Speeches 1998 - Thursday, 29 October 1998
May this final stage enable the faithful to advance resolutely on the path of conversion, in order to enter the new millennium enlivened by the desire to live in ever greater fidelity to the Gospel message! I hope that your Dioceses may find in the celebration of the Jubilee an opportunity to be ardently involved in a new evangelization, supported by reading and meditating on the Word of God and by regular participation in the Eucharist, where the incarnate Word makes his sacrifice for the world’s salvation sacramentally present. On this occasion, while paying particular attention to the faithful who have distanced themselves from the ecclesial community, may the evangelizing mission of the Church make every effort to reach all people, in order to show them Christ’s love and to awaken new hope within them!
4. To live and grow, your communities need ordained ministers animated by a deep apostolic spirit. Through you I warmly encourage all priests who give themselves selflessly to the service of the Church by proclaiming the Good News of Christ to the distant isles. I invite them to form an ever more united presbyterate around their Bishop. May they be faithful to the mission they have received, recognizing the greatness of the gift God has given them. In a profound spiritual life and in mutual, fraternal sharing, they will find vigorous support for their dynamic apostolic and pastoral activity.
To encourage the vitality of Christian communities scattered over vast areas, it would be useful in your regions to promote the permanent diaconate, which is an important enrichment for the Church's mission. As I have already had occasion to say, “a deeply felt need in the decision to re-establish the permanent diaconate was and is that of a greater and more direct presence of Church ministers in the various spheres of the family, work, school, etc., in addition to existing pastoral structures” (General Audience, 6 October 1993, n. 6; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 13 October 1993, p. 11; cf. Congregation for Catholic Education and the Congregation for the Clergy, The Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons).
I also extend my cordial wishes to the men and women religious, that they will continue fully to live their offering to God in ever greater availability for the work of the Spirit, and that the signs of God’s sanctifying action among men may be found in them.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, in exercising your ministry, it is your duty to show special care for priestly and religious vocations. May your communities be concerned to pass on to young people the Lord’s invitation to follow him in the service of the Church and of the world! I address a pressing appeal to the youth of your region to show their interior willingness to listen to Christ. I ask their families to help them generously respond to the Lord’s call.
I also rejoice in your wish to give seminarians a common formation structure which will help them maintain their concern for the true values of their region, enabling them to become priests who are spiritually solid and available, devoted to the cause of the Gospel (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa ). In this way it will be easier for you to form a united presbyterate which is prepared for closer collaboration.
5. The family apostolate is one of your constant concerns. While many people living together question the need for marriage, it is a primary requirement of the Church’s mission to instil a deeper awareness of its human and spiritual significance, as well as that of the family. These are realities willed by God, which are essential for the life of the Church and of society.
The family’s first duty is “to live with fidelity the reality of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community of persons” (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio FC 18). Christian married couples have the urgent mission of bearing witness to the unity and indissolubility of this communion, whose foundation and strength are found in Jesus Christ.
I firmly hope that the young people of your region assume their responsibilities in this important area and prepare themselves to form families which are united and open to life. I encourage you to continue your commitment to educating young people in human love. When dealing with situations of permissiveness or when the essential values of human life are questioned, it is necessary for young people to be able to discover the greatness and role of the sacrament of marriage, which makes spouses co-operators with the love of God the Creator in transmitting the gift of human life. In giving them the grace to love one another with the same love as Christ’s, this sacrament will be a precious help to them in perfecting their human love, in strengthening their unity as a couple and in advancing on the paths of holiness. It is essential that young couples be given constant support, so that they can live their love in generosity and truth. May they be offered the example of radiant, faithful Christian families who are open to others!
6. A sound human and spiritual education should help young people deepen their formation, develop all the dimensions of their being and take their place in society. For this, Catholic schools, found in many of your Dioceses, play an important role in helping to transmit the Gospel message and true moral and spiritual values.
The Church’s educational activity must also prepare lay Christians to take an active part in every area of their county’s life, to bear witness there to justice and truth by being the salt of the earth in daily life. In fact, as I wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, “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” (n. 42). I therefore invite Catholics, in collaboration with people of goodwill wherever possible, to work ardently and in a spirit of service, to promote a society of justice and solidarity.
7. The Church must show God’s loving presence to all society, remembering that she “travels the same journey as all mankind and shares the same earthly lot with the world: she is to be a leaven, and as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God” (Gaudium et spes GS 40). The Gospel message of freedom and hope addressed to the people of our time is even more pressing in this year when you are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, that shameful trade which also preyed on the men, women and children of your islands.
The last preparatory year for the Jubilee which is about to open invites us to stress more clearly the Church’s preferential option for the poor and excluded. In fact, the witness of charity is essential in Christian life. In your Dioceses, there are numerous people who very generously put themselves at the service of the most lowly and needy in society. Thus they testify that God, the Father of all human beings, cannot be indifferent to any of his children, especially those in distress.
Through her charitable efforts, the Church also wants to show that it is the very meaning of human life and dignity which is at stake. “To rediscover and make others rediscover the inviolable dignity of every human person makes up an essential task, in a certain sense, the central and unifying task of the service which the Church, and the lay faithful in her, are called to render to the human family” (Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici CL 37). I therefore keenly hope that the Church’s social doctrine will be a guide for the faithful and an ever more vigorous encouragement to live the charity of Christ.
8. Meeting the members of other religious traditions is one of the realities experienced by Catholics in your region. I am happy to know that, in a general way, cordial relations are maintained between the different communities. It is important, in fact, that mutual respect based on mutual understanding should preside over relations between human and religious groups, in order to foster a common service of man and to promote his dignity. I hope that fruitful contacts can develop on the important questions posed to contemporary man regarding problems such as ethics or human rights, in order to put shared values at the service of society. It is in the search for increased mutual knowledge, especially through the dialogue of life, that the fraternal ties and understanding which guarantee the stability of societies and respect for religious freedom can be reinforced.
9. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, as our meeting draws to a close, I give thanks with you for God’s work in your region. The vitality of the Christian faith in the islands of the Indian Ocean is marked by the luminous figures of Bro. Scubilion and Fr Jacques-Désiré Laval. May the example of these blesseds inspire those who are striving to build a more fraternal world today and who seek to abolish all the forms of slavery which still scar our world! May they be models for all the disciples of Christ in their quest for holiness and the service of others.
I entrust you to the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary, the perfect example of love for God and neighbour, as I cordially impart my apostolic Blessing to you and willingly extend to all the members of your Dioceses.
1. I am pleased to receive the Letters of Credence accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Costa Rica to this Apostolic See. On this occasion I would like to express my gratitude for your kind words, which bear witness to the noble sentiments of closeness and adherence to the Chair of Peter present in the heart of so many Costa Rican citizens.
I am also particularly grateful for the respectful greeting that you have conveyed to me from President Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, which I reciprocate with my best wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the progress and spiritual good of all the sons and daughters of this beloved nation.
2. Costa Rica, Mr Ambassador, is a nation the world admires for its unwavering vocation to peace, which led it to eliminate the army as a permanent institution from its political Constitution. This decision did not only guarantee its democratic process, but enabled it to put aside considerable financial resources for promoting education, improving health standards, implementing housing plans for the poorest and seeking the integral advancement of its people.
Moreover, your country has always been distinguished for its hospitality. In recent years, thousands of Central American citizens, tried by difficult social, political and economic situations in their countries of origin, have set out for Costa Rica in search of refuge. It is well known how the Pastors of the Church motivated the faithful and all citizens to see in each refugee the image of the Holy Family, which had to emigrate from Nazareth to Egypt. This has helped them to be welcomed with fraternal affection and to obtain the same services as the rest of the population, especially in education and health care.
3. It is also known that the Government of the Republic and your country’s most representative groups, in accepting my appeal to the Episcopate of Costa Rica, seek to find the best solutions for the most serious problems identified through a process of co-ordination (cf. Comunicado de la CECOR, 1 December 1997). Experience teaches that the more institutions and persons join forces in the search for common objectives for the good of all, the quicker and easier it is to achieve them. On the other hand, division inexorably leads to recession and stagnation. In this respect, it is pleasing to note that the Costa Rican people, showing great civic maturity, are seeking in concerted action what they could never achieve through confrontation.
4. Moreover, you have stressed the importance of the family in society, especially in a country with a long Christian tradition like Costa Rica. If we call it “the basic ‘cell’ of society” (Gratissimam sane, n. 4), it is because whatever happens in the family has a deep impact throughout society. It is in the family, especially the Christian family, that children learn from their parents respect for human life, sacred and inviolable from the moment of its conception to its very end. It is also a school of proven virtue, which continues to give the Church and society exemplary Christians and citizens who fight against corruption, violence, crime and moral degradation in its most varied and painful forms. Church-State collaboration in this area, in schools and in the social communications media, is indispensable in order to protect and foster the family as a sanctuary of life and love, a teacher who furthers the development of every individual.
5. Inspired by Jesus’ words: “The poor you always have with you” (Jn 12,8), the Catholic Church in your country, Mr Ambassador, is making noble efforts at all levels to assist orphaned and abandoned children, neglected elderly people and those terminally ill with AIDS, as well as to build centres for women tempted to resort to abortion. Likewise, praiseworthy efforts are being made, especially at the parish level, to provide for families affected by unemployment and the housing shortage, or who care for disabled family members. With regard to these situations it is highly commendable that the State, the Church and the private sector should join forces not only to help the poor, but above all to improve standards through education. Thus they will be able to progress by their own means and be responsible for their own future.
One is also aware that your country is making considerable efforts to improve the economy. In this regard it is to be hoped that an improved economy will especially benefit the poorest people. In this way social peace, far from disintegrating, will be strengthened day by day in Costa Rica, since it should not be forgotten that the economy must be at the service of man and not man at the service of the economy.
6. Since its independence, Church-State relations in Costa Rica have been marked by mutual respect and cordiality. Mutual respect for each institution's proper competence combined with reciprocal support and collaboration achieve the greatest well-being for the national community. Therefore, through constructive dialogue, it is possible to promote the basic values for the ordering of society, by fostering its development. In this regard, even if the Church’s mission is spiritual and not political, encouraging cordial relations between the Church and the State powerfully contributes to the harmony, advancement and well-being of all, without exception.
7. As you begin the high office to which you have been appointed, I would like to offer you my best wishes for a happy and fruitful fulfilment of your mission to this Apostolic See, ever concerned that good relations with Costa Rica be maintained and constantly strengthened. In asking you to kindly convey these sentiments to the President of the Republic, his Government, the authorities and the beloved people of Costa Rica, I assure you of my prayer to the Almighty that, through the intercession of your patroness, Our Lady of the Angels, with his gifts he may always assist you and your distinguished family, your co-workers, the leaders and citizens of your noble country, whom I always recall with special affection.
Dear Cardinal Arinze,
Dear Brother Bishops,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. I am pleased to have this opportunity to greet you, the Members, Consultors and Staff of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, on the occasion of your Plenary Assembly. We meet today in the context of the fast approaching Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, that special moment of grace and joy when the whole Church will send up a great prayer of praise and thanksgiving to the Father for the priceless gift of the Redemption which Christ has won for us by his Incarnation, Death and Resurrection.
We shall soon be entering the third and final year of immediate preparation for this unique event in salvation history, a year which will focus on the Person of God the Father, by whom Jesus Christ was sent and to whom he has returned (cf. Jn Jn 16,28). A particular aim of this final preparatory year, as I pointed out in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, is to broaden the horizons of believers, so that the whole of Christian life may be seen as “a great pilgrimage to the house of the Father”, a journey of faith which “takes place in the heart of each person, extends to the believing community and then reaches to the whole of humanity” (No. 49).
2. In order that this “broadening of horizons” may properly be achieved, there is needed a conversion of heart, metanoia — which fittingly enough has been the subject of your reflections during these days. For the human heart is the starting-point of this interior journey and has an essential role in every religious dialogue. Your discussions therefore serve a very important purpose. They will help the Church to be ever more fully and effectively engaged in dialogue with our brothers and sisters of different religious traditions, especially Muslims and — building on the recently concluded Special Session for Asia of the Synod of Bishops — the followers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and those ways of thinking and living which were already rooted in Asia before the arrival of the Gospel in those lands.
Your reflections are appropriately situated in the overall context of “The Dialogue of Spirituality and the Spirituality of Dialogue”, the continuation and deepening of the theme of your last Plenary Assembly. Indeed, authentic and lasting conversion of heart cannot be brought about except in a spirit of prayer. “Prayer is the bond which most effectively unites us: it is through prayer that believers meet one another at a level where inequalities, misunderstandings, bitterness and hostility are overcome, namely before God, the Lord and Father of all” (Message for the 1992 World Day of Peace, 4). Hence we can also appreciate the importance of Christian communities of prayer, especially contemplative communities, in multi-religious societies. As well as bearing witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ, such communities become bridges of fellowship and solidarity, fostering fruitful dialogue and cooperation between Christians and the followers of other religions.
3. We are at the threshold of a new millennium which opens with the challenge to the Church to reap the copious fruits of the seeds planted by the Second Vatican Council. With the Council Fathers, I exhort you and all the sons and daughters of the Church: “Enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians” (Nostra Aetate NAE 2). In this way, the Church will be attentive to the work of the Spirit in the hearts of other believers. Thus shall we be able to build on past achievements, consolidate present efforts, and encourage future cooperation among all who seek transcendent truth.
Invoking upon you the intercession of Mary, Queen of Apostles, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. In greeting the International Conference for Catholic Charismatic Leaders,“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Rm 1,8). The Catholic Charismatic Renewal has helped many Christians to rediscover the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, in the life of the Church and in the world; and this rediscovery has awakened in them a faith in Christ filled with joy, a great love of the Church and a generous dedication to her evangelizing mission. In this year of the Holy Spirit, I join you in praise of God for the precious fruits which he has wished to bring to maturity in your communities and, through them, in the particular Churches.
2. As leaders of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, one of your prime tasks is to safeguard the Catholic identity of the charismatic communities spread throughout the world, stirring them always to maintain a close and hierarchical link with the Bishops and the Pope. You belong to an ecclesial movement; and the word “ecclesial” implies a precise task of Christian formation, involving a deep convergence of faith and life. The enthusiastic faith which enlivens your communities must be accompanied by a Christian formation which is comprehensive and faithful to the Church’s teaching. From a solid formation will spring a spirituality deeply grounded in the sources of the Christian life and capable of responding to the crucial questions posed by the culture of our day. In my recent Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, I warned against a fideism which fails to recognize the importance of the work of reason not only for an understanding of the faith, but even for the act of faith itself.
3. The theme of your Conference, “Let the Fire Fall Again!”, recalls the words of Christ: “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lc 12,49). As we look to the Great Jubilee, these words resound with all their force. The Word of God made flesh has brought to us the fire of love and the truth which saves. On the threshold of the Third Millennium of the Christian era, how great is the evangelical challenge: “go and work in the vineyard today” (Mt 21,28)!
I accompany your Conference with my prayers, trusting that it will bear rich spiritual fruit for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal throughout the world. May Mary, Bride of the Spirit and Mother of Christ, watch over all that you do in the name of her Son. To all of you, to your communities and to your loved ones, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
1. I am delighted to welcome you during the Study Conference on the Inquisition, sponsored and organized by the Historical-Theological Commission for the preparation of the Great Jubilee. I extend my cordial greeting to each of you. Thank you for your willingness to participate and for the contribution you have made to preparing for the forthcoming Jubilee by also addressing a theme which is certainly not easy, but of undoubted interest for our time.
I especially thank Cardinal Roger Etchegaray for the noble address he gave to open this meeting and for presenting the conference’s objectives. At the same time I express my deep appreciation of the efforts taken by the Commission’s members in preparing the symposium and by the speakers who conducted the study sessions.
The topic you have dwelt on, as you can easily see, calls for careful discernment and considerable knowledge of history. The indispensable contribution of historians will certainly be a help to theologians in making a more accurate evaluation of this phenomenon which, precisely because of its complexity, must be analyzed in a scrupulously objective way.
2. Your conference on the Inquisition is being held a few days after the publication of the Encyclical Fides et ratio, in which I wanted to remind the men and women of our time, who are tempted by scepticism and relativism, of the fundamental dignity of reason and its innate ability to attain truth. The Church, whose mission is to proclaim the word of salvation received in divine Revelation, sees this yearning to know truth as an irrepressible prerogative of the human person, created in the image of God. She knows that a bond of mutual friendship unites knowledge through faith and natural knowledge, each with its specific object and its own rights (cf. Encyclical Fides et ratio FR 57).
At the beginning of the Encyclical, I made reference to the inscription on the temple at Delphi, which inspired Socrates: know yourself. This is a fundamental truth: knowing oneself is something distinctively human. Man is distinguished from the other created beings on earth by his ability to ask questions about the meaning of his own existence. Because of what he knows about the world and about himself, man can respond to another command passed on to us by Greek thought: become what you are.
Knowledge, then, has vital importance for man as he advances towards the full realization of his humanity: this is particularly true as regards historical knowledge. Individuals, as well as society, become fully aware of themselves only when they know how to integrate their past.
3. In the Encyclical Fides et ratio I also expressed my concern about the phenomenon of the fragmentation of knowledge, which is one reason why knowledge loses its meaning and deviates from its true purpose. This phenomenon has a variety of causes. Progress itself has led to ever greater specialization, one consequence of which is the lack of communication between the various disciplines. For this reason I invited philosophers, men and women of learning to recover “the sapiential dimension as a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life” (cf. ibid., n. 81), because the integration of knowledge and action is a requirement inscribed in our spirit.
In this regard, it seems essential to stress the role of epistemological reflection for the integration of the different elements of knowledge in a harmonious unity that respects the identity and autonomy of each discipline. This, moreover, is one of the most valuable achievements of contemporary thought (cf. ibid., n. 21). Only if the scientist rigorously adheres to his field of research and to the methodology directing it, will he be a servant of the truth for that portion which is his concern.
Today, in fact, there is a widespread conviction that it is not possible to arrive at the whole of truth on the basis of a particular discipline. Collaboration between the representatives of different sciences, therefore, becomes a necessity. On the other hand, as soon as a complex matter is addressed, researchers feel the need for each other’s explanations, while obviously respecting one another’s expertise.
For this reason the Historical-Theological Commission for the preparation of the Great Jubilee rightly thought that it could not properly reflect on the phenomenon of the Inquisition without first hearing from universally recognized experts in the historical sciences.
4. Ladies and Gentlemen! The problem of the Inquisition belongs to a troubled period of the Church’s history, which I have invited Christians to revisit with an open mind. As I wrote in the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente: “Another painful chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of the truth” (n. 35).
The question, which involves the cultural context and political ideas of the time, is precisely theological in origin and presupposes an outlook of faith regarding the essence of the Church and the Gospel requirements that govern her life. The Church’s Magisterium certainly cannot perform an ethical act, such as asking for forgiveness, without first being accurately informed about the situation at the time. Nor can it be based on the images of the past spread by public opinion, since they are often charged with an intense emotionalism that prevents calm, objective analysis. If the Magisterium does not bear this in mind, it would fail in its fundamental duty of respecting the truth. That is why the first step is to question historians, who are not asked to make an ethical judgement, which would exceed their sphere of competence, but to help in the most precise reconstruction possible of the events, customs and mentality of the time, in the light of the era’s historical context.
Only when historical science has been able to determine the true facts, will theologians and the Church’s Magisterium itself be in a position to make an objectively well-founded judgement.
At this time I earnestly wish to thank you for the service you have offered in complete freedom, and I once again express all the Church’s esteem for your work. I am convinced that it offers an outstanding contribution to the truth, and in this way makes an indirect contribution to the new evangelization.
5. In conclusion, I would like to share a thought with you that is particularly close to my heart. The request for forgiveness, which is much talked about at the time, primarily concerns the life of the Church, her mission of proclaiming salvation, her witness to Christ, her commitment to unity, in a word, the consistency which should distinguish Christian life. But the light and strength of the Gospel, by which the Church lives, can illumine and support more than abundantly the decisions and actions of civil society, with full respect for their autonomy. It is for this reason that the Church continually works in her own way for peace and the promotion of human rights. On the threshold of the third millennium, we may rightly hope that political leaders and peoples, especially those involved in tragic conflicts fueled by hatred and the memory of often ancient wounds, will be guided by the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation exemplified by the Church and will make every effort to resolve their differences through open and honest dialogue.
I entrust this hope to your reflection and your prayer. And as I invoke God’s constant protection on each of you, I assure you of a constant remembrance in prayer and am pleased to give you and your loved ones a special Apostolic Blessing.
Saturday, 31 October 1998
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. It is a pleasure to welcome all of you who are attending the international conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health-Care Workers on a theme that is one of the traditional aspects of the Church's pastoral concern. I express my gratitude to those of you who dedicate your work to the complex problems facing the elderly, who are becoming ever more numerous in every society of the world.
I thank Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragán for his noble words expressing the sentiments you share. Your conference has wanted to address the problem with that respect for the elderly which shines brightly in Sacred Scripture when it shows us Abraham and Sara (cf. Gn Gn 17,15-22), when it describes the welcome that Simeon and Anna gave Jesus (cf. Lk Lc 2,23-38), when it calls priests elders (cf. Acts Ac 14,23 1Tm 4,14 1Tm 5,17), when it sums up the homage of all creation in the adoration of the 24 elders (Ap 4,4), and finally when it describes God himself as “the Ancient One” (Da 7,9-22).
2. Your studies emphasize how great and precious is human life, which retains its value in every age and every condition. They reaffirm with authority that Gospel of life which the Church, in faithfully contemplating the mystery of Redemption, acknowledges with ever renewed wonder and feels called to proclaim to the people of all times (cf. Evangelium vitae EV 2).
The conference did not only deal with the demographic and medical-psychological aspects of the elderly, but also sought to examine the matter more closely by focusing its attention on what Revelation presents in this regard and comparing it with the reality that we experience. The Church's work over the centuries has also been emphasized in a historical-dynamic way, with useful and fitting suggestions for updating every charitable initiative, in responsible collaboration with the civil authorities.
3. Old age is the third season of life: life that is born, life that grows, life that comes to an end are the three stages in the mystery of existence, of that human life which “comes from God, is his gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life” (Evangelium vitae EV 39).
The Old Testament promises long life to human beings as the reward for fulfilling the law of God: “The fear of the Lord prolongs life” (Pr 10,27). It was the common belief that the prolonging of physical life until “good old age” (Gn 25,8), when a man could die “full of years” (Gn 25,8), should be considered a proof of particular goodwill on God's part. This value must also be given renewed attention in a society that very often seems to speak of old age only as a problem.
To devote attention to the complexity of the problems affecting the world of the elderly means, for the Church, to discern a “sign of the time” and to interpret it in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in a way suitable to each generation, she responds to the perennial human questions about the meaning of present and future life and their mutual relationship (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 4)
4. Our times are marked by the fact that people are living longer, which, together with the decline in fertility, has led to a considerable ageing of the world population.
For the first time in human history, society is faced with a profound upheaval in the population structure, forcing it to modify its charitable strategies, with repercussions at all levels. It is a question of new social planning and of reviewing society's economic structure, as well as one's vision of the life-cycle and the interaction between generations. It is a real challenge to society, whose justice is revealed by the extent to which it responds to the charitable needs of all its members: its degree of civilization is measured by the protection given to the weakest members of the social fabric.
5. Although often regarded as only the recipients of charitable aid, the elderly must also be called to participate in this work; over the years the elderly population can attain a greater maturity in the form of intelligence, balance and wisdom. For this reason Sirach advises: “Stand in the assembly of the elders. Who is wise? Cleave to him” (Si 6,34); and again: “Do not disregard the discourse of the aged, for they themselves learned from their fathers; because from them you will gain understanding and learn how to give an answer in time of need” (Si 8,9). It is clear that the elderly should not be considered merely an object of concern, closeness and service. They too have a valuable contribution to make to life. Thanks to the wealth of experience they have acquired over the years, they can and must be sources of wisdom, witnesses of hope and love (cf. Evangelium vitae EV 94).
The family-elderly relationship must be seen as a relationship of giving and receiving. The elderly also give: their years of experience cannot be ignored. If this experience, as it can happen, is not in harmony with the changing times, their whole life can still become a source of so much guidance for their relatives, representing a continuation of the group spirit, of traditions, of professional choices, of religious beliefs, etc. We are all aware of the special relationship that exists between the elderly and children. Adults too, if they know how to create an atmosphere of esteem and affection around the elderly, can draw from their wisdom and discernment to make prudent decisions.
6. It is in this perspective that society must have a renewed awareness of solidarity between generations: a renewed awareness of the sense and meaning of old age in a culture only too dominated by the myth of productivity and physical capacity. We must allow the elderly to live with security and dignity, and their families must be helped, even economically, in order to continue being the natural place for intergenerational relations.
Further observations must also be made regarding social health care and rehabilitation, which often can be necessary. Advances in health-care technology prolong life, but do not necessarily improve its quality. It is necessary to develop charitable strategies that put a priority on the dignity of the elderly and that help them, as far as possible, to maintain a sense of self-esteem lest, feeling they are a useless burden, they eventually desire and ask for death (cf. Evangelium vitae EV 94).
7. Called to prophetic deeds in society, the Church defends life from its dawn to its conclusion in death. It is especially for this final stage, which often lasts for months and years and creates many serious problems, that I appeal today to the sensitivity of families, asking them to accompany their loved ones to the end of their earthly pilgrimage. How can we not recall the tender words of Scripture: “O son, help your father in his old age, and do not grieve him as long as he lives; even if his is lacking in understanding, show forbearance; in all your strength do not despise him. For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and ... in the day of your affliction it will be remembered in your favour” (Si 3,12-15).
8. The respect that we owe the elderly compels me once again to raise my voice against all those practices of shortening life known as euthanasia.
In the presence of a secularized mentality that does not respect life, especially when it is weak, we must emphasize that it is a gift of God which are all obliged to protect. This duty particularly concerns health-care workers, whose specific mission is to become “ministers of life” in all its stages, especially in those marked by weakness and illness.
“The temptation ... of euthanasia” appears as “one of the more alarming symptoms of the ‘culture of death’ which is advancing above all in prosperous societies” (cf. Evangelium vitae EV 64).
Euthanasia is an attack on life that no human authority can justify, because the life of an innocent person is an indispensable good.
9. Turing now to all the elderly of the world, I wish to say to them: dear brothers and sisters, do not lose heart: life does not end here on earth, but instead only starts here. We must be witnesses to the resurrection! Joy must be a characteristic of the elderly; a serene joy, because the time is coming and the reward that the Lord Jesus has prepared for his faithful servants is approaching. How can we not think of the touching words of the Apostle Paul? “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2Tm 4,7-8).
With these sentiments I impart an affectionate Blessing to you, to your loved ones and especially to the elderly.
Speeches 1998 - Thursday, 29 October 1998