Speeches 1996 - Saturday, 14 December 1996

3. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I give thanks to God for the zeal and generosity you manifest, despite great difficulties in the roles of teaching, governing and sanctifying which have been entrusted to you in Christ’s name. I especially encourage you fervently to pursue your mission of preaching the Gospel which is the Bishop’s first responsibility. “The Bishops are heralds of the faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people assigned to them, the faith which is destined to inform their thinking and direct their conduct; and under the light of the Holy Spirit they make that faith shine forth, drawing from the storehouse of revelation new things and old (cf. Mt Mt 13,52); they make it bear fruit and with watchfulness they ward off whatever errors threaten their flock (cf. 2Tm 4,14)” (Lumen gentium LG 25). The primary object of their proclamation is Christ, in whom is accomplished full and authentic liberation from evil, sin and death, and in whom God himself communicates his own life to us. It is this Good News which all men have a right to know and the Bishops are its principal missionaries.

The Church’s prophetic mission is further fulfilled when, in the light of the Gospel, she makes a courageous interpretation of the great questions posed in her time, and when she intervenes notably on behalf of the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the young. It is her vocation to strive to promote the civilization of love, fraternity, solidarity, unity, justice and peace. The apostolic responsibility you have received makes you “witnesses of Christ to all men. [Bishops] should not limit themselves to those who already acknowledge the Prince of Pastors, but should also devote their energies wholeheartedly to those who ... have no knowledge of the Gospel of Christ and of his saving mercy” (Christus Dominus CD 11) The Church’s mission is universal; it is addressed to all men.

4. At the time when we are preparing to enter the third millennium, the perspective of the Great Jubilee offers the Church a happy opportunity of “reading the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 4). We are invited to turn our gaze to the future, knowing that the future belongs to Christ who already manifests himself to us. To welcome a new springtime of Christian life, the Church in Vięt Nam is called to a pastoral, missionary and spiritual renewal, in order to enter the third millennium with the courage of Christ’s disciples. The apostolic life must ceaselessly be reformed to respond to the necessities of the times and the needs of the people. Of course, the Church “cannot cross the threshold of the new millennium without encouraging her children to purify themselves, through repentance of past errors and instances of infidelity, inconsistency and slowness to act. Acknowledging the weaknesses of the past is an act of honesty and courage which helps us to strengthen our faith, which alerts us to face today’s temptations and challenges and prepares us to meet them” (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 33). Each believer is invited to conversion of heart and the acceptance of Christ in his own life. “It is ever more urgent that today all Christians take up again the way of Gospel renewal, welcoming in a spirit of generosity the invitation expressed by the Apostle Peter ‘to be holy in all conduct’ (1P 1,15)” (Christifideles laici CL 16).

But the Church is also invited to give thanks to God for the admirable work accomplished under the action of the Holy Spirit, despite the poverty of her means. She desires to offer everyone the message of life and love which was bequeathed to her by her Lord, Jesus Christ. “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Ac 3,6), the Apostle Peter said at the gate of the temple.

In the Second Vatican Council the Church finds a precious source for the renewal of her whole life. “The best preparation for the new millennium, therefore, can only be expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church” (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 20). I therefore urge you to draw inspiration there for your pastoral work.

5. Your Eminence, you have paid tribute to the living faith of the laity of your Dioceses. I am pleased to acknowledge here the courage and zeal of your faithful who have undergone so many trials without failing in their adherence to Christ. I hope that each one of them “will always be keenly aware that he is one of the ‘members of the Church’, to whom is given a unique and irreplaceable task which he cannot delegate, a task to be fulfilled for the good of all. In this perspective, the Council’s insistence on the absolute necessity of an apostolate exercised by the individual, takes on its full meaning” (Christifideles laici CL 28). I understand the difficulties deriving from the limitations imposed on those who have received from Christ the responsibility for organizing the apostolate of the faithful and on those who want to dedicate themselves to the apostolate. However, they must not be discouraged: on the contrary it is necessary to foster the responsibility of lay people who — as the Council recalls—should be as active in the Church as they are in the world (cf. Apostolicam actuositatem AA 9). It is their duty to take part actively in the life of the Church and in her mission to proclaim the Gospel among their brothers and sisters. They are called to discover and to live deeply their vocation and their personal and community mission. Wherever fraternal communion among the followers of Christ has weakened, the credibility of their witness and mission is weakened.

I invite lay people to share ever more generously the gifts they have received, by dedicating themselves to the guidance of the parishes, giving themselves to catechesis and the education of young people, taking part in the spiritual movements or charitable works. Each baptized person must take his part of responsibility and service in the Church. For this, it is necessary that the human, spiritual and doctrinal formation of the laity has a recognized place in pastoral programmes. Thus ecclesial communities can be built that are increasingly fraternal and united, founded on deep communion with Christ, the one Saviour of the world. They can effectively serve unity among all men.

6. I would now like cordially to greet the priests, your immediate co-workers in the service of the People of God. I know with what zeal and willingness, at the price of so much fatigue, they give themselves to their ministry. May God strengthen them in their vocation as the builders of Christian communities in full union with their Bishops and give them hope at difficult moments. I encourage them especially to keep the person of Jesus Christ at the centre of their life, to conform to him in everything, and to witness to a life renewed in him! “Contact with the representatives of the non-Christian spiritual traditions, particularly those of Asia, has confirmed me in the view that the future of mission depends to a great extent on contemplation. Unless the missionary is a contemplative he cannot proclaim Christ in a credible way. He is a witness to the experience of God, and must be able to say with the Apostles: ‘that which we have looked upon ... concerning the word of life, ... we proclaim also to you’ (1Jn 1,1-3)” (Redemptoris missio RMi 91).

I also join in my thoughts and prayers those who are preparing for the priesthood and who are fervently awaiting the day when they will receive their ordination which will make them participate in the ministry of Christ the Priest, to build his Church. I hope that conditions will rapidly be created which will enable you to open the seminaries that are necessary and to accept in them all the young men who generously aspire to consecrate their life to the service of the Church and their brothers and sisters.

With regard to the institutes of consecrated life, I am aware of the activity which their members discreetly but efficiently carry out in the various areas of social assistance, such as hospitals, leprosariums, orphanages, kindergartens, homes for the handicapped: they share the life of their people and give a marvellous Christian and Gospel witness. That is why it would be constructive and appreciated by the people if novitiates could be opened to form these humble servants of the common good. I invite all the members of these institutes to deepen their vocation in its triple dimension of consecration, communion and mission, and I hope that they will discover fresh enthusiasm to face in a spiritual and apostolic manner the new challenges that are emerging today in society (cf. Vita consecrata VC 13).

7. On the occasion of the Great Jubilee, I have wished to convoke a Special Assembly for Asia of the Synod of Bishops, “in order to illustrate and explain more fully the truth that Christ is the one Mediator between God and man and the sole Redeemer of the world” (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 38). This Synod would like to evaluate the circumstances in which the peoples and cultures of your continent currently find themselves and to prepare the Church to fulfil her mission of love and service better. The preparation and celebration of this continental assembly is an opportunity to walk together with the universal Church towards the third millennium, in the footsteps of Christ, in the Spirit. It is therefore fortunate that the Church in Vięt Nam can give the whole Church the contribution of her long and rich experience of Gospel witness, lived sometimes to the point of heroism by her Pastors and faithful. The pastoral lines that will emerge from this assembly will be reference points to strengthen the faith and give a new apostolic impetus to the communities.

8. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, as I end this fraternal meeting, I would like to encourage you, as well as your confrčres, to continue your apostolic ministry in the hope given us by the Birth of the Lord which we will be celebrating in a few days. God wanted to manifest himself as “the Emmanuel”, the One who dwells among us, yesterday, today and forever. May he be your strength and your light! May he help you maintain unity in the particular Churches entrusted to your care! May he reinforce the unity of the Bishops with the Pope, and among themselves, and the unity of the priests with the Pope and with their Pastors, in the communion of the universal Church!

I commend you to the motherly protection of the Mother of Christ, Our Lady of La-Vang, of whom you will be celebrating in August 1998, the second centenary of the apparitions. May she be for you and for your faithful a guide on the path that leads to the Lord Jesus her Son! To each one of you, to the Bishops who have been unable to join us, to the priests, to the religious, and to all the lay people of Vięt Nam, in your country or living outside it, I affectionately grant my Apostolic Blessing.



Hall of Popes

Saturday, 21 December 1996

I kindly thank you, dear boys and girls of Catholic Action, who have come from various parts of Italy for this appointment — by now customary — that enables us to exchange greetings for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I welcome you with joy: from the children, to the boys and girls, to the adolescents. I greet you with affection, together with your leaders and your teachers, beginning with the National President and the General Chaplain. Thank you for the expressions of affection you addressed to me.

In last year’s Christmas meeting, the message I gave the boys and girls of Catholic Action was “Let us give children a future of peace”. I am certain that you received it with great seriousness. I know that I can count on the young people of Catholic Action.

This year, thinking of the next World Day of Peace, I entrust you with the task of living and spreading forgiveness, thus becoming peacemakers. Looking at the crib, where the little Child lies in the straw of the manger, we can easily understand what forgiveness is: it is reaching out to the other who offended me, coming close to him who drew away from me. God was faithful to sinful humanity to the point of dwelling among us.

The beautiful Christmas carol Tu scendi dalle stelle says: “Oh, how much it cost you to have loved me!”. The Son of God loved us, who offended him; we too must love those who offend us, and thus conquer evil with good. To hate sin but to love the sinner: this is the way to peace, the way that the Lord teaches us from the mystery of his birth.

When I look at you, boys and girls, I see as it were Jesus' peers. To these young contemporaries of Jesus I wish to offer a Blessing and a cordial wish for a Merry Christmas!



Monday, 23 December 1996

Venerable Brother,
Mr Ambassador,
Dear Compatriots,

1. Tomorrow at midnight, this Christmas carol will ring out all over Poland:

“In the deep night a voice resounds: Come, Shepherds, God is born for you! Hasten to Bethlehem to greet the Lord”.

These Christmas verses translate into the language of song the story from St Luke’s Gospel that will be proclaimed during the “Mass of the Shepherds”. Behold: Mary arrived with Joseph in Bethlehem to be registered, in accordance with the orders of the Roman authorities. During the night “the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger’” (Lc 2,6-12).

We will read the rest of the passage during the Mass at Dawn. After the angels had gone, the shepherds decided to go to Bethlehem. They went with haste and “found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them” (Lc 2,16-18). All this is translated in the Christmas carol with poetic and musical language.

What the carol In the deep night expressed as a story, the wonderful Polish Christmas carol God is born, written by the poet Franciszek Karpiński, transforms into mystagogy, into a hymn that brings us into the mystery.

“God is born, man’s might is amazed: the Lord of heaven empties himself! The fire subsides, the splendour is veiled, the Infinite is encompassed”.

With these words the poet presented the mystery of the Incarnation of God's Son, using contrasts to express what is essential to the mystery: in assuming human nature, the infinite God at the same time assumed the limitations of a creature. And he continues:

“The Infinite is encompassed. Scorned, yet clothed with glory, the mortal King of the ages!”.

And lastly the Christmas carol uses St John's words:

“And the Word was made flesh and came to dwell amongst us”.

Thus the Christmas verses have translated into musical language what is found in the readings of the three Holy Masses of Christmas, at midnight, at dawn and during the day.

2. As I think of these expressions of popular piety, I remember all the other Christmas carols whose musical and theological wealth is enormous. I remember the Polish churches where the sound of the sublime melodies reechoes, full of joy and sometimes full of melancholy, touching in tone and content, telling of the profound truths connected with the event and mystery of the birth of God's Son. I remember Nowa Huta, where at midnight on Christmas Eve I used to celebrate the “Mass of the Shepherds”, or at Bienczyce, or at Mistrzejowice, or at Wzgórza Krzeslawickie, when we had to struggle to have churches built. Then the Christmas carols were the particular sign of unity of the people who came, as in Bethlehem, to Christ who “had found no room”. Those same people wanted to invite Jesus into their hearts, into their communities and into their daily lives. These Christmas carols not only belong to our history; in a certain sense, they form our national and Christian history. They are many and of considerable spiritual richness. From the oldest to those of today, from the liturgical to the popular. I remember, for example, the so-called Christmas carol of the mountain people which we so love to hear: O little one, little one.

We must not lose this treasure. That is why, as I break the Christmas wafer with you, I hope that all of you, dear compatriots, whether in our homeland or here in Rome or anywhere in the world, may sing these Christmas carols, meditating on what they say, on their content, and that in them you may discover the truth about the love of God who became man for us.

Many other elements could be added to today’s exchange of greetings as we listen to Christmas carols. But I like to recall the fervent announcement of peace: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (cf. Lk Lc 2,14), together with the Christmas carol When Christ is born.

This carol has particular meaning for me this year, when the Pope from Poland was able to pause before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. This was also a very profound experience for the chancellor of modern Germany, Helmut Kohl, who was with me on that occasion. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased — these are the words of the Christmas carol When Christ is born.

Lastly, I wish to return once more to the carol God is born, to conclude by addressing a fervent prayer to the newborn Jesus: “Raise your hand, divine Child! Bless our dear country with good counsel and well-being. Sustain her strength with your own. Bless our home, our fields, and all the villages and towns. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.

I offer my best wishes to all those present and to all your families, to my compatriots in Poland and to Poles all over the world. May God reward you.


TO H.E. Mr Irawan Abidin,


Monday, 23 December 1996

Mr Ambassador,

With sincere goodwill I welcome you to the Vatican and accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Indonesia to the Holy See. I am grateful for the greetings which you convey from His Excellency President Soeharto and on behalf of your Government and people, and I gladly reciprocate with good wishes for your dynamic country, which I had the joy of visiting in 1989, as a friend to all Indonesians, whose warm hospitality I experienced at every step.

Your Excellency has identified the causes of peace, social justice, mutual respect and generous co-operation between peoples, and a just and peaceful international order as areas about which both your country and the Holy See are concerned, and in which they can cooperate in different ways. A close look at the situation in many parts of the world shows how much still needs to be done to build peace on solid foundations. That is why the Holy See rejoices when countries take an active part in bilateral and multilateral negotiations aimed at resolving tensions or at consolidating already existing forms of international agreement and co-operation. Indonesia’s initiatives and efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement of situations of conflict and tension in neighbouring countries of South-East Asia do you much honour.

Likewise, Indonesia is rightly proud of the results it has so far attained in its progress as a nation. It is becoming more and more clear that the growth of a nation cannot be understood merely as material progress. On the contrary, it must aim at people’s integral good and advancement, and it necessarily involves an ethical and moral view of rights and duties in relation to society. It demands that everyone should share in the benefits of development, and that no group should be left on the margins of society by reason of the bias or self-interest of other groups.

As you have indicated, Indonesia faces the never-ending task of fostering harmony and stability among the many different ethnic and cultural groups present in your islands, through a system of legal and political structures wholly imbued with respect for the best traditions of your peoples. I pray that the problems which inevitably accompany such efforts will always be solved by means of a dialogue which seeks a clear understanding of the common good, acknowledges the presence of legitimate diversity, respects the human and political rights of all citizens, and promotes a shared determination to build a nation based on justice for all and solidarity towards those in need.

Thanks to Pancasila, in Indonesia many religious traditions live side by side in harmony, and all citizens have the same rights and duties irrespective of ethnic origin or religious and cultural practices. The principles which have given rise to this favourable situation and which merit everyone’s appreciation need always to be proclaimed anew, lest their vital importance for the life of the nation be forgotten or overlooked. Vigilance is necessary in order to ensure that religious freedom, peaceful coexistence among believers, and the equal dignity of all citizens are effectively respected, especially in the face of certain distorted interpretations of religion and the danger of religious intolerance, which is always ready to manifest itself, as seen recently in certain grave incidents which have deeply saddened me. Everyone who has at heart the true good of Indonesia must seek to ensure that the spirit and principles of Pancasila are correctly applied.

Reflecting on recent events affecting East Timor, I am hopeful that a more fruitful dialogue will be pursued at all levels. All those who in any way are responsible for East Timor’s future must be convinced of the need to arrive as soon as possible at a just and peaceful solution. This has been the ardent aspiration of the people there for such a long time.

Mr Ambassador, I greatly appreciate your kind reference to your Catholic fellow citizens' contribution to the life of the nation. The Church carries out many activities in the social field, in health care and education — activities which benefit the whole of society. Following the teaching of her founder Jesus Christ, the Church also fulfils the important task of enlightening and training the consciences of citizens with regard to their rights and duties as part of the national community. The principal aim in all of this is to ensure that nothing is done against human dignity and that everyone is treated with the respect due to God’s beloved creatures. Ever since their active involvement in the events that led to independence just over 50 years ago, Indonesian Catholics, supported and encouraged by the Holy See, have assiduously worked for the good of the nation and will continue to serve their country with love and pride. This was the meaning of the words spoken by Cardinal Darmaatmadja at a meeting between President Soeharto and the National Assembly of Catholics on 2 November 1995: “Together with our numerous predecessors we too want to involve ourselves in every aspect of national development.... We have pledged to each other to be Indonesian for 100%, precisely because we want to be Catholic for 100%”. Genuine love of country forms an important part of every Catholic’s duty and way of life.

Mr Ambassador, I wish you well as you discharge the lofty mission to which you have been called as your nation’s Representative to the Holy See. I assure you of the help of the various departments of the Roman Curia. Upon Your Excellency and the Indonesian people I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings.

Speeches 1996 - Saturday, 14 December 1996