Speeches 1997 - Friday, 12 September 1997




Saturday, 13 September 1997

Dear Pilgrims from Senegal,

I am pleased to welcome you at the end of your national pilgrimage. I cordially greet Bishop Théodore-Adrien Sarr of Kaolack, President of the Bishops’ Conference, who is leading your way.

Your itinerary has taken you to three important places. The principal stop on your journey was your visit to the Holy Land, which remains an essential source and reference point, the land of the chosen people, the land where the Son of God became incarnate, where he proclaimed the Gospel and where he accomplished the fundamental act of our Redemption. I hope that when you return from this pilgrimage in Jesus’ footsteps, you will come back strengthened in your faith in the one Mediator between God and men, and in the Spirit of Pentecost, who launched the great movement of evangelization from the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

In Fatima you honoured the Mother of the Lord, who was present for the essential moments of Christ’s messianic mission and who accompanies us throughout the Church’s history. In her we are offered the most beautiful model of faith and prayer. May your meditation on the Rosary be enriched by your pilgrimage!

Praying at the tombs of Peter and Paul gives your visit to Rome its full meaning. The martyrdom of the princes of the Apostles has made this city the centre of the universal Church, the centre of unity for our faith and mission. May the intercession of Sts Peter and Paul help you to play your part in the life of your Dioceses, in communion with the whole Church!

As I thank you for your visit, I join in your prayer for the Church in Senegal, for your families and for all your people. I cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing.





18 September 1997

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. As I welcome you, the Bishops of the Sudan, on the occasion of your visit ad Limina Apostolorum, I am reminded of my own visit to your country four years ago. It was with great joy and satisfaction that I went to Khartoum, even if it was not possible to travel to other areas, for it was important to me to address the message of reconciliation and hope, the message which is at the very heart of the Gospel, to all the Sudanese people, regardless of differences of religion or ethnic origin. I was especially happy for the opportunity to offer encouragement to the citizens of your country who are sons and daughters of the Church, and whose deeply felt aspiration is to live in peace and to work side by side with their fellow countrymen in building a better society for all. In thanking God for enabling me to make that visit, I thank him also "for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus . . . who will sustain you to the end" (1Co 1,4).

2. Sadly, the Sudan still finds itself in the midst of great turmoil. The torment of a civil war which has brought untold misery, suffering and death, especially in the South, continues to afflict the land and to drain the life and energies of your people. Your communities are deeply affected by a breakdown in the good relations which should exist between Christians and Muslims. Despite your people's poverty and their resulting weakness by worldly standards, the Lord will not forsake you. Through the Prophet Isaiah he continues to say to you: "I will not forget you" (Is 49,15).

The Lord hears the voice of the innocent victims, of the weak and the defenceless who cry out to him for help, for justice, for respect of their God-given dignity as human beings, for their basic human rights, for the freedom to believe and practise their religion without fear or discrimination. Christian faith teaches us that our prayers and sufferings are joined to those of Christ himself who, as Supreme High Priest of God's holy people, entered the Holy Place in order to intercede on our behalf (cf. Heb He 9,11-12). And just as he did once on earth, so now from the Father's house he speaks to us: "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11,28). And as the words of this invitation sound in our ears, he adds: "Learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Mt 11,29).

These are the words of Christ, the One who alone knows the Father and who alone is known by the Father as the Only-Begotten Son. Today, I repeat these words to you, the Bishops of the Sudan, and through you to all the faithful entrusted to your care. As I wrote last year to the Dioceses of Southern Sudan: "The Successor of Peter is close to you and implores God for you, that you may have the strength to go forward ?rooted and built on Jesus Christ' (cf. Col Col 2,7)" (Message to the Catholics of Southern Sudan, 24 October 1996). I renew these sentiments and encourage you to stand firm and take courage. The Lord is at your side. He will never abandon you. The prayers of the whole Church are with you!

3. Despite the grave difficulties and suffering which the Christian community is facing, the Church in the Sudan continues to develop, with many signs of vitality. With the Psalmist we exclaim: "This is the Lord's doing, it is marvellous in our eyes" (Ps 118,23). Truly it is as the Lord said: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2Co 12,9). For this reason, with Saint Paul, you are able to accept weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when we are weak, then we are strong (cf. 2Co 12,10).

In the present political and social situation you can easily become isolated from one another. For this reason you must take advantage of every opportunity to give expression to the collegial responsibility and communion which unite you in the service of the one "household of God" (Ep 2,19). I urge you to do all that you can to foster among yourselves a true spirit of mutual trust and cooperation so that you can develop — difficult circumstances permitting — a common plan of pastoral initiatives to deal with the current grave challenges. Such initiatives include providing pastoral care in areas deprived of priests, evangelizing and offering adequate catechesis and Christian formation, promoting the celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage among the faithful and strengthening family life. Your own individual ministries as Shepherds and Pastors of souls will become ever more effective the more you are able to identify common needs in your Dioceses and coordinate joint programmes to meet those needs. It also remains imperative for the Conference to ensure the responsible administration of resources, both your own and those coming from outside donors and benefactors.

I cannot fail to express my appreciation of all that you are doing to defend and strengthen the faith of your Catholic brothers and sisters, and I particularly wish to encourage the various efforts and programmes aimed at meeting the needs of the many refugees and displaced persons. "Sudanaid", the assistance fund administered by your Episcopal Conference, provides aid and relief for the suffering and has already gained widespread esteem. Thus, notwithstanding the severe limitations encountered, the Church is able to move ahead courageously with her mission of service.

4. Your immediate co-workers in building up the Body of Christ are your priests, both diocesan and Religious, Sudanese and missionary. They have been consecrated to this service and have been given to you by God. All priests have received a call which has been subjected to testing and discernment during the years of preparation leading to priestly Ordination. After prayer, and with trust in God's unfailing grace, they have agreed to renounce the possibility of home, wife, children, social position and wealth (cf. Mt Mt 19,29). This they have done not grudgingly but gladly, in order to serve the Kingdom and to devote themselves to their brothers and sisters in Christ. I join you in asking Jesus the High Priest to grant your priests the grace and perseverance — and the intimate joy — which comes from fidelity to the demands of their vocation.

Since sacramental configuration with Christ, the Shepherd and Head of the Church, cannot be separated from the daily following of his example of self-giving love, all priests are called to cultivate genuine asceticism. In order to remain faithful to the gift of celibacy in perfect continence, it is essential — as the Second Vatican Council affirms — that they should pray humbly, make constant use of all the helps available to them for this purpose, and observe the prudent norms of self-discipline recommended by the Church's long experience (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis PO 16). With regard to the loneliness which can sometimes accompany the pastoral ministry, your priests should be encouraged, as much as the local situation permits, to live in common and direct their efforts entirely towards the sacred ministry. They should come together as often as possible for a fraternal exchange of ideas, counsel and experience (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 74).

Seminarians too remain one of your chief priorities. It is vital that future ministers of the Gospel should be not only well instructed academically but also, at the deepest level, totally dedicated to the care of souls, eager to shepherd their brothers and sisters in the ways of salvation. Those involved in formation must be in a position to assist the candidates in their growth toward the new "identity" conferred at Ordination. They themselves ought to be exemplary models of priestly conduct. They must be clear about the behaviour expected of candidates to the priesthood, for it would be an injustice to let seminarians go forward to Ordination if they have not internally and consciously assimilated the objective demands of the office which they are to undertake.

5. In the work of advancing the Kingdom of God, men and women Religious play a vital role in your local Churches. Likewise, the missionary priests, Sisters and Brothers who share with you the pastoral burdens of your Dioceses are courageous servants of the Gospel whose presence and generous dedication is a great source of encouragement to the faithful. In them is effectively seen the universality of the Church and the solidarity which characterizes the communion of the particular Churches with one another.

In the Sudan where there are simply not enough priests to preach the Gospel and exercise the pastoral ministry, catechists play an essential part in meeting the spiritual needs of your communities. They therefore need to have a deep awareness of their role and should be helped in every possible way to meet their responsibilities and obligations towards their own families.

6. In spite of the many difficulties which you face, the Church in the Sudan is actively involved in education. Catholic schools enjoy a good reputation and offer a high level of instruction, such that many people seek to enrol their children. The Church's concern for the moral and civic formation of young people, and of adults through the evening classes offered in many of your parish schools, constitutes an ever more important contribution to the future of the Christian community and of society as a whole. Such educational activity can offer a great help in overcoming ethnic tensions, since it brings together people of different tribal and social backgrounds.

Since local law makes religious instruction in public schools obligatory, the Church in the Sudan needs to ensure that Catholic students can avail themselves of this opportunity and therefore needs to provide properly trained Catholic teachers to present the faith to Christian students. Your priests and the members of religious communities are particularly well-suited to this task and should receive the encouragement and necessary preparation to undertake this important apostolate.

During my visit to Khartoum in 1993, I expressed the hope that a new era of constructive dialogue and good will would evolve between Christians and Muslims. Interreligious dialogue is not an easy task at the best of times. In your country it is a courageous act of hope for a better Sudan and a better future for its peoples. As I noted in my Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, an essential subject for Christian- Muslim dialogue should be the principle of religious freedom, with all that this freedom entails — including external and public manifestations of faith (cf. No. 66). I urge you not to desist in your efforts to establish and carry forward such dialogue at every level.

7. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, there is no doubt that the circumstances under which you must exercise your pastoral ministry are extremely trying. The thoughts which I share with you today are meant to be a source of encouragement as you seek "to confirm many in the faith, strengthen those who are wavering and call back those who have lost their way" (Pastoral Letter of the Sudanese Bishops, He Should Be Supreme in Every Way, October 1995). The Christians of the Sudan are every day in my thoughts and prayers. The whole Church feels a deep solidarity with the victims of injustice, conflict and famine, with the plight of refugees and displaced persons, with the sufferings of the sick and the injured. Each one of us, Bishops, priests, religious, lay men and women, are called to be one with the Paschal mystery of our Lord's Death and Resurrection, to pass from death to life, to accept trials which purify and help us to live what is truly essential: the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, who assures us that "I have overcome the world" (Jn 16,33).

I commend you and the Church in the Sudan to the intercession of Blessed Josephine Bakhita and Blessed Daniel Comboni, Heavenly Patrons whose lives and whose witness to the Gospel are so intimately linked to your land, and I invoke upon all of you the divine gifts of hope and trust. As a pledge of peace and strength in the Lord I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.




Friday, 19 September 1997

Your Eminence,

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. I am pleased to welcome you at the end of an intense session of information and reflection on the many aspects of your episcopal responsibility. I am grateful to Cardinal Jozef Tomko and to his staff at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples who have organized these weeks of reflection. I warmly greet you all, most of you Bishops from Africa but also from Latin America and Oceania. I am also thinking of those of your confrères in Viêt Nam whom we were expecting, but who, to my regret, have been unable to join you.

2. I am pleased with this meeting because it shows the affectus collegialis that unites the Pastors of the universal Church around the Bishop of Rome. During your days of study, you have been able to see the different aspects of your specific ministry in a new light. It is true that its complexity can sometimes seem to you a heavy burden to bear. I would like to encourage you to face it in the very name of the Holy Spirit who was given to you at your episcopal ordination. The Bishop who conferred upon you the fullness of the sacrament of Orders prayed to the Lord in these words: "So now pour out upon this chosen one that power which is from you, the governing Spirit whom you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ" (Rite for the Ordination of a Bishop, n. 26).

The Bishop’s mission is vast; humanly speaking it is virtually impossible. But if it requires you to give your whole self to it without reserve, you are not left without support. It is in the Spirit of Christ that you became servants of his Body which is the Church, the particular Church entrusted to each one and the universal Church, with Peter’s Successor, "a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion" (Lumen gentium LG 18).

3. I invite you to meditate frequently on the New Testament message about the Holy Spirit and especially on what the Apostles John and Paul say of him. You will always find great comfort in the Spirit’s rich gifts. I willingly address St Paul’s words to you, that you may be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit" (Ep 4,3-4). Indeed it is thanks to the Spirit that you are the foundation of the unity of the diocesan community, of the unity of the priesthood and of the unity of all the baptized: "One faith, one Baptism" (Ep 4,5). In discerning the Spirit’s presence in the diversity of persons and situations, always strive to affirm the unity of the Diocese and begin by showing constant concern for the priests, who are your closest co-workers. May everyone, open to God’s action within himself (cf. Phil Ph 2,13), give himself entirely to the common mission, each one in his role as minister, consecrated person or lay faithful!

4. In Jesus’ conversation with his Apostles after the Last Supper, there is a strong insistence on the promise of the Spirit. "The Spirit of truth ... will guide you into all the truth" (Jn 16,13). It is on him that their ministry of proclaiming the Good News, of teaching the doctrine of salvation, is based. As successors of the Apostles, it is your task to promote and sometimes to defend the authenticity of the Christian message. Indeed, the true reference point throughout the Church's Tradition and her Magisterium is the Spirit who opens us to understanding the truth fully revealed in the Incarnate Son. By listening to him personally in prayer and in study, you will be all the more assured and convincing that you yourselves are docile to the Spirit.

5. "God’s love", says St Paul, "has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rm 5,5). Through the indwelling Spirit, dedicate your whole ministry to carrying out the new commandment that crowns the Lord’s teaching (cf. Jn Jn 13,34). Captivated by the inseparable love of God and men, tirelessly enliven your service of charity, your sharing for the sake of the destitute, your help to those who have strayed or are in despair, your support to married couples who must nurture their love by recognizing it as a gift of God, your affectionate pastoral care for young people being educated, your efforts of reconciliation when hostilities occur, and your dialogue with your brothers and sisters of other religious traditions. In this way, the presence of the Spirit, source of hope, will be manifest in your work.

6. Dear Brothers in the first years of your episcopate, I would like to encourage you with these few reflections to serve, "in the new life of the Spirit" (Rm 7,6), the People of God whom it is your responsibility to guide and teach, and who count on you "as good stewards of God’s varied grace" (1P 4,10). Draw constant strength from the Paraclete, comforter and defender. He will sustain you and communicate his full dynamism to your mission as evangelizers. You have an immense task in your particular Churches, among your peoples. The Pope trusts you to persevere in it with the strength of the Spirit of truth and love.

As I invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary and of the holy Apostles upon you and upon all the faithful of your Dioceses, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.




Sunday, 21 September 1997

Dear Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of

the 31st Squadron of the Italian Air Force,

1. I am especially pleased to welcome you today, together with your families. The traditional and cordial greeting that you usually extend to me on this occasion gives me the opportunity to express my gratitude to you for the careful and punctual service that you provide for the Pope on his flights throughout Italy.

I especially thank you, Colonel, for your thoughtful gift and for the courteous words with which you have conveyed the sentiments of all those present. I have learned from what you said that you are about to end your service as Commander of the 31st Squadron. As I express my sincere appreciation of the work you have carried out and of the courteous availability you have so constantly shown, I offer you my very best wishes for the new responsibilities that will be entrusted to you.

2. As a sign of gratitude to the entire Squadron I wish now to decorate some of you with Papal Honours as a sign of my appreciation and esteem.

The delicate task you are called to carry out frequently enables you to leave the earth physically and to fly in the open skies, where your eyes sweep far distances and you can immerse yourselves in a clear, pure atmosphere. This experience can help you see things with different eyes and be freed from a narrow vision of daily events. It also invites you to consider the greatness of God, whom our faith symbolically situates in the heavens, while affirming that the entire universe is unable to contain his immensity.

In pointing to the skies, the Church urges every person to regard the things of the passing world with respectful detachment but also with loving care, keeping ever in his mind and heart our common and ultimate homeland in heaven, where we will find Christ seated at the right hand of the Father.

Dear friends, while navigating the broad horizons of the sky, cultivate these sentiments of faith, which will suggest to you the right way to deal with earthly affairs. May God always enlighten you and protect you in your every task.

As I entrust you and your loved ones to the motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin of Loreto, patroness of aviators, I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to your families.





22 September 1997

Distinguished Members of the Palestinian Authority,

It is for me a particular joy to receive you today and, through you, to greet your Authorities and the whole Palestinian People.

To think of that dear people is always, alas, to think of a sad reality: injustice, violence and fear of the future are still the daily bread of your brothers and sisters.

The Holy See and the Pope have never failed to speak out in order that no one should forget the tragedies which have marked your history and your sufferings. No one can refuse to be concerned with the destiny of so many brothers and sisters in humanity, whose rights are too often not recognized, indeed, are often trampled upon. The Holy See has also frequently spoken out on behalf of the security of the State of Israel, being profoundly convinced that security, justice and peace go hand in hand.

I would like once more to remind all who live in the Middle East and those who in that area exercise any sort of political, social or religious authority that a peace process has been set in motion, that the path of reconciliation has been marked out, that peoples have expressed their desire for justice, and that entire families are awaiting a peaceful future for their children.

More than just human reason or political interests, it is God himself who asks every individual to have the courage of brotherhood, dialogue, perseverance and peace!

I implore him to bless all those whom you represent and all those who live in that land which, for us, remains "The Holy Land".



To the Superior General and Capitular Fathers
of the Missionary Sons
of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

1. I am very pleased to have this meeting with you at the end of your 22nd General Chapter, in which you examined your role in the Church’s evangelizing mission, looking to the future with great hope, in order to live your charism for the good of the ecclesial communities and humanity.

First, I affectionately greet Fr Aquilino Bocos, who has been re-elected Superior General, the new Councillors and the religious who represent all the congregation’s provinces currently active in Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Through you I would like to convey my appreciation and esteem to the other religious who are praying for the successful and fruitful outcome of the Chapter’s work.

2. Your congregation, more than 100 years old, was born from the inspiration of St Anthony Mary Claret, who, after traveling through Catalonia for many years preaching popular missions, was appointed Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, a ministry to which he dedicated himself without reserve for the salvation of souls. On his return to Spain, he had to face great suffering for the Church’s welfare until his death in exile at Fontfroide, France, in 1870. Nonetheless his life was always marked by Paul’s exhortation: "The love of Christ impels us" (2Co 5,14).

The Church greatly esteems the service of preaching the Word which you carry out in the mission ad gentes, among ordinary people and the marginalized; in forming new evangelizers, both religious and lay, in promoting religious life; in educational work and in the renewal of Christian communities; in encouraging a dialogue of faith with those who are seeking God.

In this way you try to be faithful to your founder and father, who, feeling impelled to give himself entirely to others, suggests that you use all possible means at your disposal — parish ministry, publications, popular missions, the preaching of spiritual exercises and retreats — to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples (cf. Const. CMF, nn. 6 and 48).

Thus, with a spirit of dedication to God, to the Church and to mankind, you fulfil your vocation by bearing loving witness to Christ through the constant proclamation of the Good News and sincere, practical solidarity, especially with the very poor, the sick, the elderly and the alienated.

3. In recent years, closeness to Claret's spiritual experience as a missionary has led you to put God’s Word at the heart of your personal and community life. Like Mary, you want to welcome this saving Word into your heart, to cherish it and to communicate it to others. Of course, dear missionaries, this living and effective Word (cf. Heb He 4,12) will strengthen you in your vocation, console you and give you hope in your difficulties and sufferings (cf. Rom Rm 15,4); at the same time, it will make your pastoral labours fruitful. In the face of the problems of your ministry, remember what the founder said to you: "It will not be you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father and Mother who will be speaking in you" (Aut. 687).

4. It is a source of special satisfaction to note that on the threshold of the third millennium your Chapter has proposed to deepen the prophetic dimension of your service to the Word. Thus, while you reflect on the orientations and guidelines of previous Chapters, and focus on the figure of Jesus, anointed and sent out by the Father to proclaim the Good News to the poor (cf. Lk Lc 4,18 Aut. Lc 687), you have wished to respond to the call I addressed to all consecrated persons in my Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata (cf. nn. 84-95). What people expect of the Church in this period of profound social and cultural change is that the clear and timely words of those who are sent will be accompanied by the integrity of life of the "man of God". When sorrow, loneliness and rejection beset the human heart, people expect from consecrated persons a new and radiant example of love through a chastity that enlarges the heart, a poverty that tears down barriers, and an obedience that builds communion in the community, in the Church and in the world. In this way the prophetic attitude will bring hope to everyone because God will continue to visit his people through you (cf. Lc 7,16).

You are also called to be — in communion with the Bishops of each locality — "the Gospel leaven and evangelizers of the cultures of the third millennium and the social ordering of peoples" (Homily on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2 February 1992, n. 5; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 February 1992, p. 2). This is why you must foster deep intimacy with Christ through prayer, diligent listening to his Word and the Eucharist. Promote continuing formation with study and discernment of the challenges of the present time, and ensure that your heart is more and more generous, in order to reach out to your neighbour who needs love and hope.

Your example and dedication must also be an invitation and encouragement to others, especially young people, who, despite the current shortage of vocations in some areas, want to join the fraternal missionary community which you are called to create, to follow Jesus this way and to be sent out to preach (cf. Mk Mc 3,14). Your brothers, the 51 Blessed Martyrs of Barbastro, like so many other martyrs, "in this century ... have borne witness to Christ the Lord with the gift of their own lives" (cf. Vita consecrata VC 86). For this reason, I pray the Lord that the blood they shed will nurture the seed of many missionary vocations for your congregation and that they can rely on good and holy educators.

5. I entrust your chapter and the entire congregation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and the Church. May her motherly heart be for everyone a school of interior devotion to Jesus, of listening to his Word, and of heartfelt love for all people. You must continue to find inspiration in her heart, in order to proclaim the Lord’s mercy to the world and to love him as she loved him. May her intercession also support you in the various apostolic tasks to which you are committed. With these warm sentiments, I affectionately impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all the Claretian Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

From the Vatican, 22 September 1997.




To the Very Reverend Father Manuel Augusto Lopes Ferreira

Superior General of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus

1. I joyfully address you on the occasion of the General Chapter, which is a privileged moment for deepening and growing in the life of this religious family, and I willingly take the opportunity to express my congratulations and best wishes for the demanding task to which you are called by the trust your confrères have placed in you. May the Lord assist you in carrying out your new task, for which I accompany you with my prayers.

I also greet the members of the General Council and those taking part in the Chapter. I deeply hope that the intense work of these days will produce abundant fruits of goodness in the Comboni community for the sake of the Church’s missionary activity. I extend my affectionate greeting to all the Comboni Missionaries who work, often in difficult conditions, on four continents, and I encourage them to continue with generous fidelity in their commitment to the mission ad gentes.

The 15th General Chapter takes place between two significant moments in the life of your institute: the first is the beatification of your founder, Bishop Daniel Comboni, whom I had the joy of raising to the glory of the altars last year; the second is the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, whose preparation involves every member of the People of God. These two events encourage your religious congregation to deepen its own charism, to throw itself with renewed zeal into the work of evangelization, in view of the third Christian millennium.

2. As I joyfully praise the Lord for the good that you, the Comboni Missionaries, are doing in the world, I urge you to exercise attentive discernment regarding the situation of the peoples among whom you carry out your pastoral work. God calls you to bring comfort to peoples who are often marked by great poverty and prolonged, acute suffering, as for example in Sudan, Uganda, Congo-Kinshasa, in the Central African Republic and in various other parts of the world. Continually ask yourselves about the difficult situations with which you come into contact and try to offer in suitable ways the witness of charity which the Spirit instils in your hearts (cf. Rom Rm 5,5).

The life of Comboni Missionaries, strewn with joys and sorrows, lights and shadows, has also been marked and made fruitful in recent years by the Cross of Christ. How can we fail to remember here those confrères who crowned their missionary service with the supreme sacrifice of their life?

May their radical Gospel choice illumine your missionary commitment and be an encouragement for everyone to continue with renewed generosity in your particular mission in the Church.

3. To further this difficult mission, solid, good-quality formation is needed, both in the initial phase of the candidates' vocational growth and in the years that follow.

For this purpose it should be kept in mind that the number of nations providing young missionaries is increasing, and at the same time, the urgent need for this new generation to have suitable training should not be underestimated, so that they will be able to face the intercultural transitions typical of the Comboni mission. Their need for guidance in their first years of service in the missionary field should also be considered, with reliance on the support which comes from the example and witness of mature Comboni priests.

This shows the importance of a continual formation addressed to all the institute’s members without distinction and which is increasingly experienced as a responsibility incumbent primarily on the individual religious and the local community.

4. Starting from the current situation of your institute, considered "in the pure ray of faith" according to the teaching of Bl. Daniel Comboni, it will be possible to propose a few guidelines to direct you on your way to the future with trust and ever lively apostolic zeal.

May you first of all know how to accept joyfully the continual encouragement to renewal and commitment which comes from true contact with the Lord Jesus, present and active in the mission through the Holy Spirit. Following a basic insight of Bishop Comboni, you will thus take to heart the deepening and the reaffirmation of your institute’s specific charism. This will not fail to spur you to open your hearts with docility and gratitude to the grace of your specific mission in the Church, which is characterized as a vocation ad gentes and ad vitam.

Consecration to mission must then be expressed in an increasing apostolic mobility, which will permit you to respond promptly and adequately to current needs. This will enable you to be actively present in the new areopagi of evangelization, giving priority, even if this involves sacrifices, to an openness to situations which, in the realities of their extreme need, seem emblematic of our time.

5. After your blessed founder’s example, it is urgently necessary to give a new impulse to missionary life. Above all it will be the apostolic fervour of the missionaries themselves that will support the Christian communities entrusted to them, particularly those recently founded. They must be encouraged by you to fulfil their universal missionary vocation as an essential part of their identity, involving themselves in that "organic pastoral solidarity" which I mentioned in the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa (n. 131).

In the effort to renew your style of missionary service, it will be necessary to give priority to certain elements that are significant today, such as sensitivity to the inculturation of the Gospel, the space given to the co-responsibility of pastoral workers, the choice of simple and poor forms of presence among the people. Dialogue with Islam, the commitment to promote the dignity of women, family values and sensitivity to the themes of justice and peace deserve special attention.

6. The effort to renew the institute necessarily includes loving concern for the situation of every individual religious, so that his missionary consecration may be more and more a source of life-giving and sanctifying contact with Jesus, whose pierced Heart is a fount of consolation, peace and salvation for all mankind.

From this standpoint, it is decisive to deepen the mystical roots of the Comboni vocation. You can thus be nourished by your specific spirituality and can offer it as a precious gift to everyone you meet in your pastoral service. As I recalled on the occasion of the beatification of Daniel Comboni: "From contemplation of the Cross and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, your blessed founder was able to draw support and strength to face every trial.... His tireless missionary work was sustained by prayer, which he indicated as the first means of evangelization and missionary promotion" (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 27 March 1996, p. 2 ).

I hope that the guidelines drawn up by the General Chapter will direct the whole institute to continue with generosity and determination on the way marked out by the founder and followed with heroic courage by your many confrères. With these sentiments, as I invoke the heavenly protection of Mary, Queen of the Missions, and of Bl. Daniel Comboni, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to the Chapter delegates and to the whole Comboni family.

From Castel Gandolfo, 25 September 1997.

Speeches 1997 - Friday, 12 September 1997