Speeches 1997 - Monday, 19 May 1997

This is especially true with regard to abortion. As well as being a crime against the innocent unborn, this terrible reality has most deleterious effects on the people directly involved and on society itself, which no longer surrounds life with absolute respect but subordinates it — a supreme human good — to lesser goods or practical advantages. At a time of fresh attacks on the sanctity and inviolability of human life, you have rightly restated the universal and unchanging moral truths and increased your efforts to inspire families and young people to accept their decisive responsibility to sustain, foster and treasure the gift of every human life. I can only commend you for responding with pastoral concern to the harm done by intrinsically unjust laws, and I encourage you to continue to help the faithful in the promotion of social institutions, civil legislation and national policies which support family values and family rights (cf. Familiaris consortio FC 44).

5. The Church’s presence in the field of education is a crucial part of her efforts to train the laity. Even during the dark years of apartheid, Catholic schools made an immense contribution to the human and religious formation of children and young people of all races and social classes. In the presence of policies which could be interpreted as endangering the identity of Catholic schools, it is well to recall that the Church’s inalienable right to establish schools freely corresponds to the right of parents to provide their children with an education in harmony with their convictions (cf. Gravissimum educationis GE 8). It is important that the Church should do all she can to provide and maintain schools at every level, but it is also legitimate to hope that the State which ought to represent and foster the best interests of its citizens will support such schools, enabling them to maintain their identity and making it effectively possible for parents to exercise their right to choose the kind of education they wish for their children.

6. Dear Brothers, you are the ones principally responsible for the training of your priests. The formation and Christian life of the laity depend to an extraordinary degree on the service which only the ordained ministers of the Gospel can provide. Your quinquennial reports indicate that in some areas the scarcity of priests is making it difficult for every local community to gather for the Sunday Eucharist, the celebration of which is the heart, source and summit of the Church’s life (cf. Lumen gentium LG 11). Where priests are not available, other people, especially catechists, lead the community in prayer, song and reflection. Such gatherings are always held “in expectation of a priest” (Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, n. 27) and are occasions for praying that the Lord will send more labourers into his harvest (cf. Mt Mt 9,38). Great care must be taken to ensure that these temporary measures do not lead to a misunderstanding of the nature of Holy Orders and the centrality of the Eucharist (cf. Pastores dabo vobis PDV 48).

7. The sacramental and Eucharistic life of your communities is guaranteed in fact by conferring the gift of the Holy Spirit through ordination, thereby associating priests, both diocesan and religious, with your own apostolic ministry. The Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops laid emphasis on the need for care in selecting candidates for the priesthood (cf. nn. 94-95). “The Bishop should make a point of visiting [his seminarians] often and in some way ‘being’ with them, as a way of giving significant expression to his responsibility for the formation of candidates for the priesthood” (Pastores dabo vobis PDV 65). By word and example the Bishop should help these young men to understand that the priesthood is configuration to Christ, Bridegroom and Head of the Church, but also Victim and humble Servant. A seminary and a presbyterate energized by prayer, mutual support and friendship fosters the spirit of willing obedience which disposes every priest to fulfil the pastoral tasks entrusted to him by his Bishop. The mystery of the Church as communion is strengthened when episcopal authority is exercised as amoris officium (cf. Jn Jn 13,14) and when priestly obedience is patterned on Christ the Servant (cf. Phil Ph 2,7-8). Furthermore, neither the seminary nor the presbyterate should lead to a privileged style of life. Rather, simplicity and self-denial should be the marks of those who follow the Lord who came “not to be served but to serve” (Mc 10,45). We should note the timely words of the Directory for the Life and Ministry of Priests (1994), published by the Congregation for the Clergy: “A priest could hardly be a true servant and minister of his brothers and sisters if he were excessively worried about his own comfort and well-being” (n. 67).

The Synod likewise insisted that future priests must understand the value of celibacy for the ordained ministry (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). Seminarians need a human maturity and spiritual formation which will enable them to be “clear in their minds and deeply convinced that for the priest celibacy is inseparable from chastity” (ibid.). Wise Pastors will take special care to impress upon priests and seminarians that filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asceticism, self-sacrifice, generosity to others, and priestly fraternity are essential if a priest is to devote himself to God and God’s work with joy and an undivided heart. Experience shows that opportunities for continuing formation help priests to safeguard their priestly identity, to grow spiritually, intellectually and pastorally, and to be better equipped to build up the communities entrusted to their care.

8. At the same time, the Church in Southern Africa would not be what she is without the extraordinary gift of consecrated life. Zealous members of missionary congregations accomplished the plantatio Ecclesiae in your lands, and to their number have been added many new institutes of contemplative and active life. The consecrated men and women in your Dioceses depend on you for guidance in their pastoral activities, and they need your support in living the evangelical counsels. Harmony between Bishops and consecrated persons is essential to the common good of the Family of God. Religious institutes, acting through their Superiors, should always show “a spirit of communion and cooperation” in their relations with the Bishops in whose Dioceses they work (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). Bishops, for their part, should “welcome and esteem the charisms of the consecrated life” (Vita consecrata VC 48) and give them due place in diocesan pastoral plans. It is especially important for Bishops to pay close attention to the formation programmes in institutes of diocesan right. With prudence and discernment (cf. 1Th 5,21), you should see to it that candidates are carefully selected, and that they receive the integral human, spiritual, theological and pastoral formation which will prepare them for their mission in the Church.

9. In your Dioceses you are the High Priests of sacred worship and “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1Co 4,1). I am aware of your Conference’s efforts to mediate the authentic inculturation of worship “so that the faithful can better understand and live liturgical celebrations” (Ecclesia in Africa ). The principle is to welcome from local cultures “those expressions which are compatible with aspects of the true and authentic spirit of the liturgy, in respect for the substantial unity of the Roman rite” (Vicesimus quintus annus, n. 16). The task however is a difficult and delicate one. It can only be successfully carried out as a process in which every adaptation arises as a deeper assimilation of the Church’s patrimony, completely faithful to the “sacred deposit of the Word of God” (Dei Verbum DV 10), the authoritative interpretation of which is entrusted to the whole Episcopal College with the Successor of Peter as its foundation of unity. As Ecclesia in Africa recognizes, this is one of the greatest challenges for the Church on your continent on the eve of the third millennium (cf. n. 59), and it calls for exemplary wisdom and fidelity on the part of the Bishops.

10. Dear Brother Bishops, these are some of the thoughts which your visit evokes. The Solemnity of Pentecost which we have just celebrated urges us to pray in union with Mary for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Churches entrusted to your pastoral care. Together we ask this same Spirit to enlighten our minds, fill our hearts with hope and give us boldness in our undertakings in the service of the Gospel. Confident that the Lord will continue to increase the fervour of the priests, religious and laity of Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland, and that the good work he has begun in them will continue to flourish (cf. Phil Ph 1,6), I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.




Thursday, 22 May 1997

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘if any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water”?’. Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive” (Jn 7,37-39).

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. You have chosen to celebrate your plenary assembly on the days immediately following Pentecost: may the Holy Spirit, whose descent upon the Church at her birth we have just celebrated, illumine and guide your meeting and your work.

It is a joy for me to be with you and to share your pastoral anxieties and concerns. I greet and thank your President, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, and all the other Italian Cardinals; I also greet the Vice-Presidents, with particular gratitude to Archbishop Giuseppe Agostino, who has ended his service, and cordial wishes to Archbishop Giuseppe Costan-zo, appointed to take on his role as Vice-President. Lastly, I greet the General Secretary and each one of you, venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, and I wish you all the fruits of the Spirit in your commitment to your individual Dioceses and to the Episcopal Conference.

2. Your assembly gave ample space to the great theme of meeting Jesus Christ through the Bible.In Tertio millennio adveniente I stressed how important it is that in this year of preparation for the Great Jubilee, dedicated to Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb He 13,8), Christians “should turn with renewed interest to the Bible, ‘whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids’” (n. 40).

Despite the great impetus that the Second Vatican Council gave to biblical studies and the biblical apostolate in Christian communities, there are still too many of the faithful who are deprived of a vital contact with Sacred Scripture and do not adequately nourish their faith with the riches of God’s word contained in the revealed texts. Further effort is therefore needed to give them wider access to the Bible. “Ignorance of Sacred Scripture means ignorance of Christ”, as St Jerome said, since the whole Bible speaks of him (cf. Lk Lc 24,27).

For a real contact with Sacred Scripture, reference to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum is crucial. We find in it the doctrinal principles and the most appropriate pastoral means for ensuring that the experience of the Sacred Book retains its intrinsic quality of listening to the Word of God, that it is an exegetically correct approach, that it becomes a source of spiritual life, enlivens and invigorates all pastoral activity, guides and supports ecumenical dialogue and shows the great human and cultural riches that flow from the Bible and have yielded marvellous fruits of civilization in Italy and in many other nations.

By virtue of this link between faith and culture, the Bible is offered as a basic text for the formation of the new generations, in the catechesis of Christian initiation and in the teaching of the Catholic religion given in schools.

The demanding task of the new evangelization thus involves presenting the Bible once again to the whole People of God through liturgical proclamation, preaching and catechesis, the practice of lectio divina and other ways well described in your recent Pastoral Note, “La Bibbia nella vita della Chiesa”. Parish and religious communities, lay movements and associations, families and young people can thus experience the loving condescension of God the Father, who through Sacred Scripture reaches out to every person, revealing the nature of his Only-begotten Son and his plan of salvation for humanity.

So that Scripture may be understood and accepted by the faithful in the full depths of its truth and as the supreme rule of our faith, guidance must obviously be provided that will avoid superficial, emotional or even manipulative interpretations which are not enlightened by wise discernment and listening in the Spirit. This is our specific responsibility as Pastors, aided by priests and catechists: the true and genuine interpretation and transmission of the sacred texts can only take place within the Church, in the light of living Tradition and under the guidance of the Magis-terium (cf. Dei Verbum DV 10).

3. Devoting particular attention to meeting Jesus Christ through the Bible, you have meant, dear Brothers, to give an impetus to the preparation for this special Holy Year, in which we will celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the Incarnation of the Word of God. I know the commitment with which each of you in your own particular Church and together in the Episcopal Conference are preparing for this great event. I am pleased with it and congratulate you.

A salient moment on this journey of preparation for the Jubilee will be the National Eucharistic Congress, scheduled to take place in Bologna at the end of September on the same theme as that of this preparatory year: “Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and for ever”. I will be pleased to be able to meet you in Bologna and I thank Cardinal Giacomo Biffi for the zeal with which he is preparing this great manifestation of faith in the Eucharistic Christ and of membership in the Church.

4. Dear Brothers, the memory of the Palermo Convention is still fresh upon my heart. All the Dioceses of Italy gathered together to invigorate the life of the nation with the Gospel of love. Since the convention you have already worked hard to put into practice the decisions made there regarding the primacy of the spiritual life, commitment to the new evangelization, the relationship between faith and culture, the family, young people, preferential love for the poor and the Christian inspiration of political and social life.

In particular the cultural plan oriented in a Christian direction identifies a basic objective to strive for with concerted sensitivity and energy: that of a faith expressed in works, so that Jesus Christ may also inspire and sustain the temporal commitment of believers for the future of the Italian people, as already happened in the past. In this perspective, I would like to encourage the efforts you are making for a more incisive and organic Christian presence in the world of social communications, knowing well that decisive challenges are at stake in this area.

5. I share with you, dear brothers, your concern and also your worry for the future of the Italian nation. For its unity, for its great Christian heritage and for the consequent role it must be able to play in Europe.

The Italian people are rich in energy, capable of facing and overcoming even the most difficult problems, but these energies must be able to be expressed in freedom and solidarity, leaving room and indeed giving an impetus to the “subjectivity of society” (Centesimus annus CA 13), whose strength lies in the many bodies and intermediate groupings, especially in the family, which is the basic cell of society as well as of the Church.

In view of the many attacks which the family suffers today even in Italy, where it also has a particularly important social function, I want to tell you, my Brother Bishops, that I am at your side, both in your pastoral action on behalf of families, and in the commitment to which all Catholics and people of goodwill are called in order to safeguard on the legislative level the rights of the family based on marriage, and to request the adoption of new provisions and initiatives regarding employment, construction and tax laws, so that the family and motherhood are not unjustly penalized.

I know, dear Brothers, that the attention you give to schools is just as great: both for schools in general, which must first of all be supported in their primary task of educating and forming the person, and especially for non-State schools. Here I renew, together with you, the request “that parity for non-State schools, which offer a valid public service appreciated and desired by many families, will finally be put into practice” (Address to the Roman Institute of Villa Flaminia, 23 February 1997; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 March 1997, p. 6). In this field too, the legislation of many member countries of the European Union can be an example.

6. Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate! Let us place in the heart of Mary, our gentle Mother, the plans which have been made during these days of prayer, fraternal exchange and common reflection.

United with Mary, the martyrs and the saints who have written this nation’s history, let us look with trust to the tasks awaiting us.

God bless each one of you and your Churches. May God bless the Italian people, strengthen them in the faith of their fathers, give them light of mind and openness of heart to build the civilization of love on the threshold of the third millennium.





23 May 1997

Dear Minister,

Once again on the happy occasion of the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius you have come in pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Cyril in the Basilica of Saint Clement, in the centre of Old Rome. Because of their unique role in the development of Europe's spiritual and cultural heritage, the Holy Brothers from Salonika stand out as a symbol of the unity of this Continent, and the lessons of their lives are especially timely today as Europe seeks a new sense of its own identity and destiny.

Cyril and Methodius show above all the importance of seeking the unity of all Christians in the one Church of Christ. They had been sent to Eastern Europe by the Patriarch of Constantinople in response to the request of Prince Rostislav of Great Moravia. The Prince wished to learn about the Gospel of Salvation and asked that there be sent to his people "a Bishop and teacher . . . able to explain to them the true Christian faith in their own language" (Vita Constantini, XIV, 2-4; Encyclical Letter Slavorum Apostoli, 5). The Western dioceses bordering on Great Moravia believed that the responsibility for bringing the Cross of Christ into the Slav countries was theirs, and so hindered the two Brothers in their undertaking. Cyril and Methodius therefore went to the Pope for confirmation of their mission to the Slavs. Thus, in an age when the Church was not divided between East and West, a joint intervention of Rome and Constantinople proved of great benefit for the work of spreading the Gospel. I continually pray that the moment will soon arrive when the traditions of both East and West, of which Saints "Cyril and Methodius are as it were the connecting links", will come together "in the one great Tradition of the universal Church" (ibid., 27).

The influence of the two Saints endures in our European heritage, especially in the culture of the Slav nations, which owe their 'beginning' or development to the work of the Brothers from Salonika (cf. Slavorum Apostoli, 21). Their saintly lives speak to us still of the importance of cross-cultural understanding, essential to co-existence and peace throughout Europe and especially in the Balkans. It is my hope that your stay in Rome will strengthen your commitment to preserve and emphasize the Christian heritage and artistic treasures of your own land that have survived the vicissitudes of history, so that the whole of Europe may benefit.

May Almighty God bless you and your fellow-citizens with unity and peace.





23 May 1997

Dear Friends in Christ,

1. With great joy I welcome you - the seminarians, student priests and former students of the Pontifical Beda College, together with the Rector, the Staff and the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood who have served the College for thirty years. On the happy occasion of your Centenary, I join you in thanking God for the "great things" (cf. Lk Lc 1,49) which, over the last hundred years, he has accomplished through your College for the good of the Church. Since its establishment, the Beda has remained steadfastly committed to its mission of providing mature men from English-speaking countries with a solid preparation for the priestly ministry.

2. Your Centenary coincides with the Church's preparations for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. I urge you to celebrate the hundred years of the College in a spirit of prayerful anticipation of the great anniversary of the Redemptive Incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God. Those called to be "shepherds after the Lord's own heart" (cf. Jer Jr 3,5) must be the first to aspire to what I wished for all the Church's members in my Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, namely, "a true longing for holiness, a deep desire for conversion and personal renewal in a context of ever more intense prayer and of solidarity with their neighbour, especially the most needy" (No.42). Since priests are sacramentally configured to Christ, the Head, Shepherd and Servant of the Church, they especially are bound to be "holy and blameless in his sight" (cf. Eph Ep 1,4).

3. In your Patron, the Venerable Bede, you have a model of a priest who dedicated himself to the devout study and contemplation of Sacred Scripture. May familiarity with God's holy word be the source of your faith and joy, and may it enlighten your minds to "preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mc 16,15) with conviction and power!

I pray that on the occasion of the Hundredth Anniversary of the Pontifical Beda College the Holy Spirit will fill you with a burning zeal to bring Christ, the hope of humanity, to a world yearning for the love and peace which only God can give. I thank the College for its fidelity to the Successor of Peter down the years, and I commend you and the benefactors of the College to the loving intercession of Mary, Mother of Jesus the Eternal High Priest. With my Apostolic Blessing.





23 May 1997

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed a pleasure for me to welcome to the Vatican the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress of the United States. I am aware that you are dedicated to assisting the Library of Congress in sharing its immense intellectual and cultural treasures with the Nation and with the world. The patrimony of human thought, cultural achievement and religious truth contained in the world's libraries is not only a monument to past human endeavor; it is the solid ground on which each new generation can strive to build a better future. To ignore this treasure would be for humanity to condemn itself to existing and working in a wasteland. Our own age particularly needs to recover the accumulated wisdom of the past.

Today, the exchange of knowledge between individuals and between different cultures and civilizations, and especially the sharing of the documentary memory of a people's historical experience, takes place more and more through the new technologies of instant communication. Thus you are particularly interested in ensuring that the uplifting and instructive record of human experience is made available in the new communications media. Herein lies an important dimension of your interest in the Vatican Apostolic Library, which has benefitted in the past from the technical assistance of the Library of Congress.

I particularly wish to thank The Madison Council for its very successful sponsorship of Rome Reborn, an unprecedented exhibition of Vatican treasures. I pray that God will continue to bless your initiatives. May his strength and peace be with you and your loved ones!




Saturday, 24 July 1997

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am pleased to extend my welcome and my most cordial greetings to all of you, directors and staff of the "Don Carlo Gnocchi Pro Juventute Foundation". I especially thank the President, Mons. Angelo Bazzari for his words, and also for explaining the context of today’s audience.

It is as it were an extension of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the death of Don Carlo Gnocchi which took place last year. In fact, our meeting was planned for last October, but Providence disposed otherwise, so that today we are commemorating Don Gnocchi anew, 50 years after he founded the "Federation Pro Infanzia Mutilata", later to become the "Pro Juventute Foundation". This gives me the opportunity to examine, together with you, the thoughts which I expressed some months ago in my special Message for your international congress on the theme of rehabilitation.

2. Commemorating figures such as Don Gnocchi makes it possible, especially for believers, to touch almost palpably the reality of a life that endures, indeed, that in some way continues to grow beyond the threshold of death.

For a Christian the act of dying represents the fulfilment of life, of his vocation and mission. Following in Jesus’ footsteps, he has learned to die to self and fulfil himself in his gift of self, to find himself completely and in truth "losing himself", like the grain of wheat. For those who have known and believe in God’s love (cf. 1Jn 4,16), the one essential thing is to love, both living and dying. And the authentic and full meaning of life becomes "giving one’s life".

For a priest, especially, this means following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd, who "lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10,11). This is how it was for your founder, in a most admirable way. His early death was the seal to a life entirely given to God and to his neighbours. It was his wish that even after his death something of himself be donated: he offered the corneas of his eyes to a blind boy and girl, who from 29 February 1956, the day after his death, could thus begin to see.

For those times this was a courageous and original gesture, even if humble and discreet, a gesture capable of stirring consciences and positively inspiring society.

At his funeral, an immense crowd surrounded him who, in the period after the Second World War, had become almost a symbol of hope. A priest who, having shared as chaplain, the tragic fate of the Alpine troops on the Russian front, devoted himself to their orphaned and disabled children, starting a tenacious human "rehabilitation" for which he spent all the energy of his gifted and tireless love.

3. The development of the Pro Juventute during these 40 years is the best proof of the fruitfulness of Don Carlo Gnocchi's pastoral work. He not only responded to concrete and urgent needs, but above all he did so in an extremely modern way, anticipating the times, because of his keen educational sensitivity, matured in the early period of his ministry and constantly cultivated. He was not content just to help people but sought to “rehabilitate them”, encourage them, enable them to find the condition of life best suited to their dignity. This was his great challenge. And this is still what challenges the foundation that bears his name.

In this perspective, one can rightly refer to Don Gnocchi as an encouraging example of that charitable action, deeply inserted in history, which the Italian Church has taken as a model of pastoral commitment for the current decade (cf. Italian Episcopal Conference. Pastoral Note after the Convention of Palermo). A charity marked, precisely, by strong and constant educational attention whose object is the integral advancement of the person with a view to building a supportive and fraternal society.

The Pro Juventute has shown its ability to continue faithfully the work of its venerable founder — and for this we must first of all congratulate his successors — making fruitful those "talents" that he had received and which, as he lay dying, he entrusted to his collaborators. In particular, the foundation has remained alert to changing needs by developing a capacity to respond to new situations of need, but without ever losing sight of the centrality of the person or lessening the scientific precision of its intervention.

4. Dear brothers and sisters, almost all the foundation's centres are called after Mary, also in witness to Don Carlo Gnocchi's deep Marian devotion. Today, 24 May, we commemorate the most holy Virgin venerated under the title of Our Lady Help of Christians. I would like to entrust your projects and the thousands of people who, through them, find relief for their suffering and hope for the future.

And I want to end my reflection precisely in the sign of hope: Don Carlo Gnocchi’s whole life, and also his death, is a shining sign of hope. That "persistent hope" which, as he himself wrote, always guided his search for the face of God in that of innocents marked by suffering (cf. Gli scritti, cit., p. 527). I hope you will always be able to follow it worthily so as to enjoy, like him, the joy that stems from love. With these sentiments I sincerely impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you all, extending it to the whole family of the Pro Juventute.




Feast of Sts Cyril and Methodius

Saturday, 24 May 1997

Mr President,

Dear Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am particularly pleased to welcome your Delegation, which has come to Rome following a well-established tradition, on the occasion of the annual feast of Sts Cyril and Methodius.

Your pilgrimage to the tomb of St Cyril in the ancient Basilica of St Clement shows that the Bulgarian people gratefully recognize the importance of the evangelizing mission accomplished by these holy brothers.

The missionary work of Cyril and Methodius played a decisive role in the destiny of the Slav peoples and profoundly marked the spiritual and cultural history of Europe.

As natives of Salonika sent to the Slav nations on a mandate from Constantinople, the brother saints knew how to preach the Gospel in communion with the whole Church. Even at difficult moments and in adversity, they preserved the bonds of unity and charity to the point of becoming models of ecclesial unity in the East and West. In reflecting on the importance of this great period of evangelization, I wrote in the Encyclical Slavorum Apostoli that “for us today their apostolate also possesses the eloquence of an ecumenical appeal: it is an invitation to restore, in the peace of reconciliation, the unity that was gravely damaged after the time of Sts Cyril and Methodius, and, first and foremost, the unity between East and West” (n. 13).

2. The activity of the holy brothers has another dimension closely linked to their evangelizing mission. They did not impose their certainly very rich Greek culture on the Slav peoples, but, remembering the words of Scripture: “Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (cf. Phil Ph 2,11), they devoted themselves to translating the sacred books. “Making use of their own Greek language and culture for this arduous and unusual enterprise, they set themselves to understanding and penetrating the language, customs and traditions of the Slav peoples, faithfully interpreting the aspirations and human values which were present and expressed therein” (Slavorum Apostoli, n. 10). Their work, especially the creation of an alphabet adapted to the Slav language, made an essential contribution to the culture and literature of all the Slav nations.

I would also like to remind you that, through their direct disciples, the mission of the holy brothers was confirmed and developed in your country thanks to very dynamic centres of monastic life. From Bulgaria, Christianity then spread to the neighbouring countries and extended as far as Kievan Rus’ (cf. ibid., n. 24).

3. If today a large part of Europe seems to be seeking its identity, it cannot fail to return to its Christian roots and especially to the work of Cyril and Methodius. This undoubtedly represents a contribution of primary importance for the unity of Europe in its religious, civil and cultural dimensions. A detailed study of the activity and legacy of the holy brothers will lead to a rediscovery of the values that shaped Europe’s identity in the past, but which can still renew the face of this continent today.

As I thank you for your friendly visit, I offer my fervent wishes to your Delegation and to the Bulgarian authorities and people.

I hope that by giving new relevance to the heritage of Cyril and Methodius, everyone can actively help rebuild your country, as well as Europe. I entrust these wishes to the Lord and I implore the benefits of his blessings upon you.

Speeches 1997 - Monday, 19 May 1997