Speeches 1999



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am particularly pleased to welcome Your Excellency as you present the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Principality of Monaco to the Holy See.

I warmly thank you for your courteous words that show the spirit in which you are undertaking your new mission. Touched by the cordial message of His Most Serene Highness the Prince of Monaco, I would be grateful if in turn you would convey to him my best wishes for his person and his mission, especially this year when your sovereign is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his reign. Prince Rainier has guided the Principality of Monaco in all these years with courage and generosity, assuring its continuance. Neither have I forgotten my last meeting with His Most Serene Highness and his family on 19 December 1997, marking the seventh centenary of the Grimaldi dynasty, which historically has born witness to the Christian ideals that pervade Moné- gasque culture. I hope that all the residents of the Principality will be able to achieve their deepest aspirations, constantly relying on the basic human, moral and spiritual values that are sources of personal happiness and of a life of fraternal solidarity.

At the time when you are taking up your duties, Mr Ambassador, may I recall with you your late predecessor, Mr César Charles Solamito, who made a lasting mark on relations between the Holy See and the Principality, thanks to his cordiality and his constant concern to strengthen our bonds of mutual esteem and deep friendship. He was one of the authors of the Convention of 25 July 1981 which renewed the sincere and deep attachment to the Church of the princes and people of Monaco.

2. The human and spiritual dimension of the Principality of Monaco that you mentioned is essential to all human communities, which cannot be founded on their activities alone. Those who live in the Principality, like the residents of all countries, must be aware each day of what constitutes a people's soul, the priceless treasure that derives from tradition and must be passed on to future generations. Indeed, it is primarily by giving every individual the respect he is due, by showing concern for others, by having a sense of hospitality and by witnessing to basic human values that they will maintain their essential characteristics and make their vocation resplendent, as they take their inspiration from the humanist ideal and the demands of the Gospel that lead to true happiness and reject the easy life offered by consumer society.

I am particularly sensitive to your concern for the conflicts that are wounding humanity and for the serious plight of many peoples. You have stressed that because of its history and geographical location, the Principality, as an integral part of the European continent, is open to the world and is challenged by human poverty; in particular, it is a beacon turned towards Africa, where many countries urgently need the aid of Western nations for their human and economic development and for a truly democratic transformation of their institutions. As a member of the UN, Monaco is called to make its contribution to the international community, especially to peace and understanding between peoples, by encouraging an active and intense solidarity. As the world undergoes ever more rapid changes, it is important to show that a witness of tangible brotherhood is possible. The young generation should be prepared through suitable formation to take their place in social life, so that in the future they can play a leading role in their own country and in international life.

3. The Principality's Catholic community, attached to its tradition, pursues its spiritual activity but is also concerned with the human and Christian formation of youth, especially in Catholic educational institutions, which, in addition to quality formation, ensure the transmission of values essential for the growth and development of each young person's personality. In public institutions, while the Church respects their specific purpose and the parents' wishes, she would like to guide the young by helping them to reflect on the essential human questions and by opening their hearts to the Gospel. It is also by their example that educational and catechetical teams offer young people an ideal and a way to enjoy a happy life. Through you, Mr Ambassador, I take this opportunity to extend an affectionate greeting to the Archbishop, the priests, the religious and the Catholic faithful of Monaco, whose devotion I know so well.

4. Mr Ambassador, at the end of our meeting I offer you my best wishes for the success of your mission. Be assured that my assistants will always offer you the attentive and understanding help you may need.

I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to Your Excellency, to His Most Serene Highness, to his family and to all the residents of the Principality of Monaco.



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Your Excellency,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine. It is a fitting occasion for us to reaffirm the friendship and cooperation which exist between your country and the Holy See, bonds which go back in history a thousand years to the Baptism of Kievan Rus’ and which have taken on new form and vigour since the advent of your nation’s Independence. I see your presence here today as a sign of our mutual desire to consolidate the diplomatic relations established between Ukraine and the Holy See in 1992. I am grateful for the greetings which you have conveyed on behalf of His Excellency President Leonid Kuchma, whose visits to the Vatican I vividly remember and to whom I express my good wishes. I renew the assurance of my prayers for the peace and prosperity of your country.

The countries of Eastern Europe, including your own, are undergoing a period of rapid and profound transformation in the social, economic and political spheres. While such changes are not without great difficulty and cost, they are essentially positive changes, moving as they do in the direction of respect for the liberty and self-determination of peoples. After decades of being closed in a world order established on imposed decisions and ideological barriers, nations which lacked a voice of their own in the international community are now asserting their sovereignty and pursuing their destiny as equal partners on the world stage. The present moment therefore is one of extreme importance in the life of these peoples, and of grave responsibilities for their leaders.

With the effort and dedication of so many of your fellow citizens, Ukraine is making great strides along the path of progress towards a more prosperous, just and democratic society. Your Excellency has indicated your country’s intention to achieve a “complete reintegration into the European space which rests on Christian values”. In striving for this goal you are rediscovering the strength of the spiritual and cultural roots which lie at the very heart of your nation’s identity and your people’s journey through history. The challenge is to grow in the noblest traditions of the past while being open to all the demands of the consciousness maturing among the world’s peoples of the universal nature of human dignity and human rights.

In spite of the hard lessons of this violent century, Europe is unfortunately once again the theatre of the oppression of man by man and of the daily thunder of weapons of death and destruction. In the name of distorted ideals of cultural and ethnic distinction, the fundamental and real value of the inviolable dignity of every human being is being utterly denied. Beyond the rhetoric in which such conflicts are generally presented, it should be clear that the atrocities occurring every day on European soil in the Balkans are not the result of peoples’ genuinely held aspirations; they have instead been fueled by unspoken motives representing particular interests and very definite forms of the thirst for power.

It must be the concern of everyone to ensure that dialogue replaces conflict. Dialogue and negotiation would signify the triumph of reason, while the continuance of ethnic conflicts and power struggles in any part of the world are a defeat of reason and a sign of the failure of solidarity and human partnership. We must hope that Europe will manage to find in its rich millenary heritage the truths and incentives it needs to restore the rule of reason and law.

Ukrainian Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, are reviving the institutions and public expressions of their faith. In the Gospel and the traditions of their Churches they are finding inspiration and strength for the enormous tasks before them as responsible citizens of their newly independent country. It must be the conviction of all Ukrainian believers that mutual understanding and cooperation, not prejudice or rivalry, are what their faith requires of them. Difficulties between Christians must be resolved not just at the level of justice and equity, but at the much deeper level of koinonia before God and in Jesus Christ. I repeat a thought which I expressed to the Latin-rite Ukrainian Bishops on the occasion of their ad Limina visit in March of this year: “If respect for each other’s identity is required by justice, it is even more a demand of love, which is the supreme law for the Christian”. As Your Excellency has rightly pointed out, the fast-approaching celebration of a new Christian Millennium is a wonderful opportunity for all Christians to grow in peace, tolerance and respect for one another and for all people. I earnestly hope that a wise and positive unfolding of democracy and freedom in your country, coupled with a renewal of religious conviction and moral commitment, will bring about an era of flourishing development, and that Ukraine’s presence and actions in the family of nations will contribute to that better and more peaceful world which people everywhere long for. May the already warm relations between Ukraine and the Holy See lead to increased understanding and cooperation in matters of common concern.

Your Excellency, I offer you my best wishes as you begin your mission, and assure you of the readiness of the offices of the Holy See to assist you in your work. Upon you and your fellow citizens I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Mr Ambassador,

Welcoming you to the Vatican on the auspicious occasion of the beginning of your mission as the first Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Yemen to the Holy See, I am pleased to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are so appointed. The establishment of full diplomatic relations between us brings a new level of contact which, I am confident, will lead to ever greater understanding, esteem and cooperation. I thank you for the good wishes which you convey from His Excellency President Ali Abdullah Saleh and from the Government and people of your country; I would ask you in turn to assure them of my prayers for the peace and well-being of the Yemeni nation.

Your words have shown an awareness that the Holy See’s presence in the international community is clearly marked by the religious and spiritual nature of the Catholic Church’s mission in the world. The Holy See’s activity aims above all at safeguarding and promoting the inalienable dignity of the human person, which can only be ensured through the integral development of the individual and through the progress of all peoples in peace and justice. It is precisely in seeking these all-important objectives that close and cordial relations between the Holy See and those responsible for the well-being of the world’s peoples prove to be of mutual benefit and support.

Your Excellency has remarked that, while there have been episodes of animosity and even violence between Christians and Muslims, there have also been many occasions when respect, understanding and friendship have characterized the relations between members of these two world religions. Indeed, when lived sincerely in word and action, religious conviction is a sure safeguard of the dignity, brotherhood and freedom of peoples, and is a guiding principle of right conduct for life together in society. In fact, one of the great challenges facing the human family in our day remains precisely this: to learn to live together in peace and for the mutual benefit of all. Sadly, we must recognize the persistence in our world of a polarization whereby certain ethnic and racial groups, certain religious communities, and certain economic and political ideologies seek to impose their point of view on others, to the point of excluding those who do not share their perspective. Needless to say, such conduct entails grave risks for peace, leading as it does to discrimination, injustice, violence and callous disregard of human rights and human dignity.

Such situations highlight the importance of interreligious dialogue and cooperation. There is a great need today for Christians and Muslims to work together at all levels — international, national and regional — for the betterment of humanity, and always in the context of man’s spiritual nature (cf. Message for the 1992 World Day of Peace, No. 5). In proclaiming the truth about the transcendent character of man, the Church insists on the fact that man’s quest for social and temporal well-being and for the full recognition of his dignity as a human being corresponds to the deep longings of his spiritual nature. Working to promote and defend all human rights, including the fundamental right to worship God according to the dictates of an upright conscience and to profess one’s faith publicly, must become ever more the object of interreligious cooperation. This cooperation must also include efforts to eliminate hunger, poverty, ignorance, persecution, discrimination and every kind of slavery inflicted upon the human spirit. Religion is the mainstay of any society’s commitment to justice, and joint programmes and initiatives on the part of the world’s religions must concretely affirm this.

I appreciate Your Excellency’s comments regarding the Holy See’s activity on behalf of the peace process in the Middle East; that situation continues to be a source of great concern for the Church and is being followed with the utmost attention. Unfortunately, the progress made thus far has been uneven and has not brought hope and security to the peoples of the region. Moreover, when populations are kept indefinitely in a state between war and peace, the risk of tension and violence greatly increases. Nor can the question of the Holy City of Jerusalem, to which each of the three great monotheistic religions looks as part of its spiritual patrimony, remain unresolved. The parties involved need to face these problems with keen awareness of their responsibilities. As I said earlier this year to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See: “Only honest dialogue, a real concern for the good of people and respect for the international order can lead to solutions befitting a region where our religious traditions are rooted. If violence is contagious, peace can be so too, and I am sure that a stable Middle East would contribute effectively to restoring hope to many peoples” (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 11 January 1999, No. 3).

Mr Ambassador, the presentation of your Letters of Credence marks a decisive new phase in relations between the Republic of Yemen and the Holy See in our commitment to work for closer ties and greater mutual understanding. As you begin your mission you can be assured of the ready assistance and cooperation of the departments of the Roman Curia. May Almighty God sustain you and may his abundant blessings be upon you and your country.



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome you today and to accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador of the Republic of Iceland to the Holy See. I thank you for the greetings which you bring from the President, Dr Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, whom I was happy to welcome to the Vatican last year. I ask you to convey to Dr Grímsson, to the Government and to the people of Iceland my good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the peace and prosperity of the nation.

Your mission begins at an auspicious time. The world is about to cross the threshold of the Third Millennium of the Christian era, and this poses questions and presents challenges to us all. For the Church, this will be a time of thanksgiving for gifts received, sorrow for sins committed, and renewal of the commitment to preach the Gospel and to teach the ways of truth, justice and peace. But the year 2000 acquires special significance for Iceland because, as you have noted, the nation will celebrate one thousand years of Christianity. My hope is that your mission will promote a mutuality in our celebrations – that Iceland will enrich the Jubilee in Rome and that Rome will enrich the Millennium in Iceland.

I am vividly conscious of what you yourself have noted, Mr Ambassador – that for a very long time the links between Iceland and the Holy See were deep and strong. How could it be otherwise in a land where the roots of Christianity reach so far back in time? It is true that Christianity was adopted as the religion of Iceland by the decision of the Parliament in the year 1000 at Thingvellir. But, still earlier, Christian hermits had made their home in Iceland, and then there came the Christian settlers who paved the way for the Parliament’s historic decision. From that time onwards, the Catholic Church became a vital element in forging the distinctive character and culture of your people; and for centuries the Holy See played its part in sustaining the nation’s hope in dark times and in fostering the flowering of Icelandic culture that produced masterpieces like the Sagas. I am glad that much of this will be recognized at the Millennium Celebrations next year at Thingvellir, where there will be a range of items from the Vatican collections recalling the historic links between Iceland and the Holy See. Although there have been troubled moments in the relationship between us, the diplomatic relations which we now enjoy are a sign of a common desire to move into the future not influenced by the misunderstandings which produced the tensions of the past, but upon the basis of the original deep and ancient bond of understanding.

The Christian heritage of your nation is more than a superficial cultural form. At its core there lie those “common beliefs and convictions about basic principles” of which you yourself have spoken. These beliefs and convictions concern the truth of the human person and the understanding of human dignity and rights which flows from this truth. This is the true humanism which the Church seeks to promote at all times and in all places; and it was also this which Iceland solemnly chose nearly one thousand years ago at Thingvellir. It is my hope now, as you prepare for the Millennium, that the nation will renew that choice in every aspect of its life.

The Bible lies at the root of both the Church’s witness and Iceland’s culture; and on the first page of Scripture we read that God created human beings in his own image. Here is the ground of all that the Church has to say about human dignity and human rights, and in a sense therefore it is the foundation of the Holy See’s diplomatic activity. Every man, woman and child is possessed of an inviolable dignity, and this implies a range of human rights which are conceded or denied by no-one but God. It is the task of government to protect that dignity and to guarantee those rights; and to the extent that governments succeed in that task a society will enjoy true freedom. But the totalitarian regimes that have so blighted this century show all too clearly how fragile freedom is and how quickly it vanishes once human dignity and human rights are disregarded. Iceland enjoys great freedom, which is also the fruit of the ancient Christian heritage of your nation, and the Catholic Church will be a willing partner in ensuring that, through the Millennium Celebrations and beyond, the roots of this freedom grow deeper and stronger in Icelandic society.

Mr Ambassador, you represent a nation which is great in neither size nor population. Yet it is a nation which has made a considerable contribution to the history of the millennium now ending. One example of this are the voyages of Leifur Eriksson, which you have mentioned and of which Iceland is rightly proud. In the figure of Eriksson, we see the courage, tenacity and resourcefulness which have always marked the people of Iceland, especially in dealing with adversity as Eriksson had to do. He was, as you have said of Iceland itself, “armed with good ideas and strong convictions”, and central to these ideas and convictions was his firmly held Christian faith. This is not only Iceland’s past; it is also the sure path into a future worthy of the human person and worthy of the people whom you represent. I pray that in your country Christian faith may always be wedded to courage, tenacity and resourcefulness, so that Iceland may be more and more a place where human dignity and rights are safeguarded at all times and where the weakest are therefore the most cherished.

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



Thursday, 20 May 1999

Your Excellency,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to the Vatican today and to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Thailand. I am grateful for the greetings which you have expressed on behalf of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and I gladly reciprocate with my warmest good wishes for the health and happiness of Their Majesties and of the Royal Family, and with my prayers for the peace and prosperity of the entire nation. I take this occasion to affirm once again my own great esteem for the Thai people and for your country’s rich spiritual and cultural heritage.

You have mentioned the bonds of friendship and cordial relations which have existed for many centuries between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Holy See. Christian missionaries first came to your country early in the sixteenth century. In 1669, during the reign of King Narai the Great, the first Vicariate Apostolic was established in the sacred city of Ayudhya. The city subsequently became an important centre for contacts between Christianity and Buddhism. Despite later setbacks, a growing desire for closer ties between Thailand and the Holy See in modern times led to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1969.

I had the great joy of experiencing at first hand the kindness and the profound human values of the Thai people during my visit in 1984. Buddhism, the religion of the vast majority of your fellow-citizens, has profoundly shaped Thai society and culture, and has created a climate of tolerance and religious freedom of which you are rightly proud. The ancient and venerable wisdom contained in your country’s religious traditions, as well as the contribution of other religious groups, has been of inestimable value for the life of the nation. In every society, the religious dimension is of profound importance, since it emphasizes the superior values stemming from the dignity of the human person, and it acts as a force for the promotion of justice, solidarity and peace. As such, religion provides a firm foundation for rejecting any narrowly materialist or utilitarian understanding of development. The dangers of conceiving social progress without reference to the transcendent value and character of the human person are all too evident. As I had occasion to write in my Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis: “When individuals and communities do not see a rigorous respect for the moral, cultural and spiritual requirements, based on the dignity of the person and on the proper identity of each community, beginning with the family and religious societies, then all the rest - availability of goods, abundance of technical resources applied to daily life, a certain level of material well-being - will prove unsatisfying and in the end contemptible” (No. 33).

This understanding of the human person guides the efforts of the Holy See in its activities in the international sphere. With all men and women of good will, it takes part in initiatives aimed at ensuring a secure future for everyone, a future based on a culture of human rights and on solidarity which transcends all frontiers. On the threshold of the Third Millennium, there is an urgent need for the international community to take steps to strengthen the structures which will guarantee genuine peace between nations and ethnic groups. Efforts in this direction can only succeed “when the promotion of the dignity of the human person is the guiding principle, and when the search for the common good is the overriding commitment” (Message for the World Day of Peace 1999, No. 1).

For its part, the Catholic community in Thailand, though small in relation to the followers of other religious traditions, enjoys the benefits of the religious freedom of which His Majesty as “Upholder of All Religions” is the guarantor. Catholics share wholeheartedly in the life and concerns of the nation, having the progress and development of society very much at heart. Their specific contribution is inspired by the conviction that economic, political and social progress must always go hand in hand with a commitment to religious and moral truth. In carrying out her spiritual mission, the Catholic Church is committed to the promotion of justice, compassion and respect for others.

Your Excellency has referred to the Church’s contribution in the field of education, health and social services. This involvement is based on her Divine Founder’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves, and on her belief that human life in all its stages is sacred and of inestimable value. In her educational activities, the Church is convinced that the all-round formation of young people, who represent the future of the nation, is crucially important. Education must help them to discover the spiritual dimension of life and to learn the supreme values which will uphold the social fabric of the country in the future. There is no doubt that an appreciation of moral values and an attitude of respect for human dignity and human rights are as important as, if not more important than, any knowledge or skill imparted.

Mr Ambassador, I am confident that in the fulfilment of your mission you will contribute all your personal qualities and energies to further strengthening the ties of friendship already existing between Thailand 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. Upon yourself, upon Their Majesties the King and Queen, and upon all the Thai people I cordially invoke abundant divine blessings.



Saturday, 22 May 1999

Dear Prime Minister,
Dear Friends,

Every year the Feast of the Apostles of the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius, brings a Delegation from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to Rome, to honour the relics of Saint Cyril in the Church of Saint Clement. On these occasions it is a pleasure for me to meet you who represent the civil and religious life of the your country.

For many weeks now, you and your people have been caught up in the terrible crisis which day after day is bringing untold suffering, death and destruction to the Balkans, leaving hundreds of thousands of human beings mourning the loss of their family members, their property and their basic human rights. Despite the enormous difficulties involved, your own country has become a haven of safety for many refugees and you are bravely and generously trying to alleviate their immediate distress and misery.

In expressing to you and your fellow citizens my own and the Church’s appreciation of all that you are doing, I again appeal with all my heart to those responsible: to bring an end to the violence and to engage in an open and sincere dialogue aimed at creating a just and lasting basis for agreement and peace. My earnest prayer is that through the intercession of the two holy Brothers the entire region will rediscover the brotherly communion of all its peoples, so that when the present violence and distrust have been overcome it may be for the rest of Europe and the world a clear example of just and peaceful coexistence in mutual respect and liberty.

Dear friends, my hope is that your pilgrimage will bring you strength and encouragement in serving the common good of your people. God bless your country and its citizens!


Monday, 24 May 1999

Mr Prime Minister,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Friends,

It is a joy for me to welcome your delegation from Bulgaria, which comes to Rome each year to honour Sts Cyril and Methodius, whose memory is very alive in your country and throughout the region.

By the presence here today of Catholic and Orthodox Pastors, "we clearly see that the heritage of the Brothers from Salonika is and remains ... deeper and stronger than any division" (Slavorum Apostoli, n. 25), showing that the two traditions, Eastern and Western, arose within the one Church of Christ. In fact, Sts Cyril and Methodius helped to establish and spread Christian faith and culture in the Slav world; faithfully united to the Successor of Peter, they bequeathed to various peoples a rich patrimony, which all have zealously worked to preserve down the ages especially through the active presence of monastic movements and popular devotion. May the veneration of Sts Cyril and Methodius, to whom you show your deep attachment by your presence in Rome, help increase the faith of your peoples, as well as our brotherhood in Christ and solidarity with all people!

When proclaiming the Gospel, the holy brothers were respectful of genuine human and moral values and cultural differences, leaving to each people their distinctive characteristics and opening the way to unity among different cultures. They were also committed to awakening in their contemporaries an attitude of openness and acceptance towards everyone. By acting in this way, they were in a sense the promoters of a united Europe and of a profound peace among all the continent's inhabitants, showing the basis for a new art of living together with respect for differences, which in no way are an obstacle to unity. I hope that these great saints of your land will be models of human and Christian life for all Bulgarians, called to be ever more committed, along with their brothers and sisters in the region, to the path of peace and reconciliation, thereby making a notable contribution to the construction of a Europe of nations.

At the end of our meeting, I thank you warmly for your kind visit; I offer my best wishes for your delegation, through which I extend my cordial greetings to the Bulgarian authorities and people, assuring them of the fervent prayers of the Bishop of Rome. As I entrust you all to the intercession of Sts Cyril and Methodius, I ask the Lord to grant you the benefits of his blessing.




Thursday, 27 May 1999

Your Eminence,
Dear Friends,

Speeches 1999