Speeches 1999 - Tuesday 30 November 1999

December 1999




Thursday, 2 December 1999

Dear Sisters!

1. I welcome you with great joy and cordially greet you all. My thoughts turn first of all to your Superior General, whom I thank for presenting your institute's expectations and plans to me. I also greet the general councillors and every member of your congregation.

You have come to visit me on a very special occasion for your religious family: in commemorating the 125th anniversary of its foundation and the 25th anniversary of the beatification of your foundress, Sr Anna Michelotti, you are preparing to celebrate a jubilee during the Great Jubilee.

This providential cirumstance gives you an opportunity to reflect on the value and importance of time, which, as I recalled in my Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, has fundamental importance in Christianity. The world was created within the temporal dimension; within it salvation history unfolds, having its culmination in the "fullness of time" of the Incarnation and its goal in the glorious return of the Son of God at the end of time (cf. n. 10).

In the period between the Incarnation and the Lord's glorious return, the Spirit guides the Church so that, through the work of many generous souls, she can continue to bring the Good News to the poor, to heal the wounds of the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners and to announce a year of favour from the Lord (cf. Lk 4: 16ff.). In the various historical periods it is therefore always the Holy Spirit who, in fulfilling the Father's plan, stirs up different charisms at the service of the Church and of all humanity (cf. Redemptionis donum, n. 15).

2. Dear Sisters, you present yourselves to the world as the "Little Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the sick poor". Your name is a project of life for each of you. Be "little" so as to have an interior experience of the divine Master's special love (cf. Mt Mt 11,25). Foster within you the spirit of "service" to neighbour, after the example of the woman who loved to call herself the "handmaid of the Lord" (Lc 1,38 cf. Lc 1,48). Visit the sick in a spirit of poverty, with only the wealth of God to whom you are consecrated, and bring them your motherly love. As your foundress liked to recommend: "Do not say "I go to the sick', but "I go to console the heart of the suffering Jesus'. If you go with this spirit of faith, be calm and certain that you are serving them well" (Parole vissute, p. 43). May visiting the sick be your first and most demanding pilgrimage, especially in the Jubilee Year.

In my Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata I entrusted religious communities with the task of spreading the spirituality of communion (cf. n. 51). To you, in particular, I entrust the task of being a sign and a remembrance of the love that reaches out to the sick. In this work may you follow the example of the Virgin Mary, who left her home in Galilee to go into the hill country of Judah, to visit the home of her relative Elizabeth, who needed help.

May the significant event you are preparing to celebrate be an incentive for you to renew your charism; may it make you even more faithful to your foundress' spirit and purpose; may it be the moment of a greater and more penetrating spirit of faith, which will lead you to see the Lord's face in every sick person you visit. Did he not say that he would consider anything done for one of the least of his brethren as if it had been done to him? (cf. Mt Mt 25,40).

3. Your work in recent years has grown beyond the borders of Italy and today you are present in Madagascar and Romania. I hope that it will spread further and I pray that your witness may be for the whole Church a sign of that interior pilgrimage which spurs the believer to leave everything in order to reach out with Jesus to every man or women in need of help. In all your houses, show God the Father's tenderness to those tried by illness.

May the double celebration now at hand strengthen you in your charism and make you ever more faithful to the spirit and desires of Bl. Anna Michelotti. May it also be a time of growth in the faith, which will lead you to live your vocation ever more deeply. You are called to see the Lord's face in every sick person you visit, as your foundress wrote: "We belong to Jesus; we serve Jesus who is the incarnate and eternal truth, who never deceives us, because his promises are infallible and he will never let go unrewarded even a glass of water given out of love" (Parole vissute, p. 42).

May Bl. Anna Michelotti protect you. For my part, I assure you of a remembrance in prayer and I cordially impart my Blessing to you all, which I gladly extend to your entire religious family, especially to the aspirants, the young women in formation, the sisters who are ill, and everyone you meet in your daily apostolate.


Thursday, 2 December 1999

Your Eminence,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen!

1. With great joy I meet you today on the occasion of the International Study Conference dedicated to the theme, "Cinema: images for a dialogue between peoples and a culture of peace in the third millennium". I extend my cordial welcome to each of you, and through you to the whole world of cinema connected with your daily professional and artistic efforts.

I first greet and thank Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, for the cordial words he addressed to me on your behalf, explaining the work accomplished by this symposium in continuity with the previous ones.

I also express my deep and sincere gratitude to the members of the two dicasteries: the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which, in fruitful collaboration with the Public Entertainment Board and La Rivista del Cinematografo, some years ago began a series of interesting initiatives, including the "Tertio Millennio" Festival of Spiritual Cinema. These programmes show the Church's interest in the seventh art and, at the same time, remind authors and artists of their important responsibilities.

2. The annual International Cinema Conference, being held for the third time this year, emphasizes the validity of this collaboration, which has proven very useful in the dialogue between culture and faith. The theme you have reflected on during these three days of intense study is very timely and represents the logical continuation of the conferences held in the last two years. You have met to discuss the cinema as an instrument of dialogue between peoples and as a vehicle for a culture of peace. If art, including that of the cinema, relates to life in a way that fully respects its values, it cannot fail to be a source of brotherhood, dialogue, understanding, solidarity and true, lasting peace.

Man, created in the image and likeness of God, is inherently called to peace and harmony with God, with others, with himself and with all creation. The cinema can become the interpreter of this natural propensity and be a place for reflection, for appeal to values, for invitation to dialogue and for communion. However, man in his complex and mysterious reality must become the reference-point for a quality cinema that offers culture and universal values. Man, the whole man, one and indivisible: a cinema that considers only some aspects of the amazing complexity of the human being inevitably ends up being simplistic and does not provide a useful cultural service.

3. I would now like to address you, cinema artists, to invite you to be ever more aware of your responsibility. Supported by the contribution of contemporary technology, and making use of the ever more stimulating knowledge about man, nature and the universe, you have before you immense areas where your creativity and genius can soar.

The cinema enjoys a wealth of languages, a multiplicity of styles and a variety of narrative forms that are truly great: from realism to fable, from history to science fiction, from adventure to tragedy, from comedy to news, from animated cartoon to documentary. It thus offers an incomparable storehouse of expressive means for portraying the various areas in which the human being finds himself and for interpreting his inescapable calling to the beautiful, the universal and the absolute.

The cinema can thus help to bring distant people together, to reconcile enemies, to promote a more respectful and fruitful dialogue between different cultures, by showing the way to a credible and lasting solidarity, the essential premise for a world of peace. We know how much man also needs peace to be a true artist, to create true cinema!

4. Our meeting on the threshold of the Jubilee Year offers me the opportunity to renew my hope that the cinema can also make its particular contribution, within the framework of this great and extraordinary event of faith and culture, to the promotion of a humanism linked to Gospel values, and which for this reason can create an authentic culture of man and for man.

To all involved in the cinema - producers, writers, screenwriters, directors, actors, technicians - and to those involved visibly or behind the scenes in this fascinating work at its various levels, I offer my fervent best wishes. I accompany these sentiments with a prayer to Mary, the faithful Virgin, who heard the voice of God and willingly received his mystery. May the Blessed Virgin grant you her motherly aid.

My Blessing to all.





Thursday 2 December 1999

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am pleased to welcome you and to receive the Letters of Credence appointing you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Cuba to the Holy See. I thank you for your kind words, as well as for the cordial greetings you have brought me from Dr Fidel Castro, President of the Council of State and of the Government of the Republic of Cuba, to whom I ask you to convey my best wishes for peace and well-being, and the material and spiritual progress of the beloved Cuban nation.

2. In your address you referred to the attention your Government is paying in a systematic way to the fields of health care and education, achieving praiseworthy levels. You also pointed out the hospitable spirit of the Cuban people and their constant desire for freedom, two aspects in keeping with a nation's identity and which should be encouraged with determination. In this regard, an indispensable task is to spread these values and to protect citizens from any form of corruption or from certain social scourges that, since they threaten social peace and stability, affect young people in particular.

For a society like Cuba's, which has distinguished itself by achieving a considerable level of education, it is important to have an atmosphere of trust and reduced tension in which people's fundamental rights are safeguarded, whether or not they are believers, and conditions created in which they can exercise "fully their own judgement and a responsible freedom in their actions, and not be subject to the pressure of coercion but be inspired by a sense of duty" (Declaration Dignitatis humanae, DH 1). This climate is also essential if they are to acquire credibility on the international scene.

3. In addition, material and moral poverty can be caused by unjust inequalities, by the restriction of fundamental freedoms, by the depersonalization and alienation of individuals (cf. Departure address, José Martí Airport, Havana, n. 4). However, to be able to walk together, in just and respectful solidarity, as I said as soon as I arrived on Cuban soil, the world must be generously and effectively open to Cuba, and Cuba must open itself to the world, since it is called to play an important role in the journey towards a world that is more human, fraternal and respectful of the human person's dignity. This is why I fervently hope that your beloved nation will continue its efforts to build justice and peace within the framework of a respectful and untiring dialogue.

On the other hand, we know that we live in an era of continual global exchanges in which no nation can survive in isolation. And Cuba must not find itself deprived of ties with other peoples, since they are indispensable to sound economic, social and cultural development. In this regard, it is to be hoped that Cuba will find in the international community the support and financial aid it needs to meet the needs of the present moment. This path would be facilitated if, in turn, Cuba were to encourage new areas of freedom and participation for its inhabitants, who are all called to join forces in building society.

4. Mr Ambassador, during my Pastoral Visit at the beginning of 1998 to your country, the beautiful island known as the "Pearl of the Caribbean" and the "Gateway to the Gulf", I could feel the spirit of hard work and initiative which characterizes the Cuban people. Also, although the Church in Cuba is poor and priests are scarce, she shares this same spirit and wants to make her specific contribution to an ever greater strengthening of morality and society. She wants above all to be a messenger of love, justice, reconciliation and peace, offering everyone the message of Jesus, the Good News, in a context of true religious freedom (cf. Dignitatis humanae, DH 13). For this to occur, further encouragement must be given to constructive and continual dialogue, of which you have already had considerable experience through the tasks you have performed in recent years.

This dialogue will enable the Church to carry out her own role without privileges or favouritism but, on the contrary, by making use of the means indispensable to her daily work so that, Christians, like other citizens, may enjoy the "civil right of freedom from interference in leading their lives according to their conscience" (ibid.).

In addition, I know that your country is courageously facing the current economic situation. On several occasions I have referred to similar situations which, on a global scale, present many problems and prevent so many countries from achieving desirable levels of prosperity. In this regard, I would like to reaffirm what I said in my Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, in the hope of encouraging appropriate development for all (cf. n. 51).

5. The Church in Cuba also hopes for even more generous openness to the solidarity shown by the universal Church - through an enriching exchange of personnel and resources - with a true sense of collaboration and respect for what is particular to Cuban culture, within Latin American culture, with its Christian soul that gives it a universal vocation (cf. Homily in Revolution Square, n. 7; Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, ).

In your address, Your Excellency, you also referred to Church-State relations in Cuba, which must be maintained with mutual respect and cordiality: respect in order not to interfere in what is proper to each institution, but which, on the Church's part, is aimed at collaboration in achieving greater well-being for the national community. Therefore it is possible through constructive dialogue to promote the fundamental values for the ordering and development of society. In this regard, although the Church's role is spiritual and not political, the fostering of more flexible relations between Church and State will certainly contribute to the harmony, progress and welfare of all, without distinction.

In this regard, it is fundamental to have a correct idea of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and to distinguish clearly between actions which the faithful, individually or in groups, take in their personal capacity as citizens in accordance with their Christian conscience, and their actions on behalf of the Church in communion with her Pastors. "The Church, which in virtue of her office and competence, can in no way be confused with the political community nor be tied to any political system, is both a sign and safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person" (Ecclesia in America, ).

For its part, this Apostolic See will continue to raise its voice in defence of fairness and peaceful coexistence among nations and peoples, while safeguarding their autonomy, so that the Cuban people, like any person or nation that seeks the truth, works to make progress and longs for concord and peace, may look to the future with hope (Arrival speech, José Martí Airport, Havana, n. 5).

6. Today's ceremony, which is being held only a few days before the opening of the Great Jubilee in which we will celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, prompts me to recall what I proclaimed with all my strength at the beginning of my Pontificate: "Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Christ knows "what is in man'. He alone knows it" (22 October 1978). And today, at the very end of this century and millennium, I consider it my duty to add: May no one, no institution, no ideology, set obstacles in anyone's way to prevent him from being open to Christ! This is my greatest desire for all the citizens of beloved Cuba. I recall it as I think back to the unforgettable days of my Pastoral Visit, when I had the opportunity to experience the human warmth of the wonderful Cuban people.

7. As you begin the high office to which you have been appointed, I would like to express my best wishes to you for the successful and fruitful fulfilment of your mission to this Apostolic See. As I ask you kindly to convey these sentiments to the President of the Council of State and of the Government of this Republic, to the other authorities and to the noble Cuban people, I assure you of my prayers to the Almighty that with his gifts he will always help you and your distinguished family, your staff and the whole nation, which I always recall with special affection.



Saturday, 4 December 1999

Madam Ambassador,

1. I am pleased to receive the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Panama to the Holy See, and I am deeply grateful for your kind words on this solemn occasion, which also gives me the pleasant opportunity to greet you and to offer you my warmest welcome.

I would also like to express my particular appreciation of the sentiments of closeness and devotion of your President, Mrs Mireya Moscoso, and of your country's Government, which you have conveyed to me, and in turn I ask you to reciprocate with my respectful greetings and gratitude, as well as my best wishes for the peace and well-being of all the beloved Panamanian people.

2. The cordiality which characterizes this meeting reflects the good relations that exist between Panama and the Holy See, as well as the good understanding and close collaboration between the public authorities and the Church in Panama. I am pleased to note that the new Government has expressed its intention to continue and to increase these relations so that, while respecting the autonomy and difference of their tasks and respective areas of competence, the ultimate goal of both the public authorities and the Church will be the welfare of individuals and the common good of society.

In fact, a people's authentic progress is not only achieved by technical means, however fitting and necessary they may be, but also by instilling in them a spirit which gives meaning to life and consistency to society through responsible public participation and a deep sense of solidarity. The Church, whose first Diocese on the American continent was in Panama, namely "Santa María la Antigua del Darien", has contributed to this for a long time by preaching Christ's Gospel to its people, accompanying them in the process of integral education, promoting the highest values, defending their personal dignity and being close to them in their difficulties, especially to the most unfortunate members of society. Motivated by fidelity to the mission she has received from Christ, the Church continues and will continue to help Panamanians face the challenges awaiting them in the new millennium, and will encourage them to work together towards a better future for all.

3. This future begins with an event of great importance for Panama, when sovereignty over the canal which bears its name, together with the adjacent territory, will be returned to it in a few days. This event will entail great juridical, practical, economic and political consequences, but it will also be, as you stated in your address, a symbolic reaffirmation of the historical and geographical identity of your country, which is called to play an important role of communication and linkage among the world's peoples.

All this can be seen as an invitation for Panama to distinguish herself as a welcoming people, open to dialogue and having deep Christian roots. This is why special care must be taken, after regaining sovereignty over the territory, to prevent outside interests or pressures from diverting the benefits which this magnificent historical opportunity can bring to all citizens, by encouraging the development of projects aimed at eradicating the poverty suffered by part of the population, at ever greater respect for the dignity of the various ethnic groups, at improving education, at speeding up the exercise of judicial power and at making the situation of prisoners more just and humane in order to facilitate their reintegration into society and, lastly, at providing the necessary means for the integral development of all Panamanians.

4. You have the honour, Madam Ambassador, of beginning your diplomatic mission in Rome on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which is a very important event for Christians throughout the world and in which the Church has great hopes of renewal and reconciliation. I ardently desire that it will be for Panama too a favourable occasion for promoting its spiritual future, and, as I said in my Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, "an opportunity for reflecting on other challenges of our time, such as the difficulties of dialogue between different cultures and the problems connected with respect for women's rights and the promotion of the family and marriage" (n. 51).

5. With these hopes, I once again welcome you and your distinguished family. I offer you my best wishes for the success of the mission you are now beginning as your country's representative and from which we await abundant fruits for the spiritual and material good of the Panamanian people. I am thinking in particular of the women and men who strive to live each day with dignity and are proud of being able to help build a better future for their country. I ask our Mother in heaven to protect her Panamanian children and to fill them with the necessary courage to advance on the paths of solidarity and peace.

Madam Ambassador, I ask you to express my sentiments of appreciation and closeness to the Panamanian authorities and people, to whom I impart a cordial Blessing.




Saturday, 4 December 1999

Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am pleased to receive you all, participants in the congress on "The family and the integration of disabled children and adolescents", organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family in collaboration with the Special Family Education Centre (CEFAES) of Madrid and the Leopold Programme of Venezuela. I greet Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and thank him for his kind words, conveying the sentiments of everyone here. I greet and thank each one of you for coming, and for your commitment to addressing so important a theme which concerns many families. I hope that the results of this meeting will help to improve the condition of so many children and adolescents in difficulty.

In the context of Advent, which prepares us to celebrate the Lord's Birth, your symposium acquires special importance. In fact, reflection on the condition of children becomes easier in the light of the Child Jesus. It is when children are stricken by difficulties, problems or illness, that the values of faith can come to the aid of human values, so that the original personal dignity of the disabled is also acknowledged and respected. Your congress is therefore well timed, as it turns its attention to families, to help them discover a sign of God's love also in their disabled children.

2. The arrival of a suffering child is certainly a disconcerting event for the family, who are left deeply shocked by it. From this point of view too, it is important to encourage parents to devote "special attention ... to the children, by developing a profound esteem for their personal dignity, and a great respect and generous concern for their rights. This is true for every child, but it becomes all the more urgent the smaller the child is and the more it is in need of everything, when it is sick, suffering or handicapped" (Familiaris consortio, FC 26).

The family is the place par excellence where the gift of life is received as such, and the dignity of the child is acknowledged with special expressions of care and tenderness. Above all, when children are more vulnerable and exposed to the risk of being rejected by others, it is the family that can most effectively safeguard their dignity, equal to that of healthy children. It is clear that in these situations families faced with complex problems have the right to support. Hence the importance of people who can be close to them, whether they are friends, doctors or social workers. Parents must be encouraged to face this far from easy situation, without turning in on themselves. It is important that the problem be shared not only with close relatives, but also with qualified persons and friends.

These are the "Good Samaritans" of our time who, by their generous and friendly presence, repeat the gesture of Christ, who always made his comforting closeness felt by the sick and by those in difficulty. The Church is grateful to these people who do their best everyday and everywhere to alleviate suffering with "daily gestures of openness, sacrifice and unselfish care" (Evangelium Vitae, EV 27).

3. If the disadvantaged child lives in a welcoming and open environment, he does not feel alone but in the heart of the community, and can thus learn that life is always worth living. Parents, for their part, experience the human and Christian value of solidarity. I have been able to recall on other occasions that it is important to show by deeds that illness does not create insurmountable barriers, nor does it prevent relations of genuine Christian charity with those who are its victims. Illness, indeed, must prompt an attitude of special attention to these persons who belong in every way to the category of the poor who will inherit the kingdom of heaven.

I am thinking, at this moment, of examples of extraordinary devotion shown by numerous parents toward their children; I am thinking of the many initiatives of families who are ready to welcome disabled children with generous enthusiasm in foster care or adoption. When families are properly nourished by the Word of God, miracles of genuine Christian solidarity take place within them. This is the most convincing response to those who consider disabled children a burden or even as unworthy to live the gift of their life to the full. To welcome the weakest, helping them on their journey, is a sign of civilization.

4. It is the task of Bishops and priests to help parents, so that they understand and accept that life is always a gift of God, even when it is marked by suffering and illness. Every person is the object of basic rights which are inalienable, inviolable and indivisible. Every person: therefore also the disabled handicapped, who precisely because of their disabilities may encounter greater difficulty in the actual exercise of these rights. Thus they should not be left alone, but to be welcomed by society and, according to their abilities, integrated into it as full members.

With regard to every human being, who is always worthy of the greatest respect because of his dignity as a person, civil society and the Church have specific roles to play by helping to foster a culture of solidarity in the community. A disabled person, just like every other weak person, must be encouraged to take charge of his own life. It is therefore the task of the family, having overcome the initial shock, to understand first of all that the value of life transcends that of efficiency. If it does not understand this, it risks being disappointed and discouraged when, despite every attempt, the hoped-for cure or recovery is not obtained.

5. Families clearly need adequate support from the community. Sometimes first-aid systems are needed for critical moments, and at others well-organized homes on the lines of small communities with appropriate facilities are necessary, when it is no longer possible for disabled children to live at home.

In any case, it is important to maintain constant, regular contact with the family, as it is well known that talking, listening and dialogue are essential factors in regulating and coordinating behaviour. It is also necessary for the disadvantaged child to be able to recognize the moments of attention and love shown to him. In this role families are indispensable; but it will be difficult for them to achieve appreciable results on their own. This is where the intervention of specialized associations and other forms of assistance outside the family come in, which assure the presence of persons with whom the disturbed child can talk and establish a friendly and educational relationship.

Group life and friendship are therefore an excellent conditions for promoting deconditioning and better personal and social adjustment through the establishment of open and gratifying relations.

6. Dear brothers and sisters, I have paused to reflect with you on some practical aspects of great importance regarding the integration of disabled children in families and in society. Much has been written on this issue and pastoral action must pay great attention to these problems. Children deserve every care and this is especially true when they are in conditions of difficulty.

However, over and above all beneficial scientific research and every social and educational initiative, what is important for the believer is humble and confident trust in God. It is above all in prayer that the family will find the strength to face difficulties. By constantly turning to the Lord, families will learn how to welcome, love and appreciate the child who is marked by suffering.

May Mary, Mother of hope, help and sustain those who find themselves in these situations. To her I entrust your praiseworthy commitment, as I willingly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you and to all your loved ones.



4 December 1999

I am filled with joy to know that, as we come close to Christmas, in the most Holy Place which welcomed the Son of God, born of a woman (cf. Gal Ga 4,4), the highest Representatives of the Christians of the Holy Land are gathering in an ecumenical act of preparation for the opening of the Jubilee Year commemorating the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of our Lord and Saviour, when we shall turn in ever more earnest supplication to the Holy Spirit to implore the grace of full communion (cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente TMA 34).

Before the eyes of the Christians of the Holy Land, and indeed of all Christians throughout the world, this meeting in Bethlehem testifies that the places in which Jesus spent his earthly life, bore his witness, died and rose again, are a constant reminder of the grace that we have received in him and an urgent invitation to us to strengthen our will and commitment to be faithful to his prayer: ut omnes unum sint. May the Great Jubilee lead all Christ’s disciples to atone for our past sins against unity and to work to hasten the blessed hour in which we shall all invoke our Heavenly Father with a single voice.

By a happy coincidence today’s ecumenical celebration is being attended by the Secretaries of the Christian World Communions. To them too I send my cordial greeting and my encouragement for their efforts to extend the bonds of brotherhood and cooperation.

I pray that this solemn ecumenical event in Bethlehem on the eve of the anniversary of Christ’s birth will deepen our awareness of the fact that “just as he did then, today too Christ calls everyone to renew their commitment to work for full and visible communion” (Ut Unum Sint UUS 100). With this fervent hope I greet you all in the Lord.




Speeches 1999 - Tuesday 30 November 1999