Speeches 2005-13 19411

MEETING WITH CHILDREN Parish church of Saint Rita -Cotonou Saturday, 19 November 2011

Dear Young Friends,

I thank Bishop René-Marie Ehuzu of Port Novo, Director of Social Ministry of the Benin Bishops’ Conference, for his words of welcome. I also thank the parish priest and Aïcha for their words offered on behalf of all of you. After this beautiful moment of Eucharistic adoration, it is with much joy that I greet you. Thank you for coming out in such great numbers!

God our Father has gathered us around his Son and our brother, Jesus Christ, who is present in the host consecrated during the Mass. This is a great mystery before which we worship and we believe. Jesus, who loves us very much, is truly present in the tabernacles of all the churches around the world, in the tabernacles of the churches in your neighbourhoods and in your parishes. I ask you to visit him often to tell him of your love for him.

Some of you have already made your First Holy Communion, and others are preparing for it. The day of my First Holy Communion was one of the most beautiful days of my life. It is the same for you, isn’t it? And why is that? It’s not only because of our nice clothes or the gifts we receive, nor even because of the parties! It is above all because, that day, we receive Jesus Christ for the first time! When I receive Communion, Jesus comes to live in me. I should welcome him with love and listen closely to him. In the depths of my heart, I can tell him, for example: “Jesus, I know that you love me. Give me your love so that I can love you in return and love others with your love. I give you all my joys, my troubles and my future.” Do not hesitate, dear children, to speak of Jesus to others. He is a treasure whom you should share generously. Throughout the history of the Church, the love of Jesus has filled countless Christians, and even young people like yourselves, with courage and strength. In this way, Saint Kizito, a Ugandan boy, was put to death because he wanted to live according to the baptism which he had just received. Kizito prayed. He realized that God is not only important, but that he is everything.

What, then, is prayer? It is a cry of love directed to God our Father, with the will to imitate Jesus our brother. Jesus often went off by himself to pray. Like Jesus, I too can find a calm place to pray where I can quietly stand before a Cross or a holy picture in order to speak to Jesus and to listen to him. I can also use the Gospels. That way, I keep within my heart a passage which has touched me and which will guide me throughout the day. To stay with Jesus like this for a little while lets him fill me with his love, light and life! This love, which I receive in prayer, calls me in turn to give it to my parents, to my friends, to everyone with whom I live, even with those who do not like me, and those whom I do not appreciate enough. Dear young people, Jesus loves you. Ask your parents to pray with you! Sometimes you may even have to push them a little. But do not hesitate to do so. God is that important!

May the Virgin Mary, his Mother, teach you to love more and more through prayer, forgiveness and charity. I entrust you to her, together with your families and teachers. Look! I have this rosary in my pocket. The rosary is like a tool that we can use to pray. It is easy to pray the rosary. Maybe you know how already; if not, ask your parents to help you to learn how. At the end of this meeting, each one of you will receive a rosary. When you hold it in your hands, I would ask you to pray for the Pope, for the Church and for every important intention. And now, before I bless you all with great affection, let us pray together a Hail Mary for children throughout the world, especially for those who are sick, who are hungry and in places of war. Let us pray together: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

MEETING WITH THE BISHOPS OF BENIN Apostolic Nunciature, Cotonou Saturday, 19 November 2011

Your Eminences,
Dear Archbishop Ganyé,
President of the Episcopal Conference of Benin,
Dear Brother Bishops,

It is a great joy for me to meet this evening with you, the pastors of the Catholic Church in Benin. I thank the President of the Episcopal Conference of Benin, Archbishop Antoine Ganyé, for the fraternal words of greeting which he offered in your name. With you, I am happy to give thanks to the Lord for the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the evangelization of your country. To be exact, it was on the 18th of April 1861 that the first missionaries of the Society of the African Missions disembarked at Ouidah, thus beginning a new page in the proclamation of the Gospel in West Africa. To all the missionaries, bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay people who have come from their own homeland or whose origins are in this country, who have laboured since that time and up to our own day, the Church is particularly grateful. They have generously given their lives, at times in a heroic manner, so that the love of God may be proclaimed to all.

The celebration of this Jubilee must be for your communities and for each of their members, an occasion of profound spiritual renewal. It falls to you, as Pastors of the People of God, to discern its dimensions in the light of the word of God. The Year of Faith, which I announced to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, will certainly be a propitious occasion for enabling the faithful to rediscover and to deepen their faith in the Person of the Saviour of Man. It is because they chose to place Christ at the centre of their lives that, in the past one hundred and fifty years, men and women have had the courage to place everything at the service of the Gospel. Today, this same approach must be at the heart of the whole Church. It is the crucified and glorious face of Christ which ought to guide us, so that we may witness to his love for the world. This attitude requires a constant conversion in order to give new strength to the prophetic dimension of our proclamation. To those who have received the mission of leading the people of God, falls the responsibility of quickening this attitude in them and helping them to discern the signs of the presence of God in the heart of persons and events. May all the faithful have this personal and communal encounter with Christ, and become his messengers. This meeting with Christ must be solidly rooted in openness to and meditation on the Word of God. The Scriptures must have a central place in the life of the Church and of each Christian. Hence, I encourage you to help them to rediscover Scripture as a source of constant renewal, so that it may unify the daily lives of the faithful and be ever more at the heart of every ecclesial activity.

The Church can not keep this Word of God to herself; hers is the vocation to announce it to the world. This Jubilee Year should be a privileged occasion for the Church in Benin to give renewed vigour to her missionary consciousness. Apostolic zeal, which should animate all the faithful, is a direct result of their baptism, and they cannot shirk their responsibility to profess their faith in Christ and his Gospel wherever they find themselves, and in their daily lives. Bishops and priests, for their part, are called to revive this awareness within families, in parishes, in communities and in the different ecclesial movements. I would like once more to highlight the admirable and essential role played by catechists in the missionary activities of your dioceses. On the other hand, as I emphasized in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, “In no way can the Church restrict her pastoral work to the ‘ordinary maintenance’ of those who already know the Gospel of Christ. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community” (No. 95). The Church, therefore, must reach out to everyone. I encourage you to persevere in your efforts to share missionary personnel with those dioceses experiencing a shortage, whether in your own country, in other African nations or in distant continents. Do not be afraid to call forth missionary vocations among the priests, religious and the laity!

So that the world may believe this Word which the Church proclaims, it is indispensible that Christ’s disciples be united among themselves (cf.
Jn 17,21). As leaders and pastors of your people, you are called to have a lively consciousness of the sacramental fraternity which unites you, and of the unique mission which has been entrusted to you, so that you may be effective signs and promoters of unity within your dioceses. With your priests, an attitude of listening, and of personal and paternal concern must prevail so that, conscious of your affection for them, they may live their priestly vocation with peace and sincerity, spread its joy around them and faithfully exercise their priestly duties. I therefore invite you to help your priests and faithful to rediscover for themselves the beauty of the priesthood and of the priestly ministry. The difficulties which are met along the way and which can at times be serious, must never lead to discouragement, but on the contrary become incentives to the awakening among priests and bishops of a deep spiritual life which fills their hearts with an ever greater love for Christ and with overflowing zeal for the sanctification of the People of God. Likewise, a strengthening of the bonds of fraternity and of friendship between all will be an important support, and will promote advancement in the search for spiritual and human development.

Dear Brother Bishops, the formation of the future priests of your dioceses is a reality to which you must pay particular attention. I strongly encourage you to make it one of your pastoral priorities. It is absolutely necessary that a solid human, intellectual and spiritual formation allow young people to attain a personal, psychological and affective maturity, which prepares them to assume to duties of the priesthood, especially in the area of interpersonal relations. For their part, as I noted in the Letter which I addressed recently to all seminarians, “the most important thing in our path towards the priesthood and during the whole of our priestly lives, is our personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ. The priest … is God’s messenger to his people. He wants to lead them to God and in this way foster an authentic communion between all men and women”. It is in this perspective that seminarians must learn to live in constant contact with God. Since the choice of formators is an important responsibility incumbent upon you Bishops, I invite you to exercise this duty with prudence and discernment. Formators, each of whom must possess the necessary human and intellectual qualities, must be concerned with their own advancement along the path to holiness, as well that that of the young to whom they have the mission of helping in the search for the will of God in their lives.

The episcopal ministry to which the Lord has called you has its share of joys and sorrows. To each of you present here this evening, I would like to leave a word of hope. In the course of the last hundred and fifty years, the Lord has done great things in the midst of the people of Benin. Be assured that he will continue to accompany you from day to day in your commitment to the work of evangelization. Always be pastors after the heart of God, authentic servants of the Gospel. It is precisely this that men and women of our times expect from you.

Dear Brother Bishops, at the end of this time together, I wish to express my great joy at having returned to Africa, and in particular to Benin, for this double celebration: the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the evangelization of your country and the presentation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus. I would like to thank you, and through you all the people of Benin, for the warm welcome, I would say simply for the African welcome, which you have given to me. I entrust all of your dioceses, as well as you and your episcopal ministry, to the Virgin Mary, Our lady of Africa. May she watch over the people of Benin! With great affection, I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing, which I happily extend to the priests, to the men and women religious, to the catechists and to all the lay faithful of your dioceses!


Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the course of this solemn liturgical celebration, we have given thanks to the Lord for the gift of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, which met in October 2009 to discuss the theme: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, of Justice and Peace: ‘You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world’ (
Mt 5,13-14). I thank all of the Synod Fathers for their contribution to this Assembly. My gratitude goes as well to the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, for the results achieved and for the greeting which he has just addressed in your name.

Yesterday I signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus. Today I am happy to offer it to each of the Particular Churches through you, the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa – both national and regional - and through the Presidents of the Synods of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Upon the reception of this Exhortation, the phase of assimilation and application of its theological, ecclesiological, spiritual and pastoral data begins at the local level. This text seeks to promote, encourage and consolidate the various local initiatives already in place. It seeks as well to inspire other initiatives for the upbuilding of the Catholic Church in Africa.

One of the first missions of the Church is the proclamation of Jesus Christ and his Gospel ad gentes, that is the evangelization of those at a distance from the Church in one way or another. I hope that this Exhortation will guide you in the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus in Africa. It is not just a message or a word. It is above all openness and adhesion to a person: Jesus Christ the incarnate Word. He alone possesses the words of life eternal (cf. Jn 6,68)! Following the example of Christ, all Christians are called to reflect the mercy of the Father and the light of the Holy Spirit. Evangelization presupposes and brings with it reconciliation and it promotes peace and justice.

Amada Igreja na África, torna-te cada vez mais o sal da terra, desta terra que Jesus Cristo abençoou com a sua presença quando, nela, encontrou refúgio. Sê o sal da terra africana, abençoada pelo sangue de tantos mártires, homens, mulheres e crianças, testemunhas da fé cristã até ao dom supremo da própria vida. Torna-te luz do mundo, luz da África que muitas vezes, no meio das provações, procura o caminho da paz e da justiça para todos os seus habitantes. A tua luz é Jesus Cristo, «Luz do mundo» (Jo 8, 12). Que Deus te abençoe, África bem amada!

[Dear Church in Africa, become ever more fully the salt of the earth – this earth which Jesus Christ blessed with his presence when he took refuge here! Be the salt of the African earth, blessed by the blood of so many matters – men, women and children, witnesses of the Christian faith even to the supreme gift of their lives! Become the light of the world, the light in Africa which seeks, amid tribulations, the path of peace and justice for all its citizens. Your light is Jesus, the Christ, “the Light of the World” (cf. Jn 8,12). May God bless you, dear Africa!]

DEPARTURE CEREMONY "Card. Bernardin Gantin" International Airport, Cotonou Sunday, 20 November 2011


Mr President,
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Authorities and Dear Friends,

My Apostolic Journey to Africa has now come to an end. I thank God for these days spent among you in joy and friendship. I thank you, Mr President, for your gracious words and for the many efforts made to make my stay pleasant. I thank the various civil authorities and all the volunteers who generously contributed to the success of these days. Nor can I fail to thank all the people of Benin for their warm and enthusiastic welcome. I also thank the members of the Catholic Church, the Presidents of the various National and Regional Episcopal Conferences who joined us, and naturally, in a very particular way, the bishops of Benin.

I wanted to visit Africa once more; it is a continent for which I have a special regard and affection, for I am deeply convinced that it is a land of hope. I have already said this many times. Here are found authentic values which have much to teach our world; they need only to spread and blossom with God’s help and the determination of Africans themselves. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus can greatly assist in this, for it opens up pastoral horizons and will lead to creative initiatives. I entrust it to the faithful of Africa as a whole, to study carefully and to translate into concrete actions in daily life. Cardinal Gantin, that eminent son of Benin whose greatness was so widely acknowledged that this Airport bears his name, took part with me in a number of Synods. He made a vital and much-appreciated contribution to them. May he accompany the implementation of this document!

During my visit I was able to meet various components of Benin’s society and many members of the Church. These numerous meetings, very different in nature, testify to the possibility of a harmonious coexistence within the nation, and between Church and State. Good will and mutual respect not only aid dialogue, but are essential for building unity between individuals, ethnic groups and peoples. The word “Fraternity” is the first of the three words found on your national emblem. Living in unity as brethren, while respecting legitimate differences, is not something utopian. Why should an African country not show the rest of the world the path to be taken towards living an authentic fraternity in justice, based on the greatness of the family and of labour? May Africans be able to experience reconciliation in peace and justice! These are the prayerful good wishes which I express to you, with confidence and hope, before I leave Benin and the African continent.

Mr President,

I express once more my heartfelt gratitude, which I extend to all your fellow citizens, to the bishops of Benin and to all the faithful of your country. Let me also encourage the entire continent to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. May God bless you all, through the intercession of Our Lady of Africa. AC? MAWU T?N NI K?N DO BENIN TO ? BI JI [in Fon: God bless Benin!]



Venerable Brothers,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I welcome you with joy on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the founding of Caritas Italiana. I greet you with affection, joining in the thanksgiving for your valuable service of the entire Italian Episcopate. I cordially greet Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, thanking him for his words on behalf of you all. I greet Mons. Giuseppe Merisi, President of Caritas, the Bishops in charge of the relief services of the various regional Bishops’ Conferences, the Director of Caritas Italiana, the directors of the diocesan Caritas and all their co-workers.

You have come to the tomb of Peter to strengthen your faith and to gather momentum for your mission. In 1972, at the First National Study Meeting of Caritas the Servant of God Paul VI said: “Above this purely material aspect of your activity, there must emerge its prevalent pedagogical function” (L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 12 October 1972, p. 11).

Indeed, you have been entrusted with an important educational task for the community, families, and civil society in which the Church is called to be light (cf.
Ph 2,15).

It is a matter of assuming responsibility for teaching the upright life of the Gospel, which is such only if the testimony of charity is thoroughly understood. The Apostle Paul’s words illuminate this perspective: “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Ga 5,5-6).

This is the badge of Christians: faith which becomes active in charity. Each one of you is called to make your own contribution so that the love with which we have always been and always will be loved by God may become an active approach to life, an effort of service and an awareness of responsibility. “For the love of Christ controls us”, St Paul wrote (2Co 5,14). It is this aspect that you must make ever more present in the particular Churches in which you live.

Dear friends, never desist from this educational task, even when the road becomes difficult and your efforts seem to be unproductive. Carry it out in fidelity to the Church and with respect for the identity of your institutions, using the means that history has consigned to you and that “‘creativity’ in charity” will suggest to you for the future, as Blessed John Paul II said.

In the past four decades, you have been able to deepen, experience and put into practice a working method based on three interrelated and synergetic forms of attention: listening, observing and discerning, employing them in your mission service through the charitable animation of the communities on your respective territories. This is a style that makes possible not only pastoral action but also to follow up a profound and fruitful dialogue with the various milieus of ecclesial life, with associations and movements and with the variegated world of organized volunteer service.

This means listening in order to know, of course, but at the same time to become close, to support Christian communities in caring for those who need to feel God’s warmth through the open and willing hands of Jesus’ disciples. It is important that suffering people be able to feel God’s warmth and that they feel it through our hands and our open-heartedness. In this way Caritas branches must be like “watchmen” (cf. Is Is 21,11-12) who can become aware and make others aware, who can predict and forestall, who can provide support and suggest solutions in the sure wake of the Gospel and of the Church’s social teaching.

The individualism of our time, the presumed sufficiency of technology, and the relativism that influences everyone are all seeking to invite people and communities to higher forms of listening, to a capacity for a broader vision and more open heart concerning needs and resources, to community forms of discernment on how to be and act in a world that is profoundly changing.

In scanning the pages of the Gospel, we are struck by Jesus’ actions: actions that communicate grace, teach faith and the “sequela”; actions of healing and acceptance, of mercy and hope, of a future and of compassion; actions that begin or perfect a call to follow him and that flow into recognition of the Lord as a single reason for the present and for the future.

Gestures and signs are connatural to Caritas’ pedagogical function. It is in fact through concrete signs that you speak, evangelize and educate. A charitable work speaks of God, proclaims hope, induces people to question themselves. I hope you will be able to foster in the best possible way the quality of the institutions you have been able to create. Make them, as it were, “eloquent”, concerned above all with the inner inspiration that motivates them and the quality of the witness they radiate. They are institutions born of faith. They are Church institutions, an expression of attention to those whose life is more of a struggle. They are pedagogical actions because they help the poorest people grow in dignity, Christian communities walk in the footsteps of Christ and civil society consciously assume its obligations.

Let us remember what the Second Vatican Council taught: “The demands of justice must first of all be satisfied; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity” (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, Apostolicam Actuositatem AA 8).

The humble, material service that the Church offers is not intended to replace or even less to dull the collective and civil conscience. It is backed by a spirit of sincere collaboration, within the proper autonomy and in the full awareness of subsidiariety.

From the very beginning of your pastoral journey you were given as a priority commitment the faculty to create a far-reaching presence in Italy, especially through the Diocesan and Parish branches of Caritas. Today too this is a goal to aim for. I am sure that your Pastors will be able to support and guide you, especially by helping the communities to understand the proprium of the pastoral animation that Caritas brings to the life of every particular Church. Moreover, I am certain that you will listen to your Pastors and follow their instructions.

Attention to the country and to its animation then gives rise to the ability to interpret the evolution of the life of its inhabitants, their difficulties and their worries, as well as their opportunities and prospects. Charity requires open-mindedness, a broad outlook, intuition and foresight, “a heart that sees” (cf. Encyclical Deus Caritas Est ).

Responding to needs not only means giving bread to the hungry; it also means letting oneself be challenged by the reasons causing their hunger, with the gaze of Jesus who could see the deep reality of the people who came to him. It is in this perspective that the present day calls into question your method of being animators and agents of charity. One cannot but also think of the vast world of migration. Natural disasters and wars often create emergency situations. The global economic crisis is a further sign of the times that demands the courage of brotherhood.

The gap between the north and the south of the world and the damaged human dignity of so many people, appeal for a charity that can spread out gradually from the small to the great economic systems. The increasing hardship and weakening of families and the uncertainty of the condition of youth, point to the risk of a loss of hope. Humanity does not only need benefactors but also humble, practical people who, like Jesus, are able to stand beside their brethren, sharing a little of their struggle. In a word, humanity seeks signs of hope. The source of our hope is the Lord. This is the reason why Caritas is necessary; not in order to delegate the service of charity to it, but so that it may be a sign of Christ’s Charity, a sign that brings hope. Dear friends, help the whole Church to make God’s love visible. Give freely and encourage others to do so. Recall everyone to the essentiality of love that becomes a service. Accompany our weaker brothers and sisters. Inspire Christian communities. Tell the world of the word of love that comes from God. Seek love as a synthesis of all the gifts of the Spirit (cf. 1Co 14,1).

May the Blessed Virgin Mary who on her visit to Elizabeth brought the sublime gift of Jesus in the humility of her service (cf. Lc 1,39-43) be your guide. I accompany you with my prayers and I gladly impart to you the Apostolic Blessing, extending it to all those whom you meet every day in your many activities. Many thanks.


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

I am delighted to meet with you, members and consultants of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, gathered together for the 25th Plenary Assembly. I greet in particular Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko and thank him for his kind words, as well as Bishop Josef Clemens, the Secretary. I extend a warm welcome to each one of you and especially to the lay faithful, men and women, who make up the Dicastery.

In the period since your last Plenary Assembly you have been involved in various initiatives, as His Eminence has mentioned. I too would like to recall the Congress for the Lay People of Asia and the World Youth Day in Madrid. They were very intense moments of faith and ecclesial life, also important with a view to the great ecclesial events that we shall be celebrating next year: the 13th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization and the inauguration of the Year of Faith.

The Congress for the Lay People of Asia was organized last year in Seoul, with the help of the Church in Korea, on the theme: “Proclaiming Jesus Christ in Asia Today”. The immense Asian continent is home to different peoples, cultures and religions of ancient origin, yet so far the Christian message has reached only a small minority, who all too often — as Your Eminence said — practise their faith in a difficult context, sometimes even of real persecution.

The Congress has afforded the lay faithful, associations, movements and new communities that work in Asia the opportunity to strengthen their commitment and courage for the mission. These brothers and sisters of ours bear an admirable witness by their adherence to Christ, allowing us to perceive that in Asia, thanks to their faith, vast scenarios of evangelization are unfolding for the Church in the third millennium.

I am pleased to note that the Pontifical Council for the Laity is organizing a similar Congress for the lay people of Africa, scheduled to take place in Cameroon next year. These continental meetings are invaluable for giving an impetus to the work of evangelization, for reinforcing unity and for making the bonds between particular Churches and the universal Church stronger and stronger.

I would also like to draw attention to the latest World Youth Day in Madrid. The theme, as we know, was faith: “Rooted and Built Up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith” (cf Col 2,7). And I was truly able to contemplate an immense multitude of young people who had gathered enthusiastically from all over the world in order to meet the Lord and to live universal brotherhood. An extraordinary cascade of light, joy and hope illuminated Madrid, and not only Madrid but also old Europe and the entire world, clearly reproposing the timeliness of the search for God. No one was able to remain indifferent, no one could think that the question of God was unimportant for the human being of today. The youth of the whole world are waiting anxiously to celebrate the World Days dedicated to them and I know that you are already working on the event scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

In this regard, it seems particularly important to have chosen this year to address the theme of God at the Plenary Assembly: “The Question of God Today”. We should never tire of proposing anew this question, of “starting all over again from God” to restore to the human person the totality of his/her dimensions, namely full dignity.

Indeed, a mindset that has continued to spread in our time, ruling out every reference to the transcendent, has proved incapable of understanding and preserving the human aspect. The generalization of this mindset has given rise to the crisis we are experiencing today, which is a crisis of meaning and values even before being an economic and social crisis. The human person who seeks to exist solely positivistically, within the calculable and the measurable, ends up suffocated.

In this setting the question of God is, in a certain sense, “the question of questions”. It takes us back to the fundamental human questions, to the aspiration for truth, happiness and freedom inherent in the human heart that seek fulfilment. People who reawaken within themselves the question about God open themselves to a trustworthy hope, which makes the arduous journey in the present time worthwhile (cf. Spe Salvi ).

But how is it possible to reawaken the question of God in such a way that it becomes the fundamental question? Dear friends, if it is true that “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person” (Deus Caritas Est ), the question about God is revealed by the encounter with those who have the gift of faith, with those who have a vital relationship with the Lord. God comes to be known through men and women who know him: the path towards him passes concretely through those who have met him. Your role as faithful lay people is particularly important here.

As Christifideles Laici notes, this is your specific vocation: in the Church’s mission “a particular place falls to the lay faithful, by reason of their ‘secular character’, obliging them, in their proper and irreplaceable way, to work towards the Christian animation of the temporal order” (n. 36).

You are called to bear a transparent witness to the importance of the question of God in every field of thought and action. In the family, at work, as well as in politics and in the economy, people of today need to see for themselves and to feel tangibly how with God, or without God everything changes.

However the challenge of a mindset that is closed to the transcendent also obliges Christians themselves to return with greater determination to the centrality of God. Efforts have sometimes been made to make the presence of Christians in social assistance, in politics or in the economy more incisive, and the soundness of their faith may not have been sufficiently taken into account, almost as if it were a given acquired once and for all.

In fact, Christians do not dwell on a far off planet, immune from the world’s “diseases”, but share in the upheavals, bewilderment and difficulties of their time. Hence it is no less urgent to repropose the question of God in the ecclesial fabric itself too. How often, in fact, although they have described themselves as Christian, God is not the central reference point in their way of thinking and acting or in their fundamental decisions of life. Thus the first response to the major challenge of our time lies in the profound conversion of our hearts, so that baptism, which has made us the light of the world and the salt of the earth, may truly transform us.

Dear friends, the Church’s mission stands in need of the contribution of each and every one of her members, especially of the lay faithful. In the walks of life to which the Lord has called you, in living out your baptism may you be courageous witnesses to the God of Jesus Christ. For this I entrust you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of all peoples, and I warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you and to your dear ones. Many thanks.


Dear Brother Bishops,

I greet you all with affection in the Lord and, through you, the Bishops from the United States who in the course of the coming year will make their visits ad limina Apostolorum.

Our meetings are the first since my 2008 Pastoral Visit to your country, which was intended to encourage the Catholics of America in the wake of the scandal and disorientation caused by the sexual abuse crisis of recent decades. I wished to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims and the honest efforts made both to ensure the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise. It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society. By the same token, just as the Church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards.

A second, equally important, purpose of my Pastoral Visit was to summon the Church in America to recognize, in the light of a dramatically changing social and religious landscape, the urgency and demands of a new evangelization. In continuity with this aim, I plan in the coming months to present for your consideration a number of reflections which I trust you will find helpful for the discernment you are called to make in your task of leading the Church into the future which Christ is opening up for us.

Many of you have shared with me your concern about the grave challenges to a consistent Christian witness presented by an increasingly secularized society. I consider it significant, however, that there is also an increased sense of concern on the part of many men and women, whatever their religious or political views, for the future of our democratic societies. They see a troubling breakdown in the intellectual, cultural and moral foundations of social life, and a growing sense of dislocation and insecurity, especially among the young, in the face of wide-ranging societal changes. Despite attempts to still the Church’s voice in the public square, many people of good will continue to look to her for wisdom, insight and sound guidance in meeting this far-reaching crisis. The present moment can thus be seen, in positive terms, as a summons to exercise the prophetic dimension of your episcopal ministry by speaking out, humbly yet insistently, in defense of moral truth, and offering a word of hope, capable of opening hearts and minds to the truth that sets us free.

At the same time, the seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated. The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers, leading at times to that “quiet attrition” from the Church which you raised with me during my Pastoral Visit. Immersed in this culture, believers are daily beset by the objections, the troubling questions and the cynicism of a society which seems to have lost its roots, by a world in which the love of God has grown cold in so many hearts. Evangelization thus appears not simply a task to be undertaken ad extra; we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization. As with all spiritual crises, whether of individuals or communities, we know that the ultimate answer can only be born of a searching, critical and ongoing self-assessment and conversion in the light of Christ’s truth. Only through such interior renewal will we be able to discern and meet the spiritual needs of our age with the ageless truth of the Gospel.

Here I cannot fail to express my appreciation of the real progress which the American Bishops have made, individually and as a Conference, in responding to these issues and in working together to articulate a common pastoral vision, the fruits of which can be seen, for example, in your recent documents on faithful citizenship and on the institution of marriage. The importance of these authoritative expressions of your shared concern for the authenticity of the Church’s life and witness in your country should be evident to all.

In these days, the Church in the United States is implementing the revised translation of the Roman Missal. I am grateful for your efforts to ensure that this new translation will inspire an ongoing catechesis which emphasizes the true nature of the liturgy and, above all, the unique value of Christ’s saving sacrifice for the redemption of the world. A weakened sense of the meaning and importance of Christian worship can only lead to a weakened sense of the specific and essential vocation of the laity to imbue the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. America has a proud tradition of respect for the sabbath; this legacy needs to be consolidated as a summons to the service of God’s Kingdom and the renewal of the social fabric in accordance with its unchanging truth.

In the end, however, the renewal of the Church’s witness to the Gospel in your country is essentially linked to the recovery of a shared vision and sense of mission by the entire Catholic community. I know that this is a concern close to your own heart, as reflected in your efforts to encourage communication, discussion and consistent witness at every level of the life of your local Churches. I think in particular of the importance of Catholic universities and the signs of a renewed sense of their ecclesial mission, as attested by the discussions marking the tenth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and such initiatives as the symposium recently held at Catholic University of America on the intellectual tasks of the new evangelization. Young people have a right to hear clearly the Church’s teaching and, most importantly, to be inspired by the coherence and beauty of the Christian message, so that they in turn can instill in their peers a deep love of Christ and his Church.

Dear Brother Bishops, I am conscious of the many pressing and at times apparently insoluble problems which you face daily in the exercise of your ministry. With the confidence born of faith, and with great affection, I offer you these words of encouragement and willingly commend you and the clergy, religious and lay faithful of your Dioceses to the intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. To all of you I impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, strength and peace in the Lord.


Your Eminence,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is a cause of great joy to meet you on the occasion of the 26th International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and to reflect on the theme: “Health Pastoral Care, Serving Life in the Light of the Magisterium of Blessed John Paul II”. I am pleased to greet the bishops responsible for Health Care Apostolate who have gathered at the tomb of the Apostle Peter for the first time to determine ways for collegial action in this very delicate and important area of the Church’s mission. I express my gratitude to the dicastery for its invaluable service, beginning with the President, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, whom I thank for his cordial words in which he has also described the Conference’s work. I also greet the Secretary and the Undersecretary, both of whom were appointed recently, the officials and the personnel, as well as the speakers and the experts, the heads of Health Care Institutes, the health care workers, everyone present and all those who helped to organize the Conference.

I am sure that your reflections have led to deeper knowledge of “The Gospel of Life”, the precious legacy of the Magisterium of Bl. John Paul II. He founded this Pontifical Council in 1985 to give a concrete witness to it in the vast and complex sphere of health care. Twenty years ago he established the celebration of the World Day of the Sick and, lastly, he set up “Il Buon Samaritano” Foundation to promote a new charitable service for the poorest sick people in various countries and appealed for a renewed commitment to sustaining the Foundation.

In the long and intense years of his pontificate Bl. John Paul II proclaimed that the entire ecclesial community’s service to physically or mentally sick people entails constant caring commitment and attention to evangelization, in accordance with Jesus’ command to the Twelve to heal the sick (cf. Lc 9,2). In particular, in the Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris of 11 February 1984, my Venerable Predecessor affirmed: “Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense ‘destined’ to go beyond himself, and he is called to this in a mysterious way” (n. 2).

The mystery of pain seems to obscure God’s face, almost making him a stranger or even pointing to him as responsible for human suffering, but the eyes of faith can see this mystery in depth. God became incarnate, he made himself close to man, even in the most difficult human situations. He did not eliminate suffering, but in the Crucified and Risen One, in the Son of God, who suffered unto death and death on a cross, he revealed that his love also descends into man’s deepest abyss in order to bring him hope.

The Crucified One is Risen; death was illuminated by Easter morning: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3,16). In the Son, who was “given” for the salvation of humanity, in a certain way the truth of love is demonstrated through the truth of suffering and the Church, born from the mystery of Redemption in the Cross of Christ “has to try to meet man in a special way on the path of his suffering. In this meeting man ‘becomes the way for the Church’, and this way is one of the most important ones” (Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, n. 3).

Dear friends, your service of accompanying, of being close to our brethren who are sick, lonely and often tried by wounds that are not only physical but also spiritual and moral, puts you in a privileged position for bearing witness to God’s saving action, his love for human beings and for the world, which embraces even the most painful and terrible situations. The face of the Saviour dying on the Cross, of the Son, consubstantial with the Father, who suffers for us as a man (cf. ibid., n. 17) teaches us to protect and nurture life in whatever stage and whatever condition it is found, recognizing the dignity and value of every individual human being, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen Gn 1,26-27) and called to eternal life.

The slow calvary that marked the last years of Bl. John Paul II bore witness to this vision of pain and suffering, illuminated by Christ’s death and resurrection. We may apply St Paul’s words to it: “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1,24). Firm and certain faith permeated his physical weakness, making his illness, lived for love of God, for the Church and for the world, an actual participation in Christ’s journey to Calvary.

The sequela Christi did not spare Bl. John Paul II from taking up his own cross every day to the very end, to be like his one Master and Lord who from the Cross became a point of attraction and salvation for humanity (cf. Jn 12,32 Jn 19,37) and manifested his glory (cf. Mc 15,39). In the Homily of the Holy Mass for the Beatification of my Venerable Predecessor I recalled how “the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a ‘rock’, as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined” (Homily, 1 May 2011).

Dear friends, treasuring Bl. John Paul II’s witness, lived in his own flesh, I hope that you too, in the exercise of your pastoral ministry and in your professional work, may discover in the glorious tree of the Cross of Christ “the fulfilment and the complete revelation of the whole Gospel of life” (Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, n. 50). In your service in the various sectors of the health care Apostolate, may you too experience that “only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me” (Deus Caritas Est ).

I entrust each one of you, the sick, families and all health care workers to the motherly protection of Mary, and I willingly and warmly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you all.


Your Eminences,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Authorities and Dear Friends,

I warmly thank the Government of the Principality of Asturias and the María Cristina Masaveu Peterson Foundation, together with its President, Mr Fernando Masaveu, for the splendid concert they have offered us. It has given us the possibility of making a sort of inner journey, transported by music through the folklore, the sentiments and the very heart of Spain. A very special “thank you” to the Symphony Orchestra of the Principality of Asturias, conducted by Maestro Maximiano Valdés, for the magnificent performance in which it has also given us a glimpse of the profoundly rich character of the Spanish and, especially, of the people of Asturias. I also thank everyone who has enabled us to enjoy this interlude, as well as the Archbishop of Oviedo and all those who are present on this important occasion.

This evening, a little “piece” of Spain, so to speak, has been brought to this Hall. Not only have we been able to listen to music by some of this country’s most famous composers, such as Manuel de Falla and Isaac Albéniz, but also by the German, Richard Strauss, and the Russian, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. We have been enchanted by what the libretto terms as “more hispano”, that is, the “Hispanic” customs, as well as the way of composing and interpreting music. And it is this very element that brings together such varied pieces as those we have heard. They have one basic characteristic: the ability to communicate sentiments and emotions, indeed I would say almost the daily fabric of life, in music. And this is especially so because whoever composes “more hispano” is almost spontaneously led to blend harmoniously the elements of folklore, folk songs that come from everyday life, together with what we call “cultured music”.

And a whole range of sentiments has been transmitted to us this evening: the “alegría de vivir”, “joie de vivre”, a festive atmosphere that shines out in compositions such as the three Dances from “El sombrero de tres picos” [The Three-Cornered Hat] by de Falla, or the struggle against evil portrayed by this same composer in his famous “Danza ritual del fuego [Fire dance]. The lively existence of the town’s neighbourhoods, as in “Lavapiés” from “Iberia” by Albéniz; the drama of a life that finds no peace, such as that of Don Juan, who fails to experience authentic love and, in the end, realizes how empty his life is. Strauss’ masterpiece perfectly conveys the switch from the euphoria that enlivens the passage to the sorrow of the emptiness expressed in the melancholy finale.

However, another element constantly surfaces in the “more hispano” compositions. It is the religious element with which the people of Spain are deeply imbued. Rimsky-Korsakov grasped this well. In his splendid Spanish Caprice, using Spanish folk songs and dances, he included various themes of popular religious melodies, such as in the first part of the piece in which one can pick out an ancient Asturian prayer in which the protection of the Virgin Mary and of St Peter is asked for and in the second movement which features a Gyspy hymn to Our Lady.

These are the wonders worked by music, this universal language that enables us to surmount every barrier and to enter the world of the other, of a nation, of a culture, and at the same time permits us to turn our minds and hearts to the Other, with a capital “O”, to rise, that is, to God’s world.

I once again thank the Government of Asturias, the Foundation, the members of the Symphony Orchestra of the Principality of Asturais, Maestro Maximiano Valdés, the organizers, those who have come from Asturias and all of you. May the Virgin Mary “who shines in the heights more beautiful than the sun and is Mother and Queen”, as we pray in the hymn to the heavenly Patroness of these lands, always protect you with her motherly tenderness.

I wish you all a good Advent journey and warmly impart my Blessing to you.


Your Eminence,
Distinguished Authorities,
Dear Children and Young People,

I welcome you with great joy at this meeting dedicated to your commitment to “Sister Nature”, to use the name of the Foundation that has sponsored it. I cordially greet Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and thank him for his words to me also on your behalf, and for his gift of the precious facsimile of Codex 338 which contains the most ancient Franciscan sources.

I greet the President, Mr Roberto Leoni, as well as the authorities and important figures present and the numerous teachers and parents. However, above all I greet you, dear boys and girls, dear young people! It is precisely you I wanted to meet, and I would like to tell you that I deeply appreciate your decision to be “guardians of creation” and that you have my full support in this.

First of all we must remember that your Foundation and this meeting itself have a profoundly Franciscan inspiration. Besides, today’s date was chosen to commemorate the proclamation of St Francis of Assisi as Patron of ecology by my beloved Predecessor, John Paul II, in 1979. You all know that St Francis is also Patron of Italy. However, you may not know that it was Pope Pius XII who declared him such in 1939, when he described him as “the most Italian of saints and the saintliest of Italians”.

Thus if the Patron Saint of Italy is also the Patron of ecology, it seems right to me that young people and young Italians should have a special feeling for “Sister Nature” and busy themselves in actively defending her.

Indeed when one studies Italian literature one of the first texts found in the anthologies is the “Canticle of Brother Sun” or “of the Creatures” by St Francis of Assisi: “Altissimo, onnipotente, bon Signore...!” [Most high, all powerful, all good Lord]. This canticle sheds light on the proper place to give the Creator, the One who called the whole great symphony of creatures into existence: “...Tue so’ le laude, la gloria e l’honore et onne benedictione.... Laudato sie, mi’ Signore, cum tucte le Tue creature” [All praise is yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessings.... Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures].

These verses rightly belong to your cultural and scholastic tradition. However, they are first and foremost a prayer that teaches the heart dialogue with God, teaches it to see in every created being the impression of the great heavenly Artist, as we also read in the most beautiful Psalm 19[18]: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.... There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth” (vv. 1: 4-5).

Friar Francis, faithful to Sacred Scripture, invites us to recognize nature as a stupendous book, that speaks to us of God, of his beauty and of his goodness. Only think that the “Poverello” of Assisi always asked the friar of the convent in charge of the vegetable garden not to grow vegetables on all the land but to leave part of it for flowers, indeed to tend a beautiful flowerbed full of flowers so that passersby might raise their thoughts to God, the Creator of so many beautiful things (cf. Vita secondo di Tommaso da Celano, cXXIV, 165).

Dear friends, while the Church admires the most important scientific research and discoveries, she has never ceased to remember that in respecting the Creator’s impression on the whole of creation, we understand better our true and deep human identity. If it is lived well, this respect can also help young men and women discover their personal talents and approaches and hence train for a specific profession which they will always seek to carry out with respect for the environment.

If, in fact, man forgets in his work that he is a collaborator of God, he can do violence to creation and cause untold damage that always has negative consequences, also on human beings, as we have unfortunately seen on various occasions.

Today, more than ever, it appears clear to us that respect for the environment cannot fail to recognize the value and inviolability of the human person in every phase of life and in every condition. Respect for the human being and respect for nature are one and the same, but they will both be able to develop and to reach their full dimension if we respect the Creator and his creature in the human being and in nature. In this regard, dear young people, I am certain that you are my allies, true “custodians of life and of Creation”.

I would now also like to take this opportunity also to address a special word to the teachers and to the authorities present here. I would like to emphasize the great importance of education in this field of ecology too. I gladly agreed with the suggestion to hold this meeting because it involves such a large number of very young students and because it has a clear educational perspective. In fact, it is obvious by now that there will be no good future for humanity on earth unless we teach everyone a lifestyle that is more responsible towards creation.

And I underscore the importance of the word “creation” because the great and marvellous tree of life is not the fruit of a blind and irrational evolution. Rather, this evolution reflects the creative will of the Creator and his beauty and goodness. This style of responsibility is learned first of all at home and at school. I therefore encourage parents, heads of schools and teachers to undertake to pay constant educational and didactic attention to this aim. In addition, it is indispensable that the proper institutions — which are well represented here today — support families and schools in this endeavour.

Dear friends, let us entrust these thoughts and aspirations to the Virgin Mary, Mother of all humanity. As we have just begun the Season of Advent, she accompanies and guides us to recognize Christ as the centre of the cosmos, the light that illumines every person and every creature. St Francis, moreover, teaches us to sing, with all creation, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the heavenly Father, Giver of every gift. I warmly thank you for coming in such large numbers and I gladly accompany you with my blessing in your studies, your work and your commitment.

I spoke of singing, let us sing the Our Father together, the great prayer that Jesus taught us all.

                              Dicembre 2011


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

I am pleased to welcome you on the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, on a double 30th anniversary: that of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, published on 22 November 1981 by Bl. John Paul II and of the Dicastery itself, which he established on 9 March with the Motu Proprio Familia a Deo instituta, as a sign of the importance to be attributed to the family apostolate in the world and at the same time, as an effective tool to help promote it at every level (cf. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio FC 73). I cordially greet Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, thanking him for his words introducing our meeting, as well as the Bishop Secretary, the staff and all of you gathered here.

The new evangelization depends largely on the Domestic Church (cf. ibid., n. 65). In our time, as in times past, the eclipse of God, the spread of ideologies contrary to the family and the degradation of sexual ethics are connected. And just as the eclipse of God and the crisis of the family are linked, so the new evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family. The family is indeed the way of the Church because it is the “human space” of our encounter with Christ. Spouses, “not only receive the love of Christ and become a saved community, but they are also called upon to communicate Christ's love to their brethren, thus becoming a saving community” (ibid., n. 49). The family founded on the Sacrament of Marriage is a particular realization of the Church, saved and saving, evangelized and evangelizing community. Just like the Church, it is called to welcome, radiate and show the world the love and presence of Christ. The reception and transmission of divine love are realized in the mutual commitment of the spouses, in generous and responsible procreation, in the care and education of children, work and social relationships, with attention to the needy, in participation in church activities, in commitment to civil society. The Christian Family to the extent it succeeds in living love as communion and service as a reciprocal gift open to all, as a journey of permanent conversion supported by the grace of God, reflects the splendour of Christ in the world and the beauty of the divine Trinity. St Augustine has a famous phrase: “immo vero vides Trinitatem, si caritatem vides” — “Well, if you see charity, yes indeed you see the Trinity” (De Trinitate, VIII, 8). And the family is one of the fundamental places where you live and are educated in love and charity.

In the wake of my Predecessors, I too have repeatedly urged Christian spouses to evangelize both with their witness of life and their involvement in pastoral activities. I did so recently in Ancona, at the end of the Italian National Eucharistic Congress. There I wanted to meet with couples and priests. In fact, the two sacraments called “at the service of communion” (CCC, Chapter Three, n. 1534), Holy Orders and Matrimony, are traced to the sole source of the Eucharist “both these states of life share the same root in the love of Christ who gives himself for humanity’s salvation. They are called to a common mission: to witness to, and make present, this love at the service of the community in order to build up the People of God.... This perspective makes it possible to overcome a reductive vision of the family, which sees it merely as the object of pastoral action.... The family is a source of wealth for married couples, an irreplaceable good for children, an indispensable foundation of society and a vital community for the journey of the Church” (Homily in Ancona, 11 September 2011). By virtue of this the “family is the privileged place of human and Christian education and remains, for this end, as the closest ally of the priestly ministry.... No vocation is a private matter, and even less so is the vocation to marriage because its horizon is the entire Church” (ibid.).

There are some areas where the role of Christian families, in collaboration with priests and under the guidance of Bishops, is particularly urgent: the education of children, adolescents and young people in loving, understood as gift of self and communion; the preparation of engaged couples for married life with a journey of faith; the formation of married couples, especially young couples; the experiences of associations with charitable and educational purposes, and civic commitment; and the pastoral care of families for families, a life-long commitment, giving due value to the time dedicated to work and to rest.

Dear friends, we are preparing for the Seventh World Meeting of Families to be held in Milan from 30 May to 3 June 2012. It will be a great joy for me and for us all to come together, to pray and to celebrate with the families who will come from around the world, accompanied by their Pastors. I thank the Ambrosian Church for her great effort made so far and for that in the coming months. I invite the families of Milan and Lombardy to open the doors of their houses to accommodate the pilgrims who will come from all over the world. In hospitality we experience joy and enthusiasm: it is nice to make acquaintances and friendships, recounting the experience of family life and the faith experience associated with it. In my Letter convoking the Meeting in Milan I asked for “an adequate process of ecclesial and cultural preparation”, so that the event will be a success and actively involve the Christian communities around the world. I thank those who have already taken steps in that direction and call on those who have not yet done so to make the most of the next few months. Your Dicastery has already provided valuable help in drawing up a catechism with the theme “The Family: Work and Rest”; it has also proposed a “family week” for the parishes, associations and movements, and other praiseworthy initiatives.

Thank you again for coming and for the work you do to promote the family at the service of the Gospel. While I assure you of my remembrance in prayer. I impart a special heartfelt Apostolic Blessing to each one of you and your loved ones.


Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Distinguished Professors,
Dear Collaborators,

It is a great joy for me to be able to receive you at the close of the annual Plenary Meeting of the International Theological Commission. I would first like to express a heartfelt “thank you” for the words which Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity as President of the Commission, has addressed to me on behalf of you all.

The work of this Session coincided this year with the first week of Advent, an occasion which reminds us that every theologian is called to be a man of Advent, a witness keeping watch, who enlightens the ways of understanding the Word made Flesh. We could say that knowledge of the true God constantly tends toward, and is fed by that “hour”, which is unknown, at which the Lord will return. Thus, keeping vigilant and enlivening the hope of expectation are not secondary tasks for a correct theological thought, which finds its reason in the Person of the One who comes to meet us and illumines our understanding of salvation.

Today I would like to reflect briefly with you on the three themes which the International Theological Commission has been studying in recent years. The first, as has been said, concerns the fundamental question for all theological reflection: the question of God and in particular the understanding of monotheism. From this broad doctrinal horizon you have also delved into an ecclesial theme: the meaning of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paying special attention to a theme which is of great relevance to contemporary theological thought about God: the question of the actual status of theology today, in its perspectives, in its principles and criteria.

Behind the profession of the Christian faith in the One God one finds the daily profession of faith of the people of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Dt 6,4). The unheard of fulfilment of God’s unreserved love for all people is realized in the incarnation of the Son in Jesus Christ. In this Revelation of God’s intimacy and the depth of his bond of love with man, the monotheism of the One God is illuminated by a completely new light: a Trinitarian light. And in the Mystery of the Trinity the brotherhood of men too is illuminated. Christian theology, along with the lives of believers, must restore the happy and crystalline evidence of the impact of the Trinitarian Revelation on our community. Although ethnic and religious conflicts in the world make it more difficult to perceive the singularity of the Christian thought about God and the humanism it inspired people can recognize in the Name of Jesus Christ the truth of God the Father to which the Holy Spirit stirs creature’s every cry (cf. Rom Rm 8). Theology, in fruitful dialogue with philosophy, can help believers to become aware of and to testify that trinitarian monotheism shows us the true Face of God, and that this monotheism does not generate violence but is a force of personal and universal peace.

The starting point of all Christian theology is the acceptance of this Divine Revelation: personal acceptance of the Word made Flesh, listening to the Word of God in Scripture. From this starting point theology helps the believing understanding of faith and its transmission. The entire history of the Church demonstrates, however, that acknowledging the starting point is not enough to reach the unity of faith. Every reading of the Bible is set in a given literary context, and the only context in which the believer can be in full communion with Christ is the Church and her living Tradition. We must live ever afresh the experience of the first disciples, who “devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Ac 2,42). In this perspective, the Commission has studied the principles and criteria according to which a theology can be catholic, and it has also reflected on the current contribution of theology. It is important to remember that Catholic theology, ever attentive to the link between faith and reason, played an historical role in the birth of the university. A truly Catholic theology with the two movements, “intellectus quaerens fidem et fides quarens intellectum”, is especially necessary today in order to foster harmony among the symphony of the sciences in order to avoid the violent by products of a religiosity that opposes itself to reason and of a reason that sets itself against religion.

The Theological Commission thus studies the relationship between the Social Doctrine of the Church and the whole of Christian Doctrine. The social commitment of the Church is not just something human, nor is it reduced to a social theory. The transformation of society brought about by Christians over centuries is in answer to the coming of the Son of God into the world: the splendour of such Truth and Love illumines every culture and society. St John says: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1Jn 3,16). Disciples of Christ the Redeemer know that without consideration for others, forgiveness and love even of our enemies, no human community can live in peace; and this begins in the first and foundational society that is the family. In the necessary cooperation for the common good, also with those who do not share our faith, we must make the true and deep religious motives present in our social commitment — just as we expect others to express their own motivations — so that collaboration occurs with transparency. Those who have perceived the basis of Christian social action will also be able to find in it a reason to take into consideration the same faith in Christ Jesus.

Dear friends, our meeting confirms in a meaningful way how much the Church needs the competent and faithful reflection of theologians on the Mystery of the God of Jesus Christ and of his Church. Without healthy and vigorous theological reflection the Church runs the risk of not fully expressing the harmony between faith and reason. At the same time, without the faithful experience of communion with the Church and adherence to her Magisterium, which is the vital space of her existence, theology would not succeed in explaining the gift of faith adequately.

Extending, through you, my good wishes and encouragement to all our brother and sister theologians working in various ecclesial contexts, I invoke upon you the intercession of Mary, the Woman of Advent and the Mother of the Word Incarnate, who in keeping the Word in her heart, is for us a paradigm of right theology, the sublime model of true knowledge of the Son of God. May she, Star of Hope, guide and protect the precious work which you carry out for the Church and in the name of the Church. With these feelings of gratitude, I once again impart to you my Apostolic Blessing. Thank you.

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