Speeches 1998

May Mary, Mother of the Church, sustain you in your efforts to communicate Christ to the world. With gratitude for your service to the Gospel, I impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 20 March 1998





To my Venerable Brother William W. Baum
Major Penitentiary

1. I thank the Lord that in this year 1998, dedicated to meditating on and invoking the Holy Spirit in preparation for the Great Jubilee, I am again able to address this Message to Your Eminence, to the prelates and officials of the Apostolic Penitentiary, to the Friars Minor, the Friars Minor Conventual, the Dominicans and the Benedictines who serve as confessors respectively in the Archbasilicas of the Lateran, the Vatican, St Mary Major and St Paul-Outside-the-Walls, and to those from various orders serving as extraordinary confessors in the same basilicas, as well as to the young priests and the candidates soon to receive priestly ordination who have taken advantage of the course on the internal forum organized and conducted by the Apostolic Penitentiary, with an increasing number of participants.

I offer my heartfelt thanks to the Lord, the Father of mercies, in the words of the liturgy: "We give you thanks for your great glory". We praise and thank the Lord because he works all things for his glory, which his holiness cannot renounce: "My glory I will not give to another" (Is 48,11), and by which he orders all things for our salvation: "For us men and for our salvation".

God's salvific will, which is the splendour of his glory, is carried out in a preeminent way in the sacramental ministry of Reconciliation, which is the primary objective of the daily service provided by the Penitentiary and the father confessors, and which is the prospective service for which our dear young deacons have been thoroughly prepared, with respect to the internal forum, in the annual course just mentioned.

Given the variety of backgrounds, responsibilities and assignments they represent, my reflection, which will once again take the sacrament of mercy for its theme, is addressed not only to them, but is meant for all the Church's priests, as ministers, and for all the faithful, as beneficiaries, of the forgiveness imparted in sacramental confession.

2. Since 1981, when for the first time I collectively received the Penitentiary and the father confessors (since 1990 they have been joined by those taking the internal forum course), I progressively considered various aspects of the sacrament of Penance: the sacrament itself, its constitutive and disciplinary norms, its strictly sacramental and its ascetical effects, and the duties of satisfaction and reparation that it requires of the faithful. I then examined the task of priests as ministers of the sacrament, recalling the loftiness of their mission, their special qualities and their duty to be intellectually well-prepared, to make themselves generously available and, especially, to practise an inviting charity, wisdom and gentleness, virtues which are all rewarded with spiritual joy over the holiness of their office. Lastly, I dealt with the faithful as recipients of the sacrament from the standpoint of the convictions and dispositions they should have in approaching the sacrament itself, both the habitual nature of their moral world, and their present attitude in receiving it, so that it may be valid and most fruitful.

This intentional insistence on the same theme in itself already indicates how the sacrament of Reconciliation is such a great concern for the Supreme Pontiff and his brothers in the priesthood because of their office as mediators in Christ between God and men.

Today is an appropriate time to consider: the specific goals which the Church intends to pursue and which the faithful must set for themselves in receiving the sacrament of Penance; connected with these goals, or rather as particularly gratifying aspects of these essential purposes of the sacrament, the benefits of interior harmony which flow from grace; and finally, certain results which are subjectively intended by those receiving or administering the sacrament (or are suggested to them by authors who should be disregarded) but which lie outside its supernatural dynamic, including at times the introduction of practices that distort and desecrate the rite, which should be essentially and exclusively religious.

3. The Fathers and theologians have rightly called the sacrament of Penance, among other things, a second plank after shipwreck, i.e., second with respect to Baptism. Sin is the shipwreck from which Baptism and Penance save us. Baptism takes away original sin and, if received in adulthood, also takes away personal sins and all the punishment due to them: it is birth, absolute newness of life, in the supernatural order. The sacrament of Penance is meant to take away personal sins committed after Baptism: first of all mortal sins, then venial. If the penitent has committed more than one mortal sin, they can only be remitted all at once. In fact, the remission of serious sin consists in the infusion of the sanctifying grace which has been lost, and grace is incompatible with any and every serious sin. Venial sins are to be regarded differently; they do not entail the loss of grace and can thus coexist with the state of grace. Therefore it is possible for them not to be remitted because they were not sufficiently detested by the penitent, even on the supposition that mortal sins were remitted by sacramental absolution. Obviously, the faithful who approach the sacrament of Penance also wish to receive the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin, even if they are not necessarily taking this punishment into explicit consideration. We must remember in this regard the truth of faith about purgatory, where atonement is made for the temporal punishment remaining after entering eternity. But the sacrament of Penance contains in itself, precisely because it imparts or increases supernatural grace, the power of spurring the faithful to practise fervent charity, to perform the resulting good works and to accept devoutly the sorrows of life, which also merit the remission of temporal punishment.

In this respect the truth of faith and the practice of indulgences are closely connected with the sacrament of Penance. An indulgence is actually the remission before God of the temporal punishment for sins the guilt of which has already been forgiven. Under specific conditions, a properly disposed member of the faithful obtains it with the help of the Church, which, as the minister of Redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of satisfactions of Christ and the saints (CIC 992). Thanks be to God that, wherever the Christian life is lived fervently, the faithful love indulgences and devoutly use them. And since gaining a plenary indulgence first requires the soul's total detachment from affection for sin, they and the sacrament of Penance marvellously complement each other in that essential goal of destroying sin, which, as I said before, is identified concretely with the infusion or increase of sanctifying grace.

In this regard, my thoughts, and indeed those of the whole Church, turn with gratitude to the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI, of venerable memory, who thoroughly treated the subject of indulgences in the Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum doctrina, an outstanding document of the Magisterium, and with keen pastoral sensitivity revised their norms.

Thus the mention and invocation of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of my Message were intentional, not only in relation to the Great Jubilee but also with respect to the theme discussed here: holiness and the destruction of sin are in fact the marvellous effect of the Spirit who dwells in us: "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1Co 6,11); "... and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rm 5,5). The Church then proclaims and administers God's forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance, so that the divine will, which is our sanctification, may be fulfilled in the faithful: "This is the will of God, your sanctification" (1Th 4,3).

4. The glory of God, which for human beings is identified with their eternal salvation, was announced by the angels at the Lord's birth as being intimately connected with peace: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lc 2,14), and Jesus, in the supreme testament of the Last Supper, left his peace as a final inheritance: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (Jn 14,27). "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (Jn 15,11). By the very fact that it imparts or increases grace, the sacrament of Penance offers the gift of peace. The liturgical rite of sacramental absolution, with the fortunate revision of the formula which has been used since 1973, explicitly emphasizes this divine gift of peace: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace".

To understand correctly the nature of this peace, we must remember that the harmony between body and soul, between the spiritual will and the emotions, was profoundly disturbed as a result of original sin and our personal sins, so that there is often a vigorous struggle within us: "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want.... I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members" (Rom 7:19,?22-23). But this conflict does not exclude the person's deep peace of mind: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! ... I of myself serve the law of God with my mind" (Rm 7,25).

Therefore, in the sacrament of Penance the faithful legitimately seek to begin that interior process which leads, as far as possible in their condition as wayfarers, to the progressive conformity of their own psychological state with that higher peace which consists in compliance with God's will. In fact, the reasonable assurance - which cannot be the certitude of faith, as the Council of Trent teaches - that we are in the state of grace, although not eliminating interior conflicts, makes them tolerable and, when holiness is achieved, even desirable. Not without reason did St Francis of Assisi say: "So great is the good which I await, that every pain is my delight". In this same vein, one of the effects of the sacrament of Penance that the faithful can rightly expect and desire is to mitigate the impulses of passion, to correct intellectual or emotional defects (as in the case of the scrupulous), to refine all our free action, as a result of restored and growing supernatural charity. To a great extent, as I recalled in a previous address, these proper but secondary effects of the sacrament of Penance are also linked to the skill and virtue of the priest confessor.

5. One would not be justified, however, in wanting to transform the sacrament of Penance into psychoanalysis or psychotherapy. The confessional is not and cannot be an alternative to the psychoanalyst's or psychotherapist's office. Nor can one expect the sacrament of Penance to heal truly pathological conditions. The confessor is not a healer or a physician in the technical sense of the term; in fact, if the condition of the penitent seems to require medical care, the confessor should not deal with the matter himself, but should send the penitent to competent and honest professionals. Similarly, although the enlightening of consciences requires the clarification of ideas about the proper meaning of God's commandments, the sacrament of Penance is not and should not be the place for explaining the mysteries of life. On these matters, see the Normae quaedam de agendi ratione confessariorum circa sextum Decalogi praeceptum issued on 16 May 1943 by the then Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which were published long ago but remain very timely. In a similar way, not only because of the sacramental seal but also because of the necessary distinction between the sacramental forum and the juridical and educational responsibility of those involved in formation for the priesthood and religious life, the state of conscience revealed in confession cannot and must not be transferred to canonical decisions regarding vocational discernment; but clearly, the confessor of priesthood candidates has the very serious obligation of making every effort to dissuade from going on to the priesthood those who in confession demonstrate that they lack the necessary virtues (this particularly applies to mastering chastity, which is indispensable for the commitment to celibacy), the necessary psychological balance or sufficient maturity of judgement.

6. We are in the midst of Lent, which reminds us of the fall and prepares us for the resurrection: the sacrament of Penance aids the fallen and gives them resurrection to eternal life, the pledge of which is now possessed by the soul in the state of grace. Jesus is the one, absolute Saviour of every man and of the whole man. The sacrament of salvation, the gift of grace, the gift of holiness, the gift of life, must be considered in this perspective of integral salvation.

The humble awareness of having mediated for the faithful these mercies of the Lord is for us priests now advanced in age a reason for immense gratitude to him who deigned to make us his living instruments. May the expectation of fufilling this sublime mission spur you, the young hope of the Church, to acquire a fitting intellectual and ascetical preparation, and encourage the greatest generosity for your coming ministry. It is rightly said that even one devoutly celebrated Mass would suffice for the perfect fulfilment of a priestly vocation. May it likewise be said, dear young men, that your charity, offered to the faithful in the sacrament of Reconciliation, will be the fullness and joy of your future life.

In the hope that the Lord's grace will make fruitful these desires and this trust, I cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 20 March 1998.






Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to greet you on the occasion of the Congress on the "Biological and Psychological Foundations of Prenatal Education" which you are attending. I extend my cordial greetings to each of you, with special appreciation for the organizers of this meeting, including the leaders of the Pro-Life Movement, a praiseworthy initiative of generous hearts which has received increasing support in recent years.

It is encouraging to find a group of researchers in the contemporary scientific field who, recognizing the full dignity of the unborn child, are exploring the paths of a new discipline, prenatal education. This is marvellous, praiseworthy research: to examine the child still in his mother's womb, not only to monitor and observe his physical growth and to listen to the beat of his tiny heart, but also to study his emotions and record the signs of his psychological development. In this research there is an implicit respect for the person in whom an immortal spirit already pulsates and the Creator's image is revealed.

2. It is right that the behavioural as well as the biological sciences should focus their attention on the child from the very beginning of his temporal development in the mother's womb. Thus your dedication, dear participants, is certainly valuable in the field of the experimental sciences, but it also has an anthropological and moral significance. In fact your interest, dear participants, goes beyond the merely organic and the consideration of physical and functional aspects, which nonetheless have their importance, and is directed to the inmost depths of the new being, a guest in his mother's womb.

Your outlook, so to speak, is prospective: you observe the child's developmental phases: infancy, adolescence, adulthood - to discern the psychological connections between those stages of life and its beginnings in the mother's womb, to suggest to parents the most suitable behaviour for guaranteeing a harmonious beginning to this process.

The history of the individual after birth depends, of course, on the physical and medical care he receives. But he is greatly influenced by the calmness, intensity and variety of the emotions he has felt during his prenatal life. So this line of prenatal research must be considered highly important.

In this perspective, it is also important to identify the connection between the psychological development of the unborn child and the family context in which he lives. The harmony of the married couple, the warmth of the home, the tranquillity of daily life affect his psychology, fostering harmonious growth: it is not only genes that hand on the parents' hereditary traits, but also the repercussions of their spiritual and emotional experiences.

3. It is a pleasure to see how medicine and psychology, with their respective resources, can serve unborn life and its progressive development. While some current lines of research and experimental intervention risk forgetting the mystery of the person present in the life that is maturing in the maternal womb, you have decided to develop your studies starting from this premiss. Indeed, you know that the worst disaster for humanity is to lose the sense of the value of human life from its beginning.

To know life in all its dimensions so as to respect it and promote its full development and mystery: this is the vision which guides you and which you would like to reconfirm today to the Successor of Peter. In this context we can only hope that those responsible for allocating the financial means for research will be able to distinguish between programmes that support life and those that offend its integrity or jeopardize its very existence.

It is the task of Catholic researchers in particular to focus their efforts on the loftiest human objectives science can serve. In my Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae I wrote in this regard: "Intellectuals can also do much to build a new culture of human life. A special task falls to Catholic intellectuals, who are called to be present and active in the leading centres where culture is formed, in schools and universities, in places of scientific and technological research, of artistic creativity and of the study of man" (n. 98).

4. I renew my invitation to believers to collaborate with an open mind with their colleagues in the scientific world, in order to further research on the physical, psychological and spiritual elements of human life from its beginnings. Anyone concerned about defending and promoting life, especially if it is frail and defenceless, cannot be satisfied with proclaiming the right to life, although that is just and right, but must feel committed to creating a culture based on science, "by offering serious and well-documented contributions, capable of commanding general respect and interest by reason of their merit" (ibid.).

The truth will ultimately triumph, because God is on its side. Indeed, is he not the God of truth and the Lord of life?

I therefore urge you to continue your studies with exemplary rigour. The Lord will not fail to accompany you with his grace in the daily work which you devote to the service of a brighter and life-filled future.

With this hope, as I invoke upon you and your activities the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom and Mother of the Incarnate Word, I cordially impart to you my affectionate Blessing.

From the Vatican, 20 March 1998.




TO NIGERIA (MARCH 21-23, 1997)


Saturday, 21 March 1998

Your Excellency the Head of State, General Sani Abacha,

Government Leaders,
My Brother Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
Beloved People of Nigeria,

1. With profound gratitude I praise Divine Providence for granting me the grace of returning to you and of setting foot once more on this blessed land! To you who have gathered to welcome me, and to all the sons and daughters of Nigeria, I offer heartfelt greetings of love and peace.

I address a special word of gratitude to my Brother Bishops for their invitation, and to the Head of State, as well as to the other Government leaders and authorities, for making this Visit possible. I see the presence of all of you here today as a sign of friendship and a manifestation of your desire to work together to serve the well-being of the entire nation.

2. I come to Nigeria as a friend, as one who is deeply concerned for the destiny of your country and of Africa as a whole. The main purpose of my Visit is to celebrate with the Catholic community the Beatification of Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, the first Nigerian in the Church's history to be officially proclaimed "Blessed".

This Beatification in the very land where Father Tansi was born and exercised his priestly ministry honours the whole nation of Nigeria. It gives to all Nigerians an opportunity to reflect on the direction and insight which the life of Father Tansi provides for today's society. In him, and in all who dedicate their lives completely to the service of others, is revealed the path along which Nigerians should travel towards a brighter future for their country. The testimony borne by Father Tansi is important at this moment in Nigeria's history, a moment that requires concerted and honest efforts to foster harmony and national unity, to guarantee respect for human life and human rights, to promote justice and development, to combat unemployment, to give hope to the poor and the suffering, to resolve conflicts through dialogue and to establish a true and lasting solidarity between all sectors of society.

3. Violence has not ceased to bring great pain and torment to certain peoples of Africa. Arriving in West Africa, my thoughts turn to the people of Sierra Leone, who have suffered so much in recent times. We must all hope that, with the continuing help of those responsible for peace in Africa, the return to constitutional order and democratic freedom will open the way to a new period of reconstruction and development.

In this respect I duly recognize the contributions made by Nigeria and other countries to help in this difficult situation. In particular I wish to express my sincere gratitude to all those who cooperated in the successful rescue operation at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Makeni.

I wish also to encourage the people of Liberia as they come out of a situation of tragic conflict and work to rebuild their nation. Justice and peace are the path of development and progress. May God strengthen those who walk this path in the service of the human community.

4. Dear Nigerian Friends, in your own country you are all called to muster your wisdom and expertise in the difficult and urgent task of building a society that respects all its members in their dignity, their rights and their freedoms. This requires an attitude of reconciliation and calls for the Government and citizens of this land to be firmly committed to giving the best of themselves for the good of all. The challenge before you is great, but greater still are your capacity and determination to meet it.

The life and witness of Father Tansi remind us of the Gospel saying: "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5,9). Blessed are all who, in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, work for genuine peace. Blessed in the eyes of God are those working to lead the continent of Africa to a new phase of stability, reconciliation, development and progress.

Ultimate success in this venture will come from the Almighty, the Lord of life and of human history. Certain that he will sustain you in the work now before you, I make my own the words of the Psalmist: "May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!" (Ps 29,11).

As I begin my Visit, I express my deep esteem and affection for every Nigerian. I would willingly meet you all! May God be close to every son and daughter of this beloved land. God bless Nigeria!



TO NIGERIA (MARCH 21-23, 1997)




21 March 1998

I would now like to greet the architects, Stefano Della Rocca and AIM Consultants, the management and personnel of the G. Cappa construction company, and all who have worked so hard to complete part of this Nunciature building in time for my Visit. The Nunciature in Lagos had served well for thirty-five years, but as we approach the Third Millennium the time has now come to move to Abuja, the new Capital City of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Abuja is itself a symbol of growth and hope for the future, and offers a more central location for the Apostolic Nunciature in this country.

The Catholic Church is still relatively young in Nigeria, but she is full of vitality and enthusiasm, and she looks to the future with confidence and optimism. Her mission of loving service to the men and women of this nation, inspired by the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, will benefit greatly from this new Apostolic Nunciature, which is a visible link with the See of Peter and a sign of the unity of the Church.

In expressing my gratitude to all who have made possible the construction of this Nunciature, I pray that the Lord will reward everyone for their dedication and for the many sacrifices involved. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Nigeria, watch over all who will live and work here.

To all of you here present, and to your families and loved ones, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.



TO NIGERIA (MARCH 21-23, 1997)


Sunday, 22 March 1998

Your Royal Highness the Sultan of Sokoto,
Your Royal Highnesses the Emirs,
Distinguished Muslim Leaders,

1. Although my stay in Nigeria is rather brief, I did not want it to go by without such an important meeting with the highest representatives of Islam in this country. Allow me to express my gratitude to you for having accepted the invitation to come here this evening; I deeply appreciate this opportunity of greeting through you the entire Muslim community in Nigeria. I thank His Royal Highness for his kind words, and in turn I salute you with a greeting of Peace, the peace which has its true source in God, among whose "Beautiful Names", according to your tradition, is al-Salam, Peace.

As you are aware, the reason for my visit has been to proclaim solemnly the holiness of a son of this country, Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi. He has been declared a model of a religious man who loved others and sacrificed himself for them. The example of people who live holy lives teaches us not only to practise mutual respect and understanding, but to be ourselves models of goodness, reconciliation and collaboration, across ethnic and religious boundaries, for the good of the whole country and for the greater glory of God.

2. As Christians and Muslims, we share belief in "the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day" (Lumen Gentium LG 16). Though we differ in the way we understand this One God, we are nevertheless akin in our efforts to know and follow his will. That religious aspiration itself constitutes a spiritual bond between Christians and Muslims, a bond which can provide a firm and broad- ranging basis for cooperation in many fields. This is important wherever Christians and Muslims live together. It is particularly important in Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are present in such large numbers.

Among the important convictions which we share, both Christianity and Islam stress the dignity of every human person as having been created by God for a special purpose. This leads us to uphold the value of human life at all its stages, and to give support to the family as the essential unit of society. As a result we see as a sin against the Creator every abuse against the weaker members of society, and against women and children in particular. Moreover, our religions lay emphasis on the responsibility of individuals to respond to what, in conscience, they see that God wants of them. It is a disquieting reflection on the state of human rights today that in some parts of the world people are still persecuted and imprisoned for reasons of conscience and for their religious beliefs. As innocent victims, they are sad proof that force and not democratic principles has prevailed, that the intention is not to serve the truth and the common good but to defend particular interests at any cost. On the contrary, both our traditions teach an ethic which rejects an individualism that seeks its own satisfaction without paying attention to the needs of others. We believe that in God's eyes the earth's resources are destined for all and not just for a few. We are conscious that the exercise of power and authority is meant to be a service to the community, and that all forms of corruption and violence are a serious offence against God's wishes for the human family.

We have in common so much teaching regarding goodness, truth and virtue that a great understanding between us is possible. And indeed necessary. In the Message that I addressed to the Muslim Community in Kaduna during my first visit to your country in 1982, I said: "I am convinced that if we (Christians and Muslims) join hands in the name of God we can accomplish much good . . . We can collaborate in the promotion of justice, peace and development. It is my earnest hope that our solidarity of brotherhood, under God, will truly enhance the future of Nigeria and all Africa" (14 February 1982, No. 4).

3. In any society, disagreements can arise. Sometimes the disputes and conflicts which ensue take on a religious character. Religion itself is sometimes used unscrupulously to cause conflict. Nigeria has known such conflicts, though it must be recognized with gratitude that in many parts of the country people of different religious traditions live side by side as good and peaceful neighbours. Ethnic and cultural differences should never be seen as justifying conflict. Rather, like the various voices in a choir, these differences can exist in harmony, provided there is a real desire to respect one another.

Christians and Muslims agree that in religious matters there can be no coercion. We are committed to teaching attitudes of openness and respect towards the followers of other religions. But religion can be misused, and it is surely the duty of religious leaders to guard against this. Above all, whenever violence is done in the name of religion, we must make it clear to everyone that in such instances we are not dealing with true religion. For the Almighty cannot tolerate the destruction of his own image in his children. From this place in the heart of West Africa I appeal to all Muslims, just as I have appealed to my Brother Bishops and all Catholics: let friendship and cooperation be our inspiration! Let us work together for a new era of solidarity and joint service in facing the enormous challenge of building a better, more just and more humane world! When problems arise, whether at the local, regional or national levels, solutions must be sought through dialogue. Is not this the way of African tradition? When Nigerians of different backgrounds come together to pray for the needs of the country each group according to its own tradition they know that they stand together as a united people. In this way they truly give honour to the Most High Lord of heaven and earth.

The Holy Father added extemporaneously:

Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria: he is a Roman Catholic Cardinal; he is a Nigerian Cardinal. And if he is promoting the dialogue with Muslims in the whole world, he is doing that having the experience of dialogue with the Muslims in Nigeria. So I see a great contribution by your country, by your community to the universal activity and dialogue in the Church in the whole world of today. I thank you very much for this meeting.

Speeches 1998