Speeches 2003



Saturday, 23 August 2003

1. I welcome all of you, dear pilgrims, whom I have the joy of meeting today.

I salute in particular the faithful of the Parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in Miane, Diocese of Vittorio Veneto. Beloved, the thought of your beautiful land recalls that of my Venerable Predecessor John Paul I. He loved the parish of Miane, and I, too, am bound to your community by deep affection. Thank you for this visit!

I bless with pleasure the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with the crowns of the Virgin and of the Infant Jesus that you have brought with you. I wish to express to you my appreciation for taking the initiative to recite the Rosary during this Year dedicated to it: I encourage all of you - families, young people and the elderly - to contemplate diligently with Mary the face of Christ, in order to be always his faithful disciples and witnesses.

I also salute the group of the Salesian Youth Movement of Triveneto. Your presence, dear young people, offers me the occasion to say once again how up-to-date Don Bosco's charism and message are, especially for the new generations. The Salesian spirit, in fact, helps young people to understand that the Gospel is the inexorable font of life and joy. You too must live this wonderful reality: at the school of Don Bosco, always be happy, generous and courageous in fighting evil with good, builders of hope and of peace in every area of life.

I affectionately salute the Commandant and the Police of the Company of Castel Gandolfo, who generously lend service to the Pontifical Villas all year round.

I am likewise eager to greet the Delegation for the Pastoral Care of Youth of the Italian Bishops' Conference, which is on pilgrimage these days to the Cross of Adamello. Thank you for your generosity.

To Spanish-speaking pilgrims

2. I salute with affection Bishop Jaume Traserra Cunillera of Solsona, and the priests and young people who have made the pilgrimage here from Rome to Assisi. Dear young people: Have no fear! Walk with the Spirit on the road of vocational discernment. I know that in your hearts there is a deep desire to generously serve the Lord and your brothers. May the love of the Virgin Mary and my cordial Blessing always accompany you.

3. Let us now turn our gaze to the holy Virgin, who yesterday we venerated under the fine title of "Queen". May Mary, the "servant of the Lord", make us always more aware that the true way to reign is to serve. May she also obtain that we render our service to God and neighbour joyfully. With this wish, I thank you again for your visit and I affectionately bless you all.

To Polish-speaking pilgrims

4. I cordially greet the pilgrims from Katowice, from the parish of the Cathedral of Christ the King.
I know you have come for the 25th anniversary of the pontificate. I thank you for your delicacy and good will. And I shall remember that in the past quarter of a century the Pope visited your cathedral on a certain day. I remember that meeting with the sick and the disabled workers some 20 years ago. I also recall the meeting with the citizens of Silesia at the aerodrome. I join you in thanking God for these meetings and for all the fruit they produced. And I am praying for Silesia because I know numerous difficulties beset that region and many are enduring hardship due to unemployment and a bread shortage. I hope that with God's help, the needs of the people who are facing such hard work can soon be met.

I impart a heartfelt blessing to you and your loved ones. Szczesc Boze! (May God help you!).






To Bishop Mariano De Nicolò of Rimini
Your Excellency,

This year too, the Holy Father wishes to send his cordial greetings to you, to the organizers and to all who are taking part in the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples.

1. The theme chosen for the Meeting in 2003 is a verse from Psalm 34[33]: 12: "What man is there who desires life, and covets days, that he may enjoy good?". This question calls for thought. Man passes long periods of his life almost unaware of the call to true happiness, which nevertheless dwells in his conscience; he is, as it were, "distracted" by multifarious contacts with reality, and it seems that his inner ear is no longer receptive.

Isaiah's words spring to mind: "There is no one that calls upon your name, that bestirs up himself to take hold of you; for you have hid your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquities" (Is 64,7). The prophet brings into the limelight the root of the suffering caused by the question the Psalm asks and continues: "I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me: I said, "Here am I, here am I', to a nation that did not call on my name" (Is 65,1).

These words of the Prophet Isaiah are perhaps the best counterpoint to the theme of the Meeting: God shows he is alive, he shakes man who has withdrawn into himself and is confused by his own wickedness, God makes himself present, time and again, seeking to catch man's attention. God's persistence, which shows itself lovingly to a child whose life is adrift, is a moving mystery of mercy and gratuitousness.

2. The world that humanity has constructed, especially in the most recent centuries, often tends to blur people's natural desire for happiness, increasing the "distraction" into which they risk falling through their intrinsic weakness. Contemporary society gives priority to the kind of desire that can be controlled in accordance with psychological and sociological laws; therefore, it is frequently exploited for profit or for the manipulation of opinion. A series of desires has replaced the yearning that God instilled in human persons to spur them onwards, so that they might seek him and in him alone find fulfilment and peace. Wishful inclinations, directed by powerful means that can influence consciences, become centrifugal forces that push the human being further and further away from himself, making him dissatisfied and sometimes even violent.

The 2003 Meeting in Rimini proposes anew a theme that is ever timely: the human creature, who is motivated by this desire for infinite fulfilment, can never be reduced to a means for achieving any kind of personal interest. The imprint of the divine, which here takes the form of a yearning for happiness, means that the very nature of the human being prohibits exploitation.

3. The uneasiness, therefore, aroused by the question in Psalm 34[33] stems from the fact that man often does not muster the strength to say: "I! I am a man who wants life and happy days!". The theme of the Meeting demands a reaction: people must regain the energy and courage to stand before God to say in answer to the Lord's "Here am I, here am I" - albeit, faintly echoing it - "I am here, too. I entreat you, now that you have found me again".

This response to God, who shouts until he penetrates our deafness, describes the awareness, full of feeling, which the person achieves in his innermost depths. This happens the very moment that God's call succeeds in dispelling the clouds wrapped around one's conscience. This response alone: "Here I am", restores to man his true face and marks the beginning of his redemption.

However, the person must be supported by an appropriate education that tends, as an end in itself, to encourage the reawakening within him of a consciousness of his own end, and stirs in his heart the energies he needs to achieve it. Education, therefore, is never addressed to the masses, but to the individual with his or her own unique and unrepeatable features. This implies a sincere love for human freedom and a tireless commitment to the defence of human beings.

4. With this year's theme, the Meeting also reminds the peoples of Europe, who seem to be vacillating under the burden of their history, where their roots are. By repeating the question of the Psalm, this Rimini event vividly calls to mind the great figure of St Benedict in the act of receiving those who asked to enter the monastery (cf. Rule, Prologue, 15). In addition to being a journey of Christian perfection, Benedict's Rule has proven to be an unparalleled means of civilization, unity and freedom. For centuries, often marked by confusion and violence, it enabled ramparts to be built, thanks to which men and women of different times in history were led back to the complete awareness of their dignity. The future should be built by returning to the origins of Europe, treasuring its past experiences, most of which were marked by the encounter with Christ.

His Holiness hopes that the Meeting will be an opportunity for true cultural and spiritual growth, assures you of his prayers and cordially imparts a special Apostolic Blessing to all who are taking part in the various events on the programme.

I too offer you my best wishes that this noble initiative will be a great success, and very gladly confirm, together with my high esteem, that I remain yours devotedly in the Lord
Cardinal Angelo Sodano

Secretary of State



Dear Ursuline Sisters of Mary Immaculate,

1. I am pleased to address an affectionate greeting to the Superior General and to the Sisters who have convened in Rome for the General Chapter of your meritorious Institute. I wish, moreover, to embrace all your Sisters who work in Italy, India, Brazil and on the African Continent. I send them a cordial thought, confirmed by the assurance of a special remembrance in my prayers, so that each Ursuline of Mary Immaculate may follow the poor, chaste and obedient Christ with joy and with fidelity, and dedicate herself totally to the service of others.

The Chapter Assembly represents a privileged occasion of prayer, reflection and discernment in order to determine together guidelines better adapted to the future of the Congregation. It is a propitious time in order to renew one's commitment to a generous, personal and communitarian response to the call of God.

The Chapter theme is a particularly stimulating and topical one: "The Ursulines of Mary Immaculate confront the challenges of a world in continuing evolution and - renewed - entrust themselves to the Mission of the Church".It reminds you to live your mission in full harmony with the Church, remaining solidly united to Christ and responsible for responding courageously to the challenges of the third millennium.

Be aware, dear Sisters, that as related in a recent Instruction by the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, "In imitation of Jesus, those whom God calls to follow him are consecrated and invited to continue his mission in the world. Indeed, consecrated life itself, guided by the action of the Holy Spirit, becomes a mission" (Starting Afresh from Christ, n. 9).

2. In the first half of the 17th century, your Foundress gave life at Piacenza to an Institute to serve those in need. Maintaining intact your charism, commit yourselves to fulfil ever better your Congregation's apostolate, so that you may respond fully to the exigencies of our times. You are called to be "contemplatives in action", ready, in other words, to respond to the needs of persons, especially youth, and at the same time testifying to the urgency of a profound spirituality, renewed in its methods and forms but faithful to the spirit of your origins.

Imitate the unshakeable faith of Bl. Brigida of Jesus Morello, whom I had the joy of elevating to the glory of the altars five years ago. As I recalled on that happy occasion, in her example and in her teachings shines "a constant invitation to trust in God. She loved to repeat, "Trust, trust, great heart! God is our Father and will never abandon us!'" (ORE, 18 March 1998, n. 3, p. 12). The secret of the apostolate consists precisely in knowing that "we have not loved God, but that he has loved us and has sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1Jn 4,10).

3. Contemplating Christ crucified and risen - the heart of the spirituality of Bl. Brigida Morello - will expand the horizons of your dedication to the poor, to the sick and to those reduced to the most stringent material and spiritual need, with particular attention to women and to youth. Thus, you will faithfully safeguard the inheritance the blessed Foundress has left you, her spiritual daughters, and you will be ready to adapt the charismatic inspiration to our time, stressing above all who you "are" before what you "do".

With these sentiments and wishes, while I assure you of a constant remembrance in prayer, I impart from the heart to each one of you and to all your Communities across the world a special Apostolic Blessing, that I willingly extend to those dear persons and to those who are the subjects of your apostolic care.

From Castel Gandolfo, 27 August 2003





To His Eminence Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe
Prefect of the Congregration for the Evangelization of Peoples

1. With great joy I write to you, Venerable Brother, as you prepare to visit for the second time the young Christian community which dwells in the vast Asian country of Mongolia, rich in history and cultural traditions.

Last July you visited Ulaanbaatar, the capital of the Mongolian nation, in order to celebrate the the tenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the Holy See and to highlight the lively presence in the region of a Christian community of relatively recent foundation. Although the first evangelization of Mongolia was due to the arrival of Nestorians from Persia in the seventh century, it was only in the first half of the twentieth century that a mission in that distant region was entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The pro-Communist regime of the time at first prevented the missionaries from entering the region. With the end of the Communist dictatorship the doors were finally opened to the Gospel, and from 1991 on the first evangelizers began to arrive: priests, men and women religious, and laypersons actively engaged in the "Lord's vineyard."

To demonstrate the fruitful and positive advances made in this decade, last year witnessed two events fundamental for the life of the Church: the elevation of the Mission sui iuris of Urga, Ulanbator to the rank of Apostolic Prefecture with the new name of Ulaanbaatar, and the subsequent appointment of the first Apostolic Prefect in the person of the Reverend Father Wenceslaw Padilla, C.I.C.M., as well as the first ordination of three priests and a deacon who, while not natives of the country, consider Mongolia as their adopted homeland. They represent a promising sign of hope for the future of the local ecclesial community.

2. Your Eminence's return to that beloved land a little more than a year later is prompted by two other no less important and happy events: the episcopal ordination of the Apostolic Prefect and the blessing of the Cathedral Church dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul. These events consolidate the spiritual edifice being built up by the "little flock" of a young missionary Church which is growing in confidence, sustained by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.

I would dearly have liked to be present in person for these significant and historic liturgical celebrations. Since this was not part of the Lord's plan, I now entrust you with the responsibility of conveying my paternal and affectionate greetings to the new Bishop in that chosen portion of the People of God, to the other Bishops, and in a special way to Archbishop Giovanni Battista Morandini, Apostolic Nuncio in Mongolia and Apostolic Administrator. My greetings also go to the priests, the women religious, the other pastoral agents and those engaged in different charitable and humanitarian activities. I also offer a cordial greeting to all the members of the Catholic community, the baptized, the catechumens and the "sympathizers", especially the children, adolescents and young adults, who are the future and the hope of the Church and the society of that noble country.

Finally, I ask you to present my respectful greetings to the Authorities and to all the Mongolian people, who are ever close to my heart, as well as to the representatives of the various religions, with which the Catholic Church hopes to cooperate in fruitful service to the common good. I assure everyone of a special remembrance in my prayers, and I ask Almighty God to bless the efforts being made to spread his Kingdom.

3. To Mary, Mother and Queen of Mongolia, I entrust the expectations and the hopes of the Church and the Mongolian nation, having emerged from the long winter of the Communist oppression may they look to the future with renewed confidence.

May the light of Christ accompany everyone along the journey which lies ahead. I willingly seal these good wishes with my special Apostolic Blessing which I now entrust to you, Venerable Brother, as my special representative.

From Castel Gandolfo, 22 August 2003




Castel Gandolfo

Saturday, 30 August 2003

Your Beatitude,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I welcome you with great joy. You have just completed your ad limina visit by praying at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, united witnesses of fidelity to Christ to the point of spilling their blood, and by coming to show your communion with the Successor of Peter. I thank your Patriarch, H.B. Cardinal Stéphanos II Ghattas, for his kind words enabling me to share in your joys, difficulties and hopes as Pastors. I am particularly pleased to greet those of you who are taking part for the first time in this rich experience of communion in the faith and in service to the Lord. I thank God with you for all the Christian communities in Egypt, heirs to the first proclamation of the Gospel by St Mark. I remember with joy and emotion my Jubilee pilgrimage to Cairo and to the Monastery of St Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai; one understands better there the unique roots of Christian revelation in this part of the world and its intrinsic link with the Old Testament.

2. At the beginning of our meeting, I would like to encourage you in your specific mission as Pastors. You have become Bishops by sacramental ordination, successors of the Apostles and primarily responsible, together with the Successor of Peter, for the proclamation of the Good News to the whole world. I know how much you have at heart to make the communities entrusted to your care living communities that are authentic witnesses of the Gospel "in deed and in truth", as St John invites us to be (1Jn 3,18). In the heart of Egyptian society, so rich in history and culture and strongly marked by the presence of Islam, you know that the most important witness is that of daily life, centred on the twofold commandment of love of God and love of neighbour. Together with the priests, the men and women Religious and all the laypeople who live immersed in the world, you want to witness to everyone to the greatness and beauty of human life, called to serve the glory of its Creator and one day to share it, in the joy of the world to come. At the beginning of the third millennium the mission field is wide open to the Church, which desires to be the voice of the lowly and the poor, to hear the call of all who aspire to peace, to welcome refugees deprived of their country and home, and by so doing to serve the true dignity of every human being.

You hope, legitimately, that the Church in Egypt will be open to the universal dimension, attached to ecclesial communion, and that, in an ongoing exchange, she will be glad to give and to receive the common treasure of the faith. I strongly encourage you to continue the fraternal task you are carrying out in the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy of Egypt, when you meet with bishops of different rites in order to help one another in your responsibilities as pastors and to deepen together the bonds of true Catholic unity. Know that the Pope accompanies you in this noble task of fraternal collaboration, which serves the good of all your faithful and expresses and builds ecclesial communion.

3. The priests are your most important collaborators in the ministry, and I know that you esteem their pastoral work and their readiness to serve their brethren. They are often strongly attached to a pastoral ministry of closeness which makes them, as it were, like fathers of their community, concerned to visit the families, to share in their problems and hopes and to encourage them in their daily lives. Assure them of the Pope's deep gratitude for the beautiful witness of their pastoral charity. Encourage them to continue their formation through the study of the word of God and contemplation of the mysteries of the faith, applying the means that the Magisterium of the universal Church has made available to all, especially the Cathechism of the Catholic Church. Through adapted sessions of continuing formation, help them become better acquainted with the contemporary world, marked by ever more numerous, ceaseless exchanges, so that they may perceive its difficulties and expectations more clearly and find new ways of proclaiming Christ to it.

After Christ's example and through their sacramental ministry, centred on the Eucharist which gives life to the Church (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia EE 21) and also through a life of personal prayer punctuated by the Divine Office, the prayer of the Church, and edified by meetings linked to the pastoral ministry, may they be intercessors with God for the whole community! I share your hope that all priests may live a dignified and sober life and benefit as far as possible from the same protection and assistance in the social context, despite the disparity of wealth which may affect your dioceses and which I urge you to compensate for with brotherly sharing.

4. Your Church has the good fortune to have a sufficient number of priests and to be able to ordain new priests each year, thanks to the vocations, numerous as yet, and to the work accomlished by the Maadi Major Seminary. I warmly thank the team of formators whom I ask to persevere with zeal and devotion in their work of discernment and the training of future pastors for the good of all the Catholic Churches in Egypt, since the seminary is both inter-diocesan and inter-ritual. I know that in all your eparchies you are also concerned with setting up proper vocations apostolates that will guarantee the Lord's and the Church's permanent call to young people not only with regard to vocations as diocesan priests, indispensable pastors of the Christian people, but also to the consecrated life of both men and women. In the universal Church, many countries are currently suffering from a long drawn-out crisis of vocations, in addition to the lack of priests: so those who have had the grace to escape this must carefully cultivate this precious good that the Lord gives to his Church, and perhaps also prepare themselves to share it by doing some mission work in other Churches of other lands.

5. As I have often had the pleasure of repeating, young people are the future of the Church, and this is especially true in your country, whose greatest treasure is its youth. They therefore require help in training to take on their future responsibilities through an appropriate education. Catholic schools, with a great wealth of experience, should devote special care to young people, assuring them a balanced, healthy human formation with firm moral reference points. They must provide them with a solid Christian formation, faithful to the spirit and norms of catechetical teaching perfected by the Bishops, who are primarily responsible for this, just as they are for the Catholic schools. The parishes and dioceses, at their own level, can also offer young Christians catechetical, moral and spiritual formation programmes which will enable them to acquire a deeper knowledge of their personal faith and motivate them to be more deeply committed.

6. The role of Religious in your dioceses is noteworthy, primarily because of their specific witness to making love of God the priority in every Christian life through the profession of the evangelical counsels, which consecrate them totally to the Lord. Their active participation in the pastoral work of your dioceses is equally valuable, especially in the Catholic schools and parishes, in the area of health care and social and charitable institutions, but also in the more specific fields of theological research, cultural ministry and interreligious dialogue. I warmly thank them. I am delighted with the excellent collaboration that distinguishes the relations between your dioceses and the religious congregations and institutes that are present there for the good of one and all. In particular, I greet the communities of women Religious which are often small and scattered over vast territories, because they too want to assure the Christian people of their support, through prayer and through the assistance of their apostolic work in the schools or dispensaries that they open for the people with no distinctions of race or creed, thus expressing the universal character of Christ's love. They also need all your encouragement to continue to grow spiritually in love for the Lord, through prayer, listening to the Word of God and humbly and attentively serving their brothers and sisters.

7. The Catholic Church in Egypt claims no special advantages for herself but merely the right to live the grace that the Lord has given her by calling her to his service in this nation. I acknowledge the important work the Catholic Church carries out in Egyptian society in the field of social assistance and education, in the service of women's promotion, in assistance to mothers and children, in the fight against illiteracy, thereby taking her place in the country's development.

I encourage you to maintain good relations with your Christian brothers and sisters of other denominations, especially with the Coptic Orthodox Church, and to do your utmost to spread the spirit of a true ecumenical dialogue. Do not be disheartened by the difficulties of the present or the future, but remain firm in your desire to be faithful to the Lord's commandment: "Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13,34), knowing that the bonds of fraternal charity do not prevent us from acting in conformity with truth and justice, but on the contrary, demand it.

The dialogue with Isalm is particularly important in your country where this is the religion of the majority, but it also sets an example for the dialogue between the great world religions, which is vital following the tragic events linked to terrorism that marked the beginning of the third millennium and whose causes public opinion might be tempted to ascribe to religion. I would like to remind you how essential it is that the world religions join forces to denounce terrorism and to work together at the service of justice, peace and brotherhood among men and women.

8. Through the intercession of St Mark the Evangelist, I invoke upon you the motherly protection of Our Lady, so deeply venerated by the Christians of Egypt, and I ask the Lord to fill you with the gifts of his Spirit. Shepherds, "tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock" (1P 5,2-3). Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, take back to all your faithful the warm greetings and fatherly encouragement of the Successor of Peter! I impart an affectionate Apostolic Blessing to all.

                                                           September 2003





To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Walter Kasper

President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

I have learned with satisfaction that the praiseworthy initiative of convoking inter-Christian symposia, begun in 1992 by the Franciscan Spirituality Institute at the Pontifical Antonianum College in Rome and by the Theology Faculty of the Aristotelian University of Thessalonica of the Greek Orthodox Church, continues to offer opportunities for meetings and discussion. In fact, one will occur at Ioánnina in Epirus from 3 to 7 September, with the theme of the convention being: "The relationship between spirituality and Christian dogma in the East and in the West". This reflection will deal with an aspect that builds theological dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox. I entrust to you, Your Eminence, the task of extending my cordial greeting to the organizers and the participants.

After having treated such important themes as prayer and contemplation, the spirituality of Monasticism, the ecclesial dimension of spirituality and still others, this new symposium will pause, as its theme already indicates, to reflect on the contribution that spirituality makes to doctrine, asssiting its deepening and development. Spirituality, in fact, while influencing the dispostions of mind and heart, creates an appropriate psychological context in which to dialogue in an open and trusting manner. This is particularly important when Catholics and Orthodox tackle questions and problems that still divide them.

I renew with pleasure my encouragement to the common efforts of the Antonianum College of Rome and to the Theology Faculty of Thessalonica, dedicated to bringing forth those things common to Orthodox Christians and Catholics in the search for revealed Truth, and I am pleased by the support offered in the initiatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In fact, the search for a deeper communion between the Christian East and West must not be limited to official contacts and to the efforts taken at a higher level. Reciprocal knowledge and understanding are supported by events as well as by programmes that involve the various contexts of Church life and, in particular, those that are academic and formative. Thus, that open and listening spirit is promoted concretely which so benefits progress on the way and that we hope may soon lead to full communion.

In wishing a positive outcome to the symposium in Ioánnina, I offer my fraternal salute to the Metropolitan of that city, S.E. Theochlitos, who is the host. The Lord's goodness has allowed us to build more intense and profitable relations in these recent times. While I raise fervent graced actions to the Lord for this renewed sign of dialogue, I invoke upon those who have favoured the meeting and to those who will take part in the work God's abundant blessing.

From Castel Gandolfo, 28 August 2003, In memory of St Augustine of Hippo.



Saturday, 6 September 2003

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. With joy I welcome the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Agra, Delhi and Bhopal. I express once more to you and the beloved people of your country my deep affection: "God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers" (Rm 1,9). I am especially pleased to greet Archbishop Concessao, and I thank him for the sentiments he conveyed on behalf of the Bishops, clergy and faithful of your Dioceses.

Among the many important events that have occurred in the life of the Church in India since your last Ad Limina visit is the creation of the new Diocese of Jhabua. As you gather at the tombs of the Apostles to express the solidarity between Peter and your local Churches, the presence of the Pastor of a new flock is an encouraging sign of the vitality and growth of the Faith in your land.

2. The Apostle Thomas, Saint Francis Xavier and Mother Theresa of Calcutta are but a few of the outstanding examples of the missionary zeal which has always been present in India. It is this same spirit of evangelization which continues to give the faithful of your country the desire to proclaim Jesus Christ, even when faced with extreme hardship. As Bishops, you are well aware that together with clergy and religious, lay people are central to the mission of the Church, especially in areas where the Christian population is sparse. "Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it" (Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 900). You have taken the Lord’s words to heart in asking your flock to "go into the vineyard too" (Mt 20,7). This is clearly demonstrated in the serious way you prepare the laity to assist their Bishops and clergy in the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, the willingness of the faithful to labour alongside their priests is concretely manifested in their impressive involvement in catechesis, pastoral councils, small Christian communities, prayer groups and many programmes of social outreach and human development.

Training people to meet ably the demands of being responsible Catholics requires that they become ever more conformed to Christ by participation in the three munera of priest, prophet and king. This is not to be understood as an expansion of the clerical role but as a reality shared by every Christian in the grace received at Baptism and Confirmation. These Christian duties become even more imperative in areas such as yours which are not fortunate enough to have a resident priest in every community. Lay faithful who find themselves without an ordained minister in their village or town see before them an even greater challenge to promote the Faith in many diverse ways: by assisting in leading the traditional morning and evening prayers, as so many of your families do; by serving as catechists or by contributing to the development of a pastoral plan or vision. All these responsibilities, small and large alike, are ways of giving oneself as both a witness and an instrument of the "mission of the Church herself ‘according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal’" (cf. Eph Ep 4,7 and Lumen Gentium 33§2).

3. From the very earliest days of her presence on Indian soil, the Catholic Church has demonstrated a deep social resolve in the fields of healthcare, development, welfare and especially education. The Second Vatican Council reminds us that Catholic education is a key factor in preparing young Catholics to become faithful adults. "Such an education not only develops the maturity of the human person, but is especially directed toward ensuring that those who have been baptised, become daily more appreciative of the gift of faith which they have received" (cf. Gravissimum Educationis GE 2). Many of your schools have large percentages of teachers and students who are not Catholic. Their presence in our institutions could help to increase mutual understanding between Catholics and those of other religions at a time in which misunderstandings can be a source of suffering to many. It could also be an opportunity for non-Catholic students to be educated in a system which has proven its ability to form young people into responsible and productive citizens.

One of the greatest contributions our educational facilities, and all Catholic institutions, can offer society today is their uncompromising Catholicity. Catholic schools must aim "to create an atmosphere enlivened by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity striving to relate all human culture eventually to the news of salvation, so that the light of faith will illumine the knowledge which students gradually gain of the world, of life and of the human family" (cf. Gravissimum Educationis GE 8). For this reason it is essential that your educational institutes maintain a strong Catholic identity. This calls for a curriculum marked by participation in prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist and requires that all teachers are well-versed not only in their fields of study but also in the Catholic faith. It is encouraging to note that so many of your Dioceses are trying to implement the recommendations of the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia by placing whenever possible trained priests, religious and counselors in every school. This will help to ensure that every department and activity joyfully exudes the spirit of Christ’s Church (cf. Ecclesia in Asia ).

4. The presence and influence of the priest in Catholic institutions is a time-proven way of fostering vocations. There are few things more attractive to young people who are considering a life of priestly or religious service than the example of a zealous priest who not only loves the priesthood but exercises his ministry with joy and dedication. Through a priest’s spiritual fatherhood the Holy Spirit invites many to follow ever closer in Christ’s footsteps: "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt 4,19). In this regard, I am pleased to note your continued commitment to promoting more local vocations. Impressive are your many programmes for young people. Youth service groups and camps which specialize in catechesis, personality development, leadership training and vocational discernment are fertile ground for helping young men and women to determine God’s call in their lives (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 9).

For those young men who have already made the decision to enter priestly formation, I offer special prayers. It is essential that these future ministers of the Church be given proper philosophical, theological and spiritual formation in order that they may understand in a realistic way the value of a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. More so than ever, priests are called to be signs of contradiction in societies which are daily becoming more secular and materialistic. "The lure of the so-called ‘consumer society’ is so strong among young people that they become totally dominated and imprisoned by an individualistic, materialist and hedonistic interpretation of human existence" (cf. ibid., 8). This attitude can at times creep into the lives of our seminarians and priests, tempting them not to live "according to the logic of giving and generosity" (cf. ibid.). The Bishop has a special task to ensure that seminaries and houses of formation are staffed by priests who are exemplary in virtue and outstanding teachers of the Faith. As the Synod for Asia made clear "it is a difficult and delicate task that awaits them in the education of future priests. This is an apostolate second to none for the Church’s well-being and vitality" (cf. Ecclesia in Asia ).

Speeches 2003