Speeches 1999 - 13 september 1999

If Europe is the first natural context where this fertile Italian presence can be exercised, we should not underestimate the incomparable network of relations that its special location in the Mediterranean offers Italy, making it the necessary passage for the entire continent's contacts with other shores of the same sea. What is expected of the Italian nation is not only a cultural and economic contribution, but also peacemaking and harmonious development in all the initiatives that far-sighted planning can elaborate. Italy can indeed be present as a peacemaker, earning an incomparable and well-deserved reputation among nations.

Joint builder of a Europe of the spirit, peacemaker in the Mediterranean, guardian of the ancient constitutive Christian soul of its history: this is the Italy of my hopes! To this end I wish that believers and all people of good will may always bear in mind the goal of transcendence. They have always and everywhere the duty not to marginalize the reference-point of the Spirit, the same reference-point which inspired the most vigilant consciences, which bore incomparable fruits in all fields and which really made this country great and unique.

Mr Ambassador, as you recalled, we are now on the threshold of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. It is comforting to see how the preparation for this important event, understood as an interior renewal and recovery of the values of the spirit, sees the effective participation of institutions and special initiatives in preparing an overall context to aid this experience of the soul.

In expressing my appreciation for all that the Italian authorities are doing in this regard, I would like to offer my wish that positive cooperation between the Italian Government and the Holy See will effectively continue in order to prepare a welcoming "home" for all the men and women of good will who will pass through Italy and come to Rome.

And with these wishes and hopes I confirm my affectionate concern for the human and civil affairs of the Italian people and I am pleased to renew, Mr Ambassador, my most heartfelt wishes for the success of your mission, as I cordially impart my Blessing to you, to your family and to your staff.



17 september 1999

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate!

1. Welcome ad Petri sedem! With great joy I meet you once again for this visit, provided by ecclesial practice to support communion and pastoral co- responsibility. Through you I greet your communities, the priests, the religious and lay people of the beloved land of Lithuania.

I thank Archbishop Audrys J. Backis for his kind words in which, as President of your Episcopal Conference, he expressed the sentiments of devotion that mark your relations with the Successor of Peter. Your land's profound unity with the Apostolic See has never been marred; rather, the great trial to which your country was subjected in this century has strengthened it.

Today's meeting offers us the opportunity to review the ground covered since 1993 when, during my Pastoral Visit to Lithuania, we rejoiced together in the new springtime God has granted to your Churches.

Memories take me back to the sentiments I felt then, to the warm welcome I received, the places I was able to visit: Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai, Siluva. How can I forget the deep emotion and unbounded joy of those moments? We could have made the psalmist's words our own: "Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy" (Ps 126,1-2).
Cherish the witness of those who gave their lives

The Via Crucis was too long. So many children of your land were called to bear witness to Christ amid hardships, imprisonment, restrictions of every kind and even by the sacrifice of their lives. Now for your communities the freedom to profess your faith has become as it were a rebirth. The traditional symbols to which Catholic Lithuania looked even in her darkest hours have shone with new light, from the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Dawn Gate to the overwhelming Hill of Crosses, where your peoples' crosses were so often joined with the Cross of Christ. The Mother and her divine Son have once again become the centre of Lithuanian life and culture, as they were during the best centuries of your history.

2. Being with you, dear Brothers, I could see with how much vitality the faith of Lithuanians overcame the hour of trial. Of course, as always happens in times of persecution, some yielded.

Still today, in your reports you stress that years of atheistic propaganda have had devastating effects which are hard to remedy. At the same time, however, the faith of many has been strengthened after passing through this crucible. We should not doubt then how mysteriously fruitful is suffering borne for Christ. No tear is lost in God's sight, as the psalmist again reminds us: "My tears are stored in your flask" (Ps 56,9). I am not only thinking of the reward for those who acknowledged Christ before men and who will be acknowledged by him before the Father, as he promised (cf. Mt Mt 10,32). I am also thinking of the fruitfulness that appears throughout history, although we are not always able to see it visibly or to quantify it. "Semen est sanguis Christianorum" (Tertullian, Apology, 50). This is why the memory of those among you who witnessed to the point of giving their life should be cherished and sown as seed in the furrows of the present moment, so that it can guide your efforts today and sustain your hopes tomorrow.
Catechesis should lead to mature faith

3. In fact, the Lithuanian Church faces challenges today that demand vigilance, generous effort and new creativity. Free now from the fetters of a totalitarian and anti-Christian State, faith is ensnared by the tentacles of a subtler agression, represented by a seductive, worldly and hedonistic model of life that dominates the more economically developed countries. I have noticed how worried you are about this, especially when you look at the younger generation. Some of the ethical problems which are unfortunately spreading throughout the world - from the crisis of the family to the scant esteem for the value of life - are also having an effect in Lithuania. Even at the specifically religious level, faith is also being put to the test by the proliferation of sects. What I said during my last Pastoral

Visit remains very relevant in the light of the past five years: the new evangelization is the first and inescapable demand on Lithuanian pastoral ministry.

4. Thus I am pleased to note the awareness you show in this area, as well as your constant efforts to improve the catechetical movement. Genuine catechesis is not limited to imparting a patrimony of truths, rather it aims at introducing people to a full and conscious life of faith. It is important to proclaim the Gospel as "news", the "Good News", totally centred on the person of Jesus, the Son of God and Redeemer of man. Catechesis must help people to "meet" Jesus Christ, to converse with him and to immerse themselves in him. Without the vibrance of this encounter, Christianity becomes a soulless religious traditionalism which easily yields to the attacks of secularism or the enticements of alternative religious offerings. This encounter then, as experience confirms, is not fostered by dry "lessons" alone but rather, so to speak, "caught" by the power of a living witness.

Catechesis must rediscover all the warmth of the First Letter of John: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes ... we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1Jn 1,1-3).

5. On this basis the methodological aspects concerned with designing formation courses that attend to each person's different situation and schedule acquire their full value. It is necessary to present the faith in a way adapted to those who are most distant. Equally important is a catechesis for those who already believe and receive the sacraments, one that is not limited to the formation of children but accompanies the Christian's development to full maturity. The praiseworthy "parish catechism schools" must therefore be open to the needs and methods of continuing catechesis. Careful attention to the complete transmission of the faith, today facilitated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is offered as a reference-point for other catchetical tools, should be accompanied by that creativity and adaptation which are necessary for an authentic pedagogy of faith, as emphasized by the General Directory for Catechesis (1997).

In this regard, the form of catechetical instruction differs from the academic teaching of religion (ibid., nn. 73-75), which remains within the limits set by the school's own purposes, especially in the case of State schools. Catechesis goes much further, because in addition to the cultural dimension, it aims at forming the person of faith in full conformity with his option for Christ's Gospel. The whole Christian community, in all its various dimensions, is responsible for offering this formation. The education given by each family is fundamental.

Moreover, those new experiences inspired by the Holy Spirit in the springtime of the ecclesial movements which are enlivening the post-conciliar Church should be welcomed as a blessing.

When they work in full harmony with their Pastors, they can make an important contribution to the growth of Christian life, and Lithuanian Christianity will certainly benefit from its ability to combine the "nova et vetera", making the most of its traditions and opening itself to the new things brought about by God's Spirit.

With the help of these multiple resources, it will also be possible to rediscover classical forms of evangelization and pastoral leadership, such as "missions". These should certainly be adapted to the circumstances of our day, in order to reach the most varied groups of the faithful as well as those who have completely lost their faith. But when they are well organized, they continue to bear fruit, as I myself was able to see here in Rome, where we recently concluded the City Mission in preparation for the Great Jubilee.

6. There is no doubt, then, that the effectiveness of evangelization depends to a large extent on the spiritual efforts of priests, "prudent cooperators of the episcopal college" (Lumen gentium, LG 28). Dear Brothers, if it is up to you to be "heralds of the faith" and "authentic teachers" (ibid., n. 25) among the flock entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts Ac 20,28), only the grass-roots work of your priests can ensure that each Christian community is nourished by the Word of God and supported by the grace of the sacraments.

Thanks be to God, your communities have a good number of priests available. You yourselves, however, have told me that they are not always enough and many parishes lack a parish priest.

Therefore, I praise your efforts in the pastoral care of vocations to see that there will be a sufficient number of priests to meet the needs of the Lithuanian community and especially that they receive a good formation. For this it is necessary that seminaries provide a high-quality formation.

Your pastoral wisdom will be able to judge which decisions should be made in order to do this in the best way possible, with the cooperation of the various Dioceses. It is not difficult to find the right educational approach in the documents of the Council and the post-conciliar documents of the Magisterium for achieving the greatest possible balance between the need for a rigorous spiritual and theological formation and the equally important requirement of an integral human formation that is open and attentive to the needs of people today. Nor, along with priestly vocations, should the great opportunity offered by the permanent diaconate be forgotten. The Council has let us rediscover this ministry, which should be promoted not as something marginal or as a substitute for the possible lack of priests, but for the intrinsic value of this service to the People of God "in the diakonia of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity" (Lumen gentium, LG 29).

Catechists obviously play a specific and particularly praiseworthy role in the area of evangelization. I am pleased to note the care you are taking with their formation. And how could we overlook the service of consecrated persons? The Christian rebirth of Lithuania will draw ever greater advantage from promoting the religious life, provided that each institute knows how to combine fidelity to its own charism with active and heartfelt openness to pastoral communion with the local Churches (cf. Vita consecrata, VC 81).

7. Over and above specific pastoral roles, however, it is necessary to be deeply aware that the challenge of effective evangelization can only be met by calling on the prophetic task proper to all the baptized. It is time for Christian communities to become communities of proclamation!

In this perspective it is urgently necessary to form the laity, indeed, to promote a lay spirituality which will help lay Christians live deeply their vocation to holiness, "by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will" (Lumen gentium, LG 31). It is the task of well-formed lay people to be a leaven in society, to defend those human and Christian values on which man's future depends. I am referring in particular to respect for human life, today more and more threatened by a culture of death disguised as a culture of freedom. I am also thinking of the family, which should be forcefully presented as a covenant of indissoluble love which unites man and woman in a permanent way and makes them God's co-workers in begetting and rearing children.

There is a particularly urgent need in the young Lithuanian democracy for lay people to be involved in politics. This demands from Christians full consistency with the Gospel values presented in the Church's social teaching and, at the same time, their intelligent and responsible involvement in the complex circumstances of history. From this condition of Christian political action derives a necessary distinction between contexts and roles. As the Council taught us, the task of pastors is one thing, and the responsibility assumed by the lay faithful, personally or as a group, another (cf. Gaudium et spes, GS 76). The confusion of roles would threaten to bring the Church into an area that does not belong to her, and although this can at times be justified by exceptional circumstances, it usually turns out to be counterproductive.

8. In fact, the true "secret" of the Church's significant presence in Lithuanian society is the formation of mature lay people, who will bear ever greater witness in society if they find their own place within the Christian community, receiving formation and support from it and at the same time offering services in keeping with the lay vocation. The laity cannot be passive subjects in the Church! To this end, the different expressions of the Christian community must be developed more and more as places of communion and co-responsibility, so that all the baptized are helped to become and to regard themselves as "adults" in the faith. In this process of maturation they can find support in those associations, some more traditional, others newer, which, under the guidance of the Pastors, offer them sound opportunities for formation by directing them to effective forms of witness.

Another place of growth are the organs of participation which the Second Vatican Council encouraged and which are now a well-established practice in the Christian community at both the diocesan and the parish level (cf. CIC, cann. 511; 536-537). It is not a question of imitating the parliamentary structures of civil society, but of expressing in the style proper to ecclesial life that sense of communion which is based on the conviction that, while the Spirit of God helps Pastors in their role as teachers and guides, it enlivens all the members of the Christian community, enriching it with their conscious, responsible and mature participation. Of great importance in this regard are Diocesan Synods which, celebrated in the form indicated by the current norms, also provide for the participation of lay people (CIC 463,5) and indeed enable the whole diocesan community to be involved in a "synodal process", except, obviously, for the role of the Bishop as the "sole legislator" (can. 466).

9. Dear Lithuanian Brothers, you are advancing with conviction on the path of these conciliar directives. Persevere in this direction, to provide new vitality for your communities. Open your hearts to trust. All you have achieved in these years is precious in God's eyes. A new phase is now beginning and the very occasion of the now imminent Great Jubilee is a providential opportunity to give enthusiasm to your pastoral commitment. It is necessary to sow abundantly and with hope-filled hearts. Let us remember the Gospel parable: the seed of the kingdom of God grows in a mysterious way, under the Spirit's action, such that the sower himself is amazed (Mc 4,27). Then if we are not allowed to see the results of our labours, we should remember that we are "unworthy servants" (Lc 17,10), as the Gospel says, and always be ready to make ourselves God's instrument, because "neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1Co 3,7).

May this awareness always inspire you, dear friends. May your meeting with the Successor of Peter be an encouragement and an incentive to you. Tell your people of the Pope's affection for the entire Lithuanian community, and convey my greeting to one and all. I entrust the path that lies ahead to Mary most holy, "the Dawn Gate", and cordially impart my Blessing to you and to your faithful.



18 September 1999

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate!

1. I am pleased to see you again on the occasion of this ad limina visit, which gives us the opportunity to spend an intense moment of brotherhood in that fruitful exchange which must mark the relations between the Pastors of the particular Churches and the Successor of Peter, Pastor of the universal Church.

I thank Archbishop Jlnis Pujats of Riga, who has expressed your sentiments of communion. In you I greet the entire Latvian community, which six years ago I had the joy of meeting personally. How could I forget the cordial welcome I was given? I have an especially fond memory of the celebration at the Shrine of Aglona, the Marian heart of Latvia, where we presented the tears of the past and the hopes for the future to the Blessed Virgin. It was the exhilarating moment of the Magnificat, after long years of hardship.
Church in Latvia needs new burst of enthusiasm

The ecumenical atmosphere that marked my visit was also memorable. Being able to pray with you and with our Lutheran and Orthodox brethren made me look forward with special longing to the day when our common prayer, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, will blossom into full communion. You, dear Brothers, Pastors of a Catholic community which is a minority among other Christians, are called to promote with special zeal the path of ecumenism which now irreversibly marks the disciples of Christ in the spirit of his priestly prayer: "that they may all be one"! (Jn 17,11).

2. Together with our Christian brothers and sisters of other denominations, for long years you suffered the harshness of a regime set on building an earthly city without the light of faith. The aftermath of atheistic propaganda is still making itself felt in the generations that were forced to absorb it deeply. On the other hand, the younger people are not much more fortunate, since the arrival of freedom has also brought the influence of the cultural model dominant in many parts of the world, where indifference and religious relativism are often combined with forms of mass behaviour that are totally incompatible with Christ's Gospel. This has affected families, which are steadily losing the value of unity and stability. The very value of human life has also been jeopardized and has become the target of multiple attacks which often are even legalized.

Given these serious problems, you must forcefully teach the authentic humanism based on the universal moral law and illumined by the Gospel message. But - as we know - this means swimming against the tide. How can we make ourselves heard, how can we speak to consciences, when everything seems to be moving in the opposite direction? For this reason the Church needs a new burst of enthusiasm and fervour, letting herself be filled by the Spirit as at the first Pentecost.

3. To achieve this new pastoral impetus, it has proved very useful to restructure the Catholic community following the creation of new Dioceses. With this more diversified organization of her territory, the Latvian Church can increase her presence and action. As the Second Vatican Council stressed, Dioceses are not merely administrative divisions, but true Churches in which "the one and only Catholic Church exists" (Lumen gentium, LG 23).

We can understand the meaning of the particular Church in relation to the Council's discussion on the "mystery" of the Church, rooted in the Trinity itself. It is a mystery that, although fully expressed in the unity of the universal Church, can also be seen in the individual Churches where people gather round the Word of God in the celebration of the Eucharist under the Bishop's leadership. There is no opposition but rather "mutual interiority" between the universal aspect of this communion and the vocation of each particular Church (cf. Instruction Communionis notio, 28 May 1992, n. 8; AAS 85 [1993] 842).

It is a synthesis that marks the ministry itself of the Bishop who, on the one hand, participates in the universal dimension of communion and pastoral service by his membership in the episcopal college and, on the other, exercises his threefold "munus" of teaching, sanctifing and leading (cf. Lumen gentium, LG 25-27) for that portion of the People of God entrusted to him. Ever since the Council, the dimension of collegiality has been given particular emphasis and been enriched with new instruments.

In this regard, the Episcopal Conference, which helps the Churches of a certain territory constantly to harmonize their pastoral action, has great importance. You can see its usefulness, even in the youthful experience of your own Conference. On the other hand, we must remember that the Conference does not diminish the ministry belonging to each Bishop, who remains directly and personally responsible for all pastoral care in his territory (cf. Apostolic Letter Apostolos suos on the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences, 21 May 1998, n. 20: AAS 90 [1998]).

4. Dear friends, your Church is experiencing a time of change. In the long decades of communist domination you knew the gift of fidelity and martyrdom, which is a great seed of hope for your future. But you yourselves have prompted me to point out some of the negative signs that this long period has left on the ecclesial community. Many Catholics do not participate regularly in the Sunday Eucharist and the sacraments. Some do not even have their children baptized or they postpone their Baptism. Meanwhile the sects continue to spread. These are worrying signs.

The new evangelization must therefore become an essential priority. It is a question of presenting Christ to Latvian society and especially to the new generation, so that everyone will know him as the Saviour, the one who has the words of eternal life (Jn 6,68) and is "the joy of all hearts and the fulfilment of all aspirations" (Gaudium et spes, GS 45). I am therefore delighted with the effort you are making to improve and increase catechetical instruction, using Riga's Catechetical Institute and its interdiocesan branches. The goal is to enable every baptized person to make his faith a true choice, supported by a catechesis that not only leads to knowledge of the truth, but also to an experience of the mystery and a life in keeping with that faith. Dear brothers, you are "the ones primarily responsible for catechesis, the catechists par excellence" (Catechesi tradendae, n. 63). Continue your efforts so that individuals, families and society in all its dimensions may receive the word of Christ in its abundance.

5. The acceptance of God's Word leads to a more conscious participation in the liturgy, the "source" and "summit" of the Church's life (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, SC 10). We must regard the Council's liturgical renewal as God's great gift to the Church of our time, one that helps our faithul to live it to the full. Of special significance in this regard is the rediscovery of the celebration of Sunday, the Lord's day, to which I dedicated my Apostolic Letter Dies Domini last year.

Every effort must be made so that people fulfil their Sunday obligation, while considering with pastoral understanding the difficulties which the faithful of a given area often encounter. The faithful must be especially helped to grasp the meaning of this day, which contains in synthesis the Christian mystery itself. Indeed, it is the weekly recurrence of the day of Christ's Resurrection, a day on which all creation, redeemed by him, is in some way "reborn" to new life in expectation of his glorious coming at the end of time. It is therefore the "day of faith" par excellence: an indispensable day! (cf. Dies Domini, nn. 29-30).

6. At the same time, it is the "dies Ecclesiae" in a very special way. The Sunday celebration must therefore be conducted in a way that fully expresses a sense of Church. At the "table of the Word" God calls his people to a continual dialogue of love. At the Eucharistic banquet Christ forms this people into his "body" and his "bride", making himself the bread of life and bond of unity. The Sunday Eucharist is truly a privileged moment for the faithful to perceive their being "Church" and to grow in communion.

By their very nature, listening to the Word and communion with the Body of Christ spur believers to "evangelize and bear witness" (Dies Domini, n. 45) in their daily lives. From Mass to mission: this is the natural movement of every Christian community, particularly necessary at this historical moment for the Latvian Church as she faces the challenge of the new evangelization.

7. This can only happen if each baptized person becomes aware of his vocation. The advancement of the laity is crucial in this regard. A certain conception of the Christian community often resulted in the laity being relegated to a state of passivity. Painful memories of the past regime in your land, which used some people as collaborators for its harassment of the Church, can hinder one's confidence in giving greater responsibility to the laity. However, it is necessary to look to the future with trust. According to the Council's teaching, the lay faithful, although without ever replacing Pastors, are called to a true and proper "apostolate" which in today's circumstances must be "broader and more intense" (Apostolicam actuositatem, AA 1).

They can more easily achieve this awareness with the help of Church-approved associations and ecclesial movements, as long as they are in full harmony with the Bishops and the diocesan pastoral ministry. Besides this "internal" task, the lay vocation is especially expressed in the Church's relationship with the world. "It is to the laity, though not exclusively to them, that secular duties and activity properly belong" (Gaudium et spes, GS 43). It is above all through the daily witness of the laity that the Gospel becomes a leaven in every aspect of life: from the family to culture, from art to the economy, even to political involvement. "The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties towards his neighbour, neglects God himself" (ibid. n. 43).

8. Lastly, dear Brothers it is clear that the secret for the enthusiasm and renewal of the Latvian Church is found to a great extent in persons who by a special vocation are dedicated to the cause of God's kingdom. I am thinking of the men and women religious, whose presence I hope will be ever more vital and prominent in your community.

But my thoughts turn above all to the ministry of priests. In your communities there is an urgent need for a greater number of them to care for the needs of the various parishes. This need can certainly be alleviated by lay participation, as well as by promotion of the permanent diaconate. But the priest is irreplaceable. Indeed, it is his task to act "in persona Christi" in the administration of the sacraments; in obedient cooperation with his Bishop, he is to carry out the ministry of proclaiming the Word and of leading the community. The People of God have a right to his service as pastor and father.

Hence the urgent need to be active in promoting vocations; these efforts, while relying on prayer to the "Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9,38), must also take responsibility for heightening the awareness of families and of the entire Christian community so that children and young people are helped to open themselves to a possible call from God. We also know well the importance of the formation that must be given to those who are preparing to take on such an important task in the community. This, in fact, calls for a rigorous theological and ecclesial formation that is attentive to human and emotional balance, rooted in sound spirituality, marked by sincere openness and, at the same time, aware of the realities of the world in which we live. The future of the Latvian Church depends in large part on the formation of your priests.

9. Thank you, dear friends, for the joy you have given me by coming here. I would like once again to express my appreciation for all you do and will continue to do for the People of God, even amid the many difficulties you face. Never forget, in the inevitable hours of darkness, that we are not alone: our efforts are sustained by grace and we rely on it.

Take heart then: "Caritas Chisti urget nos" (2Co 5,14). Let us advance, like the Apostle, in the power of this love which surrounds and accompanies us. May we also be spurred by the expectation of the imminent Great Jubilee, which calls us all to a special effort of conversion.

As I call on our heavenly Mother to obtain strength, perseverance and effectiveness for your apostolic work, I cordially impart my Blessing to you and to all the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care.


Visit to the Cathedral

Maribor, 19 September 1999

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

1. It is a great joy for me to meet you in this cathedral where lie the mortal remains of the revered Bishop Anton Martin Slomsek, whom I had the joy of proclaiming blessed this morning. I thank Bishop Franc Kramberger of Maribor for his remarks, which expressed the sentiments of this distinguished assembly and explained its purpose. I greet all the Bishops here, as well as the priests, men and women religious and lay faithful.

I also greet the group of university rectors from Central Europe, who have come here to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the foundation, through Bl. Slomsek's efforts, of what would become the Theology Faculty of Maribor.

I extend a respectful greeting to the President of the Parliament and the Deputy Head of Government and the other State authorities, along with all who helped to prepare my visit.

2. Two years ago last May, the Slovenian Episcopal Conference decided to hold a Plenary Synod to reflect on the road traveled thus far by the Church in Slovenia and to prepare for the future in view of the beginning of the third millennium. You, dear Bishops, chose for the Synod's motto an exhortation taken from the Book of Deuteronomy: "Choose life" (30: 19). It is a particularly significant theme for contemporary man, who thirsts for life and yet is so unsure of its meaning and value. In truth, the culture of every age must be measured against this theme.

With this Synod the Church in Slovenia is preparing to celebrate the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 by making a renewed commitment to a more faithful application of the Second Vatican Council. One of the distinctive features of the Council's teaching is without doubt its doctrine on the People of God. It can be summed up in the word "communio", communion. This fundamental concept takes us back to the very sources of the Church, to Trinitarian communion, and, in the light of this ineffable mystery, it helps us to understand the Church's reality as the profound unity of all the baptized. Beyond their specific vocations, they share in the threefold ministry of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King. The Church's life and the relationships between her members must fully express this equality of dignity albeit in a diversity of ministries.

The Synod is certainly a remarkable expression of this communion, for it represents the whole community: pastors, religious and laity. The laity are asked in particular to make a specific contribution on those topics which more directly involve their experience in the world and their mission (cf. Lumen gentium, LG 30). The Pastors, for their part, will be aware of their responsibility as leaders concerned for the good of the faithful and will do all they can to harmonize the various charisms and ministries, while never forgetting that the first and indispensable agent of ecclesial life and its renewal is the Spirit of God. The Synod's success depends on everyone's ability, that of pastors and faithful, to listen to him, to understand what he is asking at the present moment: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches" (Ap 2,7).

3. Dear brothers and sisters who comprise this Synod Assembly and have gathered today at the tomb of Bl. Bishop Slomsek! The role you play in the celebration of this Synod is both a great honour and a great responsibility. In the course of its preparation thus far, you have already shown to a considerable extent your ability to listen to one another and to work together. You must continue in this way. The Synod is an historic occasion for the Church in Slovenia: she is called to design an updated and effective pastoral plan for the new social situation. She is supported in this task by the witness of faith and dedication to the Gospel cause offered in the past by Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful. The pastors did all they could for their people, which has earned them respect and revererence. It is a legacy of communion which should also be used to advantage in the changed historical conditions.

Dear brothers and sisters, look to Bl. Slomsek! His thoughts were always directed to the human person in his concrete situation, and he knew how to regard his problems, anxieties and personal poverty as well as his joys, his resources and his ideals. Now it is your turn to imitate him. Do so by walking together, drawing the strength for this profound communion from attentive listening to the Word and devout participation in the Eucharist, which is the source of the Church's life: indeed, its very heart. Be docile to the Holy Spirit, so that you may be "clothed with power from on high" (cf. Lk Lc 24,49) and can enthusiastically dedicate yourselves, like the first disciples, to the work of the new evangelization.

To evangelize, to proclaim to all the joyful news of salvation in Christ: let this be your first and foremost concern. To do so, do not be afraid to demand the conditions of freedom which are indispensable for the fulfilment of the Church's mission. If Christians, as citizens, have a duty to contribute to the good of all society, as faithful they have the right not to be hampered in their legitimate activities. In this regard, given the fundamental role of Christianity and the Catholic Church in Slovenia's history and culture, it is only right to hope that the process towards effective Church-State collaboration can quickly move ahead by encouraging a resolution of the current difficulties, all to the advantage of that cooperation which is in the interests of society as a whole.

4. I would now like to turn my thoughts to the entire Church of Slovenia, which you worthily represent. I wish to speak to the heart of every believer in every corner of your beloved land.
I would like to say to all: you, the Church which lives in Slovenia, "choose life"; choose this precious gift of God, Creator and Saviour, over everything else! Bring this gift to those who do not have the strength to forgive, to the men and women who have known the bitterness of a failed marriage; bring it to young people, who are often the victims of false idols; bring it to Slovenian families, so that they can fulfil their demanding mission with trust and generosity; bring it to all who are working together for the kingdom of God, so that they will not be discouraged by the problems they face; bring it to those who are making a contribution by their work, particularly by accepting public office, to the common good of all the citizens.

Church in Slovenia, you are a pilgrim of hope: continue the journey you began 1,250 years ago and cross the threshold of the third millennium with courage and confidence. Follow in the footsteps of Christ; follow the figure of St Andrew the Apostle, patron of this Diocese of Maribor, and of Bl. Bishop Anton Martin Slomsek, the figure of an enlightened and tireless pastor.

May Blessed Mary, Mother and Queen of Slovenia, whom all your people venerate with the title Marija Pomagaj, watch over you and over all your endeavours. I promise you, beloved Church living in Slovenia, and every one of your members, as well as the whole Slovenian people, a remembrance in prayer, as I cordially bless one and all.

Speeches 1999 - 13 september 1999