visit I had the joy of making to your country in 1988. I was able to note at the time how the Catholic Church carries out her mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to the men and women of Paraguay, a land in which from the beginning of the evangelization of the American continent the Christian faith has sunk deep roots and has continued to mould the traditions and customs of its inhabitants.

The Pastors of the Church in Paraguay, who have always shared the lot of their faithful and are aware of their responsibility to shed the light of the Gospel and the Church's social teaching on every situation in their history, have not ceased to make their voice heard in moments of difficulty, anguish, collapse of values and moral confusion. Without doubt this has helped the Church's reputation as one of the most credible institutions worthy of the citizens' overall trust.

This is an important aspect of her service to the People of God. Therefore, the Church shuns every privilege and proclaims her right to have a place in the social fabric with her own structures and means, since she considers that her contribution to the good of the community as a whole cannot be disregarded or relegated to the private sector, as advocated by certain currents of thought in vogue today. As I said during my above-mentioned visit to Paraguay: "The Church cannot be confined to her temples, nor is it possible to relegate God to a corner in human consciences" (Address to the Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps, 16 May 1988, n. 2). In fact, the proclamation of the Gospel would not be completely faithful were it to exclude any essential dimension of the human being, such as life in society and the need to build a more just, fraternal and harmonious society for everyone. The Church, the Second Vatican Council said, does not only communicate divine life to men, but in a certain sense she casts its light over the world; she "heals and elevates the dignity of the human person, consolidates society and endows the daily activity of men with a deeper sense and meaning" (Gaudium et spes, GS 40).

5. At the end of this address, Madam Ambassador, may I offer you my best wishes that you will have a pleasant stay in Rome and that your mission of serving the relations between your country and the Holy See will yield abundant fruits of mutual understanding and close collaboration, increasing the good diplomatic relations that already exist.

Together with these wishes, which I extend to your distinguished family and to your staff, I ask you to convey my cordial greetings to the Government of Paraguay and especially to your President, and to express my affection and closeness to the Paraguayan people, upon whom I invoke the motherly protection of Our Lady of Caacupé and whom I cordially bless.



Saturday 18 December 1999

Mr President,
Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Czech Republic,

1. With great joy I greet all of you who have come to present the fir tree which has arrived from the beloved Czech nation. This Christmas gift testifies to the sense of respect and esteem that the beloved Czech people has for the Holy See, and at the same time, it is a symbol of warm participation in the joy of the Christmas festivities being celebrated here in the Vatican, in keeping with the particular solemnity that the beginning of the Great Jubilee requires.

Yesterday I was able to meet numerous representatives of the Czech Republic at the audience for those taking part in the International Convention on Jan Hus, an important moment of reflection on a sorrowful page in the religious and civil history of the nation. And now I have the joy of extending my cordial welcome to President Václav Havel of the Czech Republic and to his distinguished wife.

Thank you, Mr President, for your noble words in which you drew attention to the Government's initiative in giving the Pope the beautiful Christmas tree, which rises majestically next to the crèche in St Peter's Square. I also greet Cardinal Miloslav Vlk and thank him for his expressions of fraternal affection. Lastly, I extend my cordial greeting to Bishop Frantisek Lobkowicz, to the Prelates of the entire Czech Epsicopal Conference, to the faithful of the Diocese of Ostrava-Opava, the main organizers of this project, and to the faithful of Rome's Czech community.

I express my sincerest thanks to all of you, to your co-workers who stayed at home, to the sponsors and to everyone involved in transporting the tree. A special greeting to the "Valasský-vojvoda" band which has accompanied the joyful meeting for lighting the tree. Thanks to you the feast of the Lord's Birth, here in St Peter's Square, will certainly be more solemn.

2. This fir tree, which for several days now has stood pointing to heaven decorated with evocative lights, comes from Mount Beskydy in the region of Ostrava and Opava near Morávka. Along with this tree, you have been pleased to offer other small fir trees that will be put in various places in the Apostolic Palace and in the Curia, all decorated with handmade ornaments from that same region. In addition, you have also presented three figures, dressed in the traditional costumes of Valassko, which have been put beside those traditionally used in the crèche in St Peter's Square.

The Christmas tree, with the crib, creates a typical Christmas atmosphere and can help us understand better the message of salvation that Christ came to bring us through his Incarnation.

From the stable of Bethlehem to the Cross on Golgotha, with his whole life he bore witness to God's love for mankind. He is, according to the Evangelist John, "the true light that enlightens every man" (1: 9).

The lights sparkling on the Christmas tree symbolize this Light, to strengthen our knowledge of the great mystery: in Christ is the light that can change the human heart.

3. Dear brothers and sisters, as I wholeheartedly thank you for this visit, I express to you all and to your loved ones my best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Joyful New Year in the warmth of your families.

May the imminent Christmas festivities awaken and strengthen in everyone faith in the presence and love of God.

With these sentiments, I willingly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you, to your families and to your entire nation.



Monday 20 December 1999

Mr Ambassador,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to the Vatican today and to receive the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Sweden. I would like to express my gratitude to His Majesty Carl XVI Gustaf and to the Swedish Government for their sentiments of respect and words of appreciation for the Holy See's activities in the international sphere.

Recalling our meeting last 13 November, I would like to renew to their Majesties the King and Queen and to the Crown Princess the assurance of my prayers for them and for the service they are called to render to the nation. I would like to express the same sentiments to the other members of the Royal Family, to the government authorities and to all the people of Sweden, with wishes of serenity and peace, in their constant search for all that will contribute to the protection and advancement of the human person and the development of the authentic values of civil society.

My heart still beats with joy at the recent proclamation of St Bridget, a distinguished daughter of Sweden, a pilgrim of Christ who was guided by extraordinary mystical graces, as co-patroness of Europe with St Catherine of Siena and St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. This was a providential occasion for reflecting on the joint responsibility of Christians to continue their journey towards full unity, so as to offer the continent an increasingly credible witness to the one Gospel, the source of hope and a cornerstone of the civilization of love.

A visible sign of this ardent desire, which for St Bridget formed an intense programme of life, was the ecumenical celebration which took place in St Peter's Basilica on 13 November last, when, together with the most senior Lutheran representatives of Sweden and Finland and the Catholic Bishops of Stockholm and Copenhagen, I prayed that the desire of the Divine Teacher: Ut unum sint, might soon be fulfilled for all the disciples of Christ. The occasion brought back the unforgettable memory of my journey to Stockholm, Uppsala, Vadstena and Linköping over 10 years ago, when I had the opportunity to meet and talk to the beloved people of Sweden, appreciating their zest for life, their love for children and their heartfelt generosity in welcoming those who have come from other countries in search of work, dignity and hope.

The Holy See knows and esteems Sweden's action for peace, for its collaboration and for the respect of human rights at the regional and international levels, as well as its concretely demonstrated and proven generosity to poorer nations. I am certain that this programme, together with a convinced adherence to true ethical and religious values, will help establish a civilization of peace and mutual understanding among peoples. In its own specific way, the Swedish people will also succeed in integrating itself more and more deeply into the community of European peoples, helping to build the continent's common house based on the dignity of the person, respect for the sacredness of life, the enhancement of the central role of the family, acknowledgement of the importance of education, the protection of fundamental freedoms starting with religious freedom, and encouraging each to contribute to the common good in the context of a State governed by law and reason.

In this process, the Church will not fail to do her part, making the richness of her faith available to modern man through constant proclamation of the Gospel, so that the light of Christ may enliven the values that sustain civil society.

Your Excellency, the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which will begin with the now imminent opening of the Holy Door, will certainly also see the arrival in Rome of pilgrims who are your countrymen. I would like to greet them and to assure them that they will find a fraternal welcome at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. They will be able in a certain way to feel at home here, to celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God with Christians from other parts of the world.

Lastly, the forthcoming Christmas holidays give me an opportunity to extend my sincere good wishes for a holy Christmas and a happy New Year to you and your family and, through you, to the sovereigns whom you represent as well as to all the Swedish people. To these wishes I willingly add my remembrance in prayer to the Lord that the cordial relations between Sweden and the Holy See may continue to develop along the well-established and by now traditional lines. I also assure you of my esteem and support in the fulfilment of the high mission entrusted to you, and I reinforce these sentiments by invoking an abundance of divine blessings upon you and your loved ones.

Speeches 1999