Speeches 2003 - Monday, 15 December 2003

I receive you with great pleasure for this solemn act of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Dominican Republic to the Holy See, and I thank you warmly for your kind words.

I am most grateful for your congratulations on the recent 25th Anniversary of my election to the Chair of St Peter, to which the Supreme Pastor wished to call me to carry out this service to the Church, and by extension, to humanity. I am therefore grateful to you for your prayers that God will comfort me with his help in the exercise of my ecclesial ministry.

Your Excellency, you have come to represent a Nation which, as you recalled in your address, feels profoundly Catholic. On the soil of that land, known today as the Dominican Republic, at the very beginning of the evangelization of the American Continent, the first Mass was celebrated and later the first Baptism was administered to the Indigenous people. With these two sacraments the Church of Christ grew and was built up, so it can be said that the Island of Hispaniola was the birthplace of the Catholic Church in America. From there, it was not long before evangelizers set sail for the American mainland; they were the men who left to proclaim Jesus Christ, to defend the inviolable dignity and rights of the native peoples and encourage their integral promotion and brotherhood among all members of the great human family.

In a relatively short period the paths of the faith were to cross the geography of the Dominican Republic. At the very beginning of the 16th century, Pope Julius II established in the Island of Hispaniola the Metropolitan Church of Yaguate, with Bainoa and Maguá as suffragans, the first in the New World. However, shortly afterwards these Dioceses were suppressed, and on 8 August 1511, the same Pontiff established permanently the Dioceses of Santo Domingo, Concepción de la Vega and San Juan as suffragans of the Metropolitan See of Seville. To celebrate its quincentenary, the Dominican Bishops are preparing a National Plan for the Pastoral Care of Evangelization, which I hope will bear the best of fruit.

Throughout these 500 years the Church has accompanied the Dominican people on their way, proclaiming to them the Christian principles which are a source of sound hope and endowing society with renewed dynamism. She has carried out her work of evangelization and human advancement, tasks that are not diametrically opposed but closely connected, since "human development must be the logical consequence of evangelization, which aims at the total liberation of the human person" (John Paul II, Address for the Opening of the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Bishops, Santo Domingo, 12 October 1992, n. 13; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 21 October 1992, p. 8).

The Holy See is pleased with the good relations that exist between the Church and the State and fervently hopes that they will continue to be built up in the future. There is a broad area in which their specific competencies and activities converge and interrelate, as the Second Vatican Council recognized.

It is right to recognize the action carried out in your Country through the dioceses, parishes, religious communities and apostolic movements. In this regard, I would like to mention the Church's action for the disabled, persons with AIDS, ethnic minorities, emigrants and refugees. Another cause of pleasure is the presence of the Church in the area of education through the Pontifical University in Santiago with a branch in the capital city, four Catholic universities, various technical institutes, polytechnics for women and almost 300 parish educational centres and schools. In addition, other institutions of the Catholic Church make an important contribution to the common effort to form a society that is more just and attentive to the needs of its weakest members.

Nonetheless, in her service to society, it is not incumbent on the Church to propose political or technical solutions. However, she can and must point out the motivations and orientations that stem from the Gospel in order to enlighten the search for responses and solutions. The rejection or forgetfulness of the genuine ethical, spiritual and transcendent values is usually at the root of the social, economic and political evils of peoples. The mission of the Church is to recall, defend and reinforce these values, particularly in this day and age when in your Country internal and external causes have led to a serious deterioration and marked decline in the quality of life of Dominicans. In solving these problems it must not be forgotten that the common good is the goal for which to aim.

To this end, the Church, claiming no competence in areas foreign to her mission, cooperates with the Government and with society.

In the contemporary world it is not enough to abide by the law of the market and globalization. We must encourage solidarity and keep clear of the evils that derive from capitalism that sets money before people and makes people the victims of so many injustices. No model of development could prosper that failed to take these inequalities into account and tackle them with determination.

In crises, those who suffer the worst are always the poor. They must therefore be the object of priority attention on the part of the State. The fight against poverty must not be reduced merely to improving the standard of living, but must improve this situation by creating sources of employment and by making this cause one's own. It is important to stress the significant role of education and training as a means to fight poverty, as well as respect for fundamental rights that cannot be sacrificed for the sake of other goals, since this would undermine the essential dignity of the human being.

Before concluding this meeting, Mr Ambassador, I should like to express my closeness to all those affected by the earthquake last September and by the recent floods. I praise the effective solidarity of the other regions of the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries. I ask the Lord to grant the victims fortitude and the ability to surmount the damage suffered with generous commitment, and may the help they need to continue life as normal arrive without delay.

Lastly, I would like to express my very best wishes that your mission which begins today will be a great success. I ask you again kindly to express my sentiments and hopes to the President of the Republic and to the other Authorities of your Country. Through the intercession of Our Lady, Virgin of Altagracia, venerated here since 1541, who accompanies the faithful of this noble Nation with her loving presence, I invoke God's Blessing upon you, your distinguished family and collaborators, and the beloved sons and daughters of the Dominican Republic.



Monday, 15 December 2003

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. "May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways" (2Th 3,16). At this decisive moment for your country, as two decades of violent conflict and bloodshed seem poised to give way to reconciliation and pacification, I greet you, the members of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, with these words of the Apostle Paul, words of comfort and reassurance, words founded on the Word who is "the life and the light of men" (cf. Jn Jn 1,4), Jesus Christ, our hope and our peace.

These days of your visit ad Limina Apostolorum are privileged moments of grace during which we strengthen the bonds of fraternal communion and solidarity which unite us in the task of bearing witness to the Good News of salvation. As we reflect together on this mission received from the Lord and on its particular implications for you and your local communities, I wish to call to mind the figures of two intrepid witnesses to the faith, two holy individuals whose lives are intimately connected with your land: Saint Josephine Bakhita and Saint Daniel Comboni. I am convinced that the example of steadfast commitment and of Christian charity given by these two devoted servants of the Lord can shed much light on the present realities facing the Church in your country.

2. From her earliest years Saint Josephine Bakhita knew the cruelty and brutality with which man can treat his fellow man. Abducted and sold into slavery as a young child, she was all too familiar with the suffering and victimization that still afflicts countless men and women in her homeland and throughout Africa and the world. Her life inspires the firm resolve to work effectively to free people from oppression and violence, ensuring that their human dignity is respected in the full exercise of their rights. It is this same resolve that must guide the Church in the Sudan today as the nation makes the transition from hostility and conflict to peace and concord. Saint Bakhita is a shining advocate of authentic emancipation. Her life clearly shows that tribalism and forms of discrimination based on ethnic origin, language and culture do not belong in a civilized society and have absolutely no place in the community of believers.

The Church in your country is acutely aware of the hardships and pain that afflict those fleeing war and violence — especially women and children — and she mobilizes not only her own resources in helping to meet their needs but also draws on the generosity of outside volunteers and benefactors. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the work of Sudanaid, the national relief agency overseen by the Aid and Development Department of your Bishops’ Conference, which rightly enjoys widespread esteem for the various charitable projects in which it is engaged. Brothers, I would suggest that a solid basis for seeking Church representation in the process of normalization currently underway can be found precisely in the much-needed assistance that she lends to the many refugees and displaced persons who have been forced from their homes and family lands.

Moreover, the many contributions that the Church makes to your country’s social and cultural life can help you to establish closer and more positive relationships with national institutions. A tentative opening on the part of civil leadership can already be seen in the presence of Christians in the current government, and in the reactivation of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue. You should do all that you can to encourage this, even as you insist that religious pluralism, as guaranteed by the Sudanese Constitution, should be respected.

An important corollary in this regard is your duty to address significant issues that touch upon the country’s social, economic, political and cultural life (cf. Ecclesia in Africa, No. 110). As you know so well, it belongs to the Church to speak out unambiguously on behalf of those who have no voice and to be a leaven of peace and solidarity, particularly where these ideals are most fragile and threatened. As Bishops, your words and actions are never to be the expression of individual political preferences but must always reflect the attitude of Christ the Good Shepherd.

3. With this image of the Good Shepherd in mind, I turn now to the figure of Saint Daniel Comboni, who, as a missionary priest and Bishop, worked tirelessly to make Christ known and welcomed in Central Africa, including the Sudan. Saint Daniel was keenly concerned that Africans should have a key role in evangelizing the continent, and he was inspired to draft a missionary blueprint for the region — a "plan for the rebirth of Africa" — that enlisted the help of native peoples themselves. In the course of his missionary activity, he did not let the great suffering and many hardships that he endured — privation, exhaustion, illness, mistrust — divert him from the task of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Comboni was moreover a strong advocate of inculturating the faith. He took great pains to familiarize himself with the cultures and languages of the local peoples he served. In this way, he was able to present the Gospel in a manner and according to the customs that his listeners readily understood. In a very real way, his life is an example for us today, clearly demonstrating that "the evangelization of culture and the inculturation of the Gospel are an integral part of the new evangelization and thus a specific concern of the episcopal office" (Pastores Gregis, No. 30).

Brothers, it is this same apostolic fervour, missionary zeal and deep concern for the salvation of souls that must be a hallmark of your own ministry as Bishops. Make it your first and foremost duty to care for the flock entrusted to you, looking after its spiritual and physical well-being, spending time with the faithful, in particular with your priests and the religious in your Dioceses. The pastoral ministry of the Bishop, in fact, "finds expression in his ‘being for’ the other members of the faithful while not detracting from his ‘being with’ them" (Pastores Gregis, No. 10).

In all this, yours must be an invitation, gentle yet insistent, to conversion, the conversion of hearts and minds. Faith grows to maturity as Christ’s disciples are educated and formed in a thorough and systematic knowledge of his person and message (cf. Catechesi Tradendae, No. 19). Thus, the continuing formation of the laity is a priority in your mission as preachers and teachers. Spiritual and doctrinal formation should aim at helping the lay faithful to carry out their prophetic role in a society which does not always recognize or accept the truth and values of the Gospel. This is especially the case for your catechists: these dedicated servants of the Word require proper formation, both spiritual and intellectual, as well as moral and material support (cf. Ecclesia in Africa, No. 91).

It would also prove helpful if a simple catechism in the language of the people were prepared and made available. Similarly, suitable texts in local languages could be prepared and distributed as a means of presenting Jesus to those who are unfamiliar with the Christian message and as a tool for interreligious dialogue. This could be especially helpful in those areas exempt from Shari‘ah law, particularly in the Federal Capital of Khartoum. Here too I would like to encourage you to rekindle your efforts to establish a Catholic University in Khartoum. Such an institution would allow the priceless contribution that the Church makes in elementary and secondary education to be brought to bear also in the area of higher education. A Catholic University would also be of great assistance in helping you to fulfil your duty of seeing that properly trained teachers are available to impart Christian instruction in the public schools.

4. Turning to those who assist you most closely in your pastoral ministry, I urge you always to cherish your priests with a special love and to regard them as precious co-workers and friends (cf. Christus Dominus, No. 16). Their formation must be such that they are ready to put aside all earthly ambition in order to act in the person of Christ. They are called to be detached from material things and to devote themselves to the service of others through the complete gift of self in celibacy. Scandalous behaviour must at all times be investigated, confronted and corrected. With your friendship and fraternal support, as well as that of their brother priests, it will be easier for your clergy to be wholly devoted, in chastity and simplicity, to their ministry of service.

Of course, the attitudes and dispositions of a true shepherd must be nurtured in the hearts of future priests long before their ordination. This is the purpose of the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation provided in the seminary. The guidelines contained in my Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis will prove invaluable for evaluating candidates and improving their training. At the same time, steps should be taken to ensure that proper priestly formation continues after ordination, especially during the early years of ministry.

In the faith life of your communities Religious and Missionary Institutes continue to play a decisive role. While respecting the legitimate internal autonomy established for religious communities, the Bishop is to help them fulfil — within the local Church — their obligation to bear witness to the reality of God’s love for his people. As Pastors of Christ’s flock, you should urge careful discernment of the suitability of candidates to the religious life and help superiors to provide a solid spiritual and intellectual formation, both before and after profession.

5. In the fulfilment of your many duties, you and your priests must always be attentive to the human and spiritual needs of your people. Time and resources should never be spent on diocesan or parochial structures or on development projects at the expense of people; nor should such structures or projects impede personal contact with those whom God has called us to serve. Equity and transparency must be the indispensable traits characterizing all financial matters, with every effort being made to see that contributions are truly used for the purposes intended. The Church’s pastoral mission and the duty of her ministers "not to be served but to serve" (Mt 20,28) must always be the overriding concern.

The concepts of service and solidarity can also do much to foster greater ecumenical and interreligious cooperation. A specific initiative that could help to spur progress in this area is the establishment of an agency for coordinating the various programmes aimed at lending assistance and humanitarian aid throughout the various regions of the country. Such coordination would undoubtedly serve to increase the effectiveness of these programmes and could even prove helpful in making contacts for the issue of the government permits necessary for travel to certain areas. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Sudan could actively sponsor and promote such a coordinating agency. On the model of the understanding already present in Southern Sudan with members of the Anglican Communion, the agency would be open to representatives of other Christian denominations and other religions, including Islam, thus fostering a climate of mutual trust through joint cooperation in the areas of educational and humanitarian assistance.

6. Dear Brother Bishops, my words to you today are meant to offer encouragement in the Lord. I am aware of your daily toils and of the great pain and suffering that your people still endure: I assure you and them once more of my prayers and solidarity. With all of you I beseech the God of peace to grant success to the process of dialogue and negotiation now underway, so that truth, justice and reconciliation may again reign in the Sudan. I commend you and your Dioceses to the loving care of Mary, Queen of Apostles, and to the heavenly intercession of Saints Josephine Bakhita and Daniel Comboni. During this season of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate our Saviour’s birth, may you and the priests, Religious and lay faithful of your local Churches be renewed in the hope that springs from the "glad tidings of great joy" proclaimed in Bethlehem. To all of you I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.



Thursday, 18 December 2003

Your Eminence,

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,

1. In this season of Advent in which the Church waits in hope for the coming of the Saviour, I am pleased to greet you, the Bishops and the Diocesan Administrator who have come from the Ecclesiastical Province of Marseilles, as well as the Archbishop of Monaco. I offer you my cordial greetings. Like the Apostle Paul you have come "to visit Cephas" (Ga 1,18), to strengthen the bonds of communion that unite you to him and to report to him on the life of your Dioceses, evangelized by faith and by the missionary daring of witnesses in the early centuries. I thank Cardinal Bernard Panafieu, Archbishop of Marseilles, for his words, presenting the pastoral situations of your Province, rich in promise and pastoral dynamism, as well as your questions and concerns as Pastors. He has expressed your common desire to root your apostolic service in an ever greater acceptance of God's grace and deeper intimacy with Christ, at the service of the People of God entrusted to your care. I hope that your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles and your meetings with the various offices of the Curia will enable you to return home strengthened in the desire to pursue your apostolic mission with joy.

2. At the end of the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation, I invited the whole Church to set out anew from Christ with the enthusiasm of Pentecost and renewed zeal, calling each of her members to walk with greater determination on the path of holiness through a life of prayer and listening to the Word of God with ever greater attention and love. New pastoral and missionary energy will flow from the renewal of the spiritual life of the pastors, faithful and entire communities. In this perspective - and this is what I wish to discuss with you today - the people who are committed to consecrated life have an essential role to play. Consecrated life in all its forms, old and new, is a gift of God for the Church. We must never tire of asking the Lord to call men and women to follow him in a life of total self-giving. Your quinquennial reports demonstrate the generous attachment of your diocesan Churches to consecrated life, which delights me. In the dynamic of that event of grace which was the Synod on consecrated life and its mission in the Church and in the world, and referring to the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata which gathers its fruits, I would like to repeat to you with force and conviction that the Church and the world need the consecrated life. Indeed, a Diocese without communities of consecrated life "would not only be deprived of many spiritual gifts, of suitable places for people to seek God, of specific apostolic activities and pastoral approaches, but it would also risk a great weakening of that missionary spirit which is characteristic of the majority of Institutes" (Vita Consecrata VC 48). I ask you first of all to convey to all the institutes and congregations the deep esteem and affectionate greetings of the Successor of Peter, assuring them of my prayers and inviting them not to despair of the Lord, who will never abandon his people.

3. The quinquennial reports from the different Dioceses of France emphasize the crisis that the consecrated life is going through in your Country. This is even more pronounced in the apostolic congregations, marked by the gradual but steady decline in the number of members in the various institutes present on French soil and the few candidates for the novitiate. This crisis also affects the aspect of many communities whose members are aging, with the inevitable consequences on the life of institutes, their witness, their administration and even the choices linked to their missions and the use of their resources. To survive, some institutes are even obliged to regroup with others in federations; this is not always an easy transition, given the different background of the communities. If these new groupings are to be successful, it would be wise to focus once again on the founding charisms and to remember that religious life is for the Church's mission and is based on Christ, who calls people to give themselves to him without reserve, in the perspective that St Paul mentions: it is God who gives growth to every undertaking (cf. 1Co 3,4). To respond to the changes, whatever they may be, those in charge of institutes of consecrated life must pay more attention than ever to continuing formation, and especially the theological and spiritual formation of their members.

Many older congregations have courageously chosen to acquire deeper knowledge of their charism as well as to renew their institutions.They are taking special care to listen with great openness to the new calls of the Spirit and to coordinate their research with the Dioceses, to discern the urgent spiritual and missionary needs of the moment. Fortunately, it can be noted that the charisms of European institutes whose members are aging continue to respond to the deepest expectations of many young people from Africa, Asia or Latin America who desire to consecrate themselves generously to the Lord. I am also pleased that the congregations are concerned with proposing their charism to lay people of all ages and backgrounds and associating them with their mission; in this way they enable lay men and women to build their Christian life on a specific, proven spirituality, and to be more deeply committed to serving their brothers and sisters. Such an initiative cannot fail also to have positive effects on the life of the respective religious institutes.

4. I therefore encourage you to spare no effort to "promote the specific vocation and mission of the consecrated life, which belongs stably and solidly to the Church's life and sanctity" (Pastores Gregis ). By their eloquent witness of consecration conformed to Christ in chastity, poverty and service at the centre of the human situations in which they are inserted, the members of institutes of consecrated life continue to be prophetic signs for the world and for the Church. By their existence they express God's love for every human being, keeping alive in the Church the requirement of recognizing the face of Christ in the face of the poor. They also invite diocesan communities to become increasingly aware of the universal character of the Church's mission, and remind them of the urgent need to seek first the Kingdom of God and his justice as well as ever greater brotherhood among men and women.

Allow me to acknowledge the outstanding work done by consecrated persons in France and in the poorest countries of the globe - particularly in Africa, a Continent to which your region is naturally oriented, as you have just recalled - in the area of solidarity with the marginalized, with illiterate children, with the youth on the streets, with those living the dramatic experience of a precarious situation or poverty, with persons with AIDS or those affected by other pandemics or again, with immigrants and displaced persons. Nor do I forget all the consecrated people who work in the context of social service or the world of health care and education, in France and elsewhere in the world. I cannot sufficiently encourage the superiors of congregations not to neglect or desert too hastily these essential places where human values and the Gospel are transmitted, and where the call to follow Christ and take part in the life of the Church can also be heard. Although today they are less obviously recognizable, communities nonetheless continue to carry out their mission courageously within the social fabric, cooperating with works of solidarity and as active champions of interreligious dialogue, to which you pay special attention. I know the patience and the great attention that in the name of their consecration to the Lord consecrated persons devote to the poorest of the poor and the marginalized in a society that all too often ignores them. In daily solidarity with life's wounded, they perform the indispensable creativity in charity for which I appealed to all Christian communities at the end of the Great Jubilee. This dimension of charity to the poorest and the lowliest is a pledge of credibility of the entire Church: the credibility of her message, but also the credibility of those who, captivated by Christ and having contemplated him, can see him in the faces of those with whom Christ himself wanted to identify and can express his compassion for every human being (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 49). The young generations who thirst for the absolute need daring witnesses who call them to live the Gospel and generously devote themselves to the service of their brothers and sisters. I invite you never to disregard the experience and prophetic charism of consecrated persons, sentinels of hope, witnesses of the absolute and of the joy of total self-giving. The Spirit impels them to stand beside the outcasts of our societies and to strive to set broken human beings back on their feet. In this way they help to build up charity in each particular Church.

5. For a better harmonization of pastoral activities, it is also important that the institutional dialogue with institutes of consecrated life, both at the national level within the French Bishops' Conference and the two Conferences of Major Superiors, and at the diocesan level between the Bishop or his delegate and the superiors of local congregations, permits an authentic dialogue and fruitful exchanges; in this way every institute of consecrated life, while preserving the specific character of its charism, way of life and own priorities, will be increasingly and more firmly integrated into the diocesan Church. This is essential at a time when your diocesan Churches are involved in pastoral developments that entail a certain number of adjustments connected with the new situations of the mission as well as with the cultural changes.

Among the activities that institutes of consecrated life are carrying out in society's midst, I would like to draw attention to the eminent part they play in intellectual research in your Country. Religious in France have often been beacons in this milieu, particularly in the first half of the 20th century and in the context of philosophy and theology. They were eager to highlight the reasons that must guide the behaviour and commitments of our contemporaries, clarifying the meaning of life. By making a relevant contribution to the quest for the truth, they can encourage an intellectual renewal and create fruitful relationships with the thinkers of today who deal with the essential questions of our time or who work in research. I would also like to mention the institutes or congregations involved in communications, radio or television. They participate in the public debate with a healthy and necessary confrontation, making a specifically Christian contribution to the great decisions that shape society's future in addition to communicating their own religious conviction.

6. In your Dioceses, consecrated life takes many forms, since it juxtaposes old and new communities. For their part the new communities, thanks to the energy of beginnings, indisputably give a new impetus to consecrated life as well as to the pastoral mission in the Dioceses. They are often more outgoing than the older institutes. They contribute to renewing community life, liturgical life and involvement in evangelization in various sectors. Such a situation is undoubtedly comparable to the reality in St Dominic or St Francis's time. New religious communities represent an opportunity for the Church. Helped by the Bishops who must be watchful, they still need to mature, to put down roots and, sometimes, organize themselves in accordance with the norms of canon law in force and conscious of the need for prudence. May they all remember that the spirit of dialogue, of fraternal collaboration at the service of Christ and of mission must ceaselessly prevail!

Free from rivalry or antagonism, religious communities with a long tradition will thus be stimulated by their own charism and new communities will remember that they "are not alternatives to already existing Institutions, which continue to hold the pre-eminent place assigned to them by tradition.... The older Institutes, many of which have been tested by the severest of hardships which they have accepted courageously down the centuries, can be enriched through dialogue and an exchange of gifts with the Foundations appearing in our own day" (Vita Consecrata VC 62). I invite each one to show fraternal love and to take the necessary steps to ensure that all forces work together for the unity of the one Body of Christ and share in the mission. For their part, those in charge of the new communities must be alert in their discernment of vocations at the human and spiritual levels. It will be to their advantage in this to consult trustworthy people with discernment experience on the human and spiritual planes, whether in institutes or in the local Churches. You should also take pains to separate clearly what belongs to the internal and external forums, in accordance with the Church's long and prudent practice. With respect for the autonomy proper to every religious community, it is nonetheless the task of Bishops to do their utmost to welcome, assist and support the whole group of religious institutes present in the Diocese. These in turn must collaborate confidently, each according to its own charism in the diocesan mission of the Church. At all times, but especially in difficult periods, it is right that the faithful all join forces to build the Church and to be in the world visible signs of the unity of God's people around the Pastors. The mission of the diocesan Church will gain from this in consistency and apostolic zeal.

7. Many of you stressed the important role that communities of contemplative life play in your Dioceses on account of their witness and prayer, raising the world to God and participating in the mystery of Christ and of the Church in mission after the example of St Thérèse of Lisieux. These privileged places of outreach and acceptance contribute to the apostolic fruitfulness of parishes, movements and services. For many young people and adults they are reference points, places where they can find sound bearings for building and strengthening their human and spiritual life, and for a strong experience of the Absolute of God. They are also havens of peace and silence in a hectic society. Many young people have found the time to listen to God's call and to prepare to respond to it in monasteries. Monasteries also play a precious role for Bishops and priests who can replenish in them their spiritual strength and find fraternal relations. I know that these communities are thoroughly integrated in the Dioceses, and in addition to giving hospitality to people on retreat, they welcome in particular numerous groups of children and young people who come to reflect on their faith, to learn how to pray or to prepare themselves to receive one of the sacraments of the Church. In this perspective, I urge monastic communities to be particularly attentive to the demand for spiritual formation by the men and women of our time, especially youth. I am delighted to know that in many monasteries, while preserving their enclosure, monks and nuns are concerned with being spiritual directors for the people who knock at their door. I hope that the communities of prayerful contemplatives will continue their witness in the Dioceses, inviting the faithful to root their life and action in prayer, the source of all missionary zeal.

8. I know of the generosity of many young people in your Dioceses, and I am sure that the Lord will continue to work in their hearts to enable them to respond generously to his specific call. Today I would like to encourage them not to be afraid to give themselves to the poor, chaste and obedient Christ in consecrated life, a path to happiness and true freedom, and I repeat to them with force and conviction: "If you hear the Lord's call, do not reject it! Dare to become part of the great movements of holiness which renowned saints have launched in their following of Christ. Cultivate the ideals proper to your age, but readily accept God's plan for you if he invites you to seek holiness in the consecrated life" (Vita Consecrata VC 106). For their part, may Dioceses never fail to call people to consecrated life!

I invite you to keep a watchful gaze on and pay renewed attention to the young people who hope to enter the religious life. Their ecclesial experience is often recent. It is therefore essential to give them a solid human, intellectual, moral, spiritual, community and pastoral training that will prepare them to dedicate themselves to God without reserve in the following of Christ. In this spirit, the inter-novitiates that have been set up allow for a greater number of young people in formation. This gives an obvious dynamism to their progress and helps them know and support one another in their choice of life. Many congregations have also welcomed young foreigners from Africa, Asia or Latin America. This is a visible sign of the universal character of the Church. But you are keenly aware of the difficulties that this can present, in particular, the possible attraction of Western life to the detriment of the local Church's mission. I cannot place too strong an emphasis on asking congregations to set up formation houses in the countries where vocations are most numerous, so as not to detach young people too suddenly from their own cultural milieu and with a view to training them for their specific mission in their own Country, which has a multitude of needs.

9. At the end of our meeting, dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, I would like to encourage you to pursue with enthusiasm and zeal the passionate mission of guiding the people which the Lord has entrusted to you. More than ever, the Church needs authentic witnesses who show that the radical nature of the Gospel is a source of happiness and freedom.

Please take back to the priests, deacons and all the lay people of your Dioceses my affectionate thoughts and fervent prayer, telling them once again of my confidence and encouragement in their work at the service of the Church. I renew my cordial greetings to all consecrated persons - to the contemplatives, to the members of the congregations and religious institutes of apostolic life, of secular institutes, societies of apostolic life and of the new communities - as I tell them once again of my esteem for their indispensable witness of gratuitousness, brotherhood and hope which they offer not only to the Church but to all of society, remaining prophetic signs of the love of the Lord who wants to transform human hearts to make them conform every more closely with their vocation. I also assure my spiritual closeness to the elderly or sick Religious who, through their witness of holiness and prayer but also their experience and wisdom, play a large part in the missionary success of their institutes and of the entire Church. May Mary, who welcomed Christ in a response of love and total offering to the Father's will, support you in her motherly solicitude! My affectionate thoughts also go to all the people who in the past weeks have been affected by the serious flooding in the South of France. I ask you to assure them of my prayers and my spiritual closeness. To you all and to all the members of your Dioceses, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

Speeches 2003 - Monday, 15 December 2003