Speeches 2005-13 14198
Lord Jesus, You are here!
And you, my brothers, my sisters, my friends,
You are here, with me, in his presence!
Lord, two thousand years ago, you willingly mounted the infamous Cross in order then to rise again and to remain for ever with us, your brothers and sisters.
And you, my brothers, my sisters, my friends,
You willingly allow him to embrace you.
We contemplate him.
We adore him.
We love him. We seek to grow in love for him.
We contemplate him who, in the course of his Passover meal, gave his body and blood to his disciples, so as to be with them “always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28,20).
We adore him who is the origin and goal of our faith, him without whom we would not be here this evening, without whom we would not be at all, without whom there would be nothing, absolutely nothing! Him through whom “all things were made” (Jn 1,3), him in whom we were created, for all eternity, him who gave us his own body and blood – he is here, this evening, in our midst, for us to gaze upon.
We love, and we seek to grow in love for him who is here, in our presence, for us to gaze upon, for us perhaps to question, for us to love.
Whether we are walking or nailed to a bed of suffering; whether we are walking in joy or languishing in the wilderness of the soul (cf. Nb 21,4): Lord, take us all into your Love; the infinite Love which is eternally the Love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father, the Love of the Father and the Son for the Spirit, and the Love of the Spirit for the Father and the Son. The sacred host exposed to our view speaks of this infinite power of Love manifested on the glorious Cross. The sacred host speaks to us of the incredible abasement of the One who made himself poor so as to make us rich in him, the One who accepted the loss of everything so as to win us for his Father. The sacred host is the living, efficacious and real sacrament of the eternal presence of the saviour of mankind to his Church.
My brothers, my sisters, my friends,
Let us accept; may you accept to offer yourselves to him who has given us everything, who came not to judge the world, but to save it (cf. Jn 3,17), accept to recognize in your lives the presence of him who is present here, exposed to our view. Accept to offer him your very lives!
Mary, the holy Virgin, Mary, the Immaculate Conception, accepted, two thousand years ago, to give everything, to offer her body so as to receive the Body of the Creator. Everything came from Christ, even Mary; everything came through Mary, even Christ.
Mary, the holy Virgin, is with us this evening, in the presence of the Body of her Son, one hundred and fifty years after revealing herself to little Bernadette.
Holy Virgin, help us to contemplate, help us to adore, help us to love, to grow in love for him who loved us so much, so as to live eternally with him.
An immense crowd of witnesses is invisibly present beside us, very close to this blessed grotto and in front of this church that the Virgin Mary wanted to be built;
the crowd of all those men and women who have contemplated, venerated, adored the real presence of him who gave himself to us even to the last drop of blood;
the crowd of all those men and women who have spent hours in adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar.
This evening, we do not see them, but we hear them saying to us, to every man and to every woman among us: “Come, let the Master call you! He is here! He is calling you (cf. Jn 11,28)! He wants to take your life and join it to his. Let yourself be embraced by him! Gaze no longer upon your own wounds, gaze upon his. Do not look upon what still separates you from him and from others; look upon the infinite distance that he has abolished by taking your flesh, by mounting the Cross which men had prepared for him, and by letting himself be put to death so as to show you his love. In his wounds, he takes hold of you; in his wounds, he hides you. Do not refuse his Love!”
The immense crowd of witnesses who have allowed themselves to be embraced by his Love, is the crowd of saints in heaven who never cease to intercede for us. They were sinners and they knew it, but they willingly ceased to gaze upon their own wounds and to gaze only upon the wounds of their Lord, so as to discover there the glory of the Cross, to discover there the victory of Life over death. Saint Pierre-Julien Eymard tells us everything when he cries out: “The holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ, past, present and future” (Sermons and Parochial Instructions after 1856, 4-2.1, “On Meditation”).
Jesus Christ, past, in the historical truth of the evening in the Upper Room, to which every celebration of holy Mass leads us back.
Jesus Christ, present, because he said to us: “Take and eat of this, all of you, this is my body, this is my blood.” “This is”, in the present, here and now, as in every here and now throughout human history. The real presence, the presence which surpasses our poor lips, our poor hearts, our poor thoughts. The presence offered for us to gaze upon as we do here, this evening, close to the grotto where Mary revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception.
The Eucharist is also Jesus Christ, future, Jesus Christ to come. When we contemplate the sacred host, his glorious transfigured and risen Body, we contemplate what we shall contemplate in eternity, where we shall discover that the whole world has been carried by its Creator during every second of its history. Each time we consume him, but also each time we contemplate him, we proclaim him until he comes again, “donec veniat”. That is why we receive him with infinite respect.
Some of us cannot – or cannot yet – receive Him in the Sacrament, but we can contemplate Him with faith and love and express our desire finally to be united with Him. This desire has great value in God’s presence: such people await his return more ardently; they await Jesus Christ who must come again.
When, on the day after her first communion, a friend of Bernadette asked her: “What made you happier: your first communion or the apparitions?”, Bernadette replied, “they are two things that go together, but cannot be compared. I was happy in both” (Emmanuélite Estrade, 4 June 1958). She made this testimony to the Bishop of Tarbes in regard to her first communion: “Bernadette behaved with immense concentration, with an attention that left nothing to be desired … she appeared profoundly aware of the holy action that was taking place. Everything developed in her in an astonishing way.”
With Pierre-Julien Eymard and Bernadette, we invoke the witness of countless men and women saints who had the greatest love for the holy Eucharist. Nicolas Cabasilas cries out to us this evening: “If Christ dwells within us, what do we need? What do we lack? If we dwell in Christ, what more could we desire? He is our host and our dwelling-place. Happy are we to be his home! What joy to be ourselves the dwelling-place of such an inhabitant!”
Blessed Charles de Foucauld was born in 1858, the very year of the apparitions at Lourdes. Not far from his body, stiffened by death, there lay, like the grain of wheat cast upon the earth, the lunette containing the Blessed Sacrament which Brother Charles adored every day for many a long hour. Father de Foucauld has given us a prayer from the depths of his heart, a prayer addressed to our Father, but one which, with Jesus, we can in all truth make our own in the presence of the sacred host:
“‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’
This was the last prayer of our Master, our Beloved … May it also be our own prayer, and not only at our last moment, but at every moment in our lives:
Father, I commit myself into your hands; Father, I trust in you; Father, I abandon myself to you; Father, do with me what you will; whatever you may do, I thank you; thank you for everything; I am ready for all, I accept all; I thank you for all. Let only your will be done in me, Lord, let only your will be done in all your creatures, in all your children, in all those whom your heart loves, I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you, Lord, with all the love of my heart, for I love you, and so need to give myself in love, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father.”
Beloved brothers and sisters, day pilgrims and inhabitants of these valleys, brother Bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, all of you who see before you the infinite abasement of the Son of God and the infinite glory of the Resurrection, remain in silent adoration of your Lord, our Master and Lord Jesus Christ. Remain silent, then speak and tell the world: we cannot be silent about what we know. Go and tell the whole world the marvels of God, present at every moment of our lives, in every place on earth. May God bless us and keep us, may he lead us on the path of eternal life, he who is Life, for ever and ever. Amen.
Mr Prime Minister,
Dear Brother Cardinals and Bishops,
Civil and Political Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
As I depart – not without some regret – from French soil, I am most grateful to you for coming to bid me farewell, thereby giving me the opportunity to say one last time how much this journey to your country has gladdened my heart. Through you, Mr Prime Minister, I greet the President of the Republic and all the members of the Government, as well as the civil and military Authorities who have spared no effort to contribute to the smooth progress of these grace-filled days. I hasten to express my sincere gratitude to my brothers in the episcopate, especially to Cardinal Vingt-Trois and Bishop Perrier, as well as to all the members and staff of the Bishops’ Conference of France. It is good to be here among friends. I also thank warmly the mayors and the municipalities of Paris and Lourdes. I remember too the members of law enforcement and all the countless volunteers who have offered their time and expertise. Everyone has worked devotedly and whole-heartedly for the successful outcome of my four days in your country. Thank you very much.
My journey has been like a diptych, the first panel of which was Paris, a city that I know rather well and the scene for several important meetings. I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the prestigious setting of the Esplanade des Invalides. There I met a vibrant people, proud of their firm faith; I came to encourage them to persevere courageously in living out the teaching of Christ and his Church. I was also able to pray Vespers with the priests, men and women religious, and with the seminarians. I wanted to affirm them in their vocation in the service of God and neighbour. I also spent an all too brief yet intense moment with the young people on the square in front of Notre Dame. Their enthusiasm and affection are most encouraging. And how can I fail to recall here the prestigious encounter with the world of culture at the Institut de France and the Collège des Bernardins? As you know, I consider culture and its proponents to be the privileged vehicles of dialogue between faith and reason, between God and man.
The second panel of the diptych was an emblematic place which attracts and fascinates every believer. Lourdes is like a light in the darkness of our groping to reach God. Mary opened there a gate towards a hereafter which challenges and charms us. Maria, porta caeli! I have set myself to learn from her during these three days. The Pope was duty bound to come to Lourdes to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions. Before the Grotto of Massabielle, I prayed for all of you. I prayed for the Church. I prayed for France and for the world. The two Eucharistic celebrations in Lourdes gave me an opportunity to join the faithful pilgrims. Having become one of their number, I completed all four stages of the Jubilee Way, visiting the parish church, the cachot and the Grotto, and finally the Chapel of Hospitality. I also prayed with and for the sick who come here to seek physical relief and spiritual hope. God does not forget them, and neither does the Church. Like every faithful pilgrim, I wanted to take part in the torchlight procession and the Blessed Sacrament Procession. They carry aloft to God our prayers and our praise. Lourdes is also the place where the Bishops of France meet regularly in order to pray and celebrate Mass together, to reflect and to exchange views on their mission as pastors. I wanted to share with them my conviction that the times are favourable for a return to God.
Mr Prime Minister, Brother Bishops and dear friends, may God bless France! May harmony and human progress reign on her soil, and may the Church be the leaven in the dough that indicates with wisdom and without fear, according to her specific duty, who God is! The time has come for me to leave you. Perhaps I shall return some day to your beautiful country? It is indeed my desire, but a desire I leave in the hands of God. From Rome I shall remain close to you, and when I pray before the replica of the Lourdes Grotto which has been in the Vatican Gardens for a little over a century, I shall think of you. May God bless you!
I am pleased to welcome you today and to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Holy See. On this significant occasion I would ask that you kindly convey my heartfelt greetings to the members of the Presidency and all the citizens of your country. Assure them of my fervent prayers for their ongoing efforts to achieve reconciliation and the consolidation of peace and stability.
The Holy See’s diplomatic relations form a part of her mission of service to the international community. Her engagement with civil society is anchored in the conviction that the task of building a more just world must recognize the supernatural vocation proper to every individual. The Church therefore promotes an understanding of the human person who receives from God the capacity to transcend individual limitations and social constraints so as to recognize and uphold the universal values which safeguard the dignity of all and serve the common good.
Ambassador, as you have observed, your country though small in area is blessed with much natural beauty. Such evidence of the hand of the Creator gladdens the hearts of its inhabitants and helps them lift their thoughts towards the Almighty. Reflecting its particular geographical location, Bosnia and Herzegovina also contains a rich mix of cultures and precious patrimonies. Tragically, however, cultural and ethnic differences throughout history have not infrequently been a source of misunderstanding and friction. Indeed, as each of the three constitutive peoples that make up your country know only too well, they have even been the cause of conflicts and wars. No person wishes for war. No parents desire conflict for their children. No civic or religious group should ever resort to violence or oppression. Yet, so many families in your land have been subjected to the suffering which results from these calamities. Listening to the voice of reason, however, and prompted by the hope that we all desire for ourselves and the generations which follow, every individual can find the strength to overcome past divisions and indeed hammer swords into ploughshares and spears into sickles (cf. Is Is 2,4). In this regard, I wish to acknowledge the progress being made to consolidate gestures of reconciliation and to encourage the International Community to continue its efforts to assist Bosnia and Herzegovina to this end. I trust that, in accepting the facts of regional history and the grave lessons to be learnt from recent years, the courage will be found to build a future with a healthy sense of solidarity.
A State’s spirit is shaped at many levels. The family home is where children learn the essential values of responsibility and harmonious coexistence. It is here too that prejudices are either born or broken. Every parent therefore has the grave duty to instil in their children, through example, respect for the dignity that marks every person irrespective of ethnicity, religion or social grouping. In this way, the splendour of lives led justly - with integrity, fairness and compassion - can shine forth as examples for the young, indeed everyone, to emulate. Education too contributes greatly to the soul of a nation. Good schooling not only attends to the cognitive development of children but to the civic and spiritual as well. Teachers who exercise their noble profession with a passion for truth can do much to discredit any false anthropological ideologies that contain seeds of hostility (cf. 2007 Message for World Day of Peace, 10) and to foster an appreciation of cultural and religious diversity in the life of a country. In this vein, I would also like to offer a word of encouragement to those working in the media. They can do much to overcome lingering attitudes of distrust by ensuring that they do not become tools of prejudice but rather transcend particular interests and promote broad-based and inclusive civic goals, thus becoming instruments at the service of greater justice and solidarity (cf. 2008 Message for World Communications Day, 2).
Your Excellency, as you are well aware, the State too is called to pursue with vigour its responsibility to strengthen the institutions and extol the principles which lie at the heart of all democracies. This demands unwavering commitment to the rule of law and justice, the eradication of corruption and other forms of criminal activity, the support of an independent and impartial judiciary, and equal opportunity in the employment market. I am sure that the constitutional reforms which your government is currently studying will address the legitimate aspirations of all citizens, guaranteeing both the rights of individuals and social groups, while preserving the common moral and ethical values which bind all peoples and render political leaders accountable. In this way all sectors of society can contribute to the national planning of social and economic development and likewise assist in attracting the investment necessary for economic growth, enabling in particular your young people to find satisfying employment and guarantee a secure future.
For her part the Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to assist in the attainment of the goals of reconciliation, peace and prosperity. Through her parishes, schools, health-care facilities, and community development programmes she exercises her mission of universal charity in its threefold form: material, intellectual and spiritual. Her participation in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue should be seen as a further way of serving society at large. The promotion of spiritual and moral values, discernible to human reason, not only forms part of the transmission of religious traditions but also nourishes the wider culture, motivating men and women of goodwill to strengthen ties of solidarity and to manifest how a united society can indeed arise from a plurality of peoples.
Your Excellency, I am confident that the diplomatic mission which you begin today will further strengthen the bonds of cooperation existing between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Holy See. The application of the recently ratified Basic Agreement, among other matters, facilitates the right to establish places of religious worship and to undertake ecclesial works, and at the same time offers a positive example of the democratic principles taking root in the country. In this regard, I am confident that the Mixed Commission will soon commence its important work. Assuring you of the assistance of the various offices of the Roman Curia and with my sincere good wishes, I invoke upon you and your family together with all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the blessings of Almighty God.
Dear Mr Krupp,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to meet with you at the conclusion of the important symposium organized by the Pave the Way Foundation. I know that many eminent scholars have participated in this reflection on the numerous works of my beloved predecessor - the Servant of God Pope Pius XII - accomplished during the difficult period around the time of the second world war. I warmly welcome each of you especially Mr Gary Krupp, President of the Foundation, whom I thank for the kind words expressed on your behalf. I am grateful to him for informing me how your work has been undertaken during the symposium. You have analyzed without bias the events of history and concerned yourselves only with seeking the truth. I also greet those accompanying you on this visit, as well as your family members and loved ones at home.
The focus of your study has been the person and the tireless pastoral and humanitarian work of Pius XII, Pastor Angelicus. Fifty years have passed since his pious death here at Castel Gandolfo early on the ninth of October 1958, after a debilitating disease. This anniversary provides an important opportunity to deepen our knowledge of him, to meditate on his rich teaching and to analyze thoroughly his activities. So much has been written and said of him during these last five decades and not all of the genuine facets of his diverse pastoral activity have been examined in a just light. The aim of your symposium has been precisely to address some of these deficiencies, conducting a careful and documented examination of many of his interventions, especially those in favour of the Jews who in those years were being targeted all over Europe, in accordance with the criminal plan of those who wanted to eliminate them from the face of the earth. When one draws close to this noble Pope, free from ideological prejudices, in addition to being struck by his lofty spiritual and human character one is also captivated by the example of his life and the extraordinary richness of his teaching. One can also come to appreciate the human wisdom and pastoral intensity which guided him in his long years of ministry, especially in providing organized assistance to the Jewish people.
Thanks to the vast quantity of documented material which you have gathered, supported by many authoritative testimonies, your symposium offers to the public forum the possibility of knowing more fully what Pius XII achieved for the Jews persecuted by the Nazi and fascist regimes. One understands, then, that wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favour either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church. In the proceedings of your convention you have also drawn attention to his many interventions, made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews. This courageous and paternal dedication was recognized and appreciated during and after the terrible world conflict by Jewish communities and individuals who showed their gratitude for what the Pope had done for them. One need only recall Pius XII’s meeting on the 29th of November 1945 with eighty delegates of German concentration camps who during a special Audience granted to them at the Vatican, wished to thank him personally for his generosity to them during the terrible period of Nazi-fascist persecution.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your visit and for the research you have undertaken. Thanks also to the Pave the Way Foundation for its ongoing activity in promoting relationships and dialogue between religions, as witnesses of peace, charity and reconciliation. It is my great hope that this year, which marks the fiftieth-anniversary of my venerated predecessor’s death, will provide the opportunity to promote in-depth studies of various aspects of his life and his works in order to come to know the historical truth, overcoming every remaining prejudice. With these sentiments I invoke upon you and the proceedings of your symposium an abundance of divine blessings.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
"We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers" (1Th 1,2). St Paul's words express my sentiments on receiving you for your ad limina visit, which expresses the strong ties that unite the respective particular Churches with the Successor of St Peter, Head of the Episcopal College (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 22).
I thank Bishop José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán of David, President of your Bishops' Conference, for his kind words on behalf of you all, sharing with me the joys and aspirations you carry in your hearts and the challenges you are preparing to face. Know that the Pope walks beside you as your carry out your duties. Thus, when you return to your country, please convey my spiritual closeness to the Bishops emeritus, to the priests and religious communities, the seminarians and the lay faithful, especially the neediest, and tell them that I pray for them, asking God to ensure that they do not fail in their work for the Gospel and that they continue with their words and with their life, to urge all to find their happiness in following Christ and in sharing with others the joy that is born from the knowledge that he loves us to the end (cf. Jn 13,1).
Through reading your quinquennial reports and the conversations we had, I have come to organize initiatives aimed at sowing the Word of God generously in the hearts of Panamanians, in order to accompany them on the path of maturation in the faith so that they may be authentic disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ. In this regard, following the guidelines of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences, celebrated in Aparecida, you are intensifying your pastoral action also in view of the celebrations that you are preparing for the commemoration of the fifth centenary of the country's evangelization, which you are preparing to celebrate in the year 2013. This work is a providential opportunity to reinforce ecclesial communion among the dioceses of Panama.
One cause for joy is the fruitful missionary action of the priests, religious and lay people, which counters the growing secularization of society as a configuration of the world and of humanity that relegates transcendence to the margins which is invading every aspect of daily life, developing a mindset in which God is indeed absent from human life and awareness. Moreover, the means of social communication are often used to spread individualism, hedonism, ideologies and customs that undermine the very foundations of marriage, the family and Christian morality. The disciple of Christ finds the strength to respond to these challenges in the deep knowledge and sincere love of the Lord Jesus, in meditation on Sacred Scripture, in an appropriate doctrinal and spiritual formation, in constant prayer, in the frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, in the conscious and active participation in Holy Mass and in the practice of works of charity and mercy.
This is important, especially for the new generations. The memory of my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, in this year in which the 25th anniversary of his Visit to your beloved nation is being commemorated, can serve as an incentive to dedicate yourselves with zeal to the pastoral care of youth and vocations so that there will be no lack of priests to bring the people of Panama to Christ, the source of life in abundance for those who encounter him (cf. Jn 10,10). In this regard I ask them to pray confidently to the "Lord of the harvest" to send numerous holy vocations to the priesthood (cf. Lc 10,2). This also requires a correct discernment of candidates for the priesthood, as well as apostolic zeal and the witness of communion and brotherhood among priests. This way of life must already be inculcated at the Seminary, where priority should be given to a serious academic discipline, the room and time for daily prayer, a dignified celebration of the liturgy, adequate spiritual direction and the intense cultivation of the human, Christian and priestly virtues. In this way, by praying and studying, seminarians can build within themselves the man of God whom the faithful have the right to see in their ministers.
The history of Panama has been marked by the praiseworthy work of numerous missionaries and by the generous concern of men and women religious. May these luminous models encourage consecrated people at the present time to make their lives a continuous expression of Christian love, nourished by the desire to identify themselves radically with Christ and to serve the Church faithfully.
Many families in your homeland live the Christian ideal with self-denial amidst great difficulty that threaten the solidarity of conjugal love, responsible fatherhood and the harmony and stability of the domestic heart. The efforts made will never be enough to develop a lively pastoral care of the family that invites people to discover the beauty of the vocation to Christian marriage, to defend human life from its conception to its natural end and to build families in which children are raised in love for the truth of the Gospel and solid human values. In your country, as in other places, people are going through difficult times that give rise to hardship as well as situations that promise great hope. In the present situation, it is especially urgent that the Church in Panama does not cease to offer the illumination that contributes to the solution of the pressing human problems that exist, promoting a moral consensus of society based on the fundamental values.
For this it is essential to popularize the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church which facilitates a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the ecclesial orientations, which the lay faithful in particular must take on in political, social and economic spheres, encouraging likewise its correct application in the actual circumstances. Christian hope will thus illumine the people of Panama who are thirsting to know the truth about God and about man in the midst of phenomena such as poverty, violence among young people, insufficient education, health care and housing, besieged by innumerable sects and corruption, which in different degrees disturb their life and prevent their integral development. At the end of this meeting, I entrust you and all the sons and daughters of this noble nation to the intercession of Santa María la Antigua, so that her motherly love may always shine upon Panama and comfort you on your journey. With these sentiments, I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you with affection.
Dear Father Abbots,
Dear Sister Abbesses,
I receive you with great joy on the occasion of the International Congress for which all the Abbots of your Confederation and the Superiors of independent Priories meet in Rome every four years to reflect on and discuss ways to embody the Benedictine charism in the present social and cultural context and respond to its ever new challenges to Gospel witness. I first greet the Abbot Primate, Dom Notker Wolf and thank him for what he has said on behalf of all. I likewise greet the group of Abbesses who have come representing the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum, as well as the Orthodox Representatives.
In a secularized world and an epoch marked by a disturbing culture of emptiness and meaninglessness, you are called to proclaim the primacy of God without compromise and to advance proposals for possible new forms of evangelization. The commitment to personal and communitarian sanctification that you pursue and the liturgical prayer that you encourage equip you for a particularly effective witness. In your monasteries, you are the first to renew and to deepen daily the encounter with the Person of Christ, whom you always have with you as guest, companion and friend. For this reason your convents are places where in our time too men and women hasten to seek God and learn to recognize the signs of Christ's presence, charity and mercy. With humble trust, you never tire of sharing with those who turn to your spiritual care the riches of the Gospel message, which are summed up in the proclamation of the love of the merciful Father who is ready to embrace every person in Christ. Thus you will continue to make your precious contribution to the vitality and sanctification of the People of God, in accordance with the special charism of Benedict of Norcia.
Dear Abbots and Abbesses, you are custodians of the patrimony of a spirituality anchored radically to the Gospel, "per ducatum evangelii pergamus itinera eius", as St Benedict says in the Prologue to the Rule. It is precisely this that engages you to communicate and give to others the fruits of your inner experience. I know and deeply appreciate the generous and competent cultural and formative work carried out by so many of your monasteries, especially for the young generations, creating an atmosphere of brotherly acceptance that favours a unique experience of Church. In fact, it is of primary importance to prepare young people to face their future and measure up to the many demands of society, having as a constant reference the Gospel message, which is ever timely, inexhaustible and life-giving. Devote yourselves, therefore, with fresh apostolic zeal to youth who are the future of the Church and of humanity. Indeed to build a "new" Europe it is necessary to start with the new generations, offering them the possibility of coming into close contact with the spiritual treasure of the liturgy, of meditation and of lectio divina.
This pastoral and formative action is in fact more necessary than ever for the whole human family. In many parts of the world, especially Asia and Africa, there is a pressing need for vibrant places of encounter with the Lord, in which, through prayer and contemplation, the individual may recover peace with himself and peace with others. Therefore, do not fail to meet with an open heart the expectations of all those, outside of Europe too, who express a keen desire for your presence and your apostolate in order to draw from the riches of Benedictine spirituality. Let yourselves be guided by the deep desire to serve every person charitably, irrespective of their race or religion. With prophetic freedom and wise discernment, may your presence be meaningful wherever Providence calls you to settle, always distinguishing yourselves for the harmonious balance of prayer and work that is a feature of your way of life.
And what should be said of the famous Benedictine hospitality? It is a special vocation of yours, an experience that is fully spiritual, human and cultural. May balance exist here too: may the heart of the community be wide open but in proportion to the times and forms of hospitality. You will thus give the men and women of our day a possibility of deepening the meaning of life within the infinite horizon of Christian hope, cultivating inner silence in communion with the Word of salvation. A community capable of authentic fraternal life, fervent in liturgical prayer, in study, in work, in cordial availability to your neighbour who is thirsting for God, is the best impetus for inspiring in hearts, especially those of young men, the vocation to monastic life and in general a fruitful journey of faith.
I would like to address a special word to the representatives of the Benedictine nuns and sisters. Dear sisters, like other religious families you too are suffering from the lack of new religious vocations. Do not let yourselves be disheartened but face these painful situations of crisis calmly, aware that it is not so much success that is asked of each one as faithful commitment.
What should be absolutely avoided is a weakening of spiritual attachment to the Lord and to one's vocation and mission. On the contrary, by persevering in it faithfully we profess most effectively, also to the world, our firm trust in the Lord of history, in whose hands are all the times and destinies of individuals, institutions and peoples; and let us also entrust ourselves to him with regard to the actuation in history of his gifts. Make your own the spiritual attitude of the Virgin Mary, happy to be the "ancilla Domini", totally available to do the will of the heavenly Father.
Dear monks, nuns and sisters, thank you for this pleasant visit! I accompany you with my prayers so that at your meetings during these days of your Congress you may discern the most appropriate ways to witness visibly and clearly in your life-style, work and prayer, to your commitment to a radical imitation of the Lord. May Mary Most Holy sustain your every project of good, help you above all to keep God before your eyes and accompany you maternally on your journey. As I invoke an abundance of heavenly gifts to support all of your generous resolutions, I warmly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you and to the entire Benedictine Family.
TAKING PART IN A TWO-WEEK SEMINAR ORGANIZED BY THE CONGREGATION FOR THE EVANGELIZATION OF PEOPLES Papal Summer Residence - Hall of the Swiss, Castel Gandolfo
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
I welcome you with joy on the occasion of the Follow-up Seminar organized by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. I warmly thank Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Dicastery's Prefect, for his fraternal greeting on behalf of you all. The Seminar in which you are taking part is being held during the Pauline Year which we are celebrating throughout the Church with the intention of deepening knowledge of the missionary spirit and charismatic personality of St Paul, seen by all as the great Apostle to the Gentiles.
I am sure that the spirit of this "teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1Tm 2,7 cf. 2Tm 1,11) has become present in your prayers, in your reflection and in your exchanges, and that it will not fail to illumine and enrich your pastoral and episcopal ministry. In my Homily for the inauguration of the Pauline Year, commenting on the expression "a teacher of the Gentiles" I observed that these words open to the future, projecting the Apostle's spirit to all peoples and all generations. For us, Paul is not merely a figure of the past whom we remember with veneration. He is also our teacher, an apostle and herald of Jesus Christ for us too. Yes, he is our teacher and we must learn from him to look with sympathy at the people to whom we have been sent. We must also learn from him to seek in Christ the light and grace to proclaim the Good News today; we must imitate his example to take the human and geographical paths of the contemporary world, tirelessly bringing Christ to those who have already opened their hearts to him, as well as those who are not yet acquainted with him.
Your lives as pastors are in many aspects similar to the life of the Apostle Paul. The field of your pastoral work is often immense, extremely difficult and complex. Geographically, the majority of your dioceses are very extensive and often lack roads and the means of communication. This makes it difficult to reach the faithful who are furthest from the centre of your diocesan communities. In addition, the wind of dechristianization, religious indifferentism, secularization and the relativization of values is blowing ever more strongly upon your societies, as elsewhere. This creates an environment in which the weapons of preaching may seem, as with Paul in Athens, to lack the necessary force. In many regions Catholics are a minority, sometimes even a very small one. This obliges you to compete with other religions that are much stronger and not always welcoming in your regard. Lastly, there are situations in which, as Pastors, you must defend your faithful from persecution and violent attacks.
Do not be afraid or discouraged by all these drawbacks that may sometimes even be serious; rather, let yourselves be advised and inspired by St Paul who had to suffer a great deal for the same reasons, as we learn from his Second Letter to the Corinthians. In travelling over sea and land, he suffered persecution, scourging and even stoning; he faced the dangers of the voyages, hunger, thirst, frequent lack of food, cold and nakedness; he worked without ever flagging, living to the full his anxiety for the Churches (cf. 2Co 11, 24ff.). He did not shrink from difficulties and suffering because he was well aware that they are part of the cross which, as Christians, we must carry every day. He thoroughly understood the condition to which Christ's call exposes the disciple: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mt 16,24). For this reason he recommended his spiritual son and disciple Timothy: "Take your share of suffering for the Gospel" (2Tm 1,8), thereby indicating that evangelization and its success pass through the cross and suffering. He says to each one of us: "take your share of suffering for the Gospel" with me. Suffering unites a person to Christ and to the brethren and expresses the fullness of love, whose source and supreme trial is, precisely, the Cross of Christ.
Paul had reached this conviction after the experience of persecution that he had had to face in preaching the Gospel; but it was on this path that he discovered the riches of Christ's love and the truth of his mission as an Apostle. In my Homily inaugurating the Pauline Year I said in this regard: "the truth that he experienced in his encounter with the Risen One was well worth the fight, persecution and suffering. But what most deeply motivated him was being loved by Jesus Christ and the desire to communicate this love to others" (Homily, First Vespers of the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, 28 June 2008). Yes, Christ had made Paul "his own" (Ph 3,12), with his love, and it is only on this basis that all Paul's activities and suffering can be explained.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, you are at the beginning of your episcopal ministry. Do not hesitate to have recourse to this powerful teacher of evangelization, learning from him how to love Christ, how to sacrifice yourselves at the service of others, how to identify with the peoples among whom you are called to preach the Gospel and how to proclaim and witness to his presence as the Risen One. To learn these lessons it is indispensable to invoke the help of Christ's grace insistently.
Paul constantly appealed for this grace in his Letters. As successors of the Apostles, it is you who must carry ahead Paul's mission of taking the Gospel to peoples; may you be inspired by him in understanding your vocation and depend closely upon the enlightenment of Christ's Spirit.
He will guide you on the paths of the new evangelization that are often impracticable but always enthralling. I accompany you in your pastoral mission with my prayers and with an affectionate Apostolic Blessing, which I impart to each one of you and to all the faithful of your Christian communities.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
I am pleased to welcome you at the beginning of your episcopal ministry and I greet you with affection, conscious of the indivisible collegial ties that unite the Pope with the Bishops in the bond of unity, charity and peace. These days that you are spending in Rome to examine in-depth the tasks that await you and to renew the profession of your faith at the tomb of St Peter must also be a special experience of that collegial union which, "based on both episcopal ordination and hierarchical communion... affects the inmost being of each Bishop and belongs to the structure of the Church as willed by Jesus Christ" (Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis ). May this experience of brotherhood, prayer and study at the See of Peter nourish in each one of you the sentiment of communion with the Pope and with your Brothers and open you to concern for the entire Church. I thank Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re for the kind words with which he has interpreted your sentiments. I address a special greeting to Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches while, through you, I send an affectionate greeting to all the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care.
Our Meeting is taking place during the Pauline Year and on the eve of the Twelfth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God: two significant events in the life of the Church that help us to shed light on certain aspects of the Bishop's spirituality and mission.
I would like to reflect briefly on the figure of St Paul. He is a teacher and a model especially for Bishops! St Gregory the Great described him as "the greatest Pastor of all" (cf. Pastoral Rule, Book I, 8). As Bishops we must learn from the Apostle great love for Jesus Christ first of all. From the moment of his encounter with the divine Teacher on the road to Damascus, St Paul's whole life was a process of inner and apostolic conformation to him, amidst persecution and suffering (cf. 2Tm 3,11). St Paul described himself as a man whom "Jesus Christ has made... his own" (cf. Ph 3,12) to the point that he could say: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Ga 2,20); and, further: "I have been crucified with Christ... and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Ga 2,20). Paul's love for Christ moves us by its intensity. It was a love so strong and so vivid that it caused him to say: "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ" (Ph 3,8). The great Apostle's example calls us Bishops to increase in lived holiness every day in order to have the same sentiments as Jesus Christ's (cf. Ph 2,5). The Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis clearly states on the subject of the Bishop's spiritual commitment that he must be first and foremost a "man of God", for it is not possible to be a servant of others unless one is first a "servant of God" (cf. n. 13).
The Bishop's first spiritual and apostolic commitment must therefore be to progress on the path of evangelical perfection. With the Apostle Paul, he must in fact be convinced that "our sufficiency is from God, who has qualified us to be ministers of a new Covenant (2Co 3,5-6). Among the means that help him to progress in spiritual life he should give priority to the Word of God that must have indisputable centrality in the Bishop's life and mission. The Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis recalls: "before being one who hands on the Word, the Bishop, together with his priests and indeed like every member of the faithful... must be a hearer of the word", and adds that "there can be no primacy of holiness without attentive listening to the Word of God, which is the guide and nourishment of all holiness" (n. 15). I therefore urge you, dear Bishops, to entrust yourselves every day to the Word of God, to be teachers of the faith and authentic educators of your faithful; not like those who haggle over his Word, but like those who speak of God with sincerity, prompted by him and beneath his gaze (cf. 2Co 2,17).
Dear Bishops, to face the great challenge of the secularism proper to contemporary society it is vital that the Bishop meditate on the Word every day in prayer, so as to be an effective herald in proclaiming it, an authentic doctor in illustrating and defending it, and an enlightened teacher in passing it on. With the approach of the beginning of the upcoming General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, I commend you to the power of the Word of the Lord, so that you may be faithful to the promises you made before God and the Church on the day of your Episcopal Ordination, persevering in the fulfilment of the ministry entrusted to you, faithful in preserving the purity and integrality of the deposit of the faith and rooted in ecclesial communion together with the entire episcopal Order. We must always be aware that the Word of God guarantees the divine presence in each one of us, in accordance with the Lord's words: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him" (Jn 14,23).
When you received the mitre on the day of your episcopal ordination, you were told: "May the splendour of holiness shine forth in you". With his teaching and his personal testimony, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to grow in virtue before God and men. On the path that leads him to perfection, the Bishop must be inspired by the characteristic traits of the Good Shepherd, so that in his face and in his action the faithful may discern the human and Christian virtues that must distinguish every Bishop (Pastores Gregis ). As you advance on the path to holiness, you will express that indispensable moral authoritativeness and prudent wisdom that are asked of those who are placed at the head of God's family. Today this authority is more necessary than ever. Your ministry will be pastorally fruitful only if it rests on the holiness of your life; the Bishop's authority, Pastores Gregis affirms, is born from his witness, without which it will be difficult for the faithful to see in their Bishop the active presence of Christ in his Church (cf. n. 43).
Together with your episcopal ordination and canonical mission, you were entrusted with your pastoral office, that is, the customary daily care of your dioceses. The Apostle Paul, in his famous words to Timothy, points out to you the way to be good and authoritative Pastors of your particular Churches. St Paul says to Timothy on the eve of his death: "Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching... always be steady" (2Tm 4,2). In the light of the Apostle's words, do not cease to offer "counsels, exhortations and example, but over and above that also... authority and sacred power" (Lumen Gentium LG 27), to help the flock entrusted to your care to advance in truth and holiness. This will be the most appropriate way to exercise to the full the fatherhood that is proper to the Bishop in his relations with his faithful. Take particular care of your priests, your first and irreplaceable collaborators in your ministry, as well as young people.
Be close to priests, paying careful attention to them. Spare no effort as you put every project into practice, including that of real communion of life pointed out by the Second Vatican Council, thanks to which priests are helped to grow in dedication to Christ and in fidelity to the priestly ministry. Try to encourage true priestly brotherhood, which contributes to overcoming loneliness and solitude, encouraging mutual support. It is important that all priests feel the fatherly closeness and friendship of the Bishop.
Then, in order to build the future of your particular Churches, be animators and guides of youth. The recent World Youth Day held in Sydney once again brought to light the fact that many young people are fascinated by the Gospel and willing to take on commitments within the Church. It is necessary for priests and educators to be able to pass on to the new generations, together with enthusiasm for the gift of life, love for Jesus Christ and for the Church. Among the young people, be especially concerned to encourage seminarians, in the knowledge that the seminary is the heart of the diocese. Do not fail to suggest to boys and young men the choice of a total gift of themselves to Christ in the priestly and religious life.
Heighten the awareness of families, parishes and educational institutes, so that they may help the new generations to seek and discover God's plan for their lives. As I remind you once again of St Paul's words to Timothy, "set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1Tm 4,12), and invoke God's help upon your episcopal ministry, I warmly impart a special Apostolic Blessing to each one of you and to your dioceses.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today's meeting is taking place on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the Catholic School Study Centre (CSSC), founded by the Italian Bishops' Conference as an expression of the responsibility of Bishops for Catholic schools, including formation centres of Christian inspiration. It is therefore a happy occasion to renew my esteem and encouragement for all that has been done so far in this important sector of civil and ecclesial life. My most cordial welcome to you, dear brothers and sisters who are present here, who represent in a certain way all those who, at every level - CEI, USMI, CISM, institutes for religious education, universities, federations, associations, lay movements and other organizations - are at the service of Catholic schools in Italy. To each one I offer an affectionate greeting and the Church's gratitude for the valuable service to the evangelization of youth and of the world of culture that is carried out by Catholic schools.
I address a special greeting to Archbishop Agostino Superbo, Vice-President of the Italian Bishops' Conference; to the Bishops who are members of the Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education, Schools and Universities, and especially to its President, Bishop Diego Coletti, who has expressed your common sentiments. His words enable me to be better acquainted with the goals achieved and the prospects that await the Catholic School Study Centre. I next extend my greeting to the participants in the special congress organized to commemorate this anniversary whose theme is: "Beyond the educational emergency, Catholic schools at the service of youth".
The importance of the Catholic School's role has been reaffirmed on various occasions by my venerable Predecessors and taken up in important documents of the Italian Bishops' Conference. The CEI's document "The Catholic school in Italy today", states, for example, that the Church's saving mission is carried out in close connection with the proclamation of faith and the promotion of the human being. It thus finds special support in that privileged instrument, the Catholic school, which aims to provide the human being with an integral education" (cf. n. 11). Immediately afterwards it adds: "The Catholic school is an expression of the right of all the citizens to freedom of education, and of the corresponding duty of solidarity in the construction of civil coexistence" (n. 12). It was thus with a view to the consolidation of the twofold ecclesial and civil perspective that 10 years ago the Italian Bishops became aware of the need to set up a Study Centre dedicated to Catholic schools. The Catholic school's pedagogical direction must be recognized and appreciated to recommend its selection. It must have a mature awareness not only of its ecclesial identity and cultural project but indeed also of its civil importance, which should not be considered as a defence of private interests, but as a precious contribution to building up the common good of the entire Italian society.
In the first decade of its activity, your Study Centre has rendered a truly precious service to the Church and to Italian Society. This is due to the effective collaboration that has been established between the CEI and its offices with the Catholic School Federations and Associations, with the Faculty of the Sciences of Education of the Pontifical Salesian University, with the Ministry for Public Instruction, with the Scientific-Technical Committee in which the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and LUMSA are represented and with all those who have collaborated in any capacity with its activities.
Thanks to this constant understanding, the Study Centre has succeeded in carefully monitoring the situation of Catholic schools in Italy, following with special interest the vicissitudes concerning parity and reforms in Italian schools. In this regard, attention has been drawn to the fact that attendance in Catholic schools in some regions of Italy is increasing, in comparison to what it was in the previous decade, although difficult and sometimes even critical situations persist. In this context of renewal to which those who have the good of the youth and the country at heart aspire, it is necessary to encourage that effective equality between state schools and officially recognized schools that allow parents the freedom to choose which school to send their children to.
Dear brothers and sisters, the anniversary you are commemorating is certainly a favourable opportunity to continue with renewed enthusiasm the service you are carrying out with good results. I encourage you in particular to focus your commitment, as is already your intention, in five sectors, namely: the dissemination of a culture destined to improve the quality of pedagogy in Catholic schools for the purpose of Christian education; monitoring the quality and the collection of data on the situation of Catholic schools; introducing new research to understand the educational, cultural and organizational emergencies that are considerable today; the pursuance of the culture of parity, not always appreciated, when it is not marked by equivocal interpretations; the increase in fruitful collaboration with Catholic School Federations and Associations with respect for their reciprocal competences and goals.
I entrust your activities and future projects to the motherly intercession of Mary, Queen of the Family and Seat of Wisdom, while I thank you for your visit and bless you all with affection.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
I am pleased to welcome you at this meeting at the end of your ad limina visit that enables me to greet you all together and to encourage you to hope - so necessary for the ministry that you are generously exercising in your respective particular Churches. I cordially thank Bishop Carlos María Collazzi Irazábal of Mercedes, President of the Bishops' Conference of Uruguay, for his words expressing your common sentiments of close communion with the See of Peter and the aspirations and anxieties that fill your hearts as Pastors who want to respond to the expectations of the People of God.
The visit to the tombs of St Peter and St Paul is a privileged opportunity to deepen knowledge of the origin and significance of the ministry of the Successors of the Apostles, to faithfully transmit the seed they planted (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 20), entirely dedicated to proclaiming Christ's Gospel and unanimous in their witness. It is also an important opportunity to reinforce the effective and affective bonds of the unity of the Episcopal College which must be an eminent expression of the ideal - so characteristic of the ecclesial community since its origins - of having "one heart and soul" (Ac 4,32), and a visible example to foster the spirit of brotherhood and harmony in your faithful and in contemporary society, all too often dominated by individualism and exasperated rivalry.
This communion is also expressed in the task of making effective and putting into practice the pastoral guidelines you have proposed for the next five years, inspired by the evocative image of the meeting of the Risen Jesus with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Indeed, the Teacher who accompanies and speaks to his followers and explains the Scriptures to them is a model to follow to prepare the human mind and heart to succeed in discovering him and having a personal encounter with him. Thus, promoting the knowledge of and meditation on Sacred Scripture, explaining it faithfully in preaching and catechesis or teaching it at schools is indispensable in order to live out the Christian vocation responsibly in a firmer and more determined way. I encourage you in this undertaking with which you desire to make your faithful and your ecclesial communities share in the evangelizing and missionary impetus proposed by the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences, celebrated in Aparecida.
The Word of God is also the indispensable source and content of your ministry as "preachers of the Gospel... who draw new disciples to Christ" (Lumen Gentium LG 25), all the more necessary at a time when many other voices are seeking to silence God in personal and social life, leading people on paths that undermine authentic hope and take no interest in the sound truth on which the hearts of human beings can rest. Therefore, teach the faith of the Church in its integrity, with courage and the conviction of those who live by it and for it, never ceasing to proclaim the moral values of the Catholic Doctrine explicitly, which refer to the family, sexuality and life, that are sometimes the subject of debate in the political and cultural context and in the means of social communication. I know of your efforts to defend human life from its conception to its natural end. I ask God to grant that every Uruguayan may bear the fruits of a clear awareness of the inviolable dignity of all people and a firm commitment to respecting and safeguarding it without reserve.
In this task you rely on the invaluable collaboration of priests whom it is necessary to encourage constantly so that without conforming to the prevalent trends of the world (cf. Rm 12,2) they may be true disciples and missionaries of Christ, who zealously take his message of salvation to parishes and communities, to families and to all those who, above all, long to learn words from the Spirit rather than from purely human knowledge (cf. 1Co 2,6). The Pastor's constant concern for candidates to the priesthood can be crucial for a formation in which emphasis is placed on the principal feature that must distinguish a minister of the Church: love for Christ, serious theological competence in full harmony with the Magisterium and the Tradition of the Church, constant personal meditation on Christ's saving mission and an irreproachable life, in conformity with the service he renders to the People of God. In this way they will witness faithfully to what they preach and will help their brethren to avoid a superficial religiosity with little effect on the ethical commitments that faith entails in order to learn from Christ to live "in true righteousness and holiness" (Ep 4,24).
In this regard, a great deal is also expected of consecrated people or of the members of the various movements and associations, especially dedicated to the Church's mission. They are called to witness joyfully that a person achieves fullness of life when he prefers to be better rather than merely to have more, and makes the true values shine forth, together with the incomparable joy of having encountered Christ and dedicated oneself unconditionally to him.
Dear brothers, may you know that the task of the true witness of Christ is far from easy. It demands a great deal but it is clear and above all relies on the power of the One who has "overcome the world" (cf. Jn 16,33). Without letting yourselves be disheartened in the many situations of religious indifference or apathy, continue to be messengers of the "hope [that] does not disappoint" (Rm 5,5) and sharers of Christ's love for the poor and needy by means of the charitable institutions of the ecclesial communities. In difficult situations, which also affect Uruguayans, the Church is called to show great-heartedness, solidarity and the ability of the family as children of God to make sacrifices for their brothers and sisters in difficulty.
At the close of this meeting, I ask you to convey my cordial greeting to your priests and seminarians, to the monasteries and religious communities, movements and associations, catechists and all the other people who are dedicated to the fascinating task of bringing Christ's light to the People of God and keeping it alive. I invoke the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary on your apostolic duties and likewise on all the beloved Uruguayans, and I wholeheartedly impart to you the Apostolic Blessing.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I welcome you with joy today, on the occasion of the world meeting of the Retrouvaille Movement. I greet you all, married couples and priests, along with the international leaders of this association, which has worked with great dedication at the service of couples in difficulty for more than 30 years. I greet in particular Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and thank him for his courteous words, as well as for describing your Movement's goals to me.
I am impressed, dear friends, by your experience that brings you into contact with families marked by a marital crisis. In reflecting on your activity, once again I recognized God's "finger", that is, the action of the Holy Spirit who generates in the Church adequate responses to the needs and emergencies of every epoch. Of course, in our day, a very deeply felt emergency is that of separations and divorces. Thus, the insight of the Canadian couple Guy and Jeannine Beland in 1977 was providential, to help couples face serious crises with a special programme geared to rebuilding their relationship - not as an alternative to psychotherapy but through a distinct and complementary process. You are not in fact professionals; you are married couples, many of whom have personally lived through the same difficulties, have overcome them with God's grace and the support of Retrouvaille and in turn have felt the desire to joyfully place your own experience at the service of others. There are various priests among you who guide couples on their way, breaking open the Word and the Bread of life for them. "You received without pay, give without pay" (Mt 10,8): you refer constantly to these words, which Jesus addressed to his disciples.
As your experience shows, a marital crisis - here we are speaking of serious and grave crises - constitutes a two-sided reality. One side of it, especially in its acute and more painful phase, presents itself as a failure, as the proof that the dream is over or has become a nightmare and that, unfortunately, "there is nothing left to be done". This is the negative side. There is another side, however, often unknown to us but that God sees. Every crisis, in fact - nature teaches us this - is a passage that leads to a new stage of life. Yet, if this happens automatically in inferior creatures, in the human being it involves freedom, the will, and therefore a "hope that is greater" than desperation. In the darkest moments, the spouses have lost hope. It is then that they are in need of others who preserve it, of a "we", of the company of true friends who, with the greatest respect and a sincere desire for good, are prepared to share a little of their own hope with those who have lost it - not in a sentimental or overly ambitious way, but in an organized and realistic one. Thus, at the moment of the break, you become for the couple the real possibility of having a positive reference, whom they can trust in their despair. In fact, when their relationship disintegrates, the husband and wife are plunged into loneliness, both individually and as a couple. They lose sight of the horizon of communion with God, with others and with the Church. It is then that your meetings offer them a "foothold" so as not to lose everything and to gradually get back on their feet. I like to think of you as custodians of a greater hope for married couples who have lost it.
Hence a crisis is a passage of growth. The account of the wedding feast at Cana can be interpreted from this perspective (Jn 2,1-11). The Virgin Mary realizes that the husband and wife "have no wine" and tells Jesus. This lack of wine brings to mind the moment in a couple's life when love ends, joy runs out and the enthusiasm of the marriage suddenly drains away. After Jesus had transformed the water into wine, the bridegroom received compliments because, they said, he had kept "the good wine" until that moment. This implies that Jesus' wine was better than the previous. We know that this "good wine" is a symbol of salvation, of the new nuptial covenant that Jesus came to make with humanity. Yet every Christian marriage, even the most wretched and insecure one, is a sacrament of precisely this and therefore can find in humility the courage to ask the Lord for help. When a husband and wife in difficulty or - as your experience shows - even already separated entrust themselves to Mary and turn to the One who made "one flesh" of two, they can be certain that, with the Lord's help, this crisis will become a passage of growth and that love will emerge from it purified, matured and strengthened. God alone can do this. He wants his disciples to serve as effective collaborators, to approach couples, listen to them and help them rediscover the hidden treasure of their marriage, the flame that has been buried under the ashes. It is he who revives this flame and brings it back to life; certainly not in the same way as falling in love, but in a different, more intense and profound manner; but it is always the same flame.
Dear friends, who have chosen to put yourselves at the service of others in such a delicate area, I assure you of my prayers that your commitment will not become merely an activity, but will remain always, at its roots, a witness of God's love. Yours is a service "against the tide". Today, in fact, when couples enter a crisis, they find many people ready to advise separation. Divorce is often proposed with ease even to spouses who are married in the Name of the Lord, in the forgetfulness that man can not divide what God has united (cf. Mt 19,6 Mc 10,9). In order to carry out your mission you too need to nourish your spiritual life constantly, to put love into all that you do so that, when you encounter difficult situations, your hope will never run out or be reduced to a formula. May the Holy Family of Nazareth, to whom I entrust your service, especially the most difficult cases, help you in this delicate apostolic task. May Mary, Queen of the Family, be beside you, as I impart my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to you and to all of the members of the Retrouvaille Movement.
I am pleased to receive you today as you present the Letters of Credence accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic. I am grateful for your kind words as you begin the mission entrusted to you by your Government. Please express my respectful greetings to His Excellency, Mr Václav Klaus, President of the Republic, assuring him of my prayers for the well-being of all the people of your Country.
Mr Ambassador, I appreciate the emphasis you have placed on the influence of Christianity on the rich cultural heritage of your nation, and particularly the role that the Gospel played in bringing hope to the Czech people in times of oppression. Hope is indeed the timeless message which the Church offers to every generation, and it prompts her to participate in the global task of forging bonds of peace and goodwill among all peoples. She does this in a special way by her diplomatic activity, through which she extols the dignity of persons as destined for a life of communion with God and with one another.
Your nation, bolstered by the sense of solidarity that enabled her to emerge courageously from the collapse of totalitarianism, also desires to contribute to the welfare of the human family by enhancing international cooperation in the struggle against violence, hunger, poverty and other social ills. New avenues of influence will soon open for your country as it prepares to assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union next year. I am confident that by setting clear goals and facilitating the involvement of all member States, the distinct honour of presiding over the Council for a six-month term will permit the Czech Republic to exercise strong leadership in the shared endeavour of combining unity and diversity, national sovereignty and joint activity, and economic progress and social justice across the continent.
The Church is well aware of the many challenges facing Europe precisely at a time when its nations aspire to build a more stable international community for future generations. To move forward, its leaders are called to recognize that human happiness and well-being cannot be achieved through structures alone or by any single stratum of social or political life (cf. Spe Salvi ). The realization of a genuine culture worthy of man’s noble vocation requires the harmonious cooperation of families, ecclesial communities, schools, businesses, community organizations and governmental institutions. Far from being ends in themselves, these entities are organized structures intended for the service of all, and are integrally connected to one another in the pursuit of the common good (cf. Centesimus Annus CA 13).
For this reason, all of society benefits when the Church is afforded the right to exercise stewardship over the material and spiritual goods required for her ministry (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 88). In your nation, there are signs of progress in this area, but there is more to be done. I am confident that the special Commissions set up by your Government and Parliament for resolving outstanding issues regarding ecclesiastical property will move forward with honesty, fairness, and a genuine recognition of the Church’s ability to contribute to the welfare of the Republic. In particular, I hope that such considerations will be kept in clear view while a solution is sought concerning the future of the Cathedral in Prague, which stands as a living witness to the rich cultural and religious heritage of your land, and testifies to the harmonious coexistence of Church and State.
By its very nature, the Gospel urges people of faith to offer themselves in loving service to their brothers and sisters without distinction and without counting the cost (cf. Lc 10,25-37). Love is the outward manifestation of the faith that sustains the community of believers and empowers them to be signs of hope for the world (cf. Jn 13,35). An example of this visible charity shines through the work of Caritas, whose members engage daily in a wide range of social services in your country. This is especially evident in the service it offers on behalf of expectant mothers, the homeless, the disabled, and the imprisoned. The coordination between Caritas Czech Republic and the governmental Ministries of Health, Labour and Social Affairs demonstrates the potential fruits that can result from close collaboration between State and Church agencies (cf. Deus Caritas Est ). I would emphasize here the enormous formative potential for young people, whose participation in such initiatives teaches them that genuine solidarity does not merely consist in supplying material goods but in making a gift of oneself (cf. Lc 17,33). Moreover, as the Czech Republic searches to expand ways of participating in the task of shaping a more cohesive and cooperative international community, we should not forget the many Czech citizens already serving abroad in long-term development and aid projects under the auspices of Caritas and other humanitarian organizations. I heartily encourage their efforts and commend the generosity of all your fellow citizens who creatively seek ways to serve the common good both within your nation and across the globe.
Before closing, Your Excellency, allow me to express my sincere condolences to you and your fellow citizens upon the tragic death of Mr Ivo Žd’árek, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Pakistan, who was among the victims killed in the recent attack in Islamabad. I pray daily for an end to such acts of aggression, and I encourage all those engaged in diplomatic service to dedicate themselves ever more keenly to facilitating peace and ensuring security throughout the world.
As you begin your service, Mr Ambassador, I extend cordial wishes that the important mission entrusted to you will be fruitful. Please know that the offices of the Roman Curia are eager to assist you in the fulfilment of your duties. Asking you kindly to assure the people of the Czech Republic of my prayers and esteem, I invoke upon them an abundance of divine blessings and entrust them to the loving providence of Almighty God.
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