Speeches 2005-13 127



AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE MEETING WITH THE SEMINARIANS Roman Major Seminary Friday, 1st February 2008

I would like to thank your spokesman for his fine words and to thank you for this possibility of being with you. I truly feel at home here, where so many young men are preparing to be messengers of Christ, evangelizers in this world of ours.

At Vespers today I was particularly moved by the words of the Psalm in which Israel thanks God for the gift of his command that runs swiftly, and it says: he did not do this for all the others, it is only to us that he has given this grace to know his will, his ordinances.

The Israelites did not regard knowing God's Commandments as a burden or a yoke upon their shoulders but rather as a great gift: in the night of the world, they knew who God was and where to go, they knew which was the path of life.

Together with these words, it is even more important for us Christians to know that the Word of God is no longer solely a commandment but also a gift of love, incarnate in Christ. We can really say: thank you Lord for giving us this gift of knowing you; those who know you in Christ therefore know the living word and know in the obscurity, in the many enigmas of this world, in the many unsolvable problems, the way to go; we know where we come from, what life is and what we are called for.

And I think that this thanksgiving for the knowledge and gift, the knowledge of God Incarnate, must also awaken the idea: but I must communicate this to others, they too are seeking, they too want to live well, they too long for the right path and do not find it. This is especially because it is a grace and also an obligation to know Jesus and to be given the grace to be called by him precisely in order to help others, so that they too may thank God joyfully, that they may have the grace to know who they are, where they come from, where they are going.

Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Trust, gave herself totally to the Lord, with great courage. The priesthood, as I said in my Homily, is an adventure in today's world in which opposition and many denials of faith abound. It is an adventure and a very beautiful adventure, because this thirst for God really exists in the depths of the heart.

In the past few days, I received the Greek Catholic Bishops of Ukraine on their ad limina visit. Especially in the Eastern region, because of the Soviet regime, more than half the people declare themselves to be agnostic, to have no religion. I asked them: what are you doing, how do they behave, what do they want? And all the Bishops answered: they have a great thirst for God and desire to know him, they realize it is impossible to live this way.

Thus, despite all the contradictions, forms of resistance and opposition, thirst for God exists and it is our beautiful vocation to help, to give light. This is our adventure. There are, of course, so many unforeseeable things, so many complications, suffering and everything else. Yet, even Our Lady, at the moment of the Annunciation knew that an unknown path lay before her and, familiar with the prophecies of the Servant of God, well-acquainted with Sacred Scripture, she was able to foresee that this path would also be strewn with much suffering. Yet she believed in the Angel's words: do not be afraid because in the end God is stronger, do not even fear the Cross or all the suffering, because in the end God guides us and this suffering also helps us to attain the fullness of light.

Thus, may Our Lady of Trust also give you this great confidence, this courage, this joy of being servants of Christ, of the truth, of life.

Thanks to you all and may the Lord bless you all!



Vatican Basilica Saturday, 2 February 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am very pleased to meet you on the occasion of the World Day of Consecrated Life, a traditional gathering whose significance is enhanced by the liturgical context of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. I thank Cardinal Franc Rodé, who has celebrated the Eucharist for you, and with him the Secretary and the other collaborators of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. With great affection I greet the Superiors General present and all of you who form this unique assembly, an expression of the varied richness of the Consecrated Life in the Church.

In his account of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, at least three times the Evangelist Luke emphasizes that Mary and Joseph acted in accordance with "the Law of the Lord" (cf. Lc 2,22, 23, 39), moreover they always appear to be listening attentively to the Word of God. This attitude is an eloquent example for you, men and women religious; and for you, members of Secular Institutes and of other forms of Consecrated Life. The next Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be dedicated to The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church: dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to make your contribution to this ecclesial commitment, witnessing to the importance, especially for those who like you, the Lord calls to a more intimate "sequela", of placing the Word of God at the centre of all things. In fact, the Consecrated Life is rooted in the Gospel. Down the centuries, the Gospel - as it were, its supreme rule - has continued to inspire it and the Consecrated Life is called to refer constantly to the Gospel, to remain alive and fertile, bearing fruit for the salvation of souls.

At the root of the different expressions of Consecrated Life there is always a strong Gospel inspiration. I think of St Anthony Abbot who was moved by listening to Christ's words: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19,21) (cf. Vita Antonii, 2, 4). Anthony listened to these words as if they were addressed to him personally by the Lord. St Francis of Assisi in his turn affirmed that it was God who revealed to him that he should live according to the form of the holy Gospel (Testament, 17; Franciscan Omnibus 116). "Francis", wrote Thomas of Celano, "who heard that Christ's disciples were supposed to possess neither gold, nor silver, nor money, nor purse; were to have neither bread nor staff, were to have neither shoes nor two tunics... rejoicing in the Holy Spirit said: "This is what I want! This is what I ask! This is what I want to do from the bottom of my heart!'" (I Celano 83; Franciscan Omnibus 670, 672).

The Instruction Starting Afresh from Christ recalls: "It was the Holy Spirit who sparked the Word of God with new light for the Founders and Foundresses. Every charism and every Rule springs from it and seeks to be an expression of it" (n. 24). And indeed, the Holy Spirit attracts some people to live the Gospel in a radical way and translate it into a style of more generous following. So it is that a work, a religious family, is born which with its very presence becomes in turn a living "exegisis" of the Word of God. The Second Vatican Council says that the succession of charisms in the Consecrated Life can therefore be read as an unfolding of Christ down the ages, as a living Gospel that is actualized in ever new forms (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium LG 46). The mystery of Christ is reflected in the works of Foundresses and Founders, a word of his, an illuminating ray of his radiant Face, the splendour of the Father (cf. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata VC 16).

In the course of the centuries the proposal of the following of Christ without compromise, as it is presented to us in the Gospel, has therefore constituted the ultimate and supreme rule for religious life (cf. Perfectae Caritatis PC 2). In his Rule St Benedict refers to Scripture as the "most exact rule of human life" (n. 73: 2-5). St Dominic, whose words and works proclaimed him a man of the Gospel at all times (cf. Libellus de Principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum, 104: in P. Lippini, San Domenico visto dai suoi contemporanei, Ed. Studio Dom., Bologna, 1982, 110) desired his brother preachers also to be "men of the Gospel" (First Constitutions or Consuetudines, 31). St Clare of Assisi imitated Francis' experience to the full: "The form of life of the Order of the Poor Sisters", she wrote, "is this: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rule, I, 1-2; Franciscan Omnibus, n. 2750). St Vincent Pallotti said: "Since the life of Jesus Christ is the fundamental rule of our small Congregation... we must aim at what is most perfect always and in everything" (cf. Complete Works, II, 541-546; VIII, 63, 67, 253, 254, 466). And St Luigi Orione wrote: "Our first Rule and life is to observe the holy Gospel, in great humility and in loving sweetness and on fire with God" (Letters of Don Orione, Rome, 1969, Vol. II, 278).

This rich tradition attests that Consecrated Life is "deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord" (Vita Consecrata VC 1) and can be compared to "a plant with many branches which sinks its roots into the Gospel and brings forth abundant fruit in every season of the Church's life" (ibid., n. 5). Its mission is to recall that all Christians are brought together by the Word, to live of the Word and to remain under its lordship. It is therefore the special duty of men and women religious "to remind the baptized of the fundamental values of the Gospel" (Vita Consecrata VC 33). By so doing their witness imbues the Church with "a much-needed incentive towards ever greater fidelity to the Gospel" (ibid., n. 3) and indeed, we might say, is an "eloquent, albeit often silent, proclamation of the Gospel" (ibid., n. 25). This is why, in my two Encyclicals as on other occasions, I have not failed to cite the example set by Saints and Blesseds belonging to Institutes of Consecrated Life.

Dear brothers and sisters, nourish your day with prayer, meditation and listening to the Word of God. May you, who are familiar with the ancient practice of lectio divina, help the faithful to appreciate it in their daily lives too. And may you know how to express what the Word suggests, letting yourself be formed by it so that you bring forth abundant fruit, like a seed that has fallen into good soil. Thus, you will be ever docile to the Spirit and you will grow in union with God, you will cultivate fraternal communion among yourselves and will be ready to serve your brethren generously, especially those in need. May people see your good works, a fruit of the Word of God that lives in you, and glorify your Heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5,16)! In entrusting these reflections to you, I thank you for the precious service you render to the Church and, as I invoke the protection of Mary and of the Saints and Blesseds, Founders of your Institutes, I wholeheartedly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you and to your respective religious families, with a special thought for the young men and women in formation and for your brothers and sisters who are sick, elderly or in difficulty. To all, I assure you of my remembrance in prayer.



Hall of Blessings Thursday, 7 February 2008
Here it follows the interview of the Holy Father and a summary of the questions put to him by 10 diocesan clerics:

Giuseppe Corona, deacon:

Holy Father, I would first like to express my gratitude and that of my brother deacons for this ministry which the Council of the Church so providentially restored. The diaconate is a ministry that enables us to express our vocation fully. We are involved in a great variety of tasks that we carry out in very different contexts: the family, work, the parish, society, even missions in Africa and Latin America, contexts that you mentioned at the Audience you granted us in honour of the 25th anniversary of the Roman diaconate. We have increased in number: we are now 108. We would be glad, Your Holiness, if you would suggest a pastoral initiative that could become the sign of a more incisive presence of the permanent diaconate in the city of Rome, similar to that in the first centuries of the Roman Church....

Pope Benedict XVI: I am grateful for this testimony from one of Rome's more than 100 deacons. I would also like to express my joy and gratitude to the Council for restoring this important ministry in the universal Church. I must say that when I became Archbishop of Munich I did not find more than perhaps three or four deacons. I have strongly encouraged this ministry because it seems to me that it enhances the riches of the Church's sacramental ministry. At the same time, it can also serve as a link between the secular world, the professional world and the world of the priestly ministry, since many deacons continue to carry out their professions and keep their posts - both important and also simple positions -, while on Saturdays and Sundays they work in church. Thus, they witness in the contemporary world as well as in the world of work to the presence of the faith, the sacramental ministry and the diaconal dimension of the Sacrament of Orders. I consider this very important: the visibility of the diaconal dimension.

Every priest, of course, also continues to be a deacon and must always be aware of this dimension, for the Lord himself became our minister, our deacon. Recall the act of the washing of the feet, where it is explicitly shown that the Teacher, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow him to be deacons and carry out this ministry for humanity, to the point that they even help us to wash the dirty feet of the people entrusted to our care. This dimension seems to me to be of paramount importance.

On this occasion a small experience noted by Paul VI springs to mind - although it may not be quite relevant to our subject. Every day of the Council the Gospel was enthroned. The Pontiff once told the masters of ceremonies that he himself would like to be the one who enthroned the Gospel. They said: No, this is a task for deacons and not for the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff, or the Bishops. He noted in his diary: But I am also a deacon, I am still a deacon, and I too would like to exercise my diaconal ministry by enthroning the Word of God. Thus, this concerns us all. Priests remain deacons and deacons clarify this diaconal dimension of our ministry in the Church and in the world. The liturgical enthronement of the Word of God every day during the Council was always an act of great importance: it told us who was the true Lord of that Assembly, it told us that the Word of God is on the throne and that we exercise the ministry to listen to and interpret this Word in order to offer it to others. To enthrone the Word of God, the living Word or Christ, in the world underlies the meaning of all we do. May it truly be he who governs our personal life and our life in the parishes.

You then asked me a question which, I have to say, somewhat exceeds my capacity: what should be the proper tasks of deacons in Rome? I am aware that the Cardinal Vicar is far better acquainted than I am with the real situation of the city and of the diocesan community of Rome. I think that one characteristic of the diaconal ministry is precisely the multiplicity of its applications.
A few years ago, in the International Theological Commission, we studied the diaconate at length in the Church's history and present. We discovered precisely this: there is no single profile. What must be done varies according to a person's formation and situation. Applications and implementation can vary widely but are naturally always in communion with the Bishop and parish. In these different situations, different possibilities are revealed which depend on the professional training these deacons may have possibly received: they may be employed in the cultural sector, so important in our day, or they may have a voice and important place in the educational sector. This year we are thinking precisely of the problem of education as central to our future, to the future of all humanity.

There is no doubt that in Rome the sector of charity was the original sector, because presbyteral titles and deaconries were centres of Christian charity. This context was fundamental in the city of Rome from the outset. In my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est I showed that not only are preaching and the liturgy essential to the Church and the Church's ministry, but that they also exist for the poor, for the needy, for the service of caritas in its multiple dimensions. I therefore hope that despite the differing situations, charity will continue in every age and every diocese to be a fundamental as well as a key dimension for the commitment of deacons, although not the only one. We see this in the primitive Church where the seven deacons were elected precisely to enable the Apostles to devote themselves to prayer, the liturgy and preaching. Even if Stephen later found he was required to preach to Hellenists and to Greek-speaking Jews, the field of preaching was in this way extended. He was conditioned, we can say, by the cultural situations in which he had a voice in order to make the Word of God present in this field in such a way as also to extend as far as possible the universality of Christian witness. Thus, he opened the door to St Paul, who was a witness to his stoning and subsequently, in a certain sense, his successor in the universalization of the Word of God. Perhaps the Cardinal Vicar would like to add a word here: I am not as closely in touch with the current situations as he is.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini: Holy Father, I can only confirm, as you said, that also in Rome, deacons work in many concrete milieus but mainly in the parishes, where they are concerned with charitable pastoral care but are also involved, for example, in the pastoral care of the family. Since almost all deacons are married, they prepare couples for marriage, keep in touch with these young couples and so forth. They also make a significant contribution to pastoral care in the health sector, as well as helping in the Vicariate - some of them work in the Vicariate - and, as you heard earlier, in the missions. Some deacons are missionaries. I believe, of course, that their presence in parishes is more numerical by far, but other areas are also opening up, and it is for this very reason that we already have more than 100 permanent deacons.

Fr Graziano Bonfitto: Holy Father, I come from San Marco in Lamis, a village in the Province of Foggia. I am a Religious of Don Orione and have been a priest for a year and a half. I am currently parochial vicar in Ognisanti.... My priestly apostolate takes place among young people in particular. It is precisely on their behalf that I wish to thank you today. My holy Founder, St Luigi Orione, said that young people are the sunshine or the storm of the future. I believe that at this moment in history young people are as much the sunshine as the storm, and not of tomorrow but of today, of this moment. Today, we young people feel a more pressing need than ever for certainties. We long for sincerity, freedom, justice and peace. We want beside us people who walk with us, who listen to us, just like Jesus with the disciples of Emmaus. Youth long for people who can point out the way to freedom, responsibility, love and truth. In other words, today's young people have an unquenchable thirst for Christ. It is the thirst of joyful witnesses who have encountered Jesus and have staked their whole life on him. Young people want a Church that is ever alert, ever closer to their needs. They want her to be present in the decisions of life, even if they feel a lingering sense of detachment from the Church herself.... Holy Father, - may I call you "father"? - how difficult it is to live in God, with God and for God. Young people feel threatened on many sides.... So what should be done? How should one act? Is it effectively worthwhile continuing to stake one's life on Christ? Are life, the family, love, joy, justice, respect for the opinions of others, freedom, prayer and charity still values we should defend? Is the blessed life based on the Beatitudes a life suited to human beings, to the young person of the third millennium?... Thank you.

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you for this beautiful witness of a young priest who works with young people, who accompanies them, as you said, and helps them walk with Christ, with Jesus.
What can be said? We all know how difficult it is for a young person today to live as a Christian. The cultural and media context offers very different paths than the one that leads to Christ. It even seems to make it impossible to see Christ as the centre of life and to live life as Jesus showed us.
However, it also seems to me that many are becoming more and more aware of the inadequacy of all that is offered, of this way of life that in the end leaves one empty.

In this regard I think that the readings of today's liturgy, that of Deuteronomy (30: 15-20) and the Gospel passage from Luke (9: 22-25), correspond substantially with what we must say to young people and over and over again to ourselves. As you said, sincerity is fundamental. Young people must feel that we are not saying words we ourselves have not lived, but that we speak because we have found and seek to find anew every day the truth, as a truth for my own life. Only if we have set out in this direction, if we ourselves seek to interiorize this life and to make our lives resemble that of the Lord can our words be credible and have a visible and convincing logic. I repeat: today this is the great fundamental rule, not only for Lent but for the whole of Christian life: choose life. You have before you death and life: choose life. And I think that the answer is natural. There are only a few who in their innermost selves harbour a desire for destruction, for death, for desiring to no longer live because everything has gone wrong for them. Unfortunately, however, this phenomenon is growing. With all the contradictions and false promises, life in the end appears contradictory, no longer as a gift but a condemnation, so there are some who choose death rather than life. But usually, the human being responds: Yes, I choose life.

Yet the question as to how to find life, what to choose, how to choose life remains. And we know what is usually offered: to visit a discothèque, to take as much as possible, to see freedom as doing everything one likes, everything that springs to mind at any given moment. We know instead - and can prove it - that this road is a road of falsehood, for in the end it does not lead to finding life but indeed to the abyss of nothingness. Choose life. The same reading says: God is your life, you have chosen life and have made your choice: God. This seems to me to be fundamental. Only in this way is our horizon sufficiently broad and only in this way are we at the source of life, which is stronger than death, stronger than all death threats. Thus, the fundamental choice is the one pointed out here: choose God. It is essential to understand that those who travel on the road without God find themselves ultimately in darkness, even if there can be moments where they seem to have found life.

Then, a further step is how to find God, how to choose God. Here we come to the Gospel: God is not an unknown Person, a hypothesis perhaps of the very beginning of the cosmos. God is flesh and blood. He is one of us. We know him by his Face, by his Name. He is Jesus Christ who speaks to us in the Gospel. He is both man and God. And being God, he chose man to enable us to choose God. Thus, we must enter into the knowledge of Jesus and then friendship with him in order to walk with him.

I think that this is the fundamental point of our pastoral care for young people, for everyone but especially for the young: to draw attention to the choice of God who is life, to the fact that God exists - and he exists very concretely - and also to teach friendship with Jesus Christ.

There is also a third step. This friendship with Jesus is not a friendship with an unreal person, with someone who belongs to the past or who is distant from human beings, seated at God's right hand. Jesus is present in his Body, which is still a body of flesh and blood: he is the Church, the communion of the Church. We must build and make more accessible communities that reflect, that are the mirror of the great community of the vital Church. She is a whole complex of things: the vital experience of the community with all its human weaknesses but nonetheless real, with a clear path and a solid sacramental life where we can touch even what may seem so remote to us: the Lord's presence. In this way we can also learn the commandments - to return to Deuteronomy, my starting point. For the reading says: choosing God means choosing according to his words, living according to the Word. For a moment this appears almost positivistic: they are imperatives. But the first thing is the gift, it is his friendship. Then we can understand that the road signs are explanations of the reality of our friendship.

This, we can say, is a general vision in which contact with Sacred Scripture and the Church's daily life originates. It is then translated step by step into real encounters with young people: to guide them to dialogue with Jesus in prayer, in reading Sacred Scripture - especially in groups but also on their own - and in sacramental life. All these steps serve to make these experiences present in professional life, even if the context is often marked by the total absence of God and the apparent impossibility of seeing him present. However, it is precisely then, through our lives and our experience of God, that we must also seek to make Christ's presence enter this world far-removed from God.

There is a thirst for God. A short time ago I received the ad limina visit from some Bishops from a country where more than 50 percent of the people declare themselves to be atheists or agnostics. But they said to me: in fact, all are thirsting for God. This hidden thirst exists. Therefore, let us begin first with the young people available. Let us form communities in which the Church is reflected, let us learn friendship with Jesus. In this way, full of this joy and this experience, we can still make God present today in this world of ours.

Fr Pietro Riggi, a Salesian from Don Bosco Boys' Town: Holy Father, I work in an after-school prayer and recreation centre and in a centre for minors at risk. My question is: on 25 March 2007, you spoke extemporaneously complaining how seldom the "last things" are mentioned today. In fact, in the catechisms of the Italian Bishops' Conference used for teaching our faith to children for confession, Communion and confirmation, it seems to me that certain truths of the faith have been omitted. Hell is never mentioned, nor Purgatory, Heaven only once, sin only once and then only original sin. In lacking these essential parts of our belief does it not seem to you that the whole system of logic which leads one to see Christ's Redemption has crumbled? By the absence of any mention of sin, by not speaking of Hell, even Christ's Redemption seems diminished. Do you not think that this has encouraged a loss of the sense of sin, hence, of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and even of the saving, sacramental figure of the priest himself, who has the power to absolve and celebrate in Christ's name? Today, unfortunately, when the Gospel speaks of Hell we priests circumvent even the Gospel. Hell is not mentioned. Or we are unable to talk about Heaven. We cannot speak of eternal life. We risk giving faith a purely horizontal dimension or one where the horizontal is too detached from the vertical. And this unfortunately occurs in catechesis for children, quite apart from the initiatives of parish priests; it lacks a basic structure. If I am not mistaken, this year is also the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. To mark this occasion, would it be possible to consider solemnly renewing this consecration for the whole world?...

Pope Benedict XVI: You correctly spoke of the fundamental themes of the faith which unfortunately rarely appear in our preaching. In the Encyclical Spe Salvi I wanted to speak precisely about the Last Judgement, judgement in general, and in this context also about Purgatory, Hell and Heaven. I think we have all been struck by the Marxist objection that Christians have only spoken of the afterlife and have ignored the earth. Thus, we demonstrate that we are truly committed to our earth and are not people who talk about distant realties, who do not help the earth. Now, although it is right to show that Christians work for the earth - and we are all called to work to make this earth really a city for God and of God - we must not forget the other dimension. Unless we take it into account, we cannot work well for the earth: to show this was one of my fundamental purposes in writing the Encyclical. When one does not know the judgement of God one does not know the possibility of Hell, of the radical and definitive failure of life, one does not know the possibility of and need for purification. Man then fails to work well for the earth because he ultimately loses his criteria, he no longer knows himself - through not knowing God - and destroys the earth. All the great ideologies have promised: we will take things in hand, we will no longer neglect the earth, we will create a new, just, correct and brotherly world. But they destroyed the world instead. We see it with Nazism, we also see it with Communism which promised to build the world as it was supposed to be and instead destroyed it.

In the ad limina visits of Bishops from former Communist countries, I always see anew that in those lands, not only the planet and ecology, but above all and more seriously, souls have been destroyed. Rediscovering the truly human conscience illuminated by God's presence is our first task for the re-edification of the earth. This is the common experience of those countries. The re-edification of the earth, while respecting this planet's cry of suffering, can only be achieved by rediscovering God in the soul with the eyes open to God.

You are therefore right: we must speak of all this precisely because of our responsibility to the earth, to the people who are alive today. We must also speak of sin itself as the possibility of destroying ourselves, hence, also other parts of the world. In the Encyclical I tried to show that it is God's Last Judgement that guarantees justice. We all want a just world. Yet we cannot atone for all the destruction of the past, all the people unjustly tortured and killed. God alone can create justice, which must be justice for all, even for the dead, and as the great Marxist Adorno said, only the resurrection of the body, which he claimed as unreal, would be able to create justice. We believe in this resurrection of the body in which not all will be equal. Today people have become used to thinking: what is sin? God is great, he knows us, so sin does not count; in the end God will be kind to us all. It is a beautiful hope. But both justice and true guilt exist. Those who have destroyed man and the earth cannot suddenly sit down at God's table together with their victims. God creates justice. We must keep this in mind. Therefore, I felt it was important to write this text also about Purgatory, which for me is an obvious truth, so evident and also so necessary and comforting that it could not be absent. I tried to say: perhaps those who have destroyed themselves in this way, who are for ever unredeemable, who no longer possess any elements on which God's love can rest, who no longer have a minimal capacity for loving, may not be so numerous. This would be Hell. On the other hand, those who are so pure that they can enter immediately into God's communion are undoubtedly few - or at any rate not many. A great many of us hope that there is something in us that can be saved, that there may be in us a final desire to serve God and serve human beings, to live in accordance with God. Yet there are so very many wounds, there is so much filth. We need to be prepared, to be purified. This is our hope: even with so much dirt in our souls, in the end the Lord will give us the possibility, he will wash us at last with his goodness that comes from his Cross. In this way he makes us capable of being for him in eternity. And thus Heaven is hope, it is justice brought about at last. He also gives us criteria by which to live, so that this time may be in some way paradise, a first gleam of paradise. Where people live according to these criteria a hint of paradise appears in the world and is visible. It also seems to me to be a demonstration of the truth of faith, of the need to follow the road of the Commandments, of which we must speak further. These really are road signs on our way and show us how to live well, how to choose life. Therefore, we must also speak of sin and of the sacrament of forgiveness and reconciliation. A sincere person knows that he is guilty, that he must start again, that he must be purified. And this is the marvellous reality which the Lord offers us: there is a chance of renewal, of being new. The Lord starts with us again and in this way we can also start again with the others in our life.

This aspect of renewal, of the restitution of our being after so many errors, so many sins, is the great promise, the great gift the Church offers but which psychotherapy, for example, cannot offer. Today, in the face of so many destroyed or seriously injured psyches, psychotherapy is so widespread and also necessary. Yet the possibilities of psychotherapy are very limited: it can only make some sort of effort to restore balance to an unbalanced soul but cannot provide true renewal, the overcoming of these serious diseases of the soul. It is therefore always temporary and never definitive. The Sacrament of Penance gives us the opportunity to be renewed through and through with God's power - ego te absolvo -, which is possible because Christ took these sins, this guilt, upon himself. I think there is a great need of this especially today. We can be healed. Souls that are wounded and ill, as everyone knows by experience, not only need advice but true renewal, which can only come from God's power, from the power of Crucified Love. I feel this is the important connection of the mysteries which in the end truly affect our lives. We must recover them ourselves and so bring them once again within our people's reach.

Fr Massimo Tellan, parish priest of Sant'Enrico: I have been a priest for 15 years and parish priest of Casal Monastero, northern sector, for six years. I believe we all realize that we are living more and more deeply immersed in a world that is culturally inflated by words that are also often devoid of meaning. These words bewilder the human heart to the point that they deafen it to the words of truth. Thus, the Eternal Word who became flesh and took a face in Jesus of Nazareth becomes elusive for many, and especially for the young generations who are inconsistent and distant. There is no doubt that the Word becomes entangled in the plethora of ambiguous and transient images that bombard us daily. Therefore, in teaching the faith, what room should be given to this combination of words to listen to and images to contemplate? What has happened to the art of recounting the faith and introducing people to the mystery, as was done in the past with the biblia pauperum? In our contemporary society of the image, how can we recover the unbridled force of perception that accompanies the mystery of the Incarnation and the encounter with Jesus as it did for John and Andrew on the banks of the Jordan, invited to go and see where the Teacher dwelled? In other words: how is it possible to teach the search for and contemplation of that true beauty which, as Dostoevsky wrote, will save the world? Thank you, Your Holiness for your attention....

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you for this most beautiful gift [presented by the priest to the Pope]. I am grateful that we do not have only words but also images. We see that today too, new images are born from Christian meditation: Christian culture and iconography are reborn. Yes, we are living amid an inflation of words and images. Thus, it is difficult to make room for the word and the image. It seems to me that in the very situation of our world with which we are all familiar and which is also our suffering, the suffering of each individual, the Lenten Season acquires new meaning. Of course, physical fasting - for a certain period considered no longer fashionable - today appears to all as necessary. It is not difficult to understand that we should fast. Moreover, we find ourselves at times facing certain exaggerated forms that are due to a mistaken ideal of beauty. But physical fasting is important in every case because we are body and soul. The discipline of the body, material discipline too, is important for the spiritual life, which is always a life incarnate in a person who is both body and soul.

This is one dimension. Today, other dimensions develop and are manifest. In my opinion, the Season of Lent could also be the time for a fast of words and images. We need a little silence, we need room where we are not constantly bombarded by images. In this regard, making the meaning of the 40 days of external and internal discipline accessible and comprehensible today is very important, to help us understand that one dimension of our Lent, of this physical and spiritual discipline, is creating spaces of silence even without images in order to reopen our hearts to the true image and the true word. I think it is promising that we are also today witnessing a rebirth of Christian art, both of meditative music - such as that born in Taizé, for example - and also, reconnecting with the art of the icon, of a Christian art that endures, let us say, in the great norms of the iconological art of the past but that also extends to today's experience and vision. Wherever there is true and profound meditation on the Word, wherever we truly enter into contemplation of this visibility, this tangibility of God in the world, new images are also born, new possibilities of making the events of salvation visible. The result of the Incarnation event is precisely this. The Old Testament forbade all images and was bound to forbid them in a world peopled by divinities. It lived precisely in the great emptiness which was also represented by the interior of the temple where, in contrast with other temples, there was no image but only the empty throne of the Word, the mysterious presence of the invisible God, preserved by our images.

But then the new step is that this mysterious God liberates us from the inflation of images and from an age filled with images of divinities and gives us the freedom of vision of the essential. God appears with a face, a body, a human history, which is at the same time divine. It is a history that continues in the history of saints, martyrs, saints of charity, of the word, who are always an explanation, a continuation of his divine and human life in the Body of Christ and give us the fundamental images in which - over and above superficial images that conceal reality - we can open our gaze to Truth itself. In this regard I find the iconoclastic period of the post-conciliar years excessive; yet it had a meaning of its own since it may have been necessary to be freed from the superficiality of too many images.

Let us now return to knowledge of the God who was made man. As the Letter to the Ephesians tells us, he is the true image. And in this true image - as well as the appearances that hide the truth - we see Truth itself: "Whoever sees me, sees the Father". In this sense I would say that with great respect and reverence we can rediscover a Christian art and also the essential and important representations of the mystery of God in the Church's iconographic tradition. And thus, we will rediscover the true image concealed beneath appearances. This really is an important duty of Christian education: liberation of the Word from behind words, which always requires new areas of silence, meditation, depth, abstinence and discipline, and likewise education in the true image, that is, in the rediscovery of the great icons created in Christian history: with humility one is freed from superficial images. This type of iconoclasm is always necessary in order to rediscover the image, in other words, the fundamental images which express God's presence in the flesh.

This is a fundamental dimension of education in the faith, in true humanism, which we seek in this season in Rome. We have returned to rediscovering the icon with its very strict rules without the beauty of the Renaissance. Thus, we too can once again resume our journey of the humble rediscovery of the great images, towards an ever new liberation from too many words, too many images, in order to rediscover the essential images we need. God himself has shown us his image and we can rediscover this image by means of a profound meditation on the Word that will regenerate the images.

Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to help us on this journey of true education, of re-education in the faith, which is never only listening but also seeing.

Fr Paul Chungat, parochial vicar of San Giuseppe Cottolengo: My name is Fr Chungat, I am Indian. I am temporarily parochial vicar of San Giuseppe, Valle Aurelia. I would like to thank you for the opportunity you have given me to serve for three years in the Diocese of Rome. It has been a great help to me for my studies, as I believe it is for all student priests who stay on in Rome. The time has now come for me to return to my diocese in India, where Catholics account for only one percent, whereas 99 percent are non-Christians. What has given me much food for thought in the past few days is the situation of missionary evangelization in my Homeland. In the recent Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith there are several words that are not easy to understand in the context of interreligious dialogue. For example, in n. 10, "fullness of salvation", and in the Introduction, "the need for formal incorporation in the Church". These are concepts that it will be difficult to make people understand when I take these things back to India, where I will have to talk to my Hindu friends and to the faithful of other religions. My question is: should "fullness of salvation" be understood in a qualitative or a quantitative sense? In a quantitative sense, it is somewhat difficult. The Second Vatican Council tells us that it is also possible to find a ray of light in other faiths. In a qualitative sense, in addition to the historicity and fullness of the faith, what other things show the oneness of our faith in the context of interreligious dialogue?

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you for your presentation. You know well that the breadth of your questions would require a semester of theology! I shall try to be brief. You know theology, there are great teachers and many books. First of all, thank you for your testimony, for you say you are glad to be able to work in Rome although you are Indian. I find this a marvellous phenomenon of catholicity. Today, not only do missionaries from the West go to other continents, but there is an exchange of gifts: Indians, Africans and South Americans work with us and our people go to the other continents. There is giving and receiving on all sides; precisely this accounts for the vitality of catholicity, where we are all indebted to the gifts of the Lord and are then able to give them to one another. It is in this reciprocity of gifts, of giving and of receiving, that the Catholic Church lives. You can learn from these Western environments and experiences and we in turn can learn. I see that this religious spirit which exists in Asia, as in Africa, surprises Europeans whose faith is all too often somewhat cool. This vivacity, at least of the religious spirit that exists on these continents, is consequently a great gift to all of us, especially to us Bishops of the Western world and in particular of those countries where the phenomenon of immigration is more pronounced, from the Philippines, from India, etc. Our cold Catholicism is revived by this fervour that comes from you. Hence, catholicity is a great gift.

Let us come to the questions you have put to me. I do not have here before me the exact words of the Document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to which you referred, but in any case I would like to say two things. On the one hand, dialogue, mutual knowledge, mutual respect and the effort for all possible forms of collaboration for the great purposes of humanity or for important needs in order to overcome fanaticism and create a spirit of peace and love are absolutely necessary. This is also in the spirit of the Gospel, whose meaning is precisely that the spirit of love which we learned from Jesus, the peace of Jesus which he gave to us through the Cross, may become universally present in the world. In this sense dialogue must be true dialogue with respect for others and with the acceptance of their otherness; yet it must also be evangelical, in the sense that its fundamental purpose is to help people live in love and ensure that this love is extended in every part of the world.

But this most necessary dimension of dialogue, that is, respect for the other, tolerance, cooperation, does not exclude the other dimension: the fact that the Gospel is a great gift, the gift of great love, of great truth, which we cannot only keep to ourselves alone. We must offer it to others, realizing that God gives them the necessary freedom and light to find the truth. This is the truth. And so I too am taking this road. Mission is not imposition but offering God's gift, allowing his goodness to enlighten people so that the gift of actual friendship with the God with a human face may be extended. We therefore want and must always witness to this faith and love that are inherent in our faith. Had we left others on their own and kept the faith we have just for ourselves, we would have neglected a true human and divine duty. We would also be unfaithful to ourselves were we not to offer this faith to the world, even while always respecting the freedom of others. The presence of faith in the world is a positive element, even if it does not convert anyone; it is a reference point.

Exponents of non-Christian religions have said to me: the presence of Christianity is a reference point for us that helps us, even if we do not convert. Let us think of the great figure of Mahatma Gandhi: although he remained firmly bound to his own religion, the Sermon on the Mount was a fundamental reference point for him which shaped his whole life. Thus, the leaven of faith, even if it did not convert him to Christianity, entered his life. It seems to me that this leaven of Christian love which flows from the Gospel - in addition to missionary work that seeks to enlarge the spaces of faith - is a service we render to humanity.

Let us think of St Paul. I recently examined his missionary motivation. I also spoke of it to the Curia at our end-of- the-year Meeting. Paul was moved by the Lord's word in his eschatological discourse. Before any other event, before the return of the Son of Man, the Gospel must be preached to all peoples. A condition for the world to attain perfection, for it to be open to Heaven, is that the Gospel be proclaimed to all. He devoted all his missionary zeal to ensuring that the Gospel reached everyone, possibly already in his generation, in response to the Lord's command "so that it may be announced to all the peoples". His desire was not so much to baptize all peoples as rather that the Gospel, hence, the fulfilment of history as such, be present in the world. I think that by looking at history's progress it is possible today to understand better that this presence of the Word of God, this proclamation which, like leaven, reaches everyone, is necessary in order that the world truly achieve its goal. In this sense, we indeed desire the conversion of all but allow the Lord to be the one who acts. What is important is that those who wish to convert have the possibility to do so and that the Lord's light appears over the world as a reference point for everyone and a light that helps, without which the world cannot find itself. I do not know whether I have explained myself properly: not only do dialogue and mission not exclude each other, but they also help each other.

Fr Alberto Orlando, parochial vicar of Santa Maria Madre della Provvidenza: I would like to describe to you a difficulty seen at Loreto with the young people last year. We had a very lovely day but among the many beautiful things we noticed a certain distance between you and the young people. The afternoon came. We did not manage to find a good place, nor could we see or hear. Then when evening came and you departed we were left at the mercy of television, which in a certain sense exploited us. Young people need warmth. For example, one girl said to me: "The Pope usually calls us "dear young people', whereas today he called us "young friends'". And she was very pleased about this. How can one fail to highlight this detail, this closeness? The television link-up with Loreto was also very cold, very distant; we even experienced some difficulties during prayer time because it was linked to the lights that remained switched off until very late, or at least until the television broadcast was over. The second thing, however, that created certain problems for us was the liturgy of the following day: somewhat heavy, especially with regard to the singing and music. At the time of the Alleluia, to give you an example, one girl remarked that despite the heat, the hymns and music lasted a very long time, almost as if no one cared about the discomfort of all those so tightly packed together in the crowd. And these were young people who go to Mass every Sunday. These are my two questions: How can there be this distance between you and them? And next, how is it possible to reconcile the treasure of the liturgy in all its solemnity with the feeling, affection and emotionality that stir young people and which they so deeply need? I would also like some advice: how can we find the proper balance between solemnity and emotionality?...

Pope Benedict XVI: The first point I have been asked about has to do with the organizational situation: I found it as it was so I do not even know whether it would have been possible to organize it any differently. Considering the thousands of people present, I believe it must have been impossible for every one to be equally close. Indeed, this is why we followed a route with the car, in order to get a little closer to the individual people. Nevertheless, we will remember this and see whether in the future, at other meetings with thousands and thousands of people, it will be at all possible to do something different. Yet, what I feel is important is the growth of a feeling of inner closeness which finds the bridge that unites us even if we are physically distant.

On the other hand, an important problem is created by liturgies with mass participation. I recall that in 1960, during the great International Eucharistic Congress in Munich, an effort was made to give new features to Eucharistic Congresses, which until then had consisted only in acts of adoration. It was desired to make the celebration of the Eucharist the centre of the Congress, as an act of presence of the mystery celebrated. But the question immediately arose as to how this would be possible. Worship, it was said, can also be done at a distance; but celebration requires a set community that can interact with the mystery, hence, a community that must gather round the celebration of the mystery. Many were against the celebration of the Eucharist in public with 100,000 people. They said it was impossible precisely because of the actual structure of the Eucharist, which requires the community for communion. Moreover, those who opposed this solution were important and highly respected figures. It was then that Prof. Jungmann, a great liturgist and one of the important architects of the liturgical reform, created the concept of statio orbis. In other words, he returned to the statio Romae, where during the Season of Lent the faithful gather in one place, the statio: thus, they are in statio like soldiers for Christ and then move forward together to the Eucharist. If this, he said, was the statio of the city of Rome, where the city of Rome gathers, then this is the statio orbis. And from that time on we had Eucharistic celebrations with mass participation. For my part, I have to say, it remains a problem because concrete communion in the celebration is fundamental, and I do not consider that the definitive answer has really been found. I also raised this question during the last Synod but it was not answered. I also had another question asked regarding the concelebration of Mass: why, for example, if 1,000 priests concelebrate, do we not yet know whether this structure was desired by the Lord? But questions arise in every case. And so you were confronted by difficulties in participating in a mass celebration in which it is impossible for all to be equally involved. This requires that a certain style be chosen in order to preserve the dignity that is always a prerequisite of the Eucharist. Thus, the community is not uniform and the experience of participation in the event differs; for some it is certainly inadequate. It did not depend on me but rather on the organizers.
One must reflect carefully, therefore, on what should be done in such situations, on how to respond to the challenges of the situation.

If I am not mistaken, there was an orchestra of handicapped people performing the music and perhaps the idea had been to make people understand that the handicapped can participate in the sacred celebration and that they themselves should not be excluded but rather have a lead role. And thus everyone, by loving them, did not feel excluded but on the contrary involved. I think this is a very respectable thought and I share it. Of course, the fundamental problem still remains. But it seems to me that here too, knowing what the Eucharist is, even if there is no possibility for an external activity as would be desirable in order to feel that one shares in it, one still enters into it with the heart, as the ancient imperative in the Church says, created perhaps for those very people at the back of the basilica: "Lift up your hearts! Let us now all emerge from ourselves, so that we are all with the Lord and are all together". As I said, I do not deny the problem; but if we truly obey these words, "Lift up our hearts", even in difficult and at times questionable situations, we can all find true and active participation.

Mons. Renzo Martinelli, Delegate of the Pontifical Academy of Mary Immaculate: Holy Father,... returning to the problem of the educational emergency, this is my question: you recently said to the Bishops of Slovenia, "If, for example, man conceives of himself, in accordance with a trend that is widespread today, in an individualistic manner, how can the effort to build a just and supportive community be justified?". I entered the seminary at the age of 11 and was educated more or less with a mentality in which there was my "I", and next to my "I" was another "I", a little more moralistic to be conformed to Christ, and in the end my freedom was as it were managed as that of a slave, as slavery, as you say in your book Jesus of Nazareth when you comment on the elder brother of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. And all this creates separation. How, on the other hand, should we propose to young people what you have always insisted upon: that once the Christian's self is invested in Christ it is no longer his. The Christian's identity, you said very profoundly in Verona, is no longer the "I", since the subject is one with Christ. How can we propose this conversion, Your Holiness, this Christian originality of being communion which effectively proposes the newness of the Christian experience?

Pope Benedict XVI: This is the great question that every priest responsible for others asks himself every day. For himself too, of course. It is true that in the 20th century there was a tendency for individualistic devotion, especially for the purpose of saving one's own soul and creating calculable merits that on some lists could even be indicated with numbers. And there is no doubt that the entire movement of the Second Vatican Council desired to overcome this individualism.

I do not wish here to judge these past generations, who still in their own way sought, through this way, to serve others. Yet in this context was the danger of desiring primarily to save one's own soul. This was followed by making piety extrinsic, so that in the end, it found faith a burden rather than a liberation. Moreover, it was certainly a fundamental desire of the new pastoral approach determined by the Second Vatican Council to leave this excessively narrow vision of Christianity in order to discover that I save my soul only by giving it, as the Lord told us today in the Gospel: it is only by freeing myself from myself, by coming out of myself, as God did in the Son who came out of God himself to save us. And we enter this movement of the Son, we seek to emerge from ourselves because we know where to go. And we do not fall into the void but leave ourselves, abandoning ourselves in the Lord, emerging, putting ourselves at his disposal, as he desires and not as we think.

This is true Christian obedience, which is freedom: not as I want, with my own plan of life for myself, but in putting myself at his disposal so that he will make use of me. And in placing myself in his hands I am free. But it is a great leap that is never made once and for all. Here I am thinking of St Augustine, who so often told us this. Initially, after his conversion, Augustine believed he had reached the summit and that he would live in the paradise of the newness of being Christian. He then discovered that life's gruelling journey continued, although from that moment it was always in God's light, and that it was necessary to renew this leap out of oneself every day, necessary to give this "I" so that it might die and be renewed in the great "I" of Christ, which is in a certainly very true way the common "I" of us all, it is our "we".

Yet I would say that it is precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist - this great and profound encounter with the Lord in which I let myself fall into his hands - that we ourselves must take this great step. The better we learn it the better we can express it to others and make it comprehensible and accessible to them. It is only by walking with the Lord, by abandoning myself to his openness in the communion of the Church and not by living for myself - either for a happy earthly life or even only for personal bliss - but by making myself an instrument of his peace that I live well and learn this courage in the face of today's ever new and serious, sometimes almost impossible, challenges.
I leave myself because you desire it and I am sure that in this way I shall make good progress. We can only pray to the Lord to help us make this journey daily, thereby to help guide others, to motivate them so that they may be liberated and redeemed.

Fr Paolo Tammi, parish priest of San Pio X, religion teacher: I would like to offer you only one of many "thank yous" for the effort and passion with which you wrote your book on Jesus of Nazareth, a text that, as you yourself said, is in no way an exercise of the Magisterium but solely an expression of your personal search for God's Face.... I ask you: how can a priest's life stir up ever greater passion for the essential, which is the Bridegroom Jesus? And further: how can one tell if a priest is in love with Jesus? I know, Your Holiness, that you have already answered this several times, but it is certain that your answer will help us to correct ourselves and restore our hope. I ask you to answer it again, here with your priests.

Pope Benedict XVI: How can I correct parish priests who work so well! We can only help one another. Thus, you are familiar with this secular context with its distance from the faith that is not only intellectual but especially emotional. And according to the circumstances, we must seek the way to build bridges. I think situations are difficult, but you are right. We must always think: what is the essential, even if later the point on which one can graft the kerygma, the context, the way of behaving, may well be different. But the question must always be: what is the essential? What must be discovered? What do I want to give? And here I continue to repeat: the essential is God. If we do not speak of God, if God is not discovered, we always remain with secondary things. Thus, it would seem to me to be fundamental that at least the question, "does God exist?" be asked. And "how can I live without God?", "is God truly an important reality for me?".

I continue to be impressed that the First Vatican Council wished to establish this dialogue, to understand God with reason - even though in the historical situation in which we are living we need God to help us and purify our reason. It seems to me that an effort is already being made to respond to this challenge of the secular environment with God as the fundamental question, and then with Jesus Christ, as God's response. I would say that there are, of course, the preambula fidei, which are perhaps the first step to opening the heart and mind to God: the natural virtues. I recently received the visit of a Head of State who said to me: I am not religious, the foundation of my life is Aristotelian ethics. This is already something very good and we are already with St Thomas, on our way towards Thomas' synthesis. This can therefore be a link: learning and explaining the importance for human coexistence of this rational ethic which is then inwardly opened - if consequently lived - to God's question, to responsibility before God.

Thus, it seems to me that on the one hand we must have clearly in mind what the essential is that we want and must transmit to others, and what are the preambula in situations in which we can take the first steps. Of course, a certain preliminary ethical education is a basic step even today. This is also what ancient Christianity did. Cyprian, for example, tells us that first his life was totally dissolute; then, living in the catechumenal community, he learned a fundamental ethic and thus, the way to God unfolded before him. And at the Easter Vigil St Ambrose said: so far we have spoken of morals, now we come to the mysteries. They had made the journey of the preambula fidei with a fundamental ethical education that created the readiness to understand God's mystery. Therefore, I would say that perhaps we should bring about an interaction between ethical education - so important today -, on the one hand, even with its pragmatic evidence, and at the same time, not omit the question of God. And in this interpenetration of two routes I think that perhaps we may succeed a little in opening ourselves to the God who alone can give light.

Fr Daniele Salera, parochial vicar at Santa Maria Madre del Redentore in Tor Bella Monaca, religion teacher: Your Holiness, I have been a priest for six years and am parochial vicar at Tor Bella Monaca where I teach religion. In reading your Letter on the urgent task of education, I noted certain aspects I find significant.... I perceive real missionary concern in many of the people with whom I work at Tor Bella Monaca. On different but converging paths we are battling against the crisis of hope that is always lurking round the corner when one is dealing daily with boys and girls who seem dead inside, who have no desires for the future or are so deeply engrossed in evil that they do not manage to see the good desired for them or the opportunities of freedom and redemption which nonetheless exist on their path. In the face of this human emergency, there is no room for division.... I thus observe that it is true: so many educators are giving up ethics in the name of an emotionality that provides no certainty and creates dependence. Others are afraid to defend the rules of civil coexistence because they think they do not give the reason for the needs, difficulties and identities of young people. To use a slogan, I would say that at an educational level we live in a culture of the "always yes" and "never no". Yet it is the "no", said with loving passion for the human being and his future, that often defines the boundary between good and evil; a boundary that in the age of evolution is fundamental for building sound personal identities.... I ask myself why we, the Church, who have written, thought and experienced so much concerning education, such as formation in the right use of freedom, do not succeed in passing on this educational goal? Why do we appear on the whole to be so little liberated and liberating?

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you for this mirror of your experiences in a school today, with young people of today, and also for your probing questions for us. At this time, I can only confirm that it seems to me to be very important that the Church is also present in schools, because an education that is not at the same time also an education with God and with God's presence, an education that does not transmit the important ethical values that appeared in Christ's light, is not an education.
Professional training without the training of the heart never suffices. And the heart cannot be formed without at least the challenge of God's presence. We know that many young people live in milieus, in situations that make the light and Word of God inaccessible to them; they are in living conditions that constitute true slavery; and this is not only external, since it gives rise to an intellectual slavery that truly clouds the heart and the mind. Let us seek with all the possibilities available to the Church to also offer them the possibility of a way out. But in any case, let us ensure that the Word of God is present in this variegated school context - where one goes from believers to people in the saddest of situations. We said exactly this of St Paul, who desired to take the Gospel to everyone. This imperative of the Lord - the Gospel must be proclaimed to all - is not a diachronic imperative, it is not a continental imperative to whose proclamation prominence is given; rather, it is an inner imperative, in the sense that it penetrates various nuances and dimensions of society in order to make at least a ray of Gospel light more accessible, to ensure that the Gospel is truly proclaimed to all.

In my opinion, this is also an aspect of contemporary cultural formation: knowing what is the Christian faith which shaped this continent and is a light for all continents. The ways in which it is possible to make this light most present and accessible differ, and I know I have no recipe for it; but the need to embark on this beautiful and difficult adventure is really an element of the imperative of the Gospel itself. Let us pray that the Lord will increasingly help us to respond to this imperative to bring knowledge of him, knowledge of his Face, to our society in all its dimensions.

Fr Umberto Fanfarillo, parish priest of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere: Holy Father, I am a Conventual Franciscan and parish priest of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere. Together with the Christian community in the parish, I am eager to point out a conspicuous if not deeply-rooted presence of other religious contexts. We encounter them daily with reciprocal esteem, knowledge and respectful coexistence. I can list in this substantial positiveness of intentions the commitment of the Accademia dei Lincei, of the John Cabot American University, with more than 800 students from about 60 countries and with religious backgrounds that range from Catholic to Lutheran and from Jewish to Muslim. It is precisely these young people who, on the death of John Paul II, gathered in prayer in our Church.... In the parish territory, the Peter Pan House takes in sick children with tumours and is connected with the Bambino Gesù Hospital. Here too, the interreligious aspect achieves very exalted moments of charity and religious attention to our sick and needy brethren. We find a similar situation and respectful encounters among the different religions contained in Regina Coeli Prison, again in the parish territory. Holy Father, we are all seeking new and more balanced attitudes of knowledge and respect. We have always appreciated your talks, filled with respect and dialogue, in the quest for the truth. Please help us once again with your words!

Pope Benedict XVI: Thank you for your testimony of a truly multidimensional and multicultural parish. It seems to me that you have somewhat concretized what was discussed earlier with our Indian brother: the whole picture that consists of dialogue, respectful coexistence, respect for one another, acceptance of one another as they are in their otherness, in their communion.

And at the same time, the presence of Christianity, of the Christian faith as a reference point to which all can turn their gaze, as a leaven which, while respecting freedom, is nevertheless a light for all. Moreover, it unites us precisely through respect for our differences. Let us hope that the Lord will always help us in this regard to accept the other in his otherness, to respect him and to make Christ present in the act of love, which is the true expression of his presence and words. And may he thus help us to be truly ministers of Christ and of his salvation for the world. Thank you.


Dear Brothers in the Episcopate

It fills me with joy to receive you at the conclusion of your ad limina visit, which gives me the opportunity to greet you all together and to encourage you in hope, so necessary for the ministry entrusted to you and which you generously exercise. I am grateful for the words of Bishop José Francisco Ulloa Rojas of Cartago, President of your Bishops' Conference, expressing the challenges and hopes you encounter in your pastoral duties as well as your closeness and strict communion with the Bishop of Rome, the See "in which the primacy of the Apostolic See ever resides" (St Augustine, Ep 43, 3, 7).

For some of you, recently appointed to the Episcopal College, this may represent a new encounter, while for others the particular Churches they carry in their hearts are new and the face of the Successor of Peter is new to you all as well. This newness can also contribute to endowing with greater intensity the purpose of this visit that includes the renewal before the tombs of Sts Peter and Paul of your faith in Jesus Christ, passed down by the Apostles and which, as their successors, it is your duty to preserve. At the same time, our meeting must help revive your "solicitude for all the Church" (Lumen Gentium LG 23), and thereby also contribute to expanding the hearts of all believers with the perspective of universality proper to the Christian message.

You have before you the task of seeking new ways of proclaiming Christ in the midst of a situation of rapid and often profound transformation, highlighting the missionary character of all pastoral activity. In this regard, the recent Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences, celebrated in Aparecida, stressed that welcoming and making their own the Gospel message is something for which every person and each generation are responsible in the different circumstances and stages of their lives.

The Costa Rican People also constantly need to revitalize their ancient and deep Christian roots, their vigorous popular piety and beloved Marian devotion, so that they produce the fruits of a life worthy of disciples of Jesus, nourished by prayer and the sacraments, by consistency in daily life, by faith professed and by commitment to take an active part in the mission to "open... the world and allow God to enter, and so open it to truth, to love and to what is good" (cf. Spe Salvi ).

The Lord has been generous with his vineyard in Costa Rica, where a large number of priests are the Bishops' most important collaborators in his pastoral ministry. For this reason they require further guidelines and clear criteria, on-going formation and support in the exercise of their ministry and the closeness that befits "sons and friends" (Lumen Gentium LG 28), which touches their hearts while it intensifies their efforts, helps them in their difficulties and, if necessary, corrects and remedies possible situations that might tarnish the image of the priest and of the Church herself.

This great patrimony of every particular Church is preserved and complemented by painstaking attention to seminarians, whose suitability demands rigorous discernment. Moreover, an abstract and formal formation is not adequate to prepare them to live in the first person the Apostle's words: "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1Jn 1,3). In addition, it is a perspective that can inspire in young people enthusiasm for Jesus and his saving mission, giving birth to a heartfelt desire to take part in it as priests and consecrated people.

Dear Bishops, you know well the risks of a life of listless and superficial faith when it meets decoys such as the proselytism of the sects or of pseudo-religious groups, the multitude of promises of easy and instant well-being that end in disillusion and disappointment or the spread of ideologies which, while they claim to exalt the human person, in reality trivialize him. In such a situation the announcement: "Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God - God who has loved us and who continues to love us" (cf. Spe Salvi ) acquires incalculable value.

By their vocation men and women religious and consecrated persons are called first and foremost to be a sign of "the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history" (Vita Consecrata VC 1). They are thus especially responsible for bearing a lively witness to this hope which uplifts the soul and is a source of strength in the vicissitudes of human life. For this reason they are a precious gift to the Church "as a decisive element for her mission, since it "manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling'" (ibid., n. 3), and so we must thank the Lord for their presence in every particular Church.

The lay faithful are also responsible for taking part in this mission in accordance with their specific vocation. It is, moreover, beautiful to observe their effective collaboration in preserving and spreading faith's call through catechesis and cooperation with the parishes and the various pastoral organizations of the diocese. Lay people certainly deserve the gratitude, encouragement and constant attention of their Pastors in order that they constantly and systematically receive a sound Christian formation, also taking into account that it is they who are called to bring Christian values to the diverse sectors of society and to the world of work and of civil or political coexistence. In fact, the temporal order is one of their obligatory concerns (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem AA 7), and "the mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility" (Deus Caritas Est ).

With regard to community catechists and animators, it is right in particular to remember the need to accompany the transmission of correct doctrine with personal witness, the firm commitment to live in accordance with the Lord's commands, and with a vigorous experience of being faithful and active members of the Church. Indeed, this example of life is vital if the instruction is not to remain no more than a mere transmission of theoretical knowledge about God's mysteries, but rather to lead to adopting a Christian way of life. It was already crucial in the ancient Church in order to discern whether the catechumens "had properly completed their catechumenate, had honoured the widows, visited the sick and done good works" (Traditio Apostolica, n. 20).

You are justifiably concerned about the constant deterioration of the family institution with grave repercussions both on the social structure and on ecclesial life. In this regard it is necessary to promote the good of the family, to defend its rights in the appropriate institutions and to develop a pastoral viewpoint that protects it and provides direct help in difficulty. Thus, adequate pre-matrimonial catechesis is of paramount importance, as well as daily closeness that brings encouragement to each home and makes Jesus' greeting ring out in it: "Today, salvation has come to this house" (Lc 19,9). Do not forget the groups of married couples and families who must help one another to achieve their lofty and indispensable vocation, or the specific services that alleviate the painful situations created by the separation of husband and wife, by a precarious financial situation or by domestic violence whose victims are above all women.

At the end of this meeting, I would like to assure you of my special closeness together with my prayers to the Lord for your ministry. I ask you to convey my affection to your faithful and most especially to the priests, religious communities and consecrated people, as well as to the catechists and to all who are involved in the gripping task of taking Christ's light to this blessed Land of Costa Rica and keeping it alive.

I ask the Virgin Mary Most Holy, invoked by Costa Ricans with the title "Our Lady of the Angels", to protect her children in this beloved Nation and bring them tenderly to know and love her divine Son increasingly. To them and you, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is a true pleasure to welcome and greet all of you taking part at the international convention on the theme: "Woman and Man, the Humanum in Its Entirety", organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem. I greet Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and I am grateful to him for expressing your common sentiments. I greet the Secretary, Bishop Josef Clemens, and the members and staff of the Dicastery. In particular I greet the women, who are the great majority of those present and who have enriched the Congress' work with their experience and competence.

The theme upon which you have been reflecting is highly topical: from the second half of the 20th century up to today the movement for the improvement of women in the various aspects of social life has given rise to countless reflections and debates, and has seen many initiatives multiply which the Catholic Church has often watched with close attention. The man-woman relationship in its respective specificity, reciprocity and complementarity certainly constitutes a central point of the "anthropological question", so decisive in contemporary culture and ultimately for every culture. Numerous events and Pontifical Documents have touched upon the emerging reality of the feminine question. I limit myself to recalling those of my beloved Predecessor John Paul II, who, in June of 1995, wished to write a Letter to Women, while on 15 August 1988, 20 years ago this year, published the Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem. This text on the vocation and dignity of women, of great theological, spiritual and cultural richness, in its turn has inspired the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In Mulieris Dignitatem, John Paul II wished to deepen the fundamental anthropological truths of man and woman, the equality of their dignity and the unity of both, the well-rooted and profound diversity between the masculine and the feminine and their vocation to reciprocity and complementarity, to collaboration and to communion (cf. n. 6). This "uni-duality" of man and woman is based on the foundation of the dignity of every person created in the image and likeness of God, who "male and female he created them" (Gn 1,27), avoiding an indistinct uniformity and a dull and impoverishing equality as much as an irreconcilable and conflictual difference (cf. John Paul II, Letter to Women, n. 8). This dual unity brings with it, inscribed in body and soul, the relationship with the other, love for the other, interpersonal communion that implies "that the creation of man is also marked by a certain likeness to the divine communion" (Mulieris dignitatem MD 7). Therefore, when men and women demand to be autonomous and totally self-sufficient, they run the risk of being closed in a self-reliance that considers ignoring every natural, social or religious bond as an expression of freedom, but which, in fact, reduces them to an oppressive solitude. To promote and sustain the real advancement of women and men one cannot fail to take this reality into account.

A renewed anthropological study is certainly necessary based on the great Christian tradition, which incorporates new scientific advances and, given today's cultural sensitivity, in this way contributes to deepening not only the feminine identity but also the masculine, which is often the object of partial and ideological reflections. Faced with cultural and political trends that seek to eliminate, or at least cloud and confuse, the sexual differences inscribed in human nature, considering them a cultural construct, it is necessary to recall God's design that created the human being masculine and feminine, with a unity and at the same time an original difference and complimentary. Human nature and the cultural dimension are integrated in an ample and complex process that constitutes the formation on one's own identity, where both dimensions, that of the feminine and that of the masculine, correspond to and complete each other.

Opening the work of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences in May of last year in Brazil, I was able to recall how a masculine mentality still persists that ignores the novelty of Christianity, which recognizes and proclaims that men and women share equal dignity and responsibility. There are places and cultures where women are discriminated against or undervalued for the sole fact of being women, where recourse is made even to religious arguments and family, social and cultural pressure in order to maintain the inequality of the sexes, where acts of violence are consummated in regard to women, making them the object of mistreatment and of exploitation in advertising and in the consumer and entertainment industry. Faced with such grave and persistent phenomena the Christian commitment appears all the more urgent so that everywhere it may promote a culture that recognizes the dignity that belongs to women, in law and in concrete reality.

God entrusts to women and men, according to their respective capacities, a specific vocation and mission in the Church and in the world. Here I am thinking of the family, a community of love open to life, the fundamental cell of society. In it the woman and the man, thanks to the gift of maternity and paternity, together carry out an irreplaceable role in regard to life. Children from their conception have the right to be able to count on their father and mother to take care of them and to accompany their growth. The State, for its part, must uphold with appropriate social policies everything that promotes the stability and unity of matrimony, the dignity and responsibility of couples, their rights and irreplaceable duty as educators of their children. Besides, it is necessary to enable the woman to collaborate in the building of society, appreciating her typical "feminine genius".

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you once again for coming and, while I wish the Convention's work may be successful, I assure you of a remembrance in prayer, invoking the maternal intercession of Mary, that she may help the women of our time to carry out their vocation and their mission in the ecclesial and civil community. With these wishes, I impart to you present here and to those dear to you, a special Apostolic Blessing.


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

I am please to meet you at the conclusion of the National Assembly of the Italian Federation of Spiritual Exercises (FIES). I greet the President, Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, and I thank him for the kinds words with which he conveyed your sentiments. I greet the Bishops, Delegates of the Regional Bishops' Conferences, Members of the Board and the National Council, the Regional and Diocesan Delegates, the Directors of some Retreat Centres and the leaders of Retreats for young people. The theme of your Assembly: "For an authentically Eucharistic Christian spirituality", you have taken from my invitation addressed to all the Church's Pastors at the conclusion of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (cf. n. 94), which has been at the centre of the various presentations and study groups. This theme's choice shows how you take to heart and accept, in a spirit of faith, the Pope's Magisterium in order to integrate it into your study initiatives and to correctly translate it into pastoral praxis. For this same reason, in your work you have kept in mind the two Encyclicals Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi.

The FIES Statute clearly states that its goal is to "make known and promote Spiritual Exercises in all possible ways, and with respect to their canonical norms, understood as a strong experience of God, in a climate of listening to the Word of God, to foster conversion and an ever more complete giving to Christ and to the Church" (art. 2). This is why it "freely unites its adherents in Italy, who practise the Spiritual Exercises in the context of the pastoral work of the times of the Spirit" (ibid.). Your Federation therefore intends to increase spirituality as the foundation and soul of all pastoral care. It is born and grows by treasuring the Exhortations on the necessity of prayer and the primacy of the spiritual life continually offered by my venerable Predecessors, the Servants of God Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. Following in their footsteps, I too wished, in the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, "to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable works" (n. 37), and in Spe Salvi I placed prayer first among the ""settings' for learning and practising hope" (cf. nn. 32-34). Indeed, insistence on the necessity of prayer is always timely and urgent.

In Italy, while multiple spiritual initiatives providentially increase and spread primarily among youth, it seems instead that the number of those who participate in true courses of Spiritual Exercises decreases, and this can also be verified among priests and members of Institutes of Consecrated Life. It is thus worth remembering that "Retreats" are an experience of the spirit with proper and specific characteristics, well summarized in one of your definitions which I gladly recall: "A strong experience of God, awakened by listening to his Word, understood and welcomed in one's personal life, under the action of the Holy Spirit, which, in a climate of silence, prayer and by means of a spiritual guide, offer the capacity of discernment in order to purify the heart, convert one's life, follow Christ and fulfil one's own mission in the Church and in the world". Along with other forms of spiritual retreat it is good that participation in the Spiritual Exercises does not slacken, characterized by that climate of complete and profound silence which favours the personal and communitarian encounter with God and the contemplation of the Face of Christ. My Predecessors and I myself have returned to this point several times, and it can never be insisted upon enough.

In an age when the influence of secularization is always more powerful and, on the other hand, one senses a diffused need to encounter God, may the possibility to offer spaces for intense listening to his Word in silence and prayer always be available. Houses of Spiritual Exercises are especially privileged places for this spiritual experience, and they thus must be materially maintained and staffed by competent personnel. I encourage the Pastors of the various communities to be concerned with this so that Houses of Spiritual Exercises never lack responsible and well-formed workers, guides and leaders who are open and prepared, gifted with those doctrinal and spiritual qualities that make them true teachers of spirituality, experts and lovers of God's Word and faithful to the Church's Magisterium. A good course of Spiritual Exercises contributes to renewing in those who participate in it a joy of and taste for the Liturgy, in particular of the dignified celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours and above all, the Eucharist. It helps one rediscover the importance of the Sacrament of Penance, it opens the way to conversion and the gift of reconciliation, as well as to the value and meaning of Eucharistic Adoration. The full and authentic sense of the Holy Rosary and of the pious practice of the Way of the Cross can also be beneficially recovered during the Exercises.

Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for the precious service that you render to the Church and for the commitment you extend so that in Italy the "network" of Spiritual Exercises is always more widespread and qualified. On my part I assure you of a remembrance to the Lord, while, invoking the intercession of Mary Most Holy, I impart the Apostolic Blessing to all of you and to your collaborators.
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