Speeches 1997 - 13 April 1997



TO SARAJEVO (APRIL 12-13, 1997)




Sarajevo, 13 April 1997

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to offer you my cordial greeting. "Blessed are the peacemakers!" (Mt 5,9). I willingly accepted the invitation to award the John XXIII International Peace Prize to four humanitarian organizations which have particularly distinguished themselves by their active work of relief and assistance during the difficult years of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina and in the Republic of Croatia. In a situation often marked by grave tensions and difficulties, they provided concrete signs of hope by their presence and their generous and courageous activity, and thus helped to lay the foundation for a future of reconciliation and of genuine solidarity between different peoples and cultures in this beloved region.

2. The Prize which it is my pleasure to present to you today, distinguished Representatives of humanitarian associations linked respectively to the Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish communities, takes its inspiration from the desire for peace vigorously expressed to the whole world by my venerable predecessor Pope John XXIII. In his Encyclical Pacem in Terris, he recalled that "a very serious obligation is incumbent upon all people of good will: that of re-establishing social relationships under the aegis of truth, justice, charity and freedom", and he called this "a most exalted task, which brings about true peace in the order established by God" (V).

The work of assistance and human promotion which you undertake, especially on behalf of the weakest and the most vulnerable, is inspired by the universal principle of the dignity of every person and of solidarity among human beings. For this reason I am happy today to award the John XXIII International Peace Prize to Caritas of the Episcopal Conference of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Dobrotvor of Sarajevo, Merhamet of Sarajevo and La Benevolencija of Sarajevo.

The award of the Prize today is intended not only as an acknowledgment of the profoundly humanitarian work which you and your associates have carried out in the recent past, but also as an encouragment to continue with farsighted generosity in the present phase of reconstruction, working for peaceful coexistence in Sarajevo, Bosnia- Hercegovina and the whole region. It is likewise an expression of hope that the example given by your organizations and by the individuals and institutions which sent you supplies to be distributed may also be followed elsewhere by those seeking to serve the cause of peace and reconciliation among peoples.

3. As John XXIII stressed in his Encyclical, building peace is "so noble and exalted an aim, that human resources alone, even though inspired by the most praiseworthy good will, cannot hope to achieve it. God must come to man's aid with his heavenly assistance, if human society is to mirror as faithfully as possible the kingdom of God" (ibid., V).

On this significant occasion, I invite you to join me in raising mind and heart to Heaven, that indispensable support may be granted from on high to all those who, often in difficult and extremely dangerous conditions, daily stand side-by-side with those who suffer, and thus seek to make an effective contribution to the building of a society in which justice and peace will reign.

May God grant to Sarajevo and to the whole region the gift of strengthening the climate of a just and stable peace! May he protect the people of the Balkans! May peace soon triumph throughout the earth. May God's peace ever accompany you and all the humanitarian activities carried out by your organizations.



TO SARAJEVO (APRIL 12-13, 1997)



13 April 1997

Mr President,
My Brother Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. Before arriving in Sarajevo for this pilgrimage which is so significant for me, I constantly followed in my thoughts and prayers the unfolding of events in this sorely-tried land. The great suffering and the many tragedies which it has experienced in these recent years have always had a profound and painful echo in my heart. Many times I have drawn the attention of people of good will and the international bodies to your situation, so that the conflict which was destroying these lands might be halted. I did everything in my power to encourage the leaders to work for a just and lasting peace.

Now, at the end of my much-desired visit, I can say that I have experienced directly and at first hand a courageous and proud people, and I bear witness to the fact that this is a society which wishes to be reborn, in spite of the difficulties which persist, a society which intends to build its future by following the paths of peace, justice and cooperation.

2. I am grateful to God that I have encountered a Church which is alive and, despite immense hardships and sufferings, full of enthusiasm, a Church which has carried its cross and thus testified to all the saving power of the Gospel message. She continues to proclaim that now is the time of hope, and she commits herself concretely in this regard by working to bring peace to hearts embittered by suffering and by encouraging a fraternal charity open to accepting others, with respect for the ideas and feelings of every individual.

As I prepare to return to Rome, allow me to repeat the words: Never again war! It is a wish, but also a prayer which I entrust to the hearts and minds of all. For Bosnia-Hercegovina this is truly the time for building peace. To succeed in this demanding task, you must call upon your best energies and cooperate with all the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina, in the knowledge that all are brothers and sisters, for all are children of the one God.

How many times in recent years have I sought to assure you that "you are not abandoned. We are with you. We shall always be with you". The whole Church is at your side along the difficult path of building a new civilization, the civilization of love. Now, before I depart, I wish to say to you: I remain with you in spirit. I remain in spirit with your families and with your communities.

3. Once more I thank everyone for all that they have done to ensure the orderly progress of my pilgrimage. In particular I thank the authorities of Bosnia- Hercegovina and of the Canton of Sarajevo, as well as the international authorities who have lent their assistance. I express my gratitude to you, Cardinal Puljic, to all my Brother Bishops, to the clergy, to the Religious, to all the lay faithful and also to all who in many different ways have shown me esteem, respect and affection.

May Almighty God, who is rich in mercy, protect and bless you all.




Tuesday, 15 April 1997

Dear Friends,

Your presence here fills me with joy, for you remind me of a lovely day during my last pilgrimage among the People of God in France. I thank Bishop François-Mathurin Gourvès of Vannes for accompanying you here to introduce to me the devoted faithful who unobtrusively did all they could to ensure that my visit to Brittany was perfectly organized.

In greeting you most cordially, I give thanks to the Lord with you for the faith and apostolic courage of all those who many centuries ago brought the Gospel to your land, and who implanted and strengthened it. Furthermore, as I said on 20 September: “We turn to St Anne, who appeared to Yves Nicolazic” and said to him: “Do not be afraid ... God wants me to be honoured here” (Homily in Sainte Anne d’Auray, n. 3; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 2 October 1996, p. 3). Yes, St Anne has watched over Bretons and the faithful of western France so that they can gather in joy, under the light of God, under the sun!

Thanks to your patient work, the parishes and movements of the Diocese were able to display their beautiful vitality. I greet you today as the witnesses of “more and more lay people [who] are involved in guiding the Christian community and in the structures of public and social life” (ibid., n. 4, p. 3).

How can I not recall for a moment the magnificent gathering of families that you organized in the impressive setting of Memorial Park, close to St Anne’s Basilica? My thoughts are directed to those parents, those numerous and joyful children and also those who courageously face their handicaps. I trust Christian families to proclaim the Gospel of life to the people around them.

A group of young people has joined your pilgrimage to Rome. I greet them with pleasure. I hope, dear friends, to meet you in Paris this coming August. And I know that beforehand you will have gathered many comrades from other countries. May these meetings, these reflections, this great common prayer strengthen you in faith and help you prepare your future! To you too, I repeat what I said in Sainte Anne d’Auray: “The Church is sent to all people ... to proclaim to them the salvation God offers them all. Christians are all responsible for this mission” (ibid., n. 6, p. 3).

Thank you again for all you skilfully arranged for my visit to Brittany. May God bless you and all your loved ones!





15 April 1997

Mr Dean,
Dear Friends,

It is my pleasure to greet the Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral on the occasion of your visit to Rome in connection with the fourteen hundredth anniversary of the mission given to Saint Augustine and his companions by my predecessor Pope Saint Gregory the Great.

During both the recent visit of Archbishop Carey and that of his predecessor Archbishop Runcie - visits which I recall with gratitude - we prayed together in the Church of Saint Gregory on the Caelian Hill, adjoining the site of the monastery where both he and Augustine were monks. At the altar of Saint Gregory our prayer was above all one of thanksgiving for the brotherhood in Christ which has been rediscovered through the ecumenical journey of recent years. It was also a prayer for conversion - "conversion to Christ and to one another in Christ", and for "progress towards that full visible unity which is God's gift and our calling" (Common Declaration, 5 December 1996).

It is my fervent prayer that the forthcoming celebrations in England will be an encouragement for Catholics and Anglicans to cooperate even more closely in preparing the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which should find us "if not completely united, at least much closer to overcoming the divisions of the second millennium" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente TMA 34). May the Lord Jesus bless you and keep you in his love!".




17 April 1997

Dear Friends in Christ,

It gives me great pleasure to meet this pilgrim group from the Archdiocese of Perth on the occasion of your visit to Rome, to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Here you have wished to profess your faith, the same faith to which the Apostles bore witness with their lives.

As the Church prepares for the Great Jubilee of the Two Thousandth Anniversary of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you will be confirmed in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith. Our shared task, at the approach of the Third Millennium, is to be ever more true to our Catholic heritage and to communicate it whole and entire to the younger generation. May the Lord's light shine upon you and your families. May he bless your Archdiocese and all Australia".




Friday, 18 April 1997

Your Eminence,

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am pleased to welcome you during the 22nd plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”. In particular, I greet your President, Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, whom I thank for his presentation. I would like to thank you for your daily devotion to serving the Church on the Council and in various Catholic institutions on every continent. You are attentive agents and leaders in facing emergency situations, reacting to all forms of poverty and enslavement and promoting the integral development of individuals and peoples. I thank the Lord with you for all he enables us to accomplish to alleviate the misery and suffering of our brothers and sisters.

The mission of your dicastery, whose name calls to mind the unanimity of the first Christian community — they were of one heart in prayer, in the breaking of bread and in fraternal sharing (cf. Acts Ac 2,42-47) — is to manifest in the Church charity, which has its source in Christ. Moreover, “the Body of Christ is built up in all charity” (Fulgentius of Ruspe, Letter to Ferrandus, 14).

2. Your assembly is first of all an opportunity to review the 25 years of the Council's existence, founded in 1971 by Paul VI. Your are God’s stewards, responsible for carefully administering the gifts of the faithful, sensitizing Christians to the needs of their brothers and sisters, constantly reviving the spirit of generosity in the Church, harmonizing and co-ordinating various interventions. Through your plans of action and your work, you are also the leaven of unity in the Church and bearers of hope for all the poor, who become aware of the importance of the Gospel for transforming the world. By conducting theological and exegetical reflections for a deeper understanding of the spiritual meaning of charitable service, you restore to charity its title of nobility: it cannot be reduced to selective efforts without long-term commitment. At the same time, you have appropriately developed formation in the practice of charity, so that the civilization of love may extend to the four corners of the world.

Our society is undergoing many crises: an increase in the number of the poor, displaced persons, the marginalized and the homeless; an increase in social inequalities and dehumanizing forms of work. To deal with these situations, the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, to which Pope Paul VI gave a specific identity which must be preserved, is essential. With a global vision of the needs of our world, it aims at combining the resources and initiatives of Catholic aid organizations by the exchange of information and increased cooperation (cf. Letter to Cardinal Villot Amoris officio, 15 July 1971), in close collaboration with the diocesan Bishops, who are responsible for leading the People of God and for guiding pastoral life, as well as with all the institutions of the local Churches and the other organizations of the Roman Curia concerned with charitable matters, in the broadest sense of the term. Likewise, it is responsible for maintaining trustworthy relations with the specialized agencies of the UN, whose determination to eradicate poverty with an extensive programme, in the spirit of the commitments made at the Copenhagen World Summit, I applaud.

Wherever they are carried out — and this is the meaning of charity — interventions of aid, help and asssistance must be made in a spirit of service and as a free gift, for the benefit of all those people, without any ulterior motives of possible supervision or proselytism, which would suggest that charity is offered in part for political or economic goals.

3. Another purpose of your dicastery’s assembly is to prepare the Year of Charity, which will precede the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Contemplation of the Trinity leads man to live in love and opens him to charity. St Matthew reminds us of the deep connection between prayer and almsgiving. Prayer enlarges the heart and makes it attentive to men; by developing fraternity, sharing enables us to be aware that we are children of the same Father (cf. Mt Mt 6,1-15). And it is by drawing from the source of love that we will be able to love truly (cf. Centesimus annus CA 25).

That final preparatory year, when we will turn our gaze to the Father of all mercy, is particularly appropriate because “charity is the form of all the virtues” (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 23, a. 8). Charity brings us into the mystery of God, makes us docile to the Holy Spirit, enables us to rediscover the value of reconciliation with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 50), and leads us to do good works (cf. Jn Jn 14,12-17).

4. It is necessary constantly to rekindle in the faithful the desire to show the love of the Lord, who does not differentiate between persons and puts the good of others before all else (cf. Veritatis splendor VS 82). “By works of charity, one becomes neighbour to those to whom one does a good turn” (Origen, Commentary on the Song of Solomon, I), and extends a hand to one’s brothers and sisters; thus the Church bears witness that every person is more valuable than all the gold in the world; she will be anxious as long as men and women face catastrophes or conflicts, die of hunger, lack what they need for food or clothing, for their own health care or for nourishing those for whom they are responsible.

5. By their witness of fraternal charity, Christ’s disciples also contribute to justice, peace and the development of peoples. “Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, CEC 1889). The desire to make justice and peace reign in our world implies that one is concerned to share resources. Charity contributes to this, because it creates ties of mutual esteem and friendship between individuals and peoples. It inspires generosity in men, who become aware of the need for greater international solidarity. It should be recalled that this cannot be achieved without a true service of charity which implies not only sharing one’s surplus, but also being ready to share one's own necessities. As St Ambrose of Milan illustrated so well, distinguishing between the necessary and the indispensable enables each person to be more open and more generous to his needy brothers and sisters, to purify his personal relationship with money and to moderate his attachment to the good things of this world. (cf. De Nabuthe).

6. In all the members of the Church and all people of goodwill, the Jubilee must foster an awareness of the need to co-operate in meeting the challenge of sharing, of the equitable distribution of goods and of joining forces; in this way everyone will contribute to the building up of a more just and fraternal society, the premiss of the kingdom, because love is a witness to the kingdom to come and it alone can radically transform the world. Charity restores hope to the poor, who realize they are truly loved by God; they all have their place in building society and have a right to what they need for their subsistence.

Love for the poor highlights the need for social justice, as the document, World Hunger, which your dicastery published last year, recalls. But at the same time, it should be stressed that charity goes beyond justice, for it is an invitation to go beyond the order of mere equity to the order of love and self-giving, so that the ties woven between people are based on respect for others and the recognition of brotherhood, which are the essential foundations of life in society.

7. Those who practise charity carry out a profound work of evangelization: “The spirit of poverty and charity is the glory and witness of the Church of Christ” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes GS 88). Sometimes, action in communion is more eloquent than any teaching; and actions joined to words give particularly effective witness. The disciples of the Lord will recall that serving the poor and suffering is serving Christ, who is the light of the world. By living daily in the love that comes from him, the faithful help spread light in the world. Charity is also mankind's highest development; it conforms men and women to the Lord and frees man from earthly possessions. Thus they can truly examine themselves to learn whether they possess goods or are possessed by them, whether wealth is the centre of their attention or their heart is open to their brothers and sisters.

8. At the end of this meeting, dear brothers and sisters, I commend the activities of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to support you as she supported the Apostles in the Upper Room, as they awaited the Spirit of Pentecost. I cordially grant my Apostolic Blessing to you all, to those who collaborate with you in the works of charity and to your loved ones.





18 April 1997

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to greet the Patrons of Arts of the Vatican Museums on the occasion of your meeting in Rome.

The Church's age-old concern for the promotion of the arts and a sound humanistic culture is closely linked to her universal spiritual mission. She is convinced that beauty, particularly the beauty which is the fruit of human artistic creativity, is a clear expression of mankind's highest aspirations and a manifestation of the glory of God, the transcendent Author of all truth and goodness. The collections of the Vatican Museums represent the Church's immense contribution to mankind's cultural heritage, but also, and more importantly, they manifest the inspiration which the Gospel continues to offer to contemporary artists and to all who see in their works a reflection of that divine beauty which is "ever ancient and ever new" (Saint Augustine, Confessions, X, 27).

Dear friends, your patronage enables the Vatican Museums to offer a unique witness to these spiritual values as it opens its doors each day to visitors from widely differing backgrounds and from every part of the world. With deep appreciation of your efforts to further the work of the Museums, I cordially invoke upon you and your families God's blessings of joy and peace.





Saturday, 19 April 1997

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. With great joy I welcome to “Peter’s house” you who are entrusted with the pastoral care of the People of God in Scandinavia. Your ad limina visit brings you to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, to strengthen the awareness of your responsibility as successors of the Apostles and to experience your communion with the Bishop of Rome even more intensely. In fact, ad limina visits have a particular significance in the Church's life: “They are as it were the high point of the relationship of the Pastors of each particular Church with the Roman Pontiff” (Pastor Bonus ). I cordially thank Bishop Paul Verschuren of Helsinki, President of your Episcopal Conference, for the moving words he has addressed to me on behalf of you all. They were not only informative but also expressed the unity and fidelity which unites “the far North” to Rome.

I have a vivid memory of the various meetings which, together with you, I have had with your believers. I am thinking of my Pastoral Visit in 1989 and of the 600th anniversary of the canonization of St Birgitta of Sweden, an event which gave you the opportunity two years later to make a pilgrimage to Rome, “centrum unitatis” (Cyprian, De unitate, n. 7), the centre of unity. During your last ad limina visit, which took place five years ago, we reflected together on the mandate and tasks associated with your episcopal office. Today I invite you to return to the reflections of that time and continue them from the standpoint of the idea and reality of the Church as you encounter them in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, how you help to build her up as “servants of Christ” (cf. Rom Rm 1,1), and how you guide her, “being examples to the flock” (1P 5,3). The days you spend in Rome will not only serve for discussion, but will also be the opportunity for a pilgrimage and profession of faith: a profession of the Church, founded by Jesus Christ on Peter, the rock, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the Bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (Lumen gentium LG 23).

2. I believe the Church. In the Apostles' Creed we profess the Church but we do not say that we believe in the Church, so that we do not confuse God and his Church but attribute clearly to God's goodness all the gifts he has bestowed on his Church (cf. Roman Catechism, I, art. 9, nn. 1, 10, 22). Thus our profession of the Church depends on the article of faith concerning the Holy Spirit. As the Fathers say, the Church is the place where “the Spirit flourishes” (Hippolytus, Traditio apostolica, n. 35). In the same way, the Second Vatican Council says: “Christ is the light of humanity”, and wishes “to bring all men that light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church” (Lumen gentium LG 1). The Church does not illuminate herself with her own light. She has no other light than Christ. For this reason she can be compared to the moon whose light is a reflection of the sun.

My dear brothers, I thank you because, endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, you are ready to bring “the light of Christ” to those countries where nature with its play of light and darkness, of sun and moon, points expressively and often dramatically to the image used by the Council. Even if at times your heart could be saddened because Christ’s light, despite all your efforts, barely glimmers, I encourage you not to lose your zeal, since the light of Christ is stronger than the darkest night. From my personal experience duing my Pastoral Visit, as also from reading your quinquennial reports, I am aware of the many lights, which together with your priests, deacons, religious and innumerable committed women and men, you have lit in recent years. In this way your particular Churches, “though they may often be small and poor, or existing in the diaspora” (Lumen gentium LG 26), reflect the features expressed in the Creed.

3. I believe the one Church. For you, ecumenism and ecclesial life go together like fish and water. Interdominational dialogue extends from the private sphere to the level of ecclesial leadership, and is not confined to words. It is a joy to me that in Sweden St Birgitta is equally honoured by Lutherans and Catholics. You should consider yourselves truly fortunate to have this “holy ecumenical woman”! Her life and her works provide us with a common bond. “Lord, show me your way and grant that I may be happy to follow it”. This invocation comes from one of her prayers, which is still recited in Sweden today. All that was started by this “prophet of new times” can be part of the ecumenical movement. May I be permitted to repeat here what I said on 5 October 1991 at the tomb of St Peter, at a prayer meeting for Christian unity: “Ecumenism is a journey which is made together, but we are not able to chart its course or its duration beforehand. We do not know whether the journey will be smooth or rough. We only know that it is our duty to continue this journey together” (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 14 October 1991, n. 3, p. 1).

I am pleased with the many initiatives you tirelessly promote in your particular Churches at the theological, spiritual and liturgical levels. Thanks to these you have become competent and trustworthy spokesmen to the representatives of the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. Continue with courage and determination on this path of mutual knowledge and rapprochement, faithful to “the truth we have received from the Apostles and the Fathers” (Unitatis redintegratio UR 24). The common vision of Christ is stronger than all the divisions of history which, with God’s help, we must patiently overcome. As I explained on 9 June 1989 on the occasion of the ecumenical prayer service in Uppsala: “Not everything can be done at once, but we must do what we can today with hope for what may be possible tomorrow” (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 19 June 1989, n. 4, p. 17). The Mixed Commission for Dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics is working in this direction today, and this gives me hope that sometime in the future it will be possible to reach “that fullness in which our Lord wants his Body to grow in the course of time” (Unitatis redintegratio UR 24). On the threshold of the Year 2000 I have two matters particularly at heart: “It is essential not only to continue along the path of dialogue on doctrinal matters, but above all to be more committed to prayer for Christian unity” (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 34). Our common search for truth is as important as our common witness, and even more important is our common worship of “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1,9). From the spirit of worship is born the witness to ecumenism which is more urgent than ever today (cf. Redemptoris missio RMi 50).

Then the Creed says:
4. I believe the holy Church. The Church is sanctified through Christ because it is united to him. In spite of this there is an essential difference between Christ and his Church. While Christ is holy, since he did not know sin, sinners also live in the bosom of the Church. This is why you need constant purification. The Church “is, therefore, holy, even though she embraces sinners in her bosom, for she enjoys no other life but the life of grace” (Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, n. 19). In your reports, you have described in detail the obstacles that the Church and her members encounter in their attempt to satisfy the demands of holiness in an age of social upheaval.

You must witness to the holy Church in the pluralistic societies in which you live. Even if they are becoming more and more the scene of clashes between various life-styles, they are at the same time an “areopagus” of dialogue between Church and State (cf. Redemptoris missio RMi 37). Not only in the cultures that have been shaped by religion, but also in secular societies, many people are searching for the spiritual dimension of life as a means of salvation from the dehumanization they experience daily. This so-called phenomenon of the “return to religion” is not without ambiguity, but it also contains an invitation. The Church possesses valuable spiritual gifts that she wants to offer mankind. To be able to carry out her mandate and to foster continual improvement in Church-State relations, she requires full recognition and the protection of civil laws to which, as a community, she is entitled. Only in this way will the Holy Church be able to defend “the people of life and for life” and contribute “to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good” (Evangelium vitae EV 101).

The holiness of the Church’s members is put to a hard test in the area of respect for life. What you mentioned in your quinquennial reports will be a great challenge for you in the future. Wherever its Christian foundations are gradually removed, society is badly impaired. We observe this in the gradual break up of marriage as a fundamental form of human coexistence, which is followed by a commercialization of sexuality, which is no longer viewed with its personal dignity but as a way to satisfy one's desire or personal “needs”. Conflict between the sexes and the generations inevitably follows. We see the same disintegration process in the attitude towards the unborn. To claim that a pregnancy can be interrupted because the child is handicapped, in order to spare him and others the burden of his life, is to demean all the handicapped! What applies to the beginning of human life is especially true at its end. No one is so sick, elderly or disabled that another person has the right to dispose of his life.

I therefore urge you, dear Brothers, to give an ecumenical witness to the sanctity of life: this means not only respecting others in their diversity but loving them, in the conviction that we have need of one another, that we give ourselves to one another, that we live for and are Christian to one another, to achieve together the “cultural transformation” in a society marked “by a dramatic struggle between the ‘culture of life’ and the ‘culture of death’” (Evangelium vitae EV 95). I wish to recall my “pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!” (ibid., n. 5).

In order to undertake this great work, “the renewal of a culture of life within Christian communities themselves” is both urgent and necessary (cf. ibid.). The formation of conscience is particularly significant. In fact, the Christian faith awakens consciences and is the basis of ethics. It is praiseworthy that your pastoral work should pay specific attention to the work of formation. In recent years you were able to publish translations of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in Norwegian and Swedish. Danish and Finnish translations will follow. Despite scarce financial means, you wish to continue running several Catholic schools, even in the future. I consider your willingness to be close to your priests and catechists when you teach religion classes and accept invitations to schools to be particularly praiseworthy. On this subject, I would like to mention the generous work of the many women and men who offer “home catechesis” in parish centres and, when these are not available, in their own homes, in order to sow the seed of faith in the hearts of the young and to compensate for what the new generations are deprived of in State schools. A family which passes on the Word of God becomes a “believing and evangelizing community” with a “prophetic role” (Familiaris consortio FC 51). Its home is a “Church in miniature”, a “domestic Church” (Lumen gentium LG 11)

5. Thus the power of our faith is not only expressed aloud but also in silence. In your particular Churches innumerable communities and religious institutes work tirelessly to build God’s kingdom. While as a rule the female branches follow the general trend and complain of recruitment problems, there are other tender plants which on the contrary are full of promise. In addition to the reconstruction of two Benedictine convents in Sweden, I am thinking of “the northernmost Carmel in the world”, which was founded on 8 September 1990 in Tromsø when 12 sisters moved from Iceland to northern Norway. In the meantime the number of sisters has increased to 20. Carmel expresses an essential aspect of Christian existence: contemplative life which gives priority to prayer. Anchored in its centre, which is Jesus Christ, the convent radiates its light to the parish communities around it. Not only do loud newspaper headlines have a positive effect on people, but also the unobtrusive yet obvious presence of sisters, which is another completely different but no less missionary aspect of the “holy Church”. For “the Church’s holiness is the hidden source and the infallible measure of the works of the apostolate and of the missionary effort” (Christifideles laici CL 17). Something as tiny as a mustard seed can conceal within itself the growth potential of a big tree. We must put our hope in this when we recite the Creed.

6. I believe the catholic Church. With regard to the number of members of your particular Churches, small in comparison to the overall population, you may sometimes feel tempted to ask yourselves the troubling question: “Are we an insignificant worm?” (cf. Is Is 41,14). Above all, are we “Catholics” in the full sense of the term? I can share these sentiments and thoughts, and, dear Brothers, I say to you what Jesus said to those of his young followers who were discouraged: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lc 12,32). With these words, he did not want them merely to wait for the world to come, but also to focus on the present: “Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lc 17,21). God’s kingdom is already in your midst in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Even if your particular Churches are widely scattered and few in number, Jesus Christ is present in them through your service as Bishops. “Where Christ Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church” (Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Smyrn., 8, 2). She possesses “in herself the totality and fullness of the means of salvation” (Ad gentes AGD 6): the correct and complete profession of faith, the full expression of sacramental life and ordained ministry in the apostolic succession. In this basic sense, the Church was already catholic on the day of Pentecost and will remain so until the day when Christ, as Head of the Body of the Church, will come to all fullness (cf. Eph Ep 1,22-23). I recognize with gratitude your commitment to the Catholic Church in Scandinavia, and in particular your efforts in the ministry of preaching and the administration of the sacraments. Furthermore, your zeal in visiting with your pastors parish communities that are sometimes distant and far-flung is continual. I encourage you to spread catholicity among the faithful through meetings and events which go beyond the boundaries of the individual parishes. I learned with great joy that you are intending to organize a “Katholikentag” for all Scandinavia for the Year 2000. In this way you would like to prepare for Northern Europe “a great springtime of Christianity, and we can already see its first signs” (cf. Redemptoris missio RMi 86). Lastly, you show together with generous women and men that your heart is beating with an authentic Catholic rhythm, when, with the little you have available for charitable and pastoral purposes, you show solidarity in promoting missionary projects. I could not pass over in silence your commitment to love your neighbour, great and small, something which is especially reflected in the fact that our Brother Bishop Kenney has filled the office of President of the European Caritas for years.

7. May I address one problem which concerns me greatly: you tell me that on Sunday in some cathedrals the Eucharist is celebrated in as many as seven different languages. In this way, because of immigration and a multicultural society, you encounter a catholicity which is reminiscent of the first Pentecost. On the one hand, this international dimension brings enrichment, but on the other, it is also a threat to unity and identity. The criticisms and rejection which persons from other countries experience foment racial hatred and erect barriers. This is especially difficult for refugees from Asia and South America. “It shall not be so among you” (Mt 20,26). With your sympathy and example, show the priests and faithful entrusted to your care how enriching a multiplicity of the gifts of grace can be “for the common good” (1Co 12,7). “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rm 12,4-5). It is not the number of the faithful which makes up the catholicity of the Church, but the strength which comes to us from heaven and spreads. The tiny mustard seed possesses this quality. So do not fear, small flock! Always be careful that no thief or robber breaks into your fold (cf. Jn Jn 10,7-10). This is why I urge you to be vigilant “at this time when Christian and para-Christian sects are sowing confusion by their activity” (Redemptoris missio RMi 50) and are a threat to the Catholic Church and all the Ecclesial Communities with which she is engaging in dialogue. “Wherever possible, and in the light of local circumstances, the response of Christians can itself be an ecumenical one” (ibid). This duty specifically belongs to you who have received the apostolic office.

8. I believe the apostolic Church. Through you, my dear brothers, Christ carries out his mandate: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20,21). Nonetheless, the apostolic office “has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff as its head” (cf. Lumen gentium LG 22). I am pleased that the bonds of our apostolic communion are so close, and I assure you that the Successor of Peter shares with you deeply. I emphasize this assurance precisely because I gather from your reports that the apostolic office is needed in your Churches as a sort of bulwark against the tide.

In your countries too, civil divorces are increasing. The pastoral problem of the divorced and remarried is becoming ever more pressing. I repeat what I said on 24 January this year during the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family: these women and men cannot be given Eucharistic Communion nor reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance, yet they must “know that the Church loves them, that she is not far from them and suffers because of their situation. The divorced and remarried are and remain her members, because they have received Baptism and retain their Christian faith” (cf. Familiaris consortio FC 84). Pastors are invited to be close to them “with solicitous care”, so that they may persevere in prayer and keep their faith in God’s paternal love (cf. ibid.).

The Lutheran Churches have recently permitted women to take leadership roles, including even that of Bishop. I particularly stress that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” (Ordinatio sacerdotalis, n. 4).

9. As regards all these matters, you would be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Mc 1,3), if there were no generous women and men to support you in your efforts to speak up for Christian values in a secularized society. The Council already recognized that the laity’s work is so necessary that “without it the apostolate of the pastors will frequently be unable to obtain its full effect” (Apostolicam actuositatem AA 10). However, this must not remain just a beautiful-sounding appeal. A particularly significant passage from my Predecessor Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi deserves to be recalled here: “What matters is to evangelize man’s culture and cultures (not in a purely decorative way as it were by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their very roots), in the wide and rich sense which these terms have.... The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures” (Evangelii nuntiandi EN 20). I urge you to support and encourage capable men and women to proclaim the Gospel “on all the ways of the world” (Christifideles laici CL 44). An important way in today's world is the media of social communication, in which the Church’s voice should not be lacking. Even if in all the countries entrusted to your pastoral care ecclesial publications exist which inform Catholics about events in the Diocese and in the world, I encourage you to be even more involved as salt, leaven and light in the media. The world does not need a vague religious sentiment, but the clarity of that message about “life in abundance” (Jn 10,10) which demands a great deal from the individual, but also gives meaning to his life and makes him worthy of being a man. Do not give people only what they want. Give them what they need! Dedication to this task is an apostolic service.

My dear Brothers,
10. I believe the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We have reflected on what this profession means for you and your particular Churches. What would this Church be without her priests? You do not have an acute shortage of priests, but indigenous forces are lacking. This is why I ask you to be particularly concerned about the new generation of priests, although I am aware of your efforts in recent years to give a concrete form to the structures and processes of formation. The Swedish College in Rome, which offers hospitality to students from all of Scandinavia, as well as the effective co-operation and financial support which links you with the Church in Germany, are a foundation on which to build. Interior foundations matter more than exterior conditions. We cannot create vocations but we can pray for them.

More than three centuries separate us from the naturalist, doctor and Bishop Niels Stensen, who was born in Copenhagen and in his era worked as Vicar Apostolic for the Nordic missions. Since then, philosophy, medicine and theology have developed further. We are left with the full responsibility of imbuing life with Christian faith and morals. What Bishop Niels Stensen wrote to the Congregation for the Propaganda of the Faith on the success of his efforts is still true for us today: “The less human foresight expects in divine matters, the more clearly divine Providence is gradually revealed. In apostolic matters it is necessary to behave apostolically and take opportunities as they arise, abandoning oneself to the results of divine mercy” (Epistolae II, 809).

In God’s hands I place your many pastoral works and the joys and sorrows that your priests, deacons, religious and laity experience in their faith life. Through the intercession of Mary the Mother of God, whom we also honour as Mother of the Church, and the saints of your lands, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all those entrusted to your care.

Speeches 1997 - 13 April 1997