Speeches 2005-13 134
Good Friday, 21 March 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This year we have also walked along the Way of the Cross, the Via Crucis, evoking again with faith the stages of Christ's Passion. Our eyes have seen again the sufferings and anguish that our Redeemer had to bear in the hour of great sorrow, which marked the climax of his earthly mission.
Jesus dies on the Cross and lies in the tomb. The day of Good Friday, so permeated by human sadness and religious silence, closes in the silence of meditation and prayer. In returning home, we too, like those who were present at the sacrifice of Jesus, "beat our breasts", recalling what happened (cf. Lc 23,48). Is it possible to remain indifferent before the death of God? For us, for our salvation he became man and died on the Cross.
Brothers and sisters, our gaze is frequently distracted by scattered and passing earthly interests; let us direct our gaze today toward Christ. Let us pause to contemplate his Cross. The Cross is the source of immortal life, the school of justice and peace, the universal patrimony of pardon and mercy. It is permanent proof of an oblative and infinite love that brought God to become man, vulnerable like us, even to dying crucified. His nailed arms are open to each human being and they invite us to draw near to him, certain that he accepts us and clasps us in an embrace of infinite tenderness: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12,32).
Through the sorrowful Way of the Cross, the men and women of all ages, reconciled and redeemed by Christ's Blood, have become friends of God, sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father. "Friend" is what Jesus calls Judas and he offers him the last and dramatic call to conversion. He calls each of us friend because he is the true friend of everyone. Unfortunately, we do not always manage to perceive the depth of this limitless love that God has for his creatures. For him there is no distinction of race or culture. Jesus Christ died to liberate the whole of humanity from ignorance of God, from the circle of hate and vengeance, from the slavery to sin. The Cross makes us brothers and sisters.
Let us ask ourselves: but what have we done with this gift? What have we done with the revelation of the Face of God in Christ, with the revelation of God's love that conquers hate. Many, in our age as well, do not know God and cannot find him in the crucified Christ. Many are in search of a love or a liberty that excludes God. Many believe they have no need of God. Dear friends: After having lived together Jesus' Passion, let us this evening allow his sacrifice on the Cross to question us. Let us permit him to put our human certainties in crisis. Let us open our hearts to him. Jesus is the truth that makes us free to love. Let us not be afraid: upon dying, the Lord saved sinners, that is, all of us. The Apostle Peter wrote: Jesus "himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1P 2,24). This is the truth of Good Friday: on the Cross, the Redeemer has restored to us the dignity that belongs to us, has made us adoptive sons and daughters of God whom he has created in his image and likeness. Let us remain, then, in adoration before the Cross. O Christ, crucified King, give us true knowledge of you, the joy for which we yearn, the love that fills our heart, thirsty for the infinite. This is our prayer for this evening, Jesus, Son of God, who died for us on the Cross and was raised up on the third day.
Dear Members of the General Chapter of the Salesian Congregation,
I am pleased to meet you today as your Chapter is now reaching its conclusion. I first of all thank Fr Pascual Chávez Villanueva, Rector Major, for the sentiments he has expressed on behalf of you all, confirming the Congregation's will to work with the Church and for the Church always, in full harmony with the Successor of Peter. I thank him too for the generous service he has carried out in the past six years and offer him my good wishes for his recent renewal in office. I also greet the members of the new General Council who will help the Rector Major in his task of animation and in the governance of your whole Congregation.
In the Message I addressed to the Rector Major at the beginning of the Chapter, and through him to you, the Chapter Members, I expressed certain expectations that the Church has of you Salesians and I also offered several ideas for the progress of your Congregation. Today, I intend to take up again and examine some of these recommendations in the light of the work you are doing. Your 26th Chapter is being celebrated in a period of great social, economic and political change, of heightened ethical, cultural and environmental problems and unresolved conflicts between races and nations. Moreover, in our time, communication between peoples is more intense, there are new opportunities for knowledge and dialogue and a livelier exchange on the spiritual values that give meaning to life. In particular, the appeals young people make to us and especially their questions about the fundamental problems are linked to their intense longing for a full life, authentic love and constructive freedom. They are situations that test the Church and her ability to proclaim Christ's Gospel today with its promise full of hope. I therefore warmly hope that the entire Salesian Congregation, thanks to the results of your General Chapter, may live with renewed dynamism and fervour the mission for which, through the maternal intervention of Mary, Help of Christians, the Holy Spirit brought it into being in the Church. I want today to encourage you and all Salesians to continue on the path of this mission in full fidelity to your original charism, already in the context of the upcoming second centenary of Don Bosco's birth.
With the theme "Give me souls, take away all else", your General Chapter's aim was to revive apostolic zeal in every Salesian and throughout the Congregation. This will help give Salesians a better defined profile so that they may become increasingly aware of their identity as people consecrated "for the glory of God" and increasingly on fire with pastoral zeal "for the salvation of souls". Don Bosco wanted the choice of consecrated life to guarantee the continuity of his charism in the Church. Today too, the Salesian movement can only grow in fidelity to its charism if a strong and vital nucleus of consecrated people continues to form its core. Thus, in order to strengthen the identity of the Congregation as a whole your first commitment consists in reinforcing the vocation of each Salesian so that he may live in full fidelity to his call to the consecrated life. The entire Congregation must strive to be ceaselessly "a living memorial of Jesus' way of living and acting as the Incarnate Word in relation to the Father and in relation to the brethren" (Vita Consecrata VC 22). May Christ be the centre of your lives! It is necessary to let oneself be seized by him and to start out afresh from him always. May everything else be counted "as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus" and as "refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Ph 3,8). It is here that ardent love for the Lord Jesus is born, the aspiration to identify oneself with him, assuming his sentiments and way of life, trusting abandonment in the Father and dedication to the evangelizing mission that must characterize every Salesian: he must feel chosen to follow the obedient, poor and chaste Christ in conformity with Don Bosco's teaching and example.
The secularization process gaining ground in contemporary culture unfortunately does not spare even communities of consecrated life. For this reason it is necessary to watch over forms and lifestyles that risk weakening Gospel witness as well as rendering pastoral action ineffective and the vocational response fragile. I therefore ask you to help your confreres preserve and revive their faithfulness to the call. Jesus' prayer to the Father before his Passion, asking that he keep in his name all the disciples that he had given him and that none of them be lost (cf. Jn 17,11-12), is particularly appropriate for vocations of special consecration. "The spiritual life must therefore have first place in the programme" of your Congregation (Vita Consecrata VC 93). May the Word of God and the Liturgy be sources of Salesian spirituality! In particular, may lectio divina, practised daily by every Salesian, and the Eucharist celebrated every day in the community, nourish and support Salesian spirituality! From this will be born the authentic spirituality of apostolic dedication and ecclesial communion. The flourishing of your Congregation will be guaranteed by fidelity to the Gospel lived sine glossa and to your Rule of Life, particularly an austere way of life and Gospel poverty practised consistently, with faithful love for the Church and the generous gift of yourselves to youth, especially the neediest and most disadvantaged.
Don Bosco is a shining example of a life marked by apostolic zeal, lived at the service of the Church in the Congregation and in the Salesian Family. At the school of St Joseph Cafasso, your Founder learned to make his own the motto "Give me souls, take away all else", as the synthesis of a model of pastoral action inspired by the figure and spirituality of St Francis de Sales. This model fits into the horizon of the absolute primacy of God's love, a love that succeeds in shaping passionate personalities eager to contribute to Christ's mission to set the whole earth ablaze with the fire of his love (cf. Lc 12,49). Besides the ardour of God's love, another characteristic of the Salesian model is awareness of the inestimable value of "souls". This perception by contrast generates an acute sense of sin and its devastating consequences in time and in eternity. The apostle is called to cooperate with the Saviour's redeeming action in order that no one be lost. "Saving souls", precisely as St Peter said, was thus Don Bosco's raison d'être. His immediate successor, Bl. Michele Rua, summed up the life of your beloved Father and Founder in these words: "He did not give way, he did not speak, did not turn his hand to any task that did not aim at the salvation of young people.... He truly had only their souls at heart".
This is what Bl. Michele Rua said of Don Bosco. Today, it is also urgently necessary to nourish this passion in every Salesian's heart. Thus, he will not hesitate to venture daringly into the most difficult milieus of evangelizing action for young people, especially for those who are materially and spiritually the poorest. He will have the patience and courage even to propose to young people that they live in total dedication in consecrated life. He will have an open mind in order to identify the new needs of young people and listen to their prayers for help, possibly leaving to others areas that have already been consolidated by pastoral interventions. For this reason the Salesian will face the totalizing demands of the mission with a simple, poor and austere life, sharing the living conditions of the poorest of the poor, and will have the joy of giving more to those who have received less in their lives. May his apostolic enthusiasm become so contagious that others also catch it. The Salesian thus becomes a champion of what the apostolate means, helping first of all young people to know and love the Lord Jesus, to let themselves be fascinated by him, to cultivate evangelizing commitment, to love their own peers, to be apostles to other young people like St Dominic Savio, Bl. Laura Vicuña and Bl. Zepherin Namuncurà and the five young Blessed Martyrs of the Oratory of Poznan. Dear Salesians, may you be committed to forming lay people with apostolic hearts, inviting them all to walk in the holiness of life that develops courageous disciples and authentic apostles.
In the Message I addressed to the Rector Major at the beginning of your General Chapter, I wished to present in spirit to all Salesians the Letter I recently sent to the faithful of Rome concerning the anxiety about what I called a great educational emergency. "Educating has never been an easy undertaking and seems to be becoming increasingly difficult today; thus, many parents and teachers are tempted to give up their task and do not even succeed in understanding what the mission entrusted to them truly is. Indeed, too many uncertainties, too many doubts are circulating in our society and our culture, too many distorted images are transmitted by the media. It thus becomes difficult to propose to the new generations something valid and reliable, rules of conduct and worthwhile objectives to which to devote one's life" (Address at the Presentation of a Letter on "The Urgent Task of Education", 23 February 2008). Actually, the most serious aspect of the educational crisis is the sense of discouragement that overcomes many educators, parents and teachers in particular as they face the difficulties of their task today. I therefore wrote in the Letter cited: "The soul of education, as of the whole of life, can only be a dependable hope. Today, our hope is threatened on many sides and we even risk becoming, like the ancient pagans, people "having no hope and without God in the world', as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Ephesus (Ep 2,12). "What may be the deepest difficulty for a true educational endeavour consists precisely in this: the fact that at the root of the crisis of education lies a crisis of trust in life", which is basically nothing other than distrust in the God who called us to life. In the education of youth it is extremely important that the family play an active role. Families frequently have difficulty in facing the challenges of education; they are often unable to make their own contribution or are absent. The special tenderness and commitment to young people that are characteristic of Don Bosco's charism must be expressed in an equal commitment to the involvement and formation of families. Your youth ministry, therefore, must be decisively open to family ministry. Caring for families does not mean taking people away from work for young people; on the contrary, it means making it more permanent and effective. I thus encourage you to deepen the forms of this commitment on which you have set out; this will prove advantageous to the education and evangelization of the young.
In the face of these multiple tasks, your Congregation must assure its members in particular a sound formation. The Church urgently needs people with a solid and profound faith, an up-dated cultural training, genuine human sensitivity and a strong pastoral sense. She needs consecrated people who devote their lives to being on these boundaries. Only in this way will it be possible to evangelize effectively, proclaiming the God of Jesus Christ and thus the joy of life. Your Congregation must therefore devote itself to this formative commitment as one of its priorities. It must continue to take great pains in training its members without being satisfied with mediocrity, overcoming the difficulties of vocational weakness, encouraging solid spiritual guidance and guaranteeing educational and pastoral quality in continuing formation.
I conclude by thanking God for the presence of your charism at the service of the Church. I encourage you in achieving the goals that your General Chapter will propose to the entire Congregation. I assure you of my prayers for the implementation of what the Spirit will suggest to you for the good of youth, families and all the lay people involved in the spirit and mission of Don Bosco. With these sentiments and as a pledge of abundant heavenly gifts, I now impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.
Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Friends in Christ,
I extend a heartfelt welcome to you, the representatives of the Papal Foundation, as we continue to celebrate our Lord’s glorious resurrection during this blessed Easter Season.
“The Lord has risen indeed!” This was the response of the Eleven after the disciples from Emmaus, who recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, rushed to join them in Jerusalem (cf. Lc 24,33-40). Their encounter with the Risen Lord turned their sorrow into joy, their disappointment into hope. Their testimony of faith instils in us the firm conviction that Christ lives in our midst, bestowing the gifts that empower us to be messengers of hope in the world today. The very source of the Church’s service of love, as she strives to alleviate the suffering of the poor and weak, can be found in her unwavering faith that the Lord has definitively conquered sin and death; and that in serving her brothers and sisters, she serves the Lord himself until he comes again in glory (cf. Mt 25,31-46 Deus Caritas Est ).
Dear friends, I am pleased to have this occasion to express my gratitude for the generous support the Papal Foundation offers through aid projects and scholarships which assist me in carrying out my Apostolic Ministry to the universal Church. I ask for your prayers, and I assure you of my own. May your good works continue to multiply, filling our brothers and sisters with the sure hope that Jesus never ceases to pour out his life for us in the sacraments so that we may provide for the material and spiritual needs of the whole human family (cf. Deus Caritas Est ).
Commending you and your loved ones to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in the Risen Savior.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I meet you with great joy on the occasion of the International Congress on "'Oil on the wounds': A response to the ills of abortion and divorce", promoted by the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus. I congratulate you on the topical and complex theme that has been the subject of your reflections in these days and in particular for the reference to the Good Samaritan (Lc 10,25-37), which you chose as a key to approach the evils of abortion and divorce that bring so much suffering to the lives of individuals, families and society. Yes, the men and women of our day sometimes truly find themselves stripped and wounded on the wayside of the routes we take, often without anyone listening to their cry for help or attending to them to alleviate and heal their suffering. In the often purely ideological debate a sort of conspiracy of silence is created in their regard. Only by assuming an attitude of merciful love is it possible to approach in order to bring help and enable victims to pick themselves up and resume their journey through life.
In a cultural context marked by increasing individualism, hedonism and all too often also by a lack of solidarity and adequate social support, human freedom, as it faces life's difficulties, is prompted in its weakness to make decisions that conflict with the indissolubility of the matrimonial bond or with the respect due to human life from the moment of conception, while it is still protected in its mother's womb. Of course, divorce and abortion are decisions of a different kind, which are sometimes made in difficult and dramatic circumstances that are often traumatic and a source of deep suffering for those who make them. They also affect innocent victims: the infant just conceived and not yet born, children involved in the break-up of family ties. These decisions indelibly mark the lives of all those involved. The Church's ethical opinion with regard to divorce and procured abortion is unambivalent and known to all: these are grave sins which, to a different extent and taking into account the evaluation of subjective responsibility, harm the dignity of the human person, involve a profound injustice in human and social relations and offend God himself, Guarantor of the conjugal covenant and the Author of life. Yet the Church, after the example of her Divine Teacher, always has the people themselves before her, especially the weakest and most innocent who are victims of injustice and sin, and also those other men and women who, having perpetrated these acts, stained by sin and wounded within, are seeking peace and the chance to begin anew.
The Church's first duty is to approach these people with love and consideration, with caring and motherly attention, to proclaim the merciful closeness of God in Jesus Christ. Indeed, as the Fathers teach, it is he who is the true Good Samaritan, who has made himself close to us, who pours oil and wine on our wounds and takes us into the inn, the Church, where he has us treated, entrusting us to her ministers and personally paying in advance for our recovery. Yes, the Gospel of love and life is also always the Gospel of mercy, which is addressed to the actual person and sinner that we are, to help us up after any fall and to recover from any injury. My beloved Predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, the third anniversary of whose death we celebrated recently, said in inaugurating the new Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow: "Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind" (17 August 2002). On the basis of this mercy the Church cultivates an indomitable trust in human beings and in their capacity for recovery. She knows that with the help of grace human freedom is capable of the definitive and faithful gift of self which makes possible the marriage of a man and woman as an indissoluble bond; she knows that even in the most difficult circumstances human freedom is capable of extraordinary acts of sacrifice and solidarity to welcome the life of a new human being. Thus, one can see that the "No" which the Church pronounces in her moral directives on which public opinion sometimes unilaterally focuses, is in fact a great "Yes" to the dignity of the human person, to human life and to the person's capacity to love. It is an expression of the constant trust with which, despite their frailty, people are able to respond to the loftiest vocation for which they are created: the vocation to love.
On that same occasion, John Paul II continued: "This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace" (ibid., p. 8). The great task of disciples of the Lord Jesus who find themselves the travelling companions of so many brothers, men and women of good will, is hinged on this. Their programme, the programme of the Good Samaritan, is a ""heart which sees'. This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly" (Deus Caritas Est ). In these days of reflection and dialogue you have stooped down to victims suffering from the wounds of divorce and abortion. You have noted first of all the sometimes traumatic suffering that afflicts the so-called "children of divorce", marking their lives to the point of making their way far more difficult. It is in fact inevitable that when the conjugal covenant is broken, those who suffer most are the children who are the living sign of its indissolubility. Supportive pastoral attention must therefore aim to ensure that the children are not the innocent victims of conflicts between parents who divorce. It must also endeavour to ensure that the continuity of the link with their parents is guaranteed as far as possible, as well as the links with their own family and social origins, which are indispensable for a balanced psychological and human growth.
You also focused on the tragedy of procured abortion that leaves profound and sometimes indelible marks in the women who undergo it and in the people around them, as well as devastating consequences on the family and society, partly because of the materialistic mentality of contempt for life that it encourages. What selfish complicity often lies at the root of an agonizing decision which so many women have had to face on their own, who still carry in their heart an open wound! Although what has been done remains a grave injustice and is not in itself remediable, I make my own the exhortation in Evangelium Vitae addressed to women who have had an abortion: "Do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child" (n. 99).
I express deep appreciation for all those social and pastoral initiatives being taken for the reconciliation and treatment of people injured by the drama of abortion and divorce. Together with numerous other forms of commitment, they constitute essential elements for building that civilization of love that humanity needs today more than ever.
As I implore the Merciful Lord God that he will increasingly liken you to Jesus the Good Samaritan, that his spirit will teach you to look with new eyes at the reality of the suffering brethren, that he will help you to think with new criteria and spur you to act with generous dynamism with a view to an authentic civilization of love and life, I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you all.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to meet you at the end of the 18th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family on the theme: "Grandparents: their witness and presence in the family".I thank you for accepting my suggestion at the Meeting in Valencia when I said: "In no way should [grandparents] ever be excluded from the family circle. They are a treasure which the younger generation should not be denied, especially when they bear witness to their faith" (Address at the Fifth World Meeting of Families, Valencia, 8 July 2006). I greet in particular Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Archbishop of Cebu and a member of the Committee of the Presidency, who has expressed your common sentiments, and I address an affectionate thought to dear Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo who has guided this Dicastery with passion and competence for 18 years. We miss him and offer him our best wishes for a prompt recovery, together with our prayers.
The theme you have discussed is very familiar to all. Who does not remember their grandparents? Who can forget their presence and their witness by the domestic hearth? How many of us bear their names as a sign of continuity and gratitude! It is a custom in families, after their departure, to remember their birthdays with the celebration of Mass for the repose of their souls and if possible, a visit to the cemetery. These and other gestures of love and faith are a manifestation of our gratitude to them. They gave themselves, they sacrificed themselves for us, and in certain cases also gave their lives.
The Church has always paid special attention to grandparents, recognizing them as a great treasure from both the human and social, as well as religious and spiritual viewpoints. My venerable Predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II - we have just celebrated the third anniversary of the latter's death - emphasized on various occasions the Ecclesial Community's respect for the elderly, for their dedication and their spirituality. In particular, during the Jubilee of the Year 2000, John Paul II summoned the world's elderly to St Peter's Square in September and said on that occasion: "Despite the limitations brought on by age, I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God!". These words were contained in the Letter that about a year earlier, in October 1999, he had addressed to the elderly and which have preserved intact their human, social and cultural timeliness.
Your Plenary Assembly has discussed the theme of grandparents' presence in the family, the Church and society with a look that can include the past, present and future. Let us briefly analyze these three moments. In the past, grandparents had an important role in the life and growth of the family. Even with their advancing age they continued to be present with their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren, giving a living witness of caring, sacrifice and a daily gift of themselves without reserve. They were witnesses of a personal and community history that continued to live on in their memories and in their wisdom. Today, the economic and social evolution has brought profound transformations to the life of families. The elderly, including many grandparents, find themselves in a sort of "parking area": some realize they are a burden to their family and prefer to live alone or in retirement homes with all the consequences that such decisions entail.
Unfortunately, it seems that the "culture of death" is advancing on many fronts and is also threatening the season of old-age. With growing insistence, people are even proposing euthanasia as a solution for resolving certain difficult situations. Old age, with its problems that are also linked to the new family and social contexts because of modern development, should be evaluated carefully and always in the light of the truth about man, the family and the community. It is always necessary to react strongly to what dehumanizes society. Parish and diocesan communities are forcefully challenged by these problems and are seeking today to meet the needs of the elderly. Ecclesial movements and associations exist which have embraced this important and urgent cause. It is necessary to join forces to defeat together all forms of marginalization, for it is not only they - grandfathers, grandmothers, senior citizens - who are being injured by the individualistic mindset, but everyone. If grandparents, as is said often and on many sides, are a precious resource, it is necessary to put into practice coherent choices that allow them to be better valued.
May grandparents return to being a living presence in the family, in the Church and in society. With regard to the family, may grandparents continue to be witnesses of unity, of values founded on fidelity and of a unique love that gives rise to faith and the joy of living. The so-called new models of the family and a spreading relativism have weakened these fundamental values of the family nucleus. The evils of our society - as you justly observed during your work - are in need of urgent remedies. In the face of the crisis of the family, might it not be possible to set out anew precisely from the presence and witness of these people - grandparents - whose values and projects are more resilient? Indeed, it is impossible to plan the future without referring to a past full of significant experiences and spiritual and moral reference points. Thinking of grandparents, of their testimony of love and fidelity to life, reminds us of the Biblical figures of Abraham and Sarah, of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Joachim and Anne, as well as of the elderly Simeon and Anna and even Nicodemus: they all remind us that at every age the Lord asks each one for the contribution of his or her own talents.
Let us now turn our gaze towards the sixth World Meeting of Families which will be celebrated in Mexico in January 2009. I greet and thank Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico, present here, for all he has already done in these months of preparation together with his collaborators. All Christian families of the world look to this Nation, "ever faithful" to the Church, which will open the doors to all the families of the world. I invite the Ecclesial Communities, especially family groups, movements and associations of families, to prepare themselves spiritually for this event of grace. Venerable and dear Brothers, I thank you once again for your visit and for the work you have done during these days; I assure you of my remembrance in prayer and cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing to you and to your loved ones.
Dear Brother Bishops,
"What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord with ourselves as servants" (2Co 4,5). With these stirring words of Saint Paul I cordially welcome you, the Bishops of the Antilles. I thank Archbishop Burke for the kind sentiments expressed on your behalf and I warmly reciprocate them and assure you of my prayers for yourselves and those entrusted to your pastoral care. Your visit ad Limina Apostolorum is an occasion to strengthen your commitment to make the face of Jesus increasingly visible within the Church and society through consistent witness to the Gospel.
The great ‘drama’ of Holy Week and the joyful liturgical season of Easter express the very essence of the hope which defines us as Christians. Jesus, who indicates to us the way beyond even death, is the one who shows us how to overcome trials and fear. He is the true teacher of life (cf. Spe Salvi ). Indeed, filled with the light of Christ we too illuminate the way which dispels all evil, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride (cf. Exsultet).
The image of the paschal light I trust, dear Brothers, will draw you forward as you engage with the considerable challenges you face. Your own reports articulate with frankness both the light and the shadows cast upon your Dioceses. Undoubtedly the religious soul of the peoples of your region is capable of great things! Generosity of heart and openness of mind attest to a spirit willing to be shaped by the truth and love of our Lord. Yet there is also much that seeks to quench the dimly burning wick (cf. Is Is 42,3). To varying degrees, your shores have been battered by negative aspects of the entertainment industry, exploitative tourism and the scourge of the arms and drugs trade; influences which not only undermine family life and unsettle the foundations of traditional cultural values, but tend to affect negatively local politics.
Brothers, against this disturbing backdrop, stand tall as heralds of hope! Be audacious witnesses to the light of Christ, which gives families direction and purpose, and be bold preachers of the power of the Gospel, which must permeate their way of thinking, standards of judgement, and norms of behaviour. I am confident that your lived testimony to God’s extraordinary "yes" to humanity (cf. 2Co 1,20) will encourage your peoples to reject destructive social trends and to seek ‘faith in action’, embracing all that begets the new life of Pentecost!
Pastoral renewal is an indispensable task for each of your Dioceses. Already there are examples where this challenge has been embraced with enthusiasm; it must include priests, Religious and the lay faithful. Of vital importance is the tireless promotion of vocations together with the guidance and ongoing formation of priests. You are the primary formators of your priests and, supported by the laity, you bear the responsibility for assiduous and prudent encouragement of vocations. Your solicitude for the human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation of your seminarians and priests is a sure expression of your care and concern for the constant deepening of their pastoral commitment (cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis PDV 2). I encourage you to support attentively Saint John Vianney and the Ugandan Martyrs Seminary, to supervise in a fatherly way especially your young priests and to offer regular programmes of ongoing formation necessary for building priestly identity (cf. ibid., 71). In turn, your priests will surely nurture their parish communities with growing maturity and spiritual wisdom. The establishment of a francophone seminary in the region is a welcome sign of hope; please convey to its staff and seminarians the assurance of my prayers.
The contribution of Religious Brothers, Priests and Sisters to the mission of the Church and the building up of civil society has been of immeasurable worth to your countries. Innumerable boys, girls and families have benefited from the selfless commitment of Religious to spiritual guidance, education, and social and medical work. Of special value and beauty is the life of prayer found in the contemplative communities of the region. Your pastoral concern for the decline in Religious vocations exemplifies your deep appreciation of consecrated life. I too appeal to your Religious communities, encouraging them to reaffirm their calling with confidence and, guided by the Holy Spirit, to propose afresh to young people the ideal of consecration and mission; the spiritual treasures of their respective charisms splendidly illuminate the paths by which the Lord calls young people to the adventure of the life of love offered to him for every member of the human family (cf. Vita Consecrata VC 3).
Chers Frères, chacun d’entre vous ressent la grande responsabilité qui est la sienne de faire tout ce qui est possible afin de soutenir le mariage et la vie familiale, source première de cohésion à l’intérieur des communautés et donc d’une importance capitale aux yeux des autorités civiles. À cet égard, le large réseau d’écoles catholiques dans toute votre région peut apporter beaucoup. Les valeurs qui s’enracinent dans le chemin de vérité offert par le Christ éclairent l’esprit et le coeur des jeunes et les entraînent à suivre la voie de la fidélité, de la responsabilité et de la liberté véritable. De bons jeunes chrétiens font de bons citoyens! Je suis sûr que tout sera fait pour encourager la spécificité catholique de vos écoles qui, au long des générations passées, ont rendu des services remarquables à vos peuples. De cette manière, je ne doute pas que les jeunes adultes de vos diocèses sauront discerner qu’il leur revient, de manière urgente, de contribuer au développement économique et social de la région, car il s’agit là d’une dimension essentielle de leur témoignage chrétien.
With fraternal affection I offer these reflections wishing to affirm you in your desire to intensify the summons to witness and evangelization which ensue from the encounter with Christ. United in your proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, go forward in hope! Please assure all your seminarians and priests, Religious, and lay faithful - including in a special way the considerable immigrant communities - of my prayers and spiritual communion. To you all, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.
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