Councillors of the Municipality of Rome,
Authorities in attendance,
1. The first sentiment which naturally flows from my heart at your cordial welcome today is one of deep-felt thanks: thanks to you all for your presence, and thanks especially to the Mayor, who very courteously invited me some time ago to this historic palace, the offices of the Chief Executive of Rome, and has wished to express your feelings, stressing the significance of my visit today.
I too wanted to come up this hill which over the centuries has been the cradle, seat and symbol of the history and mission of Rome. And today here I am, with you at last, to pay homage to this city's reality and vocation. At the beginning of each year I customarily receive the representatives of the Municipal Administration at the Vatican for our exchange of best wishes. Today it is I who have come to visit you, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, to offer you my best wishes for the new year which has just begun and at the same time to continue the friendly conversation which began the very day of my election as Bishop of Rome and has continued in so many meetings with the citizens of Rome and their representatives.
I cannot hide the fact that the magnificent setting of this historic hall, dedicated to Julius Caesar, the Pope's presence at a solemn session of the Municipal Council and the atmosphere created by the approach of the new millennium heighten my feelings and make this meeting even more meaningful: it offers an opportunity for a review of the past and, at the same time, an encouragement to formulate a harmonious plan for future progress.
2. The representatives of the Roman people, the Successor of Peter, the Capitoline: gathered here are the leaders of Rome's particular and unique vocation, who, as the Mayor has recalled, cannot overlook the "interweaving" of these presences. In this place, which vividly recalls the history and glorious deeds of Rome, this morning's meeting has been arranged by the present representatives of her millennial tradition. Civil Rome and Christian Rome do not find themselves in opposition or in competition, but joined together, while respecting their different responsibilities, by their love for this city and by the desire to make its image an example for the whole world.
At this solemn moment, my thoughts turn to the last Pontiffs to visit the Capitoline. Pius IX came just before Rome was annexed to the Italian State, in an age marked by complex and painful events. Paul VI came up this hill on 16 April 1966, after the last session of the Second Vatican Council, to thank the city for the welcome it gave the Council Fathers. On 10 October 1962, the eve of the opening of that Ecumenical Assembly, he had occasion, as Archbishop of Milan, to give an important address here on "Rome and the Council", and he initiated a new style of dialogue with the city and its representatives by coming to this place at a moment in history marked by great ferment.
In reviewing the past years and all the rapid changes which have occurred in recent decades, my thoughts naturally turn to divine Providence which, with inscrutable wisdom, guides the sometimes hesitant steps of men and makes fruitful the efforts of people of goodwill. How many changes have marked the city's life! From the capital of the Papal States to the capital of the Italian State; from a city enclosed within the Aurelian Walls to a metropolis of about three million residents; from a homogeneous human milieu to a multiracial community where, in addition to the Catholic view of life, there coexist views inspired by other religious creeds and even by non-religious concepts of existence.
The human face of the city is deeply changed. The assertion of different cultural and social models and new sensitivities have made coexistence in the city more complex, more open, more cosmopolitan, but also more problematic: together with the obvious positive aspects, there is unfortunately no lack of problems and worries. Next to the lights and signs of hope, shadows are also found on the horizon of a city also called to be a beacon of civilization in the next millennium, a "disciple of truth" (Leo the Great, Tract. septem et nonaginta), and a "welcoming mother of peoples" (Prudentius, Peristephanon, carmen 11, 191).
3. I spoke just now of the fruitful relationship between the Bishop of Rome and his people, whose intensity has never been diminished by the changing social, political and religious situations. On the contrary, some events such as the decline of the temporal power, the signing of the Lateran Treaties, the tragic experience of the war and the new season encouraged by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council have made this relationship even more cordial and dynamic.
Today's visit marks a further stage in this common history. In view of the changes which have involved and continue to involve the city, I would also like to repeat and confirm the words filled with truth and humanity spoken here by my venerable Predecessor, Paul VI: "Our love has never failed ... our love has grown!" (Paul VI, Insegnamenti, IV, p. 179).
Every day this relationship of esteem and affection increases, and is expressed and reinforced in frequent visits to the parishes and in meetings with the Roman faithful. It is strengthened by the generous and constant concern of the Cardinal Vicar, the Vicegerent, the Auxiliary Bishops, the priests, religious, lay people and all who in various ways are involved in evangelization. I am thinking of the 328 parishes of Rome, found in every neighbourhood and suburb, even if some still lack proper structures. I am thinking of the religious communities, the Catholic schools, nursing homes, the lay associations and movements, the various forms of volunteer work which represent a surprising and comforting resource for our city, where anonymity and loneliness would otherwise be far greater and more painful.
It is a concrete love that wishes to reach out to people, all people, offering them reasons for hope, cultural opportunities, help and support in moral and material difficulties, places where they are welcomed and listened to, opportunities for understanding and brotherhood. It is a love attentive to changing reality, to the toil of daily life, to the moral risks which still endanger this Rome of ours.
4. Precisely in order to tackle the negative phenomena which risk disfiguring Rome's countenance, I called the Christian community together, committing it to instilling greater love in the city with the City Mission for the Holy Year 2000. My hope is that in this way the city may present itself at the the Great Jubilee renewed both inwardly and visibly, and thus show its Christian face to pilgrims as the herald of an age of peace and hope for all humanity.
Rome and the Jubilee: two realities which recall and illumine each other! Rome is reflected in the Jubilee and the Jubilee refers to the reality of Rome. The celebration presents anew the faith in Jesus Christ proclaimed here and witnessed to by the Apostle Peter; it recalls the need to re-establish effective equality of rights among all men, in the light of God's law and justice; it urges the overcoming of divisions and their causes, to establish true communion among all human beings.
With her religious and civil history and her "catholic" dimension, Rome admirably calls these values to mind. She is the See of the Prince of the Apostles and of his Successor; she preserves the memorials of the martyrdom of Sts Peter and Paul; she is known as the home of law and of Latin and Christian civilization; she is appreciated as a city universally open to hospitality. For this rare combination of qualities, Rome is called to live the grace of the Jubilee in an exemplary way.
It is certainly the task of Christians to renew and purify the face of this Church which "presides over charity", according to the well-known phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the , p. Rm 253), so that she may reflect Christ's light ever more clearly. But Rome's special relationship with the Jubilee must also make the civil authorities particularly concerned to promote civil harmony and a quality of life worthy of man and of our city's vocation.
On the occasion of today's visit, in addition to giving me a stone from the Flavian Amphitheatre, you have wished to unveil a commemorative plaque in this Council Hall. As I offer you my cordial thanks for your courtesy, I hope that this symbolic act will be the lasting sign of a new era of common commitment to our city's human and civil progress.
5. With my gaze on the Year 2000, I now address you, Rome, whom the Lord has called me to guide on the way of the Gospel, on the threshold of a new millennium!
The Lord has entrusted you, Rome, with the task of being "prima inter Urbes" in the world, a beacon of civilization and faith. Live up to your glorious past, to the Gospel proclaimed to you by the martyrs and saints who made your name great. Open the riches of your heart, Rome, and your millennial history to Christ. Do not be afraid; he does not stifle your freedom and your greatness. He loves you and wants to make you worthy of your civil and religious vocation, so that you will continue to bestow the treasures of faith, culture and humanity on your children and on the people of our time.
By your faith, the eloquent proofs of your charity, the orderly conduct of your daily life, may the pilgrims of the Great Jubilee be helped to believe and to hope in the new civilization of love.
I entrust you, Rome, to the loving protection of Mary, "Salus populi Romani", and to the intercession of your patron saints, Peter and Paul.
Rome, city that fears neither time nor the dynamism of progress; Rome, a crossroads of peace and civilization; Rome, my Rome, I bless you and with you I bless your children and all your good intentions!
At the end of his address the Holy Father said extemporaneously:
'Roma' [Rome] read backwards spells "amor" [love]. As a Polish poet said: "If you say 'Roma', you are answered with 'Amor'". That is how it is. That is my last observation and also a good wish for Rome on this most important occasion. Thank you!
Thursday, 15 January 1998
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Citizens of Rome,
1. I just met in the Senatorial Palace those who serve in various capacities in the municipal administration. Now, from the top of Michelangelo's stairway, from this hill on which Cicero saw the "rock of all nations" (Catil. 4, 6, 11), it is the whole of Rome to which I would like to extend a warm and cordial embrace.
Dear Romans, we can well describe today's visit as historic: together we are writing another page of hopes and plans in the annals of Rome, the civil and spiritual capital to which all mankind looks. Thank you for coming and for your welcome, which confirms and enriches our friendship. Thank you for your sincere and enthusiastic greeting to the Pope, who has come to visit the Capitoline, the home of all Romans and therefore his as well. The Lord, who wished to put him at the head of the Catholic Church, has thus made him a "Roman", a "civis romanus", a sharer in the joys and sufferings, the expectations and achievements of this splendid city. Totius orbis urbs celeberrima. In Kraków they used to say: "Cracovia totius Poloniae urbs celeberrima". Here we must say: "Totius orbis, orbis terrarum, urbs celeberrima". But how well known is Latin today?
2. My thoughts turn to all Romans, first of all to you boys and girls, who are the future of Rome: I say to you, love your city! Be proud of its history and its spiritual vocation; be ready to build a future worthy of its glorious past.
I affectionately greet you who are suffering in body and spirit, and are going through difficult times: may you find support in the traditional spirit of solidarity that distinguishes the people of Rome.
I cordially greet you, Roman citizens, who belong to other religious traditions: you, Jews, heirs to the faith of Abraham, who for centuries have shared in the spiritual and civil life of Rome; you, brothers and sisters of other Christian confessions; you, believers of the Muslim religion. May common adoration of the Most High foster mutual respect and make you all active builders of an open and united society.
I respectfully greet you, brothers and sisters, who say that you have a nonreligious view of life, and those of you who are searching for the meaning of life: may love for the truth, moral rigour and peaceful dialogue with believers help make Rome a model of respectful harmony between men and women of different religions and ideals.
I look with friendship on you, brothers and sisters from distant countries, who have recently become part of city life: may your presence enrich the hospitable and peaceful face of Rome.
Lastly, I extend my fatherly greeting to you, Roman brothers and sisters, and to your families: remain faithful to the undying values of our civilization, enlivened by the Catholic faith.
As we prepare to cross the threshold of the Great Jubilee, may we be sustained by the memory of the martyrs, the saints and all who down the centuries have contributed to Rome's greatness. It is a memory of freedom, fidelity and civilization. It must continue to live in the hearts of those dwell in the Rome of the third millennium. This is the hope, this is the prayer that I offer to God as I invoke his protection on these people who are dear to me and whom I bless with all my heart.
Roma felix! Fortunate Rome!
Before taking his leave of the people gathered on the Capitoline Hill, the Pope said:
If Providence allows me to be in Cuba on Thursday next week, I should remember: a week ago I was at the Capitoline. Take courage! Praised be Jesus Christ! Goodbye!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am pleased to meet you on the occasion of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology. I cordially greet each one of you and, in particular, I thank Archbishop Francesco Marchisano for conveying your sentiments and presenting the important object of your work: the Christian catacombs and the Holy Year.
I wish first of all to express my appreciation and gratitude for the important service you are performing, which has become even more intense in view of the Jubilee. I am referring both to archaeological discoveries and restorations, as well as to the projects directly planned for the Holy Year. The catacombs, as has frequently been emphasized, assume great importance in connection with the Jubilee of the Year 2000.
2. You have been involved for many years in restoring and preparing many Christian catacombs scattered throughout Italy. Your work specifically involves the Roman catacombs which are open to the public, those of St Callistus, St Sebastian, Domitilla, Priscilla and St Agnes, where work has been or is about to be carried out in order to facilitate the flow of pilgrims. Furthermore, in order to increase the number of cemeteries open to visitors, steps are being taken to open a sixth catacomb, that of Sts Peter and Marcellinus on Via Casilina.
Your attention is appropriately focused on the pastoral benefits of these famous monuments of Christian antiquity. To this end, pilgrims' guidebooks are being suitably prepared. Indeed, when visits are accompanied by detailed and up-to-date explanations of an educational, scientific and spiritual nature, they become a very effective form of catechesis which can inspire deep reflection on the Gospel message. This return to our origins through the most ancient cemeteries conceived by the first Christians fits in perfectly with the project of the "new evangelization", which involves the whole Church in her journey towards the third millennium.
3. While the catacombs depict the eloquent features of Christian life in the first centuries, they are also a perennial school of faith, hope and charity.
Walking through their tunnels, we breathe an evocative and moving atmosphere. Our gaze pauses on the innumerable series of tombs and on the simplicity they have in common. On the tombs we read the baptismal names of the deceased. As we run through those names, we seem to hear as many voices answering an eschatological call, and we remember the words of Lactantius: "There are neither servants nor masters among us; there is no reason for us to call ourselves brothers, except that we consider ourselves all equals" (Divinae Instit., 5: 15).
The catacombs express the solidarity that united brothers and sisters in the faith: the offerings of each one permitted the burial of all the deceased, even the poorest who could not afford the expense of purchasing and preparing a tomb. This collective charity was one of the strong points of the early Christian communities and shielded them from the temptation to return to the ancient forms of religion.
4. Therefore, the catacombs suggest to the pilgrim this feeling of solidarity, which is indissolubly linked to faith and hope. The very definition of coemeteria, 'dormitories', explains how the catacombs were regarded as proper places of rest for the community, where all Christian brethren, regardless of their rank or profession, reposed in a broad embrace of solidarity, awaiting the final resurrection. Consequently, these were not sad places, but were adorned with frescoes, mosaics and sculptures, as if to brighten the dark and winding passages and, with images of flowers, birds and trees, to anticipate the vision of paradise expected at the end of time. The significant formula "in peace", which recurs on Christian tombs, summarizes their hope as well.
The symbols on the slabs covering the tombs are as simple as they are rich in meaning. The anchor, the ship, the fish express the steadfastness of faith in Christ. The Christian's life is seen as a voyage across a stormy sea to the longed-for haven of eternity. The fish is identified with Christ and alludes to the sacrament of Baptism, according to Tertullian, who compares the faithful to pisciculi, who gain salvation by being born in water and remaining there (De baptismo, 1:3).
5. The catacombs also preserve the tombs of the first martyrs, witnesses of a clear and most steadfast faith, which led them as "athletes of God" to triumph over the supreme trial. Many tombs of the martyrs are still preserved within the catacombs and generations of the faithful have paused in prayer before them. Pilgrims coming for the Jubilee of the Year 2000 will also visit the tombs of the martyrs and, raising their prayers to these ancient champions of the faith, they will turn their thoughts to the "new martyrs", to the Christians who in the recent past and even in our time are subjected to violence, abuse and misunderstanding, because they wish to remain faithful to Christ and to his Gospel.
In the silence of the catacombs, the pilgrim of the Year 2000 can rediscover or revive his religious identity on a sort of spiritual journey that, by starting from the first testimonies of the faith, brings him to the reasons for the new evangelization and to its demands.
Dear friends, may the awareness of these values which I have just mentioned, but which are well-known to you, sustain you in your particular ecclesial and cultural service. To this end, as I invoke on you the loving assistance of Mary most holy, I impart to all a special Apostolic Blessing, which I also extend to your loved ones.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopal Ministry,
1. I cordially welcome you to the Pope's house, where Bishops are more family members than guests. I extend my greeting to Cardinal Henryk Gulbinowicz, Metropolitan Archbishop of Wroclaw, to the Metropolitan Archbishops of Gdansk, Gniezno, Poznan and Szczecin-Kamien, to the residential Bishops of the Dioceses of Kalisz, Koszalin-Kolobrzeg, Legnica, Pelplin, Torun, Wloclawek and Zielona Góra- Gorzów. I also greet the Auxiliary Bishops of the above-mentioned Archdioceses and Dioceses. I am pleased to have this meeting and those that will take place over the next few weeks with the successive groups of Polish Bishops coming to the Eternal City ad limina Apostolorum. They bear witness to their deep bond of faith and love with the Successor of St Peter. The mutual bond that is shown during this visit is the visible sign of their unity and the expression of their obedience to the one Master and Lord, Jesus Christ, who has called us and made us servants of the truth revealed to his people.
Five years have passed since the last ad limina visit of the Polish Episcopate. They have been years of intense exchanges, during which I experienced your generous cooperation and could share the anxieties and joys of your local Churches. Also present among you are Bishops called to the pastoral service in recent years. I extend a particularly cordial welcome to them. May this first visit to the tombs of the Apostles intensify their desire to imitate even more closely the Good Shepherd who "lays down his life for his sheep" (cf. Jn Jn 10,15) and strengthens them in their witness to the People of God entrusted to their pastoral care. I also take this opportunity to remember our Brothers in the Episcopate who during the last five years have passed into eternity. In our prayers we commend them to the divine mercy.
2. The Polish Bishops' visit today to the Bishop of Rome in a certain sense reciprocates my own, because it comes a few months after my pilgrimage to my beloved homeland which took place between May and June last year, when I was able to serve the Church in Poland and all my compatriots. Our meeting renews its living echo and represents a special complement to that Pastoral Visit. As a result of the inscrutable designs of divine Providence, today not only can the Bishop of Rome receive the Bishops of the whole world in his home, but he himself can visit their Churches. He meets the faithful and shares their joys and concerns. This is a new, modern expression of communion and collegial responsibility for the Church cum Petro et sub Petro. Once again, in your presence, I want to thank God for the wonderful exchange of gifts that took place during those days, which were memorable for me. During the various stages of the pilgrimage, we together experienced the presence of Christ, rediscovering the place he occupies in the life of every person, as in the life of the Church and of the nation. Once again we realized that Christ is our only way to "the Father's house" (cf. Jn Jn 14,6). We understood that on this journey the Church has a special role - that of serving man, every man, so that he may find himself fully in Christ - in his mystery of the Incarnation and of the Redemption. Only "Christ, who died and was raised for the sake of all, can show man the way and strengthen him through the Spirit in order to be worthy of his destiny: nor is there any other name under heaven given among men by which they can be saved" (Gaudium et spes GS 10).
3. A few weeks after my departure, the population of the western regions and cities of Poland that I visited during my last pilgrimage was subjected to the great trial of flooding. Everyone was deeply shocked by the unprecedented force of this powerful element, which engulfed many people, threatened the basic essentials of a great number of families and communities, destroyed or damaged many homes, workplaces, hospitals, schools, artistic monuments and roads. At the same time however, the long days of flooding revealed an extensive level of goodness, authentic solidarity, generosity and the capacity for organizing mutual aid. Moreover, the local media, especially the radio stations, played a special role in bringing everyone to join forces in the territories stricken by the disasterous flood, in inspiring sensitivity to the fate of the injured and in coordinating aid. We give thanks to God and men for all the good done during those July days, which were both memorable and sorrowful. At the same time, as Pastors of the Church, you should continue, as far as your strength and possibilities allow, to ensure that over time the inhabitants of the areas affected by the flood are not forgotten. Divine Providence never ceases to give men of goodwill opportunities for an active love which specifically prepares their hearts to receive the Gospel.
4. My pilgrimage to the homeland was part of the whole universal Church's preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The Church in Poland and especially the Archdiocese of Wroclaw rendered a service to the universal Church on the eve of the millennium of its foundation, by organizing the 46th International Eucharistic Congress. Here the entire Catholic Church, in the presence of our brothers and sisters from the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities joined by the grace of holy Baptism, bowing in adoration to the mystery of the Lord's Body and Blood, lived and proclaimed the great truth that "Jesus Christ is the one Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and for ever" (cf. Heb He 13,8). She experienced it as a strong unifying force for all Christ's disciples; tolerance and mutual acceptance are no longer sufficient and therefore they desire a common witness to unity. For the human family this can and must become the sign that reconciliation is possible. The modern world is experiencing the consequences of deep divisions, the legacy of the great tragedies of the millennium that is now ending; it needs and expects this testimony from Christ's disciples.
The Church's mission is to proclaim salvation in Christ to all people. To fulfil this mission she has no need of any privileges: all she needs is the freedom to proclaim the Gospel truth. She is sustained first of all by the grace of the everliving Christ, which bears fruit in the living witness of the faithful often offered heroically. An extremely important dimension of this witness is unity and the constant pursuit of it. The unity of the Church is based on the Truth, and on love of God and man to which she bears witness. The truth that unites the Church and frees man to hope in eternal life is the living Christ, sent by the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that the world might believe that God is love. Love - the basis of the Church's unity - is the love of Christ poured into our hearts, which unites the scattered children of God. The community of truth and love rooted in Christ "offers all people the blessed hope of God's kingdom" (cf. Preface of Eucharistic Prayer V; Polish Missal). This unity, of which the Pope and Bishops are servants, is the ardently longed for goal of everyone who believes in Christ. Furthermore, it is the will and gift of Christ himself!
Here I would like to stress the Church in Poland's active commitment in the area of ecumenism. I am grateful for her concrete and magnanimous contribution to the development of the ecumenical movement. I mentioned some of the initiatives during the address I gave during the memorable meeting in Wroclaw. Ecumenical activity cannot be limited to prayer for Christian unity in the month of January, but requires a constant effort, dictated by goodwill and the readiness to give a joint Christian witness in today's pluralistic world. We must pray together, speak to one another and create a sincere atmosphere of human understanding, at both the individual and the institutional levels. We must undertake concrete initiatives so that the ecumenical spirit expressed on various occasions may increasingly permeate the Church's life. In this way, what we can and must do together to show our unity in Christ will become more visible. Christians - in Poland too - must enter the third millennium together, if not completely united, at least more open to each other, more sensitive and more determined on their way to reconciliation.
5. Christ's ministry of reconciliation does not only refer to ecumenical activity, but also includes the Church and the entire nation. The Church has an irreplaceable role at this particular historical moment when many peoples and nations, including our own, thank God for the extraordinary gift of freedom, but nevertheless painfully suffer from the deep wounds left in human souls by the oldest and most recent experiences of hostility and past humiliations. The Church, firmly believing in divine mercy experienced daily, lovingly treats the wounds of sins and teaches how to build unity on the foundations of forgiveness and reconciliation. In Polish society too, the fall of the communist system based on class struggle revealed divisive barriers, until now almost invisible, and the ancient mistrusts and fears which lurk in human hearts. It also laid bare the wounds in consciences, sometimes subjected to heavy pressure, which did not withstand the trial to which they were exposed. These wounds can only be healed by divine and human love, whose sign is Christ's Heart, pierced on the Cross.
The Polish Episcopate must continue courageously to guide Christ's ministry of reconciliation. This will be an irreplaceable contribution to building a moral order - based on God and his commandments - as their regained freedom requires. The way to the renewal of society passes through the renewal of the human heart. In this process the witness of an inner transformation of the Church's children cannot be lacking. Christ himself left us the best means for achieving it: the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. In the sacrament of Penance Christ reconciles us sinners with the merciful Father who is in heaven and with our brothers and sisters, with whom we live here on earth. In the Eucharist he sanctifies us by his power and gathers us into the one family of those invited to take part in the heavenly banquet in the Father's house. The gift of freedom and the effort to establish a moral order connected with it are a pressing invitation to reconciliation and forgiveness. However, their source is in the goodness of Christ's Heart and in the generosity of the human heart, ready to offer the gift of self after the example of our Redeemer who died for all men, even for those who had crucified him. Poland needs people formed in the school of the love of Christ, "gentle and lowly in heart" (cf. Mt Mt 11,29). Only self-sacrificing people strengthened by the Holy Spirit are prepared to make a disinterested gift of themselves and can build the Gospel order of freedom. The sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist endow them with the strength to fight sin and every evil in their personal and social lives, so as not to give in to discouragement and resignation and not to succumb to indifference and pessimism. For the Church, the service of reconciliation in truth and love is not a task limited to a single occasion, but an integral part of her Gospel mission in the service of all men and of the whole nation. The Church in Poland must do all she can to ensure that this work bears abundant fruit in the heart of every individual and in every area of life in our society.
6. In the context of what has already been said, the Church's place and role in the political life of society is quite clear. Here I would like to recall once again the ever timely teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes very explicitly states: "The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor bound by ties to any political system. She praises and esteems those who devote themselves to the public good for the service of men and take upon themselves the burden of public office. She respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen" (cf. nn. 75, 76). We should always remember that the external aspect of the life of earthly society, the structure of the State or political power, are among the transient things of this world which can always be improved. The structures that societies gives themselves never possess a supreme value; nor can they alone guarantee all the goods man desires. Further, they cannot replace the voice of his conscience nor satisfy his thirst for truth and the absolute. The Church is well aware that acceptance of the Gospel of salvation also brings beneficial effects to the public dimension of the life of societies and individuals, and can profoundly change the face of this earth, making it more human. Indeed, the Christian's vocation is the public profession of his faith and his active presence in all the areas of civil life. Thus the Church, freely formed by those who believe in Christ, requires of earthly legislation the guarantee "to all citizens equally [of] the right to live in accordance with their consciences and not to contradict the norms of the natural moral order which are recognized by reason" (Address to the European Parliament, 11 October 1988, n. 8; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 November 1988, p. 12).
In this area, the Bishops of the Church have the most important and delicate role of forming an upright conscience, obedient to the dictates of the Gospel and the Church's teaching; a conscience capable of wise and responsible action in the service of society, so that political activity does not divide but is conducted in truth, justice, love and respect for human dignity, aiming at one end alone: the promotion of the common good. In this area the laity have a special role to carry out, in accordance with the charisms and gifts given them by the Holy Spirit for the fulfilment of their mission. In the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici I wrote: "In order to achieve their task directed to the Christian animation of the temporal order, in the sense of serving persons and society, the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in 'public life', that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.... As a pressing responsibility, the lay faithful must bear witness to those human and Gospel values" (cf. n. 42).
7. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, The tasks that I have mentioned are not new. Nonetheless they are essential if, in our nation's current historical situation, the Gospel is to have an effective influence on the overall life of society and make its necessary contribution to the reconstruction of an integral and global vision of man and of the world that is opposed to the culture of death, discouragement and the secularization of life. We all want the Gospel to exercise a saving and very profound influence on the moral models and organization of Polish society, in conformity with its millennial Christian tradition. We should thus do all we can to see that the Gospel truth finds its way into consciences in conformity with its unparalleled importance for contemporary man.
I rejoice with you that the Church in Poland is increasingly aware of her mission and role in the new situation. I am conscious of the great pastoral efforts made by the Bishops, priests, consecrated persons and by all the lay faithful who work ceaselessly to ensure that nothing is lost of the great Christian heritage, which is a fruit of the sacrifices and renunciations of many generations. It is important to continue the great evangelizing task of the whole Church, the work of formation organized and carried out consistently in all areas of the pastoral ministry, so that our brothers and sisters may fulfil their vocation in the Church and society. We must help lay people so that in a spirit of unity and through honest and generous service in collaboration with all, they can preserve and develop Christian tradition and culture at the sociopolitical level. The social doctrine of the Church, with its heritage, its essential content and its consequences, should be the subject of profound reflection, study and teaching. Your duty is to enkindle faith in the presence of the Saviour, who is the source of hope and courage for every individual and for entire nations, and constantly to watch over and inspire the renewal of thoughts and hearts. In this Gospel task put great trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, "who builds the kingdom of God within the course of history and prepares its full manifestation in Jesus Christ, stirring people's hearts and quickening in our world the seeds of the full salvation which will come at the end of time" (Tertio millennio adveniente n. 45).
These are only a few of the problems that I wished to present to you, dear Brothers who have come ad limina Apostolorum. May they be the object of your common pastoral concern and of your fervent prayer at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. I commend the Dioceses entrusted to your care and your work of evangelization to the intercession and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the patron saints of our country. Accept my Apostolic Blessing with which I embrace all the faithful of your local Churches.