Speeches 1997 - Saturday, 8 March 1997

We must constantly improve the implementation of the decisions of the Second Vatican Council, which fortunately emphasized the liturgy’s place at the heart of the Church’s life: “For it is the liturgy through which, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, ‘the work of our redemption is accomplished’, and it is through the liturgy, especially, that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.... It ... show[s] forth the Church, a sign lifted up among the nations, to those who are outside, a sign under which the scattered children of God may be gathered together” (Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 2). These words of the Council, in their whole rich context, already show that liturgical celebration, and especially the commemoration of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, “is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows” (ibid., n. 10). For the liturgy is the place par excellence where the members of Christ’s Body are one with the Saviour’s prayer, with his total gift of self for the glorification of the Father and with his mission of salvation for the world. As the Second Vatican Council goes on to say, it is “an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ.... In it full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members” (ibid., n. 7).

3. The function of the pastoral care of the liturgy is therefore to guide priests and faithful in their participation in the central action Christ entrusted to his Church, which is the actualization of the paschal mystery of the Passion and Resurrection. “For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’” (ibid., n. 5). It must be constantly repeated that the Eucharist makes the Church and that it makes her the sign of Christ.

A correct conception of the liturgy is mindful that it must clearly express the fundamental notes of the Church. It is primarily the unity of the assembly in which the baptized gather to celebrate the same Lord. In this regard it is necessary for ritual unity to be perceptible to the different generations of the faithful, different milieus and different cultures. There should be no opposition between the universal and the particular. Of course, in towns and villages and from one country to another, assemblies have distinctive features, but the liturgical celebration must permit every person to understand that they are not performing a private action, confined to the group present, but that the Church is “the sacrament of unity” (ibid., n. 26). It is the Lord who gathers, and the Church advances to meet him “until he comes”, to achieve in all its fullness the benevolent plan of the Father: “according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ ... to unite all things in him” (Ep 1,9). Thus the catholicity in which all are called to participate can be seen, even in the most modest gathering.

The sense of the sacred is to be preserved with attentive discernment, while avoiding such an exaggerated “sacralizing” of the liturgical style that it deprives the rites or sacred words of their proper sense which is to signify the gift of God and his sanctifying presence. To live the liturgical celebration in holiness is to welcome the Lord who comes to complete in us what we cannot accomplish by our own efforts.

It is clear that the apostolic note flows from the mission entrusted to the Apostles, from their participation in the one priesthood of Christ in the ministerial function with which they have been invested for the whole Body of the Church, which shares in the universal priesthood. The Church is apostolic as well, because she never abandons her missionary vocation. In the celebration of the liturgy, all that the faithful accomplish in order to fulfil their mission in the midst of the world is presented to God for his glorification. And the celebration of the liturgy leads people to take up this mission, with the support of Christ’s life-giving grace, in the ways proper to each one’s vocation.

Community liturgy helps the members of the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church to live the mystery of Christ in time. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of gathering for Mass on the Lord’s day. The early Christians understood this well: “We live under the observance of the Lord’s day [the day] when our life is raised by him and by his death ... how could we live without him?” (St Ignatius of Antioch, To the Magnesians, 9, 1-2). Weekly attendance at the Sunday Eucharist and the cycle of the liturgical year make it possible to give a rhythm to Christian life and to sanctify time, which the risen Lord opens to the blessed eternity of the kingdom. Pastoral care will see that the liturgy is not isolated from the rest of Christian life: for the faithful are invited daily to continue their common liturgical pratice in daily private prayer; this spiritual discipline gives new vigour to the witness of the faith lived by Christians each day, and also to the fraternal service of the poor and to one’s neighbour in general. The pastoral care of the liturgy, which cannot end at the church door, suggests to each one that he should unify his life and his actions.

4. The liturgy, which expresses the Church’s proper nature and is a source for the mission, is given to us by the Church herself to glorify God: thus its laws, which should be respected by distinguishing the different roles carried out by ordained ministers and by lay people. Whatever directs believers to God, what gathers them and what unites them with one another and with all the other assemblies should be given priority. The Council was clear on this matter: “Pastors of souls must, therefore, realize that when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the laws governing valid and lawful celebration. It is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite and enriched by it” (Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 11).

The celebrants and leaders must help the assembly enter into a liturgical celebration which is not merely their own production but is an act of the whole Church. Priority must therefore be given to the words and actions of Christ, to what has been called “God’s surprise”. The role of guidance is not to express everything or prescribe everything; it will respect a certain spiritual freedom for each person in his relationship with the word of God and with the sacramental signs. A liturgical act is an event of grace whose effect exceeds the will or expertise of the agents who are called to be humble instruments in the Lord’s hands. It is they who have the task of making it possible to see what God is for us, what he does for us, and of making the faithful today realize that they are entering into the history of creation sanctified by the Redeemer, in the mystery of universal salvation.

5. At a practical level, I will add that it is important to attend to the quality of the signs, without however showing “elitism”, for Christ’s followers, whatever their culture, must be able to recognize in the words and actions the Lord’s presence in his Church and the gifts of his grace. The first sign is that of the assembly itself. Having gathered together, the community in a way gives hospitality to Christ and to the people he loves. Everyone’s attitude counts, for the liturgical assembly is the first image the Church gives of herself, invited to the Lord’s banquet.

Next, it is in the Church that the word of God is authentically proclaimed, a word venerated because it is a living word in which the Spirit dwells. Every care must be given to reading by the various ministers of the word, who will have interiorized it so that it will reach the faithful as a true light and a force for the present. On the priests’ part, the homily requires meditation and assimilation so that they can impart the meaning of the word and enable the faithful really to adhere to it and carry it out in their daily tasks.

Hymns and sacred music have an essential role in reinforcing everyone’s communion, in a form very sensitive to the acceptance and assimilation of the word of God, through the unity of prayer. The biblical importance of singing, the vehicle of wisdom, is well known: “Psallite sapienter” the psalmist says (Ps 47 [46]:8). See to it that beautiful hymns based on worthy texts and in harmony with a meaningful content are chosen and composed. Even more generally than the hymn properly so-called, liturgical music has the evocative capacity to interweave theological meaning and a sense of formal beauty and poetic insight. It is also appropriate to add here that besides the word and the hymn, silence has an indispensable place in the liturgy when it is well prepared; it enables each person to develop in his heart spiritual dialogue with the Lord.

In your country, which has a precious religious heritage, there is no need to stress that the places and objects of worship are naturally expressive signs, whether they are the heritage of the past or of contemporary creations, for the faith gives a real creative dynamism to culture and art. In this regard, I would like to say that I greatly appreciate the care given by the State authorities to many religious buildings, cathedrals or parish churches. Make every effort to give life to village churches, even when there are fewer inhabitants. May the liturgy always be the true raison d’être of these monuments, for, it has been said, just as stones fit together, so do men when they gather to praise God.

In short, the liturgy is an extraordinary means of evangelizing man, with all his qualities of mind and the sharpness of his senses, with his capacity for insight and his artistic or musical sensitivity, which better expresses his desire for the absolute than any speech could.

For the liturgy to be carried out properly and fruitfully, the formation of celebrants and leaders must be carefully followed, as your diocesan liturgical-commissions are doing. Continue to call the attention of liturgical leadership teams to the arrangements for celebrations, preparing them in positive collaboration between the priests and the laity.

6. What I have just recalled on the subject of the pastoral care of the liturgy as a whole must be completed with several reflections on the pastoral care of the sacraments, which is not reserved to a few specialists. The entire Church of Christ is responsible for welcoming our brothers and sisters, with love, even if they have fallen away from regular practice. To fulfil their mission as the stewards of God’s mysteries, priests rely on the co-operation of lay people who agree to form teams providing preparation for Baptism or Matrimony, as well as preparation for the Eucharist and Confirmation, within the framework of catchesis and the catechumenate.

For pastors and communities who receive requests from families, adolescents or adults, it is a question of carefully discerning the meaning of the step they have taken, in the actual context of their personal situation. If their approach often seems hesitant or routine, it is good to keep an open mind and to trust in the presence of the Spirit precisely in those who are asking; sacraments are proposed as gifts of grace for one’s whole being, a call to conversion, and not as the achievement or seal of a maturity in the faith which must have been previously acquired.

The sacramental ministry is inseparable from the mission of evangelization as a whole: it leads to arranging occasions when the faith and initiation into Christian life can be presented; it seeks to encourage the spiritual progress of those who come and knock at the Church’s door, while communicating the Lord’s call to them and clearly showing its Gospel demands. It is also desirable that parishes and movements try to keep in touch with people for whom the reception of the sacraments is in danger of remaining an isolated act extraneous to their daily lives.

Without being able here to go further into how to approach the different sacraments, I would like to invite you especially to deepen your reflection on the sacrament of Matrimony, in its dimension as a sign of the Covenant and of God’s faithful love. The crisis of marriage and the family calls for a renewal of the Christian meaning of this sacrament, which should lead couples to bear witness to an authentic conception of marriage that reflects God’s relation with humanity.

You also point out that the sacrament of Penance has lost much of its appeal. There are many reasons for this especially of a cultural kind, such as widespread individualism, or again, misunderstandings of the moral demands, the sense of sin and one’s relationship with God. The service we must offer our brothers and sisters is not to give up making them reflect seriously, in the light of the Gospel which reveals “God, who is rich in mercy” (Ep 2,4). This especially regards men and women who are sometimes burdened by sin even if they are unable to identify it and shrink from confession, unaware of that admirable gift which the Father bestows on us through Christ the Saviour, and who disregard the need for a conscience guilty of serious sin to have recourse to the sacrament of forgiveness before receiving the Eucharist. May priests not underestimate the impact of the ministry of reconciliation, which is certainly demanding, but a source of peace and joy for those to whom God’s merciful love is revealed.

7. Wise pastoral care of the liturgy is one of the most important tasks of the Church’s mission, in order to open the ways of communion in the grace of salvation to the greatest possible number. I have treated these issues to encourage the considerable efforts made in your Dioceses since the Second Vatican Council. As I said to a liturgical congress in 1984, it is necessary to keep in mind, “with great balance, God’s part and man’s, the hierarchy and the faithful, tradition and progress, the law and adaptation, the individual and the community, silence and choral enthusiasm. In this way the earthly liturgy will be linked with that of heaven where ... a single choir will be formed ... to raise with one and the same voice a hymn of praise to the Father, through Jesus Christ” (Address, 27 October 1984, n. 6).

Let us ask the Lord to help the baptized believe firmly in Christ’s action in the contemporary world through the sacraments he has given his Church. Let us give thanks for the devotion of those who contribute to liturgical celebrations in your communities, without forgetting the young people, now more numerous, who serve at the altar and are thus more disposed to hear, if the case should arise, the call of the Lord to follow him in priesthood or the consecrated life.

In the name of the Lord, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all the members of your Dioceses.





13 March 1997

Your Eminences,
Your Excellencies,
Dear Priests and Seminarians,

I am pleased to welcome the Episcopal Board of Governors, and the Rector, staff, seminarians and student priests of the Pontifical North American College. From its foundation by Pope Pius IX, your College has always maintained close spiritual bonds with the Successors of Peter, and this has been an important factor in strengthening the catholic and universal character of the Church in your country. Now, on the eve of the Third Christian Millenium, the College is called to send forth new generations of priests imbued with deep love of our Lord Jesus Christ, zeal for the spread of the Gospel and a vivid sense of the Church's living tradition.

This year marks the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the entrustment of the United States to the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, to whom the College too is dedicated. I pray that the Board of Governors, who are here to assess the work of the College in the light of the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis and of the Program of Priestly Formation recently approved by the Bishops' Conference, will uphold and further promote the great formative legacy of the College.

But above all it depends on the Faculty and students to give life to the program of priestly training. Seventeen years ago I had the joy of visiting your College and celebrating the Eucharist in the College Chapel, dedicated to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. I renew to you the appeal which I made then: that, like Mary, you will ponder God's word in your hearts each day, so that your whole life may be a proclamation of Christ, the Word made flesh (cf. Homily, 22 February 1980). In this way you will be the priests and apostles which the Church in the United States needs at the threshold of the new Millennium.

To the whole College community I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Lord.





Friday, 14 March 1997

Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Friends,

1. I welcome you with joy this morning at the end of your plenary session. I thank your President, Cardinal Paul Poupard, for recalling the spirit in which your work has been conducted. You reflected on the question of how to help the Church ensure a stronger presence of the Gospel in the heart of cultures, at the approach of the new millennium.

This meeting gives me an opportunity to say again to you: “The synthesis between culture and faith is not just a demand of culture, but also of faith” (Letter Establishing the Pontifical Council for Culture, 20 May 1982; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 28 June 1982, p. 7). This is what Christians faithful to the Gospel in the most varied cultural situations have achieved in the course of two millenniums. The Church has most often been involved in the culture of the peoples among whom she has taken root, to form them according to Gospel principles.

Faith in Christ who became incarnate in history does not only transform individuals inwardly, but also regenerates peoples and their cultures. Thus at the end of antiquity, Christians, who lived in a culture to which they were greatly indebted, transformed it from within and instilled a new spirit in it. When this culture was threatened, the Church with Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great and many others, passed on the heritage of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome to give birth to an authentic Christian civilization. Despite the imperfections inherent in all human work, this was the occasion for a successful synthesis between faith and culture.

2. In our day, this synthesis is often lacking and the rupture between the Gospel and culture is “without a doubt the drama of our time” (Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi EN 20). This is a tragedy for the faith, because in a society where Christianity seems absent from social life and the faith relegated to the private sphere, access to religious values becomes more difficult, especially for the poor and the young, that is to say, for the vast majority of people who are unconsciously becoming secularized under pressure from the models of thought and action spread by the prevailing culture. The absence of a culture to support them prevents the young from having contact with the faith and from living it to the full.

This situation is also a tragedy for culture, which is undergoing a deep crisis because of the rupture with the faith. The symptom of this crisis is primarily the feeling of anguish which comes from the awareness of finitude in a world without God, where one makes the ego an absolute, and earthly affairs the only values of life. In a culture without transcendence, man succumbs to the lure of money and power, pleasure and success. He also encounters the dissatisfaction caused by materialism, the loss of the meaning of moral values and restlessness about the future.

3. But at the heart of this disillusionment there remains a thirst for the absolute, a desire for goodness, a hunger for truth, the need for personal fulfilment. This shows the breadth of the Pontifical Council for Culture’s task: to help the Church achieve a new synthesis of faith and culture for the greatest benefit of all. At the end of this century, it is essential to reaffirm the fruitfulness of faith for the development of a culture. Only a faith that is the source of radical spiritual decisions can have an effect on an era's culture. Thus the attitude of St Benedict, the Roman patrician who left an ageing society and withdrew in solitude, asceticism and prayer, was decisive for the growth of Christian civilization.

4. In its approach to cultures, Christianity presents the message of salvation received by the Apostles and the first disciples, reflected on and deepened by the Fathers of the Church and the theologians, lived by Christian people, especially the saints, and expressed by its great theological, philosophical, literary and artistic geniuses. We must proclaim this message to our contemporaries in all its richness and beauty.

To do this, each particular Church must have a cultural plan, as is already the case in some countries. During this plenary assembly, you devoted considerable time to examining not only the challenges but also the demands of authentic pastoral work in the area of culture, which is decisive for the new evangelization. Coming from various cultural backgrounds, you inform the Holy See of the expectations of the local Churches and the reports of your Christian communities.

Among the tasks incumbent on you I stress certain points that require the greatest attention from your Council, such as the foundation of Catholic cultural centres or a presence in the world of the media and science, in order to transmit Christianity’s cultural heritage. In all these efforts be particularly close to young people and artists.

5. Faith in Christ gives cultures a new dimension, that of hope in God’s kingdom. It is the vocation of Christians to instil in the heart of cultures this hope for a new earth and a new heaven. For when hope fades, cultures die. Far from threatening or impoverishing them, the Gospel increases their joy and beauty, freedom and meaning, truth and goodness.

We are all called to pass on this message by speech which proclaims it, a life which witnesses to it, a culture which radiates it. For the Gospel brings culture to its perfection, and authentic culture is open to the Gospel. We will constantly have to return to this work of bringing them together. I established the Pontifical Council for Culture to help the Church be involved in the saving exchange in which inculturation of the Gospel goes hand in hand with the evangelization of cultures. May God help you accomplish your exciting mission!

As I commend the future of the Pontifical Council for Culture and that of all its members to Mary, Mother of the Church and Christ’s first teacher, I cordially grant you my Apostolic Blessing.




Saturday, 15 March 1997

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I welcome all of you who have come here to repay the visit which I had the joy of making to Colle di Val d’Elsa and Siena on 30 March last year. I greet you affectionately, and first of all I respectfully acknowledge my dear brothers in the Episcopate, Archbishop Gaetano Bonicelli and Bishop Alberto Giglioli of the Dioceses of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino and of Montepul-ciano, respectively.

I also greet the priests and religious who work among you and who have accompanied you here today. Lastly, I greet all of you who by your visit renew in my heart the feelings I experienced in your land a year ago.

2. We are meeting here today shortly before the feast of St Joseph and this reminds me of my visit to the workers of Colle di Val d’Elsa and the problems I spoke of then. I would also like to confirm the Church’s closeness to the working world. After the example of her Founder and Teacher, the Church wishes to be present among workers, to offer them the Gospel message about work and the central place that man must always occupy in economic relations.

The memory of Siena cannot fail to call to mind the figure of the great saint, now also a doctor of the Church, who was born in your land. The message of St Catherine is still valid and inspiring. The many problems she had to face in her time are not unlike those of today. With the strength and freedom that came from her intimate union with God, in a tumultuous era she was able to call on both great and small to build relationships of justice and peace in all walks of life. How can we not hope that Catherine’s teaching — that of a woman exemplary in combining contemplation with action — may continue to influence the culture and life of the Italian nation of which she is the patroness, and of the city and province of Siena in particular? May the 650th anniversary of her birth (25 March 1347), which occurs at this time, once again turn the attention of the Sienese and of all Italians to the rich patrimony of her teaching.

3. When I came to Siena last year, I wished symbolically to conclude the National Eucharistic Congress, held two years before. I am pleased to learn that that solemn celebration remains a point of reference for your community. Indeed, what can be more unifying and attractive than the Eucharistic Mystery believed, loved and celebrated? The Eucharist speaks of self-giving love: it is the greatest expression of Christ’s love for us, and, at the same time, of our love for Christ. Let us fix our gaze on him in this first year of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. We must make room for Christ in our personal and community lives. Your ancestors established many popular traditions, feasts, companies and confraternities linked to Eucharistic devotion. Many of these are far from having lost their impact and should be encouraged through wise and appropriate modernization. Indeed, it is not enough to preserve the past, no matter how wonderful it might be; we must constantly revive it in order to transmit its values intact to the new generations.

The monogram of Christ brought by the great St Bernardine as a sign of peace stands out on the town hall of Siena and on almost all the houses in your land: Jesus, true God and true man, the Saviour. May it not be a mere archaeological piece! Christ is always the same yesterday, today and for ever. Make room for Christ in your personal, family, social and professional lives. His presence is a guarantee of richer and more authentic human relationships.

4. Certainly the most important dimension of your pilgrimage today is that of the future, the Jubilee of the Year 2000. For more than 1,000 years the land of Siena has been traversed by the most classical approaches to Rome: the Via Francigena, which connected various routes of Northern Europe with Rome, and the Via Romaea, which from Eastern Europe joined the former at Poggibonsi. Along these roads places for prayer, rest and care offering hospitality to pilgrims abounded: glorious abbeys, mansions, shelters, castles and immense buildings such as the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, which stands in your city.

In it we find a true witness to the Christian spirit of art and humanity: the Pellegrinaio, a large hall frescoed by the most famous artists of the time, where pilgrims were welcomed, refreshed and cared for like brothers and sisters. In that solemn and dignified atmosphere, St Catherine and St Bernardine developed forms of Christian volunteer work which, thank God, are still flourishing today. We need only recall with gratitude the Misericordias, which in Tuscany found and continue to play an invaluable role, together with similar institutions in the field of social assistance and health care.

5. Dear brothers and sisters, I hope that your visit to St Peter’s tomb and your meeting with his Successor will confirm your faith and your identity as persons baptized in Christ. Born to new life by Baptism, may you be signs of hope in a society that is in many respects disoriented.

In the light of Easter, which is now approaching, I hope your pilgrimage will yield abundant fruit and I ask you to convey my greetings to those who were unable to take part, especially the sick.

With these sentiments I invoke upon you the protection of Mary most holy, and I sincerely impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you all.



TO officers and crew of

THE helicopter-carrier ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

Saturday, 15 March 1997

Dear Friends,

You have wished to greet the Bishop of Rome as the helicopter-carrier Jeanne d’Arc puts in at Naples. I am pleased to meet you in this city, in the heart of the Church to which many of you belong. You know that because of his ministry the Pope works for the unity and peace of mankind, in the name of Christ who came to reconcile humanity with the Father. The career you have chosen takes you all over a world that is often divided and wounded: may you always act as servants of peace, with love for men and women!

The next World Youth Day in Paris has for its theme the disciples’ conversation with Jesus: “Teacher where are you staying?”. Christ’s answer is: “Come and see” (cf. Jn Jn 1,38-39). I also extend this invitation to you. Whether it is in Paris in August, or on the world’s oceans, go out to meet the One who is the light of the world; learn to see the face of Christ who reveals the splendour of God and who also lets himself be recognized in the lowliest of his brothers and sisters.

At the moment we are preparing for the celebration of Easter. I hope you will spend this feast walking in the footsteps of Christ, who loved his own to the very end (cf. Jn Jn 13,1) and was the first to rise from the dead in the glory of Easter. For you may he be “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14,6)!

Thank you for your visit. I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all your loved ones.



TO THE Bishops' Conference of France

ON THEIR "Ad limina Apostolorum" VISIT

Saturday, 15 March 1997

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I welcome you with joy on the occasion of your pilgrimage to the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and of your ad limina visit, an event which expresses the communion of the local Churches throughout the world with the Successor of Peter, and their trusting co-operation with the different services of the Holy See. I thank Bishop Maurice Gaidon, your President, for presenting the important aspects of your ministry to me: your joys and your reasons for gratitude because you perceive the work of the Spirit in human hearts, and the questions which you encounter daily in your mission. Our meetings enable me to be close to the clergy and the faithful of the Dioceses of which you are the Pastors.

Among the elements of renewal and the needs you have pointed out in your quinquennial reports, today I am emphasizing everything that has to do with catechesis and young people. It is precisely these two aspects that I would like to recall with you; in the spirit which inspired the spring meeting of the Bishops of France in 1996, I encourage you to continue and intensify your activity with young people, for the Church’s concern must be directed especially to them.

2. First of all you stress the wish of many families for guidance in arousing the faith of the very young. Parents are sometimes bewildered by childrens' questions; they then feel the need to turn to their pastors. It is often an occasion for them to revive their own faith and to return to a more intense sacramental practice. At home, children wonder about God from the earliest age; there they can be given the first answers to their questions and can be introduced to conversation with the Lord and learn to trust in his goodness as a Father. But the very pedagogy of Christian prayer presupposes that adults give an example of personal prayer and meditation on the Word of God. We must therefore encourage parents to become aware of their mission as teachers of the faith and to ask for the support of priests and of lay people formed in this aspect of pastoral care.

3. To satisfy the specific demands of children's religious education, you have taken pains to suggest catechetical instruction which develops the Christian mystery at all levels. In fact, catechesis requires well-planned programmes, inspired by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, presenting the different elements of the Creed.Moreover, in studying sacred history, children learn to know the great biblical figures, and take as examples those who prepared the coming of the Lord, so as to know Christ and in, turn, to become his disciples. At an age when formation takes place by offering models of Christian life, identification with the men and women of the Old and New Testaments and the saints of our history is an important dimension of spiritual education. You also note that more and more school-age children ask for Baptism; one can only rejoice at this renewal, which calls for great attention, since it shows that children can discover the value of the sacraments: let us help them participate regularly.

4. Specialized catechesis is also experiencing a new growth. I salute the people who are willing to help handicapped children receive a suitable catechesis and benefit from proper spiritual assistance. With all their heart and despite their suffering, these young people are able to marvel at the greatness and beauty of God, who does not reveal himself to the wise, but to the poor and the very young (cf. Lk Lc 10,21); they also have a profound sense of filial prayer and trust in the Lord. Adults greatly benefit from closeness to these young ones. I invite Christian communities to provide a proper proper place for those who are the weakest and frailest.

5. In a society that tends to stress profitability, it is good to remember that the human development and maturation of the young cannot come about solely through the acquisition of scientific and technical knowledge. This would be to misunderstand their personal need for interiority. Vital energy springs from the interior experience. For the necessary spiritual development of the young, many parents are concerned that their children receive a religious education that is not confused with the teaching of religious knowledge provided in many schools. Information about religion is appropriate, because it enables young people to discover the spiritual and moral roots of their culture. However it does not yet constitute the transmission of the faith, which opens them to practising the Christian life. Retaining the possibility of catechesis is not only a question of religious freedom or openness of spirit, but responds to the concern to introduce young people to the splendour of the truth and to make them disciples of the Lord, accepting their responsibilities in the Christian community. A catechetical formation which does not invite children to meet the Lord in personal prayer and the regular practice of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, might very well lead young people to abandon the faith and the demands of the moral life.

In this perspective, it is necessary that the authorities and all who have responsibilities in the world of education take care to schedule and to maintain, during the weeks of the school term, suitable periods for families who so wish to offer their children a Christian and spiritual formation, without it becoming for the young an undue burden in their timetable, excluding them from extracurricular activities. In this regard, I acknowledge the considerable efforts made by those responsible for catechesis and by parishes to adapt their schedules to young people's needs.

6. More and more people are participating in catechesis. I am pleased that fathers and mothers of families, in conjunction with men and women religious and priests, are ready to give their time to support this important mission of the Church. As for you, you are attentive to forming them carefully, at the theological, spiritual and pedagogical levels, so that they can patiently guide the children in their human and spiritual growth, and pass on the Christian message to them. The catechist is more than a teacher: he is a witness to the Church's faith and an example of moral life. He leads young people to discover Christ and helps them find the place to which they aspire in their Christian communities, which must be ready to welcome them and involve them in various Church activities.

I salute the efforts the diocesan catechetical services have made to organize teams in which adults can be formed and find useful texts and the necessary information; thanks to this multifaceted collaboration, those in charge of catechesis are thus supplied with indispensable tools for their educational task at the doctrinal and pedagogical levels.

7. Catholic schools have a specific role to play in religious education, as the recently modified statutes of Catholic education and the in-depth reflections during the various National Days for the Administrative Boards of Catholic Education recall. In the schools, through academic instruction, courses in religious culture, catechesis and daily life, it is the task of the educational community to reveal the Christian meaning of man and to take clearly into consideration the essential spiritual and moral values of the Christian message. Administrators and teachers will take care to be examples of Christian living by their whole lifestyle; this is indeed demanding, but young people will discover a living faith and act accordingly as much from the way of life of those around them as from what they say.

8. Please convey my warm encouragement to all the men and women who in the various parts of catechetical formation dedicate themselves generously so that Christ may be known and loved, and that the Christian mystery may be clearly presented to today's young people. Sustained by personal prayer, by the sacramental life and by all the members of the Christian communities, may they continually develop new educational programmes, despite their sometimes limited means. I also invite the ecclesial communities to offer Liturgies of the Word, and on Sundays, whenever possible, Eucharistic celebrations in which children and young people truly participate and which are at their level.

9. In the area of extracurricular activities, the Church has a long tradition and has always had a role to play, because leisure moments are also a valuable time for education. In many youth movements there remains a vivid and devoted memory of priests, consecrated persons and lay people who, on days off and during the school holidays, brought children together and organized games, learning activities and a community life among young people and adults. These are beneficial elements for the integral growth and socialization of young people. Many young people who took part in these activities have later had considerable responsibilities in the Church or in society. Even today, it is necessary to seek the most appropriate ways to answer the needs of young people, who outside of school, in which the pace and schedules are often heavy, legitimately desire some leisure time.This is because true education cannot be viewed only as intellectual formation. By attention to soul and body, it is a question of building up in each young person the man or woman he or she will be in the future, a person responsible for himself and his brothers and sisters, by helping him to become spiritually, humanly and emotionally balanced.

10. You are worried by the low number of young people in the ecclesial communities. And you have told me of the considerable number of young people who are failures in school or who are disturbed by personal and family difficulties. You also observe that many of them are deeply wounded by the crises affecting contemporary society. Others are fascinated and led astray by movements of all kinds which promise illusory happiness, while restricting their personal freedom and sometimes jeopardizing their psychological balance. In order to fulfil your mission in the most appropriate way, you sponsored a great survey of young people last year; you received more than 1,200 replies, including many important testimonies. This is an encouraging sign and a call to develop more and more challenging programmes for youth.

Thanks to the analyses and the summary which your Episcopal Conference has made on the basis of this survey, you will now help the local communities to develop new pastoral perspectives for responding to the expectations of young people and making them partners in ecclesial life. All the living forces of the Dioceses are called to work together and to intensify their activity with youth: the diocesan organizations concerned, the parishes, the youth movements, such as Catholic Action, the scouts, the MEJ and the charismatic communities.

11. You also see in young people a new thirst to know God, to develop their interior life and to lead a community life, to respond courageously to God’s call and to make sound choices in their life. In their way, like the disciples, they want to say to Christ: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6,68). During their years of formation, the chaplaincies in public or private education are incomparable communities of faith which enable young people to experience the Church and which must help them become more easily involved in the diocesan Church. More and more young people are also taking part in the great gatherings which include liturgical celebrations with a festive spirit. And it is paradoxically these great Christian gatherings where silence is also possible, which offer them the possibility of becoming aware that God is close to them, particularly in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and that he speaks to their hearts in the Scriptures; they also give them an experience of the universality and diversity in the Church. Thus many young people of your Dioceses are involved in the preparation of World Youth Days. This is an obvious sign that they aspire to a more active Christian life with other young people of their own age, and that they hope to follow Christ more closely in the Church, to be “prophets of life and love”, as I recently recalled (Message for World Youth Day, n. 8; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 6 December 1995, p. 3). In this regard, many of you have told me of your joy in seeing numerous young people make a step of authentic faith to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. All this shows that it is appropriate to encourage the involvement of young people in the Christian community, as you hoped in the message you addressed to France’s young Catholics in 1996.

12. Young people first expect to be listened to, loved and guided, so that they can calmy develop their personality. They also need adults who can remind them of the reference points and demands involved in any life of happiness; who are also capable of finding positive ways to present the Christian message to them, particularly in the moral domain. From this standpoint, as you emphasize, young priests are often the best able to be close to young people and to give new vitality to the pastoral care of youth. It would also be good if, possibly released from other ministerial duties, they could be more available for the mission with young people, while continuing to be supported by their brothers in the priesthood and having their place in the parish community. Thus I encourage young priests and young religious to be close to young people, particularly in the key periods of their growth. Among them they will be skilled witnesses and will show them that each one is valuable in the eyes of God and of the Church.

Young teachers have an important role; they will recall that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers” (Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi EN 41). By their example and their fidelity to their promises, they will show the way to happiness and will be recognized as the true spiritual guides people need. They will also be concerned to suggest personal guidance to young people and participation in group life; these two complementary aspects of pastoral life will offer the young the necessary elements for giving unity to their life, helping them clearly to discern their vocation.

13. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council ended with a message to youth, a call for them to be able “to take the torch from the hands of their elders, and the best of the examples and teaching of their parents and teachers” (Messages of the Council, 8 December 1965). The Church looks to young people with trust and love. She is glad of their enthusiasm and their desire to give themselves unreservedly. To help them find meaning in their lives, she must present to them “Christ, eternally young”, “the true hero, humble and wise, the prophet of truth and love, the companion and the friend of young people” (ibid.).

May parents and teachers never despair and know, in season and out of season, how to account for the faith, hope and happiness which gives them life and guides them in their decisions, even if, apparently, young people do not immediately give their consent. How can young people acquire a taste for God and want to be the Lord’s disciples if they never hear him mentioned, if they do not mingle with people who are happy to be Christians and to commit themselves to the way of justice, solidarity and charity? Seeing adults believing and living their faith, they will discover that it is only love that motivates the members of the Church (cf. St Therese of Lisieux, Manuscript B, f. 3).

14. At the end of your ad limina visit, I encourage you, together with all the living forces of your Dioceses, to continue your efforts in the pastoral care of youth, which is one of your priorities. May Christian communities have increasing confidence in young people, give them responsibilities and support them patiently. Please convey the Pope’s greetings to the priests, deacons, and consecrated persons as well as the lay people in your Dioceses, and in a special way express my affection to the children and young people. I wholeheartedly grant my Apostolic Blessing to you, to the Bishops emeritus and to all the members of your Dioceses.

Speeches 1997 - Saturday, 8 March 1997