Wednesday 27 May 1998 - The Holy Spirit's role in the Incarnation

1. Jesus is linked with the Holy Spirit from the first moment of his existence in time, as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed recalls: “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine”. The Church’s faith in this mystery is based on the word of God: “The Holy Spirit”, the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary, “will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (
Lc 1,35). And Joseph is told: “That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1,20).

The Holy Spirit's direct intervention in the Incarnation brings about the supreme grace, the “grace of union”, in which human nature is united to the Person of the Word. This union is the source of every other grace, as St Thomas explains (S. Th. III 2,10-12 III 6,6 III 7,13).

2. For a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role in the Incarnation event, it is important to return to what the word of God tells us.

St Luke says that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and overshadow her as power from on high. From the Old Testament, we know that every time God decides to bring forth life, he acts through the “power” of his creative breath: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33,6 [32]). This is true for every living being, to the point that if God “should take back his spirit to himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh [that is, every human being] would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Jb 34,14-15). God has his Spirit intervene especially at the moments when Israel feels powerless to raise itself by its own strength alone. The prophet Ezekiel suggests this in his dramatic vision of the immense valley filled with skeletons: “The breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet” (Ez 37,10).

The virginal conception of Jesus is “the greatest work accomplished by the Holy Spirit in the history of creation and salvation” (Dominum et Vivificantem, DEV 50). In this event of grace, a virgin is made fruitful; a woman, redeemed since her conception, conceives the Redeemer. Thus a new creation is prepared, and the new and everlasting Covenant initiated: a man who is the Son of God begins to live. Never before this event had it been said that the Holy Spirit descended directly upon a woman to make her a mother. Whenever miraculous births occurred in Israel’s history, wherever they are mentioned, the divine intervention is related to the newborn child, not the mother.

3. If we ask ourselves what the Holy Spirit’s purpose was in bringing about the Incarnation event, the word of God gives us a succinct reply in the Second Letter of Peter, telling us that it happened so that we might become “partakers of the divine nature” (2P 1,4). “In fact”, St Irenaeus of Lyons explains, “this is the reason why the Word became flesh and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine shonship, might become a son of God” (Adv. Haer. III, 19, 1). St Athanasius adopts the same line: “When the Word came upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Spirit entered her together with the Word; in the Spirit the Word formed a body for himself and adapted it to himself, desiring to unite all creation through himself and lead it to the Father” (Ad Serap. 1, 31). These assertions are repeated by St Thomas: “The Only-begotten Son of God, wanting us to be partakers of his divinity, assumed our human nature so that, having become man, he might make men gods” (Opusc. 57 in festo Corp. Christi, 1), that is, partakers through grace of the divine nature.

The mystery of the Incarnation reveals God’s astonishing love, whose highest personification is the Holy Spirit, since he is the Love of God in person, the Person-Love: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1Jn 4,9). The glory of God is revealed in the Incarnation more than in any other work.

29 Quite rightly we sing in the Gloria in excelsis: “We praise you, we bless you ... we give you thanks for your great glory”. These statements can be applied in a special way to the action of the Holy Spirit who, in the First Letter of Peter, is called “the spirit of glory” (1P 4,14). This is a glory which is pure gratuitousness: it does not consist of taking or receiving, but only of giving. In giving us his Spirit, who is the source of life, the Father manifests his glory, making it visible in our lives. In this regard St Irenaeus says that “the glory of God is the living man” (Adv. Haer. IV, 20, 7).

4. If now we try to look more closely at what the Incarnation event reveals to us of the mystery of the Spirit, we can say that this event shows us primarily that he is the gracious power of God who brings forth life.

The power that “overshadows” Mary recalls the cloud of the Lord which covered the tent in the desert (cf. Ex 40,34) or filled the temple (cf. 1R 8,10). Thus it is the friendly presence, the saving closeness of God who comes to make a covenant of love with his children. It is power in the service of love, which is exercised under the sign of humility: not only does it inspire the humility of Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, but is almost hidden behind her, to the point that no one in Nazareth can foresee that what “is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1,20). St Ignatius of Antioch marvellously describes this paradoxical mystery: “Mary’s virginity and her birth were hidden from the prince of this world, as was the death of the Lord. These are the three resounding mysteries that were accomplished in the quiet stillness of God” (Ad Eph., 19, 1).

5. The mystery of the Incarnation, seen from the perspective of the Holy Spirit who brought it about, also sheds light on the mystery of man.

If in fact the Spirit works in a unique way in the mystery of the Incarnation, he is also present at the origin of every human being. Our being is a “received being”, a reality thought of, loved and given. Evolution does not suffice to explain the origin of the human race, just as the biological causality of the parents alone cannot explain a baby’s birth. Even in the transcendence of his action, God is ever respectful of “secondary causes” and creates the spiritual soul of a new human being by communicating the breath of life to him (cf. Gn 2,7) through his Spirit who is “the giver of life”. Thus every child should be seen and accepted as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

The chastity of celibates and virgins is a unique reflection of that love “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rm 5,5). The Spirit, who gave the Virgin Mary a share in the divine fruitfulness, also ensures that those who have chosen virginity for the kingdom of heaven will have numerous descendants in the spiritual family formed of all those who “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1,13).

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

I warmly welcome the group from the NATO Defense College: I encourage you always to see your professional duties as an effective service of the cause of peace. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the abundant blessings of almighty God.

                                                                                  June 1998

Wednesday 3 June 1998 - The role of the Spirit in the baptism and public life of Jesus

1. After the Incarnation, another significant intervention by the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus takes place during his baptism in the Jordan River.

Mark’s Gospel gives the following account of the event: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased'” (
Mc 1,9-11 and par.). In the fourth Gospel there is a reference to the witness given by John: “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him” (Jn 1,32).

2. In the concordant testimony of the Gospels, the Jordan event marks the beginning of Jesus’ public mission and of his revelation as the Messiah, the Son of God.

John preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lc 3,3). We find Jesus among the crowd of sinners coming to be baptized by John. He recognizes him and proclaims him the innocent lamb who takes away the sin of the world (cf. Jn 1,29), to lead humanity back to communion with God. The Father expresses his pleasure with his beloved Son, who becomes an obedient servant unto death, and gives him the Spirit’s power so that he can carry out his mission as the Messiah-Saviour.

Jesus has certainly possessed the Spirit since his conception (cf. Mt 1,20 Lc 1,35), but in baptism he receives a new outpouring of the Spirit, an anointing of the Holy Spirit, as St Peter attests in his speech at Cornelius’ house: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Ac 10,38). This anointing is an elevation of Jesus “in the eyes of Israel as Messiah, that is to say, the 'One Anointed' with the Spirit”; it is a true exaltation of Jesus as Christ and Saviour (cf. Dominum et Vivificantem, DEV 19).

While Jesus lived in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph were able to observe his growth in years, wisdom and grace (cf. Lc 2,40 Lc 2,51) under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who was working in him. Now, instead, the messianic age is being inaugurated: a new phase in the historical existence of Jesus is beginning. His baptism in the Jordan is like a “prelude” to what will happen later. Jesus begins to stand by sinners, to reveal the Father’s merciful face to them. His immersion in the Jordan River prefigures and anticipates his “baptism” in the waters of death, while the voice of the Father, proclaiming him his beloved Son, foretells the glory of the Resurrection.

3. After his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus begins to exercise his threefold mission: a royal mission, which involves him in fighting the spirit of evil; a prophetic mission, which makes him the tireless preacher of the Good News; and a priestly mission, which spurs him to praise the Father and to offer himself to him for our salvation.

All three synoptic Gospels stress that, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is “led” by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness “to be tempted by the devil” (Mt 4,1 cf. Lc 4,1 Mc 1,12). Satan suggests a triumphal messianism to him, consisting in such spectacular wonders as turning stones into bread, throwing himself down from the pinnacle of the temple without suffering injury, achieving instantaneous political control over all the kingdoms of the world. But Jesus’ choice, in total obedience to the Father’s will, is clear and unequivocal: he accepts being the suffering, crucified Messiah who will give his life for the world’s salvation.

Jesus’ struggle with Satan, which began in the wilderness, continues throughout his life. One of his typical activities is precisely that of exorcist, which is why the crowds cry out in amazement: “With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mc 1,27). Anyone who dares to say that Jesus’ power derives from Satan is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (Mc 3,22-30): it is in fact “by the Spirit of God” that Jesus casts out demons (Mt 12,28). As St Basil of Caesarea states, with Jesus “the devil lost his power in the presence of the Holy Spirit” (De Spir. S., 19).

4. According to the Evangelist Luke, after his temptation in the desert, “Jesus returned to Galilee with the power of the Holy Spirit ... and taught in their synagogues” (Lc 4,14-15). The Holy Spirit’s powerful presence is also found in Jesus’ evangelizing activity. He himself stresses it in his inaugural address at the synagogue of Nazareth (Lc 4,16-30), applying the passage of Isaiah to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Is 61,1). In a certain sense we can say that Jesus is the “missionary of the Spirit”, sent by the Father to poclaim the Gospel of mercy with the power of the Spirit.

Enlivened by the power of the Spirit, what Jesus says truly expresses his mystery as the Word made flesh (Jn 1,14). It is therefore the word of someone with “authority”, unlike the scribes (Mc 1,22). It is “a new teaching”, as those who hear his first address in Capernaum are amazed to recognize (Mc 1,27). These are words that fulfil and surpass the Mosaic law, as becomes apparent in the Sermon on the Mount. (Mt 5,7). They are words that extend divine forgiveness to sinners, offer healing and salvation to the sick and even bring the dead back to life. They are the words of the One who was “sent by God”, in whom the Spirit dwells in such a way that he can give that Spirit “without measure” (Jn 3,34).

31 5. The presence of the Holy Spirit is particularly prominent in Jesus’ prayer.

The Evangelist Luke says that at the moment of his baptism in the Jordan, “when Jesus ... was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him” (
Lc 3,21-22). This connection beween Jesus’ prayer and the presence of the Spirit returns explicitly in the hymn of exultation: “Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said: 'I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth'” (Lc 10,21).

Thus the Sprit is present in Jesus’ most intimate experience, that of his divine sonship, which prompts him to call God “Abba” (Mc 14,36) with a unique trust that is not evidenced in the way any other Jew addressed the Most High. Precisely through the gift of the Spirit, Jesus will enable believers to share in his filial communion and intimacy with the Father. As St Paul assures us, it is the Holy Spirit who makes us cry out to God: “Abba, Father!” (Rm 8,15 cf. Ga 4,6).

This filial life is the great gift we receive in Baptism. We must rediscover and constantly nurture it, making ourselves docile to the work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in us.

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

I warmly welcome the participants in the Sixth World Congress of Endoscopic Surgery, and I encourage you always to place your scientific skills at the service of the well-being and dignity of the human person. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Uganda, Japan, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the abundant blessings of almighty God.

Wednesday 10 June 1998


1. Christ’s whole life was lived in the Holy Spirit. St Basil states that the Spirit was his “inseparable companion in everything” (De Spir. S., 16) and offers us this marvellous summary of Christ’s history: “Christ’s coming: the Holy Spirit precedes; the Incarnation: the Holy Spirit is present; miraculous works, graces and healings: through the Holy Spirit; demons are expelled, the devil is chained: through the Holy Spirit; forgiveness of sins, union with God: through the Holy Spirit; resurrection of the dead: by the power of Holy Spirit” (ibid., 19).

After meditating on Jesus’ baptism and his mission carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit, we now wish to reflect on the revelation of the Spirit in Jesus’ supreme “hour”, the hour of his death and resurrection.

2. The Holy Spirit’s presence at the moment of Jesus’ death is already presupposed by the simple fact that on the cross it is the Son of God who dies in his human nature. If “unus de Trinitate passus est” (
DS 401), that is, if “one Person of the Trinity suffered”, the whole Trinity is present in his passion; thus the Father and the Holy Spirit are present as well.

However, we have to ask ourselves: what was the Holy Spirit’s precise role in Jesus’ supreme hour? This question can only be answered if the mystery of redemption is understood as a mystery of love.

Sin, which is the creature’s rebellion against the Creator, had interrupted the dialogue of love between God and his children.

In the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son, God expresses his faithful and passionate love for sinful humanity, to the point of making himself vulnerable in Jesus. Sin, for its part, reveals on Golgotha its nature as an “attack on God”, so that whenever human beings fall back into serious sin, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt” (He 6,6).

In handing his Son over for our sins, God reveals to us that his loving plan precedes our every merit and abundantly surpasses all our infidelities. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1Jn 4,10).

3. The passion and death of Jesus is an ineffable mystery of love in which the three divine Persons are involved. The Father takes the free and absolute initiative: it is he who loves first and, in delivering the Son into our murderous hands, exposes his dearest possession. As St Paul says, he “did not spare his own Son”, that is, he did not keep him for himself as a jealously held treasure, but “gave him up for us all” (Rm 8,32).

The Son fully shares the Father’s love and his plan of salvation: “He gave himself for our sins ... according to the will of our God and Father” (Ga 1,4).

And the Holy Spirit? As in the intimacy of Trinitarian life, so too in this exchange of love which takes place between the Father and the Son in the mystery of Golgotha, the Holy Spirit is the Person-Love in whom the love of the Father and the Son converge.

The Letter to the Hebrews develops the image of sacrifice, stating that Jesus offered himself “through the eternal Spirit” (He 9,14). In the Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem, I showed that in this passage “eternal Spirit” means precisely the Holy Spirit: as fire consumed the sacrificial victims of the old ritual sacrifices, so “the Holy Spirit acted in a special way in this absolute self-giving of the Son of Man in order to transform this suffering into redemptive love” (DEV 40). “The Holy Spirit as Love and Gift comes down, in a certain sense, into the very heart of the sacrifice which is offered on the Cross. Referring here to the biblical tradition we can say: he consumes this sacrifice with the fire of the love which unites the Son with the Father in Trinitarian communion. And since the sacrifice of the Cross is an act proper to Christ, also in this sacrifice he 'receives’ the Holy Spirit” (ibid., DEV 41).

In the Roman liturgy, the priest rightly prays before Communion in these significant words: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world”.

4. Jesus’ history does not end in death but leads to the glorious life of Easter. “By his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” was “designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (cf. Rm 1,4).

The resurrection is the fulfilment of the Incarnation and it too takes place, like the Son’s birth in the world, “by the work of the Holy Spirit”. St Paul says at Antioch in Pisidia: “We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as is also written in the second psalm, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you’” (Ac 13,32).

The gift of the Holy Spirit, which the Son received in its fullness on Easter morning, is poured out in abundance by him on the Church. Jesus says to his disciples gathered in the Upper Room: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20,22), and he gives this Spirit to them “as it were through the wounds of his crucifixion: ?He showed them his hands and his side’” (Dominum et Vivificantem, DEV 24). Jesus’ saving mission is summed up and fulfilled in communicating the Spirit to human beings, to lead them back to the Father.

5. If the Holy Spirit’s “masterpiece” is the paschal mystery of the Lord Jesus, a mystery of suffering and glory, through the gift of the Spirit Christ’s disciples can also suffer and make the cross the path to light: “per crucem ad lucem”. The Spirit of the Son gives us the grace to have the same sentiments as Christ and to love as he loved, to the point of offering our life for the brethren: “He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1Jn 3,16).

By communicating his Spirit to us, Christ enters our life, so that each of us can say, like Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Ga 2,20). Our whole life thus becomes a continual Passover, a constant passing from death to life, until the final Passover, when we too will pass with Jesus and like Jesus “from this world to the Father” (Jn 13,1). In fact, St Irenaeus of Lyons says, “those who have received and bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is, to the Son, and the Son welcomes them and presents them to the Father, and the Father gives them incorruptibility” (Demonst. Apost., 7).

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

I extend a special greeting to the Filipino community present at this Audience, who are celebrating the Hundred Years of the Declaration of Independence. May almighty God abundantly bless your country! I warmly welcome the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union. I greet the priests and laity from the Diocese of Thamarasserry, and the group of Lutheran young people from Finland. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Ireland, Finland, Singapore, India, the Philippines and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord.

Wednesday 17 June 1998


1. At the Last Supper Jesus had said to the Apostles: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (
Jn 16,7). On the evening of Easter Day, Jesus keeps his promise: he appears to the Eleven gathered in the Upper Room, breathes on them and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20,22). Fifty days later, on Pentecost, occurs “the definitive manifestation of what had already been accomplished in the same Upper Room on Easter Sunday” (Dominum et Vivificantem DEV 25). The Acts of the Apostles has preserved a description of the event for us (cf. Ac 2,1-4). By reflecting on this text, we can discern some features of the Holy Spirit’s mysterious identity.

2. It is first of all important to see the connection between the Jewish feast of Pentecost and the first Christian Pentecost. Initially, Pentecost was the feast of seven weeks (cf. Tb 2,1), the harvest feast (cf. Ex 23,16), when the new grain was offered to God (cf. Nb 28,26 Dt 16,9). Later on the feast acquired a new meaning: it became the feast of the Covenant God had made with his people on Sinai, when he gave Israel his law. St Luke describes the Pentecost event as a theophany, a manifestation of God similar to the one on Mt Sinai (cf. Ex 19,16-25): a roaring sound, a mighty wind, tongues of fire. The message is clear: Pentecost is the new Sinai; the Holy Spirit is the New Covenant; it is the gift of the new law. St Augustine keenly grasps this connection: “Here is a great and wondrous mystery, brethren: if you observe closely, on the day of Pentecost [the Jews] received the law written by the finger of God and on the same day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came” (Ser.Mai., 158, 4). And an Eastern Father, Severian of Gabala, notes: “It was fitting that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be given on the same day that the old law was given” (Cat. in Act. Apost., 2, 1).

3. The promise made to the fathers is thus fulfilled. We read in the prophet Jeremiah: “This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts” (Jr 31,33). And in the prophet Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ez 36,26-27). In what way is the Holy Spirit the new and eternal Covenant? By taking away sin and pouring the love of God into the human heart: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rm 8,2). The law of Moses pointed out obligations, but could not change the human heart. A new heart was needed, and that is precisely what God offers us by virtue of the redemption accomplished by Jesus. The Father removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh like Christ’s, enlivened by the Holy Spirit who enables us to act out of love (cf. Rm 5,5). On the basis of this gift, a new Covenant is established between God and humanity. St Thomas Aquinas says with keen insight that the Holy Spirit himself is the New Covenant, producing love in us, the fullness of the law (cf. Comment. in 2CO 3,6).

4. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descends and the Church is born. The Church is the community of those who are “begotten from above”, “by water and the Spirit”, as we read in John’s Gospel (cf. Jn 3,3 Jn 3,5). The Christian community is not primarily the result of the free decision of believers; at its ori- gin there is first and foremost the gratuitous initiative of the Love of God, who offers the gift of the Holy Spirit. The assent of faith to this gift of love is a “response” to grace and is itself motivated by grace. Therefore, between the Holy Spirit and the Church there exists a deep and indissoluble bond. St Irenaeus says in this regard: “Wherever the Church is, the Spirit of God is also there; and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, the Church is there and every grace” (Adv. Haer., III, 24, 1). Then we can understand St Augustine’s daring expression: “The Holy Spirit is possessed in so far as one loves the Church” (In John 32,8). The account of the Pentecost event emphasizes that the Church is universal at her birth: this is the significance of the list of peoples — Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc. (cf. Ac 2,9-11) — who hear the first proclamation made by Peter. The Holy Spirit is given to all people of every race and nation, and accomplishes in them the new unity of Christ’s Mystical Body. St John Chrysostom highlights the communion brought about by the Holy Spirit with the vivid observation: “He who dwells in Rome knows those in the Indies to be his members” (In John 65,1 PG 59,361).

5. Since the Holy Spirit is “the New Covenant”, the work of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity consists in making the risen Lord present and, with him, God the Father. The Spirit carries out his saving action by making God’s presence immediate.The new and eternal Covenant consists in this: God can now be reached by each one of us. Everyone, “from the least to the greatest” (cf. Jr 31,34), is given in a certain sense a direct knowledge of the Lord, as we read in the First Letter of St John: “The anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1Jn 2,27). Thus the promise Jesus made to his disciples at the Last Supper is fulfilled: “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14,26). Through the Holy Spirit, our meeting with the Lord occurs in the ordinary context of filial life, in the “face to face” encounter of friendship, in the experience of God as Father, Brother, Friend and Bridegroom. This is Pentecost. This is the New Covenant.

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

I warmly greet the students of the Pontifical Beda College who will be ordained deacons this afternoon, as well as their families and friends. I extend a special greeting to the priests from the Diocese of Scranton on pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land. I also welcome the Buddhist group Rissho Kosei Kai and the Shinto group Omoto-Kyo, from Japan.

Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Singapore, Japan, Canada and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 24 June 1998

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. A few days ago I made my third Pastoral Visit to Austria and now, having returned to Rome, I think back on the significant meetings I had with those dear communities. The greatest feeling in my heart is one of gratitude.

First of all, I thank God, the giver of all good things, for allowing me to have this deep spiritual experience filled with liturgical celebrations, moments of prayer and reflection, in view of a fresh springtime for the Church in that beloved country. I particularly thank my revered Brothers in the Episcopate, who in these difficult times spare no energy in their generous service of truth and charity. I encourage them in their pastoral efforts. I would also like once again to thank the Federal President and the public authorities, as well as all the citizens, who welcomed me with truly cordial hospitality.

2. With my visit I wanted to express to the Austrian people my esteem and regard, at the same time making useful observations, as the Successor of Peter, for the future of those particular Churches.

While I discussed the theme of mission in Salzburg, in Sankt Pölten I called for a reflection on the problem of vocations. Lastly, as the high point and principal theme of my journey, I had the joy of adding the names of three servants of God to the rolls of the blessed. During the moving celebration at the Heldenplatz (“Heroes’ Square”) in Vienna, I reminded everyone that Christian heroism lies in holiness.

The “Church’s heroes” are not necessarily those who have made history according to human standards, but the men and women who perhaps, in the eyes of the world, seemed unimportant, but in fact are great in the sight of God. We will look for them in vain among the ranks of the mighty; they remain indelibly inscribed with capital letters in the “book of life”.

The biographies of the new blesseds hold a message for our times. They are documents accessible to all, which people today can read and understand with ease: they speak, in fact, with the eloquent language of real life.

3. I recall with great pleasure the presence and enthusiasm of the many young people, whom I reminded that the Church regards them as the promising wealth of the future. In inviting them to bear courageous witness to Christ without compromise, I stressed what I had written in the Encyclical Redemptoris missio: “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching, and in life and action than in theories” (
RMi 42).

35 Young people, who are naturally attracted to ideals, especially when they are embodied in life, appreciated this subject. They understood the meaning of my visit to their country: I went to Austria as a pilgrim of faith, as a co-worker of joy, as a partner of truth.

4. I must mention two rather different occasions, but both significant in their own way: the meeting with the authorities and the diplomatic corps at the Hofburg and the visit to the sick and dying at the Rennweg Hospice of Caritas Socialis. On both these occasions I spoke on the same basic theme from different angles: the essential duty of respect for the image of God inscribed in every human being. This is one of the key points in the message I wanted to bring not only to Catholics but to all the inhabitants of Austria.

Every person, in any phase of life, has inalienable value. The address on “the culture of life” aimed at the architects of the European House, becomes a reality, among other things, in institutions such as the Hospice, where the “Gospel of suffering”, read in the light of faith, is rewritten day after day.

Present at the side of all who tirelessly serve in hospitals and nursing homes, present as well at the side of those who do not abandon their seriously ill relatives, is the Lord who recognizes their loving care as being given to him. The sick, with the burden of their sufferings born for the love of Christ, are a precious treasure for the Church and are highly effective collaborators in her work of evangelization.

5. Thinking back to the intense emotions I experienced, I feel the need to repeat what I said at the end of my visit: Credo in vitam! I believe in life. I believe that the Church in Austria is alive. I believe that this life is stronger than the trials which many of the faithful in that beloved country have gone through and are going through. I went among them to help them overcome the difficulties of the moment and to encourage them generously to continue their journey to the Great Jubilee.

Even in Rome the Pope’s heart still beats for Austria. In Christ’s words I say again to everyone: “Let not your hearts be troubled!” (
Jn 14,1). Do not only look at the past! Prepare the future with the help of the Holy Spirit! My Pastoral Visit to Austria has ended; now begins a new stage in the pilgrimage that will lead the People of God in Austria to cross the threshold of the new millennium to proclaim, together with the Bishops, the good news of Christ to the generations to come.

“Vergelt’s Gott!” — thank you for everything. God reward you.

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

I warmly greet the group of publishers and television network executives from the United States of America who are attending a Conference on Religion and the Mass Media in preparation for the Year 2000. I extend a special welcome to the group taking part in the course on Parish Renewal sponsored by the Movement for a Better World, as well as the group of Provincial Superiors of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Norway, Swaziland, Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Philippines and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

                                                                                  July 1998