Speeches 1999



Tuesday, 21 December 1999

Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant iustum!
Aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem! (Is 45,8).

1. I meet you with deep joy, dear members of the College of Cardinals and personnel of the Roman Curia, at our traditional appointment, which nonetheless today seems particularly significant: it is the last one of the century and of the millennium. This particular circumstance invites us to turn our thoughts to the horizon where time flows, to adore God's plans and to renew our faith in Christ, the Lord of history.

I thank you, the Cardinal Dean, for the expressions of devotion you addressed to me on behalf of the College of Cardinals and those present. Thank you for your good wishes, which I wholeheartedly reciprocate to you, to the Cardinals and to all the members of the Roman Curia.

Let us hold this meeting in the knowledge that we form a very special community, the community of the closest co-workers of the Bishop of Rome, Successor of the Apostle Peter. The dimension that unites us can be summed up in the expression ministerium petrinum.

2. Ministerium, that is, service. The Son of God, who was born as a man in Bethlehem, would say of himself: "The Son of man ... came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mc 10,45). Christ thus leaves us the model, indeed, the "standard" against which the vocation of each one of us should be measured.

If the vocation of the Successor of Peter, supported by his co-workers, has a special meaning in the Church, it is precisely because it is a ministry, a service. Christ said to Peter: "Strengthen your brethren" - confirma fratres tuos (Lc 22,32). We know well the dramatic context of the divine Teacher's words: now close to his Passion, to Peter's declaration: "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death" (Lc 22,33), he replied: "I tell you ..., the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me" (Lc 22,34). It is in this context that Christ's words are spoken: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lc 22,32).

3. To understand the full meaning of Peter's vocation in the Church we must review the whole context. In the Evangelist's account, Peter appears in all his weakness. Thus his capacity to "strengthen" is not his own: it comes from the power of Christ who prays for him. It is with Christ's power that he can sustain his brethren, despite his own personal weakness. It is necessary to keep this truth about the ministerium petrinum in mind. The man who, as Peter's Successor, exercises this ministerium can never forget it, and neither can it be forgotten by those who in any capacity exercise it.

At today's meeting I would like to embrace in memory the Supreme Pontiffs who have succeeded one another in the span of this millennium and all those who, in the most varied ways, worked with them. "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master" (Mt 25,23). We trust that all who have participated in the ministerium petrinum have heard these words of Christ. We trust that we too will hear them when we are called to present ourselves before the supreme tribunal.

May today's meditation cross the threshold of the third millennium and be received by those who will succeed us, who after us will take on the ministerium petrinum as the Successors of Peter and as their co-workers, to exercise it according to Christ's will. I express this wish to all my beloved brothers and sisters in the great community we form, constantly thanking one and all for the support, help and generous collaboration they offer me.

4. Confirma fratres tuos! Together with all the People of God throughout the world, in these years we have walked towards the Great Jubilee. Looking back at our journey so far, I feel it my duty to thank the Lord first of all for the Trinitarian inspiration which has marked it. From year to year we have paused in contemplation before the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. During the Holy Year we will sing the glory common to the three divine Persons. Thus more than ever we feel we are a people gathered in the Trinity, "de unitate Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti plebs adunata" (St Cyprian, De Orat. Dom. 23: PL 4, 536; cf. Lumen gentium, LG 4).

Many projects have been started in the particular Churches in preparation for the Jubilee Year. On a universal level, the continental Synods have been of great importance, and it is right to expect them to yield abundant fruit on the basis of the practical directives in their respective Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations. Early this year, I was able to present the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America in Mexico City, hoping for a renewed evangelizing impulse among the numerous American Christians. In June, I traveled to my homeland, visiting several Dioceses in Poland, where I had not yet been. Last month I delivered the Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia to India, encouraging the small Catholic community in Asia to proclaim Christ the Saviour confidently, also in dialogue with the ancient religions of that immense continent. Then in October the Second Special Assembly of the Synod for Europe was held, during which the complex challenge of evangelization on the European continent was addressed: a challenge which we have entrusted to the intercession of the saints and more especially to the three patrons, Benedict, Cyril and Methodius, whom I wished to join in the devotion of the People of God with three women saints: St Bridget of Sweden, St Catherine of Siena and St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross - Edith Stein.

5. Confirma fratres tuos! The year now ending was also important from the ecumenical standpoint. In Tertio millennio adveniente I hoped that the Great Jubilee would succeed in seeing Christians "if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium" (n. 34). Unfortunately, this goal is still distant. But how could the deep emotion of my recent visits to Romania and Georgia be forgotten? I went as a brother among brothers, and in the reception given me by those ancient communities I was able to taste something of the joy which accompanied for centuries the relations between East and West. The Church then breathed fully with the "two lungs" of her different and complementary traditions, which express the treasure of the one Christian mystery. Then what can be said of the progress made in relations with our brethren of the Lutheran tradition? The document on justification, recently signed in Augsburg, is a great step forward and an encouragement to pursue our dialogue with determination, so that Christ's invocation "Father ... that they may be one" (Jn 17,11) may be fulfilled. Another significant step towards a clarification of relations with the Hussite tradition was last week's congress on Jan Hus which took place right here at the Vatican with broad participation by eminent scholars from all backgrounds.

6. Rorate caeli desuper et nubes pluant iustum! This year too the Church's gaze has extended beyond her visible borders, to discern the mysterious action of God's Spirit among all people and particularly among believers of other religions. On the initiative of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in the wake of the unforgettable Assisi meeting in 1986, last October we gathered in St Peter's Square with representatives of the world's various religions. We promoted that meeting in full harmony with the spirit of the Council, which in the declaration Nostra aetate encouraged dialogue with the other religions, suggesting however that it should take place without succumbing to indifferentism or the tempation of syncretism. Faith in Christ, "the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14,6 cf. Nostra aetate, NAE 2), is the Church's raison d'Ítre and the strength that supports her and directs her action in the world. It is on this basis that the encounter with believers of other religions demonstrates its full fruitfulness. It is both legitimate and significant because there are many fields of action on which we agree in our service to God and mankind, and because it is the Church's duty to glorify God for the rays of truth which he extends to his children in all the corners of the earth, offering in a way known to him alone that salvation which has its source in Christ's paschal mystery (cf. Gaudium et spes, GS 22).

7. The proclamation of salvation must be accompanied by an active witness of charity. This year too, confronted by the great problems of the world, the Apostolic See has made every effort so that the Gospel leaven might not be lacking. Thus it has sustained on their journey the People of God who, in their local pastoral realities, take responsibility for human needs and put themselves at the service of the neediest in thousands of ways. There has been a concern to promote a "culture of charity", which can develop fraternal relationships among people, doing away with prejudices and disposing people to be humble in encounter and dialogue. The dicasteries of the Roman Curia, especially those most involved in the area of culture and social problems, continue this worthy and responsible work. Along these same lines, several days ago I offered a few ideas for reflection in my annual Message for the World Day of Peace. May the newborn Child of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace, bless the efforts that all people of good will make to this end.

8. Venite et ascendamus ad montem Domini (Is 2,3). May this Christmas, which opens the celebrations of the Jubilee Year, be for each of us an ascent of the Lord's mountain, where his glory is revealed to those who have put off their old nature (cf. Eph Ep 4,22-24) and put on the wedding garment (cf. Mt Mt 22,12), opening themselves fully to Christ.

Ascendamus ad montem Domini! Yes, let us hasten our steps with faith towards the Jubilee, an extraordinary year of grace, expressed in particular by the gift of the indulgence. Far from being a "discount" on the need for Christians to change their life, this requires them to change it even more.

The spiritual commitment we have made so far and which we must also continue, even in the areas of the respective dicasteries' competence and, especially, in that of the Committee for the Holy Year, intends to help all believers become aware of the true meaning of the Jubilee event. "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mc 1,15). This is the message that must ring out more and more intensely in the coming months.

May the Jubilee events, scheduled in different ways and places, and, those that will be celebrated here in Rome in particular, be powerful expressions of the way of conversion, which involves the entire People of God.

9. Ecce, virgo concipiet et pariet filium et vocabit nomen eius Emmanuel (Is 7,14).

May Christmas and the Jubilee Year powerfully restore to us this certainty which for 2,000 years has sustained the Church's journey, spur her to the effort of proclamation and encourage her to constant conversion. The Child born in Bethlehem is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is the risen Christ who guides history and who will come in glory at the end of time.

I warmly hope that each one of you, Your Eminences, and all of you, esteemed members of the Roman Curia, will deeply experience the fruits of his presence in the joy of having been chosen to collaborate closely in the ministry of the Successor of Peter, as heralds of his kingdom of love and peace.

I affectionately bless you all. Happy Christmas! May you have a fruitful Holy Year!



Tuesday, 21 December 1999

Dear Boys and Girls of Italian Catholic Action,

I am pleased to welcome you today, as I do every year, at this meeting which gives us the opportunity to exchange best wishes for a Holy Christmas and the New Year. With great affection I greet each of you along with the national president of Catholic Action and the general chaplain. I greet you one and all, and embrace you with warm affection. I thank you for the words and sentiments you have expressed to me. They are particularly welcome because they are accompanied by your remembrance in prayer. Thank you, dear children, for all this.

We have now reached Holy Christmas, a very significant celebration for Christian families. My thoughts naturally turn to your families and to all the families of the world. When you go home, take the Pope's greeting to your loved ones and his most fervent wishes for serenity and peace. At the same time, remember all those who will be unable to spend these holy days in tranquil joy.

Christmas is a special day that invites us to solidarity and to love; it invites us to open our hearts to our brothers and sisters, especially to those in need. The Child Jesus, born in Bethlehem, brought the world the precious gift of Love so that, like a radiant light, it would dispel the darkness of selfishness and sadness from man's heart and fill his mind with true joy. This is what I wish for each of you and for the various groups of Catholic Action you represent: may you rediscover divine love, which surrounds human life and gives it full meaning. May Our Lady, who gave the world our Redeemer at Bethlehem, help you to welcome him into your hearts.

Dear boys and girls, this year the joy of Christmas is combined with that of the Jubilee Year, which will begin precisely on the Holy Night with the solemn opening of the Holy Door in the Vatican Basilica. Prepare yourselves to observe fervently this extraordinary time of grace; be apostles to your peers by helping them to understand the genuine spirit of the Holy Year and to live it deeply.

Once again I thank you for this welcome visit and I cordially bless you, your friends, your families and all who guide you on your path of human and spiritual growth. Happy Christmas!




Friday, 31 December 1999

Dear Children,

I am pleased to welcome you, with your families and many representatives of the International Federation of Pueri Cantores, whose President, Mr Buys, I greet together with Mons. Valentin Miserachs, President of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. Your presence is a call for the Church to live the Great Jubilee in song and thanksgiving.

1. You have come from all over the world, but you are at home here, since it is in Rome that Pope Gregory the Great founded the first school of singers specialized in sacred song. It was through his impetus that a whole repertory of liturgical music was created. Schools later opened throughout Europe where children from all backgrounds could learn to sing. These schools of song were at the origin of the Church's musical tradition, a priceless treasure which you have inherited today and which, as faithful witnesses, you must preserve and hand down.

2. You thus have an important role to play in the Church's life. You are the little messengers of beauty. The world needs your singing, for the language of beauty moves hearts and contributes to the encounter with God. The joy that fills you when you sing must radiate around you and spark contagious enthusiasm. Be just as determined to sing well as the young Mozart was to play his scales: one day, when he was a child, he was asked: "Why do you practise so much?", and he answered: "Because I am looking for two notes that love each other!". You who love music, work on singing better and better! The Gospel will more deeply penetrate your souls and those of the people you help to pray. Thus you will be the messengers of God's peace and love.

3. You are also messengers of faith, for it is not enough that the quality of your singing should lead those who hear you to prayer and recollection. Sacred music and song are an integral part of the Church's liturgy and your singing helps the faithful to turn to God, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist. In singing God's glory you are the servants and precious helpers of the Eucharist. "In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God" (Letter to Artists, n. 12). May your singing always be new, because, in singing for God, you are singing the newness of God's grace, the inexhaustible source of joy and peace. Yes, "Sing to the Lord a new song" (Ps 96 [95]: 1)!

4. Dear "little singers", may your singing help you to make your life a song of praise to God. "May he who lives for God sing to God" (St Augustine, Enn. in Ps 67,5). With your voices, with your youth, with your lives, you proclaim Jesus, the Saviour.

Dear children, I encourage you to sing for the Lord.

I give you all my Apostolic Blessing.

Speeches 1999