Speeches 2005-13 25085


Thursday, 1 December 2005

Most Reverend President,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Professors,
Dear Collaborators,

I am pleased to greet you at this family meeting which reminds me of the prolonged and deep collaboration I have had with many of you. I was appointed a Member of the International Theological Commission in 1969 and became its President in 1982.

I would like first of all to express my heartfelt gratitude for the tribute addressed to me by Archbishop Levada, who is taking part in a meeting of the International Theological Commission for the first time as President. I offer him my prayerful good wishes that the light and power of the Holy Spirit may accompany him in the fulfilment of the task that has been entrusted to him.

With the Plenary Meeting that is taking place during these days, the work of the seventh "quinquennium" of the Commission continues. It began last year when I was still President. I gladly take this opportunity to encourage each one of you to persevere in your reflection on the themes chosen for study in the coming years.

When he received the Members on 7 October last year, the late Pope John Paul II pointed out the great importance of two themes that you are currently examining: "The fate of children who die without Baptism in the context of the universal salvific will of God, of the one mediation of Jesus Christ and of the sacramentality of the Church", and "Natural moral law".

The latter is of special importance for understanding the basis of the rights that are rooted in the person's nature and as such, derive from the will of God the Creator.

Even before any positive law by a State, these laws are universal, inviolable and inalienable, and must therefore be recognized as such by all, and especially by the civil authorities who are called to promote them and guarantee respect for them.

Even if the concept of "human nature" seems to have been lost in contemporary culture, the fact remains that human rights cannot be understood without presupposing that values and norms, which are to be rediscovered and reaffirmed and not invented or subjectively or arbitrarily imposed, are innate in the human being.

At this point the dialogue with the secular world is of great importance: it must appear clearly that the denial of the ontological foundation of the essential values of human life inevitably ends in positivism and makes law dependent on the currents of thought that predominate in a society, thereby corrupting law and making it an instrument of power instead of subordinating power to law.

The third topic is of equal importance. It was selected at the Plenary Meeting last year: "The status and method of Catholic theology".

Theology can only result from obedience to the impulse of truth and from love that desires to be ever better acquainted with the one it loves, in this case God himself, whose goodness we recognized in the act of faith (cf. Donum Veritatis, n. 7).

We know God because in his infinite goodness he made himself known, through creation but especially through his Only-begotten Son, who for us became man and died and rose for our salvation.

The revelation of Christ is consequently the fundamental normative starting point for theology.

Theology must always be exercised in the Church and for the Church, the Body of Christ, the only subject with Christ, and thus also in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition. The theologian's work, therefore, must take place in communion with the living voice of the Church, that is, with the living Magisterium of the Church and under her authority.

To consider theology a private affair of the theologian is to underestimate its very nature.

It is only within the Ecclesial Community, in communion with the legitimate Pastors of the Church, that theological work has meaning; it certainly requires scientific competence but likewise, and no less, the spirit of faith and the humility of those who know that God is alive and true, the subject of their reflection, who infinitely exceeds human capacities. Only with prayer and contemplation is it possible to acquire the sense of God and the docility to the Holy Spirit's action that will make theological research fruitful for the good of the entire Church and, I should say, of humanity.

Here one might object: but is theology thus defined still a science and in conformity with our reason and its freedom? Yes.

Not only are rationality, a scientific approach and thinking in communion with the Church not exclusive of one another but they go together. The Holy Spirit guides the Church to all truth (cf. Jn 16,13); the Church is at the service of truth and her guidance is an education in truth.

As I express the hope that your days of study will be enlivened by fraternal communion in the search for the Truth that the Church wants to proclaim to all men and women, I implore Mary Most Holy, Seat of Wisdom, to guide your steps in Christian joy and hope. With these sentiments, as I renew to you all the expression of my esteem and trust, I warmly impart to you the Apostolic Blessing.


Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry,

I offer my cordial greeting to you all. I am pleased to be able to offer hospitality to the second group of Polish Bishops who have come here on their visit ad limina Apostolorum.

The new evangelization
During his first Pilgrimage to Poland, John Paul II said: "From the Cross of Nowa Huta began the new evangelization, the evangelization of the second millennium. This Church is a witness and confirmation of it. It arose from a living, aware faith and [the Church] must continue to serve the faith. The evangelization of the new millennium must refer to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. It must be, as that Council taught, a work shared by Bishops, priests, Religious and laity, by parents and young people" (cf. Homily, Nowa Huta, n. 3, 9 June 1979; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 16 July, p. 11).

At the time, it was one of the first, if not the first, Interventions of my great Predecessor on the theme of the new evangelization. He spoke of the second millennium, but there is no doubt that he was already thinking of the third.

Under his guidance, we entered this new millennium of Christianity, becoming aware of the constant timeliness of his exhortation to a new evangelization. With these brief words he set the aim: to revive a "living, aware and responsible" faith. He subsequently said that this must be the common work of Bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay people.

Today, I would like to reflect on this topic with you, dear Brothers. We know well that the chief person responsible for the work of evangelization is the Bishop, on whose shoulders rest the tria munera: prophetic, priestly and pastoral.

In his book, Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way!, and especially in the chapters: "The Shepherd", "I Know My Sheep" and "The Administration of Sacraments", John Paul II mapped the journey of the episcopal ministry with reference to his own experience so that it might bear blessed fruit.

We need not mention here the development of his reflections. We all have recourse to the patrimony he has bequeathed to us and can draw abundantly from his witness. May he be a model for us and may his sense of responsibility for the Church and for the believers entrusted to the Bishop's care be an incentive to us.

Diocesan priests
The first collaborators of the Bishop in the realization of his tasks are the priests; the Bishop's concern should be addressed to them before anyone else.

John Paul lI wrote: "By his manner of life, a Bishop demonstrates that the Christ "as Model' lives on and still speaks to us today. One could say that a Diocese reflects the manner of life of its Bishop.

His virtues - chastity, a spirit of poverty and prayer, simplicity, sensitivity of conscience - will, as it were, be written into the hearts of his priests. They, in their turn, will convey these values to the faithful entrusted to their care, and in this way young people can be led to make a generous response to Christ's call" (Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way!, Paulines Publications Africa, 2004, p. 129).

The example the Bishop sets is extremely important: he must not only have an irreproachable lifestyle but also loving concern, so that the Christian virtues of which John Paul II wrote may deeply penetrate the souls of the priests in his Diocese.

For this reason, the Bishop should pay special attention to the quality of seminarians' formation. It is necessary to keep in mind not only the intellectual training of priests-to-be for their future tasks, but also their spiritual and emotional formation.

At the Synod of 1991, the Bishops expressed their desire for a larger number of spiritual directors in seminaries who would be well qualified to carry out the demanding task of forming spirits and of ascertaining the emotional readiness of seminarians to take on priestly tasks.

It is worth returning to this request. The Document of the Congregation for Catholic Education on the admission of candidates to sacred orders has recently been published. I ask you, dear Brothers, to put into practice all its directives.

It is important that the process of intellectual and spiritual formation should not end with the period at the seminary. Continuing formation for priests is vital. I know that great importance is attributed to it in the Polish Dioceses. Courses, retreat days, spiritual exercises and other meetings are organized, during which priests can share their problems and pastoral successes, and strengthen one another in faith and pastoral enthusiasm. I ask you to continue this practice.

The Bishop, for his part, is called as Pastor to surround his priests with fatherly care. He should organize his own schedule in such a way as to have time for the priests, to listen to them attentively and help them in their difficulties. In the case of a vocational crisis, to which priests can fall prey, the Bishop must do his best to sustain them and restore to them their original dynamism and love for Christ and for the Church. Even when a reprimand is necessary, fatherly love must not be lacking.

I thank God because he continues to lavish upon Poland the grace of numerous vocations. The Southern Region, which you represent, dear Brothers, is particularly rich in vocations.

Considering the enormous needs on the part of the universal Church, I ask you to encourage your priests to do their missionary service or pastoral work in countries where clergy are scarce. It seems that today this is a special task and, in a certain sense, also a duty of the Church in Poland.

In the sending of priests abroad, however, especially to the missions, remember to assure them both of your spiritual support and adequate material resources.

Religious orders
John Paul II wrote: "The religious orders never caused me any problems, and my relations with all of them were good. They were a great help to me in my mission as a Bishop. My thoughts also turn to the great reserves of spiritual energy found in the contemplative orders" (ibid., p. 120).

The diversity of charisms and of the services carried out by men and women religious and members of the secular institutes of consecrated life is a great enrichment for the Church. The Bishop can and must encourage them in order to integrate them into the diocesan programme for evangelization and for them to take on pastoral tasks, in conformity with their charism, in collaboration with the priests and the lay community.

Although religious communities and individual consecrated persons are subject by law to their own superiors, they are also "subject to the authority of Bishops, whom they are obliged to follow with devoted humility and respect, in those matters that involve the care of souls, the public exercise of divine worship and other works of the apostolate", as the Code of Canon Law declares (can. 678 1).

Furthermore, the Code invites both diocesan Bishops and religious Superiors to proceed "in organizing the works of the apostolate of Religious... after consultation with each other" (can. 678 3).

I strongly encourage you, Brothers, to surround with care the religious communities of women that are located in your Dioceses. The Sisters, who carry out a variety of services in the Church, deserve supreme respect and their work must be recognized and properly appreciated. They should not be deprived of adequate spiritual support and the possibility of intellectual development and growth in the faith.

I recommend in particular that you take to heart the future of the contemplative orders. May their presence in the Diocese, their prayers and their sacrifices always be a support and a help to you. For your part, seek to meet their needs, even practical ones.

In recent years, we have unfortunately seen religious vocations dwindling, especially among women. It is necessary, therefore, together with the religious superiors responsible, to reflect on the causes of this state of affairs and consider how it might be possible to rekindle and sustain new female vocations.

The laity
The words of my great Predecessor introduce us into a reflection on the role of lay people in the work of evangelization: "The laity can accomplish their proper vocation in the world and attain holiness not only through their active involvement in helping the poor and needy, but also by imbuing society with a Christian spirit as they carry out their professional duties and offer an example of Christian family life" (Rise, Let Us, p. 115).

In times when, as John Paul II wrote, "European culture gives the impression of "silent apostasy' on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist" (Ecclesia in Europa, n. 9), the Church never ceases to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is her hope. In this work, the role of lay people is irreplaceable. Their witness of faith is particularly eloquent and effective because it is borne in daily reality and in areas which are difficult for a priest to gain access.

One of the main goals of lay people's activity is the moral renewal of society, which cannot be superficial, partial or instant. It must be marked by a deep transformation in the ethos of human beings, that is, by the acceptance of an appropriate hierarchy of values that should shape attitudes.

A specific task of the laity is participation in public and political life. In his Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, John Paul II recalled that "every person has a right and duty to participate in public life" (n. 42). The Church does not identify with any political party, community or system.

On the other hand, she always recalls that lay people involved in politics must give a clear and courageous witness of Christian values, which they must reassert and defend should they be threatened. They should do so publicly, in political debates and in the mass media.

One of the important tasks which derives from the process of European integration is to be courageously concerned with preserving the Catholic and national character of Poles. The dialogue initiated by Catholic lay people concerning political issues will prove effective and useful to the common good if it is based on love of the truth, a spirit of service, and solidarity in the commitment to the common good.

I urge you, dear Brothers, to support this lay service, with respect for a just political autonomy.
I have listed only a few forms of lay commitment in the work of evangelization. Others, such as the pastoral care of the family and youth or charitable activities, will be the topic of a subsequent reflection at my meeting with the third group of Polish Bishops. I now express the hope that harmonious collaboration with all the states of life in the Church under your enlightened guidance will lead to the transformation of the world in the spirit of Christ's Gospel.

As I entrust your Episcopal ministry to Our Lady, I bless you all with affection. Praised be Jesus Christ!


Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am pleased to receive you on the occasion of the Third Meeting of the Presidents of the Episcopal Commissions for the Family and Life of Latin America. I should like to express my gratitude for the words addressed to me by Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Together with the whole Church, I witnessed Pope John Paul II's concern for this most important topic. For my part, I make my own this same concern, which will have a far-reaching effect on the future of the Church and the peoples since, as my Predecessor said in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, "The future of humanity passes by way of the family!

"It is therefore indispensable and urgent that every person of good will should endeavour to save and foster the values and requirements of the family". And he added: "Christians also have the mission of proclaiming with joy and conviction the "Good News' about the family, for the family absolutely needs to hear ever anew and to understand ever more deeply the authentic words that reveal its identity, its inner resources and the importance of its mission in the City of God and in that of man" (Conclusion, n. 86).

The Apostolic Exhortation cited together with the Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane and the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae constitute, as it were, a luminous triptych that must inspire your task as Pastors.

2. I wish to thank you in particular for your pastoral concern which seeks to safeguard the fundamental values of marriage and the family. They are threatened by the current phenomenon of secularization that prevents the social conscience from discovering adequately the identity and mission of the family institution and recently, by the pressure of unjust laws that fail to recognize its fundamental rights.

In light of this situation, I am pleased to note the increase in and consolidation of the particular Churches' work for this human institution, which is rooted in God's loving plan and represents the irreplaceable model for the common good of humanity. Homes that give a generous response to the Lord abound and there is also a wealth of pastoral experiences, a sign of new vitality, in which family identity is reinforced by means of better marriage preparation.

3. Your duty as Pastors consists in presenting in its full richness the extraordinary value of marriage, which as a natural institution is a "patrimony of humanity". Moreover, its elevation to the loftiest dignity of a sacrament must be seen with gratitude and wonder, as I recently said, affirming:

"The sacramental quality that marriage assumes in Christ therefore means that the gift of creation has been raised to the grace of redemption. Christ's grace is not an external addition to human nature, it does not do violence to men and women but sets them free and restores them, precisely by raising them above their own limitations" (Address to the Ecclesial Diocesan Convention of Rome, 6 June 2005; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 15 June, p. 6).

4. The spouses' love and total gift of self, with their special connotations of exclusivity, fidelity, permanence in time and openness to life, are at the root of this communion of life and love that constitutes the married state (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 48).

Today, it is necessary to proclaim with renewed enthusiasm that the Gospel of the family is a process of human and spiritual fulfilment in the certainty that the Lord is always present with his grace. This proclamation is often distorted by false concepts of marriage and the family that do not respect God's original plan. In this regard, people have actually reached the point of suggesting new forms of marriage, some unknown to popular cultures in that its specific nature is altered.

Also in the life context, new models are being proposed that dispute this fundamental right. As a result, the elimination of embryos or their arbitrary use in the name of scientific progress, which fails to recognize its own limits and to accept all the moral principles that make it possible to safeguard the dignity of the person, becomes a threat to the human being who is reduced to an object or a mere instrument. When such levels are reached, society itself is affected and every kind of risk shakes its foundations.

5. In Latin America, as in all other places, children have the right to be born and to be raised in a family founded on marriage, where parents are the first educators of the faith for their children in order for them to reach full human and spiritual maturity.

Children truly are the family's greatest treasure and most precious good. Consequently, everyone must be helped to become aware of the intrinsic evil of the crime of abortion. In attacking human life in its very first stages, it is also an aggression against society itself. Politicians and legislators, therefore, as servants of the common good, are duty bound to defend the fundamental right to life, the fruit of God's love.

6. It is certain that for pastoral action in so delicate and complex an area, in which various disciplines are involved and fundamental issues faced, a careful training of pastoral workers in the Dioceses is essential.

Priests, therefore, as the immediate collaborators of the Bishops, must receive a sound training in this field that will enable them to face competently and with conviction the problems that arise in their pastoral activity.

As for lay people, especially those who devote their energy to this service of families, they in turn need a proper and sound formation that will help them witness to the greatness and lasting value of marriage in today's society.

7. Dear brothers and sisters, as you know well, the Fifth World Meeting of Families is not far off. It will be held in Valencia, Spain, on the theme: The transmission of faith in the family.

In this regard, I would like to offer my cordial greeting to Archbishop Agustín García-Gasco of that city, who is taking part in this Meeting and who, with the Pontifical Council for the Family, is sharing the challenging task of its preparation. I encourage you all so that numerous delegations of the Bishops' Conferences, Dioceses and movements of Latin America will be able to take part in this important ecclesial event.

For my part, I firmly support the holding of this Meeting and place it under the loving protection of the Holy Family.

Dear Pastors, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all the families in Latin America.




On this day dedicated to Mary I have come, for the first time as Successor of Peter, to the feet of the statue of the Immaculate here in Piazza di Spagna, ideally continuing the Pilgrimage made many times by my Predecessors. I feel that I am accompanied by the devotion and affection of the Church living in this city of Rome and in the entire world. I bring with me the concerns and hopes of present-day humanity and come to lay them at the feet of the heavenly Mother of the Redeemer.

On this remarkable day, the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, my thought goes to 8 December 1965 when, exactly at the end of the Homily during the Eucharistic celebration in St Peter's Square, the Servant of God Paul VI addressed his thought to Mary, "the Mother of God and our spiritual Mother..., the creature in whom the image of God is reflected with absolute clarity, without any disturbance as happens in every other human creature".

The Pope then asked: "Is it not perhaps in directing our gaze on this woman who is our humble sister and at the same time our heavenly Mother and Queen, the spotless and sacred mirror of infinite beauty, that we can... [begin] our post-conciliar work? Does not the beauty of Mary Immaculate become for us an inspiring model, a comforting hope?".

He then concluded: "...we think it is so for us and for you. And this is our most exalted and, God willing, our most valuable parting wish" (cf. The Teachings of Pope Paul VI, III, 1965).

Recalling the many events that have marked the last 40 years, how can we not relive today the various moments that have highlighted the Church's journey in this period?
Mary sustained the Pastors, and in the first place the Successors of Peter, in their demanding ministry at the service of the Gospel during these 40 years; she guided the Church towards the faithful understanding and application of the conciliar Documents.

For this reason, serving as spokesperson for the entire Ecclesial Community, I wish to thank the Most Holy Virgin and I turn to her with the same sentiments that animated the Council Fathers, who dedicated to Mary the last chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, underlining the inseparable relationship that unites the Virgin to the Church.

Yes, we want to thank you, Virgin Mother of God and our most beloved Mother, for your intercession for the good of the Church. You, who in embracing the divine will without reserve were consecrated with all of your energies to the person and work of your Son, teach us to keep in our heart and to meditate in silence, as you did, upon the mysteries of Christ's life.

May you who reached Calvary, ever-deeply united to your Son who from the Cross gave you as mother to the disciple John, also make us feel you are always close in each moment of our lives, especially in times of darkness and trial.

You, who at Pentecost, together with the Apostles in prayer, called upon the gift of the Holy Spirit for the newborn Church, help us to persevere in the faithful following of Christ. To you, a "sign of certain hope and comfort", we trustfully turn our gaze "until the day of the Lord shall come" (Lumen Gentium LG 68).

You, Mary, are invoked with the insistent prayer of the faithful throughout the world so that you, exalted above all the angels and saints, will intercede before your Son for us, "until all families of peoples, whether they are honoured with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Saviour, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity" (ibid., n. 69). Amen.


Dear Bishop Mbang,
Dear friends in Christ,

It gives me great joy to welcome you, representatives of the World Methodist Council, and to thank you for your visit. I remain most grateful for the prayerful presence and support of Methodist representatives at the funeral of Pope John Paul II and at the celebration marking the inauguration of my Pontificate.

Forty years ago this week, Pope Paul VI addressed the ecumenical observers at the end of the Second Vatican Council. During this encounter he expressed the hope that differences between Christians could be resolved, "slowly, gradually, loyally, generously." Now we have to reflect upon the friendly relations between Catholics and Methodists, and upon the patient and persevering dialogue in which we have engaged. Indeed, there is much for which we can today give thanks.

Since 1967, our dialogue has treated major theological themes such as: revelation and faith, tradition and teaching authority in the Church. These efforts have been candid in addressing areas of difference. They have also demonstrated a considerable degree of convergence and are worthy of reflection and study. Our dialogue and the many ways in which Catholics and Methodists have become better acquainted have allowed us to recognize together some of those "Christian treasures of great value". On occasion, this recognition has enabled us to speak with a common voice in addressing social and ethical questions in an increasingly secularized world. I have been encouraged by the initiative which would bring the member churches of the World Methodist Council into association with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999. Should the World Methodist Council express its intent to associate itself with the Joint Declaration, it would assist in contributing to the healing and reconciliation we ardently desire, and would be a significant step towards the stated goal of full visible unity in faith.

Dear friends, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and mindful of God’s great and abiding Mercy throughout the world, let us seek to foster a mutual commitment to the Word of God, to witness and to joint prayer. As we prepare our hearts and minds to welcome the Lord in this Advent season, I invoke God’s abundant blessings upon all of you and on Methodists throughout the world.


Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and dear Sisters,

It gives me great joy to meet you today in the spiritual atmosphere of Advent, while we are preparing for Holy Christmas. I greet each one of you with affection, men and women religious, members of secular Institutes and of the new forms of consecrated life present in the Diocese of Rome, where you carry out an especially appreciated service, well integrated into the various social and pastoral realities. And I thank you warmly for your service.

I address a special thought to those who live in the monasteries of contemplative life and who are united to us in spirit, as well as to the consecrated persons who have come from Africa, Latin America and Asia to study in Rome or to spend part of their lives here, also taking an active part in the mission of the Church in the City.

I offer a fraternal greeting to Cardinal Camillo Ruini, whom I thank for his words on behalf of you all.

Consecrated men and women have always been a precious presence in the Church of Rome, partly because they bear special witness to the unity and universality of the People of God. I thank you for the work you do in the Lord's vineyard and for your commitment in facing the challenges to evangelization posed by today's culture in such a cosmopolitan metropolis like our own.

The complex social and cultural context of our City in which you work demands of you courageous fidelity to the charism that distinguishes you as well as constant attention to the local problems.

Since its origins, in fact, consecrated life has been marked by its thirst for God: quaerere Deum.

May your first and supreme desire therefore be to witness to the fact that God should be listened to and loved with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your might, before any other person or thing.

This primacy of God, precisely in our time where there is a great absence of God, is immensely important. Do not be afraid to present yourselves as consecrated persons, also visibly, and do your utmost to show that you belong to Christ, the hidden treasure for which you have left everything.

Make your own the well-known programmatic motto of St Benedict: "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ".

Of course, the challenges and difficulties that you encounter today are numerous, committed as you are on various fronts. In your residences and apostolic works you are well integrated in the diocesan programmes, collaborating - as Cardinal Ruini said - in the various branches of pastoral action, also thanks to the network set up by the bodies that represent the consecrated life, such as the Italian Conference of Major Superiors and the Union of Major Superiors of Italy, the Group of Secular Institutes and the Ordo Virginum.

Persevere on this path, strengthening your fidelity to the commitments made, to the charism of each one of your Institutes and to the guidelines of the local Church.

Such fidelity, as you know, is possible when one sticks firmly to the small but irreplaceable daily fidelities: first of all, fidelity to prayer and to listening to the Word of God; fidelity to the service of the men and women of our time, in accordance with one's own charism; fidelity to the teaching of the Church, starting with that on the consecrated life; fidelity to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and of the Eucharist, which support us day after day in life's difficult situations.

Next, a constitutive part of your mission is community life. Strive to create fraternal communities; show that through the Gospel human relationships can also change, that love is not a utopia but indeed the secret for building a more fraternal world.

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, after the description of brotherhood achieved in the Christian community, points out, almost as a logical consequence, that "the Word of God continued to spread, while at the same time the number of the disciples in Jerusalem enormously increased" (Ac 6,7). The spreading of the Word is the Blessing the Lord of the harvest gives to the community that takes seriously its commitment to increase love in brotherhood.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Church needs your witness, she needs a consecrated life that confronts the challenges of our time courageously and creatively. In the face of the advance of hedonism, the courageous witness of chastity is asked of you as the expression of a heart that knows the beauty and price of God's love.

In the face of the thirst for money that widely prevails today, your sober life, ready to serve the neediest, is a reminder that God is the true treasure that does not perish. Before the individualism and relativism that induce people to be a rule unto themselves, your fraternal life, which can be coordinated and is thus capable of obedience, confirms that you place your fulfilment in God.

How is it possible not to hope that the culture of the evangelical counsels, which is the culture of the Beatitudes, may grow in the Church to sustain the life and witness of the Christian people?

The conciliar Decree Perfectae Caritatis, whose 40th anniversary of promulgation we are commemorating this year, says that consecrated persons recall for all Christ's faithful "that wonderful marriage made by God, which will be fully manifested in the future age, and in which the Church has Christ for her only spouse" (n. 12). Consecrated persons live in their own time, but their hearts reach out beyond time and they witness to their contemporaries, often absorbed in the things of the world, that their true destiny is God himself.

Thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for your service to the Gospel, for your efforts in the area of education and culture, for the ceaseless prayer that rises from your monasteries, for the many activities that you carry out.

May the Blessed Virgin, a model of consecrated life, guide and sustain you, so that you may be for all a "prophetic sign" of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and I cordially bless you all.


Thursday 15 December 2005

Dear Brothers in Christ,

I welcome you in the Lord's Name and I am delighted by our fraternal meeting. In this liturgical season of the joyful expectation of the Saviour's Birth, your presence increases our joy. You revive my memories of the Churches you represent and of the whole Orthodox world.

I am also delighted by the meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (as a whole), a sign of the desire to resume and pursue the dialogue, which in recent years has encountered serious internal and external difficulties.

This resumption of dialogue occurs subsequent to an inter-Orthodox agreement, of which His Holiness Bartholomew I informed the Catholic Church. Thus, it is especially important and constitutes a great responsibility; indeed, it is a question of doing the will of the Lord, who wants his disciples to form a harmonious community and to witness together to the brotherly love that comes from the Lord.

In this new phase of dialogue, two aspects are to be envisaged together: on the one hand, the elimination of divergences that still exist, and on the other hand, to have as it were the fundamental desire to spare no efforts to re-establish full communion, an essential good for the community of Christ's disciples, as the preparatory document for your work has stressed.

Full communion aims at a communion in truth and charity. We cannot be satisfied with remaining at intermediate stages but must ceaselessly and with courage, lucidity and humility, seek the will of Jesus Christ, even if it does not correspond to our simple human projects.

The achievement of the full unity of the Church and reconciliation among Christians comes at the price of the submission of our own wills to the Lord's will. Such a task must involve Pastors, theologians and our entire communities, each one in accordance with his own role.

If we are to progress on this journey of unity, our own feeble forces do not suffice. We must implore the Lord for help by means of ever more insistent prayer, for unity is above all a gift of God (cf. Decree Unitatis Redintegratio UR 24), at the same time asking all Christians to join in common prayer because this is "certainly a very effective means of petitioning for the grace of unity" (ibid., n. 8).

Likewise, the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio recommended reciprocal knowledge (cf. ibid., n. 9) and dialogue, with which we must proceed "with love for the truth, with charity and with humility" so that doctrinal purity may be preserved (ibid., n. 11). The Pastors who had the merit of embarking on this process - His Holiness Pope John Paul II and His Holiness Patriarch Dimitrios I of Constantinople -, in the Common Declaration with which they initiated it, began a process which it is our task to pursue to bring it to its conclusion.

By enabling us to move ahead toward full communion between Catholics and Orthodox, the dialogue will also contribute "to the multiple dialogues that are developing in the Christian world in search of its unity" (Joint Declaration, 30 November 1979; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 10 December, p. 4).

As I thank you for your commitment to study practical ways for the progress of the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, I assure you of my fervent prayers. I also wish you a Happy and Holy Christmas. May the New Year shower divine benefits upon you and be a time of grace for the journey towards full unity.

TO ROMAN UNIVERSITY STUDENTS Vatican Basilica Thursday, 15 December 2005

Venerable Brothers,
Distinguished Academic Authorities,
Dear Students,

With great joy I offer you all my cordial greeting at the end of the traditional pre-Christmas celebration of the Eucharist for students of the Athenaeums of Rome, which was so dear to my beloved Predecessor John Paul II.

In the first place I greet the Cardinal Vicar who presided at Holy Mass, and with him, I greet the other ecclesiastics present. I thank each one of you, dear friends, for having accepted the invitation to take part in this meeting, and I express my gratitude in particular to the Minister of Education, Universities and Research, the Rectors of the Athenaeums of Rome and of Italy, the Directors of the Conservatories, the university chaplains and the student delegations from several European countries and from Africa.

I am also pleased on this occasion to welcome those taking part in the World Congress of Pastoral Care for Foreign Students, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. I address an affectionate welcome to everyone.

I gladly take this opportunity to express deep pleasure at the growing collaboration among the various Athenaeums of Rome. Continue together, dear friends, to reflect on the new humanism, mindful of the great challenges of our time and seeking to combine faith and culture harmoniously.

How necessary it is at this moment in history to encourage attentive cultural and spiritual research! I also learned with pleasure that the city's five Faculties of Medicine have agreed to commit themselves in several areas to collaborating on life themes.

Then, at a more specifically pastoral level, I appreciated the decision to study in depth the subject of the transmission of faith through a process of formation that involves both students and teachers.
Dear young people, of whom I see a large number, I hope that you will undertake your journey of Christian formation joyfully, combining it with a daily effort to deepen your knowledge of the respective academic courses. You must rediscover the beauty of having Christ as your Teacher of life and thus succeed, freely and consciously, in renewing your profession of faith.

I would now like to turn my attention to the foreign students. Their presence is a growing phenomenon and is an important field of pastoral action for the Church. Indeed, young people who leave their own country in order to study encounter many problems and especially the risk of an identity crisis and a loss of spiritual and moral values.

Moreover, for many young people the possibility of studying abroad is a unique opportunity to become better able to contribute to the development of their own countries and participate actively in the Church's mission. It is important to continue on the journey undertaken to meet the needs of these brothers and sisters of ours.

Dear university friends, we are approaching the great and evocative event of Holy Christmas. The typical atmosphere of this feast invites us to be close and to rejoice. As I hope that those who can will celebrate the Christmas festivities at home in great serenity, I ask you to accept in its fullness the spiritual message that this Solemnity presents anew to us. God became Man, he came to dwell among us. Let us prepare our hearts to welcome the One who comes to save us with the gift of his life, which makes him one of us, makes him close to us, and he becomes our brother.

May Mary Most Holy, Sedes Sapientiae, guide you as you wait. Her Icon, which is visiting various nations, is now being handed over by the delegation of Poland to the delegation of Bulgaria, to continue its peregrinatio [pilgrimage] to the university cities of that Country. May she, the faithful Virgin, the Mother of Christ, obtain the light of divine Wisdom, Christ the Lord, for each one of you and for your academic milieus.

A Merry Christmas to you all!


Venerable Brothers,
Distinguished Civil and
Military Authorities,
and dear Friends,

With deep pleasure I have come to meet you at the end of Holy Mass celebrated here in this Basilica, which preserves living memories of the Apostle Peter. We are now approaching the Solemnity of Holy Christmas and this is a particularly favourable opportunity to express fervent good wishes to all of you who represent the Italian Armed Forces. I address an affectionate greeting to each one of you. In particular, I greet your Pastor, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, the Military Ordinary [of Italy], whom I thank for his words expressing your common sentiments.

With him I greet the military chaplains, your spiritual directors, who have also wished to accompany you at this moment of intense ecclesial communion. My respectful thoughts then go to the Minister of Defence, the Undersecretaries, the senior Staff members and Commanders-in-Chief, who by joining in this meeting have made it even more important.

The One whom we adore in the Sacrament of the Altar is the Emmanuel, God-with-us, who came into the world for our redemption. In the Christmas Novena that we are beginning precisely today, as we gradually draw close to the Holy Night, the liturgy, increasing in spiritual intensity, makes us repeat: "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!". This invocation rises from the hearts of believers in all corners of the earth and ceaselessly resounds in every Ecclesial Community.

At Christmas the hoped-for Messiah will come, the One who at the synagogue in Nazareth was to apply to himself the ancient prophetic words: "The Lord... has sent me... to proclaim liberty to captives" (Lc 4,18). The Redeemer of man will come to set us free and break the shackles of error, egoism and sin that imprison us. Christ will come to release the human heart with his love. How important it is to prepare ourselves to receive him with humility and sincerity!

The heavenly Father shows his mercy to humanity in the mystery of Christ's Birth. He did not want to leave men and women to themselves and their sin but came to meet their needs, offering them forgiveness that frees them from the oppression of sin with the power of his grace.

Therefore, may these last days of Advent reinforce in each one of us the desire to encounter Christ, the Prince of Peace, the source of our authentic joy.

Every day we experience the precarious and ephemeral quality of earthly life, but, thanks to the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of the Father, our gaze always succeeds in understanding God's providential love that gives meaning and value to our entire existence.

The liturgy of this Advent Season impels us to trust, encourages us to entrust ourselves to the One who can fulfil our hearts' expectations. Mary, with her "yes" to the Angel Gabriel, adhered totally to God's will and brought into being the great mystery of the Redemption. May she be the one to accompany us to the meeting with Emmanuel, God-with-us.

With these sentiments, I renew to you my most cordial good wishes for a Holy Christmas, now close, dear members of the Armed Forces, while I willingly impart my Blessing to you all and extend it to the communities you come from and to your families.


Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry,

I welcome you all with joy, the third group of Bishops from Poland to come on a visit ad limina Apostolorum.

In my previous Addresses I touched on many topics connected with the commitment to evangelization in the modern world. I also announced that in the third part of my Message I would focus my reflection on the role of the lay faithful in the Church.

Let us therefore begin with the most fundamental setting in the structure of the Church: the parish. In the Conciliar Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People we read: "The parish offers an outstanding example of "community' apostolate, for it gathers into a unity all the human diversities that are found there and inserts them into the universality of the Church. The laity should develop the habit of working in the parish in close union with their priests, of bringing before the Ecclesial Community their own problems, world problems and questions regarding man's salvation, to examine them together and solve them by general discussion. According to their abilities the laity ought to cooperate in all the apostolic and missionary enterprises of their ecclesial family" (Apostolicam Actuositatem AA 10).

The first and foremost requirement is for the parish to be an "ecclesial community" and an "ecclesial family". Even if the parishioners are very numerous, every effort must be made to ensure that they are not reduced to a mass of anonymous faithful.

The role of priests, and of parish priests in particular, is of course indispensable in fulfilling this duty. They are the first who must know the sheep of their own flock, maintain their pastoral contacts with every milieu and endeavour to know the spiritual and material needs of the parishioners.

The active participation of lay people in the formation of the community is also important. Here, I have in mind first of all the Pastoral Council and the Finance Council (cf. Code of Canon Law, CIC 537). Although these are only consultative and not decision-making, nevertheless they can effectively help Pastors in discerning the needs of the community and identifying the ways to meet them. A spirit of common concern for the good of the faithful must always govern these Councils' collaboration with the Pastors.

Pastors also need to have a lively contact with the various apostolic communities that work in the parish environment. Nor can they forget the need for collaboration among the communities themselves. There should never be rivalry between them but rather, a reciprocal and cordial complementarity in dealing with apostolic tasks. In particular, the leaders of these groups should not forget that, working on parish territory and in a parish community, they are called to carry out a joint pastoral programme under the direction of the Pastors in authority.

As regards evangelization, I have already spoken of the need for adult catechesis. Although this is based on Sacred Scripture and the Church's Magisterium, it must additionally focus in on sacramental experience and in particular on the commitment to living the mystery of the Eucharist.

The Council Fathers did not hesitate to recognize that the Eucharist is the "source and summit of all evangelization" (cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis PO 5 Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 10). As my beloved Predecessor John Paul II wrote: "The Church has received the Eucharist from Christ her Lord not as one gift - however precious - among so many others, but as the gift par excellence, for it is the gift of himself, of his person in his sacred humanity, as well as the gift of his saving work" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia EE 11).

The Church's Pastors must therefore spare no effort to ensure that the persons entrusted to them are aware of the greatness of this gift and receive this Sacrament of love as often as possible, both in the Eucharistic Celebration and in Communion as well as in Adoration.

In his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, John Paul II recalled that the Sunday Eucharist is "the privileged place where communion is ceaselessly proclaimed and nurtured" (n. 36). I know that in the Church in Poland many of the faithful take part in Sunday Mass. However, Pastors should do all they can, encouraged by their Bishops, to ensure that the number of participants at the Sunday liturgy does not diminish but grows.

I cordially ask you, Brothers, to encourage priests to care for the children and young people who come to the altar of the Lord as altar servers and lectors. You should also extend your pastoral care to the young girls who participate actively, with their own role, in the Liturgy. This pastoral service can bear abundant fruit for priestly and religious vocations.

In the past century, especially after the Council, various movements developed in the Church with the purpose of evangelization. These movements cannot exist "beside", as it were, the universal community of the Church. Therefore, it is one of the diocesan Bishop's tasks to keep in touch actively with them, encouraging them to work in conformity with the charism recognized by the Church, and at the same time to be on guard against being closed to the situation that surrounds them.

Many of these movements have established a lively contact with non-Catholic Churches. They can make an important contribution to the work of building ecumenical ties: prayer in common and activities undertaken together foster the hope that it will also be possible to hasten a rapprochement in the areas of doctrine and Church life.

However, here too, Bishops should take care to interpret ecumenism correctly. It must always consist in the search for the truth and not for easy compromises that could cause Catholic movements to lose their own identity.

Besides the ecclesial movements, there are many groups of lay people who meet on a given ground or even on the basis of their profession and turn to the Bishops, asking for a specific pastoral care to be introduced that corresponds to their reality. Dear Brothers, I encourage you to support these initiatives and to give to each one the possibility to develop his or her own spirituality on the basis of daily challenges.

Among these contexts, John Paul II paid special attention to "leaders in public life" (Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way, Paulines Publications, Africa, 2004, p. 115), who at the same time desire to live a life of faith and bear a Christian witness. The Council urged them: "Those with a talent for the difficult yet noble art of politics, or whose talents in this matter can be developed, should prepare themselves for it, and forgetting their own convenience and material interests, they should engage in political activity. They must combat injustice and oppression, arbitrary domination and intolerance by individuals or political parties, and they must do so with integrity and wisdom" (Gaudium et Spes GS 75).

In carrying out this task, Christian politicians cannot be left without the Church's help. Here, in particular, it is a question of helping them to become aware of their Christian identity and universal moral values that are founded in human nature, so that they are permeated by them on the basis of a clear conscience, in order to transpose them to civil organizations with a view to building a coexistence that respects all dimensions of the human being.

It must never be forgotten, however, that it is a matter "of supreme importance, especially in a pluralistic society, to work out a proper vision of the relationship between the political community and the Church, and to distinguish clearly between the activities of Christians, acting individually or collectively in their own name as citizens guided by the dictates of a Christian conscience, and their activity acting along with their Pastors in the name of the Church" (ibid., n. 76).

To conclude, I would like to point out another dimension of the commitment of lay people in the Church. In today's world, together with globalization and the rapid pace of communications, we are seeing in many areas a greater sensitivity to the needs of others and the willingness to go to the rescue wherever a disaster occurs.

Next to international and national initiatives, various forms of volunteer service are developing whose goal is to provide help for the needy in their own milieu. People willing to spend their own time are serving others and working in homes, shelters for the homeless, dependent persons, single mothers and victims of violence. They also offer assistance to the sick, people on their own, numerous poor families and persons with physical or mental disabilities. Emergency centres are organized to handle crises, efficient units at the service of people who are experiencing some difficulty or other that life may hold in store. It is impossible not to appreciate the work of those who are inspired by the Gospel's Good Samaritan; it should be sustained and guided.

I know that in Poland a volunteer service is being developed with the goal of defending human life. Gratitude is due to all who undertake the work of education, of the preparation for marriage and family life and for those who defend the right to life of every human being, from conception until natural death.

Many contribute their own material resources to these activities, others give their time and still others offer the gift of prayer. They all expect encouragement and moral support from the Bishops, priests and from the entire community of believers. May this not be lacking!

Missions are another context of Church life in which volunteers are involved. More and more lay people depart for mission countries to work there in accordance with their professional training and talents, and at the same time, to give a witness of Christian love to the inhabitants of the poorest regions of the world.

This activity deserves admiration and recognition. I urge you, dear Brothers, to accept with openness and kindness, if also always with due prudence, those lay people who are prepared to work in the missions. The great missionary work of the whole Church should receive spiritual and material support from everyone, in accordance with the Christian vocation of each one, in the awareness of the commitment which stems from Baptism to take to all peoples the Gospel message of Christ's love.

Dear Brothers, you will find a whole range of other worthwhile thoughts on the activity of lay people in the Church and in the world in the Documents of the Council and of my Predecessors in this Apostolic See. It is worth returning to reflect on this Magisterium.

Beloved Brothers, you know well how to discern the needs of the communities entrusted to your pastoral care and how to create the best conditions for a good collaboration of the laity with the clergy in the same work of evangelization, sanctification and the building of the Kingdom of God. May Mary, Mother of the Church, support you in this task! May the Good Lord bless you!


Dear Friends,

Welcome! I am pleased to receive you with deep friendship on the occasion of the presentation of the fir tree set up in St Peter's Square, which comes from the woods of Eferding in Upper Austria.

I address my cordial greeting to each of you, starting with Mr Josef Pühringer, President of Upper Austria, whom I thank for the kind words he has just addressed to me on behalf of everyone present. I also greet the Region's civil Authorities, with a special thought for the Administrators of the Municipality of Eferding. I then greet with fraternal affection Bishop Ludwig Schwarz of Linz and Bishop emeritus Maximilian Aichern. I likewise offer an affectionate greeting to the members of the Choir and Chapel (Stadtkapelle) of Eferding as well as to the women's folklore group, the "Goldhaubenfrauen".

This evening at the end of the official ceremony for the presentation of the Christmas tree the lights that decorate it will be lit. The majestic fir will stand beside the Crib until the end of the Christmas festivities and will be admired by the numerous pilgrims who come to the Vatican from every part of the world. Thank you, dear friends, for this large tree and for the smaller ones that will decorate the Apostolic Palace and various places in the Vatican.

With your much-appreciated gifts, you have wished to express the spiritual closeness and friendship that have long bound Austria to the Holy See, in the wake of the noble Christian tradition that has nurtured the culture, literature and art of your Nation and of all Europe with its spiritual values. I would like to assure you that the Pope is close to you and accompanies with his prayers the journey of the Christian communities and of the entire People of Austria.

This is also a favourable occasion for me to offer to all of you present here my warm wishes that you will spend the Nativity of the Lord serenely. I extend these good wishes to your fellow citizens who have stayed in the Homeland and to the inhabitants of your Region who, for various reasons, are living abroad. At Christmas, the glad tidings of the Redeemer's birth ring out in every part of the globe: the awaited Messiah was made man and came to dwell among us.

With his shining presence, Jesus dispelled the darkness of error and sin and brought humanity the joy of the dazzling divine light, of which the Christmas tree is a sign and reminder. I hope you will accept in your hearts the gift of his joy, peace and love. Believing in Christ means letting oneself be enveloped by the light of his truth which gives full significance, value and meaning to our lives, for precisely by revealing to us the mystery of the Father and his love for man, he also fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 22).

I warmly renew to each one of you my most fervent good wishes for Christmas, and ask you to express them to your families and all your compatriots. I assure you of my prayers for you and your loved ones, and I very willingly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to everyone.


Mr Ambassador,

I am delighted to receive from your hands the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to the Holy See. As I thank you for the courteous words you have kindly addressed to me, I wish you a cordial welcome on the occasion of this solemn meeting that inaugurates the mission entrusted to you here.

I am touched by the good wishes of H.E. Mr Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic, and ask you to reciprocate by expressing to him my best wishes for him personally and for the entire People of France.

You are aware of the special attention that the Catholic Church and the Holy See pay to the French Nation. You also know of the Catholic Church's commitment to society at every level.

Through you, Mr Ambassador, allow me to address my fraternal greetings to the Catholic Pastors and faithful of your Country, encouraging them to pursue their apostolic mission and actions of brotherly solidarity in the parishes, movements and associations; these approaches are part and parcel of the Christian tradition and are founded in the love of Christ for each person, who deserves to be loved for his or her own sake.

This year, your Country is celebrating the centenary of the law that separated the Church and the State. As my Predecessor Pope John Paul II recalled in the Letter he addressed to the Bishops of France last 11 February, the principle of secularity consists in a "clear division of powers", which is no way in opposition and does not prevent the Church from taking "a more and more active part in social life with respect for the competence of each one" (Letter to the Bishops of France, 11 February 2005, nn. 2, 3; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 23 February, p. 3).

This concept must permit a greater promotion of the Church's autonomy, both in her organization and in her mission. In this regard, I welcome at all levels the existence and meetings of the bodies for dialogue between the Church and the civil Authorities. I am sure that this dialogue will enable all the forces thus brought into play to contribute to the citizens' good and that it will produce results in social life.

As you recalled, your Country has just been through a socially difficult period which laid bare the deep discontent of a part of the youth; such a situation seems not only to have spread to the suburbs of the large cities, but has more profoundly affected all sectors of the population.

Yet, the internal violence that marks societies, which one cannot but condemn, bears a message especially from young people, inviting us to take their requests into account and, as Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux, President of the French Bishops' Conference, said at the end of the Lourdes Assembly last November, requesting "a response equal to dealing with these dramatic tensions in our society".

May I greet here all those who have undertaken, especially through dialogue with young people and fraternal closeness to them, to restore a peaceful atmosphere to society, because this responsibility is incumbent upon all citizens.

Your Country has welcomed many foreign workers and their families, who have contributed much to the Nation's development since the end of the Second World War. Today, it is important to thank them and their descendents for this financial and cultural wealth in which they have played a part.

Most of them have become full French citizens. The challenge today consists in living the values of equality and fraternity that are part of the values inscribed in France's motto, taking pains to ensure that all citizens, with respect for their legitimate differences, can build a true common culture that transmits the fundamental moral and spiritual values.

It is also important to propose a social and personal ideal to young people, so that they will preserve their reasons for living and hoping and will have greater confidence in a better future that allows them to build their lives and to find employment to meet their own and their family's needs in order to attain the well-being to which they naturally have a right.

Therefore, your Country is definitely invited to take a further step towards the social integration of one and all, like other nations on the Continent, in the very name of the dignity proper to every person and of his or her central role in society, which the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council recalled (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 9), as you yourself mentioned. Social peace generally comes at this price.

It is also right to focus special attention on the institutions of marriage and the family. No other form of organized relationship can compare with them. Indeed, they are the basis of social life.
They have an irreplaceable role in the education of the young, combining authority and emotional support, imparting to all young people the values that are indispensable to their personal development and sense of the common good, and the necessary reference points for social life. If the family is to do this, it must be aided and supported, so that it does not renounce its educational mission and leave young people to themselves.

Here I would like to greet the educators, the school context and all the movements that seek to support parents in their educational task and help them form young people's consciences, so that in the future they will be adults not only responsible for themselves but also for their brothers and sisters in humanity and for the good functioning of society. May they all know that the Church, which endeavours to defend the family everywhere, desires to help them in their task.

Moreover, it is important that young people be guided so that they can be responsible for their own lives and feel full members of society. All this will make a great contribution to bringing the Nation and the generations closer together and creating a stronger social fabric.

In this same spirit, I likewise want to draw the attention of all people of good will to the decisions and actions in the context of bioethics. These show that there is an increasing tendency to consider the human being, especially in the very first stages of life, simply as an object of research. It is important not to see ethical questions first from the scientific viewpoint, but rather from the viewpoint of the human being for whom respect is imperative. Unless this fundamental moral criterion is accepted, it will be difficult to create a truly human society that respects all the beings of which it consists without any distinction whatsoever.

For many reasons, your Country is attentive to the developing countries and those finding it difficult to embark on real economic and social development. The recent Africa-France Summit, held in Mali, is an expression of this concern.

Wealthy countries have a great responsibility for the growth of societies and for the complete fulfilment of the citizens of nations in difficulty. They must not only provide financial aid for them, but also technical formation for the executives and personnel who will make these nations more and more autonomous and protagonists of the world economy. They are called especially to help set up self-sufficient local structures that will enable the inhabitants to have the necessary resources for their subsistence.

Indeed, it is becoming more urgent than ever to continue and to intensify the most concrete actions possible, relying on the local populations, especially women and young people, who particularly in African societies have a place of paramount importance and much to contribute by giving a new impetus to the economy and social life.

At the end of our meeting, Your Excellency, I offer you my most cordial good wishes for the mission you are beginning today. You may rest assured that you will always find with my collaborators the attention and help that you may need.

As I entrust the People of France and its Authorities to the care of Our Lady of Lourdes and to the many saints of your Land, so dear to the hearts of a large number of your compatriots, I ask the Lord to support them all so that by drawing from their spiritual patrimony and long spiritual tradition, they may build a society of peace and justice, and contribute to an ever greater solidarity between individuals and peoples.

I very willingly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you, Your Excellency, as well as to your collaborators and your loved ones.


Dear Boys and Girls of Italian Catholic Action,

For many years now the children and young people of Catholic Action Rome (ACR) have come to offer the Pope their good wishes. It is a meeting that Pope Paul VI desired in his time and that my Predecessor, John Paul II, whom you all knew, lived each year with great joy. I welcome you with the same joy. I greet each one of you with affection, together with Bishop Francesco Lambiasi, your General Chaplain, and Prof. Luigi Alici, the President, and I sincerely thank you for your good wishes for this Holy Christmas.

On Jesus' Birthday we celebrate God's infinite love for all humankind: "God so loved the world that he gave his Only Son" (Jn 3,16), and was thus so closely united with our humanity that he wanted to share it to the point of becoming a man among men, one of us. In the Child of Bethlehem, the smallness of God-made-man shows us the greatness of man and the beauty of our dignity as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus.

In contemplating this Child, we see what great trust God places in each one of us and what an ample possibility for doing beautiful and great things we are offered in our days, living with Jesus and as Jesus. "Be with us'

This year your formation is accompanied by the slogan "Be with us". Dear children, the Lord Jesus is always with us and always walks with his Church, accompanies her and keeps her safe. Never doubt his presence! The One who comes to meet us, the Emmanuel, "God-with-us", assures us that he is always among his followers: "And know that I am with you always, until the end of the world" (Mt 28,20).

Always seek the Lord Jesus, grow in friendship with him, learn to listen and to know his words and to recognize him in the poor who live in your communities. Live your lives with joy and enthusiasm, certain of his presence and his free, generous and faithful friendship until his death on the Cross.

"Be with us": the Lord Jesus is truly with us. Be witnesses to everyone, starting with your peers, of the joy of his strong and gentle presence. Tell them that it is beautiful to be friends of Jesus and that following him is worthwhile. Show with your enthusiasm that among the very many ways of living which the world today seems to offer us, all apparently on the same level, it is only by following Jesus that one finds the true meaning of life, hence, true and lasting joy.

Thus, the commitment to peace you have taken on with your brothers and sisters in Sarajevo is also truly a sign of your friendship with Jesus, who is called "Prince of Peace" in the Scriptures.

May your ACR groups be the seed of joy in your parishes, your families and the schools you attend. Thank you again, dear friends, for your visit. I bless you with affection, together with your loved ones, your teachers, your chaplains and all the friends of the ACR. Merry Christmas!

TO THE MEMBERS OF THE PONTIFICAL "SISTINE" CHOIR Sistine Chapel Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Dear Maestro, Mons. Liberto,
Dear Choir Boys of the Sistine Chapel,
Dear Singers, Teachers and Collaborators,

I did not have time to prepare a talk, although my idea was quite simple: to say, in these days before Christmas, that they are days of thanksgiving for gifts; to say, in these days, a "thank you" to you for all that you give us the whole year round, for this great contribution to the glory of God and to the joy of the people on earth.

On the night when the Saviour was born, the Angels proclaimed Christ's birth to the shepherds with these words: "Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus". Tradition has always claimed that the Angels did not simply speak like people but sang, and that their song was of such heavenly beauty that it revealed the beauty of Heaven.

Tradition also claims that choirs of treble voices can enable us to hear an echo of the angels' singing.
And it is true that in the singing of the Sistine Chapel Choir at the important liturgies we can sense the presence of the heavenly liturgy, we can feel a little of the beauty through which the Lord wants to communicate his joy to us.

In fact, praise of God demands song. Therefore, throughout the Old Testament - with Moses and with David - until the New Testament - in the Book of Revelation - we hear once again the hymns of the heavenly liturgy that offer a lesson for our liturgy in God's Church.

Consequently, your contribution is essential to the liturgy: it is not a marginal embellishment, for the liturgy as such demands this beauty, it needs song to praise God and to give joy to those taking part.

I wish to thank you with all my heart for this major contribution. The Pope's liturgy, the liturgy in St Peter's, must be an example of liturgy for the world. You know that today, with television and radio, a vast number of people in every part of the world follow this liturgy. From here, they learn or do not learn what the liturgy is, how the liturgy should be celebrated. Thus, it is very important not only that our masters of ceremony teach the Pope how best to celebrate the liturgy, but also that the Sistine Choir be an example of how to convey beauty in song, in praise of God.

I know - since my brother has as it were enabled me to have a first-hand experience of a choir of treble voices - that this beauty demands a huge commitment and many sacrifices on your part.
You have to rise early, boys, in order to get to school; I know Rome's traffic and I can therefore guess how difficult it often is for you to arrive on time. Then, you have to practice to the very end in order to achieve this perfection with the competence that we have just heard once again.

I thank you for all this, also because at these celebrations, while your companions go on long outings, you have to stay in the Basilica to sing and sometimes even have to wait for an hour before being able to sing; and yet you are always ready to make your contribution.

I feel this gratitude every time and on this occasion I wanted to tell you of it. Christmas is the feast of gifts. God himself gave us the greatest gift. He gave us himself. He took flesh, he made himself a child. God gave us the true gift and thus also invites us to give, to give with our hearts; to give a little of ourselves to God and to our neighbour. He also asks us to offer signs of our kindness, of our willingness to offer joy to others.

So I too, therefore, have attempted to make my gratitude visible through presents that will now be given out to you as an expression of my gratitude, which is too strong for words.


Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Presbyterate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Expergiscere, homo: quia pro te Deus factus est homo - Wake up, O man! For your sake God became man" (St Augustine, Sermo, 185). With the Christmas celebrations now at hand, I am opening my Meeting with you, dear collaborators of the Roman Curia, with St Augustine's invitation to understand the true meaning of Christ's Birth.

I address to each one my most cordial greeting and I thank you for the sentiments of devotion and affection, effectively conveyed to me by your Cardinal Dean, to whom I address my gratitude.

God became man for our sake: this is the message which, every year, from the silent grotto of Bethlehem spreads even to the most out-of-the-way corners of the earth. Christmas is a feast of light and peace, it is a day of inner wonder and joy that expands throughout the universe, because "God became man". From the humble grotto of Bethlehem, the eternal Son of God, who became a tiny Child, addresses each one of us: he calls us, invites us to be reborn in him so that, with him, we may live eternally in communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

Our hearts brimming with the joy that comes from this knowledge, let us think back to the events of the year that is coming to an end. We have behind us great events which have left a deep mark on the life of the Church. I am thinking first and foremost of the departure of our beloved Holy Father John Paul II, preceded by a long period of suffering and the gradual loss of speech. No Pope has left us such a quantity of texts as he has bequeathed to us; no previous Pope was able to visit the whole world like him and speak directly to people from all the continents.

In the end, however, his lot was a journey of suffering and silence. Unforgettable for us are the images of Palm Sunday when, holding an olive branch and marked by pain, he came to the window and imparted the Lord's Blessing as he himself was about to walk towards the Cross.

Next was the scene in his Private Chapel when, holding the Crucifix, he took part in the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, where he had so often led the procession carrying the Cross himself.

Lastly came his silent Blessing on Easter Sunday, in which we saw the promise of the Resurrection, of eternal life, shine out through all his suffering. With his words and actions, the Holy Father gave us great things; equally important is the lesson he imparted to us from the chair of suffering and silence.

In his last book "Memory and Identity" (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005), he has left us an interpretation of suffering that is not a theological or philosophical theory but a fruit that matured on his personal path of suffering which he walked, sustained by faith in the Crucified Lord. This interpretation, which he worked out in faith and which gave meaning to his suffering lived in communion with that of the Lord, spoke through his silent pain, transforming it into an important message.

Both at the beginning and once again at the end of the book mentioned, the Pope shows that he is deeply touched by the spectacle of the power of evil, which we dramatically experienced in the century that has just ended. He says in his text: "The evil... was not a small-scale evil.... It was an evil of gigantic proportions, an evil which availed itself of state structures in order to accomplish its wicked work, an evil built up into a system" (p. 189).

Might evil be invincible? Is it the ultimate power of history? Because of the experience of evil, for Pope Wojty³a the question of redemption became the essential and central question of his life and thought as a Christian. Is there a limit against which the power of evil shatters? "Yes, there is", the Pope replies in this book of his, as well as in his Encyclical on redemption.

The power that imposes a limit on evil is Divine Mercy. Violence, the display of evil, is opposed in history - as "the totally other" of God, God's own power - by Divine Mercy. The Lamb is stronger than the dragon, we could say together with the Book of Revelation.

At the end of the book, in a retrospective review of the attack of 13 May 1981 and on the basis of the experience of his journey with God and with the world, John Paul II further deepened this answer.

What limits the force of evil, the power, in brief, which overcomes it - this is how he says it - is God's suffering, the suffering of the Son of God on the Cross: "The suffering of the Crucified God is not just one form of suffering alongside others.... In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love.... The passion of Christ on the Cross gave a radically new meaning to suffering, transforming it from within.... It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love.... All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation;... evil is present in the world partly so as to awaken our love, our self-gift in generous and disinterested service to those visited by suffering.... Christ has redeemed the world: "By his wounds we are healed' (Is 53,5)" (p. 189, ff.).

All this is not merely learned theology, but the expression of a faith lived and matured through suffering. Of course, we must do all we can to alleviate suffering and prevent the injustice that causes the suffering of the innocent. However, we must also do the utmost to ensure that people can discover the meaning of suffering and are thus able to accept their own suffering and to unite it with the suffering of Christ.

In this way, it is merged with redemptive love and consequently becomes a force against the evil in the world.

The response across the world to the Pope's death was an overwhelming demonstration of gratitude for the fact that in his ministry he offered himself totally to God for the world; a thanksgiving for the fact that in a world full of hatred and violence he taught anew love and suffering in the service of others; he showed us, so to speak, in the flesh, the Redeemer, redemption, and gave us the certainty that indeed, evil does not have the last word in the world.

I would now like to mention, if briefly, another two events also initiated by Pope John Paul II: they are the World Youth Day celebrated in Cologne and the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, which also ended the Year of the Eucharist inaugurated by Pope John Paul II.

The World Youth Day has lived on as a great gift in the memory of those present. More than a million young people gathered in the City of Cologne on the Rhine River and in the neighbouring towns to listen together to the Word of God, to pray together, to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, to sing and to celebrate together, to rejoice in life and to worship and receive the Lord in the Eucharist during the great meetings on Saturday evening and Sunday. Joy simply reigned throughout those days.

Apart from keeping order, the police had nothing to do - the Lord had gathered his family, tangibly overcoming every frontier and barrier, and in the great communion between us, he made us experience his presence.

The motto chosen for those days - "We have come to worship him!", contained two great images which encouraged the right approach from the outset. First there was the image of the pilgrimage, the image of the person who, looking beyond his own affairs and daily life, sets out in search of his essential destination, the truth, the right life, God.

This image of the person on his way towards the goal of life contained another two clear indications.
First of all, there was the invitation not to see the world that surrounds us solely as raw material with which we can do something, but to try to discover in it "the Creator's handwriting", the creative reason and the love from which the world was born and of which the universe speaks to us, if we pay attention, if our inner senses awaken and acquire perception of the deepest dimensions of reality.

As a second element there is a further invitation: to listen to the historical revelation which alone can offer us the key to the interpretation of the silent mystery of creation, pointing out to us the practical way towards the true Lord of the world and of history, who conceals himself in the poverty of the stable in Bethlehem.

The other image contained in the World Youth Day motto was the person worshipping: "We have come to worship him". Before any activity, before the world can change there must be worship. Worship alone sets us truly free; worship alone gives us the criteria for our action. Precisely in a world in which guiding criteria are absent and the threat exists that each person will be a law unto himself, it is fundamentally necessary to stress worship.

For all those who were present the intense silence of that million young people remains unforgettable, a silence that united and uplifted us all when the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament was placed on the altar. Let us cherish in our hearts the images of Cologne: they are signs that continue to be valid. Without mentioning individual names, I would like on this occasion to thank everyone who made World Youth Day possible; but especially, let us together thank the Lord, for indeed, he alone could give us those days in the way in which we lived them.

The word "adoration" [worship] brings us to the second great event that I wish to talk about: the Synod of Bishops and the Year of the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II, with the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia and the Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine, gave us the essential clues and at the same time, with his personal experience of Eucharistic faith, put the Church's teaching into practice.

Moreover, the Congregation for Divine Worship, in close connection with the Encyclical, published the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum as a practical guide to the correct implementation of the conciliar Constitution on the liturgy and liturgical reform. In addition to all this, was it really possible to say anything new, to develop further the whole of this teaching?

This was exactly the great experience of the Synod, during which a reflection of the riches of the Eucharistic life of the Church today and the inexhaustibility of her Eucharistic faith could be perceived in the Fathers' contributions. What the Fathers thought and expressed must be presented, in close connection with the Propositiones of the Synod, in a Post-Synodal Document.

Here, once again, I only wish to underline that point which a little while ago we already mentioned in the context of World Youth Day: adoration of the Risen Lord, present in the Eucharist with flesh and blood, with body and soul, with divinity and humanity.

It is moving for me to see how everywhere in the Church the joy of Eucharistic adoration is reawakening and being fruitful. In the period of liturgical reform, Mass and adoration outside it were often seen as in opposition to one another: it was thought that the Eucharistic Bread had not been given to us to be contemplated, but to be eaten, as a widespread objection claimed at that time.

The experience of the prayer of the Church has already shown how nonsensical this antithesis was. Augustine had formerly said: "...nemo autem illam carnem manducat, nisi prius adoraverit;... peccemus non adorando - No one should eat this flesh without first adoring it;... we should sin were we not to adore it" (cf. Enarr. in Ps 98,9 CCL XXXIX 1385).

Indeed, we do not merely receive something in the Eucharist. It is the encounter and unification of persons; the person, however, who comes to meet us and desires to unite himself to us is the Son of God. Such unification can only be brought about by means of adoration.

Receiving the Eucharist means adoring the One whom we receive. Precisely in this way and only in this way do we become one with him. Therefore, the development of Eucharistic adoration, as it took shape during the Middle Ages, was the most consistent consequence of the Eucharistic mystery itself: only in adoration can profound and true acceptance develop. And it is precisely this personal act of encounter with the Lord that develops the social mission which is contained in the Eucharist and desires to break down barriers, not only the barriers between the Lord and us but also and above all those that separate us from one another.

The last event of this year on which I wish to reflect here is the celebration of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago. This memory prompts the question: What has been the result of the Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done? No one can deny that in vast areas of the Church the implementation of the Council has been somewhat difficult, even without wishing to apply to what occurred in these years the description that St Basil, the great Doctor of the Church, made of the Church's situation after the Council of Nicea: he compares her situation to a naval battle in the darkness of the storm, saying among other things: "The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith..." (De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524).

We do not want to apply precisely this dramatic description to the situation of the post-conciliar period, yet something from all that occurred is nevertheless reflected in it. The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.

Through the Sacrament they have received, Bishops are stewards of the Lord's gift. They are "stewards of the mysteries of God" (1Co 4,1); as such, they must be found to be "faithful" and "wise" (cf. Lc 12,41-48). This requires them to administer the Lord's gift in the right way, so that it is not left concealed in some hiding place but bears fruit, and the Lord may end by saying to the administrator: "Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs" (cf. Mt 25,14-30 Lc 19,11-27).

These Gospel parables express the dynamic of fidelity required in the Lord's service; and through them it becomes clear that, as in a Council, the dynamic and fidelity must converge.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965.

Here I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion". And he continues: "Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...". It is necessary that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).

It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived. In this regard, the programme that Pope John XXIII proposed was extremely demanding, indeed, just as the synthesis of fidelity and dynamic is demanding.

However, wherever this interpretation guided the implementation of the Council, new life developed and new fruit ripened. Forty years after the Council, we can show that the positive is far greater and livelier than it appeared to be in the turbulent years around 1968. Today, we see that although the good seed developed slowly, it is nonetheless growing; and our deep gratitude for the work done by the Council is likewise growing.

In his Discourse closing the Council, Paul VI pointed out a further specific reason why a hermeneutic of discontinuity can seem convincing.

In the great dispute about man which marks the modern epoch, the Council had to focus in particular on the theme of anthropology. It had to question the relationship between the Church and her faith on the one hand, and man and the contemporary world on the other (cf. ibid.). The question becomes even clearer if, instead of the generic term "contemporary world", we opt for another that is more precise: the Council had to determine in a new way the relationship between the Church and the modern era.

This relationship had a somewhat stormy beginning with the Galileo case. It was then totally interrupted when Kant described "religion within pure reason" and when, in the radical phase of the French Revolution, an image of the State and the human being that practically no longer wanted to allow the Church any room was disseminated.

In the 19th century under Pius IX, the clash between the Church's faith and a radical liberalism and the natural sciences, which also claimed to embrace with their knowledge the whole of reality to its limit, stubbornly proposing to make the "hypothesis of God" superfluous, had elicited from the Church a bitter and radical condemnation of this spirit of the modern age. Thus, it seemed that there was no longer any milieu open to a positive and fruitful understanding, and the rejection by those who felt they were the representatives of the modern era was also drastic.

In the meantime, however, the modern age had also experienced developments. People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution.

The natural sciences were beginning to reflect more and more clearly their own limitations imposed by their own method, which, despite achieving great things, was nevertheless unable to grasp the global nature of reality.

So it was that both parties were gradually beginning to open up to each other. In the period between the two World Wars and especially after the Second World War, Catholic statesmen demonstrated that a modern secular State could exist that was not neutral regarding values but alive, drawing from the great ethical sources opened by Christianity.

Catholic social doctrine, as it gradually developed, became an important model between radical liberalism and the Marxist theory of the State. The natural sciences, which without reservation professed a method of their own to which God was barred access, realized ever more clearly that this method did not include the whole of reality. Hence, they once again opened their doors to God, knowing that reality is greater than the naturalistic method and all that it can encompass.

It might be said that three circles of questions had formed which then, at the time of the Second Vatican Council, were expecting an answer. First of all, the relationship between faith and modern science had to be redefined. Furthermore, this did not only concern the natural sciences but also historical science for, in a certain school, the historical-critical method claimed to have the last word on the interpretation of the Bible and, demanding total exclusivity for its interpretation of Sacred Scripture, was opposed to important points in the interpretation elaborated by the faith of the Church.

Secondly, it was necessary to give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern State that would make room impartially for citizens of various religions and ideologies, merely assuming responsibility for an orderly and tolerant coexistence among them and for the freedom to practise their own religion.

Thirdly, linked more generally to this was the problem of religious tolerance - a question that required a new definition of the relationship between the Christian faith and the world religions. In particular, before the recent crimes of the Nazi regime and, in general, with a retrospective look at a long and difficult history, it was necessary to evaluate and define in a new way the relationship between the Church and the faith of Israel.

These are all subjects of great importance - they were the great themes of the second part of the Council - on which it is impossible to reflect more broadly in this context. It is clear that in all these sectors, which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance.

It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters - for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible - should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.
On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change.

Basic decisions, therefore, continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change. Thus, for example, if religious freedom were to be considered an expression of the human inability to discover the truth and thus become a canonization of relativism, then this social and historical necessity is raised inappropriately to the metaphysical level and thus stripped of its true meaning. Consequently, it cannot be accepted by those who believe that the human person is capable of knowing the truth about God and, on the basis of the inner dignity of the truth, is bound to this knowledge.

It is quite different, on the other hand, to perceive religious freedom as a need that derives from human coexistence, or indeed, as an intrinsic consequence of the truth that cannot be externally imposed but that the person must adopt only through the process of conviction.

The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22,21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time. The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. 1Tm 2,2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the State.

The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith - a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience. A missionary Church known for proclaiming her message to all peoples must necessarily work for the freedom of the faith. She desires to transmit the gift of the truth that exists for one and all.

At the same time, she assures peoples and their Governments that she does not wish to destroy their identity and culture by doing so, but to give them, on the contrary, a response which, in their innermost depths, they are waiting for - a response with which the multiplicity of cultures is not lost but instead unity between men and women increases and thus also peace between peoples.

The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.

The Church, both before and after the Council, was and is the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, journeying on through time; she continues "her pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God", proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 8).

Those who expected that with this fundamental "yes" to the modern era all tensions would be dispelled and that the "openness towards the world" accordingly achieved would transform everything into pure harmony, had underestimated the inner tensions as well as the contradictions inherent in the modern epoch.

They had underestimated the perilous frailty of human nature which has been a threat to human progress in all the periods of history and in every historical constellation. These dangers, with the new possibilities and new power of man over matter and over himself, did not disappear but instead acquired new dimensions: a look at the history of the present day shows this clearly.

In our time too, the Church remains a "sign that will be opposed" (Lc 2,34) - not without reason did Pope John Paul II, then still a Cardinal, give this title to the theme for the Spiritual Exercises he preached in 1976 to Pope Paul VI and the Roman Curia. The Council could not have intended to abolish the Gospel's opposition to human dangers and errors.

On the contrary, it was certainly the Council's intention to overcome erroneous or superfluous contradictions in order to present to our world the requirement of the Gospel in its full greatness and purity.

The steps the Council took towards the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as "openness to the world", belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms. The situation that the Council had to face can certainly be compared to events of previous epochs.

In his First Letter, St Peter urged Christians always to be ready to give an answer (apo-logia) to anyone who asked them for the logos, the reason for their faith (cf. 3: 15).

This meant that biblical faith had to be discussed and come into contact with Greek culture and learn to recognize through interpretation the separating line but also the convergence and the affinity between them in the one reason, given by God.

When, in the 13th century through the Jewish and Arab philosophers, Aristotelian thought came into contact with Medieval Christianity formed in the Platonic tradition and faith and reason risked entering an irreconcilable contradiction, it was above all St Thomas Aquinas who mediated the new encounter between faith and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby setting faith in a positive relationship with the form of reason prevalent in his time. There is no doubt that the wearing dispute between modern reason and the Christian faith, which had begun negatively with the Galileo case, went through many phases, but with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.

Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

This dialogue must now be developed with great openmindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council: if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.

Lastly, should I perhaps recall once again that 19 April this year on which, to my great surprise, the College of Cardinals elected me as the Successor of Pope John Paul II, as a Successor of St Peter on the chair of the Bishop of Rome? Such an office was far beyond anything I could ever have imagined as my vocation. It was, therefore, only with a great act of trust in God that I was able to say in obedience my "yes" to this choice. Now as then, I also ask you all for your prayer, on whose power and support I rely.

At the same time, I would like to warmly thank all those who have welcomed me and still welcome me with great trust, goodness and understanding, accompanying me day after day with their prayers.

Christmas is now at hand. The Lord God did not counter the threats of history with external power, as we human beings would expect according to the prospects of our world. His weapon is goodness. He revealed himself as a child, born in a stable. This is precisely how he counters with his power, completely different from the destructive powers of violence. In this very way he saves us. In this very way he shows us what saves.

In these days of Christmas, let us go to meet him full of trust, like the shepherds, like the Wise Men of the East. Let us ask Mary to lead us to the Lord. Let us ask him himself to make his face shine upon us. Let us ask him also to defeat the violence in the world and to make us experience the power of his goodness. With these sentiments, I warmly impart to you all my Apostolic Blessing.


Your Excellency,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Holy See. In thanking you for the greetings that you bring from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her Government, I ask you in return to convey my respectful good wishes and prayers for the peace and prosperity of the realm.

The Holy See greatly values its formal links with your country, restored in 1914 and raised to full diplomatic status in 1982. These relations have made possible a significant degree of cooperation in the service of peace and justice, especially in the developing world, where the United Kingdom has played a leading role in international efforts to combat poverty and disease. Through such initiatives as the International Finance Facility, Her Majesty’s Government has taken concrete steps to promote the timely realization of the Millennium Development Goals. Especially in Africa, many have drawn comfort from the aid resolutions taken at July’s Gleneagles summit, when the G8 Group met under the presidency of Great Britain. I pray that this effective solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters will be maintained and deepened in years to come. In the words of my venerable predecessor, Pope Gregory the Great, “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice” (Pastoral Rule, 3:21, quoted in Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 184). As you have observed, Mr Ambassador, your country is no stranger to the strife caused by the sad divisions within Christianity. The wounds resulting from more than four centuries of separation cannot be healed without determined efforts, perseverance, and above all, prayer. I give thanks to God for the progress that has been made in recent years in the various ecumenical dialogues, and I encourage all those involved in this work never to rest content with partial solutions but to keep firmly in view the goal of full visible unity among Christians which accords with the Lord’s will for his Church. Ecumenism is not simply an internal matter of concern to Christian communities; it is an imperative of charity which expresses God’s love for all humanity and his plan to unite all peoples in Christ (cf. Ut Unum Sint UUS 99). It offers a “radiant sign of hope and consolation for all mankind” (Letter of Pope Paul VI to Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, 13 January 1970), and as such has an essential part to play in overcoming divisions between communities and nations.

In this regard, I am pleased to note the significant progress that has been made over the last few years towards achieving peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Local Churches and ecclesial communities have worked hard to overcome historic differences between sections of the population, and among the most visible signs of the growth in mutual trust is the recent decommissioning of weapons by the Irish Republican Army. This would not have been possible without immense diplomatic and political efforts to achieve a just solution to that long-standing conflict, and it brings great credit upon all who were involved.

Sadly, in the wake of the bombings that took place in London last July, your country still has to cope with acts of indiscriminate violence directed against members of the public. I wish to assure you of the continuing support of the Church as you seek solutions to the underlying tensions that give rise to such atrocities. The Catholic population in Great Britain is already marked by a high degree of ethnic diversity and is eager to play its part in furthering reconciliation and harmony between the various racial groups present in your country. I know that Her Majesty’s Government recognizes the importance of inter-religious dialogue, and I welcome the openness that the Government has shown towards involving faith communities in the process of integrating the increasingly disparate elements that make up British society.

Tolerance and respect for difference are values that the United Kingdom has done much to promote both within its borders and beyond, and they derive from an appreciation of the innate dignity and the inalienable rights of every human person. As such they are deeply rooted in the Christian faith. You have spoken of the importance for the United Kingdom of remaining faithful to Europe’s rich traditions, and such fidelity naturally involves a profound respect for the truth that God has revealed concerning the human person. It requires us to recognize and protect the sanctity of life from the first moment of conception until natural death. It requires us to acknowledge the indispensable role of stable marriage and family life for the good of society. It obliges us to consider carefully the ethical implications of scientific and technological progress, particularly in the field of medical research and genetic engineering. Above all, it directs us towards a proper understanding of human freedom which can never be realized independently of God but only in cooperation with his loving plan for humanity (cf. Homily for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2005). Tolerance and respect for difference, if they are truly to benefit society, need to be built upon the rock of an authentic understanding of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and called to a share in his divine life.

Your Excellency, I am confident that the diplomatic mission which you begin today will serve to strengthen the good relations that exist between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. In offering you my best wishes for the years ahead, I assure you that the various departments of the Roman Curia are always ready to provide help and support in the fulfilment of your duties. Upon Your Excellency and all the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings.


Dear Collaborators,

Unfortunately, the numerous commitments in these days have not permitted me to prepare a speech worthy of all the work you have done. Please excuse me. I can only speak, as they say, "off the cuff". But the words truly come from my heart.

I do not have much to say. Only a word; but this word, with all my conviction, is a "big thank you" that comes from the bottom of my heart.

In less than three months you have done a major piece of restoration work in my Apartments. I am convinced - since I had a small house built for me in Germany - that elsewhere this work would have lasted for at least a year and probably more.

Thus, I have seen how and with what dedication you have worked, with what skill and the sort of collaboration between the different technical services employed in this task which I cannot but admire and which, in my opinion, witnesses to an inner commitment to work well both to serve the Holy See and the Successor of Peter.

You have thus truly given an example of responsible work. I can only admire all you have done, such as these beautiful floors.

Then, I particularly like my new library with that antique ceiling. It is as though I were surrounded by friends, now that the bookshelves and books have arrived. There is then the medical room and all the other things that I cannot list now.

But I have noticed, even though I am not very competent in such matters, that in the past three months you have worked, I would say almost night and day, with incredible dedication. I can only assure you of my deep gratitude and my prayers.

It came to my mind that in the New Testament, the word "tecton" appears, which was the profession of the Lord Jesus before his public ministry. We usually translate the word as "carpenter", because at that time houses were made mainly of wood. But more than a "carpenter", he was an "artisan" who must have been able to do all that was required in building a house.

Thus, in this sense, you are "colleagues" of Our Lord, who have done precisely what he would have willingly done, in accordance with what he had chosen, before proclaiming his great mission to the world. In this way the Lord desired to demonstrate the nobility of this craft.

In the Greek world, intellectual work alone was considered worthy of a free man. Manual work was left to slaves.

The biblical religion is quite different. Here, the Creator - who according to a beautiful image, made man with his own hands - appears exactly as the example of a man who works with his hands, and in so doing works with his brain and his heart. Man imitates the Creator so that this world given to him by the Creator may be an inhabitable world.

This is apparent in the biblical narrative from the very start. But in the end, the nobility and grandeur of this work strongly emerges from the fact that Jesus was a "tecton", an "artisan", a "worker".

Now, so close to the celebration of Christmas, is the time to say "thank you" for all of this, for your work, which encourages me - just as you have given everything - to give on my part, at this late stage in my life, everything that I can give.

Greetings to your loved ones and I wholeheartedly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all!
Speeches 2005-13 25085