Speeches 2002




Dear Sons of Don Bosco,

1. I greet you warmly, as you come together from the five continents for the celebration of the 25th General Chapter of your Institute. It is the first one in the third millennium and gives you an opportunity to reflect on the challenges of the education and evangelization of young people, challenges that Salesians want to take up by following in the footsteps of their founder, St John Bosco. I hope you will find the Chapter a time of communion and useful work, of sharing in the spirit that unites you in your mission to youth, in your love for the Church and in your desire to be open to new apostolic frontiers.

At this time I naturally recall the late Major Rector, Fr Juan Vecchi, who died recently after a long illness, offered up to God for the whole Congregation and especially for this Chapter. As I thank the Lord for his service to your religious family and to the Church, and for the witness of evangelical fidelity that always distinguished him, I assure you that I will pray for the happy repose of his soul. It is now up to you to pursue the work that he carried out so successfully, following in the footsteps of his predecessors.

As attentive teachers and competent spiritual guides, you will be able to meet the needs of young people who long to "see Jesus". You will be able to lead them gently but firmly towards the high goals of Christian fidelity. "Duc in altum!". May you adopt this dynamic motto for your Congregation and may the present chapter assembly motivate all the members to give a courageous fresh start to their own evangelizing activity.

2. You have chosen as the theme of the chapter: "The Salesian community today". You are well aware that you must renew your methods and manner of working, so that your "Salesian" identity may clearly emerge in today's different social situations that require openness to the contribution of lay collaborators with whom you share the spirit and charism that Don Bosco left to you as his legacy. Your experience in recent years has enlightened you on the great opportunities for this collaboration, that will enable the various members and groups of the Salesian family to grow in communion and to develop a common apostolic and missionary spirit. To open yourselves to cooperation with lay people it is important that you bring into focus the special identity of your communities: may they be communities as Don Bosco wanted them, gathered around the Eucharist and motivated by deep love for Blessed Mary, ready to work together, sharing a single educational and pastoral plan; communities that can motivate and involve others, especially by their example.

3. In this way Don Bosco continues to dwell among you. May he live through your fidelity to the spiritual heritage that he left you. On his institute he impressed a special form of holiness, and today's world needs holiness above all! Aptly and courageously, the General Chapter intends to propose "striving for holiness" as the first response to the challenges of the contemporary world. In short, it is not so much a question of initiating new activities and initiatives but rather of living and witnessing to the Gospel without compromises, so as to stimulate to holiness the young men you work with. Salesians of the third millennium! Be passionate teachers and guides, saints and formers of saints as was St John Bosco!

Do everything to be educators of young people for holiness, practising the typical pedagogy of happy and serene holiness that defines you. Be welcoming and fatherly, so that you can ask young men on every occasion with your own example, "Do you want to become holy?". And do not hesitate to hold up before them the high standard of ordinary Christian living, guiding them on the path of radical dedication to Christ who proclaims in the Sermon on the Mount: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5,48).

Yours is a history full of saints, many of whom were young. On "the Hill of the Youthful Beatitudes", as you call the Colle Don Bosco (Don Bosco Hill) where the saint was born, during my visit on 3 September 1988, I had the joy of beatifying Laura Vicuña, the young Chilean Salesian girl whom you know well. Other Salesians are on their way towards that goal: two are confreres, Artemide Zatti and Luigi Variara, and one is a Daughter of Mary Help of Christians, Sr Maria Romero. The value and timeliness of the Salesian lay brother's role shine out in Artemide Zatti; and Don Luigi Variara, priest and founder, manifests a further realization of your missionary charism.

4. You too are asked to join the large group of Salesian saints and blesseds commited to walking in the footsteps of Christ, the source of holiness for all believers. Make the whole of your congregation shine with holiness and fraternal communion!

At the beginnining of this millennium, the great challenge of the Church, as I recalled in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, consists in making the Church "the home and the school of communion" (n. 43). If the apostolate is to bear fruits of good, it is indispensable that the communities live a spirit of real mutual brotherhood. To carry out a single educational and pastoral project, all the communities must be linked by a firm family spirit. May every community be a true school of faith and prayer open to young men, where it becomes possible to share in their expectations and difficulties, and to respond to the challenges that adolescents and young people must face.

But where is the secret of the union of hearts and of apostolic action if not in fidelity to the charism? Always keep your gaze fixed on Don Bosco. He lived entirely in God and recommended the unity of his communities around the Eucharist. Only from the Tabernacle will flow that spirit of communion that becomes a wellspring of hope and dedication for every believer.

May the love of your father continue to inspire and sustain you. His teaching invites you to mutual confidence, daily forgiveness, fraternal correction, the joy of sharing. This is the path on which he walked, on which you too will be able to attract the laity, and especially young men, to share the evangelical and vocational mission that unites you.

5. As you see, the reference to youth comes up often in this Message too. Do not wonder at this bond that unites Salesians with young people. We could say that young men and Salesians walk together. In fact, dear friends, your life is lived among boys, just as Don Bosco wanted. You are happy with them and they enjoy your friendly presence. Yours are the "homes" in which they do well. Is not this the apostolate that distinguishes you everywhere in the world? Continue to open your institutions especially to poor children, so that they feel "at home" there, enjoying the activity of your charity and the witness of your poverty. Guide them during their integration in the working world, with culture and social communications, fostering a climate of Christian optimism in the framework of a strong and clear consciousness of moral values. Help them in turn to be apostles of their friends and peers.

This challenging pastoral action puts you in touch with the many realities operating in the field of education of the new generations. Be ready to make your contribution generously at various levels, cooperating with those who draft the educational policies in the countries where you live. Defend and promote human and Gospel values: from respect for the person to love for neighbour, especially the poor and the marginalized. Work hard to direct the multicultural and multireligious reality of contemporary society towards an ever more harmonious and peaceful integration.

6. Dear sons of Don Bosco, you are entrusted with the task of being educators and evangelizers of the youth of the third millennium, called to be "sentinels of the dawn", as I said at Tor Vergata, at the World Youth Day celebration in 2000. Walk with them, be alongside them with your experience and personal and community witness. May you be guided by the Blessed Virgin, whom you call by the beautiful name of "Mary Help of Christians". Always place your trust in her as you follow Don Bosco, suggest devotion to her to everyone you meet. With her help you can do a lot, as Don Bosco used to like to say over and over again, it is she who has done everything in your congregation.

The Pope shows his delight in your apostolic and educational dedication, and prays that you may continue in full fidelity to the Church and in close collaboration with one another. May Don Bosco and the host of Salesian saints and blesseds go with you!

I reinforce these wishes with a special Apostolic Blessing, which I send to you, members of the General Chapter, to your confreres across the world and to the whole Salesian family.

From the Vatican, 22 February 2002, the Feast of the Chair of St Peter.




Wednesday 27 February 2002

1. Dear and Illustrious Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, once again we hold a meeting that is always for me a source of hope and joy.

I warmly and personally greet each of you. I want to thank your President, Juan de Dios Vial Correa for his kind words of homage on behalf of all of you. I want to greet your Vice-President, Bishop Sgreccia, and thank him for being the force behind the activity of your Academy.

2. This week you are participating in your eighth General Assembly and for this reason, coming together from many countries, to address a crucial subject, in the context of a broader reflection on the dignity of human life: "The nature and dignity of the human person as the foundation of the right to life. The challenges raised by the approach of contemporary culture".

You have chosen to deal with one of the connecting links at the foundation of any further discussion, either of ethical applications in the field of bio-ethics or of socio-cultural thought for the promotion of a new pro-life mentality.

For many contemporary thinkers, the concepts of "nature" and of "natural law" appear to apply only to the physical and biological world, or, as a way of expressing the order of the cosmos, in scientific research and in the field of ecology. Unfortunately, in such a view, it becomes difficult to use natural law to mean human nature in a metaphysical sense and to use natural law for the moral order.

What makes it more difficult to see the depth of reality is the fact that our culture has greatly restricted the concept of creation, a concept that refers to the entire cosmic reality, and that takes on a particular meaning in relation to man. We see in this change the influence of the weakening of confidence in reason, so much a part of contemporary philosophy, as I pointed out in the Encyclical Fides et ratio (cf. n. 61).

What is needed, therefore, is a conscious effort that returns to its original meaning, with all its force, namely, to the anthropological and ethical meaning of natural law and of the related concept of natural right. In fact, we are discussing if and how it is possible to "recognize" the distinguishing characteristics of the human being, which form the basis of the right to life in its various historical formulations. Only on this basis, can there be a true dialogue and authentic collaboration between believers and non-believers.

3. Daily experience reveals the existence of a fundamental reality common to all human beings by which they can recognize each other as such. It is necessary to refer always "to man's proper and primordial nature, the "nature of the human person', that is the person himself in the unity of soul and body, in the unity of his spiritual and biological inclinations and of all the other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his end" (Veritatis splendor VS 50 cf. also Gaudium et spes GS 14).

This distinctive nature is the foundation for the rights of every human individual, who has the dignity of personhood from the moment of his conception. This objective dignity, that has its origin in God the Creator, is founded on the spiritual nature that belongs to the soul, but also extends to the corporeality that is an essential component. No one can take human dignity away, rather all must respect it in themselves and in others. It is this dignity that is equal for all and that remains entire at every stage of the individual human life.

The recognition of such natural dignity is the foundation of the social order, as Vatican II reminds us: "Furthermore, while there are rightful differences between people, their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions" (Gaudium et spes GS 29).

The human person, with his reason, is capable of recognizing both this profound and objective dignity of his own being, and the ethical requirements that derive from it. In other words, man can discern in himself the value and the moral requirements of his own dignity. It is a discernment that entails a discovery open to further refinement following the coordinates of the "historicity" that are typical of human knowledge.

This is what I pointed out in the Encyclical Veritatis splendor on the subject of the natural moral law, that, according to the words of St Thomas Aquinas, "is nothing else than the light of understanding infused in us by God. As a result of it we know what must be done and what must be avoided. God has given this light and this law to man at creation" (n. 40, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 1954-1955).

4. It is important to help our contemporaries understand the positive and humanizing value of the natural moral law, clarifying a number of misunderstandings and false interpretations.

The first misunderstanding to be eliminated is "the alleged conflict between freedom and nature" that "has repercussions on the interpretation of certain specific aspects of the natural law, especially its universality and immutability (Veritatis splendor VS 51). In fact, freedom belongs to the rational nature of the human being and can and should be guided by reason: "Precisely because of this "truth' the natural law involves universality. Inasmuch as it is inscribed in the rational nature of the person, it makes itself felt to all beings endowed with reason and living in history (ibid.).

5. Another point to be clarified is the presumed static and fixed connotation given to the notion of natural moral law, that is perhaps prompted by an erroneous analogy with the concept of nature used for physical reality. In truth, the fact of its universality and obligatory nature is what incites and urges the person to develop. "In order to perfect himself in his specific order, the person must do good and avoid evil, be concerned for the transmission and preservation of life, refine and develop the riches of the material world, cultivate social life, seek truth, practise good and contemplate beauty" (Veritatis splendor VS 51 cf. St Thomas I-II, q. 94, a. 2).

In fact, the magisterium of the Church appeals to the universality and to the dynamic and perfective character of the natural law when referring to the transmission of life, whether it be to maintain the fullness of the spousal union in the procreative act, and to preserve the openness to life in the conjugal act (cf. Humanae vitae HV 10 Instruction Donum Vitae, II. 1-8). In the same way the magisterium speaks on the subject of the respect for innocent human life: our thought goes to abortion, euthanasia, the suppression and destructive experimentation on embryos and human fetuses (cf. Evangelium vitae EV 52-67).

6. The natural law, in so far as it regulates human social relationships is defined as "natural rights" and as such requires complete respect for the dignity of individuals in the realization of the common good. An authentic conception of the natural right, understood as the protection of the illustrious and inalienable dignity of every human being, is the guarantee of equality and gives real substance to those "rights of man" that serve as the foundation of international declarations.

The rights of man, in fact, should refer to what man is by nature and by force of his own dignity and not to the expression of the subjective choices of those who are able to participate in social life or of those who obtain the consensus of the majority. In the Encyclical Evangelium vitae I warned against the serious threat that such a false interpretation of the rights of man seen as the subjective rights of an individual or a group, free from any reference to the truth of human nature, can pose, leading even democratic systems of government to turn into an effective totalitarianism (cf. nn. 19-20).

Particularly, among the fundamental rights of man, the Catholic Church claims for every human being the right to life as the primary right. She does it in the name of the truth about man and to protect his freedom, that cannot be sustained without respect for the right to life. The Church affirms the right to life of every innocent human being and at every moment of his existence. The distinction sometimes implied in international documents between "human being" and "human person", so as to limit the right to life and to physical integrity to persons already born is an artificial distinction, without any scientific or philosophical foundation: every human being, from the moment of his conception until the moment of his natural death, possesses an inviolable right to life and deserves all the respect owed to the human person (cf. Donum vitae, n. 1).

7. My dear friends, in conclusion, I want to encourage your reflection on the natural moral law and natural rights with the hope that from your discussions will come fresh zeal for establishing the true good of the human being and a just and peaceful social order. It is always by returning to the deep roots of human dignity and of the true good of the human being, and by building on the foundation of what exists as everlasting and essential in man, that a fruitful dialogue can take place with men of every culture in order to build a society inspired by the values of justice and brotherhood.

With gratitude for your collaboration, I entrust the activity of the Pontifical Academy for Life to the Mother of Jesus, Word made flesh in her virginal womb so that she may be with you as you fulfil the mission that the Church has entrusted to you for the defence and promotion of the gift of life and of the dignity of every human being.

With this prayerful wish, I grant you and your loved ones my heartfelt Blessing.



Thursday 28 February 2002

Venerable Brothers,

1. I welcome you with great joy during your meeting on the subject of the better understanding of the spirituality of communion, sponsored by the "Focolare' Movement. I cordially greet each one, with special thanks to Cardinal Miloslav Vlk for expressing your feelings of respect and for illustrating the topics of your meeting. I also want to greet the Foundress of the Movement, Chiara Lubich, who is here with us.

Dear friends, you are reflecting on communion, the constitutive reality of the Church. The Church, as the Second Vatican Council clearly emphasizes, finds herself between God and the world, gathered together in the name of the Blessed Trinity to be "the sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all men" (Lumen gentium LG 1). Therefore communion within the Christian people is something that always has to be assimilated, lived and expressed better, even with an unfolding in programmes, at the level of the universal and of the particular Churches. It is important to promote an authentic and profound spirituality of communion, as I said in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte (cf. n. 43). This need concerns all the members of the ecclesial community, but it is especially the task of Pastors to ensure that the different gifts and ministries contribute to the common edification of believers and to the spread of the Gospel.

2. The service of unity, on which you rightly like to place great emphasis, is intrinsically marked by the Cross. The Lord suffered the passion and death to destroy hostility and reconcile human beings with the Father and with one another. Shaped by his example, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, prolongs his work. With the power of the Holy Spirit she participates intimately in the Mystery of Easter for without it, there is no growth of the Kingdom of God.

The experience of history stresses that the Church lives the Passion and the Cross indissolubly united with her risen Lord, enlightened and comforted by the presence that he himself guaranteed for all time, even to the end of the world (cf. Mt Mt 28,20). It is the Lord himself on whose glorious body the marks of the nails and the spear remain (cf. Jn Jn 20,20 Jn Jn 20,27), who associates his friends in his suffering, to conform them to his glory. In the first place this was the experience of the Apostles, to whom believers on their pilgrimage constantly refer. The Apostles' ministry of communion and evangelization enjoyed the same fruitfulness as Christ's: the fruitfulness of the grain of wheat, as the Evangelist John recalls, which bears fruit in abundance if and because it dies in the earth (cf. Jn Jn 12,24).

3. A sign par excellence of this paschal fruitfulness are the fruits of the Spirit, and first and foremost "love, joy and peace" (Ga 5,22), that, in the variety of styles and charisms, also characterize the witness of saints in every age and nation. Even in trial, even in the most tragic situations, nothing and no one can take from those who live united with Christ the certainty of his love (cf. Rom Rm 8,37-39) and the joy of being and feeling oneness with him.

I pray for an abundance of this love, this joy and this peace for each one of you, dear Brothers in the Episcopate, and for the communities entrusted to your care. May Mary, the Virgin of faithful love, watch over you and your ministry. May she help you to walk in perfect harmony with the heart of her divine Son, the source of boundless love and mercy. I assure you that I constantly remember you in my prayer and very gladly impart a special Blessing to you, which I extend to all those you meet daily in your pastoral service.

March 2002




Friday, 1 March 2002

Your Eminences,
Brother Bishops,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

1. From the five continents you have come once more to Rome for the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. I thank Archbishop John Foley for his gracious words and for the leadership he has given as President of the Council, with the able cooperation of Bishop Pierfranco Pastore. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Council as a whole for the help you continue to offer me in my apostolic ministry. In today’s world, how is the Successor of Peter to accomplish his mission of preaching the Gospel and strengthening his brothers and sisters in the faith if not also through the media of social communication? I am deeply conscious of this, and therefore most grateful to you and to groups like the Knights of Columbus who generously support your work.

2. I welcome the theme which you have chosen for this Plenary Meeting: "The Media and the New Evangelization: Current Activities and Plans for the Future". For it is essential that we see our engagement with the world of the media as a vital part of that new evangelization to which the Holy Spirit is now summoning the Church throughout the world. As I stressed in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, we must devise "a detailed pastoral plan...which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture" (No. 29). It is not enough to wait for things to happen or to act in a random way: now is the time for concrete and effective planning of the kind you are undertaking at this Plenary Meeting. The special challenge before you is to find ways to ensure that the voice of the Church is not marginalized or silenced in the modern arena of the media. You have a role to play in ensuring that the Gospel is not confined to a strictly private world. No! Jesus Christ must be proclaimed to the world; and therefore the Church must enter the great forum of the media with courage and confidence.

3. Not only must we use the media to communicate Christ to the world, but we must preach the Gospel to the world of the media itself. What I have said elsewhere of the Internet is true of the media as a whole: it is "a new ‘forum’ understood in the ancient Roman sense of... a crowded and bustling urban space, which both reflected the surrounding culture and created a culture of its own" (Message for World Communications Day 2002, 2). This media culture must itself be evangelized! And you are called to provide the Church with inspiration and ideas for that great work, drawing upon the highest standards of professionalism and the deepest resources of the Christian faith and Catholic tradition.

This is a task to which the Pontifical Council has given itself with great energy. During this Plenary Meeting, for instance, you will publish two important documents which have been in preparation for some years: "Ethics in the Internet" and "The Church and the Internet". These are signs not only of your professional creativity, but of your commitment to preach the Good News in the fast-moving world of social communications.

4. The Gospel lives always in conversation with culture, for the Eternal Word never ceases to be present to the Church and to humanity. If the Church holds back from culture, the Gospel itself falls silent. Therefore, we must be fearless in crossing the cultural threshold of the communications and information revolution now taking place. "Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of the interplay of danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other great periods of change" (ibid.). For the Church, the adventure is to bring the truth of Christ to bear upon this new world, with all its promise and all its searching and questioning. This will especially involve the promotion of a genuinely human ethic which can build communion rather than alienation between individuals (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 43), and solidarity rather than enmity between peoples.

However, the fundamental question is this: "From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard?" (Message for World Communications Day 2002, 6). For in all our planning, we can never forget that Christ is the Good News! We have nothing to offer but Jesus, the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1Tm 2,5). To evangelize is simply to enable him to be seen and heard, for we know that if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man.

Therefore, dear Brothers and Sisters, I urge you, in all your planning, to make room for Christ. In the print media, in radio and television, in the world of cinema and the Internet, seek to open doors to him who so mercifully is the door of salvation for us. Then the mass media will be a world of genuine communication, a world not of illusion but of truth and joy. I pray fervently that this will be so, and I entrust your work to Mary, Mother of the Word made flesh. I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing to all involved in the work of the Pontifical Council, as a pledge of Christ’s presence among you and his power upon all that you do in his name.


Saturday, 2 March 2002

Dear Sisters,

1. As you celebrate your 17th General Congregation in Rome, an especially important event for you, I cordially greet you and invite you to listen with docility to the voice of the Spirit, to discover the ways that will permit you to live today, in creative fidelity to the founding charism, full consecration to the Lord and your mission of unconditional service to the Church.

Moreover, the forthcoming commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the institute must be an extraordinary occasion to give a new impetus to the desire so often repeated by your Mother Foundress, St Rafaela Maria, that the life of each sister might be "woven entirely of faith and generosity". In Rome, where you venerate her relics, may the whisper of her voice, the warmth of her devotion for the Eucharist and the vigour of her burning desire to "make Christ adored by all peoples" guide you in your work and deliberations.

2. In union with the whole Church, you have proposed at this General Congregation to develop directives that will help you "put out into the deep" at the beginning of the third millennium, combining the profound union with the Person of Christ and the contemplation of his mercy, expressed in the highest order in his Sacred Heart, with the responsibility to collaborate intensely with his saving action among the men and women of today. This indispensable interaction between a deep spiritual life and the work of evangelization is particularly important for all consecrated persons with an apostolic outreach, in whom "close union between contemplation and action will allow today as yesterday, the most difficult missions to be undertaken" (Vita consecrata VC 74).

Many of you and your sisters have a vast experience of the problems they meet in carrying out their mission on the four continents where your institute is present. Some of them acquire tragic dimensions, because of danger, conditions of extreme poverty or injustice, while others stem from social environments that are particularly insensitive to the spirit of the Beatitudes to which the sisters are called to give witness (cf. Lumen gentium LG 31). However, occasions are not lacking in which persons and even communities suffer from obstacles to the full identification with their mission, when they are tempted at times by boredom when carrying out activities that are not highly regarded nor in the short-term very productive. In these cases too, the authentic spirit of service must be revived by living joyfully the radical option of seeking and doing God's will before anything else, so characteristic of the Ignatian tradition in which your Institute is founded. "In the cause of the Kingdom, there is no time for looking back, and even less for settling into laziness" (Novo Millennio ineunte NM 15).

For this reason I desire to express to you the gratitude of the Church for your service to evangelization, both through your witness of life and through the activities you carry out in the various sectors of education, the care of spirituality centres, pastoral care of the young and the promotion of the less favoured of society. However, with the gratitude there come the hope and the invitation to develop a new creativity in charity, so necessary for the Church's mission, which is measured not so much by its external newness or apparent effectiveness, as by being in activity, forms and methods true fraternal sharing (cf. Novo Millennio ineunte NM 50).

3. I would like to conclude by entrusting to the Virgin Mary the fruit of your Congregation and the future of your Institute. May she be the model of joyful docility to God's will, proper to his "lowly handmaid" (cf. Lk Lc 1,48), teacher of how to accompany Christ in every moment of his life and mission, even to the Cross (cf. Jn Jn 19,26), and who intercedes in times of difficulty or uncertainty.

With these sentiments and imploring the protection of St Ignatius of Loyola and of St Rafaela Maria, I cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing, which I am happy to extend to all your sisters, Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Speeches 2002