Speeches 1997


January 1997



TO THE rector and seminarians

from St Joseph’s Seminary -

Archdiocese of New York

Saturday, 4 January 1997

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to welcome the rector and seminarians of St Joseph's Seminary in the Archdiocese of New York. Our meeting today reminds me of the warm welcome which I received from you during my visit to Dunwoodie just over a year ago. As St Joseph's Seminary concludes the celebration of its centenary, you have come as pilgrims to Rome. You will visit the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and walk in the footsteps of countless martyrs and saints from every age of the Church's life. May their example inspire you as you strive to grow in holiness and pastoral charity.

Like all seminaries, yours is meant to be a community which relives the original experience of the Twelve who were united to Jesus (cf. Pastores dabo vobis PDV 60). As you draw near to the Divine Master through prayer and study, I pray that you will hear his call to service in the Church and respond with loving and generous hearts.

I commend you, together with your families and friends, to Mary, Mother of the Church, and to St Joseph, patron of your seminary. To all of you I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.



TO H.E. Dr Gustav Ortner,


Thursday, 9 January 1997

Mr Ambassador,

1. With particular joy I greet you today in the Vatican as you begin your office as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Austria to the Holy See. As I did for your illustrious predecessors, I bid you a cordial welcome and wish you much happiness in your new and noble task.

2. In your address, for which I thank you sincerely, you mentioned that for over 1,000 years the history of Austria and the Catholic Church has been linked in a close relationship. A thousand years ago we find the first documentary evidence of the name “Ostar-rîchi” — Austria. But 300 years before that, in 696 to be precise, the name of Rupert of Worms appears as the saintly founder of Salzburg, St Peter’s Archabbey and the Diocese itself. If the document of Otto III (983-1002), dated 1 November 996 and mentioning a place in western Lower Austria as “located in Ostarrîchi”, is an occasion for celebrating a millennium, then one should certainly not look only to the past, but also see it as a guide to finding a meaningful path in the future. As Austria gratefully recalls its more than 1,000 years of history, together with the Church it looks to the second millennium of the Christian era. Thus the parchment written 1,000 years ago is neither a certificate of Baptism nor a birth certificate for Austria; it is rather a gift of its rich past and, at the same time, a responsibility to prepare the future.

In my Encyclical Redemptoris missio I spoke of the “modern Areopaguses” (cf. n. 37). After Paul had preached in countless places he arrived in Athens and went to the Areopagus, the cultural centre of the metropolis. There in a speech that was adapted to this environment and comprehensible to it he proclaimed the Gospel (cf. Acts Ac 17,22-31). A thousand years ago Salzburg was such an Areopagus with a vast outreach: a great part of the German language area was evangelized by missionaries from Salzburg. Precisely on the threshold of the third millennium Austria is once again in a special way an Areopagus: several years ago the dividing line between two worlds was still the Danube which, at least geographically, demarcates the West and East. Today Austria is a country in the middle of Europe, a bridge and the forge of many ideas, an Areopagus of the “European home”. It is imperative that the Gospel be heard in this Areopagus, as it was in Athens thanks to St Paul and later in Salzburg through St Rupert.

3. You yourself, Mr Ambassador, have mentioned some of the Areopaguses where the Gospel must be proclaimed and which Austria and the Holy See will do together. Here I am thinking of international peace-keeping measures and our common struggle for justice and social equity among peoples. I recall the efforts of Austria, as a member of the European Union, to have a freedom of religion clause inserted into the treaty of union in order constitutionally to guarantee the place of the religious communities in the member States.

Two Areopaguses are especially dear to my heart: the first is the Areopagus of Europe. In this Areopagus it is not only a matter of raising one’s voice for economic and financial concerns. The history of Europe, with its Christian roots, always places greater emphasis on “being more” rather than “having more”. It is not material goods alone that count, but spiritual values that give meaning. Anyone who wants to build the “European house” on solid ground must therefore not only lay the material infrastructure, but must also take care of the spiritual and religious infrastructure: “Our times are both momentous and fascinating. While on the one hand people seem to be pursuing material prosperity and to be sinking ever deeper into consumerism and materialism, on the other hand we are witnessing a desperate search for meaning ... the so-called ‘religious revival’” (Redemptoris missio RMi 38). The meaning of life is not meant to be withheld from people. Although Church and State are two different dimensions, today they often find themselves aboard the same boat, because “people sense that they are as it were traveling together across life’s sea, and that they are called to ever greater unity and solidarity. Solutions to pressing problems must be studied, discussed and worked out with the involvement of all” (ibid., n. 37).

Another Areopagus of our day is the world of communications and its responsibility. The disappearance of the Iron Curtain placed the power and influence of the media drastically before our eyes. During those exciting hours signals went out from the media, awakening hope. This growing power of the means of communication, which will create an ever stronger and more rapid relationship in the new Europe, requiries of everyone a great sense of responsibility for its sound use as a tool for forming opinion. The Christians' “Good News” now has the possibility of new pulpits. Great opportunities are opening up for the Church: I would like to emphasize the fundamental meaning of the family and the protection of human life from beginning to end. I would like to mention the moral responsibility of overhasty research. All of this is in close relationship with a Christian view of the world and the person, which was once so decisively a basis for Europe’s spiritual unity and Austria’s foundation and which today too must be widened by modern means. What the Apostle Paul once wrote to a community in Asia Minor can give the people of our day something to think about as well: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” Gal 6:7). Is it not true that in the terrible years of the two World Wars and their aftermath, as well as in the prisons and concentration camps of National Socialism and communism, we reaped what our ancestors had sown from the 18th to the 20th century, in a spirit that was often no longer Christian humanism; and here I am thinking of rationalism, Marxism and extreme nationalism. It was a “civitas terrena” that they set as their goal, so as to modify and dismantle the “civitas christiana”.

4. You are taking office, Mr Ambassador, at a moment that marks the beginning of the road leading to the third millennium. As you mentioned, as a young diplomat here in Rome you had a close experience of the Second Vatican Council. I myself took part in it as a Bishop. Each of us in our own way was a witness to a Council that “focused on the mystery of Christ and his Church and at the same time [was] open to the world” (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 18). The leitmotif of the Council’s message presents God “in his absolute lordship over all things, but also as the One who ensures the authentic autonomy of earthly realities” (ibid., n. 20). From this derive consequences for the dialogue which has been begun in many areas and which should be continued truthfully and honestly in the future. This dialogue concerns social questions as well as ecumenical efforts; it applies to matters that are internal to the Church as well as to interreligious dialogue: the basis of a successful dialogue is not to be confused with a wrongly understood tolerance which has absolutely no interest in the truth, but basically considers everything as equally valid. In this regard I would like to recall the Council’s golden rule: “Truth can impose itself on the mind of man only in virtue of its own truth, which wins over the mind with both gentleness and power” (Dignitatis humanae DH 1). Whoever ascends the modern Areopagus today must and should deal with the demands of truth and bear witness to it in truth. That is what makes for credibility.

5. The modern Areopaguses await us. They are waiting for a clear message. Mindful of the proud Christian heritage upon which Austria can build, the Church offers her collaboration, which in your country is harmoniously and effectively regulated on the basis of the Concordat. In the heart of Europe, Austria in a special way has the task of giving Europe a soul. It is the human person whose well-being must be a concern to both Church and State, by fostering together the noble values and high ideals to which they know they are committed in a particular way. The human person is not only the Church’s way; it is also Austria’s way in a united Europe.

With a special word of thanks I return the good wishes which you, Mr Ambassador, conveyed to me from your Federal President. I also cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, to your distinguished family and to all your co-workers in the embassy.



TO H.E. Mr Carlos Abella y Ramallo,


Friday, 10 January 1997

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am pleased to receive you on this solemn occasion when you present to me your Letters of Credence as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Spain to the Holy See. In offering you a cordial welcome, I am pleased to renew the expression of my recognition and appreciation of the noble Spanish nation, so dear to my heart.

I thank you for your kind words and the cordial greetings from His Majesty King Juan Carlos I and the Prime Minister, who in conveying the Spanish people’s sentiments, have again wished to express their esteem and appreciation, to which I respond by imploring the Lord for abundant graces to help them accomplish their mission.

2. Your nation has a long and admirable history of fidelity and service to the Church, which makes it the guardian of a rich spiritual heritage that today's generations have received and are called to preserve and hand on to those of the future. Your entire history deserves admiration and respect and “should serve to inspire and stimulate you to find in the present moment the deepest roots of a people's existence. Not so that you can live in the past, but rather as an example for your continuing and improving that spirit in the future” (Arrival address, Barajas Airport, Madrid, 31 October 1982, n. 5).

3. A particular feature of the present moment in Spain is the strengthening of freedoms, reflecting the universal quest for freedom that is a feature of our time (cf. Address to the United Nations, 5 October 1995, n. 2; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 11 October 1995, p. 8). As the years passed, this process has had many positive aspects, although others have yet to be resolved. In this regard, society must be increasingly aware that if freedom loses its respect for the human being and for his fundamental rights and duties, it is no more than an empty or even dangerously ambiguous word. On the other hand, it should be taken into account that what is established and authorized by law in a democratic system of government cannot be merely identified with moral principles, as if they were practically equivalent, since we know that freedom of expression and choice are not enough in themselves — however noble and true they may be — to bring about a truly human freedom. This is why the Church, in fedelity to her mission, teaches that freedom really flourishes when it is deeply rooted in the truth about man.

This same truth about man, created in God’s image and likeness, must inspire every action undertaken in building society. The Church feels called to collaborate in this task and therefore Bishops, the leaders of God's People, exercise their magisterium to shed light on the deep relationship of social life with faith and morals, encouraging all to reflect seriously and act conscientiously as a result, in order to continue building an ever more just and human society, founded on ethical values.

4. Several current problems, which have been going on for a number of years, must be dealt with decisively, to prevent them from becoming chronic and undermining the peaceful coexistence and integral progress of the Spanish people. Among them, one cause for concern is the high level of unemployment. This makes it difficult for young people to start a family and look to the future serenely, and for already existing families it becomes critical; disenchantment with the government, sometimes caused by cases of corruption; the tragic reality of an endemic terrorism that hurts both its victims as well as those who perpetrate it. In this regard, I cannot conceal my sorrow at the kidnappings which have continued for many months and have tinged with sadness the recent and cherished Christmas celebrations in their respective homes. It has led to protests of solidarity by many Spaniards. I know that the National Government has taken steps to solve all these problems; to do so, it will find in the Pastors and faithful of the Church in Spain the necessary co-operation, since Catholics know that Christian commitment leads them to promote all that furthers the common good.

5. Among its basic principles, society must include the defence of life, of all human life, and the advancement of families. For this reason, if society is to make true progress, it must not disregard these basic pillars and should protect them in whatever way necessary from the social, legislative and financial standpoint. Regarding a certain ethical decline in the family institution, I would like to recall what I wrote in my Letter to Families: “No human society can run the risk of permissiveness in fundamental issues regarding the nature of marriage and the family! Such moral permissiveness cannot fail to damage the authentic requirements of peace and communion among people. It is thus quite understandable why the Church vigorously defends the identity of the family and encourages responsible individuals and institutions, especially political leaders and international organizations, not to yield to the temptation of a superficial and false modernity” (n. 17).

6. On the international scene, an ethic of solidarity should also be fostered if participation and an equitable distribution of goods, as well as economic growth, are to characterize the future of humanity. International co-operation, when properly understood, is an appropriate path to follow, as I pointed out in my address at the headquarters of the United Nations (cf. 5 October 1995, n. 13).

Due to its location in Europe and the history that links it to Latin America, Spain is called to make a positive contribution to a future of peace in Europe and on the other continents. For this reason I offer you my best wishes that your country, faithful to its human, spiritual and moral principles, may advance as it did in the past, in the commitment to furthering fraternal relations among all nations, especially among those to which it is linked by history and tradition.

7. The many ties between the Holy See and Spain are strengthened by a long history. At the present time, the role of the Agreements signed between the Church and the Spanish State continue to be an effective way to serve all citizens. For this reason, based on formal respect for the letter of the Agreements and with mutual cordiality and understanding, it is possible to make headway in improving current relations to reach common results and conclusions on important topics of interest to both parties such as, among others, legislation regarding education and instruction. The Catholic Church considers it the family’s right to choose the kind of education its children will receive, without legal obstacles or financial restrictions. This right, recognized also in international treaties, requires that the educational system fully respect the convictions of each, be at the service of every Spaniard, and not be subject to the vagaries of political change. Thus I hope that through dialogue, negotiation and respect, progress will be made in mutual co-operation, between the civil authorities and the ecclesiastical hierarchy in this and in other areas.

8. Mr Ambassador, as you prepare to begin your important mission to this Apostolic See, I am pleased to express my best wishes for the fulfilment of your task. I ask you to convey to His Majesty the King, as well as to the Government and the Spanish people, my best wishes for peace, for spiritual and material prosperity and for mutual solidarity among all Spaniards, on whom I affectionately invoke the blessings of the Lord through the intercession of their patroness, the Immaculate Conception, who is so venerated in this land.





Saturday, 11 January 1997

Your Excellencies,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters accrediting you as the Ambassadors of your respective countries to the Holy See. Your presence here today bears witness to both the unity and the diversity of the human family; a unity in diversity which constitutes the foundation of an impelling moral imperative of mutual respect, co-operation and solidarity among all the nations of the world. In your persons I greet the beloved peoples of the countries which you represent: Australia, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Estonia, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Singapore and Tanzania.

The presence and participation of the Holy See in the life of the international community is a practical expression of the Church’s conviction that dialogue is the primary and most effective means of promoting peaceful coexistence in the world, and of eliminating the scourge of violence, war and oppression. The Church deeply esteems the contribution which you make as diplomats towards building a more just and humane world. The urgency of this service to humanity is all the more apparent in the light of tragedies such as those presently affecting the peoples of the Great Lakes region in Africa. Whenever the fabric of harmony and just relations between peoples is torn, our common humanity suffers.

Within the international community the Holy See supports every effort to establish effective juridical structures for safeguarding the dignity and fundamental rights of individuals and communities. Such structures however can never be sufficient in themselves; they are only mechanisms which need to be inspired by a firm and persevering moral commitment to the good of the human family as a whole. For communities no less than for individuals, commitment to solidarity, reconciliation and peace demands a genuine conversion of heart and an openness to the transcendent truth which is the ultimate guarantee of human freedom and dignity.

I assure you of the readiness of the Catholics of your countries to serve the common good through the educational and social services provided by the Church. At the same time I give voice to their desire to profess their faith freely and to share fully in the life of society.

Your Excellencies, I offer my cordial good wishes as you take up your mission to the Holy See. Upon yourselves and your families, and upon the leaders and citizens of your countries, I invoke abundant divine blessings.



TO H.E. Mr Goytom Welde-Mariam,


Saturday, 11 January 1997

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican as you begin your mission as the first Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the State of Eritrea to the Holy See, and I gladly accept the Letters of Credence by which you are so appointed. The establishment of diplomatic relations between us and the exchange of representatives is the latest development in the continuing relationship between the people of Eritrea and the Catholic Church; I am confident that this new level of contact will lead to ever greater understanding, esteem and co-operation. I appreciate the good wishes which you have conveyed from President Isaias Afwerki, and I would ask you in turn to convey my own greetings and the assurance of my prayers for the peace and well-being of your country and its people.

Recent political and social changes in the world give evidence of an ever growing conviction that certain ideals should shape human relations at every level. Among these are the desire for true peace, the determination to work for freedom and justice, and the commitment to stand in solidarity with the poor. Peoples and nations hope to see hostility and conflict replaced by dialogue and co-operation. There is general acceptance, at least on the level of principle, of the need for the more affluent and developed regions of the world to help peoples striving for a more just share of the world’s resources, and to encourage them in their efforts to foster their own integral development.

At the same time, however, these positive developments are threatened by new and tragic confrontations which are appearing in different areas, and by the persistence of intolerance based on racial, ethnic or religious prejudice. It is precisely in the light of such distressing situations that all people of goodwill, and the leaders of nations in particular, must renew their efforts to bring about the peaceful resolution of such tensions. This involves, above all else, an ever stronger commitment to defend the inalienable dignity and protect the basic human rights of every individual.

Chief among these rights, and one which the contemporary world must strive to guarantee, is freedom of conscience. As I had occasion to note in my Message for the 1991 World Day of Peace, conscience bears witness to “the transcendence of the person, also in regard to society at large, and as such is inviolable.... To deny an individual complete freedom of conscience — and in particular the freedom to seek the truth — or to attempt to impose a particular way of seeing the truth, constitutes a violation of that individual’s most personal rights. This also aggravates animosities and tensions, which can easily lead to strained and hostile relations within society or even to open conflict. In the end, it is on the level of conscience that the difficult task of ensuring a firm and lasting peace is most effectively confronted” (loc. cit., n. 1).

It is precisely in this regard that the Church insists on the right of individuals and organized religious communities to profess and practise their faith freely. Respect for religious freedom serves as an indication and a guarantee of authentic social progress. It is my hope therefore that freedom of religion, as a necessary expression of freedom of conscience, will enjoy constitutional protection and be enshrined in the democratic institutions which Eritrea is building for itself as it begins this new era in its history.

I appreciate your recognition of the contribution made by the Catholic Church, both in the practical aid given to your people as they suffered the devastations of famine and war, and in moral support of your nation as it faces the task of reconstruction. Eritrean Catholics are committed to working hand in hand with their fellow citizens as active participants in the political, social and cultural advancement of their country in its new-found independence. To this end, many missionaries, members of religious communities as well as lay men and women, have come to your land offering their services in the fields of education and health care. The work which they do is not for the benefit of Catholics alone but for the good of all the people. It is my hope that the Government of Eritrea and the public authorities will welcome this service on the part of the Church and will assist the missionaries and others as they seek to continue these efforts aimed at the building up of Eritrean society.

Mr Ambassador, as you begin your diplomatic mission to the Holy See, please know of the readiness of the various offices and agencies of the Roman Curia to assist you in the fulfilment of your responsibilities. Assuring you of my good wishes for the success of your work, I cordially invoke upon you and upon the leaders and people of the State of Eritrea the abundant blessings of almighty God.





Saturday, 11 January 1997

Mr Ambassador,

I welcome you to the Vatican and am pleased to accept the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Singapore to the Holy See. Your presence here today and the kind greetings you have conveyed from President Ong Teng Cheong evoke vivid memories of my visit to your country 10 years ago. The warmth and hospitality of your fellow citizens remain etched in my mind. I ask you to assure the President, Government and people of my prayers for their well-being and prosperity.

You have referred to the rich diversity of peoples and cultures present in your Republic. Indeed, Singapore is manifestly conscious of the need, in a pluralistic society, for the legitimate aspirations, traditions and beliefs of people of different backgrounds to be accorded full respect. Only mutual acceptance and sincere dialogue among all sectors of society can sustain the work of maintaining peace and harmony. Genuine harmony requires the effective recognition and safeguarding of the dignity and rights of all members of society as the fundamental criterion of policy and action, with special openness to and support of the neediest: the poor, the sick, the young, the old, the labourer, the immigrant.

Your country, with its well-developed economy, is particularly well placed to be of assistance to other nations in South-East Asia by co-operating with them and assisting them in their own social development, and by enlisting in this task other economically advanced nations whose friendship and shared traditions dispose them to working towards this end. We are speaking here of the growing awareness of interdependence among individuals and nations. This awareness in turn leads people to change for the better the attitudes that define each individual’s relationship with self, with neighbour, with even the remotest human communities, and with nature itself (cf. Sollicitudo rei socialis SRS 38). It is in this spirit that regional agreements and accords promote the common good and encourage that initiative and farsightedness which can help to resolve tensions; it is in this spirit that the sharing of technology and information truly helps to improve the quality of life for all.

Peoples and nations strive for progress as something desirable and indeed necessary. Progress, however, must never be solely measured in merely material terms. The Church, in fulfilling her universal mission, constantly reminds people that there can be no authentic human progress without an increase in respect for the ethical imperatives deriving from the human dignity of each individual, imperatives founded on human nature itself, and which precede economic, cultural and political considerations. It is in fact these moral principles which constitute the only viable foundation for building a world truly worthy of the human person, a world of justice and peace. In this regard, the effective pursuit of peace consists, in a very specific way, in teaching the younger generation to act justly, and in helping it to find its happiness in acts of compassion and concern for neighbour.

I am grateful for your words about the role played by members of the Catholic community in Singapore in the field of education. The Church considers her educational apostolate to be an essential element of her religious mission. Of course, she wishes to carry on this work in harmony with others who are active in the same field. Co-operation between Church and State is of great importance in advancing the intellectual and moral training of citizens, who will then be better enabled to build a truly humane society.

Mr Ambassador, I am confident that your mission to the Holy See will strengthen the bonds of understanding and friendship between us. You can be assured that the various offices of the Roman Curia will always be ready to assist you in the discharge of your duties. Upon yourself and the beloved people of Singapore I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of almighty God.



TO H.E. Mr Filippe Savadogo,


Saturday, 11 January 1997

Mr Ambassador,

I welcome Your Excellency with pleasure on the occasion of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentary of Burkina Faso to the Holy See.

Your words to me just now, for which I am most grateful, show the interest your country’s authorities pay to fostering relations of esteem and respect between Burkina Faso and the Apostolic See. Through you, I am pleased to offer President Blaise Compaoré my best wishes for his person and for the accomplishment of his lofty office in the service of the nation. I also cordially greet the people of Burkina Faso and pray God to help them in their efforts to build an ever more just and fraternal society.

In your address, Mr Ambassador, you recalled the Holy See’s contribution to humanity’s well-being. I am grateful to you for this appreciation. In fact, for the Catholic Church integral human development is at the very heart of her mission to proclaim the divine commandment of fraternal love. This is why she wishes to promote the genuine growth of the human person in justice and peace. It is essential that every man, every woman and all the members of society be able to devote themselves to their people’s development. And I am pleased with what you said about the common commitment of the people of Burkina Faso to fight against all forms of poverty and marginalization.

Aware of the interdependence existing between people, it is by practising true solidarity that they will be able to contribute to a better organization of society with proper respect for the social and religious characteristics that constitute the nation’s wealth. As you have said, Mr Ambassador, respect for the religious convictions of each individual is a basic value which must be preserved. It is also the principle and basis of peaceful coexistence (cf. Message for the 25th annual World Day of Peace, 1992, n. 7). It is fortunate that believers from the different religious traditions in your country can work together to promote the common good in an atmosphere of trust and reciprocal esteem.

I also hope that all peoples increase their solidarity, so that each one of them may have access to integral, material and spiritual development. It is in this perspective that the Holy See, through its collaboration with the local Churches and especially through the Foundation for the Sahel, wishes to help promote mutual aid, development and training projects for the benefit of the peoples in your region, victims of drought and desertification. Nations must become increasingly aware of their duties to one another and to all humanity. As I stated at the 50th anniversary of the United Nations: “The international economic scene needs an ethic of solidarity, if participation, economic growth and a just distribution of goods are to characterize the future of humanity” (Address to the United Nations, 5 October, n. 13; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 11 October 1995, p. 9).

Mr Ambassador, your presence here is a sign that your country is open to spiritual and religious values, and that it considers them profoundly necessary for the building of a truly human society. I am sure that the mission you begin today will further strengthen the ties of understanding and friendship between Burkina Faso and the Apostolic See.

On this solemn occasion, I would like through you, Mr Ambassador, to address an affectionate greeting to the members of Burkina Faso’s Catholic community and their Pastors. I encourage them to bear witness to Christ’s universal love among each other and with everyone, without distinction. I urge them ardently to pursue, in fraternal cooperation with all their compatriots, their commitment to building a stable and prosperous society where each individual may find his place in mutual respect.

As you begin your mission, I offer you my best wishes for the noble task before you. Be assured that my coworkers will always offer you an attentive welcome and understanding of whatever you may need.

I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings on Your Excellency, on the people of Burkina Faso and on those who preside over its destiny.

Speeches 1997