The Holy Father appealed to the whole Church for solidarity with the distressed peoples and the five religious kidnapped in Sierra Leone.

The Holy See continues to receive disturbing news from several African regions and particularly from Sierra Leone, where opposing factions are fighting one another, causing painful suffering for those beloved peoples.

My thoughts turn to the five kidnapped religious: they are worthy missonaries of the Hospitaller Brothers and the Augustinians. Just as worrying is the information about the fate of dozens of men and women religious in the Diocese of Makeni, entrusted to the pastoral care of the Xaverian Bishop, George Biguzzi.

May they and all the peoples of Sierra Leone be assured of my deep solidarity and that of the whole Church.

                                                                                  March 1998

Wednesday 11 March 1998 - Continuation of Jesus' saving mission in human history through the Church

1. After considering the total salvation accomplished by Christ the Redeemer, we would now like to reflect on its progressive realization in human history. In a certain sense, it is precisely this problem that the disciples ask Jesus about before the Ascension: "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (
Ac 1,6).

Put this way, the question shows how they are still influenced by the prospect of a hope that conceives of God's kingdom as an event closely linked to Israel's destiny as a nation. During the 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Jesus had spoken to them of "the kingdom of God" (Ac 1,3). But only after the great outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost will they be able to grasp its profound aspects. In the meantime, Jesus corrects their impatience spurred by their desire for a kingdom still too political and earthly, by inviting them to trust in God's mysterious designs: "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority" (Ac 1,7).

2. Jesus' admonition concerning "God's times" proves more significant than ever after 2,000 years of Christianity. As we face the rather slow growth of God's kingdom in the world, we are asked to trust in the plan of the merciful Father who guides all things with transcendent wisdom. Jesus invites us to admire the "patience" of the Father, who adapts his transforming action to the slowness of human nature wounded by sin. This patience was already revealed in the Old Testament, in the long history which prepared Jesus' coming (cf. Ac 3,25). It continues to be revealed after Christ, in the growth of his Church (cf. 2P 3,9).

In his response to the disciples, Jesus speaks of "times" (chrónoi) and "seasons" (kairoí). These two words for time in biblical language have two nuances which are worth recalling. Chrónos is time in its ordinary course and is also under the influence of divine Providence, which governs everything. But into this ordinary flow of history God makes his special interventions, which give a particular saving value to specific moments. These are precisely the kairoí, God's seasons, which man is called to discern and by which he must allow himself to be challenged.

3. Biblical history is full of these special moments. The most fundamentally important was the time of Christ's coming. It is also possible, in the light of this distinction between chrónoi and kairoí, to reread the Church's 2,000 years of history.

Sent to all humanity, the Church experiences different moments in her growth. In some places and periods she encounters special problems and obstacles; in others her progress is much faster. Long periods of waiting are recorded in which her intense missionary efforts seem ineffective. These are times which test the power of hope, directing it to a more distant future.

Nevertheless, there are also favourable moments when the Good News is warmly welcomed and conversions increase. The first and fundamental moment of the most abundant grace is Pentecost. Many others have followed and there are still more to come.

11 4. When one of these moments occurs, those who have a special responsibility for evangelization are called to recognize it, to make the best use of the opportunities offered by grace. But it is impossible to know their date in advance. Jesus' reply (cf. Ac 1,7) is not limited to restraining the disciples' impatience, but emphasizes their responsibility. They are tempted to expect that Jesus will take care of everything. Instead, they receive a mission which calls them to make a generous commitment: "You shall be my witnesses" (Ac 1,8). Although at the Ascension he disappears from their sight, Jesus still wants to continue his presence in the world precisely through the disciples.

To them he entrusts the task of spreading the Gospel throughout the world, spurring them to abandon their narrow vision limited to Israel. He broadens their horizons, inviting them to be his witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Ac 1,8).

Thus everything will happen in Christ's name, but everything will also come to pass through the personal work of these witnesses.

5. The disciples could shrink from this demanding mission, judging themselves incapable of assuming such a serious responsibility. But Jesus shows them the secret that will enable them to fulfil this task: "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Ac 1,8). With this power the disciples will succeed, despite human weakness, in being authentic witnesses of Christ throughout the world.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit fills each of the disciples and the entire community with the abundance and diversity of his gifts. Jesus reveals the importance of the gift of power (dýnamis), which will sustain their apostolic work. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary at the Annunciation as "the power of the Most High" (cf. Lc 1,35), bringing about the miracle of the Incarnation in her womb. The very power of the Holy Spirit will work new marvels of grace in the task of evangelizing the nations.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at this Audience, especially those from Denmark, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Canada and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the blessings of almighty God.

Wednesday 18 March 1998 - Faith response to Christ's work of salvation and the impact this faith has on every aspect of life

1. Looking at the primary objective of the Jubilee, which is the "strengthening of faith and of the witness of Christians" (Tertio millennio adveniente
TMA 42), after outlining in previous catecheses the basic characteristics of the salvation offered by Christ, today we pause to reflect on the faith he expects of us.

"The obedience of faith", Dei Verbum teaches, "must be given to God as he reveals himself" (DV 5). God revealed himself in the Old Covenant, asking of the people he had chosen a fundamental response of faith. In the fullness of time, this faith is called to be renewed and increased, to respond to the revelation of the incarnate Son of God. Jesus expressly asks for it when he speaks to his disciples at the Last Supper: "Believe in God, believe also in me" (Jn 14,1).

2. Jesus had already asked the group of the 12 Apostles to profess their faith in his person. At Caesarea Philippi, after questioning his disciples about the people's opinion of his identity, he asks: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16,15). The reply comes from Simon Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16,16).

Jesus immediately confirms the value of this profession of faith, stressing that it stems not only from human thought idea but from heavenly inspiration: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 16,17). These statements, in strongly Semitic tones, indicate the total, absolute and supreme revelation: the one that concerns the person of Christ, Son of God.

Peter's profession of faith will remain the definitive expression of Christ's identity. Mark uses this same expression to begin his Gospel (cf. Mc 1,1) and John refers to it at the end of his, saying that he has written his Gospel so that you may believe "that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God", and that in believing you may have life in his name (cf. Jn 20,31).

3. In what does faith consist? The Constitution Dei Verbum explains that by faith, "man freely commits his entire self to God, making 'the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals'" (DV 5). Thus faith is not only the intellect's adherence to the truth revealed, but also a submission of the will and a gift of self to God revealing himself. It is a stance that involves one's entire existence.

The Council also recalls that this faith requires "the grace of God to move [man] and assist him; he must have the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and 'makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth'" (ibid. DV 5). In this way we can see how, on the one hand, faith enables us to welcome the truth contained in Revelation and proposed by the Magisterium of those who, as Pastors of God's People, have received a "sure charism of truth" (Dei Verbum DV 8). On the other hand, faith also spurs us to true and deep consistency, which must be expressed in all aspects of a life modeled on that of Christ.

4. As a fruit of grace, faith exercises an influence on events. This is wonderfully seen in the exemplary case of the Blessed Virgin. Her faith-filled acceptance of the angel's message at the Annunciation is decisive for Jesus' very coming into the world. Mary is the Mother of Christ because she first believed in him.

At the wedding feast in Cana, Mary, obtains the miracle through her faith. Despite Jesus' reply, which does not seem very favourable, she keeps her trustful attitude, thus becoming a model of the bold and constant faith which overcomes obstacles.

The faith of the Caananite woman was also bold and insistent. Jesus countered this woman, who had come to seek the cure of her daughter, with the Father's plan which restricted his mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Caananite replied with the full force of her faith and obtained the miracle: "O woman! Great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire" (Mt 15,28).

5. In many other cases the Gospel witnesses to the power of faith. Jesus expresses his admiration for the centurion's faith: "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith" (Mt 8,10). And to Bartimaeus: "Go your way your faith has made you well" (Mc 10,52). He says the same thing to the woman with a haemorrhage (cf. Mc 5,34).

His words to the father of the epileptic who wanted his son to be cured are no less striking: "All things are possible to him who believes" (Mc 9,23).

The role of faith is to co-operate with this omnipotence. Jesus asks for this co-operation to the point that upon returning to Nazareth, he works almost no miracles because the inhabitants of his village did not believe in him (cf. Mc 6,5-6). For Jesus, faith has a decisive importance for the purposes of salvation.

St Paul will develop Christ's teaching when, in conflict with those who wished to base the hope of salvation on observance of the Jewish law, he forcefully affirms that faith in Christ is the only source of salvation: "We hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Rm 3,28). However, it must not be forgotten that St Paul was thinking of that authentic and full faith which "works through love" (Ga 5,6). True faith is animated by love of God, which is inseparable from love for our brothers and sisters.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I warmly greet the members of the United States Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and the members of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs who have made a joint pilgrimage to Israel and now to Rome, led by Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore. I hope and pray that our interreligious dialogue will continue in a climate of renewed openness and trust. I extend a special welcome to the representatives of the Nigerian Catholic community in Rome as I prepare to set out for your beloved country for the beatification of Fr Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, the first Nigerian 'blessed'. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the abundant blessings of almighty God.

Wednesday 25 March 1998 - Reflection on the Pastoral Visit to Nigeria

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I give thanks to the Lord who a few days ago allowed me to return to the beloved African continent for a brief but eventful visit to Nigeria. In the Church Africa is taking more and more initiative for her own history and is becoming co-responsible for the progress of the whole People of God.

In Nigeria I met a vibrant Church which recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of her first evangelization and is advancing with determination towards the Year 2000, inspired and guided by the directives of the recent African Synod. New diocesan and parish communities have grown up there in recent years. The number of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life is increasing: three new seminaries have been opened, in addition to the eight which already exist. All this is the work of the Holy Spirit, who has given life to the Church in Nigeria during the past 100 years and continues to support her as she faces the future.

2. I thank the Head of State and the other civil authorities for their welcome. I hope that this exceptional spiritual event will help further the process of reconciliation in justice and of full respect for the human rights of every member of the Nigerian people.

I express my fraternal gratitude to the country's Bishops for the witness of communion and affection which they and the priests, religious, catechists and all the lay faithful offered to the Successor of Peter. To each one I renew my "thank you" and my embrace of peace.

14 I respectfuly greet the followers of other religions, especially the Muslims, who have a prominent place in this country. I extend my heartfelt greetings to the entire Nigerian people.

3. During my stay in Nigeria, in addition to visiting the country's officials, I was able to meet the Bishops, hard-working Pastors of the Christian people. I also cherish memories of my meeting with the most important representatives of Islam, with whom I wanted to stress the importance of the spiritual bonds linking Christians and Muslims: faith in the one merciful God, the commitment to seeking and doing his will, the value of every person as created by God with a special destiny, religious freedom and the ethic of solidarity. I pray the Lord that Christians and Muslims, both of whom are numerous in Nigeria, may work together in defending life as well as in promoting the effective recognition of each individual's human rights.

4. Another important moment in my Pastoral Visit was the Holy Mass in Abuja, the country's new federal capital. In the heart of the black continent, with the Bishops, the clergy and the faithful, I raised a great prayer for Africa, that it may experience justice, peace and development; that it may preserve its most genuine values, its love for life and the family, for solidarity and community life. I prayed that Africa, inhabited by countless ethnic groups, may become a family of peoples, as the Lord wants the whole world to be: a family of nations. The Gospel is the leaven of authentic peace and unity.

The Church proclaims this "good news" of salvation to the ends of the earth and encourages the commitment to justice, peace, the integral development of society and respect for the basic rights of the person.

It was for this reason that the missionaries, the first evangelizers of the African continent, gave their lives; for this same cause many Nigerians have devoted their lives, like Fr Tansi, and many others after him have answered the Lord's call and now co-operate in the new evangelization in their homeland and in other parts of the world. The Church never ceases to give thanks to God for this mysterious exchange of gifts, the fruit of the Holy Spirit's effective and universal action.

5. The culminating moment of my apostolic pilgrimage was the solemn Eucharistic celebration for the beatification of Fr Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, which took place in Onitsha, his native city.

This event communicated a lofty message of holiness, reconciliation and hope, wonderfully combined in Fr Tansi's witness. His whole apostolate drew strength from the Eucharist: he celebrated Holy Mass with visible fervour of faith and love and adored the Blessed Sacrament for hours and hours, absorbed in contemplation.

During these extended times of prayer, the Lord drew him ever closer, letting him perceive more and more clearly his call to the contemplative life. At the age of 47 he left for England, where he entered the Cistercian Abbey of Mount St Bernard. He was unable to return to his homeland and establish a monastic community there, as was his desire and plan. Death prevented him from doing so, but his witness, made fruitful by prayer and sacrifice, is the precious and vital seed which has not failed to yield abundant fruit.

6. Fr Tansi is the first witness to the Christian faith in Nigeria to have been raised to the honours of the altar. For this reason it is natural to think of him as the "protomartyr" of that nation: not because he was martyred, but in the sense that he offered an unswerving witness of love, spending his whole life in the service of God and of his brothers and sisters.

In the history of the Church, the protomartyrs are significant for the growth of the community of believers and for evangelization. We think, for example, of the first martyrs of Rome and of those in many other countries where the faith sprang from their heroic witness. The beatification of Fr Tansi is not only a recognition of his holiness and the spiritual climate in which he matured to the point of reaching the perfection of union with God and his brethren; it is also a harbinger and sign of hope for the future development of the Church in Nigeria and Africa.

7. May the new blessed intercede so that a just and sincere spirit of reconciliation may grow in Nigerian society and in all African countries, and that the Gospel message may be more and more widely spread. May there be an increase in mutual understanding, the source of peace, joy and unity in families. May solidarity in justice be strengthened, because this is the way to achieve the harmonious development of every nation.

15 We entrust these wishes to the Blessed Virgin, whom the liturgy today has us contemplate in the mystery of the Annunciation. The Holy Spirit prompted her to say her "fiat" to God and formed the incarnate Word in her womb. The same Spirit has made fruitful the tireless missionary work of Christ's Apostles and witnesses down the ages in every corner of the earth.

In contemplating Mary, the image of fidelity and obedience, we are all invited today generously to accept the divine call and to give our faithful and definitive "yes" to the Lord's will, so that everywhere his saving plan may be fulfilled.

May Our Lady of the Annunciation, whom we celebrate today, make us docile and courageous servants of the Word who took flesh in her for the salvation of every human being.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially to the members of the Society of Missionaries of Africa. Thank you for your commitment to that dearly beloved continent. Upon the visitors from England, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the United States I invoke the grace and peace of the Lord.

                                                                                  April 1998

Wednesday 1 April 1998 - Baptism as the foundation of Christian life


1. According to Mark's Gospel, Jesus' final instruction to his disciples presents faith and baptism together as the only way to salvation: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (
Mc 16,16). And in recounting the missionary mandate Jesus gives the Apostles, Matthew stresses the connection between baptism and preaching the Gospel: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28,19).

In conformity with these words of Christ, Peter addresses the people on the day of Pentecost to exhort them to conversion, inviting his listeners to receive baptism: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Ac 2,38). Conversion, then, involves not only an interior attitude but also entry into the Christian community through baptism, which takes away sins and makes one a member of Christ's Mystical Body.

2. To grasp the deep meaning of baptism, we must meditate again on the mystery of Jesus' baptism at the beginning of his public life. At first sight this is a surprising episode, because John's baptism, which Jesus receives, was a baptism of "repentance" which prepared man to receive the forgiveness of sins. Jesus knew well that he had no need of that baptism, since he was completely innocent. One day he would challenge his enemies, saying: "Can any one of you convict me of sin?" (Jn 8,46).

Actually, in submitting to John's baptism, Jesus did not receive it for his own purification but as a sign of redemptive solidarity with sinners. His baptismal act contains a redemptive intention, since he is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1,29). Later he would call his passion a "baptism", describing it as a kind of immersion in suffering redemptively accepted for the salvation of all: "I have a baptism to receive. What anguish I feel until it is over!" (Lc 12,50).

3. At his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus not only foretold the task of redemptive suffering, but also received a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who descended in the form of a dove, that is, as the Spirit of reconciliation and divine goodwill. This descent prefigured the gift of the Holy Spirit, which would be imparted to Christians in baptism.

A heavenly voice also proclaimed: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased" (Mc 1,11). It is the Father who acknowledged his own Son and expressed the bond of love between them. Christ is actually united with the Father in a unique relationship, because he is the eternal Word "of one being with the Father". However, through the divine sonship conferred by baptism, it can be said that the Father's words, "You are my beloved son", apply to every person baptized and grafted on to Christ.

Thus, the source of Christian baptism and its spiritual riches are found in Christ's baptism.

4. St Paul explained baptism primarily as a sharing in the fruits of Christ's redemptive work, stressing the need to renounce sin and to begin a new life. He wrote to the Romans: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rm 6,3-4).

Because it is an immersion into Christ's paschal mystery, Christian baptism has a much greater value than Jewish and pagan baptismal rites, which were ablutions symbolizing purification, but incapable of taking away sins. Christian baptism, however, is an effective sign which really purifies consciences and forgives sins. It also bestows a much greater gift: the new life of the risen Christ, which radically transforms the sinner.

5. Paul revealed the essential effect of baptism when he wrote to the Galatians: "All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him" (Ga 3,27). The Christian bears a fundamental likeness to Christ, which involves the gift of divine adoptive sonship. Precisely because they have been "baptized into Christ", Christians are "children of God" in a special way. Baptism causes a true "rebirth".

Paul's reflection is linked to the doctrine transmitted by John's Gospel, especially to Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus: "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (Jn 3,5-6).

"Born of water" is a clear refererence to baptism, which is thus seen as a true rebirth by the Spirit. In it man receives the Spirit of life, who "consecrated" Christ's humanity from the moment of the Incarnation and whom Christ himself poured out through his redeeming work.

The Holy Spirit brings about the birth and growth of a divine, "spiritual" life in Christians. This life animates and elevates their being. Through the Spirit, the very life of Christ bears its fruit in Christian existence.

What a great gift and mystery is baptism! It is to be hoped that all the Church's children will become more deeply aware of it, especially during this time of preparation for the Jubilee.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Denmark, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the blessings of almighty God.

Wednesday 8 April 1998 - Reflection on the Sacred Triduum


1. In these days of Holy Week, the liturgy very forcefully underscores the opposition between light and darkness, between life and death, but it leaves us in no doubt as to the final outcome: the glory of the risen Christ. Tomorrow the solemn celebration "in Cena Domini" will lead us into the Sacred Triduum, which offers the central events of salvation history for the reflection of all believers. Together we will relive and deeply participate in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

2. At tomorrow's Chrism Mass, the morning prelude of Holy Thursday, priests will gather with their own Bishop. During a significant Eucharistic celebration, which usually takes place in diocesan cathedrals, the oils for the sick and for catechumens will be blessed, and chrism will be consecrated. These rites symbolize the fullness of Christ's priesthood and that ecclesial communion which must enliven the Christian people, gathered by the Eucharistic sacrifice and strengthened in unity by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Tomorrow evening we will celebrate with grateful hearts the institution of the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, the Lord, "having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end" (
Jn 13,1). Precisely at the moment when Judas was preparing to betray him and night had fallen over his heart, divine mercy triumphed over hatred, life over death: "Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said: 'Take, eat; this is my body'. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins' " (Mt 26,26-28).

God's new and eternal Covenant with man is thus written indelibly in the blood of Christ, the meek and mild lamb, freely sacrificed to atone for the sins of the world. At the end of the celebration, the Church will invite us to remain in prolonged adoration of the Eucharist, to meditate on this extraordinary and incomparable mystery of love.

3. Good Friday is marked by the Passion account and by contemplation of the Cross, in which the Father's mercy is fully revealed. The liturgy has us pray in this way: "When we were lost and could not find the way to you, you loved us more than ever: Jesus, your Son, innocent and without sin, gave himself into our hands and was nailed to a cross" (Roman Missal, 1983 ed., Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation, I). So great is the emotion evoked by this mystery, that the Apostle Peter, writing to the faithful of Asia Minor, exclaimed: "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1P 1,18-19).

Therefore, after proclaiming the Passion of the Lord, the Church puts the adoration of the Cross at the centre of the Good Friday liturgy, not as a symbol of death but as a source of authentic life. On this day, charged with spiritual emotion, the Cross of Christ is lifted up upon the world as a banner of hope for all who in faith welcome its mystery into their lives.

18 4. Meditating on these supernatural realities, we will enter the silence of Holy Saturday, in expectation of Christ's glorious triumph in the Resurrection. At the tomb we will be able to reflect on the tragedy of a humanity that, deprived of its Lord, is inevitably dominated by loneliness and discouragement. Turned in on himself, man feels deprived of every breath of hope in the face of suffering, the failures of life and, especially, death. What should we do? We must wait for the resurrection. At our side, according to an ancient, widespread popular tradition, will be Our Lady, the Sorrowful Virgin and Mother of Christ sacrificed.

On Holy Saturday night, however, during the solemn Easter Vigil, "the mother of all vigils", the silence will be broken by joyful song: the Exsultet. Once again the victory of Light over darkness, of Life over death, will be proclaimed and the Church will rejoice in meeting her Lord.

Thus we will enter the atmosphere of Easter, the Resurrection, the endless day which the Lord inaugurated by rising from the dead.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us open our hearts to God's grace and prepare ourselves to follow Jesus in his Passion and Death, in order to enter with him into the joy of the Resurrection.

With these sentiments, I wish everyone a fruitful paschal Triduum, and a holy and happy Easter.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at this Audience, especially those from the Philippines and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the blessings of almighty God. To all of you, a happy Easter!

Wednesday 15 April 1998 - The one Baptism of the Christian community

1. Today's General Audience takes place in the Octave of Easter. During this week and for the whole period which lasts until Pentecost, the Christian community perceives in a special way the living and active presence of the risen Christ. In this splendid setting of light and joy proper to the Easter season, we continue our reflections in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Today we consider again the sacrament of Baptism which, by immersing man in the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, makes him a child of God and incorporates him into the Church.

Baptism is essential for the Christian community. In particular, the Letter to the Ephesians includes Baptism among the foundations of the communion which binds the disciples to Christ: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all" (
Ep 4,4-6).

The affirmation of one Baptism in the context of the other foundations of ecclesial unity has particular significance. In fact, it refers to the one Father, who in Baptism offers everyone divine sonship. It is intimately linked to Christ, the one Lord, who unites the baptized in his Mystical Body, and to the Holy Spirit, the principle of unity in the variety of his gifts. A sacrament of faith, Baptism transmits a life which gives access to eternity, and thus refers to the hope that waits with certainty for the fulfilment of God's promises.

The one Baptism therefore expresses the unity of the whole mystery of salvation.

2. When Paul wants to show the Church's unity, he compares her to a body, the Body of Christ, built up precisely through Baptism: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1Co 12,13).

The Holy Spirit is the principle of the Body's unity, since he animates both Christ the Head and his members. In receiving the Spirit, all the baptized, despite their differences of origin, nationality, culture, sex and social status, are united in the Body of Christ, so that Paul can say: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Ga 3,28).

3. On the basis of Baptism, the First Letter of Peter urges Christians to gather round Christ to help build the spiritual edifice founded by and on him: "Come to him [Christ], to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1P 2,4-5). Thus Baptism unites all the faithful in the one priesthood of Christ, enabling them to take part in the Church's worship and to make their lives a spiritual offering acceptable to God. In this way they grow in holiness and influence the development of the entire community.

Baptism is also a source of apostolic dynamism. The missionary task of the baptized, in conformity with their own vocation, is extensively considered by the Council which, in the Constitution Lumen gentium, teaches: "Each disciple of Christ has the obligation of spreading the faith to the best of his ability" (LG 17). In the Encyclical Redemptoris missio, I stressed that by virtue of Baptism all lay people are missionaries (cf. RMi 71).

4. Baptism is also a fundamental point of departure for ecumenical dialogue.

Concerning our separated brethren, the Decree on Ecumenism says: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church" (Unitatis redintegratio UR 3). In reality, validly conferred Baptism brings about an effective incorporation into Christ and makes all the baptized truly brothers and sisters in the Lord, regardless of their denomination. This is what the Council teaches: "Baptism, therefore, constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn" (ibid., UR 22).

It is an initial communion which needs to be developed in the direction of full unity, as the Council itself urges: "But Baptism, of itself, is only a beginning, a point of departure, for it is wholly directed toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ. Baptism is thus ordained toward a complete profession of faith, a complete incorporation into the system of salvation such as Christ himself willed it to be, and finally, toward a complete integration into Eucharistic communion" (ibid. UR 22).

5. In the perspective of the Jubilee, this ecumenical aspect of Baptism deserves to be given special emphasis (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 41).

Two thousand years after Christ's coming, Christians unfortunately present themselves to the world without the full unity he desired and for which he prayed. But at the same time we must not forget everthing that already unites us. Doctrinal dialogue must be promoted at all levels, as well as mutual openness, co-operation and, above all, the spiritual ecumenism of prayer and the commitment to holiness. The grace of Baptism itself is the foundation on which to build that full unity to which the Spirit continually spurs us.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I cordially greet the new deacons of the Pontifical Irish College and the Pontifical Scots College, and the priests from the Institute for Continuing Education at the Pontifical North American College: may your love of Christ and his Church be a continual source of strength and joy in your ministry. I extend a special welome to the "Voices of the World" choir, made up mostly of choirs from Ireland, North and South, from Italy and from Poland. Your commitment to sing for peace and to hold hands across all divisions is a great sign of hope. Your presence is an occasion for us to thank God once more for the important steps recently taken in bringing lasting peace to Northern Ireland. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Gibraltar, Sweden and the United States of America, I invoke the love and grace of the risen Saviour. Happy Easter!