Speeches 1997 - 6 December 1997




Saturday, 6 December 1997

I thank the English-speaking pilgrims who have come this evening to pray the Rosary. My special greeting goes to the community of the Pontifical North American College in Rome. In spiritual union with the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America, we ask Mary Immaculate, patroness of the College and of your nation, to intercede for all the peoples of the American continent, that there may be a renewed enthusiasm for the spread of the Gospel, a thirst for authentic holiness, and a spirit of fraternal solidarity in building a world of justice and peace.




8 December 1997

1. We greet you, Daughter of God the Father!

We greet you, Mother of the Son of God! We greet you, Spouse of the Holy Spirit! We greet you, dwelling-place of the Most Holy Trinity!

With this greeting we come before you on your feast day with the trust of children, and we pause, according to tradition, at the foot of this historic column for our yearly gathering in Piazza di Spagna. From here, beloved and venerated Mother of all, you watch over the city of Rome.

2. Abide with us, Immaculate Mother, in the heart of our preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

We beseech you, watch especially over the triduum, formed of the last three years of the second millennium, 1997, 1998 and 1999, years dedicated to contemplation of the Trinitarian mystery of God.

We would like this eventful century of ours and the second Christian millennium to close with the seal of the Trinity. It is in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit that we begin our daily work and prayer.

It is in turning again to the heavenly Father that we end our activities by praying: "Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit".

Thus, in the sign of the Trinitarian mystery, the Church in Rome, united with believers throughout the world, approaches in prayer the end of the 20th century, to enter the third millennium with a renewed heart.

3. We greet you, Daughter of God the Father!

We greet you, Mother of the Son of God! We greet you, Spouse of the Holy Spirit! We greet you, dwelling-place of the Most Holy Trinity!

This greeting highlights how deeply you are imbued with God’s own life, with his profound and ineffable mystery. You have been totally imbued with this mystery from the first moment of your conception. You are full of grace; you are immaculate!

4. We greet you, Immaculate Mother of God!

Accept our prayer and, as Mother, deign to bring the Church in Rome and throughout the world into that fullness of time towards which the universe has been advancing since the day your divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world.

He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, the King of the ages, the First-born of all creation, the First and the Last.

In him all is definitively fulfilled;
in him, every reality grows to the full stature desired by God in his mysterious plan of love.

5. We greet you, Virgin most prudent!

We greet you, Mother most clement! Pray for us, intercede for us, Immaculate Virgin, our merciful and powerful Mother, Mary!




Monday, 8 December 1997

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. After paying my customary tribute to the Blessed Virgin in Piazza di Spagna, my short Marian pilgrimage for 8 December now brings me to this very ancient basilica dedicated to the Mother of God, to pause in prayer before the icon of the Salus Populi Romani, so venerated by citizens and pilgrims.

Hail, full of grace, Salvation of the Roman People! I come to you as Bishsop of Rome and as one devoted to you. I come as Pastor of the universal Church, who recognizes you as his own Mother and model.

In coming today to St Mary Major’s, I have the happy opportunity to extend a cordial greeting to all who serve the pastoral and administrative needs of the basilica, to the Liberian Chapter, to the faithful present and to the pilgrims who flock here in vast numbers from every part of the world. May Mary help and comfort them all with her maternal protection.

2. I am also very pleased to open the second preparatory year for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the year dedicated to the Holy Spirit, with my visit to the Blessed Virgin, sanctuary of the Spirit. To Mary I entrust the Church’s journey to the holy door of the third millennium. May she, Spouse of the Holy Spirit and his perfect co-operator, teach today’s Christian community how to let themselves be guided and pervaded by the divine Spirit, so that the bonds of charity and communion may be strengthened in them, and the message of Christ, Saviour of the world, may be credible to all.

I pray especially for the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, which will be concluding shortly. May the Blessed Virgin, venerated in so many shrines on that continent, obtain the gift of authentic renewal for the Christian communities of America.

I now address the Salus Populi Romani, asking her to watch over Rome's City Mission, which is now under way. May Mary’s intercession support the commitment of the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishops, the parish priests and curates and all the priests, religious and missionaries.

3. From this Marian heart of Rome, I pray for everyone who lives in our city.

I pray for everyone, according to the particular intention suggested by this place and by the liturgical season of Advent, as I invoke the gift of hope for every man and woman, for every family and circumstance of life. How numerous are this city’s expectations! May the Lord grant that they not be disappointed, thereby causing discouragement and resignation. May the Holy Spirit enkindle in everyone the virtue of hope, to build together the Rome of the Year 2000, a city that will be a sign of hope for the whole world.

Immaculate Virgin, Salus Populi Romani, pray for us!





Thursday, 11 December 1997

Your Excellency,

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to greet Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant and members of the Executive Board of the Knights of Columbus. Your visit to Rome affords me a welcome opportunity to express my gratitude for the outstanding spiritual and material support which the Knights continue to give to the mission of the universal Church. I assure you of my personal thanks for your closeness to the Pope in his ministry of service to the Gospel and the upbuilding of all Christ's disciples in faith and love.

Our meeting takes place during the celebration of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America, in which the Pastors of the particular Churches of the American Continent are gathered to ponder the challenges of the new evangelization. In the Synod we have seen at work a spirit of ever greater solidarity between the Catholic peoples of North and South America. An essential role in this great task of ecclesial renewal will belong to lay men and women, and I am confident that the Knights, in fidelity to the high ideals of their Founder, will contribute to the transformation of society by their daily fidelity to the Gospel.

Assuring all the Knights and their families of my prayers, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and strength in Jesus Christ our Savior.





Thursday, 11 December 1997

Your Eminences,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. We have come to the end of the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops. At this time, my soul is opened through the action of grace towards God, who is the source of "every good endowment and every perfect gift" (Jc 1,17). And I am very grateful to you, who have been instruments of God, for speaking of these riches to his Church on the occasion of this Synod Assembly.

My deep gratitude goes out to the Fathers primarily responsible for the Synod, who have borne the burden of the work and are now to be credited for the results. Each day, the Presidents Delegate effectively conducted the Assembly; the General Rapporteur and the two Special Secretaries have helped the discussion of the Synod theme with competence; the General Secretary guided it steadily through the complex Synod process.

The Fraternal Delegates of certain Christian denominations of America, and a good number of men and women who came as assistants and auditors, made a very significant contribution.

And how could one forget that the Assembly was prepared through prayer, reflection and the consultation of all the local Churches and of other specially chosen organizations and through the various meetings of the Pre-Synodal Council. The harmonious co-operation of numerous ecclesial bodies, as well as various offices and services of the Apostolic See, have certainly contributed to the happy outcome of these proceedings.

We also recall the many people who support the Synod's work by offering their sufferings and their continual prayer. To each and all goes my personal gratitude.

2. We have come to the end of this interesting ecclesial experience, in which we have truly "walked together" (synodos). Today’s meeting offers us the opportunity to make an initial evaluation. Tomorrow morning, during the Eucharistic celebration at which I will have the joy of presiding in the Vatican Basilica, we will give thanks to the Lord for the apostolic fruits reaped over these weeks for the benefit of the American continent, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

In the future, as is customary after every Synod, I intend to issue an Apostolic Exhortation, which will take into account the Propositiones approved by the Assembly and all the richness of the interventions and various reports, in order to implement the pastoral suggestions made during the course of the Synod.

These days that we have spent together have been a true grace from the Lord. We have experienced a special encounter with the living Jesus Christ, and we have walked together on the path of conversion, communion and solidarity. We have felt united in the name of Jesus (cf. Mt Mt 18,19-20) through the action of the Holy Spirit, who illumines the present and the future of the American continent with the joy of hope that never disappoints (cf. Rom Rm 5,5). Through the numerous interventions, which have recalled the greatness and beauty of the Christian vocation, we have all been encouraged to follow Christ the Shepherd, Priest and Prophet, each one according to his or her own vocation.

The common call to follow Christ has made us understand the disturbing situations in which many of our brothers and sisters live. Many of them, in fact, find themselves in conditions contrary to the dignity of God's children: extreme poverty, lack of minimal care for illness; widespread illiteracy; exploitation; violence; and drug dependency. What can be said about the psychological pressure inflicted on people in industrialized societies, which impedes, in various ways, their access to the living source of the Gospel: a climate of mistrust towards the Church, anti-religious campaigns in the communication media; the harmful influence of permissiveness, fascination with easy, sometimes ill-gotten wealth. Denunciation of these deplorable situations has appeared in many of the Synod Fathers' interventions.

3. However, together with these courageous denunciations, you did not fail to stress the reasons for hope and comfort. An increasing number of young people have opted for the priestly and religious life, offering their dynamism and creativity for the task of the new evangelization. Many worthy priests and consecrated people, faithful to the charism of their own institutes, are supporting you in your apostolate, venerable Brothers. And how could we fail to remember the thousands of lay faithful who, in response to your call, have become your close co-workers in apostolic activity? They co-operate in a wide variety of ways in the work of evangelization, especially in small communities of the faithful, who, in the heart of the major cities, in the countryside, and in the far away towns, meet together to pray and listen to the Word of God.

There are also the lay faithful — men and women — who, following their specific lay vocation, are skillfully involved in the various political, economic and social areas of life, so that they can be imbued with Gospel ferment, in order to build a world of greater justice, fraternity and solidarity. Their courageous irreplaceable action is an essential component of evangelization, making the explicit proclamation of Jesus Christ more credible in a world increasingly in need of concrete actions rather than words.

During this Synod, we have reflected together on the paths of the new evangelization, in the search for answers of life, reconciliation and peace to be offered to the entire American continent.

The rich experience of fraternity, so vivid in these weeks, must continue as a permanent witness of unity for a continent called in its various sectors to integration and solidarity. This is a pastoral priority in which all are invited to offer their collaboration.

At various times in this hall, it has been recalled how important it is to give not only from one's surplus, but from one's own necessity, as in the example of the widow mentioned in the Gospel (cf. Mk Mc 12,42-44). If it is true that on the American continent, as elsewhere in the world, the challenges are many and complex, and the tasks seem to exceed human energies, I repeat to each and every one of you here today: "Fear not! Above all, base your whole life on the hope which never deceives" (cf. Rom Rm 5,5).

4. Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, dear brothers and sisters! To the extent that my daily schedule permitted, I have had the pleasure of following the work of the Synod. I have been struck by a constant call which emerged from the interventions and the exchanges: I refer to the invitation to solidarity. Yes, solidarity must be prophetically encouraged and testified to in practice. Solidarity, by joining the efforts of each individual and all peoples, will help to overcome the harmful effects of certain situations forcefully brought to our attention during the Synod: a globalization which, despite possible benefits, has also produced forms of social injustice; the nightmare of some countries foreign debt, for which it is urgent to find adequate and equitable solutions; the scourge of unemployment due, at least in part, to imbalances existing between countries; the difficult challenges caused by immigration and human mobility, together with the sufferings which give rise to them.

The synodal process has led us to experience how true are the words of the Psalm: "Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum" (Ps 133,1). Solidarity is born of fraternal love, which is the more effective the more it is rooted in divine charity.

May God grant, as the best fruit of the Synod, an increase of understanding and love between the peoples of America. Here I would recall that, as it has been observed, the opposite of love is not necessarily hatred; it can also be indifference, disinterest, or lack of concern. It is along the path of love that we wish to enter the new millennium.

Dear friends, in a few days you will return to your particular Churches in order to join your brothers and sisters in faith in carrying on the work of this Synod. Bring them the Pope's greetings and his embrace.

I continue to be near to you in prayer. I entrust you to God’s Providence and I invoke upon you the light and strength of the Holy Spirit. Together we have begun the year specially dedicated to him, another significant step leading to the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The Spirit brings about our conversion and puts us in communion with our brothers and sisters. It is he who impels us to live the greatest of gifts: the Christian love which today is expressed in solidarity.

May Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of all America and the Star of the first and of the new evangelization, obtain for us the grace of experiencing and seeing increase the abundant fruits of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.

To all of you I impart my Blessing!





Monday, 15 December 1997

Dear Fathers of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer,

1. I joyfully extend my welcome to you who represent the entire spiritual family founded by St Alphonsus de' Liguori and who, after the recent General Chapter, wished to meet the Successor of Peter to renew your devotion to him and your sentiments of full communion.

I greet Fr Joseph William Tobin, the new Superior General, and I extend to him my best wishes for the difficult task to which he has been called. I thank Fr Juan María Lasso de la Vega, who during his years of service as the Supreme Moderator of the Redemptorists made every effort to lead the institute to an ever more conscious fidelity to the charism of the founder, the third centenary of whose death you recently celebrated.

In affectionately greeting each of you, I wish my cordial thoughts to be conveyed to all the Redemptorists, who work in the Church with generosity, skill and faithful adherence to the Gospel.

2. The anniversary of the birth of St Alphonsus was for your institute a fitting occasion to highlight how the radical option for the Gospel, fidelity to the Word of God, profound and sincere communion with the Church and solidarity with the poor led the great Doctor of the Church to create during his era a new style of evangelization. At the same time, his example and teaching confirmed the original timeliness of his message in today's Christian community, showing the path to follow even today, as we advance towards the third millennium.

He never ceased to emphasize how necessary it was to be faithful to the choices, the words and the style in which the Redeemer was the Gospel of God among men. In fact, in his Rule he always recommended "following the example of Jesus Christ by preaching the Word of God to the poor", and he made himself an example and model for those who were carrying out the apostolic or pastoral ministry.

His "zeal for the house of the Lord" (cf. Ps Ps 69 [68]:9) made him a teacher and witness for his many contemporaries, and his teaching continues today to nourish the thought and action of the Church.

His pastoral commitment, exercised with generosity and skill, drew vitality from the ardent and constant prayer that marked his life. From his intimate dialogue with the Source of Wisdom, he received the answers for enlightening, encouraging and comforting those who turned to him for guidance and support.

3. Dear brothers, the figure of your founder, always so timely, is a gift for the Church and a valuable encouragement for your Congregation, which is called to a renewed and enthusiastic adherence to Christ. By looking to him, you can work with greater generosity in the service of the new evangelization to which the whole Church is now committed. Certainly, the ways of proclaiming the Gospel must be constantly and courageously adapted to the concrete situations of the various contexts in which the Church lives, but this involves an even greater effort of fidelity to your origins, so that the apostolic style proper to your family may continue to respond to the expectations of the People of God. I know that this is the commitment that motivates you and I urge you to proceed with courage in that direction.

Be ready, dear friends, to carry out your mission among Christ's poor with renewed vigour, proclaiming the Gospel of hope and love to them.

May the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Redeemer, whom you love with special affection, sustain you always and obtain for you abundant apostolic fruits.

With these sentiments and expressing again in the name of the Church my profound gratitude for your work in the service of the Gospel, I cordially impart my Blessing to you and willingly extend it to your entire institute.




Tuesday, 16 December 1997

Dear Friars Minor,

1. I am pleased to welcome you today and to each one of you I extend a cordial greeting with the familiar words of St Francis: "May the Lord give you peace". I thank you for your visit: you have come to renew those bonds of deep communion with the Successor of Peter that the Seraphic Father in his Rule wished to make the distinctive mark of your order.

I especially greet the newly elected Minister General, Fr Giacomo Bini, and I extend to him my best wishes for the difficult task that has been entrusted to him. My thoughts go likewise to Fr Hermann Schalück, who carried out his mandate at the head of the order with a spirit of service.

Your presence this morning offers me the welcome opportunity to express to all your confrères throughout the world my gratitude for their generous and fruitful commitment of fidelity to Christ and of active evangelization. Your apostolic work, which is so appreciated, is directed in various ways to the care especially of the poor and less fortunate, following in the footsteps of your holy founder.

2. Last May you held your General Chapter at the Shrine of the Porziuncola, a place so dear to Francis, where he was enlightened as to his vocation and which saw the beginning of his fruitful spiritual and missionary work that marked a great renewal in the Church and society of the time. Gathering there for an act of fundamental importance in the life of a religious institute has a special significance inasmuch as it expresses your desire to return to the roots of your own charism. The Porziuncola, that sacred place known throughout the world, returned to the news because of the tragic events of the recent earthquake, which devastated Umbria and the Marches, leaving the people and structures with deep wounds yet to be healed.

Speaking of the Porziuncola, how could we not remember the famous invitation addressed there to St Francis: "Go and repair my Church"? Attentive to the signs of the times, you wish to seize every occasion to intensify the enthusiasm and generosity of your service to the Church with great and unaltered fidelity to the spirit of your origins. By accepting the promptings of the Lord's Spirit, you wish to open yourselves, in dynamic continuity with your authentic tradition, to the expectations and challenges of the present, to co-operate in guiding people to meet the Lord who comes.

If the earthquakes that hit material structures are serious, other phenomena, perhaps even more worrisome, should not be overlooked; these are phenomena that disturb people's lives and emphasize the absence and emptiness of humanity and of their sense of God. I am referring to the lack of respect for human dignity and for the inviolability of human life, to religious indifference and practical atheism, which cause the idea of God to be removed from the horizon of life, opening the way to a dangerous emptiness of values and ideals.

If, on the one hand, the challenges of our time cause us to look with anxiety at the future, on the other, they strongly summon the community of believers to accept them and to address them with urgency. Time is short, the Advent liturgy warns us, and it is necessary to prepare the way of the Lord who comes. This spirit, characteristic of the liturgical season we are celebrating, must animate all the activity of every religious institute.

My deepest wish is that it should increasingly permeate your religious family, which is called to bring the Gospel of joy and love to the people of our time. Thus, the mission that awaits you, in view of the third millennium, is to start again from your origins, in order to intensify your concern for your brothers and sisters by promoting updated pastoral work in accordance with your charism. At the heart of this difficult apostolic renewal is attentiveness to God in the contemplative style of life that was typical of St Francis. He loved to say that "the preacher must first draw from the depth of prayer what he will then put into his sermons". While wishing you to follow faithfully in the steps of your Seraphic Father, I invoke on you and on the whole order a renewed outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that they may sustain and guide you in your service to Christ and the Church.

I wish you all a holy Christmas, with the hope of a new year that is full of peace and joy. With these sentiments, I bless you all.






16 December 1997

Your Excellency,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the Vatican for the presentation of the Letters of Credence by which you are appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Holy See. I am grateful for the greetings which you convey from President Clinton, and I reciprocate with good wishes to him and to the American people.

You represent a nation which plays a crucial role in world events today. The United States carries a weighty and far-reaching responsibility, not only for the well-being of its own people, but for the development and destiny of peoples throughout the world. With a deep sense of participation in the joys and hopes, the sorrows, anxieties, and aspirations of the entire human family, the Holy See is a willing partner in every effort to build a world of genuine peace and justice for all. I am certain that, following upon the good work of your predecessors, you will apply your many personal talents and your long experience of public life to strengthening understanding and cooperation between us.

The Founding Fathers of the United States asserted their claim to freedom and independence on the basis of certain "self-evident" truths about the human person: truths which could be discerned in human nature, built into it by "nature's God". Thus they meant to bring into being, not just an independent territory, but a great experiment in what George Washington called "ordered liberty:" an experiment in which men and women would enjoy equality of rights and opportunities in the pursuit of happiness and in service to the common good. Reading the founding documents of the United States, one has to be impressed by the concept of freedom they enshrine: a freedom designed to enable people to fulfill their duties and responsibilities towards the family and towards the common good of the community. Their authors clearly understood that there could be no true freedom without moral responsibility and accountability, and no happiness without respect and support for the natural units or groupings through which people exist, develop and seek the higher purposes of life in concert with others.

The American democratic experiment has been successful in many ways. Millions of people around the world look to the United States as a model, in their search for freedom, dignity, and prosperity. But the continuing success of American democracy depends on the degree to which each new generation, native-born and immigrant, make its own the moral truths on which the Founding Fathers staked the future of your Republic. Their commitment to build a free society with liberty and justice for all must be constantly renewed if the United States is to fulfill the destiny to which the Founders pledged their "lives...fortunes...and sacred honor."

I am happy to take note of your words confirming the importance that your Government attaches, in its relations with countries around the world, to the promotion of human rights and particularly to the fundamental human right of religious freedom, which is the guarantee of every other human right. Respect for religious conviction played no small part in the birth and early development of the United States. Thus John Dickinson, Chairman of the Committee for the Declaration of Independence, said in 1776: "Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declaration of pre-existing rights. They do not depend on parchments or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth" (Cf. C. Herman Pritchett, The American Constitution, McGraw-Hill, 1977, p. 2). Indeed, it may be asked whether the American democratic experiment would have been possible, or how well it will succeed in the future, without a deeply rooted vision of divine providence over the individual and over the fate of nations.

As the Year 2000 draws near and Christians prepare to celebrate the bi-millennium of the birth of Christ, I have appealed for a serious examination of conscience regarding the shadows which darken our times (cf. Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 36). Nations and States too can make this a time of reflection on the spiritual and moral conditions of their success in promoting the integral good of their people. It would truly be a sad thing if the religious and moral convictions upon which the American experiment was founded could now somehow be considered a danger to free society, such that those who would bring these convictions to bear upon your nation's public life would be denied a voice in debating and resolving issues of public policy. The original separation of Church and State in the United States was certainly not an effort to ban all religious conviction from the public sphere, a kind of banishment of God from civil society. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their religious persuasion, are convinced that religious conviction and religiously informed moral argument have a vital role in public life.

No expression of society's commitment to liberty and justice for all can be more basic than the protection afforded to those in society who are most vulnerable. The United States of America was founded on the conviction that an inalienable right to life was a self-evident moral truth, fidelity to which was a primary criterion of social justice. The moral history of your country is the story of your people's efforts to widen the circle of inclusion in society, so that all Americans might enjoy the protection of law, participate in the responsibilities of citizenship, and have the opportunity to make a contribution to the common good. Whenever a certain category of people - the unborn or the sick and old - are excluded from that protection, a deadly anarchy subverts the original understanding of justice. The credibility of the United States will depend more and more on its promotion of a genuine culture of life, and on a renewed commitment to building a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are welcomed and protected.

As they have done throughout your country's history, the Catholic people of the United States will continue to make an important contribution to the development of American culture and society. The recently completed Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America has highlighted the range and variety of activity which Catholics, out of commitment to Christ, undertake for the betterment of society. May this transforming and elevating work continue to flourish for the good of individuals, the strengthening of families, and the benefit of the American people as a whole.

Your Excellency, these are some of the thoughts prompted by your presence here as your country's diplomatic representative. These reflections evoke a prayer: that your country will experience a new birth of freedom, a freedom grounded in truth and ordered to goodness. Thus will the American people be able to harness their boundless spiritual energy in service of the genuine good of all humanity. Be assured that the various Offices of the Holy See will be ready to assist you in the fulfillment of your mission. Upon you and upon the people of the United States of America I cordially invoke abundant divine blessings.

Speeches 1997 - 6 December 1997