Speeches 2004

3. We have covered much ground together since that 13 April 1986 when the Bishop of Rome - the first since the Apostle Peter - paid you a visit: it was the embrace of brothers who were meeting again after a long period fraught with misunderstanding, rejection and distress. With the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council inaugurated by Bl. Pope John XXIII, and especially after the publication of the Declaration Nostra Aetate (28 October 1965), the Catholic Church opened her arms wide to you, remembering that "Jesus was and will always remain a Jew" (Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Notes on the correct way to present the Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church [1985]: III, 12). During the Second Vatican Council, the Church clearly and definitively reaffirmed her rejection of all expressions of anti-Semitism. However, the sincere deploration and condemnation of those hostilities directed against the Jewish people that have often marked history do not suffice; we must also develop friendship, esteem and brotherly relations with them. These friendly relations, reinforced and nurtured after the session of the Council in the last century, saw us united in commemorating the victims of the Shoah, especially those who were wrenched from their families and from your beloved Jewish Community in Rome in October 1943 and interned in Auschwitz. May their memory be blessed and induce us to work as brothers and sisters.

Moreover, it is only right to remember all those Christians, motivated by natural kindliness and an upright conscience and sustained by their faith and the teaching of the Gospel, who reacted courageously also in this city of Rome and offered the persecuted Jews practical help in the form of solidarity and assistance, sometimes even at the risk of their own lives. May their blessed memory live on, together with the certainty that for them, as for all the "just of nations", the tzaddiqim, a place is prepared in the future world in the resurrection of the dead. Nor can we forget, in addition to the official pronouncements, the often hidden action of the Apostolic See which went to the aid of the Jews in danger in many ways, as has been recognized by authoritative representatives of it (cf. We remember: A reflection on the "Shoah', 16 March 1998).

4. With help from Heaven, in taking this road to brotherhood, the Church has not hesitated to express deep sorrow at "the failures of her sons and daughters in every age" (ibid.) and, in an act of repentance (teshuvŕ), has asked forgiveness for their responsibility connected in any way with the scourges of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism (ibid.). During the Great Jubilee, we prayed for God's mercy in the Basilica sacred to the memory of Peter in Rome, and in Jerusalem, the city beloved by all Jews, the heart of that Land which is Holy for us all. The Successor of Peter went on pilgrimage to the hills of Judea and paid homage to the victims of the Shoah at Yad Vashem; he prayed beside you on Mount Zion at the foot of that Holy Place.

Unfortunately, the mere thought of the Holy Land gives rise in our hearts to anxiety and sorrow because of the violence that continues to stain that region and the excessive flow of innocent blood poured out by both Israelis and Palestinians that hinders peace in justice from dawning. Today, therefore, in faith and hope, we are addressing a fervent prayer to the Eternal One, to the God of Shalom, so that enmity and hatred may no longer overpower those who turn to our father, Abraham - Jews, Christians and Muslims - and may lead the way to a clear knowledge of the ties that bind them and the responsibilities that lie on each one's shoulders.

We still have a long way to go: the God of justice and peace, of mercy and of reconciliation calls us to collaborate without wavering in our world today which is scarred by disputes and hostilities. If we can join our hearts and hands to respond to the divine call, the light of the Eternal One will shine close to us to illumine all peoples and show us paths to peace, to Shalom.Let us walk them with one heart.

5. Not only in Jerusalem and in the Land of Israel but also here in Rome, we can do many things together: for those close to us who are suffering marginalization, for immigrants and foreigners, for the weak and the poverty-stricken. Sharing the values of the defence of life and the dignity of every human person, we can increase our fraternal cooperation in concrete ways.

Our meeting today is, as it were, in preparation for your imminent solemnity of Shavu"ňt and of our Pentecost which proclaim the fullness of our respective paschal celebrations. May these feasts see us united in praying David's paschal Hallel.

"Hallelu et Adonay kol goim
shabbehuHu kol ha-ummim
ki gavar "alenu khasdo
we-emet Adonay le-"olam".

"Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes, collaudate Eum, omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia eius,
et veritas Domini manet in aeternum" Hallelu-Yah (Ps 117[116]).

From the Vatican, 22 May 2004




Monday, 24 May 2004

Mr. President,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am glad to welcome you to the Vatican during your visit to Rome for the traditional and affectionate homage which you pay to Saints Cyril and Methodius, Apostles of the Slavonic peoples, whose memory is preserved in the venerable Basilica of Saint Clement.

I extend to you, Mr. President, my cordial greetings and my sincere congratulations on the important office recently entrusted to you at the service of your Nation. My thoughts go to all who accompany you, to the representatives of the Churches and to the whole national community, who are close to my heart.

2. Your country has wisely reaffirmed its commitment to follow the path of peace and reconciliation. This is a credit to all your citizens and an encouragement to continue along the same route. Dialogue and the search for harmony will allow you to dedicate every human and spiritual resource to the material and moral progress of your people, in a spirit of fruitful cooperation with neighbouring countries.

Your eyes are turned legitimately towards Europe. Your traditions and your culture belong to the spirit that permeates this Continent. I truly hope that your desires will receive just consideration and that the citizens of your Republic may be one day rightful members of a united Europe, in which each people will feel at home and fully appreciated.

3. With an assurance of my prayers for you and the people of Macedonia, I implore upon you as a pledge of prosperity and peace, the blessings of the Most High.



Monday, 24 May 2004

Mr President,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. In the context of your traditional visit to commemorate Sts Cyril and Methodius who are honoured in the ancient Basilica of St Clement, you wanted to meet in order to offer me your good wishes for my 84th birthday. I appreciate and am grateful for your affectionate gesture and warmly welcome you.

I would like to thank you, Mr President of the National Assembly, for your cordial words on behalf of all. To reciprocate, I would be grateful if you would kindly convey my respectful good wishes to the President of the Republic and my sentiments of affection to the beloved Bulgar People, as I remember my happy Visit to your Country two years ago.

2. I extend a special greeting to your venerable Patriarch, His Holiness Patriarch Maxim, and to the members of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. May the example of the holy brothers of Thessalonica sustain everyone's efforts to reinforce the spiritual values that give the soul of the Bulgar People its identity and strength!

Several years ago your Country rediscovered its place on the international scene and is journeying on towards freedom and democracy, also seeking to consolidate its own inner harmony. It is currently engaged in a patient ongoing effort to join the institutions of the European Union permanently. In this regard, I hope that Bulgaria will be able to achieve its legitimate aspirations and make its own contribution to building Europe, thanks to its cultural and spiritual riches that derive from age-old traditions.

To this end, I ask God to bless Bulgaria, the Land of Roses, and to grant that all its inhabitants may live and grow in serenity and peace.






To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini

President emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care

1. I learned with pleasure that you will be going to inaugurate the "Holy Face of Jesus Home" for Social Assistance and Health Care which the praiseworthy Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters Reparatrix of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ, under his inspiration and guidance, have set up on the Hill of Măgura in the city of Bacau. I address my cordial greeting to you, to Bishop Petru Gherghel of Iasi, to my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, as well as to the civil, religious and military Authorities, to the priests, consecrated persons and lay people who will be taking part in this important event.

With mind and heart I go in spirit to Romania, a Nation that is very dear to me, recalling with keen emotion my memorable and joyful Visit there in 1999. As a pilgrim of faith and hope, I was welcomed at that time with great warmth by the President and State Authorities, by His Beatitude Patriarch Teoctist and by all the people of the venerable Orthodox Church of Romania. I received a particularly fraternal embrace from the Bishops and the beloved Catholic Communities of both Byzantine and Latin rites.

2. The new structure for assistance, with the annexed place of worship dedicated to Jesus the eternal Priest, is ready to admit elderly and disabled people, starting with priests. It offers an important service to all who find themselves in situations of poverty or illness and have no relatives to turn to in their need. The initiative, therefore, comes as a practical response to the divine commandment to love God and neighbour with all one's heart, with all one's soul, with all one's mind and with all one's strength (cf. Mk Mc 12,29-31). At the same time, it makes a solid contribution to the needs of the Country which is reorganizing its economy and social life after emerging from the yoke of Communism.

On this occasion, I am eager to express my deep appreciation to you, Your Eminence, to the Superior General of the Benedictine Sisters Reparatrix of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as to all those who have supported this provident institution and made it a reality. It constitutes an important means of assistance to the poor, the sick and the elderly, witnessing effectively to that "creativity in charity" that I proposed to the Church in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (cf. n. 50).

3. The dedication of all those who will work in the new structure will enable many people to experience the Heavenly Father's provident tenderness. I hope that the efforts made with a view to this important social service will inspire in the community of Christ's disciples renewed intentions of solidarity and generous cooperation in a Nation such as Romania, whose location makes it a bridge between East and West.

With these sentiments, I invoke an abundance of heavenly rewards upon all those who have contributed in every capacity to setting up this important Centre for social assistance and health care, and I cordially impart to you, Venerable Brother, and to all who will be present at the solemn opening, the Apostolic Blessing implored.

From the Vatican, 13 May 2004




Thursday, 27 May 2004

Your Excellency,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Vatican as you present the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Yemen to the Holy See. I appreciate the cordial greetings which you have conveyed from the President, His Excellency Ali Abdallah Saleh. I warmly reciprocate them and assure the Government and citizens of your nation of my prayers for the country’s peace and well-being. It is my fervent hope that the friendship which has developed over the last few years between the Republic of Yemen and the Holy See will deepen and be marked by further signs of mutual trust and respect.

I am grateful for your observations made in recognition of the untiring efforts of the Holy See to promote dialogue as a means to peace and the alleviation of conflict in the Middle East and other parts of our troubled world. The Church certainly shares Yemen’s desire to build solid foundations for peace on enduring moral principles which find their source in the fundamental God-given dignity of the human person. Indeed the Holy See’s activity in the international forum stems from this specific vision of the human person, and from the conviction that when it is undermined or abandoned the very foundation of human society is threatened. This perspective of development calls for the advancement of freedom through the political recognition of the duty to guarantee human rights. Not least of these rights are: the freedom of authentic religious practice; the entitlement to build and maintain places of worship, including those for religious minorities; active participation of all citizens in democratic civic life; and access to education.

Against the backdrop of the human tragedy of tyranny and war there has arisen an opportunity – indeed a duty – for nations to construct that lasting peace for which the human family longs (cf. Message for the 2004 World Day of Peace, Introduction). This requires the firm conviction that peace is possible, that it can be taught and protected, and that any activity by individuals or groups contrary to peace is unacceptable (cf. ibid., nos. 4, 5). Your Government’s recent successful efforts to root out the evil perpetuated by terrorist groups have been rightly welcomed by the international community. Such initiatives are positive and necessary steps towards the building of a civilization of love in which all peoples can be secure and live in peace.

Since the unification of North and South Yemen almost fifteen years ago, your government has introduced various programmes with the object of improving the standard of living of Yemen’s citizens. Authentic development requires a coordinated plan of national progress which honours the legitimate aspirations of all sectors of society and to which political and civic leaders can be held accountable. In fact human history teaches us time and time again that if such programmes are to effect lasting change for the good, they must be grounded in the practice of transparent governance and accompanied by an impartial judiciary system, political freedom and a robust independent press. Without these foundations common to all civilized societies, the hope for progress, to which every human being rightly aspires, remains elusive. For this reason I have said on numerous occasions that all forms of corruption are a scourge which affronts the inviolable dignity of every person and paralyzes a nation’s social, economic and cultural advancement.

Mr Ambassador I was pleased to learn of your nation’s commitment to the young generation and the creation of educational opportunities for it. It is indeed the duty of the state to ensure that all its citizens have access to an adequate education and are prepared for the proper exercise of their civic rights and duties. Where schools, training institutes and universities function in a professional manner and are staffed by people of personal integrity with a love of learning, hope is offered to a nation and most especially to its young. Education is a highly effective means to break the cycle of poverty which still afflicts so many families today and it is increasingly being recognized by the international community as the main road to peace. Through the learning and socialization gained through schooling, boys and girls from all strata of society are integrated into a nation’s civic life and thus able to have the satisfaction of contributing to it.

The Catholic Church, in service of the human family, is prepared to reach out to all members of Yemeni society without distinction, striving to promote with them the values common to all peoples of peace, justice, solidarity and freedom. Her charitable mission, particularly to the poor and suffering, forms part of her "commitment to practical and concrete love for every human being" (Novo Millennio Ineunte NM 49) and is already much appreciated in your country. While the Church is willing to contribute even more extensively to the country’s human development programmes, it must also be recalled that Christian charity 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. For this reason it is particularly important that the Catholic community in the Republic of Yemen receives authorization – as already promised – to construct a Church and Pastoral Centre in Sana’a and, in Aden, have its property returned to it.

Your Excellency, I am confident that the diplomatic mission which you begin today will further strengthen the bonds of understanding and cooperation existing between Yemen 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 Yemen, abundant divine blessings.



Thursday, 27 May 2004

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Zambia to the Holy See. I thank you for the greetings which you bring from His Excellency President Mwanawasa and I ask you kindly to convey to him and the Government the assurance of my prayers for the peace and well-being of the Nation. This year your country celebrates the fortieth anniversary of independence, and on this auspicious occasion I repeat the heartfelt good wishes that I expressed fifteen years ago in Lusaka: may all Zambians work together so that your land will be "a place of authentic freedom, brotherhood and mutual solidarity — a nation where your children can grow up and live in dignity and in the freedom worthy of the children of God" (Arrival Ceremony in Lusaka, 2 May 1989, No. 2).

As your Excellency has noted, the African continent today continues to face many challenges, especially in the areas of development, foreign debt, poverty, human rights and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Indeed, "tensions and conflicts . . . violence, impoverishment and the deterioration of the institutional fabric are plunging entire peoples into despair" (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 12 January 2004, No. 1). Certainly the spirit of mutual solidarity that I referred to above, and about which you yourself have also spoken, is an essential element for responding to these challenges. This is a spirit that is open to dialogue rooted in the deep truth that all people belong to the one human family: "by simply being born into this world, we are of one inheritance and one stock with every other human being" (Message for the 1987 World Day of Peace, 1). Far from being a rigid uniformity, this oneness finds expression in the magnificent diversity of the human family, a diversity in which differences of race, culture, language and history are not causes of separation or division but of mutual enrichment and growth.

Authentic solidarity represents the sure path for overcoming ethnic animosities, religious intolerance, class divisions and other prejudices that strike at the very heart of human dignity often giving rise to division, enmity, oppression and violence. Since this solidarity is necessarily based on the radical equality of all men and women, any policy that contradicts the basic dignity and human rights of any person or group is to be rejected. On the other hand, initiatives that build open and honest relationships, that forge just alliances, that unite people in cooperation redounding to the benefit of all, are to be encouraged and fostered. Such solidarity does not mean ignoring real linguistic, racial, religious, social or cultural differences, nor does it deny the sometimes great difficulties in overcoming long-standing divisions and injustice; what it does involve is giving pride of place to what is held in common, to those things that unite people in the common quest for peace and progress.

We are speaking here, then, of a solidarity that protects and defends the legitimate freedom of each person and the rightful security of every nation. Without this freedom and security, the very conditions for development are lacking, the necessary ingredients for progress are absent. In other words, the freedom that States must have in order to ensure their growth and development as equal partners in the larger family of nations is dependent on mutual respect among them. Individuals and peoples have the right to an active voice in the decisions that affect them and their future, and they must be free to exercise this right. It is for this reason that seeking economic, military or political superiority at the expense of the rights of others places in jeopardy any prospects for true development or true peace (cf. Message for the 1987 World Day of Peace, 6).

It is this solidarity, then, that must ever guide economic assistance, political cooperation and even peace-keeping military operations in whatever part of the globe they may occur and between whatever parties they may take place. In this regard, I am pleased to note that Zambia, which is one of the countries on the African continent that has enjoyed political stability and peace since independence, is actively involved in efforts aimed at pacification and reconciliation in Africa — especially in the Great Lakes region — and elsewhere. I also call on the international community to ensure that the aid programmes offered to your country and to other areas of Africa and the world are firmly grounded in a solidarity based on respect for individual freedom and human dignity.

Indeed, the Church herself, moved by fidelity to her Divine Master and following his example, reaches out in compassion and love to all men and women in gestures of solidarity. In Zambia she is committed to the betterment of society through her work in the fields of education, health care, charitable activity, and as she seeks to defend human rights, promote moral values and foster the integral development of all people and of the whole person. I thank Your Excellency for your words of appreciation of this ongoing task and for your pledge of cooperation in these very areas.

Mr Ambassador, I am certain that your term of service will do much to strengthen the bonds of friendship between your Government and the Holy See. I offer you my best wishes for the success of your mission and I assure you that the various offices of the Roman Curia will always be ready to assist you in fulfilling your lofty duties. Upon yourself and the beloved people of Zambia I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.



Thursday, 27 May 2004

Mr Ambassador,

I welcome Your Excellency with joy as you present the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Mali to the Holy See.

I thank you for your kind words conveying to me the respectful tribute of the President of the Republic and of the People of Mali. I would be grateful if you would reciprocate by conveying my courteous good wishes to H.E. Mr Amadou Toumani Touré, Head of State, for himself and for the accomplishment of his office at the service of all the inhabitants of the Country. My thoughts also go to the Leaders of the Nation and to all who live in it.

You stress, Mr Ambassador, the firm determination of the Authorities of your Nation to work actively to establish more peaceful and fraternal relations between human beings, not only within your own boundaries but also in the sub-region to which you belong and across the African Continent. This is a noble undertaking that honours your Nation, despite the difficulties the Authorities must overcome if they are to enable all who live in the Country to enjoy a standard of life that respects their dignity and fundamental rights.

The persistence of open or latent conflicts, particularly in West Africa, demands this engaged action to ensure that all the region's inhabitants may live in security and envisage a more tranquil future. I do not doubt that the competent bodies, both in the region and throughout the Continent, will make every effort to work in a well-coordinated partnership to defeat the instability that still prevails in many regions and to seek the ways and means for Africa to be ever more fully integrated in the globalization process.

The encroaching desertification in Mali is also an urgent challenge to be confronted. Linked to the extreme climatic conditions of the Sahel, it gives rise to precarious conditions and poverty for a large number of your compatriots; they are often forced to choose exile in other countries or on other continents to provide for their own most basic needs and those of their loved ones.

Today I would like to launch an appeal to the international community, inviting it to show ever greater solidarity and support to the countries in need of its aid. This commitment necessarily includes respect for the promises the industrialized countries have made to the poorer countries, particularly in the area of investments, public grants and the reduction of the national debt, with the constant goal of empowering people to undertake their own development.

As you recall, Mali is a nation whose history, culture, values and religious traditions can be assets to the preservation of harmony and friendly coexistence in the Nation, creating the necessary conditions for lasting peace and giving rise to the establishment of increasingly coherent social relations. Efforts made to help society advance towards democracy and pluralism must be encouraged, so that all Malians may benefit from the advantages of a growth that is not limited to the legitimate increase of material well-being, but allows people and society to blossom to the full in all their human and spiritual dimensions.

The education of the young generations - by passing on the fundamental human values, eliminating illiteracy, enabling them to follow an educational programme, showing them the need for endeavour, inculcating in their consciences a moral and civic sense - is an essential element of this ongoing development which cannot be circumvented and which every nation is duty bound to encourage and promote. This education is carried out by means of a suitable scholastic system, from which no one must be excluded, but also by the promotion of courageous family policies that make it possible for parents to fulfil their mission as the educators of their children.

It is essential that young people be encouraged to give the best of themselves, so that they may become decision-makers and leaders of their homeland in the future who will guide the nation on the paths to unity, stability and prosperity.

Through you, I would also like once again to instil an awareness, in the countries concerned and throughout the international community, of the serious scourges of the trafficking in children and the work of minors who are a source of cheap labour for unscrupulous international organizations. By jolting consciences, I hope to inspire the necessary international cooperation to halt these inadmissible practices that are contemptuous of the primordial dignity of frail beings created in God's image and contrary to the most fundamental rights of children.

Respectful dialogue and constructive relations between members of the different religious communities that make up a nation are a powerful support in strengthening peace and harmony among all citizens. To maintain and develop a spirit of mutual trust and collaboration, however, it is important that civil and religious leaders contribute ceaselessly to reinforcing the conditions for the exercise of true religious freedom. Believers are invited to show that God has made them members of the same family, clothed them with the same dignity and calls them to be increasingly committed to serving the common good.

It is crucial "for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence" (Address at the Umayyad Great Mosque, Damascus, 6 May 2001, n. 3; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 9 May 2001, p. 11). I encourage believers, united with all people of good will, to pursue the dialogue of life which acts to link knowledge and confidence that are vital to the good of the whole human family.

You recall, Mr Ambassador, that the Catholic Community in Mali, which contributes in many ways to the Nation's development and cohesion, is respected and appreciated by the civil Authorities. I am very glad of it. In a spirit of reciprocal trust, it seems desirable that the various ecclesial and State institutions pursue a true dialogue to permit the Catholic Church in Mali to benefit from effective and permanent recognition as an institution that is fully part of society. In this way she will be able to carry out her spiritual mission among her members and serve more effectively through her institutions all the people of Mali without distinction.

Through you, I address my cordial good wishes to the Bishops of Mali and all the members of the Catholic Community, and ask them to be generous witnesses of God's love and to contribute to building a united and brotherly nation in which each one feels fully united and respected.

At the time when your mission is beginning, Mr Ambassador, I offer you my very best wishes for the noble task that awaits you, as I assure you that you will always find here with my collaborators an attentive welcome and cordial understanding.

Upon Your Excellency, upon the people of Mali and upon their leaders, I wholeheartedly invoke an abundance of divine Blessings.



Thursday, 27 May 2004

Your Excellency,

I am pleased to welcome you today as you present the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Holy See. I thank you for bringing me the courteous greetings of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and I ask you kindly to convey to her my good wishes, together with the assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will bless all the people of Sri Lanka with a future of peace and prosperity.

Your Excellency has pointed to the importance of the resumption of peace talks and the promotion of dialogue and negotiation in order to achieve a political resolution of the continuing civil unrest in Sri Lanka. The present cease-fire in fact represents a precious opportunity for both sides in the conflict to concentrate on building trust and a lasting peace grounded in respect for differences and a commitment to reconciliation, justice and solidarity. It is my hope that progress made in the peace process will also serve as an incentive to the international community to offer support and aid as Sri Lanka faces the challenging task of rebuilding and pursuing a sound development which will benefit all its people.

In this context, I very much appreciate your reference to Sri Lanka’s long tradition of religious tolerance and diversity as a precious gift which must be protected and promoted. In cooperation with all men and women of good will, the followers of the various religions have a particular role to play in fostering reconciliation, justice and peace in every sphere of society. Precisely because of their shared convictions about the sacredness of creation, the dignity of each individual and the unity of the whole human family, they are challenged to work together in laying the spiritual foundations for genuine social harmony. I renew the hope I expressed during my Pastoral Visit to Sri Lanka that all will continue "to pursue this path, which is surely the one most in accord with its history and the genius of your people" (Farewell Address, Colombo, 21 January 1995). A multi-ethnic and religiously diverse society like Sri Lanka will surely find in its rich cultural and spiritual traditions the inspiration needed to building unity within diversity, in a spirit of solidarity which acknowledges and values the contribution of each of its members.

Although the Catholic community in Sri Lanka is a minority, it is fully committed to this goal, and strives through its schools and charitable institutions to be an instrument of peace by teaching tolerance and respect, above all to the young people who are the future of the nation. The Church wishes to make every possible contribution to the ongoing process of pacification. As citizens of Sri Lanka, Catholics rightly expect that their religious and civil freedoms will be fully guaranteed, including their right to propose to others the saving truth which they have come to know and have embraced. Religious freedom, as an expression of the inviolable dignity of the human person in the search for truth, is in a real way the foundation of all other human rights. This freedom, which, as you have noted, also includes the right to adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice, has long been recognized as a fundamental human right by the international community and has been enshrined in your country’s constitution.

It is precisely in the name of religious freedom that the Catholic Church, in carrying out her mission, firmly deplores all violence perpetrated against others in the name of religion. She likewise rejects any form of proselytization, understood as the attempt to violate another person’s freedom of conscience through moral or financial coercion. Such acts represent an offence against the authentic nature of religion, which is meant to be "an inexhaustible wellspring of respect and harmony between peoples; religion is, in fact, the chief antidote to violence and conflict" (Message for the 2002 World Day of Peace, 14). I take this opportunity to reiterate my conviction that respectful dialogue and ongoing cooperation between religious leaders and the civil authorities remain the best way to a lasting solution to the troubling issues raised by acts of fanaticism and aggression associated with certain individuals or groups, while at the same time guaranteeing the demands of justice and the exercise of religious freedom.

Your Excellency, I offer you my prayerful good wishes as you take up your high responsibilities. I am confident that the fulfilment of your diplomatic duties will contribute to a further strengthening of the friendly relations between Sri Lanka and the Holy See. Upon you and upon all whom you serve I cordially invoke Almighty God’s blessings of wisdom, joy and peace.

Speeches 2004