Speeches 2001





Friday, 18 May 2001

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome you today to the Vatican and to receive the Letters of Credence whereby Her Excellency President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga appoints you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Holy See. I am grateful for the cordial greetings and good wishes which you bring from the President and the Government, and I ask you to convey to Her Excellency the assurance of my prayers for the peace, harmony and prosperity of the entire nation.

In 1995 I had the joy of visiting your country, whose natural beauty has earned it the name "Pearl of the Indian Ocean". The hospitality and unfailingly kindness of the people of Sri Lanka left a lasting impression on me, and during my stay I was able to see how the cultural and religious variety of the peoples of the island has deeply marked your nation’s history and identity. The various religious groups have each made an important contribution to the development of the nation as a whole. You have drawn attention to the fact that the followers of these religions have a long tradition of living together in harmony and mutual respect. This is in keeping with the authentic spirit of all the major world religions, while intolerance and violence in the name of religion is a travesty of their genuine spirit.

Authentic religious conviction leads to the promotion of common values essential for the good of society, such as respect for the transcendent dimension of life, openness to others and a deep sense of the inalienable dignity of every human person. Attention to the place of the transcendent in human life is a prerequisite for genuine development, since the person and society need not only material progress but spiritual and religious values as well (cf. Centesimus Annus CA 61). As the tragic experiences of the century we have just left behind teach us, neglect of the spiritual dimension of life leads inevitably to various forms of injustice against the most vulnerable: the unborn, the elderly, the weak. For this reason, the traditional Sri Lankan respect for religion is a gift to be treasured and protected. It is also essential for spiritual leaders to work together in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation to ensure that religion remains a force for peace and mutual understanding. Civil society, for its part, must guarantee the religious freedom necessary to ensure the harmonious coexistence of the followers of all religions, a freedom which, as you have mentioned, is guaranteed by your country’s Constitution.

In recent years Sri Lanka has been tragically affected by conflict, causing much suffering and terrible loss of life, sadly even in recent weeks. We must hope that the efforts being made to find a peaceful and equitable solution to the underlying causes will lead the parties involved to abandon the ways of violence and engage in patient and persevering negotiation. A just peace must be based upon the protection and promotion of the fundamental rights of all citizens, as well as upon respect for their cultural and religious traditions, in conformity with the demands of the common good. The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, whose members come from all ethnic groups, is doing all it can to promote a climate of dialogue and foster peace. As you know, the Church always supports those initiatives which have as their aim the establishment of a just peace based on respect for human dignity.

One of the major challenges facing many countries and the international community as a whole is the need to promote a more intense dialogue between cultures and traditions. The United Nations Organization has drawn attention to the urgency of this need by declaring 2001 the "International Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations". Culture shapes individuals and peoples, who in turn express themselves through it. Every culture involves a particular vision of social, political and economic life, and at its heart is a specific understanding of the fundamental questions which affect people’s lives, including religious ones. Man is a being who seeks the truth and strives to live in accordance with it. From the search for truth, which never fades and is renewed in every generation, the culture of a nation derives its character (cf. Centesimus Annus CA 49-50). Different cultures "are basically different ways of facing the question of the meaning of personal existence" (ibid., 24). There is a need to respect the uniqueness of every culture, but also to understand cultural diversity "within the broader horizon of the unity of the human race" (Message for World Day of Peace 2001, No. 7). Understanding and communion between cultures "opens the mind to the mutual acceptance and genuine collaboration demanded by the human family’s basic vocation to unity" (ibid., 10).

It is now twenty-five years since the first Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the Holy See, Mr Ediriwira R. Sarachchandra, presented his Letters of Credence to my predecessor Pope Paul VI. During these years, the bonds of friendship between your country and the Holy See have been strengthened and consolidated, and your presence here today is a testimony to these good relations. You have spoken very kindly of the Church’s contribution to the betterment of society in such areas as education and social development. In accordance with her Divine Founder’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves, the Church will continue to make efforts to ensure that people have the possibility of living a more dignified and fulfilled life, in keeping with the transcendent calling of every human person.

Mr Ambassador, as you assume your responsibilities within the diplomatic community accredited to the Holy See, I offer you my good wishes for the successful fulfilment of your high mission. I assure you that the various offices and departments of the Roman Curia will always be ready to assist you. Upon yourself and upon the beloved people of Sri Lanka I invoke abundant divine blessings.





Friday, 18 May 2001

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am pleased to accept the letters with which President Natsagjin Bagabandi accredits you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Mongolia to the Holy See. I would like to express my deep gratitude for your kind words at the beginning of your mission, describing the lofty principles by which you intend to be inspired in its fulfilment.

Next, as I thank you for the cordial sentiments which the Head of State has once again wished to express to me, I ask you to convey to him, as well as to the government authorities of Mongolia, the high esteem and constant concern with which I follow the progress of the noble people you represent. I cherish a vivid memory of the visit that the President of Mongolia paid to me on 5 June last year in order to strengthen the relations of reciprocal respect and mutual dialogue that exist between the Apostolic See and the Mongolian people. I hope very much that they will continue and be intensified, and will contribute to building a more just and supportive world.

You rightly mentioned the long tradition of tolerance and dialogue which are a feature of the people of Mongolia who have now definitively entered the world scene with their own full sovereignty.

2. The 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Mongolian State will be celebrated in 2006. This is certainly an important event which provides an opportunity to review the long journey through history to our time. It is also the occasion to recall the age-old connections which mark relations between Mongolia and the Holy See. These relations go far back in time. In fact, already, in March 1245 my predecessor Innocent IV had already sent a diplomatic mission to the camp of Khan Batu, which later reached the camp of Güyük, "the great king and the people of the Tartars", at the Sira Ordu of the capital Karakorum. We have been left the praiseworthy Historia Mongolorum quos nos Tartaros appellamus of Friar John of Plano Carpini's unforgettable mission. The chronicles of the missions of Khan Argun to Honorius IV and Nicholas IV have also been kept intact. It can be said that despite the inevitable difficulties, this respectful dialogue has never been interrupted, just as the farsighted attention between Mongolia and the Apostolic See has never been lacking.

In this regard, I would like to recall the cordiality with which my predecessor, the venerable Pontiff Nicholas IV, treated Prince Kharbenda, exhorting him not to abandon the sound traditions of his people after becoming Christian. "We advise you with affection", he wrote in 1291, "not to make any changes in the habits, dress or traditional food of your country, so that no reason for dissent or scandal will arise against you" (BF IV, 530). In addition to respect for these popular traditions, the Pope recommended that they not abandon the legitimate cultural patrimony.

Fruitful contacts between the Mongolian people and the Church of Rome also continued later. This is attested, among other things, by the words that the Great Khan Gasan wrote to Pope Boniface VIII and by the Mission of John of Montecorvino and Odoric of Pordenone.

3. In Mongolia, the presence of flourishing Christian communities over a long period has been recorded. At their arrival the evangelizers were pleasantly surprised to note the people's great tolerance of the disciples of Christ. The spirit of dialogue established between Christianity and the majority religion of the Mongolian State encouraged contacts and respectful, rewarding exchanges. Unfortunately, subsequent historical events gradually led to a mutual estrangement.

However the Church, then as now, "has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men". She "therefore urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture" (Nostra aetate, NAE 2).

It is now nine years since the Catholic Church resumed her work among the beloved people of the country you are representing here. She is motivated by the desire to serve loyally the people of Mongolia loyally, working in the field of education and social development. Christians will not fail to support programmes that can further enrich their patrimony of knowledge and, especially, the integration of Mongolia's younger generations into the modern world, which is marked by so many rapid social changes, while at the same time helping them to preserve their own specific cultural identity.

The Holy See then, is closer than ever to your country and to the sufferings of your people that are due to the recent natural disasters. It likewise supports the efforts your Government is making to build up an ever more fruitful dialogue with other peoples. The Apostolic See has done and will continue to do its utmost to ensure that international community show solidarity with the Mongolian people and generously support it.

4. Mr Ambassador, while you are preparing to take on the grand task entrusted to you, I would like to assure you of my welcome and of every appropriate help for the successful outcome of your lofty mission to this Holy See.

Please convey my spiritual closeness together with my fervent good wishes for prosperity and progress in peace and in justice to the President of Mongolia, to the authorities of the government and to the beloved people you represent here. I substantiate my cordial sentiments with prayer to God that blessings from Heaven may be poured out in abundance upon you and upon those you represent.





Friday, 18 May 2001

Your Excellency,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of South Africa to the Holy See. I am grateful for the cordial greetings which you bring from President Thabo Mbeki and the people of your beloved nation, and I ask you kindly to convey to them the assurance of my continued prayers for the progress, peace and prosperity of your country.

The World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance which South Africa will be hosting later this year provides an excellent opportunity — not only for your nation and the continent of Africa, but indeed for the entire international community — to address a matter of crucial importance for all peoples. Even though conflicts based on ethnic and national origins have already exacted a devastating toll on humanity in the century just past, such deplorable attitudes continue to represent an ominous spectre on the world stage. At the dawn of the new millennium, therefore, the entire family of nations does well to reaffirm its commitment to recognize, uphold and promote the fundamental dignity and inalienable rights of every human being. This is the sure path to overcoming prejudices and to combatting every form of racism; it is the way that will increase awareness that all people belong to a single human family, willed and gathered together by Almighty God himself.

The recent "rebirth" of your own nation, based on the rejection of segregation and discrimination so that all citizens together may walk the path of unity and brotherhood, is a hope-filled and encouraging sign for societies that are struggling with similar problems. Peace itself starts to become a tangible reality when the human spirit is determined to reject the path of division and conflict in order to follow that of forgiveness and reconciliation. Such peace calls for the strength of an unyielding courage capable of overcoming the blind vindictiveness which would resort to forms of violence. As your own history has shown, although it is important that the truth about the past should be known and responsibility laid where it is due, it is even more important that the delicate process of building a just and harmonious multiracial society should go forward.

What is essential now is that individuals, families and entire peoples should be enabled to become truly active participants in and beneficiaries of that economic and political development envisaged by the leaders of various African nations in the "Millennium African Programme". In its forward-looking and far-reaching objectives, this joint endeavour should be built on the vision of the uniqueness of every human being, founded on the inviolability of the dignity of the human person. We would all like to see a world in which individuals are not forced into the anonymity that comes from collectivity or the overpowering influence of institutions, structures or systems. As an individual, a person is not a number or simply a link in a chain, and even less an impersonal element in some system. In the same way, peoples and nations too have a right to their own full development, which includes not only economic and social aspects but also, importantly, their individual cultural identity and their religious character. For this reason, the need for development must never become an excuse for imposing on others life-styles or cultural expressions which do not reflect a people’s individuality and history.

I am pleased to note Your Excellency’s recognition of the significant contribution made by the Catholic Church to the building up of South African society, both in the past and today. The Catholics of your country remain committed to working hand in hand with their fellow citizens as active participants in the political, social and cultural advancement of the nation, especially in the battle against poverty, illiteracy and AIDS. To this end, Church personnel, including many missionaries, members of religious communities as well as lay men and women, dedicate their services in the fields of education, social services and health care. The work they do is not for the benefit of Catholics alone, but for the good of all the people. It is my hope that your Government and the public authorities will welcome this service on the part of the Church by assisting the missionaries and others as they seek to continue these efforts aimed at ensuring an ever brighter future for South Africa and its people.

Madame Ambassador, as you begin your diplomatic mission to the Holy See, please know that you can count on any assistance which you may need in the fulfilment of your responsibilities. As I express my good wishes for the success of your work, I cordially invoke upon you and upon the leaders and people of the Republic of South Africa the abundant blessings of Almighty God.





Friday, 18 May 2001

Mr Ambassador,

As you present the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of The Gambia to the Holy See I offer you warm greetings and welcome you to the Vatican. With gratitude for the good wishes which you bring from His Excellency President Yahya Jammeh, I ask you to convey to him my own cordial greetings and the assurance of my prayers for the peace and well-being of the nation.

Although nine years have passed since my Pastoral Visit to The Gambia, the memories of the time I spent among your people remain vividly etched in my mind. My travels to the various countries of the world are made principally as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Saint Peter in the service of the universal Church. At the same time, however, they enable me to show the solidarity of the Church with the world’s peoples as they strive for peace, human development and a correct response to the moral and ethical questions facing them today.

It is in this context that I am pleased to note Your Excellency’s remarks identifying education and religious values as key factors in creating a culture of morality and a sense of personal and collective responsibility for the future. The Catholic Church will always be a staunch and tireless defender of universal, unchanging moral norms, a role she exercises for no other purpose than to serve man’s true freedom. Since "there can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth, the categorical — unyielding and uncompromising — defence of the absolutely essential demands of man’s personal dignity must be considered the way and the condition for the very existence of freedom" (Veritatis Splendor VS 96). Moreover, this service on the part of the Church is directed not only to individuals but to all mankind: it is for every person and for the political community and human society as such. "These norms in fact represent the unshakable foundation and solid guarantee of a just and peaceful human coexistence, and hence of genuine democracy, which can come into being and develop only on the basis of the equality of all its members, who possess common rights and duties" (ibid.).

There exist, then, fundamental moral rules of social life entailing specific demands with which both public authorities and private citizens must comply, and which the international community too is required to respect. This underlying morality must guide all aspects of social and political life. It is in fact a sad commentary that at the dawn of this new millennium serious forms of social and economic injustice, and of political domination, are still affecting entire peoples and nations in different parts of the world, on your own continent of Africa and elsewhere. There is growing indignation on the part of countless men and women whose fundamental rights continue to be trampled upon and held in contempt. For this reason, there is an ever clearer sense of the acute need for radical personal and social renewal in the areas of justice, honesty, openness and solidarity.

The road ahead, however, remains long and difficult. Bringing about the necessary changes will require great effort, especially on account of the number and gravity of the causes which give rise to and aggravate the many situations of injustice present in our world. But by recognizing and abiding by timeless, objective truths — those universal norms in obedience to which man attains full freedom and achieves his full identity — we will find the basis for secure and just relations between people. The Holy See will always speak out in the international forum, loudly and clearly, to defend and promote the transcendent dignity of the human person. It is by virtue of this dignity that all people — the healthy and the infirm, the young and the old, the strong and the weak, the wealthy and the poor, the born and the unborn — are the subjects of rights which no one may violate: no individual, group, class, nation, State or international body.

The Gambia is a country with a proud tradition of peaceful coexistence among its people, a country in which the ideals of tolerance, justice and freedom are held in high regard. Gambian Catholics, although a minority, see themselves as true sons and daughters of their land, an integral part of the nation. The Catholic community will continue to do all it can to support a development that benefits everyone, especially through the Church’s activity in the fields of education, health care and social services. Promoting policies of justice, solidarity and service of the common good is the path along which Gambian society can move with confidence towards an ever more widespread prosperity and stable peace. I thank you for your recognition of the contribution which the Catholic Church has made and continues to make to your nation.

Mr Ambassador, as you begin your mission I assure you of any assistance which you may need in the fulfilment of your duties. I am confident that your work will serve to strengthen the good relations which already exist between the Holy See and the Republic of The Gambia. Upon Your Excellency and all the people of your country I invoke the abundant blessing of Almighty God.



Friday, 18 May 2001

Your Excellencies,

1. I welcome you with pleasure to the Vatican for the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as the Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of your respective countries: Nepal, Tunisia, Estonia, Zambia, Guinea, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, South Africa and The Gambia. Your presence gives me the opportunity to greet your political leaders and all those whose duty is to serve the common good in the offices entrusted to them. I would like to extend a cordial greeting to all your compatriots, assuring them of my fervent good wishes. I am deeply grateful for the cordial messages you bring me from your respective Heads of State; please be kind enough to reciprocate, conveying my respectful greetings and best wishes for them and the important mission they are called to fulfil.

2. During my Jubilee pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Paul to Greece, Syria and Malta, I closely followed the dramatic events in the region of the Middle East. I would like once again to make the most of the presence of a large number of diplomats to renew more forcefully my appeal for peace on all the continents, inviting those in charge of social life to take courageous decisions that will engage people to take the path of peace and reconciliation with determination. The peace and security of individuals and communities are essential goods. It is impossible to envisage a country building its future disregarding the surrounding peoples or its own cultural and ethnic diversities. All local, national and international authorities must join forces to resolve at last the conflicts which have already taken a toll of too many innocent victims. The role of diplomacy is particularly important in this context. I therefore make a heartfelt appeal for the commitment of all the diplomatic services to negotiating a solution for the different conflicts and hotbeds of tension that exist on the different continents. A commitment of this kind would help restore confidence and hope to the peoples who have been subjected to situations of instability for too long.

3. As you begin your mission to the Apostolic See, I offer you my most cordial good wishes. I ask the Almighty to pour out an abundance of his Blessings upon you, the members of your families, your staff and the peoples who live in the nations you represent.




Friday, 18 May 2001

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to welcome the Members of the Board of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association on the occasion of your annual meeting, being held this year in Rome. I thank your President, Dr. Paolo Cantarella, for his greetings and Birthday wishes, and I express to all of you my gratitude for your kind gift.

As Presidents of the major automobile companies of Europe, you have important responsibilities, not only in guiding the growth of your own industry, but also in ensuring the right development of an increasingly globalized economy. The process of globalization, while opening up new possibilities for progress, poses urgent questions regarding the very nature and purpose of economic activity. It calls for ethical discernment aimed at protecting the environment and promoting the full human development of millions of men and women, in a way that respects every individual’s dignity and makes room for personal creativity in the workplace. It is my hope and prayer that your Association, by advancing these eminently human goals, will enable future generations to enjoy a prosperity which is not merely economic but spiritual as well, corresponding to the deepest aspirations of the human heart.

Upon you and your families, together with your associates and employees, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.



Saturday, 19 May 2001

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. With great joy I welcome you, the Bishops of Pakistan, on the occasion of your visit ad limina Apostolorum. Following the experience of my recent pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul, the Apostle’s words continue to echo in my heart and I greet you with his exhortation: "my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord" (Ph 4,1). The ad Limina visit is always a significant and enriching moment for the Successor of Peter, a visit during which he has the opportunity to meet his brother Bishops from various parts of the world and to spend time with them in prayer and fraternal reflection regarding their joys and hopes, their griefs and sorrows.

In Pakistan, the Christian community is a small flock living in the midst of a large Muslim majority. Though many of its members are poor and live in difficult circumstances, they are rich in faith and fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During your pilgrimage to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, I know that your communities at home are very close to your hearts, as you entrust their needs and concerns, as well as your own episcopal ministry, to the heavenly protection of the Apostles. I join you in thanking God for the blessings he has bestowed upon all of you.

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 has been a time of grace in the life of the whole Church. During the year, the Church in Pakistan too experienced many spiritual benefits, as the faithful took part in the Jubilee activities, including various pilgrimages to Rome, from which many returned to their families and communities with renewed faith and strengthened commitment. The Jubilee should not be merely an exceptional moment in the life of the Church, after which everything returns to normal, so to speak. As I have emphasized in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, it is now time to build on the gains of the Great Jubilee in order to plan for the future, with our gaze fixed firmly on Christ, the one Mediator and Saviour of us all. This is especially a task for each local Church, which must grasp the opportunity to assess its own fervour and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 3).

2. As we celebrated the Two Thousandth Anniversary of his birth, we reflected on Christ "considered in his historical features and in his mystery, Christ known through his manifold presence in the Church and in the world, and confessed as the meaning of history and the light of life’s journey" (Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 15). This contemplation of Christ is at the heart of your ministry as Bishops. May it inspire in you new energy, as it impels you to invest in concrete initiatives the fervour you have experienced in your people. It likewise leads you to reflect on the quality of your own interior life and your relationship with the Lord. Through an intense life of prayer, you will acquire that inner serenity which leads us to be "contemplatives in action", credible witnesses capable of passing on to others what we ourselves have received: the Word of Life (cf. 1Jn 1,1). Radiant holiness, fidelity to the Gospel, courage in facing the challenges of the apostolate: these are essential conditions for a fruitful episcopal ministry at the service of the new evangelization to which God is calling the Church at the beginning of the new millennium.

Apart from the pastoral government of their own Dioceses, Bishops, by virtue of their membership in the College of Bishops, should be deeply concerned about the Church at the national and universal level. To respond more effectively to the many pastoral and social problems of your country it is important to strengthen cooperation at the level of your Episcopal Conference, in order to speak with one voice and offer decisive leadership to the Catholics of Pakistan. In this regard I invite you to consider ways of improving and strengthening the institutions and activities of the Conference. In particular, a permanent secretariat and a more stable arrangement for the Conference’s meetings would perhaps be helpful.

3. To your priests go my encouragement and the assurance of my prayers. I know the often difficult circumstances of their ministry. You have a particular responsibility towards them, and it is upon your shoulders that the task of promoting their well-being and holiness falls. Priests must continually rekindle in their hearts a passion for the tremendous gift they received when the Lord called them to his service. This means that they too must be men of prayer, concerned with the things of God. Theirs is not a position of privilege but a ministry of service, directed to helping God’s people to respond to their deepest vocation, which is to enter into communion with the Blessed Trinity.

Particular attention must therefore be given to the formation of priests and seminarians, so that they may respond to the grace of the Holy Spirit who continually calls them to conversion, holiness and pastoral charity. I rejoice that the number of vocations continues to rise in Pakistan, and I encourage you to give these young men the best possible training so that they may become the kind of priests that the People of God needs and has a "right" to (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 79). Your minor seminaries, apart from providing education of the highest quality, should help young men to discern God’s call and respond to it with generous commitment. Working together, you must ensure that the National Catholic Institute of Theology, established in 1997, will succeed in improving the intellectual training of the seminarians, religious and laity who attend the courses available, by providing high academic standards, and by being faithful to the teaching of the Church and to the authentic traditions of Christian spirituality.

4. The laity too should be encouraged to play a fuller and more visible part in the Church’s mission. To do this effectively, local Catholic communities should be well grounded in the fundamentals of the faith. In this regard I wish to express my gratitude to the Religious and lay catechists whose dedication to catechesis and instruction are of such importance for the growth of the Church in Pakistan. I encourage them to make full use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is not only a systematic synthesis of the essential contents of Catholic doctrine but also a vital and efficacious instrument in the work of evangelization.

We should not overlook the fact that faith is transmitted in the first place in the home. For this reason the family must be one of the priorities of your pastoral planning. Today Christian families are experiencing pressures from a variety of external forces. Your efforts should concentrate on ensuring that the family is truly a "domestic Church", marked by a climate of prayer, mutual respect and service to others. By humbly and lovingly living out its Christian vocation, the Christian family will become a true "hearth of evangelization, where each member experiences God’s love and communicates it to others" (Ecclesia in Asia ).

Likewise, the Church has always had the pastoral care of young people very much at heart. Today, in the rapidly changing circumstances of society, Pastors should encourage and support young people at every step, to ensure that they are mature enough, humanly and spiritually, to assume an active role in the Church and in society. To them the Church presents the truth of Jesus Christ, "a joyful and liberating mystery to be known, lived and shared, with conviction and courage" (Ecclesia in Asia ).

Catholic schools are widely recognized in Pakistan for the high quality of their teaching and for the human values they inculcate. Since students of all religious traditions attend these schools, their part in promoting a climate of dialogue and tolerance cannot be underestimated and constitutes a serious challenge for the Catholic community. Regardless of their religious or cultural background, students should learn from the example and teaching of their educators to prize and seek always "whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious" (Ph 4,8).

5. In your country, interreligious dialogue constitutes an essential feature of your pastoral mission. During my recent visit to Syria I have again called for greater understanding and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. To ensure that such initiatives bear fruit, it is important to have properly trained personnel who have made a serious study of the religious beliefs, values and traditions of Islam. Dialogue does not imply abandonment of one’s own principles, nor should it lead to a false irenicism (cf. Redemptoris Missio RMi 56). Rather, in fidelity to our own religious traditions and convictions, we must be open to understanding those of the followers of other religions in a spirit of humility and frankness.

I have already mentioned the importance of Catholic schools in fostering mutual tolerance and dialogue. Other Catholic institutions, such as hospitals, homes and social works, also bear witness in a practical way to the values of the Gospel; they enable a "dialogue of life" to take place between the followers of the various religions, and thus contribute to the building of a more just and fraternal society (cf. Redemptoris Missio RMi 57).

Since cultures develop as ways of dealing with the most profound questions of human existence, ultimately they must face the question of God: "At the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God" (Centesimus Annus CA 24). Pakistani culture recognizes and defends the place of God in public life. This fact should make it possible for the followers of the various religions to work together in order to defend the inestimable dignity of every man and woman from conception to natural death, and to build a society in which the inalienable rights of all are respected and protected, and particularly the right to life, the right to freedom (including freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and the right to participate fully in society. From these flow the civil, economic, social and cultural rights which are essential to the well-being of individuals and societies. A common basis for cooperation between Christians and Muslims, and for the fostering of authentic social and political development, is to be found in the universal and unchanging moral norms which derive from the order of creation and are inscribed in the human heart (cf. Veritatis Splendor VS 96).

Despite possibilities for understanding and mutual assistance, it is unfortunately still the case that many of your people are enduring hardships for their fidelity to Christ. They are sometimes regarded with suspicion and feel that they not treated as full citizens of their own country, especially in the face of laws which do not sufficiently respect the religious freedom of minorities. My thoughts turn to all Christians in your country who are in any way suffering for their faith. In their trials and afflictions I wish to assure them of my solidarity and prayerful support. The Lord Jesus Christ, to whom I invite them to turn with confidence, is with them in a particularly intimate way, to comfort and strengthen them. As Pastors of the Church in Pakistan you have been courageous in taking a stand in defence of religious freedom, which is at the very heart of human rights (cf. Message for the World Day of Peace 1999, 5). I encourage your efforts to ensure that a spirit of mutual tolerance and respect prevails, and I invite you to continue to provide the leadership necessary to ensure that all Christians join in a common approach, marked by a spirit of respectful and truthful dialogue, free from excessive and imprudent actions, and aimed at bringing an improvement in the situation.

6. Dear Brother Bishops, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (cf. 2Co 1,3), who loves you in Jesus Christ and who pours forth the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon all who believe, is the source of your trust and courage. I have every confidence that you will continue to proclaim boldly the good news of Jesus Christ to your people, who are particularly close to my heart. Entrusting you and the priests, religious and laity of Pakistan to the maternal protection of Mary, the radiant dawn and sure guide for our steps, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Speeches 2001