Speeches 2003 - Thursday 15 May 2003



Thursday 15 May 2003

Mr Ambassador,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you to the Vatican as I receive the Letters appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Latvia to the Holy See. Your presence here today evokes vivid memories of my visit to your country ten years ago, when, as "a pilgrim of peace" (Speech at Welcoming Ceremony, Riga, 8 September 1993, 4), I came among the Latvian people not long after the nation had "emerged from a painful human, political and social trial which lasted more than half a century" (ibid., 3). In asking you kindly to convey my greetings to the President, Government and beloved people of Latvia, I also express the fervent hope that your country will continue to make progress along the path of freedom, social unity and peace.

In your remarks, you have referred to the Accord between the Holy See and the Republic of Latvia signed by both parties in 2000. With the ratification of this agreement last year, the Accord has now come into effect and affords a further concrete opportunity to strengthen the good relations existing between us. I am confident that, dealing with matters of common interest to us, particularly with regard to the juridical status and pastoral mission of the Catholic Church in Latvia, the prompt and full application of this Accord will serve to increase the spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation that unites us in our service of the human person. In fact, it is the personal and social vocation of the same human beings that is served both by the Church and by the political community, each in its own particular sphere and with its own particular competence. For man is not restricted to temporal realities: although he lives in a specific period of history, he is called to transcendence and is destined for eternity. It is this high calling and this final destiny which must inform and shape the social, economic and political undertakings of individuals, peoples and nations.

Catholic social teaching, inspired by the universal principles ensuring justice and peace between individuals and groups, recognizes the positive role played in the life of a nation by political and economic forces. But if progress is to be genuine, these forces must be carefully subordinated to the greater ethical demands of social justice, human rights and the common good. In this way, human dignity will be defended, solidarity between individuals and groups will be encouraged, social harmony and prosperity will be fostered. In short, "the material and spiritual well-being of humanity, the protection of the freedom and rights of the human person, selfless public service, closeness to concrete conditions: all of these take precedence over every political project and constitute a moral necessity which in itself is the best guarantee of peace within nations and peace between States" (Speech to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 13 January 2003, 6).

The values of which we are speaking here are no stranger to your country: ever since the twelfth century, when Saint Meinhard, the Apostle of Latvia, preached the Gospel in your land, these ideals have been woven into the very fabric of your national life. They must be ever strengthened and fostered as Latvia continues its journey into the Third Millennium and as your nation prepares to become a full-fledged member of an enlarged European Union. In this regard, I am pleased by your observation on the profound impact that Christianity has had on European history and culture. Indeed, Christianity holds a unique claim to a privileged position among the values that will forge and give cohesion to a new Europe: for "a Europe which disavowed its past, which denied the fact of religion, and which had no spiritual dimension would be extremely impoverished in the face of the ambitious project which calls upon all its energies: constructing a Europe for all" (ibid., 5).

It is for this reason that the Holy See urges that the future Constitutional Treaty of the European Union should contain in the Preamble explicit reference to religion and to the Christian heritage of Europe. It would in fact seem desirable that, in full respect for the secular state, this Constitution should recognize three complementary elements: first, the importance of religious freedom, not only in its individual and collective aspects, but also in its institutional dimension; second, the need for dialogue and consultation between the European Union and communities of believers; third, respect for the juridical status already enjoyed by Churches and religious institutions within member States of the Union. These three interrelated principles will enable religion in general and Christianity in particular to continue to make an irreplaceable contribution to European life and institutions.

Of course, essential to any programme of authentic progress and integral human development, whether in Europe or elsewhere, is the family. In the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights the family is recognized as "the natural and fundamental group unit of society", and this same document states unequivocally that the family "is entitled to protection by society and the State" (Article 16.3). This is an essential truth of human social existence which must not be overlooked or underestimated, for any weakening of this indispensable institution cannot fail to be a potential source of grave difficulties and problems. For example, when a utilitarian and materialistic notion of the family prevails, its members will tend to have self-centred expectations and to make individualistic demands that are detrimental to the family’s unity and undermine its ability to build harmony and educate in solidarity. On the other hand, where the family is seen as a value in itself, the members realize that their personal good coincides with their duty to love, respect and help one other.

The same is true of human life itself and of individual human beings. When the value, dignity and rights of the human person are upheld and promoted, the social fabric is strengthened and the priorities of peoples and nations are set in proper order. This is why the Church will never tire of reminding consciences that life at every stage of its existence, from conception to natural death, must be rigorously and uncompromisingly defended. Likewise, the human person at all stages of life — during childhood, as an adult and in old age — is a priceless treasure to be cared for and cherished. Neither human life nor the human person can ever legitimately be treated as an object, as a possession, but must be seen as endowed by the Creator with a most sublime dignity that demands the greatest respect and vigilance on the part of individuals, communities, nations and international bodies.

Mr Ambassador, I am confident that the bonds of friendship that unite the Holy See and the Republic of Latvia will grow ever stronger and will prove helpful in laying the Christian foundation upon which the Europe of the Third Millennium is to be built. As you begin your mission I assure you that the various offices of the Roman Curia are ready to offer whatever assistance you may need in carrying out your high responsibilities. Upon yourself and the beloved people of Latvia I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.



Thursday 15 May 2003

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of the Fiji Islands to the Holy See. I reciprocate most cordially the greetings and good wishes which you have brought from President Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda and from all the people of Fiji. My stay in your country in 1986, and the warm welcome which I received, are among my most cherished memories of my Pastoral Visit to Oceania. I take this occasion to assure you of my constant prayers for your nation as it strives to build a harmonious and unified society marked by authentic pluralism and full respect for the racial, cultural and religious diversity of its members.

You have frankly mentioned the difficulties which led to the political crisis of May 2000 and the resolute will of the people of Fiji to make their differences a source of mutual enrichment rather than a motive for division and contention. The efforts which your nation has made to confront the real challenges to national unity in a spirit of honesty, dialogue and constructive cooperation are positive signs of a readiness to look to the future with confidence and determination. At the time of my Pastoral Visit, I encouraged all Fijians "to pursue the paths of creative dialogue and mutual understanding" as a means of growing in brotherhood and forging a shared identity (Homily in Suva, 21 November 1986). Precisely this kind of "creativity" – based on a persevering commitment to accepting and appreciating the real differences separating the various elements of Fijian society within the broader context of national unity, constitutional legality and justice under law – must undergird the specific political decisions facing your nation’s leaders. Clearly, in the end, the arduous task of building a social order respectful of legitimate diversities within a shared identity and a commitment to the common good cannot be limited to legislative measures alone, for these would prove ineffectual unless they were grounded first and foremost in the consciousness and in the lived ethos of the population (cf. Message for the 2001 World Day of Peace, No. 15).

In a rapidly changing global order, I am convinced that multi-cultural and multi-religious societies like Fiji have much to offer to other nations, since they can assist the wider international community in developing new global models of unity within diversity. A sustained commitment to dialogue between different religions, cultures and traditions is in fact "the obligatory path to the building of a reconciled world, a world able to look with serenity to its own future" (ibid., No. 3). Despite daunting challenges and at times heated confrontations, dialogue remains a moral imperative and the only sure means of forging genuine and lasting convergence based on mutual respect and cooperation. Commitment to the path of dialogue is ultimately based on the profound conviction that, beyond our many differences, all of us share an underlying unity born of our being children of God and members of the one human family. All cultures, in their rich variety and distinctive features, are ultimately dynamic, historical expressions of this fundamental unity. As the people of Fiji look to the future, I am confident that they will discover the deepest foundations for their national identity precisely to the extent that they acknowledge and defend those transcendent truths and values which unite all men and women of good will: respect for the dignity of each human being and the protection of fundamental human rights; solidarity between individuals and peoples; and the promotion of justice, without which there can be no authentic freedom or lasting peace.

Allow me to assure you, Mr Ambassador, of the desire of Fiji’s Catholic community to contribute to the work of reconciliation and national unity by their practical witness to the Gospel. Through their outreach in the fields of education and health care, and their service to the poor, the Catholics of Fiji seek to put into practice the evangelical message of love of neighbour and to be a leaven of divine mercy within society. In her preaching and ministry the Church is likewise committed to eliminating the causes of racial, social and religious conflict, promoting a just resolution of the complex legal and ethical issues involving land ownership and use, and fostering a serene and respectful dialogue between the various elements of Fijian society. It is my hope that, together with their brothers and sisters of other Christian denominations, and in a spirit of cooperation with all people of good will, the Catholics of Fiji will continue to serve the common good by serving as peacemakers and builders of solidarity among individuals, families and the greater national community.

Your Excellency, I express to you once more my deep affection for the people of Fiji and my confidence in their capacity to lay the foundations for a harmonious and prosperous society to bequeath to future generations. With prayerful good wishes for the work you now undertake in the service of the nation, I assure you of the constant readiness of the offices of the Holy See to assist you in the fulfilment of your duties. Upon you and your family, and upon all your fellow-citizens, I cordially invoke the divine blessings of wisdom, strength and peace.



Thursday, 15 May 2003

Mr Ambassador,

Welcome to the Vatican, where I have the pleasure of meeting you, Your Excellency, on the occasion of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Burundi to the Holy See.

Thank you for your courteous words. Your accredition to the Holy See occurs at the very moment when your country, implementing the Arusha Declaration, is embarking on a new stage in its journey towards renconciliation and the establishment of peace. I would be grateful if you would convey to those responsible for the nation's future and to all its inhabitants my fervent good wishes for the Authorities and for all Burundians, so that, whatever their social background, they may more and more clearly express their effective commitment to the process under way. May all the inhabitants of the country work courageously to achieve a lasting peace founded on justice and forgiveness, so that they can live in safety in their own land. It is the common patrimony of all Burundians, in which all are called to recognize one another as brothers and sisters!

You have just stressed, Mr Ambassador, that the need to arrive at a definitive and permanent ceasefire is a necessary prerequisite for peace in your country. Hatred and violence have caused too much suffering and are still stirring up too much resentment. The agreements concluded between the Government and the majority of the armed groups witness to the progress that can be achieved when paths of constructive dialogue and consultation are followed. The agreements have also restored the confidence of the international community which has begun to give active support to the process under way. They have also inspired great hope among the Burundian people, scarred by years of conflict. It is important today, therefore, not to disappoint this hope but to reinforce it. To do this, it is the task of political leaders first of all to demonstrate their sincere desire to have the ceasefire agreement respected and to enforce it. This will be impossible without a proper conception of the exercise of authority marked, in particular, by disinterested service to the national community and the common good, by rectitude in the responsibilities entrusted to them, and by concern to protect the civilian population and ensure that its rights are respected, as well as involving all Burundians in the cause of the nation. These values, which take priority over any political programme, are an ethical requirement which is the best way to guarantee the internal peace of nations and peace between States. They will protect them from ethnic conflicts and from caprice and corruption, as I reminded the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See last 13 January (cf. n. 5).

The consolidation of national unity requires all the members of the nation to take part in the process under way, to set up stable institutions primarily to guarantee social harmony. For this, it is necessary to persevere in dialogue with all the groups present, in order not to enter into a logic of exclusion that exacerbates antagonism and leads to violence. In this perspective, it also seems necessary to implement, in conformity with the Agreements, adequate measures to enable all the inhabitants of the country, whatever their political, ethnic or religious affiliation, to benefit from the necesssary means of subsistence, which will lead each one to respect the good of the others and, especially, of the civilian population.

You mention, Mr Ambassador, the heritage of human, cultural and spiritual values which your country possesses. These values are a precious heritage, thanks to which Burundi, learning constructively from the lessons of the past, can work to build a new form of coexistence in an increasingly reconciled society with ever greater solidarity, careful to trace the path of a future of peace and hope for the new generation. The Catholic Church has been present in Burundi since 1898. She continues today to spare no effort to enlighten hearts and consciences about the need to work for peace and reconciliation, and to put all the wealth of her experience at the service of the integral development of individuals and of society as a whole. By her presence in the areas of education, health care, and social and charitable assistance, she hopes to contribute to building Burundian society, while enabling all the country's inhabitants to participate in the human and spiritual progress of all, helping them to be increasingly involved in their own development. She knows from experience that a country's development depends on a better and better formation and on human, moral and spiritual education.

Please allow me, Mr Ambassador, through you, to give a warm greeting to the Catholic community of Burundi and its Bishops. I ask them all never to despair as they face the immense task that awaits them. In this Easter Season, they know that on the Cross of Christ all the works of death were nailed: fear of others, selfishness, violence and hatred. I encourage them to remain watchmen of hope and actors of reconciliation, careful to bring the Gospel of Life wherever the "pillars of peace" are unsteady: truth, justice, love and freedom (cf. Message for World Day of Peace 2003, n. 4).

As you are starting your mission to the Apostolic See, I offer you my best wishes for its success. Rest assured that you will find here with my collaborators the attentive and understanding welcome you may need.

Upon you, Your Excellency, upon the persons who surround you, upon the people of Burundi and upon those who preside over their destiny, I cordially invoke an abundance of divine Blessings.



Thursday 15 May 2003

Your Excellency,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Vatican at the beginning of your mission as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Georgia to the Holy See. My visit to your country in 1999 was a particular joy for me. I fondly recall the warmth with which I was received and the fervent ecumenical spirit in which I was able to share. I would ask you kindly to convey to His Excellency President Shevardnadze, and to the Government and people of your noble land, my gratitude for their good wishes, which I reciprocate, and to assure them of my prayers for the nation’s peace and well-being.

The ideals of peace, freedom and justice to which you poignantly refer are essential and interdependent components of genuine progress in any nation. Authentic development must not however become detached from its intrinsic connection with human rights (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis SRS 33). As the people of Georgia know only too well, when these rights – rooted in the very nature of the human person – are denied, not only is the economic growth of a nation thwarted but the culture itself is undermined and the spirit of the people stifled. Nevertheless, in spite of the various forms of oppression that Georgia has suffered, the identity and unity of the nation have survived and today are flourishing anew.

As Georgia continues to engage in the delicate task of shaping its national spirit, it should constantly be borne in mind that human development cannot be reduced solely to economic elements. The "mere accumulation of goods and services, even for the benefit of the majority, is not enough for the realization of human happiness" (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis SRS 28). Indeed, the experience of history shows that no matter what the dominant political ideology may be, unless the laws and institutions of civic life are guided by an orientation towards the true good of the human person, hallmarks of so-called economic liberation can in fact mask injustices of increasing poverty and social fragmentation. In the face of such inequalities, usually caused by the exclusion of the weakest members of society from access to resources and services intended for all, we are reminded that the gifts we receive from God are given in order that we may make them more fruitful (cf. Mt Mt 25,26-28). Thus it is in accordance with the will of God the Creator that we must commit ourselves to working together for the full development of others: development of the whole human being and of all people (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis SRS 30).

Christianity has made profound contributions to Georgia in the past. It must do likewise in the present and future. Since the preaching of Saint Nino in the early fourth century, Christianity has found expression in Georgian culture and has safeguarded the nation’s identity which has been so often threatened. For this reason I said during my visit to your country that faith in Jesus Christ is Georgia’s "true anchor" (Arrival Speech, Tbilisi, 8 November 1999). This faith, which has held together the nation’s resolute aspirations to unity, has been recorded and celebrated in numerous ways through Georgia’s great spiritual heritage. Most importantly, this heritage has steadfastly preserved the great treasure of a unified and comprehensive notion of the human person and his destiny. With such resources Georgia can make an important contribution to the stability of the region. Situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it is in a unique position to inspire a new culture of the spirit witnessing to a civilization of love sustained by the message of the Gospel.

The cooperation and example of the Christian Churches is crucial to the attainment of national unity necessary for Georgia to take its rightful place in the new Europe. Faithful to the will of the Lord who desired all his disciples to be one (cf. Jn Jn 17,21), Georgian Christians must tirelessly strive to be united in common witness to him and his Gospel. This demands that the ecumenical dialogue between Churches, the theological progress of which cannot be underestimated, must be further enhanced by practical gestures of generosity and justice, especially in regard to the right of freedom of conscience expressed most sublimely in freedom of worship. It is fidelity to truth and charity which renders anomalous, indeed even contradictory, any obstacles placed in the path of genuine religious worship and the preservation of cultural patrimony associated with it. In this regard, I am confident that the recent statement of President Shevardnadze about religious intolerance echoes the thoughts of all men and women of goodwill.

Mr Ambassador, I thank you for your gracious words of appreciation for what the Catholic Church is doing for the people of Georgia through her humanitarian organizations assisting vulnerable groups. The Church’s charitable mission of service to all peoples, particularly the poor and suffering, stands at the heart of her witness to Christ’s all-encompassing love. It is her ardent desire to extend where possible her "commitment to practical and concrete love for every human being" (Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 49). Christian charity however is always more than simply humanitarian aid. For the Catholic Church, her acts of charity are inextricably linked to the celebration of the Eucharist from which she draws the spiritual power needed to sustain the life of her people and carry out her mission (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia EE 22). And so, as the small Catholic community in Georgia continues to gather together to worship the Lord, so too her service of unconditional love to all Georgians will prosper, bringing gestures of peace and hope to the most needful of your nation.

Your Excellency, I am confident that the diplomatic mission which you begin today will further strengthen the bonds of understanding and cooperation existing between the Republic of Georgia and the Holy See. I assure you that the various offices of the Roman Curia are willing to assist you in the fulfilment of your duties. With my sincere good wishes, I invoke upon you, your family and all the people of Georgia, the blessings of Almighty God.



Thursday, 15 May 2003

Mr Ambassador,

I welcome with pleasure Your Excellency on the occasion of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as the first Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Vanuatu to the Holy See.

The words you have just addressed to me, for which I am deeply grateful, witness to the interest of your country's Authorities in developing relations of esteem and respect between the Republic of Vanuatu and the Apostolic See. Through you, I would like to present to H.E. President John Bennett Bani my best wishes for himself and for the accomplishment of his important responsibility at the service of the nation. I also thank H.E. Mr Edward N. Natapei, Prime Minister, for the respectful greetings with which he has honoured me. Lastly, I greet with affection all the people of Vanuatu.

You mentioned, Mr Ambassador, the rich historical patrimony of the Archipelago of Vanuatu and its special position in Oceania, factors that have shaped the nation and made it a multicultural society in which men and women today are eager to build a fraternal society in the vast diversity of their national origins, languages, forms of religious expression and the values that motivate them.

May the leaders of your young Republic persevere in ensuring that this beautiful diversity is increasingly put at the service of national unity and is expressed in political and social life, so that all the citizens may exercise their legitimate rights and take part in the political decisions that guide their common life!

The path of a truly fruitful "coexistence" originates in the patiently shared concern to build a nation in which the particular features of each one serve the common good, in which the sincere desire to build a united world is expressed visibly in the choices and orientations of society and in which the desire to work without respite for justice and equity takes into account the aspirations of all the country's inhabitants and gives priority to the most deprived. This cannot be achieved without a real effort for the proper respect of persons and resources, a just division of wealth and responsiblities, as well as the constant concern to preserve the environment and natural resources. I am certain that the efforts which the people of Vanuatu and its leaders are already making, with a view to the integral development of all the citizens and the strengthening of solidarity among them all, will come to fruition. In this way the Republic of Vanuatu will also take part in the construction and consolidation of harmony throughout the region.

I appreciated, Mr Ambassador, your country's openness to matters concerning the life of the world, and its desire to take an active part in the activity of the international community.

This desire witnesses to a political and human maturity which clearly perceives a nation's vocation to contribute to a new international stability. At a time when deadly conflicts are continuing to fuel violence and undermine world balances, it is the task of all nations, without exception, to take up the challenge of peace and to spare no effort to achieve a durable, effective peace in the world. No one can be excluded from this effort. Indeed, it is essential to recognize the role that all nations play, whatever their importance on the world stage, in the growth and happiness of all and in the permanent struggle to combat the scourges that threaten the survival of humanity, the tranquility of individuals and the security of societies (cf. Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 2003; ORE, 15 January 2003, PP 3-4). I therefore invite the international community to encourage and appreciate the efforts of the smaller nations to take part in building peace, so essential to the human and spiritual growth of the world. I also hope that the development of cultural and commercial relations, which the Republic of Vanuatu already has with other nations or with international organizations, will in turn encourage in your country economic progress and social justice, essential conditions for serving the material and spiritual well-being of its population.

In a spirit of dialogue and fraternal collaboration, the Catholic Church in your country, in her own province and in accordance with her own vocation, intends, through the commitment of her members, to play an active role in this integral development of individuals. By putting herself at the service of one and all in a wide range of areas, such as health care, social and charitable activities and especially education, she is determined to encourage the progress of justice and friendly co-existence. She is set on respect for freedom and for the convictions of each one and hopes to pursue a serene and respectful dialogue with all the human and religious communities present in the archipelago, thereby fulfilling the mission she has received from Christ. She rejects all forms of division and opposition which endanger the pursuit of the common good, knowing she is called to work with passion to build a true "civilization of love".

Through you, Mr Ambassador, may I be permitted to greet the Catholic community present in your country, and in particular its Pastor, Bishop Michel Visi of Port-Vila. May Pastors and faithful walk the way of Christ, telling his truth and living his life, so that the peoples of the Pacific, struggling to gain unity and identity, may be more and more motivated by deep concern for peace, justice and respect for the integrity of creation! (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Oceania, n. 8).

At the time when you are beginning your mission to the Apostolic See, I offer you my best wishes for its successful accomplishment. Rest assured that with my collaborators you will always find the attentive and understanding welcome you may need.

Upon you, Your Excellency, upon your family and upon all the people of Vanuatu and its leaders, I cordially invoke an abundance of divine Blessings.



Thursday 15 May 2003

Mr Ambassador,

I welcome you with pleasure, Your Excellency, on this solemn occasion of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Moldova to the Holy See.

I was touched by your words to me, and I would be grateful if you would convey my greetings to President Vladimir Voronine. I greet all the Moldovan people very cordially, and I express fervent wishes that by working for solidarity and harmony among all the nation's members, they will find the way to true human and spiritual fulfilment.

I thank you for the presentation of the situation in your country, independent since 1991, which is endeavouring to find its place in Europe and in the symphony of nations.

After the tragic experience of two world wars in the century that has just ended, the millennium which is beginning has been unable to avoid either the unleashing of terrorism or the recourse to war. As I recalled in my Message for World Day of Peace 2003, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Pacem in Terris, the Encyclical of my blessed Predecessor Pope John XXIII, the building of peace is a long-term task that is never concluded, and relies on "the four precise requirements of the human spirit: truth, justice, love and freedom" (n. 3). That is why it must mobilize the energies of the political leaders of nations to combat terrorism and its blind violence, to denounce the weapons trade and military rivalry, but also to encourage reconciliation between people in all places where hotbeds of tension are found. "Honest, patient negotiations which respect the rights and aspirations of all involved can lead to a peaceful resolution of even highly complex situations" (Message on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the End of the Second World War, n. 9); it is always preferable to war and to all the evils it can give rise to, as we see only too often.

In union with all partners of good will, the Holy See intends to make a contribution to the unity of the European Continent, so that the peoples of which it consists may develop harmoniously, in mutual cooperation and respect, to enable each one to benefit from the fruits of peace and development.

Mr Ambassador, you emphasized how committed your nation is to the European values as well as to its Christian roots, and expressed your gratitude to the Catholic Church for her support in the consolidation of peace and, in particular, her assistance in the efforts for a peaceful resolution of the conflicts and her action promoting human rights. I am impressed by this attention.

The Church bases her commitment to man and his dignity on the Revelation of which she is the guardian. Indeed, biblical tradition teaches that man is created in the image of God, brought to life by the divine breath and capable, despite the wound of sin, of acting freely with a view to good (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 17). It is in the light of this conviction of faith, and with the wisdom of experience that comes from the lessons of history, that the Church has learned to consider human life "as the most sacred and inviolable earthly reality" (Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2001, n. 19). Our duty is to defend and respect it. Therefore, at the beginning of this new millennium, the Catholic Church intends to encourage men and women to build a civilization of love that gives priority to the values of convergence between individuals and cultures as well as to dialogue between the protagonists of civil society.

To build a truly human society that honours the dignity of each individual and permits authentic dialogue among all its members, it is necessary to give proper training to citizens, especially the youth. It is education that will enable them to acquire true humanism open to the ethical and religious dimensions, to a correct concept of democracy and of human rights, and to knowledge and respect for the cultures and spiritual values of the different civilizations. I express the wish that the leaders of nations and the persons who participate in this noble educational mission may be imbued with a spirit of service to humanity.

Mr Ambassador, on this solemn occasion, I am pleased, through you, to greet the members of the Catholic community of Moldova. Gathered round their Bishops and the priests who serve them, they show true dynamism, and I know that they maintain fraternal relations with the members of the other Churches and ecclesial communities. May they keep alive their desire for Christian unity and contribute to it with their initiatives! The Catholic community also has good relations with the civil Authorities which delights me; I hope that through their active participation in the life of the country and their solidarity with the poorest, Catholics will feel ever greater joy in serving and sharing, thus cooperating in the human and spiritual development of their country.

At the time when you are inaugurating your mission to the Holy See, I offer you my fervent good wishes for the accomplishment of your mission. I would also like to assure you of the cordial and attentive support you will always find here in my collaborators.

I cordially invoke upon you, Your Excellency, and upon your family, as well as upon the Moldovan people and their leaders, an abundance of divine Blessings.

Speeches 2003 - Thursday 15 May 2003