Speeches 2001 - Saturday, 3 March 2001



Saturday, 3 March 2001

1. It is always a great pleasure for me to meet you, distinguished members of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The reason today for this opportunity is your annual general assembly, which has brought you to Rome from various countries. I extend my cordial greetings to each of you, worthy friends who make up the family of this Academy which is so dear to me. I extend a particular and respectful greeting to your President, Prof. Juan de Dios Vial Correa, whom I thank for his kind words expressing your sentiments. I also greet the Vice-President, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the members of the Executive Council, the staff and benefactors.

2. You have chosen a topic of great interest as the theme for your assembly's reflection: "The Culture of Life: Foundations and Dimensions". Its very formulation already expresses your intention to focus on the positive and constructive aspect of the defence of human life. During these days you have been asking yourselves about the necessary foundations for promoting or revitalizing a culture of life, and with what elements to propose it to a society marked - as I recalled in my Encyclical Evangelium vitae - by an increasingly widespread and alarming culture of death (cf. nn. 7, 17).

The best way to overcome and defeat the dangerous culture of death is to give firm foundations and clear content to a culture of life that will vigorously oppose it. Although right and necesssary, it is not enough merely to expose and denounce the lethal effects of the culture of death. Rather, the inner tissue of contemporary culture must be continually regenerated, culture being understood as a conscious mentality, as convictions and actions, as the social structures that support it.

This reflection seems all the more valuable, if we consider that culture influences not only the behaviour of individuals but also legislative and political decisions, which in turn facilitate cultural trends which, unfortunately, often impede the authentic renewal of society.

Culture, moreover, orients the strategies of scientific research, which today more than ever is able to offer powerful means that unfortunately are not always used for man's true good. On the contrary, at times research in many fields even seems to turn against man.

3. Therefore, it is appropriate that you wished to clarify the foundations and dimensions of the culture of life. With this in mind, you stressed the great themes of creation, showing clearly how human life must be seen as God's gift. Man, created in the image and likeness of God, is called to be his free co-worker and, at the same time, to be responsible for the "stewardship" of creation.

You have also wished to reaffirm the inalienable value of the personal dignity of every individual from conception to natural death; you revisited the theme of bodiliness and its personalistic meaning; you focused your attention on the family as a community of love and life. You dwelt on the importance of the communications media for a far-reaching dissemination of the culture of life, and the need to be involved in a personal witness to it. You have also recalled how, in this area, everything that encourages dialogue should be pursued, in the conviction that the full truth about man supports life. The believer is sustained in this by an enthusiasm rooted in the faith. Life will triumph: this is a sure hope for us. Yes, life will triumph because truth, goodness, joy and true progress are on the side of life. God, who loves life and gives it generously, is on the side of life.

4. As always happens in the relationship between philosophical reflection and theological meditation, in this case too the word and example of Jesus, who gave his life to conquer death and to give man a share in his resurrection, are also an indispensable help. Christ is the "resurrection and the life" (Jn 11,25).

Reasoning from this perspective, I wrote in the Encyclical Evangelium vitae: "The Gospel of life is not simply a reflection, however new and profound, on human life. Nor is it merely a commandment aimed at raising awareness and bringing about significant changes in society. Still less is it an illusory promise of a better future. The Gospel of life is something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very person of Jesus. Jesus made himself known to the Apostle Thomas, and in him to every person, with the words: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life' (Jn 14,6)" (n. 29).

This is a fundamental truth that the community of believers is called, today more than ever, to defend and promote. The Christian message about life, "written in the heart of every man and woman, has echoed in every conscience "from the beginning', from the time of creation itself, in such a way that, despite the negative consequences of sin, it can also be known in its essential traits by human reason" (Evangelium vitae, EV 29).

The concept of creation is not only a splendid message of revelation, but also a sort of profound intuition of the human spirit. Likewise, the dignity of the person is not only an idea deducible from the biblical statement that man was created "in the image and likeness" of the Creator, but a concept rooted in his spiritual being, by which he shows that he is a being who transcends the world around him. The body's claim to dignity as a "subject", and not simply a material "object", is the logical consequence of the biblical concept of the person. This is a unified concept of the human being, which has been taught by many currents of thought from medieval philosophy to our times.

5. The commitment to the dialogue between faith and reason can only strengthen the culture of life, combining the dignity and sacredness, freedom and responsibility of every person as indispensable components of his very existence. Along with the defence of personal life, the environment must also be protected: both have been created and ordered by God, as the natural structure of the visible world itself confirms.

The great issues concerning the right to life of every human being from conception to death, the efforts to promote the family according to God's original plan, and the urgent need, now felt by all, to protect the environment in which we live represent an area of common interest for ethics and law. Particularly in this field, which involves the fundamental rights of human society, what I wrote in the Encyclical Fides et ratio applies: "The Church remains profoundly convinced that faith and reason mutually support each other; each influences the other, as they offer to each other a purifying critique and a stimulus to pursue the search for deeper understanding" (n. 100).

The radical nature of the challenges posed to humanity today by the progress of science and technology, on the one hand, and by the progressive secularization of society, on the other, demands an impassioned effort to reflect more deeply on man and on his existence in the world and in history. It is necessary to show a great capacity for dialogue, for listening and for proposing, so that consciences may be formed. Only in this way will it be possible to create, in a just and united way, a culture based on hope and open to the integral progress of every individual in the various countries. Without a culture that safeguards the right to life and promotes the fundamental values of every person, it is impossible to have a healthy society, nor can peace and justice be guaranteed.

6. I pray that God will enlighten consciences and guide everyone involved at various levels in building the society of the future. May they always make the protection and defence of life their primary goal.

I express my heartfelt and grateful appreciation to you, distinguished members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who spend your energies in serving such a noble and demanding goal. May the Lord support you in your work and help you to fulfil the mission entrusted to you. May the Blessed Virgin strengthen you with her motherly protection.

The Church is grateful to you for your lofty service to life. For my part, I would like to accompany you with my constant encouragement, confirmed by a special Blessing.


Saturday, 3 March 2001

1. I affectionately greet the university students of Rome who have led this now traditional Marian gathering at the beginning of Lent. I also greet the representatives of the Forum of Associations, organized by the Italian Episcopal Conference and meeting in Rome for a study conference.

Dear young people, I thank you for your presence. Soon you will be carrying the World Youth Day Cross through the streets of Rome before handing it over to your peers from Toronto. Always follow the path of the Gospel and make your university communities "schools of faith and culture".

I entrust your projects and your missionary efforts in the Church of Rome to Mary, Sedes Sapientiae.

2. I am pleased to greet the university students from Canada, together with the members of the Planning Committee for the next World Youth Day, which will take place in Toronto in July 2002. I also greet with gratitude the Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic.

Dear friends, the journey of young people along the pathways of the world is now headed to a new destination: from Rome to Toronto. Next Palm Sunday, the young people of Italy will hand over to you the Cross which will be brought on pilgrimage to all the Dioceses in Canada. In receiving this Cross, you will also accept the heritage of the Great Jubilee. With creativity and enthusiasm, may you find new ways to lead the young people of the world, and especially your fellow university students, to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ, the one Redeemer of humanity.

May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, guide your preparations for the next World Youth Day.
My affectionate greeting also goes to the elderly priests who are here with you. Their prayer, the fruit of a life completely devoted to the Gospel, is a source of strength and inspiration for your apostolate.

3. I affectionately greet the young Spanish university students gathered at the University of Navarre in Pamplona, together with the Vice-Grand Chancellor, Mons. Tomás Gutiérrez, the teachers and the technical administrative personnel.

Dear sons and daughters, keep with you the image of the Sedes Sapientiae which last September I had the joy of entrusting to universities across the world. As you conclude the icon's peregrinatio in Spain, I would like to encourage you to continue your research and cultural commitment. Study the theme of humanism, the subject of reflection during the Jubilee of Universities, in its various facets, so that the intrinsic connection between faith in Christ and the defence of human dignity will be seen more and more clearly.

I joyfully greet the young people gathered in St George's Cathedral in Lviv, Ukraine, with their new Cardinal Marian Jaworski and Bishop Julian Gbur.

Dear young people, I thank you for your participation. In a few months I will be coming to visit your homeland, and this evening we prayed for this event together. When the icon of the Sedes Sapientiae, on pilgrimage through the universities of Ukraine, arrives before long among you, welcome it with love and entrust all young Ukrainians to Mary, so that you will be able to build together a future of peaceful prosperity for your country.

5. I joyfully greet Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond, and with him all the participants in the Marian vigil gathered in Maastricht. I greet each of you, dear students of The Netherlands.

This link-up with Maastricht recalls the journey of the European community. Young people, persevere in your commitment as Christian witnesses in the university; this is an indispensable task for promoting a new Christian humanism in Europe.

May Mary, Sedes Sapientiae, protect all the Dutch and European young people, who are on their way to goals of peace and authentic human development.

I extend a cordial greeting to the young Mexicans gathered in Puebla for the congress of "New People" organized by the University of Anahuac in Mexico City, and accompanied by Mons. Antonio López Sánchez, delegate for youth ministry in Puebla.

Dear young people, at the beginning of the third millennium, cast the nets of the Gospel into the vast world of American culture. Support the new evangelization with your enthusiasm as young believers. Bear witness in your universities and everywhere that Christ is the source of hope for contemporary man.

May Mary, Sedes Sapientiae, go with you always.

7. We are concluding this rapid tour of the various places in the world where young people are gathered in prayer with Mary. Dear young people, I hope with all my heart that you will always be generous in following Jesus, especially this Lent. The Pope accompanies you with his prayer and gladly blesses you.




Saturday, 10 March 2001

1. We have finished the spiritual exercises with a meditation on the "Magnificat". I would like my brief remarks to echo Mary's canticle, expressing in her words our heartfelt gratitude to the Lord for all he has given us during these days of silence and recollection.

The preaching of dear Cardinal Francis Eugene George, Archbishop of Chicago, has led us in our contemplation of the divine mysteries. I express my most cordial thanks to you, venerable Brother, also on behalf of the Cardinals and prelates of the Roman Curia who took part in the exercises.

Your sober personal style made the Gospel word stand out in all its power. You truly made us feel that St Luke was our traveling companion on this Lenten journey. You combined your reflection on the biblical text with stimulating examples drawn from your rich experience as a missionary and Bishop: they encouraged the application of these reflections to life. On the great themes of conversion, freedom and communion, you led us each day to contemplate Christ and to deepen our faith in him, this faith which is "for all peoples".

2. Frequent references were also made to the documents written after the recent continental Synods. This helped to give our retreat an intensely apostolic tone, which was particularly appropriate in the ecclesial period we are experiencing immediately after the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

It is a period that I wanted to be marked by Christ's words to Peter: "Duc in altum", "Put out into the deep" (Lc 5,4). We know what Simon's answer was: "At your word I will let down the nets" (Lc 5,5). "At your word": this is what we wanted to do during these days. We stayed listening to the Lord in order to strengthen our faith with the Holy Spirit's help, to reinforce our hope, to revive our love. Trusting in the efficacy of Christ's words, the Church casts her nets into the vast ocean of the new millennium which has just begun. It is an unusual net: those caught in it are set free! In fact, faith in Christ is a freedom that is born of personal conversion and opens men and women to communion with all people.

3. Thank you, Your Eminence, for guiding us on this journey. May the Lord himself reward you. On our part, we assure you of a remembrance in our prayer and call upon the maternal assistance of the Immaculate Virgin, Mother of your missionary consecration, for you and for your ministry.
I also extend my cordial thanks to those who contributed to the success of the spiritual exercises with regard to the liturgical celebrations and the service of hospitality.

May Mary help us to treasure the spiritual gifts we have received during these spiritual exercises and to continue our Lenten journey with renewed enthusiasm. With these sentiments I gladly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you all.




Dear Brothers and Sisters of Brazil,

It gives me great pleasure to open the first Brotherhood Campaign of the new millennium, sponsored by the National Bishops' Conference of Brazil during Lent of this year, with the theme: "Life Yes, Drugs No!".

We still have a vivid memory of the Jubilee year just ended; may the merciful Lord grant it to be an abundant source of grace and consolation for all Christians, since he sent his Son to earth so that "all may have life, and have it abundantly" (cf. Jn Jn 10,10). Yes, dear brothers and sisters! May all have the true life obtained through the merciful love of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Lent is meant to be a call to conversion of heart through prayer and penance, in the hope that as we "fight the spirit of evil we will be strengthened with the help of self-denial", as we say in the Opening Prayer on Ash Wednesday. Today the Church in Brazil wants to help all society to be involved in preventing drug abuse. I hope that living and bearing witness to this Christian spirit of self-control will open the way to a new life of union with Christ.

These are my wishes, especially for those who have become ensnared by drugs. Many of those who unfortunately fell into the clutches of narcotics testify that this experience was an escape from themselves and from reality. Drug abuse is often the result of inner emptiness, resignation and the loss of a sense of direction, which at times lead to despair. This is why drugs are not overcome with drugs, but require far-reaching preventive efforts so that the culture of death is replaced by the culture of life.

Young people and families must be given concrete reasons for hope and effective help with their daily problems. A real alternative to the various poisonous substances that anaesthetize the human person has been found by many people in a community which, in addition to clinical solutions, has offered them a human and spiritual way out from the abyss of drugs, and enabled them to return to life, so that they can take the lead in helping to build a society free from drugs of every kind. The Church is grateful to all who offer this skilled and disinterested service to human life and dignity.

If faith is expressed in all of life, it will be the example of a simple and sober life by which the men and women of Brazil will bear witness that Christ is in our midst. Be messengers of hope for the victims of this social scourge, especially among young people. It is when the Brazilian family is threatened by these evils that hope in the risen Christ gives us the certainty of liberation and salvation.

I ask God, through the intercession of Our Lady of the Apparition, to protect Brazil and its people, as I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you as a pledge of my sincere affection for the Land of the Holy Cross.

From the Vatican, 6 January 2001.




Monday, 12 March 2001

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am pleased to have this meeting with you, dear Spanish pilgrims, accompanied by a large group of Bishops, priests and civil authorities from your towns and regions, who have taken part in the solemn beatification of 233 men and women, martyrs of the religious persecution which afflicted the Church in your homeland from 1936 to 1939. Yesterday's beatification was the first to take place in the new century and the new millennium, and it is significant that those beatified were martyrs. We have, in fact, come to the end of a century that was full of sufferings in which many Christians "risked their lives for the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ac 15,26).

I affectionately greet Cardinals Antonio María Rouco, Archbishop of Madrid and President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, and Ricardo María Carles, Archbishop of Barcelona, as well as Archbishop Agustín García-Gasco of Valencia, the Archdiocese from which most of the new blesseds come, Bishop Francisco Ciuraneta of Lleida and the other Archbishops and Bishops present. I would also like to welcome the autonomous, provincial and local authorities, representing the people who now count the new blesseds among their famous children. These new martyrs have sown their message throughout Spain. Indeed, if we note their origins, they come from 37 Dioceses and represent 13 autonomous communities, but their witness embraces the entire Spanish territory. This is why the whole Church in Spain rejoiced in their recognition yesterday.

2. Many of you are descendants, relatives or neighbours of the new blesseds. I know that the widow of one, an active member of Catholic Action, is present here, as well as many of the martyrs' brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren. Some of you are brothers and sisters in religion to the religious who have been raised to the glory of the altars. Others are neighbours from their birthplaces, from where they exercised their ministry, from where they were martyred or are buried. I imagine the excitement you feel at this moment, which you have been looking forward to for so many years. Without doubt, their example has encouraged you in your life of faith, for you have cherished their memory and also, in some cases, kept personal mementos.

Yesterday's beatification was the largest of my Pontificate. Indeed, 233 martyrs were raised to the altar. Such a noteworthy number, however, does not make us forget their individual features. They each have a personal history, a name and surname of their own, circumstances which make each one a model of life that becomes even more eloquent with their death freely accepted as the supreme proof of fidelity to Christ and his Church.

These martyrs, whom we speak of today with gratitude and veneration, are like a great picture of the Gospel of the Beatitudes, a beautiful fan displaying the variety of the one, universal Christian vocation to holiness (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, chap. V). In proclaiming the holiness of this large group of martyrs yesterday, the Church glorifies God.

Holiness is not a privilege reserved for the few. The ways of holiness are many and are followed through the small, concrete events of daily life by performing an act of love in every situation. This is what the newly beatified martyrs did. Here lies the secret of Christianity lived to the full. This is a truly vital Christianity which all Christians are called to live, whatever their class or state. We are all called to holiness. What God wants of us, in short, is to be holy (1Th 4,3). Dear brothers and sisters from Spain, I believe I should once again propose with conviction "this "high standard' of ordinary Christian living" to you too, as I did to all the faithful in my recent Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte (n. 31). May your personal path and that of your families and parish communities be one of holiness, especially today!

3. Thus we meet priests, young or old, who carried out the most varied ministries: parish priests, curates, canons, professors, religious who come from the vast fields of charitable work in teaching, care of the elderly or the sick; men and women, single or married, parents of families, workers in various sectors. Christ himself is the origin of their martyrdom and holiness. Their common denominator is the radical option for Christ above all things, even their very lives. They could well say with St Paul: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Ph 1,21). By their lives and especially by their deaths, they teach us that we should prefer nothing to God's love for us, which he shows to us in Jesus Christ.

In them, as in all martyrs, the Church has always found a seed of life, so that we can say that the early communities were forged by the blood of martyrs. However, martyrdom is a reality that belongs not only to the past but also to the present. I therefore wrote in my recent Apostolic Letter: "Will this not also be the case of the century and millennium now beginning?" (cf. Novo millennio ineunte, NM 41).

Indeed, it is a noted fact that martyrs have returned in our time. Furthermore, although it is certain that times have changed, it is also certain that every day offers the possibility of continuing to suffer for love of Christ. The horizon that lies before us is thus broad and exciting. It is up to Christians, always and everywhere, to be ready to spread the light of life that is Christ, even to the point of bloodshed (cf. Dignitatis humanae, DH 14). We must be willing to follow in the martyrs' footsteps and, like them, to live holiness to the full with him, for him and in him.

The legacy of these courageous witnesses of faith, "archives of truth written in letters of blood" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CEC 2474), has left us an inheritance that speaks louder than that of shameful indifference. It is a voice that urgently calls for our presence in public life. A living but peaceful presence which will lead us, through the incomparable transparency of the Gospel, to present its ever timely radicalness to the men and women of our time.

It is a legacy, moreover, whose language is one of witness. May this patrimony continue to yield abundant fruits through your lives and your commitment, and manifest the extraordinary presence of the Mystery of God which, working always and everywhere, calls us to reconciliation and new life in Christ!

4. Dear brothers and sisters: their witness cannot and must not be forgotten. They show the vitality of your local Churches. May their example make everyone a living and credible witness of the Good News for the new times! May imitating them lead to abundant fruits of love and hope in contemporary society. This is my hope. Foster the culture of life. Do so in word, but also by concrete acts. Prayer for the radical, sincere conversion of everyone to the law of love and a specific, generous commitment to it form the basis of social harmony among men and women, families and peoples. Return to your towns and communities ready to work as apostles in the Church and for the Church. Make the Beatitudes a reality in the places you come from. Imbue everyday realities with the one programme of the Gospel, which is the programme of love. Bring Christ into your lives, your communities, your towns and your history. Be always and everywhere living and credible witnesses of love, unity and peace. In this task, may my prayer, my affection and my blessing, which I cordially impart to you, go with you always.




Friday, 16 March 2001

Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Friends in Christ,

1. I am happy to greet you on the occasion of the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. I take this opportunity to express my thanks for all that you are doing in support of the Church’s diversified presence in the world of the media. In a special way I wish to congratulate your Council for its specific contribution to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

The Jubilee in fact has been an extraordinary experience of faith in the City of Rome and throughout the Church. A significant part of its impact was due to the coverage given to the Jubilee events by the media. The Pontifical Council rendered invaluable service by coordinating worldwide telecasts of many of the Holy Year ceremonies, and by offering professional and pastoral assistance to the thousands of men and women working in the fields of radio, television, the print media and photography. The Council was also responsible for organizing the memorable Jubilee celebrations for Journalists in June, and for the Jubilee for the World of Entertainment in December. Your commitment was undoubtedly sustained by the desire to make the Jubilee Year a genuine response to the Gospel injunction to bring "good news to the poor, liberty to captives and new sight to the blind" (Lc 4,18).

2. Over the years the Pontifical Council for Social Communications has acquired a very positive experience of cooperation with the international media in bringing the important events of the Church’s life to people in all parts of the world. My thoughts go back to the beginnings of this activity, and especially to the Holy Year of 1975 when your Council, under the leadership of Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur and with the generous assistance of the Knights of Columbus, set a pattern as it were for this kind of religious broadcasting. Thanking God for what has already been achieved, I encourage your Council to carry forward the task entrusted to you by the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus.

3. Work done at your previous Plenary Meeting in 1999 made it possible for the Council to publish last June the document Ethics in Communications, which sought to offer moral guidance regarding the use of the media, a varied and complex human reality in which ethical concerns are often subordinated to commercial interests. I am pleased that in these days you have been considering a similar document on the theme of Ethics in Internet, which would indeed be very timely, given the rapid spread of cyber-communications and the many moral questions involved. The Church cannot be a mere spectator of the social results of technological advances, which have such decisive effects on people’s lives. Your reflection on Ethics in Internet therefore can be of great help to the Church’s Pastors and faithful in facing the many challenges of the emerging "media culture".

The problems and opportunities created by new technology, by the process of globalization, by deregulation and privatization of the media present new ethical and indeed spiritual challenges to those who work in social communications. These challenges will be met effectively by those who accept that "serving the human person, building up community grounded in solidarity and justice and love, and speaking the truth about human life and its final fulfilment in God were, are, and will remain at the heart of ethics in the media" (Ethics in Communications, No. 33). Praying that these high goals will always guide the work of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and entrusting your every effort to the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Word Incarnate, I gladly impart to you and your families my Apostolic Blessing.



Saturday, 17 March 2001

Your Beatitude,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am pleased to receive you during your ad limina visit, which expresses your communion with the Successor of Peter. I hope that in your meetings with the Bishop of Rome and his collaborators you will find the necessary encouragement to give new spiritual energy and apostolic zeal to the people entrusted to your pastoral care.

I thank His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, for his cordial words to me on your behalf. They show how deeply committed you are to proclaiming the Gospel. Through you, the Latin Bishops in the Arab Regions, my mind and heart are joined to the priests, religious and all the faithful of your Dioceses, who, in diverse situations, bear courageous witness to the Lord Jesus. May God support and guide them each day!

I deeply cherish my memories of the pilgrimages I had the joy of making during the Jubilee Year in the land where God manifested himself to human beings, from Mount Sinai to Jerusalem, the Holy City, where Christ died and rose for humanity's salvation. I ask God to grant me the grace to continue my pilgrimage by soon visiting the places linked to the conversion of the Apostle Paul and the missionary zeal of the first Christian communities in Syria.

2. As I wrote in the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, which I addressed to all the local Churches at the end of the Great Jubilee, now is the time for "each local Church to assess its fervour and find fresh enthusiasm for its spiritual and pastoral responsibilities by reflecting on what the Spirit has been saying to the People of God in this special year of grace, and indeed in the longer span of time from the Second Vatican Council to the Great Jubilee" (n. 3). Indeed, it is essential that Christian communities put out into the deep with determination, strengthened by the graces they received from the Lord during the Jubilee Year and inspired by a hope that is firmly rooted in contemplation of the face of Christ.

The Pastoral Synod, which for the first time brought together the members of all the Catholic communities in the Holy Land, ended a year ago. I strongly encourage you to implement the pastoral plan that resulted from your ecclesial journey: "Faithful to Christ, Co-responsible in the Church, Witnesses in Society".

Your communities, which live as minorities in societies whose culture and daily life are deeply marked by the presence of other religions, must tirelessly continue to deepen their Christian identity in order to preserve their Gospel authenticity. They must never forget that Christians find their personal and ecclesial identity in their close relationship with Christ, which helps them to live in all situations and illumines their decisions, and not in their own actions or personal options in society.

In this way they will fearlessly open themselves to others and help to make God's loving face shine among the nations. May they remember that turning to Christ, the Incarnate Word, and walking with him on the paths of holiness lead to rejecting every kind of mediocrity and superficial religiosity in order to penetrate ever more deeply into his mystery!

The witness given to Christ and participation in building his Body also require the development of authentic communion within the Church, especially through an ever more trusting relationship between pastors and faithful and regular pastoral cooperation with generous openness of mind and heart between the various Catholic communities. May parishes and families be living centres of unity and authentic love! For, "to make the Church the home and the school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God's plan and respond to the world's deepest yearnings" (Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, n. 43). It is by making this communion a reality that the Church shows herself to be a sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all men (cf. Lumen gentium, LG 1).

3. In this same perspective, lay people are asked to play an increasingly important role in the Church's life and witness, so as to account effectively for the hope that is in them (cf. 1P 3,15).

The laity's awareness of their vocation and mission is a source of comfort and deep joy. Therefore, they should be shown a trust that will spur them to live in fidelity to the Gospel and the Magisterium of the Church and to assume their responsibilities by taking an active part in the life of their communities at various levels. Their involvement in the conduct of public affairs, wherever possible, is also very important, especially in the area of justice and peace.

It is therefore indispensable to continue your efforts to form the laity so that they can acquire real competence in all that social, economic and political life entails. By engaging in intellectual research and study, lay people will also help to develop a true Christian culture, in collaboration with the other Churches, thereby offering society a Christian view of the human person and of the principles that can direct the action of those who put themselves at the service of their brethren. Pastoral guidance at Catholic universities is important for helping the laity to translate their faith into their own culture and to take their place in the Church's mission.

4. In your ministry of service to communion in the Church, priests are your closest co-workers. I cordially greet them through you, inviting them to put unconditional trust in the One who has called them and who is constantly at their side to guide them in their task of proclaiming the Gospel and educating believers in the faith. As they face the great challenges of evangelization, may they not be afraid to stake their whole life on Christ and generously abandon themselves to him! By opening their hearts fully to God's love and by listening to their brothers and sisters, they will continue to grow as men of hope and of familiarity with God.

Therefore, priests must return constantly to the source of their ministry, in order to find new apostolic zeal. Their missionary activity will bear fruit to the extent that they strengthen their spiritual life by celebrating and frequently receiving the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, privileged places of communion. Through an intense life of personal and community prayer, the heart of priestly life and the condition for all fruitful pastoral action under the influence of the Spirit, they will enter into ever more intimate dialogue with the Lord, whom it is their mission to proclaim to their brethren. In acquiring great personal familiarity with the Word of God, accepted with a docile and prayerful heart, they will be able to proclaim the Gospel authentically and to lead the faithful to an ever deeper knowledge of the mystery of God.

Continuing formation, especially through reading, meetings for reflection and prayer, as well as participation in theological and pastoral education programmes, is an essential task for every priest if he is to remain faithful to his identity and mission in the Church and for the Church.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I am aware of your concern to foster priestly and religious vocations and to communicate Christ's call. I encourage you in your efforts to give basic formation to candidates for the priesthood. Take care to provide them with good intellectual, theological, biblical and spiritual formation! However, it is indispensable that it be based on a human formation "that will help them acquire personal maturity and make them attentive to the cultural complexity in which they will have to carry out their ministry" (Apostolic Exhortation Une espérance nouvelle pour le Liban, n. 62).

5. In many areas of diocesan life there are religious institutes whose members work generously and collaborate actively in diocesan ministry. Assure them of my prayer and give them my affectionate encouragement! In certain regions, the presence of men and women religious is essential for the Church's visibility. Through their various commitments, they contribute to people's human and spiritual advancement, without distinction of origin or religion, especially in the areas of education, health care and social services. I thank God for what they have done and are doing, along with those who work with them, to serve all in a spirit of exemplary selflessness. By their lives given entirely to God and to their brethren, they are a reference-point for the young people who attend their educational institutions and for all who benefit from their support and devotion. May they continue to bear witness with their whole lives to a Church that is a true place of brotherhood, sharing, renewal, hope and openness to others!

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, the Church's presence in schools and education has a particularly significant importance. Catholic schools are places where children can receive a solid formation to prepare for their future. They are also places for the dialogue of life among young people of different religious traditions and social backgrounds. I urge you to continue fostering, in collaboration with the other Catholic communities, the renewal of catechesis and the development of pastoral care based on sound values, in order to help form the type of men and women that the Church and society need.

6. The division among Christians is an infidelity to the will of the Lord which obscures their identity as disciples of Christ. Now that we have entered the third millennium, we must resolutely show the Church's commitment to promoting unity, aware that if we do not ardently seek to be faithful to the Lord's intense prayer "that all may be one", we risk weakening our Christian identity and credibility in proclaiming the Gospel of peace and reconciliation. The division of Christians often separates people who live side by side in daily life, who love one another and who, on essential points, share the same faith in Christ and Baptism; this brings great suffering to families. These difficult situations must not discourage us but spur us to work with conviction for communion and forgiveness. In all the Arab regions the Latin Church must courageously pursue her efforts for fraternal encounter and collaboration with the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, confident that ecumenical dialogue will only progress if it involves the concrete life of the faithful.

May the ardent desire for unity be present in your pastoral activities, especially in continuing your reflection and commitment regarding issues of common interest by praying and acting together whenever possible! The ecumenical opening of the Jubilee Year in Bethlehem was a great hope which should foster a brotherly atmosphere between the Churches and Ecclesial Communities, so that they will advance with serenity, confidence and mutual esteem towards the unity so deeply desired.

7. The conditions in which the Christian community in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, has to live do not always allow its members to lead the sort of personal and family life they would like for themselves and their children. I strongly encourage Christians to maintain their self-confidence and to remain firmly attached to the land which was also that of their ancestors. I repeat to them forcefully: "Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very place where the Saviour was born!" (Homily in Bethlehem, 22 March 2000, n. 5). It is particularly important that Christians remain in Jerusalem and in Christianity's Holy Places, for the Church cannot forget her roots. She must bear witness to the vitality and fruitfulness of the Gospel message in the land of Revelation and the Redemption.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, you have made praiseworthy efforts to enable the faithful to live peacefully in these situations, giving them profound evangelical and ecclesial reasons not to yield to the temptation to abandon their land but to be ever more convinced of the importance of their presence and the beauty of their witness. Do not be resigned to the idea that leaving is inevitable! I am aware of the sacrifices and self-denial that this requires for the families and individuals who are generously willing to resist the temptation to seek economic prosperity and social peace elsewhere. On behalf of the Church, I am truly grateful to them. They can count on the support of God's grace and of their brothers and sisters in faith who look at them with admiration.

I also encourage you in your apostolic concern for Catholics from other countries, who are ever more numerous and generally come to your region in search of work; they need special pastoral care. Their witness of faith courageously lived among the men and women in your countries is an expression of the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ.

8. I know the great difficulties which the peoples of your countries must face. I would like in particular to assure all who suffer and are victims of violence of my closeness and affection. The entire Church suffers with you, in the hope of being able to rejoice with you soon in the fulfilment of one desire which no one can renounce: peace! "The Holy Land must be the land of peace and brotherhood. That is what God wants!" (Peace Appeal, 2 October 2000). The events currently unfolding in the Holy Land, which I am following with attention, are a cause of concern and severely test the hope of peace. I fervently hope that negotiations will soon be resumed and will focus all concern on respect for the dignity of every person, who has the right to live in peace and safety in his own territory. This will only be achieved by respecting international law and rejecting violence, which can only exacerbate hatred and feelings of bitterness, creating even greater dissension between individuals and communities. In these circumstances, it is more necessary than ever to appeal for dialogue, personal contact and the love that each person feels for others and for all mankind, in order not to overlook any possibility that could open prospects for a just and lasting peace. The importance of this hope does not allow us to be tempted by discouragement.

The Latin Church in the Holy Land and its neighbouring regions must always be willing to bear and to inspire sentiments of mutual understanding, dialogue and solidarity. It is through a true education in peace that hearts can at last be opened and minds engage resolutely in building societies based on brotherhood and mutual respect in justice.

Interreligious dialogue is also a privileged way to advance on the paths of peace. The search for a true and trustful dialogue with Judaism and Islam is one of the greatest and most urgent needs which the Church cannot renounce for the good of all the peoples in the region. Such an attitude must also help to guarantee true religious freedom, so that no one will suffer discrimination or marginalization because of his religious belief, and so that the special status granted to one religion is not done to the detriment of the others.

Lastly, I would like to mention once again the critical situations that other countries are experiencing in your region. In Iraq the embargo continues to claim victims; too many innocent people are paying for the consequences of a destructive war whose effects continue to be felt by the weakest and most defenceless persons. The flow of refugees from Sudan to Egypt is rapidly increasing.

Solutions must therefore be urgently found to provide decent accommodations for the displaced persons and to allow these people to be properly integrated, as well as to offer spiritual assistance to the many Christians among them. My thoughts also turn to the Catholic community of Somalia, which in the past has been the victim of many acts of violence, in the hope that normal ecclesial life will at last be restored in this country. I once again assure all the communities and peoples of the region of the attention and affection that Peter's Successor has for them.

9. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, at the end of our meeting, I express my deep gratitude to you for the pastoral work which each of you carries out with devotion and profound love for the Church in serving the people entrusted to you, despite being often faced with very difficult conditions and sometimes loneliness. On your return home, bring the Pope's affection to all the Catholic faithful, whether of the Latin or the Eastern rite. He accompanies you with his prayer and asks you to foster ever closer bonds of love and cooperation between the Catholic communities.

May this wish be the best encouragement for your return to your particular Churches.

I therefore entrust your Dioceses to the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace. May she protect and guide you on your way! I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to each of you and to the priests, religious and lay faithful of your Dioceses.

Speeches 2001 - Saturday, 3 March 2001