Speeches 2005-13 15118


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

I am glad to meet you on the occasion of the 23rd annual International Congress organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care. I cordially greet Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, President of the Dicastery, and thank him for his courteous words on your behalf. I extend my gratitude to the Secretary, to the collaborators of this Pontifical Council, to the speakers, to the academic authorities, to the important figures, to those in charge of health-care institutions, to health-care workers and to those who have offered their collaboration by taking part in various ways in the organization of the Congress whose theme this year is: "Pastoral care in the treatment of sick children". I am sure that these days of reflection and discussion on such a topical subject will contribute to sensitizing public opinion on the duty to give children all the attention they need for their harmonious physical and spiritual development. If this applies to all children, it is even more important for those who are sick and in need of special medical treatment.

Thanks to the contribution of experts of world renown and people directly in touch with children in difficulty, the theme of your Congress, which ends today, has enabled you to highlight the difficult situation in immense regions of the earth in which a rather large number of children are still living and to propose necessary, indeed, urgent interventions to come to their help. Medicine has certainly made considerable progress in the past 50 years: this has led to a substantial reduction of infant mortality, although much still remains to be done with this in view. It suffices to remember, as you pointed out, that each year four million newborn babies die within 26 days of birth.

In this context, the treatment of the sick child is a topic that cannot fail to raise attentive interest of all those who are dedicated to health pastoral care. A detailed analysis of the current state of affairs is indispensable in order to undertake, or continue, a decisive action aimed at preventing illnesses as far as possible and, when they are present, at curing the small patients by means of the most modern discoveries of medical science as well as by promoting better standards of hygiene and sanitation, especially in the less fortunate countries. The challenge today is to ward off the onset of many pathologies once characteristic of childhood and, overall, to encourage the growth, development and maintenance of good health for all children.

All are involved in this vast action: families, doctors and social and health-care workers. Medical research is sometimes confronted by difficult decisions when it is a question, for example, of reaching a proper balance between the continuation or abandonment of therapy to ensure adequate treatment for the real needs of the small patients without succumbing to the temptation of experimentation. It is not superfluous to remember that the focus of every medical intervention must always be to achieve the true good of the child, considered in his dignity as a human being with full rights. Thus it is always necessary to care for him lovingly, to help him to face suffering and sickness, even before birth, as his situation requires. Then taking into account the emotional impact of the illness and treatment to which the child is subjected which are quite often particularly invasive, it is important to ensure constant communication with his relatives. If health-care workers, doctors and nurses feel the burden of the suffering of the little patients they are assisting, one can easily imagine how much more acutely their parents must feel it!

The medical and human aspects must never be separated and it is the duty of every nursing and health-care structure, especially if it is motivated by a genuine Christian spirit, to offer the best of both expertise and humanity. The sick person, especially the child, understands in particular the language of tenderness and love, expressed through caring, patient and generous service which in believers is inspired by the desire to express the same special love that Jesus reserved for children. "Maxima debetur puero reverentia" (Juvenal, Satire xiv, v. 479): the ancients already acknowledged the importance of respecting the child who is a gift and a precious good for society and whose human dignity, which he fully possesses even unborn in his mother's womb, must be recognized. Every human being has a value in himself because he is created in the image of God in whose eyes he is all the more precious the weaker he appears to the human gaze. Thus, with what great love should we also welcome a unborn child who is already affected with medical pathologies! "Sinite parvulos venire ad me", Jesus says in the Gospel (cf.
Mc 10,14), showing us the attitude of respect and acceptance with which we must look after every child, especially when he is weak and in difficulty, suffering and defenceless. I am thinking above all of little orphans or children abandoned because of the poverty and the disintegration of their family; I am thinking of children who are the innocent victims of AIDS or of war and of the many armed conflicts that are being fought in various parts of the world; I am thinking of children who died because of poverty, drought and hunger. The Church does not forget her smallest children and if, on the one hand she applauds the initiatives of the richer nations to improve the conditions of their development, on the other, she is strongly aware of the need to invite them to pay greater attention to these brothers and sisters of ours, so that thanks to our unanimous solidarity they are able to lo0k at life with trust and hope.

Dear brothers and sisters, while I express the wish that the many conditions of imbalance that still exist may be set right as soon as possible with decisive interventions on behalf of these small brothers and sisters, I also express my deep appreciation of those who dedicate their energy and material resources to serving them. I am thinking with special gratitude of our Bambino Gesů Hospital and of the numerous Catholic social and health-care associations and institutions which, following the example of Jesus Christ the Good Samaritan, and inspired by his charity, offer human, moral and spiritual support and relief to so many suffering children, loved by God with special predilection. May the Blessed Virgin, Mother of every human being, watch over sick children and protect all those who do their utmost to nurse them with humane consideration and a Gospel spirit. With these sentiments, as I express my sincere appreciation of the work of sensitization achieved at this International Congress, I assure you of my constant remembrance in prayer and impart the Apostolic Blessing to all.


Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome you at the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Lebanese Republic to the Holy See. I am grateful for your kind words and for the cordial greetings you have conveyed to me from H.E. Mr Michel Sleiman, President of the Republic, who I recently had the honour of receiving at the Vatican. In return, I would like to thank him kindly and repeat to him the sentiments of affection and trust which I feel for the entire Lebanese People, as I express the hope that he may courageously continue in his efforts to build a united and solidary society.

As you stressed, Mr Ambassador, Lebanon is the cradle of an ancient culture which radiated throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, as well as the country of numerous religious beliefs that have been able to demonstrate that they can live together in fraternity and collaboration. Rich in its diversity, the Lebanese people have great love for their land, their culture and their traditions, while remaining faithful to their vocation to universal openness. This 1,000-year-old history of your country and its position in the heart of a complex regional context confers upon it as a fundamental mission, that of contributing to peace and harmony among all.

Because of its experience of intercommunitarian and intercultural life and collaboration, Lebanon is a "treasure" entrusted to all the Lebanese. It is therefore their duty to preserve it and to make it profitable, for the good of the entire nation. I likewise hope that the international community will protect and value it and that, through its effective engagement, it may help to prevent this country from becoming a battleground for regional or international conflicts. Thus Lebanon must be as a laboratory for the research of effective solutions to the conflicts that for so long have troubled the Middle East.

In this perspective, I am delighted with the courageous efforts, made in the past few months by the entire country and by its leaders, to restore political life and the national institutions as a whole to their normal function, thanks to the patient efforts of all. The election of the President of the Republic, the formation of a nationally united government and the approval of a new electoral law can only encourage national unity and contribute to an authentic coexistence among the different members of the nation. Moreover, the "national dialogue" that began a few weeks ago will certainly be an opportunity to clarify the challenges that the country must face today and to seek the compromises necessary to confront them. I therefore hope that, setting aside private interests and healing the wounds of the past, everyone may effectively pursue the path of dialogue and reconciliation, to permit the country to make stable progress.

Nevertheless, the tensions which unfortunately still exist show that it is necessary to advance decisively on the path opened which was opened a few months ago by the Doha Agreement, to build together Lebanese institutions. The fundamental attitude that must guide each person in this commitment to the service of the common good must remain unchanged. May each member of the Lebanese people feel truly at home in Lebanon and see that his/her concerns and legitimate expectations are effectively taken into consideration, with reciprocal respect for the rights of others. To achieve this, it is necessary to encourage and develop a real education of consciences in peace, in reconciliation and in dialogue, especially for the young generations. As my venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II wrote: "One must never forget that a gesture of peace can disarm one's adversary and often invites him to respond positively to the hand held out, because peace, which is a good par excellence, tends to be communicated" (Apostolic Exhortation Une espérance nouvelle pour le Liban, n. 98). This lasting peace which is a profound aspiration of all the Lebanese, is possible to the extent in which there is an authentic desire to live together in the same land and to consider justice, reconciliation and dialogue as a favourable setting for the resolution of the problems of individuals and groups. To build a society that assures all its members a dignified and free existence, ever deeper cooperation among all of the members of the nation must be developed, founded on relations of trust among individuals and among communities.

Mr Ambassador, in this important phase that your country is experiencing, the Holy See continues to follow developments in the situation with close attention and is especially interested in the efforts made to settle definitively the issues that Lebanon must face. Particularly sensitive to the suffering to which the populations of the Middle East have been subjected for so long, the Holy See proceeds with determination in its commitment towards peace and reconciliation in Lebanon and in all of this region so dear to believers' hearts.

At the end of this meeting, permit me, Mr Ambassador, to greet warmly the Bishops and the Catholic communities of Lebanon through you. In continuation with the recent beatification in Beirut of Fr Jacques Haddad, Abouna Yaacoub, an apostle of mercy and an ardent preacher of the Word of God, I invite Catholics to be in profound communion with their Pastors, enthusiastic architects of unity and fraternity with their fellow citizens. May this intense moment, which united Lebanese of every origin and religious sensibility in the recognition of the figure full of wisdom and of the admirable work of one of them, be prolonged in a common commitment at the service of the peace and of the unity of the nation!

Mr Ambassador, today you inaugurate the noble mission of representing Lebanon to the Holy See and of maintaining the excellent relations that unite your country to the Apostolic See. Please accept the warmest good wishes that I extend for your joyous success, and rest assured of always finding among my collaborators the understanding and support necessary!

I wholeheartedly invoke an abundance of divine Blessings upon you, upon your family, upon your collaborators at the Embassy, upon all the Lebanese and upon your country's leaders.


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

I meet you with joy on the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which is celebrating 100 years of life and activity. Indeed, a century has passed since my venerable Predecessor, St Pius X, with his Apostolic Constitution Sapienti Consilio of 29 June 1908, made your Dicastery autonomous as a Congregatio negotiis religiosorum sodalium praeposita, a name that has subsequently been modified several times. To commemorate this event you have planned a Congress on the coming 22 November with the significant title: "A hundred years at the service of the consecrated life". Thus, I wish this appropriate initiative every success.

Today's meeting is a particularly favourable opportunity for me to greet and thank all those who work in your Dicastery. I greet in the first place Cardinal Franc Rodé, the Prefect, to whom I am also grateful for expressing your common sentiments. Together with him I greet the Members of the Dicastery, the Secretary, the Undersecretaries and the other Officials who, with different tasks carry out their daily service with competence and wisdom in order to "promote and regulate" the practice of the evangelical counsels in the various forms of consecrated life, as well as the activity of the Societies of Apostolic Life (cf. Apostolic Constitution Pastor bonus ). Consecrated persons constitute a chosen portion of the People of God: to sustain them and to preserve their fidelity to the divine call, dear brothers and sisters, is your fundamental commitment which you carry out in accordance with thoroughly tested procedures thanks to the experience accumulated in the past 100 years of your activity. This service of the Congregation was even more assiduous in the decades following the Second Vatican Council that witnessed the effort for renewal, in both the lives and legislation of all the Religious and Secular Institutes and of the Societies of Apostolic Life. While I join you, therefore, in thanking God, the giver of every good, for the good fruits produced in these years by your Dicastery, I recall with grateful thoughts all those who in the course of the past century of its activity have spared no energy for the benefit of consecrated men and women.

This year the Plenary Assembly of your Congregation has focused on a topic particularly dear to me: monasticism, a forma vitae that has always been inspired by the nascent Church which was brought into being at Pentecost (
Ac 2,42-47 Ac 4,32-35). From the conclusions of your work that has focused especially on female monastic life useful indications can be drawn to those monks and nuns who "seek God", carrying out their vocation for the good of the whole Church. Recently too (cf. Address to the world of culture, Paris, 12 September 2008), I desired to highlight the exemplarity of monastic life in history, stressing that its aim is at the same time both simple and essential: quaerere Deum, to seek God and to seek him through Jesus Christ who has revealed him (cf. Jn 1,18), to seek him by fixing one's gaze on the invisible realities that are eternal (cf. 2Co 4,18), in the expectation of our Saviour's appearing in glory (cf. Ti Tt 2,13).

Christo omnino nihil praeponere [prefer nothing to Christ] (cf. Rule of Benedict RB 72,11; Augustine, Enarr. in PS 29,9 Cyprian, Ad Fort 4). These words which the Rule of St Benedict takes from the previous tradition, clearly express the precious treasure of monastic life lived still today in both the Christian West and East. It is a pressing invitation to mould monastic life to the point of making it an evangelical memorial of the Church and, when it is authentically lived, "a reference point for all the baptized" (cf. John Paul II, Orientale lumen, n. 9). By virtue of the absolute primacy reserved for Christ, monasteries are called to be places in which room is made for the celebration of God's glory, where the mysterious but real divine presence in the world is adored and praised, where one seeks to live the new commandment of love and mutual service, thus preparing for the final "revelation of the sons of God" (Rm 8,19). When monks live the Gospel radically, when they dedicate themselves to integral contemplative life in profound spousal union with Christ, on whom this Congregation's Instruction Verbi Sponsa (13 May 1999) extensively reflected, monasticism can constitute for all the forms of religious life and consecrated life a remembrance of what is essential and has primacy in the life of every baptized person: to seek Christ and put nothing before his love.

The path pointed out by God for this quest and for this love is his Word itself, who in the books of the Sacred Scriptures, offers himself abundantly, for the reflection of men and women. The desire for God and love of his Word are therefore reciprocally nourished and bring forth in monastic life the unsupressable need for the opus Dei, the studium orationis and lectio divina, which is listening to the Word of God, accompanied by the great voices of the tradition of the Fathers and Saints, and also prayer, guided and sustained by this Word. The recent General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, celebrated in Rome last month on the theme: The Word of God in the life and mission of the Church, renewing the appeal to all Christians to root their life in listening to the Word of God contained in Sacred Scripture has especially invited religious communities to make the Word of God their daily food, in particular through the practice of lectio divina (cf. Elenchus praepositionum, n. 4).

Dear brothers and sisters, those who enter the monastery seek there a spiritual oasis where they may learn to live as true disciples of Jesus in serene and persevering fraternal communion, welcoming possible guests as Christ himself (cf. Rule of Benedict, 53, 1). This is the witness that the Church asks of monasticism also in our time. Let us invoke Mary, Mother of the Lord, the "woman of listening", who put nothing before love for the Son of God, born of her, so that she may help communities of consecrated life and, especially, monastic communities to be faithful to their vocation and mission. May monasteries always be oases of ascetic life, where fascination for the spousal union with Christ is sensed, and where the choice of the Absolute of God is enveloped in a constant atmosphere of silence and contemplation. As I assure you of my prayers for this, I cordially impart the Apostolic Blessing to all of you who are taking part in the Plenary Assembly, to all those who work in your Dicastery and to the members of the various Institutes of Consecrated Life, especially those that are entirely contemplative. May the Lord pour out an abundance of his comforts upon each one.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Welcome to the house of the Successor of Peter: I greet you with affection and address my cordial greeting to you all. I extend it first of all to the Pastor of your ecclesial community, Archbishop Orazio Soricelli, whom I also thank for his words on your behalf. I then greet the priests, deacons and seminarians, the men and women religious, the lay people committed to the various pastoral activities, the young people, the choir and the sick with the volunteers of UNITALSI [the National Italian Union for Transporting the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines]. I greet the civil authorities, the mayors of the municipalities of the diocese with the leaders. Lastly, I extend my thoughts to the entire Archdiocese of Amalfi-Cava de' Tirreni, which has come to Rome on pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostle Peter, bringing the venerable relics of St Andrew, your august Patron, preserved since the fourth century in your Cathedral crypt. Indeed, this pilgrimage is being made precisely in the name of the Apostle Andrew on the occasion of the eighth centenary of the translation of his relics from great Constantinople to your city of Amalfi, small in size but also great in its civil and religious history, as your Archbishop has just recalled. On the occasion of the Feast of St Andrew on 30 November 1996, I was also able to stop and pray before this precious reliquary, and I still retain grateful memories of that visit.

On this now imminent occasion, the Jubilee Year will end with Holy Mass, celebrated in your Cathedral by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, my Secretary of State. It has been a special year which culminated in the solemn commemorative act last 8 May, at which Cardinal Walter Kasper presided as my Special Envoy. Indeed, by looking at the example of St Andrew and having recourse to his intercession, you desire to give a new impetus to your apostolic and missionary vocation, extending the perspectives of your heart to the expectations of peace among peoples, intensifying the prayer for the unity of all Christians. Vocation, mission and ecumenism are therefore the three key-words that have guided you in this spiritual and pastoral commitment, in which today you receive an encouragement from the Pope to persevere with generosity and enthusiasm. May St Andrew, the first of the Apostles to be called by Jesus on the banks of the River Jordan (cf.
Jn 1,35-40), help you to rediscover increasingly the importance and the urgent need to witness to the Gospel in every social milieu. May your entire diocesan community, in imitation of the early Church, grow in faith and communicate Christian hope to all.

Dear brothers and sisters, our meeting is taking place on the very eve of the Solemnity of Christ the King. I therefore invite you to turn the gaze of your heart to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. In the face of the Pantocrator we recognize, as Pope Paul VI wonderfully affirmed during the Second Vatican Council, "Christ, our beginning! Christ, our way and our guide! Christ our hope and our end!" (Inaugural Discourse of the second session, 29 September 1963). The Word of God that we will hear tomorrow will repeat to us that his Face, the revelation of the invisible mystery of the Father, is that of the Good Shepherd, ready to take care of his scattered sheep, to gather them together so that they may graze and then rest in safety. With patience he goes in search of the lost sheep and cares for the one that is sick (cf. Ez Ez 34,11-12,15). Only in him can we find that peace which he purchased for us at the price of his Blood, taking the sins of the world upon himself and obtaining our reconciliation.

The Word of God will remind us too that the Face of Christ, King of the Universe, is that of the judge, for God is at the same time a good and merciful Shepherd and a just Judge. In particular, the Gospel passage (Mt 25,31-46) will present to us the great picture of the Last Judgment. In this parable, the Son of man in his glory, surrounded by his angels, acts like the shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats and set the just on his right and the reprobates on his left. He invites the just to enter into the inheritance that has been prepared for them from eternity, while he condemns the reprobates to eternal fire, prepared for the devil and for the other rebellious angels. The criterion of judgment is decisive. This criterion is love, the concrete charity to neighbour, and in particular to the "little", the people in the greatest difficult: hungry, thirsty, foreigners, naked, sick and in prison. The king solemnly declares to all that what they did or did not do to them, they did or did not do to him himself. That is to say that Christ identifies with "the least of these" his brethren, and the Last Judgment will be the account of what previously happened in earthly life.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is this that interests God. Historical kingship does not matter to him; but he wants to reign in peoples' hearts, and from there, over the world: he is King of the whole universe but the critical point, the zone in which his Kingdom is at risk, is our heart, for it is there that God encounters our freedom. We, and we alone, can prevent him from reigning over us and hence hinder his kingship over the world: over the family, over society, over history. We men and women have the faculty to choose whose side we wish to be on: with Christ and his Angels or with the devil and his followers, to use the same language as the Gospel. It is for us to decide whether to practice justice or wickedness, to embrace love and forgiveness or revenge and homicidal hatred. On this depends our personal salvation but also the salvation of the world. This is why Jesus wishes to associate us with his kingship; this is why he invites us to collaborate in the coming of his Kingdom of love, justice and peace. It is left to us to respond to him, not with words but with deeds: by choosing the path of effective and generous love for our neighbour we allow him to extend his lordship in time and space. May St Andrew help you to renew courageously your decision to belong to Christ and to put yourselves at the service of his Kingdom of justice, peace and love, and may the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus our King, always protect your communities. For my part, I assure you of my remembrance in prayer while thanking you once again for your visit I warmly bless you all.



TO CATHOLICOS ARAM I, CATHOLICOS OF THE ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC CHURCH OF CILICIA Redemptoris Mater Chapel, Apostolic Palace Monday, 24 November 2008

Your Holiness,

With heartfelt affection in the Lord I greet you and the distinguished members of your delegation on the occasion of your visit to the Church of Rome. Our meeting today stands in continuity with the visit which you made to my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II in January 1997, and with the many other contacts and mutual visits which, by God’s grace, have led in recent years to closer relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.

In this year of Saint Paul, you will visit the tomb of the Apostle of the Nations and pray with the monastic community at the basilica erected to his memory. In that prayer, you will be united to the great host of Armenian saints and martyrs, teachers and theologians, whose legacy of learning, holiness and missionary achievements are part of the patrimony of the whole Church. We think of Saint Nerses Shnorkhali and Saint Nerses of Lambon who, as Bishop of Tarsus, was known as “the second Paul of Tarsus”. That testimony culminated in the twentieth century, which proved a time of unspeakable suffering for your people. The faith and devotion of the Armenian people have been constantly sustained by the memory of the many martyrs who have borne witness to the Gospel down the centuries. May the grace of that witness continue to shape the culture of your nation and inspire in Christ’s followers an ever greater trust in the saving and life-giving power of the Cross.

The See of Cilicia has long been involved in encouraging positive ecumenical contacts between the Churches. Indeed, the dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church has benefited significantly from the presence of its Armenian delegates. We must be hopeful that this dialogue will continue to move forward, since it promises to clarify theological issues which have divided us in the past but now appear open to greater consensus. I am confident that the current work of the International Commission – devoted to the theme: “The Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church” – will enable many of the specific issues of our theological dialogue to find their proper context and resolution.

Surely the growth in understanding, respect and cooperation which has emerged from ecumenical dialogue promises much for the proclamation of the Gospel in our time. Throughout the world Armenians live side by side with the faithful of the Catholic Church. An increased understanding and appreciation of the apostolic tradition which we share will contribute to an ever more effective common witness to the spiritual and moral values without which a truly just and humane social order cannot exist. For this reason, I trust that new and practical means will be found to give expression to the common declarations we have already signed.

Your Holiness, I cannot fail to assure you of my daily prayers and deep concern for the people of Lebanon and the Middle East. How can we not be grieved by the tensions and conflicts which continue to frustrate all efforts to foster reconciliation and peace at every level of civil and political life in the region? Most recently we have all been saddened by the escalation of persecution and violence against Christians in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere. Only when the countries involved can determine their own destiny, and the various ethnic groups and religious communities accept and respect each other fully, will peace be built on the solid foundations of solidarity, justice and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples.

With these sentiments and with affection in the Lord, I thank Your Holiness for your visit, and I express my hope that these days spent in Rome will be a source of many graces for you and for all those entrusted to your pastoral care. Upon you and to all the faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Church I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in the Lord.


Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Friends of the Regional Seminaries of the Marches, Apulia and Abruzzi-Molise,

I am particularly pleased to welcome you on the occasion of the centenary of the foundation of your respective Regional Seminaries that were established as a result of the encouragement of Pope St Pius X, who urged the Italian Bishops, especially those of the central and southern part of the Peninsula, to consider congregating Seminaries in order to provide more effectively for the formation of candidates to the priesthood. I greet you all with affection, starting with Archbishops Edoardo Menichelli, Carlo Ghidelli and Francesco Cacucci, whom I thank for the words with which they have interpreted your common sentiments. I greet the rectors, the formation staff, the professors and the students and all who live and work daily in your institutions. On this important occasion, I would like to join you in praising the Lord, who in this century has accompanied with his grace the lives of many priests who have trained at these important educational institutions. Many of them are involved today in the various sectors of your local Churches, in the mission ad gentes and in other services to the universal Church; some have been called to hold offices that entail great ecclesial responsibility.

I would now like to address you in particular, dear Seminarians, who are preparing to be workers in the Lord's vineyard. As the recent Assembly of the Synod of Bishops recalled, among the prioritized tasks of the presbyterate is that of scattering the Word of God in the field of the world in large handfuls. Like the seed in the Gospel parable, it actually seems very small but once it has sprouted it grows into a great shrub and bears abundant fruit (cf.
Mt 13,31-32). The Word of God that you will be called to sow in large handfuls and that bears within it eternal life is Christ himself, the only one who can change the human heart and renew the world. But we might well ask ourselves: does contemporary man still feel the need for Christ and for his message of salvation?

In today's social context a certain culture seems to be showing us the face of a self-sufficient humanity desirous of accomplishing its own projects by itself, which chooses to be the sole author of its own destiny and consequently considers that God's presence is irrelevant; it therefore excludes him de facto from its choices and decisions. In a climate at times marked by a rationalism closed in on itself, that considers the practical sciences the only form of knowledge, the rest becomes completely subjective and consequently the religious experience also risks being perceived as a subjective choice, neither essential nor crucial for life. Today, of course, for these and other reasons, it has certainly become more difficult to believe, always more difficult to accept the Truth that is Christ, always more difficult to spend one's life for the cause of the Gospel. However, as the news reports daily, contemporary man often seems lost and worried about his future, in search of certainties and longing for reliable reference points. Moreover, as in every epoch, people in the third millennium need God and sometimes seek him even without realizing it. The task of Christians, and especially of priests, is to take in this deep yearning of the human heart and to offer to all, with the means and in the manner required by the needs of the times, the unchanging and therefore always alive and actual Word of eternal life that is Christ, Hope of the world.

With a view to this important mission that you will be called to carry out in the Church, the seminary years assume great value. This is a period designed for formation and discernment; years in which priority must be the constant pursuit of a personal relationship with Jesus, an intimate experience of his love that is acquired first of all through prayer and through contact with the Sacred Scriptures, read, interpreted and meditated upon in the faith of the ecclesial community. In this Pauline Year, how can I fail to propose the Apostle Paul to you as a model to inspire you in your preparation for the apostolic ministry? His extraordinary experience on the road to Damascus transformed him from a persecutor of Christians to a witness of the Lord's Resurrection, ready to lay down his life for the Gospel. He had been a faithful observer of all the prescriptions of the Torah and the Jewish traditions but after his encounter with Jesus, he writes in his Letter to the Philippians, "whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ". "For his sake", he added, "I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him" (cf. 3: 7-9). Conversion did not eliminate what was good and true in his life but permitted him to interpret the wisdom and truth of the law and of the prophets in a new way and thus be enabled to converse with all, after the example of the divine Teacher.

In imitation of St Paul, dear Seminarians, never tire of encountering Christ in listening, in reading and in studying Sacred Scripture, in prayer and in personal meditation, in the liturgy and in every other daily activity. Your role is important in this regard, dear formators, called to be witnesses for your pupils, even before being teachers of evangelical life. Because of their own typical characteristics, Regional Seminaries can be privileged places for the formation of seminarians in diocesan spirituality, engraving this formation in the broader ecclesial and regional context with wisdom and balance. May your institutions also be "homes" that welcome vocations in order to impress an even greater impetus upon vocations ministry, taking special care of the world of youth and teaching them the great evangelical and missionary ideals.

Dear friends, as I thank you for your visit, I invoke upon each one of you the motherly protection of the Virgin Mother of Christ, whom the Advent liturgy presents to us as the model of one who watches while awaiting the glorious return of her divine Son. I confidently entrust you to her. Have frequent recourse to her intercession so that she may help you to keep alert and watchful. For my part, I assure you of my affection and my daily prayers, while I warmly bless you all.

Speeches 2005-13 15118