Speeches 2005-13 24101
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Distinguished Heads and Representatives of Churches, Ecclesial Communities and World Religions,
Twenty-five years have passed since Blessed Pope John Paul II first invited representatives of the world’s religions to Assisi to pray for peace. What has happened in the meantime? What is the state of play with regard to peace today? At that time the great threat to world peace came from the division of the earth into two mutually opposed blocs. A conspicuous symbol of this division was the Berlin Wall which traced the border between two worlds right through the heart of the city. In 1989, three years after Assisi, the wall came down, without bloodshed. Suddenly the vast arsenals that stood behind the wall were no longer significant. They had lost their terror. The peoples’ will to freedom was stronger than the arsenals of violence. The question as to the causes of this dramatic change is complex and cannot be answered with simple formulae. But in addition to economic and political factors, the deepest reason for the event is a spiritual one: behind material might there were no longer any spiritual convictions. The will to freedom was ultimately stronger than the fear of violence, which now lacked any spiritual veneer. For this victory of freedom, which was also, above all, a victory of peace, we give thanks. What is more, this was not merely, nor even primarily, about the freedom to believe, although it did include this. To that extent we may in some way link all this to our prayer for peace.
But what happened next? Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since. Even if there is no threat of a great war hanging over us at present, nevertheless the world is unfortunately full of discord. It is not only that sporadic wars are continually being fought – violence as such is potentially ever present and it is a characteristic feature of our world. Freedom is a great good. But the world of freedom has proved to be largely directionless, and not a few have misinterpreted freedom as somehow including freedom for violence. Discord has taken on new and frightening guises, and the struggle for freedom must engage us all in a new way.
Let us try to identify the new faces of violence and discord more closely. It seems to me that, in broad strokes, we may distinguish two types of the new forms of violence, which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation and manifest a number of differences in detail. Firstly there is terrorism, for which in place of a great war there are targeted attacks intended to strike the opponent destructively at key points, with no regard for the lives of innocent human beings, who are cruelly killed or wounded in the process. In the eyes of the perpetrators, the overriding goal of damage to the enemy justifies any form of cruelty. Everything that had been commonly recognized and sanctioned in international law as the limit of violence is overruled. We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended “good”. In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as justification for violence.
The post-Enlightenment critique of religion has repeatedly maintained that religion is a cause of violence and in this way it has fuelled hostility towards religions. The fact that, in the case we are considering here, religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons. In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction. In response, an objection is raised: how do you know what the true nature of religion is? Does your assertion not derive from the fact that your religion has become a spent force? Others in their turn will object: is there such a thing as a common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all? We must ask ourselves these questions, if we wish to argue realistically and credibly against religiously motivated violence. Herein lies a fundamental task for interreligious dialogue – an exercise which is to receive renewed emphasis through this meeting. As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. For us the Cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put “suffering-with” (compassion) and “loving-with” in place of force. His name is “God of love and peace” (2Co 13,11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart, so that it truly serves as an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans.
If one basic type of violence today is religiously motivated and thus confronts religions with the question as to their true nature and obliges all of us to undergo purification, a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of God’s absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it. The enemies of religion – as we said earlier – see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence.
Yet I do not intend to speak further here about state-imposed atheism, but rather about the decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous. The worship of mammon, possessions and power is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage. The desire for happiness degenerates, for example, into an unbridled, inhuman craving, such as appears in the different forms of drug dependency. There are the powerful who trade in drugs and then the many who are seduced and destroyed by them, physically and spiritually. Force comes to be taken for granted and in parts of the world it threatens to destroy our young people. Because force is taken for granted, peace is destroyed and man destroys himself in this peace vacuum.
The absence of God leads to the decline of man and of humanity. But where is God? Do we know him, and can we show him anew to humanity, in order to build true peace? Let us first briefly summarize our considerations thus far. I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace. In this context I referred to the need for dialogue and I spoke of the constant need for purification of lived religion. On the other hand I said that the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.
In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: “There is no God”. They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”. They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force. Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.
At the conclusion of this intense day, I wish to thank all of you. Deep gratitude goes to those who have made possible today’s meeting. We especially thank those who hosted us: the city of Assisi, the community of this Diocese with its Bishop and the sons of St Francis, who guard the precious spiritual legacy of the Poverello of Assisi. I would like to also thank the many young people who have made the pilgrimage on foot from Santa Maria degli Angeli to testify that, among the new generations, there are many who work to overcome violence and division, and to be promoters of justice and peace.
Today’s event is an image of how the spiritual dimension is a key element in the building of peace. Through this unique pilgrimage we have been able to engage in fraternal dialogue, to deepen our friendship, and to come together in silence and prayer.
After renewing our commitment to peace and exchanging with one another a sign of peace, we feel even more profoundly involved, together with all the men and women from the communities that we represent, in our common human journey.
We are not being separated; we will continue to meet, we will continue to be united in this journey, in dialogue, in the daily building of peace and in our commitment to a better world, a world in which every man and woman and every people can live in accordance with their own legitimate aspirations.
From my heart I thank all of you here present for having accepted my invitation to come to Assisi as pilgrims of truth and peace and I greet each one of you in Saint Francis’ own words: May the Lord grant you peace – “il Signore ti dia pace”.
I welcome you this morning to the Apostolic Palace and I thank you once more for your willingness to take part in the day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for justice and peace in the world held yesterday in Assisi, twenty-five years after that historic first meeting.
In a certain sense, this gathering is representative of the billions of men and women throughout our world who are actively engaged in promoting justice and peace. It is also a sign of the friendship and fraternity which has flourished as the fruit of the efforts of so many pioneers in this kind of dialogue. May this friendship continue to grow among all the followers of the world’s religions and with men and women of good will everywhere.
I thank my Christian brothers and sisters for their fraternal presence. I also thank the representatives of the Jewish people, who are particularly close to us, and all of you, the distinguished representatives of the world’s religions. I am aware that many of you have come from afar and have undertaken a demanding journey. I express my gratitude also to those who represent people of good will who follow no religious tradition but are committed to the search for truth. They have been willing to share this pilgrimage with us as a sign of their desire to work together to build a better world.
Looking back, we can appreciate the foresight of the late Pope John Paul II in convening the first Assisi meeting, and the continuing need for men and women of different religions to testify together that the journey of the spirit is always a journey of peace.
Meetings of this sort are necessarily exceptional and infrequent, yet they are a vivid expression of the fact that every day, throughout our world, people of different religious traditions live and work together in harmony. It is surely significant for the cause of peace that so many men and women, inspired by their deepest convictions, are committed to working for the good of the human family.
In this way, I am sure that yesterday’s meeting has given us a sense of how genuine is our desire to contribute to the good of all our fellow human beings and how much we have to share with one another.
As we go our separate ways, let us draw strength from this experience and, wherever we may be, let us continue refreshed on the journey that leads to truth, the pilgrimage that leads to peace. I thank all of you from my heart!
Beloved Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
In the joy of the faith, whose proclamation is our common service as Pastors, I welcome you to this meeting on the occasion of your ad limina Apostolorum visit. It is taking place after my Visit to Luanda in March 2009, during which I was able to be with you and celebrate Jesus Christ in the midst of a people, who do not tire of searching for him, loving him and serving him with generosity and joy. I cherish these peoples in my heart and in a certain sense I have been waiting for your visit in order to hear their news. I thank Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingi of Lubango, President of the Bishops’ Conference, for the presentation of your communities with their challenges and hopes at the present time with the strength and grace that Heaven has given to them. Your reciprocal and brotherly help, concern for the people of God in Angola and São Tomé e Príncipe, your union with the Pope and your desire to remain faithful to the Lord are for me the source of deep joy and a heartfelt cause for thanksgiving.
Beloved Brothers, by virtue of the apostolic mission you have received, you can introduce your people to the heart of the mystery of the faith, encountering the living Person of Jesus Christ. In the hope of shedding “ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ” (Motu Proprio Porta Fidei, n. 2), I decided to proclaim the Year of Faith so that the whole Church may offer to all a more beautiful and credible face, which more clearly reflects the face of the Lord.
As was rightly stressed by the Second Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, whose results, in the customary form of the Apostolic Exhortation, I hope to be able to entrust to all the People of God in my upcoming Visit to Benin, “the first and most specific contribution of the Church to the people of Africa is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. We are therefore committed to pursuing vigorously the proclamation of the Gospel to the people of Africa, for ‘life in Christ is the first and principal factor of development’... For a commitment to development comes from a change of heart, and a change of heart comes from conversion to the Gospel” (Concluding Message, n. 15). It is not a matter of “preaching a word of consolation, but rather a word which disrupts, which calls to conversion and which opens the way to an encounter with the one through whom a new humanity flowers” (Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, n. 93).
Christians truly breathe the spirit of their time and suffer from the pressure of the customs of the society in which they live. But, through the grace of Baptism, they are called to reject the prevalent damaging tendencies and to swim against the tide, guided by the spirit of the Beatitudes. With this in mind, I would like to talk about three reefs on which has run aground the will of many people of Angola and São Tomé e Príncipe, who have clung to Christ. The first is the so-called “amigamento” or concubinage which contradicts God’s plan for procreation and the human family. The reduced number of Catholic marriages in your communities points to the difficulties that weigh on the family, whose stability in the social fabric we know is of irreplaceable value. Aware of this problem, your Bishops’ Conference has chosen marriage and the family as pastoral priorities for the current three years. May God reward the initiatives for the positive outcome of this cause! Help married couples to acquire the human and spiritual maturity necessary to assume responsibly their mission as spouses and Christian parents, reminding them that married love should be one and indissoluble, as the covenant between Christ and his Church. This precious treasure should be safeguarded at all costs.
The second reef in your work of evangelization is the hearts of the baptized are still divided between Christianity and traditional African religions. Afflicted by problems in life, they do not hesitate to resort to practices that are incompatible with following Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 2117). An abominable effect of this is the marginalization and even the killing of children and the elderly who are falsely condemned of witchcraft. Remembering that human life is sacred in all its phases and situations, continue, dear Bishops, to raise your voice on behalf of all its victims. But, since it is a regional problem, a joint effort of the ecclesial communities tried by these disasters is appropriate, in the attempt to determine the deep reason for such practices, to identify the pastoral and social risks conveyed by them and to arrive at the method which leads to their definitive eradication, with the cooperation of the Government and of civil society.
Finally I would like to speak about the residual effects of ethnic tribalism evident in the attitudes of the community which tends to close in on itself, not accepting people from other parts of the nation. I express my appreciation of those of you who have accepted a pastoral mission outside the bounds of your region or linguistic group and I thank the priests and people who have welcomed and helped you. In the Church, as a new family of those that believe in Christ (cf. Mc 3,31-35), there is no room for any kind of division. “To make the Church the home and the school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God’s plan and respond to the world’s deepest yearnings” (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 43). Men and women of different tribes, languages and nations meet around the altar; they share the same Body and the same Blood of Jesus the Eucharist, they become brethren related by blood (cf. Rom Rm 8,29). This bond of brotherhood is stronger than those of our earthly families and of your tribes.
I would like to conclude these reflections with a few words which I said on arriving in Luanda, on the above-mentioned Visit: “God has enabled human beings to fly, over and above their natural tendencies, on the wings of reason and faith. If you let these wings bear you aloft, you will easily recognize your neighbour as a brother or sister, born with the same fundamental human rights”. Yes, beloved Pastors of Angola and of São Tomé e Príncipe, a people made up of brothers, whom I embrace and greet from here.
Take my affectionate greeting to all members of your particular Churches: bishops emeritus, priests, seminarians, men and women religious, catechists, movement leaders and all the faithful lay people. While I entrust you to the protection of the Virgin Mary, so loved in your nations and especially at the Shrine of Mamã Muxima, I impart to all a cordial Apostolic Blessing
In receiving the Letters of Credence accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federative Republic of Brazil to the Holy See, I offer you my respectful good wishes as I welcome and thank you for your meaningful words, expressing the sentiments you nourish in your heart at the beginning of your new mission.
I accept with great pleasure the greetings that you conveyed to me on behalf of H.E. Ms Dilma Rousseff, President of the Republic, and I ask you, Mr Ambassador, kindly to express to her my gratitude in return. I also ask you to assure her of my respectful good wishes for the success of her lofty mission, as well as of my prayers for the prosperity and wellbeing of all Brazilians. Their affection, which I felt during my Pastoral Visit in 2007, has remained indelibly impressed in my mind.
I note with great appreciation and deep gratitude the readiness shown by the different sectors of the nation’s Government, as well as by its diplomatic representation to the Holy See, in support of the 28th World Youth Day which, God willing, will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.
As you mentioned, Mr Ambassador, shortly after obtaining its Independence as a nation Brazil established diplomatic relations with the Holy See. This was indeed the culmination of the fruitful common history that Brazil and the Catholic Church share, which began during the first Mass celebrated on 26 April 1500 leaving testimonies in so many cities baptized with the names of saints of the Christian tradition and in numerous religious monuments. Some of these, such as the statue of Christ the Redeemer, his arms wide open in the gesture of blessing the entire nation, have become worldwide symbols of the country’s identity. Yet beyond the actual buildings, the Church has contributed to forging the Brazilian spirit, characterized by generosity, diligence, the appreciation of family values and the defence of human life in all its phases.
An important chapter in this fruitful common history was written when the Agreement was signed by the Holy See and the Brazilian Government in 2008. Far from being a source of privileges for the Church to the detriment of secular identity of the State, this agreement aims solely to give official and juridical recognition to the independent collaboration of these two entities. Inspired by the words of her Divine Founder, who ordered people to give to Caesar “the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22,21), was how the Church expressed her position at the Second Vatican Council: “the political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields. Nevertheless, both are devoted to the personal vocation of man, though under different titles” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes GS 76).
The Church hopes that the State, in its turn, will recognize that a healthy secularism must not view religion, simply as an individual sentiment that can be relegated to the private sphere but rather as a reality which, also organized in visible structures, needs her public presence in the community in order to be recognized.
This is why the State is responsible for guaranteeing the possibility of the free exercise of worship of every religious denomination, as well as its cultural, educational and charitable activities, as long as they are not in opposition to the moral and public order. Well, the Church’s contribution is not limited to supportive, concrete social, humanitarian and educational initiatives and so forth, but gives special consideration to the growth of social ethics, promoted by many signs of openness to the transcendent and by the formation of consciences sensitive to the fulfilment of the duties of solidarity. The Agreement signed between Brazil and the Holy See is therefore the guarantee that enables the ecclesial community to develop its full potential for the benefit of every human person and of the entire Brazilian society.
Among these areas of mutual collaboration I would like to stress here, Mr Ambassador, that of education to which the Church has contributed with countless educational institutions whose prestige is recognized by society as a whole. The role of education cannot, in fact, be reduced to the mere transmission of knowledge and skills that aim to form a professional but must include all the aspects of the person, from his social side to his yearning for the transcendent.
For this reason it is appropriate to reaffirm, as was confirmed in the above-mentioned Agreement of 2008, that far from implying that the State assumes or imposes a specific religious creed, denominational religious teaching in state schools, means recognition of religion as a necessary value for the person’s integral formation. And the teaching in question cannot be reduced to a generic sociology of religions, because there is no such thing as generic, non-denominational religion. Thus, not only does denominational religious teaching in state schools do no damage to the secularism of the State, but in addition it guarantees the right of their parents to choose the education for their children, thereby contributing to promote the common good.
Lastly, in the field of social justice the Brazilian Government knows it can count on the Church as a privileged partner in all its initiatives that aim to uproot hunger and poverty. The Church “cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice” (Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est, n. 28). This is why she will always gladly contribute to the assistance of the neediest people, helping them to raise themselves from their situation of wretchedness, poverty and exclusion.
Mr Ambassador, as I conclude this meeting I renew my good wishes to you for the success of your mission. The various Dicasteries of the Roman Curia will always be at your service as you carry it out.
I invoke from Almighty God, through the intercession of Our Lady of Aparecida, abundant blessings for you personally, for all your loved ones and for the Federative Republic of Brazil, which you, Your Excellency, have the honour to represent to the Holy See from this moment.
Friday, 4 November 2011
I am pleased to welcome you, Your Excellency, on the occasion of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Ivory Coast to the Holy See. I express my gratitude to you for the cordial greetings you have just addressed to me on behalf of the President of the Republic, H.E. Mr. Alassane Dramane Ouattara. I should be grateful if you would convey my mutual good wishes to him, for him personally and for the fulfilment of his lofty responsibility in service to the nation. Indeed, I pray the Prince of Peace to guide and support him in his endeavour to promote the process for sustainable peace so that all who live in Ivory Coast may lead dignified, calm, serene and happy lives. Through you, I would like to assure my friendship to all the people of Ivory Coast.
You have just recalled, Mr Ambassador, the determination of your country’s leaders to spare no effort to achieve national reconciliation and a social unity that is true and solid. To this effect I welcome the creation of the Dialogue-Truth-Reconciliation Commission. To this effect may it work with total impartiality! I followed with deep concern the dramatic events of the post-electoral crisis that affected your country. It disrupted social cohesion and led to the divisions that still exist today. For the good of all its inhabitants, may Ivory Coast set out firmly resolved on the path to concord, the promotion of human dignity and the rediscovery of national unity!
Psalm 133 : says: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”. It is this path of reconciliation that must be taken, for Africa and the world are watching you with attention and confidence.
The serious crisis that Ivory Coast has just been through has also given rise to grave violations of human rights and the loss of many human lives. This is why I encourage your country to promote every initiative that leads to peace and justice. One must not be afraid to reveal the truth about crimes and about all the violations of people’s rights. Coexistence will only be possible and harmonious through the quest for truth and justice. This coexistence includes respect for the inalienable rights of the other, who is in fact, another me, as well as recognition of and respect for the sacred nature of every human life. Since all life comes from God it is sacred because of its divine origin. Thus the loss of one human life — whether lowly or important, poor or rich — is always tragic, especially when a human being is responsible for it.
Mr Ambassador, I would like to encourage your country’s leaders to engage with determination on a path of transparent and equitable governance and I welcome the code of good conduct of government members that was adopted in the first fortnight of August this year. To achieve the common good, discipline, justice and transparency are required in the management of public affairs. It is up to the politicians to make every effort to ensure that the fair distribution of the country’s wealth benefits each one of its citizens.
Like many African countries, Ivory Coast has a diversity of religions and ethnic groups. This is a great wealth. Living together must always be ardently desired and encouraged. As I said in my first Encyclical: “The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated” (Deus Caritas Est ). To this effect, the proper management of schools and other educational institutions is indispensable. For what would be the future and development of a nation without strong educational institutions teaching and promoting moral, intellectual, human and spiritual values? I am sure that this educational worksite is one of the priorities for the building of the future Ivory Coast, which I hope will be dynamic, prosperous, peaceful and responsible.
The Church, in her role, shares in the reconstruction effort. She does not wish to replace the State but through her numerous institutions in the educational and health-care fields can bring comfort and care to souls and this support is frequently more necessary than material aid, especially when so many physical and spiritual wounds have yet to be healed. Through you, Your Excellency, I greet all the Bishops and faithful in your beloved country.
Your Excellency, you have now officially begun your mission to the Holy See. Its inauguration, moreover, coincides with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between your country and the Holy See. I offer you my best wishes for the success of your mission. You may rest assured that you will always find cordial attention and understanding with my collaborators. As I invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, I pray the Lord may pour out generous blessings upon you, upon your family and upon your collaborators, as well as upon the Ivorian leaders and people.
Speeches 2005-13 24101