Speeches 2005-13 402



Solemnity of the Immaculate of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This year too we have arranged to meet here, in Piazza di Spagna, to pay homage to the Immaculate Virgin on the occasion of her solemn Feast. I address my cordial greeting to all of you who have come here in great numbers, as well as to those who are taking part via radio and television. We are gathered round this historic monument, which today is surrounded by a mass of flowers, a sign of the love and devotion of the Roman People for the Mother of Jesus. The most beautiful gift, the most pleasing to her and which we are offering to her, is our prayer, the prayers we carry in our hearts and entrust to her intercession. They are invocations of thanksgiving and petition: thanksgiving for the gift of faith and for all the good we receive from God; and petition for the various needs, for the family, for health and for work, for every difficulty that life makes us encounter.

But when we come here, especially on this occasion of 8 December, what we receive from Mary is far more important than what we offer her. In fact, she gives us a message destined for each one of us, for the City of Rome and for the whole world. I, who am the Bishop of this City, also come to listen, not only for myself, but for everyone. And what does Mary say? She speaks to us with the Word of God who was made flesh in her womb. Her “message” is nothing other than Jesus, the One who is the whole of her life. It is thanks to him and for him that she is Immaculate. And just as the Son of God became a man for our sake, so too she, the Mother, was preserved from sin for our sake, for everyone, in anticipation of God’s salvation for every human being.

Thus Mary tells us that we are all called to open ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit in order, in our ultimate destiny, to attain an immaculate state, fully and definitively free from evil. She tells us this with her own holiness, with her gaze full of hope and compassion which evokes words such as these: “Do not fear, my child, God loves you; he loves you personally; he thought of you before you came into the world and called you into being to fill you with love and with life; and for this reason he came to meet you, he made himself like you, he became Jesus, God-man, like you in all things but without sin; he gave himself for your sake to the point of dying on the Cross, and thus he gave you a new life, free, holy and immaculate” (cf Ep 1,3-5).

Mary gives us this message and, when I come here on this Feast, it impresses me because I feel it is addressed to the whole City, to all the men and women who live in Rome: even to those who do not think of it, who do not even remember that today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; to those who feel lonely and forsaken.

Mary’s gaze is God’s gaze upon each one of us. She looks at us with the Father’s love itself and blesses us. She acts as our “advocate” and we invoke her thus in the Salve, Regina: Advocata nostra. Even if everyone were to speak badly of us, she, the Mother, would speak well of us because her immaculate Heart is in tune with God’s mercy. So it is that she sees the City: not as an anonymous agglomeration but as a constellation in which God knows each one personally by name, one by one, and calls us to shine with his light. And those who in the world’s eyes are the first, to God are the lowliest; those who are little to God are great.

The Mother looks at us as God looked at her, a humble young girl of Nazareth, insignificant in the world’s eyes but chosen and precious to God. He recognizes in each one his or her likeness to his Son Jesus, even though we are so different! But who knows the power of divine Grace better than her? Who knows better than her that nothing is impossible for God who can even draw good from evil?

This, dear brothers and sisters, is the message we receive here, at the feet of Mary Immaculate.

It is a message of trust for every person of this City and of the whole world; a message of hope not made of words but of her history itself. She, a woman of our lineage, who gave birth to the Son of God and shared her whole life with him! And today she tells us: this is also your destiny, your own destiny and the destiny of all: to be holy like our Father, to be immaculate like our Brother Jesus Christ, to be loved children, all adopted in order to form a great family with no boundaries of colour or language, because God, Father of every human being, is one.

Thank you, O Mother Immaculate, for being with us always! May you never cease to watch over our City: comfort the sick, encourage the young and sustain families. Instill in them the strength to reject evil in all its forms and to choose good, even when it comes at a cost and entails going against the tide. Give us the joy to feel loved by God, blessed by him, predestined to be his children.

Immaculate Virgin, our sweetest Mother, pray for us!


Mr Ambassador,

In welcoming you to the Vatican and accepting your Letters of Credence as Ambassador of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal to the Holy See, I wish to express my satisfaction at the cordial relations which we continue to enjoy. I am grateful to you for transmitting the courteous greeting of your President, Mr Ram Baran Yadav, and in return I would ask you kindly to convey my own good wishes to him and to all the people of the Federal Democratic Republic.

Recent years have seen much change in your nation as Nepal’s leaders have sought to chart a new political course for the benefit of her people. In this regard, among the most important tasks is the drafting of a new Constitution. Ensuring the legal guarantees of civil and political rights, as well as guaranteeing those of an economic, social and cultural nature, is surely one of the most delicate and demanding undertakings in any nation’s political life. For this reason, the Holy See is hopeful that once present difficulties are overcome, the Constituent Assembly will be able to complete its work and contribute in this way to ensuring a stable, harmonious and prosperous future.

The Holy See is pleased to note the expressions of commitment to democratic ideals and norms found in the interim political arrangements currently in force in your country. These include the wish to promote competitive multi-party democracy, civil liberties and fundamental human rights, adult enfranchisement, periodic elections, press freedom, an independent judiciary and the rule of law. It is acknowledged that much still needs to be done to consolidate these good intentions, but the public expression of such a commitment by Nepal’s leaders already bodes well.

As Your Excellency is aware, of the over one million Christians in your country, the Catholic Church numbers very few souls and yet, through her institutions, she has sought to make a significant contribution to the well-being of all your citizens. The Church’s charitable agency Caritas runs a variety of projects in poorer areas and takes care of refugees. Spurred by the love of Jesus Christ (cf. 2Co 5,14-15), the Church is always ready and willing to do whatever she can to help those in distress, irrespective of their race, colour or creed.

While the Catholic Church can trace her first contacts with Nepal back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, over the past seventy years she has been particularly active in the service of the people through her hospitals, welfare organizations and schools. I am pleased to note the freedom in which these important institutions operate and the respect in which they are held. It is greatly to be hoped that your Government will continue to be supportive of the Church’s presence in health and education and ensure that human rights in general and religious freedom in particular are duly respected.

In contrast to the Nepalese people’s long tradition of tolerance, a few regrettable incidents of violence against the lives of Catholics have occurred in recent years, as well as damage to church property. Let me express the hope that a spirit of tolerance will prevail, and that cooperation for the general good and reconciliation through dialogue will be strengthened and will continue to mark the brotherly relations between Nepalese Catholics and their fellow citizens of other religions.

Finally, Mr Ambassador, I am confident that the cordial relations already existing between the Holy See and Nepal will do much to promote such fraternity, respect and dialogue. In offering my good wishes at the beginning of your mission as Ambassador to the Holy See, I assure you of the readiness of the Roman Curia to assist you in your high office. Upon you and upon all the people of Nepal I invoke an abundance of divine blessings.


Your Excellency,

I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence by which you are accredited Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Zambia to the Holy See. I thank you for the greetings which you have brought from President Rupiah Bwezani Banda, and I gladly reciprocate with my own good wishes and the assurance of my prayers for His Excellency and for all the beloved people of Zambia.

The Holy See values its diplomatic relations with your country as an important instrument for achieving mutual cooperation for the spiritual, moral and material good of all Zambians. Indeed, with the cooperation of men and women of good will throughout Africa, the Church works for the promotion of a moral, legal and social equilibrium among the members of the human family. Through her various social, developmental and charitable works, she fosters a balanced realization of the rights and duties of individuals and of society as a whole. She seeks to draw attention to the need for justice, solidarity and harmony, always with a special care for the poorer and weaker members of society. The Church is therefore proud of the example of Christian men and women who bring honour to their country and its institutions by selflessly pursuing the common good and teaching others to do the same, rising above local, regional or ethnic concerns.

It is a source of particular satisfaction that Zambia’s laws continue to respect and defend the dignity of every human life from conception. Powerful influences, many from beyond Africa, seek to place limitations on the right to life, seeing it as somehow restricting the freedom of others. Yet, for her part, the Church affirms that the right to life of the innocent is inviolable, and must take precedence over all other supposed rights. In doing so, she draws attention to an objective moral principle, rooted in the natural law, the content of which is accessible to right reason and is not dependent upon political choices or social consensus (cf. Address to Representatives of British Society, London, 17 September 2010). It is greatly to be hoped, Mr Ambassador, that Zambia will continue to foster due respect for the rights of every human being without exception, in harmony with the duty to protect life from conception to natural death in the manner of a truly Christian country. Turning to the question of economic development, presently there appear to be encouraging signs of improvement in your country, particularly in the agricultural sector. With economic growth, funds have become available for important development projects, particularly in the extension of adequate sanitary conditions. The nation has been making significant progress in this area, as reflected in lower infant and maternal mortality rates and other areas related to health. Improvements too in infrastructure, the availability of suitable housing, the struggle against corruption and the extension of educational opportunities are indispensable for the economic, social and cultural progress of your country. Likewise, due attention must always be given to the needs of the less fortunate. It is to be hoped that a diversified economic structure will be encouraged, as well as an increase in the number of small enterprises since, “alongside macro-projects, there is a place for micro-projects and above all there is need for the active mobilization of all the subjects of civil society” (cf. Caritas in Veritate ).

I am pleased to note that the Church in your country has been contributing positively in the fields of education, development and health care, especially in the struggle against malaria and HIV/AIDS. Be assured that she will continue to be actively involved in promoting the health of the population with a strong emphasis on prevention through education. Long-lasting health improvements will be achieved through formation in moral responsibility and solidarity, and in particular through faithfulness in marriage. In this way, the Church works to encourage a greater sense of integrity on the part of individuals and the building of a society which truly cherishes life, the family and the wider community.

Allow me to conclude these welcoming remarks by reiterating my good wishes and prayers for Zambia and her people. As you begin your mission, Mr Ambassador, I assure you that the various departments of the Roman Curia will be happy to assist you. Upon you and your family and upon all Zambia’s citizens I cordially invoke Almighty God's abundant blessings.


Mr Ambassador,

I am glad to receive you, Your Excellency, and to accredit you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Principality of Andorra to the Holy See. I thank you for your kind words and in reciprocation I would like to convey through you my cordial greetings to the two Co-Princes, the Archbishop of Urgell and the President of the French Republic. Through you, I also greet the Government, the Authorities and the people of Andorra.

The Principality that dates back to Charlemagne is ruled by paréage. The Co-Lordship, approved by the Holy See at the time, became a Co-Sovereignty, as you mentioned in your speech, which is the felicitous result of a historical development that has taken into account the legitimate interests of the Andorran people and guarantees them sovereignty. This original system, unique of its kind, enables the population to live in peace, far from conflicts. It is certain that the institutional solution found by your country cannot be transposed elsewhere, but it is nevertheless right to draw a lesson from it.

Harmony is possible within nations and between peoples. Juridical inventiveness and good will very often make it possible to solve numerous problems that unfortunately arise between peoples, and encourage the much desired international harmony.

In this context, I wish to emphasize the excellence of the relations between the Principality and the Holy See. These relations, which belong within a historical continuity of understanding and support — indeed, you have noted that the Holy See has always supported Andorra when its sovereignty was imperilled — were consolidated first by the establishment of diplomatic relations, then, two years ago, by the signing of a bilateral agreement. This agreement is the result and the expression of a healthy and loyal collaboration between the Church and the State, which both, in their different capacities, are at the service of the personal and social vocations of human beings.

Today, as yesterday, the cordial relations between the Church and Andorra serve these same people more effectively for the benefit of all. Such an agreement is yet one more stone contributed to the consolidation of relations between the Principality and the Church.

In the words that you addressed to me, Mr Ambassador, you mentioned the recent demographical development of your country. This shows the attraction that your country exerts on the young generations. It is above all a case of young Andorrans returning to their country.

Furthermore, your nation also welcomes new peoples. This openness brings with it the need for awareness and an increased sense of responsibility on the part of the institutions and of each individual. Indeed, the social harmony that could well be thrown off balance is linked not only to a correct and adapted legislative framework but also to the moral quality of each citizen, for “solidarity is seen therefore under two complementary aspects: that of a social principle and that of a moral virtue (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 193).

Solidarity attains the rank of a social virtue when it can rely at the same time on structures of solidarity and also on the firm and persevering determination of each person to work for the common good, because we are all responsible for all. Moral virtue, in turn, is expressed through decisions and laws that are in conformity with ethical principles. These principles consolidate democracy and permit Andorrans to live according to positive values, thousands of years old and steeped in Christianity, and to cultivate and preserve their identity which is so marked.

The education of young people is certainly the best way of awakening a permanent sense of the solidarity that I have just mentioned. Whatever his degree of responsibility, I encourage each person to show creativity in this sphere, to invest in it the necessary means and to sow generously for the future, mindful of giving it the necessary ethical foundations.

Along with education, it is also right to give the family the support which it deserves. As the basic cell of society, the family carries out its mission when it is encouraged and promoted by the public authorities as the first place where an apprenticeship in social life takes place. Granting to all the members of the family the aid they need will effectively facilitate harmony and social cohesion. The Church can make a positive contribution to the consolidation of the family, weakened by the contemporary culture.

At the time of my recent Apostolic Visit to Barcelona, I was happy to see the presence of a fine delegation from your country. These faithful of all ages, but particularly young people, came to demonstrate their attachment to the Successor of Peter. Without wishing to take undue advantage of your mediation, I would like to thank them for this warm presence and to make an appointment with them for the World Youth Day, now approaching.

I take the opportunity of this meeting, Mr Ambassador to greet cordially, though you, your Archbishop and his collaborators, as well as all the Catholic faithful who live in your country. May they preserve their desire to witness to Christ, and, in concert with all Andorrans, to build a social life where each one can find the ways to personal and collective fulfilment!

Thus they will also witness to the ever timely fruitfulness of the Word of God.

At the time when you are inaugurating your noble mission of representation to the Holy See, Mr Ambassador, I address to you my very best wishes for the success of your mission. Rest assured that you will always find with my collaborators the welcome and understanding you may need.

The Andorran people has a special veneration of the Virgin Mary, the Virgen de Meritxell, Patroness of the Co-Principality whose national feast is celebrated on 8 September, a Marian Solemnity. I entrust the Authorities of your country and its population as a whole to her maternal protection. Upon you, Your Excellency, upon your family and upon your collaborators, as well as upon the whole Andorran people and its leaders, I wholeheartedly invoke an abundance of divine Blessings.


Giovedì, 16 dicembre 2010

Signora Ambasciatore,

È con piacere che l'accolgo questa mattina mentre presenta le Lettere che l'accreditano come Ambasciatore Straordinario e Plenipotenziario della Repubblica delle Seychelles presso la Santa Sede. La ringrazio per avermi trasmesso i saluti di Sua Eccellenza il signor James Alix Michel, Presidente della Repubblica, che ho avuto l'onore di ricevere nel corso della sua recente visita alla Santa Sede. Le sarei molto riconoscente se potesse esprimergli la mia gratitudine per la cordialità dimostrata durante il nostro incontro. Attraverso di lei, saluto anche le autorità, i diversi responsabili politici e tutto il popolo delle Seychelles.

Il suo Paese continua a progredire e a consolidarsi nella via della pace, della prosperità e della stabilità. Senza dubbio, ciò è il risultato degli sforzi persistenti e del contributo generoso di tutte le sfere politiche e sociali e dei settori pubblici e privati. Sono lieto di congratularmi con il Governo e con il popolo delle Seychelles per avere superato la sfida della crisi economica mondiale, come dimostrano la ripresa del turismo, gli investimenti stranieri diretti e il rilancio dell'economia nazionale, fornendo uno spazio budgetario favorevole per la riduzione del debito e le spese prioritarie.
Tuttavia, la liberalizzazione dell'economia, pur preservando le conquiste sociali, è un mutamento che comporta uno sconvolgimento delle mentalità: si tratta dunque di accompagnare questa evoluzione per anticiparne gli effetti non sempre controllabili nel tempo, fornendo una necessaria base etica e giocando la carta della responsabilità. "Tutti hanno il diritto di partecipare alla vita economica e il dovere di contribuire, secondo le proprie capacità, al progresso del proprio Paese e dell'intera famiglia umana" (Compendio della Dottrina sociale della Chiesa, n. 333).

La programmazione dello sviluppo economico deve considerare attentamente la necessità di rispettare l'integrità e i ritmi della natura poiché le risorse naturali sono limitate e alcune non sono rinnovabili. La soluzione del problema ecologico esige che l'attività economica rispetti maggiormente l'ambiente, conciliando le esigenze dello sviluppo economico con quelle della tutela ambientale, "con l'obiettivo di rafforzare quell'alleanza tra essere umano e ambiente" (Caritas in veritate, ). Apprezzo in particolare, in questo ambito, l'iniziativa del Governo per ripristinare e preservare la barriera corallina. Essa è la prima linea di difesa, contro l'innalzamento del livello dell'oceano, ed è un habitat importante per l'allevamento ittico, che costituisce l'apporto proteico principale del Paese. È dunque necessario che, nei loro comportamenti, i consumatori e gli agenti di attività industriali sviluppino un maggiore senso di responsabilità.

Far crescere questo senso di responsabilità di tutti implica anche una cooperazione attiva ed efficace per il rispetto e la tutela della dignità umana di fronte a qualsiasi tentativo di proporne immagini riduttive e deformate o di strumentalizzare la persona. Il turismo internazionale, fattore importante di sviluppo economico e di crescita culturale, può diventare occasione di sfruttamento e di decadenza morale (cfr. Caritas in veritate ). Solo il riconoscimento della dignità umana rende possibile la crescita comune e personale di tutti (Gc 2, 1-9).

Per favorire un simile sviluppo umano integrale e rafforzare così la solidarietà intergenerazionale, è necessario tutelare la famiglia. Protetta e sostenuta dallo Stato e dalla società, la famiglia ha un ruolo del tutto originale e insostituibile nell'educazione dei figli. Con la famiglia, la vostra Nazione continuerà a costruire il suo futuro dando una formazione adeguata alle sue giovani generazioni, che sia in grado di trascendere i limiti nei quali le si vorrebbe a volte rinchiudere e di dare loro i mezzi concreti per lottare contro i mali sociali, in particolare la disoccupazione e la droga. Da questo punto di vista, evidenzio e incoraggio ancora una volta gli sforzi che da lungo tempo si stanno compiendo per mettere in atto un sistema educativo di qualità. È anche opportuno sostenere i più bisognosi e lottare contro la corruzione, garantendo un'uguaglianza obiettiva di fronte alla legge fra le diverse classi sociali.

Da parte sua, la Chiesa locale desidera continuare a offrire alla sua Nazione un contributo specifico, sia per sostenere la famiglia, l'educazione e la formazione dei giovani sia per lo sviluppo umano integrale di ogni persona. Un simile sviluppo comprende una crescita spirituale e non solo materiale, il cui criterio di orientamento si trova nella forza attiva della carità nella verità (cfr. Caritas in veritate Caritas in veritate, nn. 74 e 75). La ricerca spirituale che dimora nei cuori degli abitanti delle Seychelles trova in Cristo il suo senso e la sua pienezza; essa rende dinamica l'intera società, con la capacità di trasmettere la forza della riconciliazione per promuovere la giustizia, la fratellanza e per costruire la prosperità e la pace. In questa ottica, incoraggio a proseguire tale collaborazione e desidero salutare calorosamente, per mezzo di lei, il Vescovo di Port-Victoria e i suoi collaboratori, come pure tutti i fedeli cattolici presenti nel suo Paese.

Mentre lei inaugura la sua nobile missione di rappresentanza presso la Santa Sede, desidero rinnovarle l'espressione della mia soddisfazione per le eccellenti relazioni esistenti fra la Repubblica delle Seychelles e la Santa Sede. Le formulo, Signora Ambasciatore, i miei voti migliori per il buon svolgimento della sua missione. Sia certa che troverà sempre presso i miei collaboratori l'accoglienza e la comprensione di cui potrà aver bisogno.
Su di Lei, Eccellenza, sulla sua famiglia e sui suoi collaboratori, come pure sull'amatissimo popolo delle Isole Seychelles e sui suoi dirigenti, invoco di tutto cuore l'abbondanza delle Benedizioni divine.


Madame Ambassador,

I welcome you with pleasure at this moment when you are presenting the Letters that accredit you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Seychelles to the Holy See. I thank you for conveying to me the greetings of H.E. Mr James Alix Michel, President of the Republic, whom I had the honour to receive during his recent visit to the Holy See. I would be very grateful if you would kindly pass on to him my gratitude for the cordiality he expressed at our meeting. Through you, I likewise greet the authorities, the various political leaders and the whole of the people of Seychelles.

Your country is continuing to progress and to establish itself on the path of peace, prosperity and stability. This is without a doubt the result of the persistent efforts and generous contribution of all the political and social spheres, in both the public and private sectors.

I am pleased to congratulate the Government and the people of Seychelles for having surmounted the challenge of the world economic crisis. This is evident from a recovery in tourism and direct foreign investments and from the relaunching of the national economy, which is creating a favourable budgetary space for the reduction of the debt and for priority expenses.

However, the liberalization of the economy while preserving acquired social rights is not a change that can be achieved without overturning existing mentalities: thus it is a question of accompanying this development so as to anticipate its effects, which cannot always be controlled over time, with the provision of a necessary ethical foundation and by playing the card of responsibility. “Everyone has the right to participate in economic life and the duty to contribute, each according to his own capacity, to the progress of his own country and to that of the entire human family” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 333).

The programme of economic development must also pay careful attention to the need to respect the integrity and rhythms of nature, for natural resources are limited and some of them are not renewable. The solution to the ecological problem requires economic activity to show greater respect for the environment; by reconciling its needs with those of environmental protection, “it must serve to reinforce the covenant between human beings and the environment” (Caritas in Veritate ).

I appreciate in particular, in this domain, the Government’s initiative for restoring and preserving the coral reef. It is the first line of defence against rising ocean levels and remains an important habitat for breeding fish — that constitute the country’s main source of protein. This initiative also provides income and employment in the sectors of fishing and tourism. It is therefore necessary that consumers and the agents of industrial activities develop greater responsibility in their behaviour.

Increasing the responsibility of all also involves active and efficient cooperation for the respect and protection of human dignity in the face of every effort to propose reductive and debasing images or of the exploitation of each person. International tourism, a major factor of economic development and cultural growth, can also become an occasion for exploitation and moral degradation (cf. Caritas in Veritate ). Only the recognition of human dignity makes possible the common and personal development of all (Jc 2,1-9).

To encourage this integral human development and to reinforce intergenerational solidarity, it is necessary to protect the family. Promoted and upheld by the State and society, the family plays an absolutely original and irreplaceable role in the education of children. With the family, your nation will continue to build its future by giving to its young generations an appropriate formation capable of transcending the limits within which it is sometimes desired to enclose them and of providing them with the practical means to combat social evils, particularly unemployment and drugs.

In this perspective I underline and encourage once again the efforts that have been made for some time to introduce a high quality educational system. It is also right to support the least privileged and to fight corruption, guaranteeing across the various social classes objective equality before the law.

For her part, the local Church wishes to continue to make a specific contribution to your nation, to support the family and the education and formation of young people, as well as the integral development of each person. This development will not only embrace material but also spiritual growth, whose guiding criterion is found in the active power of charity in truth (cf. Caritas in Veritate ).

The quest for the spiritual, which dwells in the hearts of the people of Seychelles, finds its meaning and fullness in Christ. It dynamizes the whole of society, with its capacity for inspiring the power of reconciliation in order to promote justice and brotherhood and to build prosperity and peace. To this end, I encourage perseverance in this collaboration and I wish, through you, to greet warmly the Bishop of Port-Victoria and his collaborators, as well as all the Catholic faithful present in your country.

At the time when you are inaugurating your noble mission of representation to the Holy See, I would like to renew the expression of my pleasure in the excellent relations that the Republic of Seychelles and the Holy See maintain, and I offer you, Madame Ambassador, my best wishes for the success of your mission. You may be certain that you will always find with my collaborators the welcome and understanding that you may need.

Upon you, Your Excellency, upon your family and upon your collaborators, as well as upon the people of Seychelles and upon its leaders, I cordially impart an abundance of divine Blessings.


Mr Ambassador,

I very willingly receive the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Holy See. On this happy occasion I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican and I thank you for your kind words expressing the respectful tribute of the President of the Republic and of the people of Mali. I would be grateful if you would kindly convey in reciprocation to H.E. Mr Amadou Toumani Touré, Head of State, my sentiments of gratitude and respect and the assurance of my prayers for him and for all the people of Mali.

This year Mali, like a large number of African countries, celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Independence. I would like to congratulate all Malians on the considerable progress they have made in this half-century.

As you know, Mr Ambassador, the progress achieved is always accompanied by challenges to be met. I mention among others social peace, education and the right to food. In order to build a peaceful and stable society, Mali can draw on its cultural patrimony which contains human, intellectual and religious values. I encourage you to preserve them and to pass them on to the new generations, since a society served by people endowed with profound moral perspicacity never fails to promote justice and peace.

The leaders of such a society are able to transcend their own interests so as to be virtuous governors, totally dedicated to the common good. They also know how to cultivate human relations inspired by trust and solidarity, reciprocal respect and sincere dialogue. I therefore encourage the various Malian leaders to help their compatriots to be reconciled with each other in the aftermath of the conflicts that have punctuated Mali’s recent history.

I also invite them to fight all forms of discrimination between races and religions. Indeed it is legitimate for each ethnic or religious community to be able to express itself visibly, with mutual respect, fostering a peaceful coexistence at every level of the national community (cf.Address to the Bishops of Mali, 18 May 2007).

Looking to the future, the Malian Government has included among its priorities the formation of executives capable of assuring the development of their country. In a world characterized by the interdependence of people and the rapid spread of copied human behaviour accompanied by growing individualism, education constitutes a vital and existential need.

Yet it cannot be reduced to an accumulation of intellectual knowledge or technical competencies. Knowledge of how to do things must go hand in hand with knowledge of how to live and how to be, which, based on human wisdom and on spiritual resources, reflects more clearly the essential truth of human existence. This is why, in the education of their children, Malian families should not be satisfied only with the scholastic results to be achieved while disregarding the human, cultural and religious virtues. May they offer their children guidelines that will point them towards the truth about life, the duty of solidarity and dialogue which are coexistential with human nature.

It is also incumbent on the State to support families in their task of education and to watch over the intellectual and human quality of educational personnel. May young Malians not let themselves be seduced by easy gain, which might incite them to ally themselves with networks that drive them into crime or drug-trafficking!

Your country has set out, Mr Ambassador, on the path of harmonious development, elaborating projects such as the new Persons and Family Code. I nourish great hope that it will be able to overcome the inequalities between people and social groups. This new Code will contribute to social peace if those in charge of your country also work to guarantee the right to food.

As I acknowledge the efforts made to increase cotton and rice production, I encourage your Government to tackle the problem of food insecurity “by eliminating the structural causes that lie at its roots and by promoting agricultural development […] through investment in rural infrastructures [...] that can make the best use of the human, natural and socio-economic resources that are more readily available at the local level [...]. All this needs to be accomplished with the involvement of local communities in choices and decisions that concern the use of agricultural land” (Caritas in Veritate ).

As you may note, Your Excellency, several executives from your country were trained at Catholic schools. The Church’s engagement in formation and education, as well as in the charitable, health-care and social sectors, demonstrates her desire to collaborate with the State while preserving the particular character of her structures.

Let me take this opportunity to acknowledge the Convention on Health Care, which was signed by the Bishops’ Conference and the Ministry for Health of Mali, as well as this Ministry’s commitment to allocating funds to the health-care structures of the Church.

To conclude, through you I warmly greet the Catholic community of Mali with its pastors, and I invite it to continue its courageous and joyful witness of faith and of the brotherly love taught by Christ. I would also like to encourage the efforts made by the Bishops’ Conference and by the Government to consolidate the relations of reciprocal respect between Mali and the Holy See.

At this time when you are inaugurating your mission I offer you, Mr Ambassador, my best wishes, as I assure you of the support of the different services of the Roman Curia in the accomplishment of your office. To this end, I very willingly invoke upon you and upon your family, as well as upon your collaborators, an abundance of divine Blessings.


Your Excellencies,

It is a pleasure to receive you this morning in the Apostolic Palace for the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassadors Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of your respective countries to the Holy See: Nepal, Zambia, the Principality of Andorra, and the Republics of Seychelles and of Mali.

You have just addressed to me the courteous words of your respective Heads of State for which I thank you. Kindly convey to them in reciprocation my respectful greetings and good wishes for them and for the lofty mission they are carrying out at the service of their country and their people. Through you, I likewise wish to greet all the civil and religious authorities of your nations, as well as all your compatriots. Naturally, I also extend my prayers and my thoughts to the Catholic communities present in your countries. While living the Gospel, they seek to witness a spirit of fraternal collaboration.

Your Excellencies, I would like to talk to you about human brotherhood. A poignant appeal for this has been made throughout the year to relieve Haiti, damaged first by an earthquake and then by cholera. Other tragedies have unfortunately struck other countries in the course of this year. Your countries, the international community and the world of charitable associations have responded to these particularly urgent appeals for aid, which it is naturally right to follow up and to intensify. For her part, and through her different institutions, the Church is making a multiform contribution which she will continue over time.

The beautiful principle of fraternity, found in the national motto of many countries, has encountered less resonance in the development of philosophical and political thought than the other ideals such as freedom, equality, progress or unity. This principle has remained largely a dead letter in modern and contemporary political societies, mainly because of the influence of individualistic and collectivistic ideologies (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, n. 390).

Fraternity, as you know, has a particular importance for Christians because of God’s plan of brotherly love, hence of brotherhood revealed by Christ. Moreover, in my last Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, I broadly addressed this theme which is indispensable for harmonious human coexistence.

To live with dignity all human beings need respect; they also need to be treated justly and for their rights to be recognized in practice. Yet in order to lead a fully human life this does not suffice: in fact, the person also needs brotherhood. This is true not only in his or her close relationships, but also on a global scale. Now, if the globalization process which is under way brings human beings closer to each other, it does not necessarily make them brothers and sisters. This is a greater problem since, as my Predecessor Pope Paul VI pointed out, the underlying cause of underdevelopment is the weakening of brotherly ties (cf . Populorum Progressio PP 66).

Human reason is able to recognize the equality of all people and the need to limit excessive inequalities between them but proves incapable of establishing fraternity. This is a supernatural gift. For her part, the Church sees the realization of human brotherhood on earth as a vocation contained in God’s plan of creation for which she desires to work ever more faithfully, at the universal and at the local levels, as she does in the countries which you represent to the Holy See.

If, in carrying out the specifically spiritual mission that Christ has entrusted to her, the Church inspires special closeness among his disciples, she likewise wishes to make her own sincere and powerful contribution to the formation of a more fraternal community among all human beings. For this reason she refrains from acting as a lobby, concerned solely with her own interests, but works under the gaze of the One who is Creator of all human beings, wishing to honour the dignity of each and every one.

The Church therefore strives to place love and peace at the foundation of the multiple human links that connect people, just as God desired in his creative wisdom.

A practical expression of brotherhood in daily life is giving freely and with respect. These need to be expressed in all the areas of human activity, including business. The profound identity of the human being, his being-in-relation, is also expressed in his economic activity which is one of the sectors of major cooperation between people. Through my latest Encyclical, I wanted to highlight that economic activity is where giving is also possible and even necessary (cf . Caritas in Veritate ).

Every form of giving is ultimately a sign of God’s presence because it leads to the fundamental discovery that in the beginning everything was given. Such an awareness does not make human breakthroughs any the less beautiful, but frees them from the primary form of slavery, the desire to create oneself by oneself. On the contrary, in gratitude for what has been given to each, human being, man can open to the action of grace and can understand that the person is not called to develop in violation against or alongside others but rather with and in communion with them.

Nonetheless if brotherhood lived among peoples can find a positive echo at the level of “authentic fraternity”, one should not forget that it does not constitute a means but is an end in itself (cf . Caritas in Veritate ).

The Church believes in Christ who reveals to us that God is love (cf 1Jn 4,8). She is also convinced that for all who believe in divine charity, God brings the certitude that “the way of love is open to all men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood will not be in vain” (Gaudium et Spes GS 38).

As diplomats, you are undoubtedly especially concerned with the different aspects of political and social life that I have just described. During your mission to the Apostolic See, you will have the possibility, Your Excellencies, to discover more directly the actions and preoccupation of the Church on all the continents. You will find with my collaborators a courteous attention.

Upon you, upon your families, upon the members of your diplomatic Missions and upon all the nations you represent, I invoke an abundance of divine Blessings.


Dear Bishop Younan, dear Lutheran Friends,

I am happy to greet the representatives of the Lutheran World Federation on the occasion of your official visit to Rome. I offer my cordial best wishes to Bishop Munib Younan and the Reverend Martin Junge on their respective elections as President and General Secretary, together with my prayers for their term of service.

Five years ago, at the beginning of my pontificate, I had the joy of receiving your predecessors and expressing my hope that the close contacts and intensive dialogue which have characterized ecumenical relations between Catholics and Lutherans would continue to bear rich fruit. With gratitude we can take stock of the many significant fruits produced by these decades of bilateral discussions. With God’s help it has been possible slowly and patiently to remove barriers and to foster visible bonds of unity by means of theological dialogue and practical cooperation, especially at the level of local communities.

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which has proved a significant step along the difficult path towards re-establishing full unity among Christians and a stimulus to further ecumenical discussion. In these years leading up to the five-hundredth anniversary of the events of fifteen seventeen, Catholics and Lutherans are called to reflect anew on where our journey towards unity has led us and to implore the Lord’s guidance and help for the future. I am pleased to note that, for the occasion, the International Lutheran – Roman Catholic Commission on Unity is preparing a joint text which will document what Lutherans and Catholics are able to say together at this point regarding our closer relations after almost five centuries of separation. In order to clarify further the understanding of the Church, which is the main focus of ecumenical dialogue today, the Commission is studying the theme: Baptism and Growing Church Communion. It is my hope that these ecumenical activities will provide fresh opportunities for Catholics and Lutherans to grow closer in their lives, their witness to the Gospel, and their efforts to bring the light of Christ to all dimensions of society.

In these days of joyful preparation for the celebration of Christmas, let us entrust one another, and our common quest for Christian unity to the Lord, who is himself the genuine newness which surpasses all our human expectations (cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., IV, 34, 1).

May the peace and joy of this Christmas season be with you all!


Mr Ambassador,

I am glad to accept the Letters with which the President of the Italian Republic accredits you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Holy See. In thanking you for your noble words, I extend my thoughts to the Head of State, to the other Authorities and to all the beloved Italian People. I constantly have the opportunity to note how strong is the awareness of the special bonds between the See of Peter and Italy. An important expression of this is the attention the Authorities pay to the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Holy See and the affection that the people of Italy show me with such great enthusiasm here in Rome and during the journeys I make in the country, as they also did recently on the occasion of my Visit to Palermo. I want to assure you that my prayers closely accompany both the happy and the sorrowful events of Italy, for which I ask the Giver of all good to keep the precious treasure of the Christian faith and to grant it the gifts of harmony and prosperity.

On this happy occasion I offer you, together with my cordial welcome, fervent good wishes for the demanding mission you are officially assuming today. Indeed, the Embassy of Italy to the Holy See — whose prestigious headquarters, also linked to the memory of St Charles Borromeo, I was able to visit two years ago — are an important reference point for the relations of intense collaboration that exist between the Holy See and Italy, not only from the bilateral point of view but also in the broader context of international life. In addition, the Diplomatic Representation whose leadership you are assuming, makes an effective contribution to the development of harmonious relations between the civil and ecclesial communities in the country and also renders invaluable services to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. I am certain that under your guidance this intense activity will continue with a renewed impetus and from this moment I express my deep gratitude to you and to your collaborators.

As you mentioned, the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Unity of Italy have begun. This affords an opportunity for a reflection that is not only commemorative but also programmatic in character, which is very appropriate in the present difficult phase in national and international history. I am glad that the Pastors and the various components of the ecclesial community are actively involved in recalling the process of the nation’s Unification, which began in 1861.

In our time one of the most relevant aspects of this long and at times thwarted process which led to the profile of the Italian State today consists of the search for a correct distinction and proper forms of collaboration between the civil and religious communities, a need so deeply felt in a country such as Italy, whose history and culture are all the more deeply marked by the Catholic Church and in whose capital the visible Head of this Community, spread across the world, has his Episcopal See. These characteristics, which for centuries have been part of the historical and cultural heritage of Italy, cannot be denied or marginalized, as the experience of these 150 years show: when people have tried to deny them, it has caused dangerous imbalances and sorrowful interruptions in the social life of the country.

In this regard, Your Excellency, you have appropriately recalled the importance of the Lateran Pacts and of the Agreement of Villa Madama, which established the coordinates of a just balance in relations, which benefits the Apostolic See and likewise the State and the Church in Italy. Indeed, the Lateran Treaty, in configuring and providing for a series of personal and real immunities, established the conditions for assuring the Pontiff and the Holy See full sovereignty and independence in protecting its universal mission. In turn, the Agreement on the modification of the Concordat aims fundamentally to guarantee the full exercise of religious freedom, that is, of the right which is historically and objectively the first of those fundamental rights of the human person. It is therefore of great important to observe and, at the same time, to develop the letter and the spirit of those Agreements and of those that have derived from them, recalling that they have guaranteed and can still guarantee a serene coexistence to Italian society.

Those international pacts are not an expression of a desire of the Church or of the Holy See to obtain power, privileges or positions of economic and social advantage, nor with them is it intended to exceed the bounds of the area proper to the mission assigned to the Divine Founder of his community on earth.

On the contrary, these Agreements are founded on the just desire on the part of the State to guarantee individuals and the Church the full exercise of religious freedom, a right that has not only a personal dimension because “his own social nature requires that man give external expression to these internal acts of religion, that he communicate with others on religious matters, and profess his religion in community” (Second Vatican Council, Dignitatis humanae DH 3). As well as being a right of the individual, religious freedom is therefore also a right of the family, of religious groups and of the Church (cf. ibid., 4-5.13), and the State is called to protect not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and religion, but also to the legitimate role of religion and of religious communities in the public sphere.

The correct exercise and the corresponding recognition of this right permit society to avail itself of the moral resources and generous activity of believers. For this reason it is unthinkable to pursue authentic social progress by taking the way of marginalization or even of the explicit rejection of the religious factor, as in our times there is a tendency to do in various ways.

One of these, for example, is the attempt to eliminate from public places the display of religious symbols, and first of all of the Crucifix, which is certainly the emblem par excellence of the Christian faith but which, at the same time, speaks to all people of good will and, as such, is not a discriminating factor.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Italian Government which in this regard has acted in conformity with a correct vision of secularity and in the light of its history, culture and tradition, finding in this action the positive support of other European nations.

While in certain societies there are attempts to marginalize the religious dimension, recent accounts testify to us that in our day even open violations of religious freedom are occurring. In the face of this sorrowful reality, Italian society and its Authorities have shown a special sensitivity for the fate of those Christian minorities who, because of their faith, suffer violence and are discriminated against or subjected to forced emigration from their homeland.

I hope that awareness of this problem and that, consequently, the efforts to see realized, everywhere and for everyone, the full respect of religious freedom may increase everywhere. I am certain that the commitment by the Holy See in this regard will not lack the support of Italy in the international area.

Mr Ambassador, in concluding my reflections I would like to assure you that in the fulfilment of the lofty mission entrusted to you, You will be able to count on my support and that of my collaborators. Above all I invoke upon your assumption of office the protection of the Mother of God, so beloved and venerated throughout the Peninsula, and of the nation’s Patrons, St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Siena, and I warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you, to your family and to your collaborators, and to the beloved Italian People.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Dear Friends,

With joy I welcome all of you who have donated your lovely Christmas tree that comes from Luson (Lüsen). I greet all of you from my heart, beginning with Bishop Karl Golser, who I thank for his warm words. With him, I also greet the priests, religious, parish councils and all the faithful of the towns, places and valleys of your beautiful land which is profoundly shaped by faith.

I greet the President of the Province, which includes South Tyrol, and the Mayor of the city of Bressanone. I thank them also for their splendid words which really give me the sensation of being at home in South Tyrol and of being enveloped in and accompanied by their friendship. I also offer a greeting to the representatives of the city of Bressanone and Luson, of the Schützen Circle of Bressanone and of the Isarco Valley (Eisacktal District).

I address a special “Grüß Gott” to the Mayor of Natz-Schabs, who will grant me honorary citizenship in memory of my beloved maternal grandmother who was born in Frazione Rasa (Fraktion Raas), an outlying district. I also address a cordial “Vergelt’s Gott” for this much appreciated sign of your affection! In my greeting, I would also like to include all the other representatives of public life, as well as the rest of you, who with your traditional costumes, evocative music and regional specialities, have come here to Rome to make known the traditions of your splendid land.

I know that this particular occasion has reawakened the interest of many and has included the entire population of the region. Above of all, as I have learned, the women of Bressanone have worked hard preparing the straw stars which are typical Christmas decorations of the German-speaking region. I thank all of you for the special gift of this red fir tree, as well as all the other Christmas trees which will decorate the Apostolic Palace and the Vatican area, and have made me feel the presence of South Tyrol in my apartments. May this generous initiative urge all the people of South Tyrol to bear witness in their environment to the values of life, love and peace which Christmas recommends to us every year.

This year the fir tree in St Peter’s Square comes from picturesque Luson, not far from Sass de Putia (Peitlerkofel), in the vast Dolomites. The extraordinary beauty of this landscape invites us to recognize the greatness of our Creator, whose love shines ceaselessly in his marvellous work of nature also to illuminate man’s heart and to fill it with peace and joy.

This evening at the end of the official inauguration ceremony, with the presence of Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, President of the Governorate, the lights, that decorated the tree will be lit. The fir tree, collected at an altitude of about 155 metres and cut without damaging the life of the forest, will stand beside the Nativity scene until the end of the Christmas holidays and will be admired by many pilgrims and tourists from every part of the world. It is an important symbol of the light which Christ, with his birth, gave to humanity. He, the Messiah, was made man and came to us to dispel the darkness of error and sin; “this ‘condescension’ of God is accomplished surpassingly” (Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, n. 11). Having faith in him means welcoming within ourselves the light that is Jesus Christ.

The Christmas tree enriches the symbolic value of the crib, which is a message of brotherhood and of friendship; an invitation to unity and peace; an invitation to make room in our lives and in society for God who offers us his omnipotent love through the frail figure of a baby, because he wants us to respond freely to his love with our love. The crib and the tree therefore bring a message of hope and love and help to create a climate conducive to living in the right spiritual and religious dimension, the mystery of the Redeemer’s birth.

Dear friends,

I warmly wish all those present and those who live in your region a Christmas full of meditation and a care-free Christmas. I assure you all that I will pray for you and for all the people of your region in front of the Nativity scene and I impart to all of you an Apostolic Blessing.

I wish everyone a holy Christmas!


Dear Cardinals,
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It gives me great pleasure to be here with you, dear Members of the College of Cardinals and Representatives of the Roman Curia and the Governatorato, for this traditional gathering. I extend a cordial greeting to each one of you, beginning with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, whom I thank for his sentiments of devotion and communion and for the warm good wishes that he expressed to me on behalf of all of you. Prope est jam Dominus, venite, adoremus! As one family let us contemplate the mystery of Emmanuel, God-with-us, as the Cardinal Dean has said. I gladly reciprocate his good wishes and I would like to thank all of you most sincerely, including the Papal Representatives all over the world, for the able and generous contribution that each of you makes to the Vicar of Christ and to the Church.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. Repeatedly during the season of Advent the Church’s liturgy prays in these or similar words. They are invocations that were probably formulated as the Roman Empire was in decline. The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline. All the more insistent, then, was the invocation of the power of God: the plea that he might come and protect his people from all these threats.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. Today too, we have many reasons to associate ourselves with this Advent prayer of the Church. For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defence of such structures seem doomed to failure.

Excita – the prayer recalls the cry addressed to the Lord who was sleeping in the disciples’ storm-tossed boat as it was close to sinking. When his powerful word had calmed the storm, he rebuked the disciples for their little faith (cf. Mt Mt 8,26 et par.). He wanted to say: it was your faith that was sleeping. He will say the same thing to us. Our faith too is often asleep. Let us ask him, then, to wake us from the sleep of a faith grown tired, and to restore to that faith the power to move mountains – that is, to order justly the affairs of the world.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni: amid the great tribulations to which we have been exposed during the past year, this Advent prayer has frequently been in my mind and on my lips. We had begun the Year for Priests with great joy and, thank God, we were also able to conclude it with great gratitude, despite the fact that it unfolded so differently from the way we had expected. Among us priests and among the lay faithful, especially the young, there was a renewed awareness of what a great gift the Lord has entrusted to us in the priesthood of the Catholic Church. We realized afresh how beautiful it is that human beings are fully authorized to pronounce in God’s name the word of forgiveness, and are thus able to change the world, to change life; we realized how beautiful it is that human beings may utter the words of consecration, through which the Lord draws a part of the world into himself, and so transforms it at one point in its very substance; we realized how beautiful it is to be able, with the Lord’s strength, to be close to people in their joys and sufferings, in the important moments of their lives and in their dark times; how beautiful it is to have as one’s life task not this or that, but simply human life itself – helping people to open themselves to God and to live from God. We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.

In this context, a vision of Saint Hildegard of Bingen came to my mind, a vision which describes in a shocking way what we have lived through this past year. “In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1170, I had been lying on my sick-bed for a long time when, fully conscious in body and in mind, I had a vision of a woman of such beauty that the human mind is unable to comprehend. She stretched in height from earth to heaven. Her face shone with exceeding brightness and her gaze was fixed on heaven. She was dressed in a dazzling robe of white silk and draped in a cloak, adorned with stones of great price. On her feet she wore shoes of onyx. But her face was stained with dust, her robe was ripped down the right side, her cloak had lost its sheen of beauty and her shoes had been blackened. And she herself, in a voice loud with sorrow, was calling to the heights of heaven, saying, ‘Hear, heaven, how my face is sullied; mourn, earth, that my robe is torn; tremble, abyss, because my shoes are blackened!’

And she continued: ‘I lay hidden in the heart of the Father until the Son of Man, who was conceived and born in virginity, poured out his blood. With that same blood as his dowry, he made me his betrothed.

For my Bridegroom’s wounds remain fresh and open as long as the wounds of men’s sins continue to gape. And Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them. Nevertheless, in some of them I find the splendour of truth.’

And I heard a voice from heaven which said: ‘This image represents the Church. For this reason, O you who see all this and who listen to the word of lament, proclaim it to the priests who are destined to offer guidance and instruction to God’s people and to whom, as to the apostles, it was said: go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mc 16,15)” (Letter to Werner von Kirchheim and his Priestly Community: PL 197, 269ff.).

In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn – by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year. We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again. This is also the moment to offer heartfelt thanks to all those who work to help victims and to restore their trust in the Church, their capacity to believe her message. In my meetings with victims of this sin, I have also always found people who, with great dedication, stand alongside those who suffer and have been damaged. This is also the occasion to thank the many good priests who act as channels of the Lord’s goodness in humility and fidelity and, amid the devastations, bear witness to the unforfeited beauty of the priesthood.

We are well aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our corresponding responsibility. But neither can we remain silent regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light. There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society. The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times. From Bishops of developing countries I hear again and again how sexual tourism threatens an entire generation and damages its freedom and its human dignity. The Book of Revelation includes among the great sins of Babylon – the symbol of the world’s great irreligious cities – the fact that it trades with bodies and souls and treats them as commodities (cf. Rev Ap 18,13). In this context, the problem of drugs also rears its head, and with increasing force extends its octopus tentacles around the entire world – an eloquent expression of the tyranny of mammon which perverts mankind. No pleasure is ever enough, and the excess of deceiving intoxication becomes a violence that tears whole regions apart – and all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom which actually undermines man’s freedom and ultimately destroys it.

In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a “better than” and a “worse than”. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist. The effects of such theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, indicated with prophetic force in the great rational tradition of Christian ethos the essential and permanent foundations of moral action. Today, attention must be focussed anew on this text as a path in the formation of conscience. It is our responsibility to make these criteria audible and intelligible once more for people today as paths of true humanity, in the context of our paramount concern for mankind.

As my second point, I should like to say a word about the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East. This began with my journey to Cyprus, where I was able to consign the Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod to the Bishops of those countries who were assembled there. The hospitality of the Orthodox Church was unforgettable, and we experienced it with great gratitude. Even if full communion is not yet granted to us, we have nevertheless established with joy that the basic form of the ancient Church unites us profoundly with one another: the sacramental office of Bishops as the bearer of apostolic tradition, the reading of Scripture according to the hermeneutic of the Regula fidei, the understanding of Scripture in its manifold unity centred on Christ, developed under divine inspiration, and finally, our faith in the central place of the Eucharist in the Church’s life. Thus we experienced a living encounter with the riches of the rites of the ancient Church that are also found within the Catholic Church. We celebrated the liturgy with Maronites and with Melchites, we celebrated in the Latin rite, we experienced moments of ecumenical prayer with the Orthodox, and we witnessed impressive manifestations of the rich Christian culture of the Christian East. But we also saw the problem of the divided country. The wrongs and the deep wounds of the past were all too evident, but so too was the desire for the peace and communion that had existed before. Everyone knows that violence does not bring progress – indeed, it gave rise to the present situation. Only in a spirit of compromise and mutual understanding can unity be re-established. To prepare the people for this attitude of peace is an essential task of pastoral ministry.

During the Synod itself, our gaze was extended over the whole of the Middle East, where the followers of different religions – as well as a variety of traditions and distinct rites – live together. As far as Christians are concerned, there are Pre-Chalcedonian as well as Chalcedonian churches; there are churches in communion with Rome and others that are outside that communion; in both cases, multiple rites exist alongside one another. In the turmoil of recent years, the tradition of peaceful coexistence has been shattered and tensions and divisions have grown, with the result that we witness with increasing alarm acts of violence in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred, in which on the contrary the most elementary rules of humanity collapse. In the present situation, Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority. For centuries they lived peacefully together with their Jewish and Muslim neighbours. During the Synod we listened to wise words from the Counsellor of the Mufti of the Republic of Lebanon against acts of violence targeting Christians. He said: when Christians are wounded, we ourselves are wounded. Unfortunately, though, this and similar voices of reason, for which we are profoundly grateful, are too weak. Here too we come up against an unholy alliance between greed for profit and ideological blindness. On the basis of the spirit of faith and its rationality, the Synod developed a grand concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world. The human being is one, and humanity is one. Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone. Thus the words and ideas of the Synod must be a clarion call, addressed to all people with political or religious responsibility, to put a stop to Christianophobia; to rise up in defence of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalize the spirit of reconciliation. In the final analysis, healing can only come from deep faith in God’s reconciling love. Strengthening this faith, nourishing it and causing it to shine forth is the Church’s principal task at this hour.

I would willingly speak in some detail of my unforgettable journey to the United Kingdom, but I will limit myself to two points that are connected with the theme of the responsibility of Christians at this time and with the Church’s task to proclaim the Gospel. My thoughts go first of all to the encounter with the world of culture in Westminster Hall, an encounter in which awareness of shared responsibility at this moment in history created great attention which, in the final analysis, was directed to the question of truth and faith itself. It was evident to all that the Church has to make her own contribution to this debate. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.

Finally I should like to recall once more the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Why was he beatified? What does he have to say to us? Many responses could be given to these questions, which were explored in the context of the beatification. I would like to highlight just two aspects which belong together and which, in the final analysis, express the same thing. The first is that we must learn from Newman’s three conversions, because they were steps along a spiritual path that concerns us all. Here I would like to emphasize just the first conversion: to faith in the living God. Until that moment, Newman thought like the average men of his time and indeed like the average men of today, who do not simply exclude the existence of God, but consider it as something uncertain, something with no essential role to play in their lives. What appeared genuinely real to him, as to the men of his and our day, is the empirical, matter that can be grasped. This is the “reality” according to which one finds one’s bearings. The “real” is what can be grasped, it is the things that can be calculated and taken in one’s hand. In his conversion, Newman recognized that it is exactly the other way round: that God and the soul, man’s spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. These are much more real than objects that can be grasped. This conversion was a Copernican revolution. What had previously seemed unreal and secondary was now revealed to be the genuinely decisive element. Where such a conversion takes place, it is not just a person’s theory that changes: the fundamental shape of life changes. We are all in constant need of such conversion: then we are on the right path.

The driving force that impelled Newman along the path of conversion was conscience. But what does this mean? In modern thinking, the word “conscience” signifies that for moral and religious questions, it is the subjective dimension, the individual, that constitutes the final authority for decision. The world is divided into the realms of the objective and the subjective. To the objective realm belong things that can be calculated and verified by experiment. Religion and morals fall outside the scope of these methods and are therefore considered to lie within the subjective realm. Here, it is said, there are in the final analysis no objective criteria. The ultimate instance that can decide here is therefore the subject alone, and precisely this is what the word “conscience” expresses: in this realm only the individual, with his intuitions and experiences, can decide. Newman’s understanding of conscience is diametrically opposed to this. For him, “conscience” means man’s capacity for truth: the capacity to recognize precisely in the decision-making areas of his life – religion and morals – a truth, the truth. At the same time, conscience – man’s capacity to recognize truth – thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. Conscience is both capacity for truth and obedience to the truth which manifests itself to anyone who seeks it with an open heart. The path of Newman’s conversions is a path of conscience – not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him. His third conversion, to Catholicism, required him to give up almost everything that was dear and precious to him: possessions, profession, academic rank, family ties and many friends. The sacrifice demanded of him by obedience to the truth, by his conscience, went further still. Newman had always been aware of having a mission for England. But in the Catholic theology of his time, his voice could hardly make itself heard. It was too foreign in the context of the prevailing form of theological thought and devotion. In January 1863 he wrote in his diary these distressing words: “As a Protestant, I felt my religion dreary, but not my life - but, as a Catholic, my life dreary, not my religion”. He had not yet arrived at the hour when he would be an influential figure. In the humility and darkness of obedience, he had to wait until his message was taken up and understood. In support of the claim that Newman’s concept of conscience matched the modern subjective understanding, people often quote a letter in which he said – should he have to propose a toast – that he would drink first to conscience and then to the Pope. But in this statement, “conscience” does not signify the ultimately binding quality of subjective intuition. It is an expression of the accessibility and the binding force of truth: on this its primacy is based. The second toast can be dedicated to the Pope because it is his task to demand obedience to the truth.

I must refrain from speaking of my remarkable journeys to Malta, Portugal and Spain. In these it once again became evident that the faith is not a thing of the past, but an encounter with the God who lives and acts now. He challenges us and he opposes our indolence, but precisely in this way he opens the path towards true joy.

Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. We set out from this plea for the presence of God’s power in our time and from the experience of his apparent absence. If we keep our eyes open as we look back over the year that is coming to an end, we can see clearly that God’s power and goodness are also present today in many different ways. So we all have reason to thank him. Along with thanks to the Lord I renew my thanks to all my co-workers. May God grant to all of us a holy Christmas and may he accompany us with his blessings in the coming year.

I entrust these prayerful sentiments to the intercession of the Holy Virgin, Mother of the Redeemer, and I impart to all of you and to the great family of the Roman Curia a heartfelt Apostolic Blessing. Happy Christmas!

Speeches 2005-13 402