Benito Juárez International Airport

Tuesday, 26 January 1999

Mr President,

Your Eminences and Brothers in the Episcopate,
Distinguished Authorities,
Beloved Brothers and Sisters of Mexico,

1. The intensive, moving days I have spent with the pilgrim People of God in Mexico have left a deep impression on me. The faces of the many persons I have met during these days are etched on my mind. I am deeply grateful to you all for your cordial hospitality, the genuine expression of the Mexican spirit, and especially for having been able to share intense moments of prayer and reflection during the celebrations of Holy Mass in the Basilica of Guadalupe and at the Hermanos Rodríguez Racetrack, during my visit to Adolfo López Mateos Hospital and at the memorable meeting with the four generations in the Azteca Stadium.

2. I ask God to bless and reward those who have worked to make this visit possible. I am most grateful to you, Mr President, for your courteous words on my arrival, for receiving me at the Presidential Residence, for all your kindness to me and for the collaboration of the authorities.

I also extend my gratitude to Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico City and Primate of Mexico, as well as to the other Mexican Cardinals and Bishops and to those who have come from across the continent and have helped make this visit so rich an experience. My gratitude becomes a prayer as I ask heaven to shower the greatest blessings upon this people who on so many occasions have shown their fidelity to God, to the Church and to the Successor of St Peter. For this reason I raise my voice to heaven:

God bless you, Mexico, for the examples of humanity and faith of your people, for your efforts to defend the family and life.

God bless you, Mexico, for your children's love and fidelity to the Church! May the men and women who make up the rich mosaic of your different and fertile cultures find in Christ the strength to overcome old or recent antagonisms and to regard themselves as children of the same Father.

God bless you, Mexico, and all your indigenous peoples, whose progress and respect you wish to promote! They are preserving their rich human and religious values and want to work together to build a better future.

God bless you, Mexico, who strive through a fruitful and constructive dialogue to banish forever the strife that has divided your children! May no one be excluded from this dialogue and may it bring all your inhabitants even closer together, believers loyal to their faith in Christ and those who are far from him. Only fraternal dialogue with everyone will give new life to the plans for future reform desired by citizens of good will, who belong to every religious creed and to the various political and cultural sectors.

God bless you, Mexico, who still miss your children who have emigrated in search of food and work! They too have helped to spread the Catholic faith in their new surroundings and to build an America which wants to be united and fraternal, as the Bishops said during the Synod.

God bless you, Mexico, for recognizing the religious freedom of those who worship him within your borders! This freedom, a guarantee of stability, gives full meaning to the other freedoms and fundamental rights.

God bless you, Mexico, for the Church in your country! The Bishops, together with the priests, consecrated persons and laity committed to the new evangelization, faithful to Christ and his Gospel, have proclaimed God's kingdom in your land for almost five centuries.

3. Mexico is a great country whose roots are sunk deep in a past enriched by its Christian faith and open to the future with its clear vocation in America and the world. Passing along the roads of the Federal District, remembering the states that constitute this nation, I have again felt the beat of this noble people, who received me with such great affection on my first apostolic journey outside Rome at the beginning of my Petrine ministry. I see in your welcome the faithful reflection of a reality that is making headway in Mexican life: that of a new climate, through respectful, stable and constructive relations between the State and the Church, which are overcoming other times whose lights and shadows are already history. May this new climate foster ever greater collaboration for the benefit of the Mexican people.

4. At the end of my Pastoral Visit, I would like to reaffirm my full confidence in the future of this people, a future in which Mexico, ever more evangelized and Christian, can become a reference- point in America and the world; a country where democracy, stronger and more deeply rooted, clearer and more effective each day, with the joyous and peaceful coexistence of her peoples, may always live under the tender gaze of her Queen and Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

My last gaze and greeting are directed to her, before I leave this blessed land of Mexico for the fourth time. To her I entrust each and every one of her Mexican children, whose memory I cherish in my heart. Our Lady of Guadalupe, watch over Mexico! Watch over the whole beloved American continent!


January 26, 1999

Mr. President,
Dear People of St. Louis,
dear People of the United States,

1. It is a great joy for me to return to the United States and to experience once more your warm hospitality.

As you know, I have been in Mexico, to celebrate the conclusion of the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops. The purpose of that important Meeting was to prepare the Church to enter the new Millennium and to encourage a new sense of solidarity among the peoples of the continent. Now I am happy to be able to bring this message to Mid-America, on the banks of the Mississippi, in this historic city of St. Louis, the Gateway to the West.

I am grateful to you, Mr. President, for your courtesy in meeting me on my arrival. I likewise greet the Governor and authorities of the State of Missouri, as well as the Mayor of St. Louis and the other officials of the City and surrounding areas. So many people have offered their generous cooperation in preparation for this visit, and I am grateful to them all.

2. As Pastor of the universal Church, I am particularly happy to greet the Catholic community of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, with its rich spiritual heritage and its dynamic traditions of service to those in need. I wish to say a special word of appreciation to Archbishop Justin Rigali, who has been close to me since I became Pope twenty years ago. I am looking forward to being with the priests, deacons, religious and laity of this local Church, which has exercised such influence on the history of the Midwest.

With deep thanks I greet the Cardinals and Bishops. Their presence gives me an opportunity to send my good wishes to the whole Province of St. Louis and its ecclesiastical Region, and to all the Dioceses of this country. Although St. Louis is the only place I am able to visit at this time, I feel close to all the Catholics of the United States.

I express my friendship and esteem for my fellow Christians, for the Jewish community in America, for our Muslim brothers and sisters. I express my cordial respect for people of all religions and for every person of good will.

3. As history is retold, the name of St. Louis will be forever linked to the first transatlantic flight, and to the immense human endeavor and daring behind the name: the “Spirit of St. Louis”.

You are preparing for the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase made in 1804 by President Thomas Jefferson. That anniversary presents a challenge of religious and civic renewal to the entire community. It will be the opportunity to reassert the “Spirit of St. Louis” and to reaffirm the genuine truths and values of the American experience.

There are times of trial, tests of national character, in the history of every country. America has not been immune to them. One such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis. Here, the famous Dred Scott case was heard. And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings – people of African descent – outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution’s protection.

After untold suffering and with enormous effort, that situation has, at least in part, been reversed.

America faces a similar time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings – the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered “unuseful” – to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. Because of the seriousness of the issues involved, and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole, the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences for the century whose threshold we are about to cross. My fervent prayer is that through the grace of God at work in the lives of Americans of every race, ethnic group, economic condition and creed, America will resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life. To choose life – as I wrote in this year’s Message for the World Day of Peace – involves rejecting every form of violence: the violence of poverty and hunger, which oppresses so many human beings; the violence of armed conflict, which does not resolve but only increases divisions and tensions; the violence of particularly abhorrent weapons such as anti-personnel mines; the violence of drug trafficking; the violence of racism; and the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.

Only a higher moral vision can motivate the choice for life. And the values underlying that vision will greatly depend on whether the nation continues to honor and revere the family as the basic unit of society: the family – teacher of love, service, understanding and forgiveness; the family – open and generous to the needs of others; the family – the great wellspring of human happiness.

4. Mr. President, dear friends: I am pleased to have another opportunity to thank the American people for the countless works of human goodness and solidarity which, from the beginning, have been such a part of the history of your country. At the same time I know that you will hear my plea to open wide your hearts to the ever increasing plight and urgent needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters throughout the world.

This too – the spirit of compassion, concern and generous sharing – must be part of the “Spirit of St. Louis”. Even more, it must be the renewed spirit of this “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” God bless you all! God bless America!


St. Louis, January 26, 1999

Part I

Dear Young People of St. Louis,
Dear Young People of the United States,
Praised be Jesus Christ!

1. Your warm and enthusiastic welcome makes me very happy. It tells me that tonight the Pope belongs to you. I have just been in Mexico City, to celebrate the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops for America. There I had the joy of being with many thousands of young people. And now, my joy continues here with you, the young people of St. Louis and Missouri, and of the whole United States.

2. We are gathered here this evening to listen to Jesus as he speaks to us through his word and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We have just heard the Apostle Paul say to Timothy, his young fellow evangelizer: “Train yourself for devotion” (1Tm 4,7). These are important words for every Christian, for everyone who truly seeks to follow the Lord and to put his words into practice. They are especially important for you, the young people of the Church. And so you need to ask yourselves: what training am I doing in order to live a truly Christian life?

You all know what “training” is, and what it signifies. In fact, we are here in the Kiel Center where many people train long and hard in order to compete in different sports. Today, this impressive stadium has become another kind of training ground — not for hockey or soccer or basketball, but for that training that will help you to live your faith in Jesus more decisively. This is the “training in devotion” that Saint Paul is referring to – the training that makes it possible for you to give yourselves without reservation to the Lord and to the work that he calls you to do!

3. I am told that there was much excitement in St. Louis during the recent baseball season, when two great players (Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) were competing to break the home-run record. You can feel the same great enthusiasm as you train for a different goal: the goal of following Christ, the goal of bringing his message to the world.

Each one of you belongs to Christ, and Christ belongs to you. At Baptism you were claimed for Christ with the Sign of the Cross; you received the Catholic faith as a treasure to be shared with others. In Confirmation, you were sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and strengthened for your Christian mission and vocation. In the Eucharist, you receive the food that nourishes you for the spiritual challenges of each day.

I am especially pleased that so many of you had the opportunity today to receive the Sacrament of Penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this Sacrament you experience the Savior’s tender mercy and love in a most personal way, when you are freed from sin and from its ugly companion which is shame. Your burdens are lifted and you experience the joy of new life in Christ.

Your belonging to the Church can find no greater expression or support than by sharing in the Eucharist every Sunday in your parishes. Christ gives us the gift of his body and blood to make us one body, one spirit in him, to bring us more deeply into communion with him and with all the members of his Body, the Church. Make the Sunday celebration in your parishes a real encounter with Jesus in the community of his followers: this is an essential part of your “training in devotion” to the Lord!

4. Dear young friends, in the Reading we have just heard, the Apostle Paul tells Timothy: “Let no one have contempt for your youth” (1Tm 4,12). He says this because youth is a marvelous gift of God. It is a time of special energies, special opportunities and special responsibilities. Christ and the Church need your special talents. Use well the gifts the Lord has given you!

This is the time of your “training”, of your physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development. But this does not mean that you can put off until later your meeting with Christ and your sharing in the Church’s mission. Even though you are young, the time for action is now! Jesus does not have “contempt for your youth”. He does not set you aside for a later time when you will be older and your training will be complete. Your training will never be finished. Christians are always in training. You are ready for what Christ wants of you now. He wants you – all of you – to be light to the world, as only young people can be light. It is time to let your light shine!

In all my travels I tell the world about your youthful energies, your gifts and your readiness to love and serve. And wherever I go I challenge young people – as a friend – to live in the light and truth of Jesus Christ.

I urge you to let his word enter your hearts, and then from the bottom of your hearts to tell him: “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will!” (cf. Heb He 10,7).

Part II

“You are the light of the world. . . Your light must shine before all” (Mt 5,14 Mt 16).

Dear Young People,

1. Ask yourselves: Do I believe these words of Jesus in the Gospel? Jesus is calling you the light of the world. He is asking you to let your light shine before others. I know that in your hearts you want to say: “Here I am, Lord. Here I am. I come to do your will” (Responsorial Psalm; cf. Heb He 10,7). But only if you are one with Jesus can you share his light and be a light to the world.

Are you ready for this?

Sadly, too many people today are living apart from the light – in a world of illusions, a world of fleeting shadows and promises unfulfilled. If you look to Jesus, if you live the Truth that is Jesus, you will have in you the light that reveals the truths and values on which to build your own happiness, while building a world of justice, peace and solidarity. Remember what Jesus said: “I am the light of the world; those who follow me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (cf. Jn Jn 8,12).

Because Jesus is the Light, we too become light when we proclaim him. This is the heart of the Christian mission to which each of you has been called through Baptism and Confirmation. You are called to make the light of Christ shine brightly in the world.

2. When you were little, were you sometimes afraid of the dark? Today you are no longer children afraid of the dark. You are teenagers and young adults. But already you realize that there is another kind of darkness in the world: the darkness of doubt and uncertainty. You may feel the darkness of loneliness and isolation. Your anxieties may come from questions about your future, or regrets about past choices.

Sometimes the world itself seems filled with darkness. The darkness of children who go hungry and even die. The darkness of homeless people who lack work and proper medical care. The darkness of violence: violence against the unborn child, violence in families, the violence of gangs, the violence of sexual abuse, the violence of drugs that destroy the body, mind and heart. There is something terribly wrong when so many young people are overcome by hopelessness to the point of taking their own lives. And already in parts of this nation, laws have been passed which allow doctors to end the lives of the very people they are sworn to help. God’s gift of life is being rejected. Death is chosen over life, and this brings with it the darkness of despair.

3. But you believe in the light (cf. Jn Jn 12,36)! Do not listen to those who encourage you to lie, to shirk responsibility, to put yourselves first. Do not listen to those who tell you that chastity is passé.In your hearts you know that true love is a gift from God and respects his plan for the union of man and woman in marriage. Do not be taken in by false values and deceptive slogans, especially about your freedom. True freedom is a wonderful gift from God, and it has been a cherished part of your country’s history. But when freedom is separated from truth, individuals lose their moral direction and the very fabric of society begins to unravel.

Freedom is not the ability to do anything we want, whenever we want. Rather, freedom is the ability to live responsibly the truth of our relationship with God and with one another. Remember what Jesus said: “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8,32). Let no one mislead you or prevent you from seeing what really matters. Turn to Jesus, listen to him, and discover the true meaning and direction of your lives.

4. You are children of the light (cf. Jn Jn 12,36)! You belong to Christ, and he has called you by name. Your first responsibility is to get to know as much as you can about him, in your parishes, in religious instruction in your high schools and colleges, in your youth groups and Newman Centers.

But you will get to know him truly and personally only through prayer. What is needed is that you talk to him, and listen to him.

Today we are living in an age of instant communications. But do you realize what a unique form of communication prayer is? Prayer enables us to meet God at the most profound level of our being. It connects us directly to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in a constant exchange of love.

Through prayer you will learn to become the light of the world, because in prayer you become one with the source of our true light, Jesus himself.

5. Each of you has a special mission in life, and you are each called to be a disciple of Christ. Many of you will serve God in the vocation of Christian married life; some of you will serve him as dedicated single persons; some as priests and religious. But all of you must be the light of the world. To those of you who think that Christ may be inviting you to follow him in the priesthood or the consecrated life I make this personal appeal: I ask you to open your hearts generously to him; do not delay your response. The Lord will help you to know his will; he will help you to follow your vocation courageously.

6. Young friends, in the days and weeks and years ahead, for as long as you remember this evening, remember that the Pope came to the United States, to the City of St. Louis, to call the young people of America to Christ, to invite you to follow him. He came to challenge you to be the light of the world! “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it” (Jn 1,5). Jesus who has conquered sin and death reminds you: “I am with you always” (Mt 28,20). He says: “Courage! It is I; have no fear” (Mc 6,50).

On the horizon of this city stands the Gateway Arch, which often catches the sunlight in its different colors and hues. In a similar way, in a thousand different ways, you must reflect the light of Christ through your lives of prayer and joyful service of others. With the help of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the young people of America will do this magnificently!

Remember: Christ is calling you; the Church needs you; the Pope believes in you and he expects great things of you!

Praised be Jesus Christ!

At the end of the service some of the young people gave the Holy Father a hockey stick and jersey. The Pope appreciated the gift and said extemporaneously:

So, I am prepared to return once more to play hockey! But if I will be able to, that is the question. Perhaps after this meeting I will be a bit more ready!


To the Children at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital

I am happy, dear children, during my visit to St. Louis, to be able to see some of you personally at the Kiel Center, and to be able to embrace you one by one.

You are all dear to my heart, even if I have not been able to see all of you today. I want the young boys and girls being taken care of at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital and all sick children everywhere to know that the Pope prays for each one of you.

You know how much Jesus loved children and how pleased he was to be with them. You too are very special to him. Some of you and your friends have suffered a lot and you feel the burden of what has happened to you. I want to encourage you to be patient and to stay close to Jesus, who suffered and died on the Cross out of love for you and me.

Surrounding you are other people who love you very much. Among them are the Franciscan Sisters of Mary; for many years they have faithfully administered this hospital. There are also those who actually take care of you and those who work hard to support the Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital. And of course there are your families and friends who love you very much and want you to be strong and brave. I am happy to bless all of them.

Today I am thinking also about so many other sick people in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and beyond. I send my greetings to all the sick and suffering, and to the elderly, and I assure them of a special place in my daily prayers. They have a particularly fruitful role in the spiritual heart of the Church.

I invite all the sick to trust in Jesus who said: "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn 11,25). In union with him, even our trials and sufferings are precious for the redemption of the world. May his Mother Mary accompany you and fill your hearts with joy. With my Apostolic Blessing.

From St. Louis, January 26, 1999


St. Louis, January 27, 1999

As my visit to St. Louis comes to an end, I wish to express my appreciation to Vice President and Mrs. Gore for greeting me before my departure for Rome. I thank those associated with the Federal Government for all that they have done to make this visit possible.

My gratitude goes to the Governor of the State of Missouri, and to the Mayor of the City of St. Louis, and to all the members of their staffs. I thank the Police and all those who have done so much for security and public order. I thank the civic and business communities of St. Louis for the support they have given.

The welcome extended to me by my fellow Christians and by the members of other religious communities has been most gracious. I hope you will accept my sincere thanks and the assurance of my friendship in the cause of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

It has been a moving experience to visit the people of St. Louis. I would have wished to meet personally each one of the young people at the Kiel Center, and all the many other people at the Trans World Dome, and here in the Cathedral Basilica, as well as along the routes and at the Airport.

A word of thanks goes to the Cardinals and my brother Bishops of the United States who have come to St. Louis. It was a pleasure to know that so many other Dioceses sent representatives. I am grateful to you all.

In particular I wish to say thanks to the local Church of St. Louis. I am indebted to all the many dedicated people – organizers, committee members and volunteers – who have labored long and hard behind the scenes. Nor do I forget the hidden but effective support of all who prayed for the spiritual outcome of this event, especially the contemplatives in their monasteries. A special word of thanks and appreciation is due to Archbishop Rigali, who just two days ago celebrated his fifth anniversary as your dedicated Pastor.

A few months ago, a pilgrimage from St. Louis came to Rome. We met on the steps of St. Peters, where they sang to me: “Meet me in St. Louis. . . meet me at the Dome!” With God’s help, we have done it. I will always remember St. Louis. I will remember all of you.

God bless St. Louis!

God bless America!

                                                       February 1999



Friday, 5 February 1999

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Ordinary for Greek Catholics of the Armenian rite!

1. It is a joy for me to welcome you today on the occasion of your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. This is the first meaning of the ad limina visit: it is meant to shed light on the communion of Peter's Successor with the local Churches spread throughout the world. I thank Archbishop Nikolaos Fóscolos, President of your Episcopal Conference, for the sentiments of affectionate devotion he has expressed to me and for his words on your behalf.

As Pastors responsible for leading God's People, you are called to help communities be guided by the Holy Spirit in their duty of bearing witness to the Gospel, while at the same time contributing to peace and harmony among men. First of all I would like to tell you how much I appreciate the ministry you carry out with such great care. In your country, where the faithful of the Catholic Church are a minority, it is a good idea for you to continue organizing your Episcopal Conference for the success of those pastoral projects you desire. Thus you will respond more effectively to the many demands of your mission and at the same time ensure a more effective administration. From this standpoint it would seem appropriate to create a permanent secretariat, so that the decisions taken at your assemblies may be more promptly acted upon, and those pastoral projects which concern the whole Catholic Church in Greece may become a reality. Thus you will be able to support one another and respond effectively to the various needs of the episcopal ministry with the help of capable people. To this end, it would be good to organize regular occasions for dialogue and reflection among all the elements of the Catholic community. These meetings, following your recent Assembly, will facilitate ecclesial gatherings or diocesan synods aimed at giving pastoral ministry a new impetus which will involve the whole Catholic community in your Dioceses.

Through you I would like to give my cordial encouragement to all who work with you in your mission, especially the priests who bear the weight of daily ministry and, because they are so few, are faced with an increasing and ever more exhausting number of problems and tasks. Through fraternal meetings with them, you can support them in their mission, help them evaluate pastoral activities and develop new projects. I also greet with affection the faithful of your Dioceses, whose task is essential, since by virtue of Baptism they have a part in building up the Church and in giving a Christian spirit to temporal realities. Tell young people of the Church's call to open their hearts to Christ and invite them to participate next year in the activities planned for World Youth Day, when they will be able to meet many of their contemporaries.

2. The Catholic Church in Greece has just held a second Assembly, in which representatives of the secular clergy, men and women religious and lay people gathered round you to give new fervour to pastoral life. This is an important step in your apostolic journey and is intended to involve all the faithful in a more active participation in the Church's life. They are all called to grow in union with the Saviour through personal prayer, meditation on Sacred Scripture, lectio divina, liturgical and sacramental life and a filial Marian devotion. These are necessary elements for the human and spiritual growth and maturation of Christians.

To guide every individual on the path of intimacy with Christ, an intense formation is indispensable. It should not be reduced to an initial phase in Christian life, but develop into an ongoing process to support the Christian in his daily relations with Christ and in his missionary commitment. I therefore encourage everyone to continue on this path of spiritual and intellectual renewal, in order to build a community of faith dedicated generously to proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel.

I would like to draw attention to the particular role of the liturgy in the life of the Christian community. It is there that each person discovers the depths of the divine mystery and experiences the Church as the Body of Christ. In this regard, the task of translating the various liturgical books requires special attention on the part of the Latin Bishops in order to respond to the needs of our times. Based on the principles given in the Consilium's Instruction of 25 January 1969, this project must respect Latin traditions and the related liturgical patrimony dear to the hearts of the faithful, who can thus approach Christ more easily by encountering him in the sacraments and in the splendour of divine worship.

3. The Catholic community has spread throughout Greece and its members come from various backgrounds. Moreover, the summer months see a great number of tourists, to whom you wish to offer spiritual support. This human reality complicates any pastoral efforts to make the faithful a community of one heart and soul (cf. Ac 4,32). Much has already been done in this regard in the areas of evangelization, catechesis, education, and charitable and social aid. Some of the faithful, with God's help, are particularly involved in social work, serving the poor, promoting sharing and solidarity, responding to the needs of the sick and devoting themselves to the very important task of education and family support.

This participation in social life, which today I wish strongly to encourage, is a way of faithfully following Jesus. It is an outstanding way of witnessing, in which the Church is recognized as an open community prepared to undertake and pursue activities that bring her close to every person, while respecting their legitimate freedoms. Active collaboration in the social field with members of other religious confessions is an important aspect of ecumenical dialogue, since a common activity creates mutual respect and love.

In this perspective, Catholic schools make an essential contribution to social life. I would like to offer my greetings and encouragement to the many priests, men and women religious and lay people who dedicate themselves to educating youth. Indeed, the acceptance of children - whatever their religious confession - mutual discovery and esteem are elements that will help young Greeks live together, while respecting their differences; these are a treasure, as long as they are put at the service of all. Through an integral formation, young people will receive an education based on fundamental moral, human and civil values, with beneficial effects on all society.

4. The particular situation of the Catholic Church in Greece also urges her constantly to heed the Lord's call to advance ever further on the path of unity (cf. Jn Jn 17,21), in response to the ecumenical commitment of the Second Vatican Council. "Among the most fervent petitions which the Church makes to the Lord during this important time as the eve of the new millennium approaches, is that unity among all Christians of different denominations will increase until they reach full communion. I pray that the Jubilee will be a promising opportunity for fruitful collaboration in the many areas which unite us; these are unquestionably more numerous than those which divide us" (Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 16). In this spirit, with full respect for the programmes of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities and for the legitimate right to religious freedom, it is necessary to look positively and hopefully at ecumenical dialogue, constantly seeking to be instruments of the Holy Spirit, so that full unity will be achieved in the ways God desires.

In view of the Great Jubilee now close at hand, Christ's love spurs us to engage in ecumenical projects that will enable Christ's disciples to have a better knowledge of their own traditions and those of others. Clearly, these activities can be a witness to the world of the love that comes from the Saviour and of the firm will of all Christians to achieve full unity as soon as possible. Every joint initiative and prayer, every respectful dialogue, every request for mutual forgiveness, can bring brothers and sisters closer in faith and enable people today to discover the Father's tenderness and mercy, the central theme of the final year of preparation for the Great Jubilee. As the Apostle says, love comes from God and "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1Jn 4,11). I would again like to stress the value of prayer in ecumenical relations; this helps us to live as brothers and sisters: "Taking part together in prayer accustoms us once more to living side by side and helps us in accepting and putting into practice the Lord's will for his Chuch" (Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint, n. 53).

5. In your quinquennial reports, you underscored the shortage of priests for serving Christian communities, at the same time expressing your trust in the Lord who never abandons his flock. It is true, the pastoral care of vocations must be one of your main concerns and, indeed, a commitment of the entire Christian community. In this respect, I urge families always to be fully conscious of their responsibility for the birth and development of priestly and religious vocations. Parents should not fear for the future, should one of their children show a desire to commit himself to the Lord! It is their role to help him fully achieve his vocation. Those who dedicate themselves to following Christ without reserve are given the necessary means to fulfil the mission entrusted to them.

Men and women religious have an irreplaceable role in the Catholic Church of your country. I urge them generously to persevere in their work even in difficult pastoral situations, in close comunion with their Pastors and in fidelity to their own charism. I invite religious congregations and other institutes to send new members to Greece to strengthen existing communities or to create new ones, which can perceive the Catholic Church's needs in that land and the contribution that active and contemplative religious life is called to make to it. In this regard, I greet the contemplative orders in your country with grateful affection. They are a bright beacon, a beautiful witness of faith and love for God, and are regarded with esteem and consideration by Christians of other denominations.

6. It would also be good to develop new plans for the pastoral care of vocations, for the discernment and formation of candidates to the priesthood, perhaps even within a common structure serving all the Dioceses. The young people of the different Dioceses would thus have the opportunity to live in a healthier educational community and to create important ties for the future of priestly fraternity in the country. Furthermore, other contemporaries of theirs would be attracted by a joyful experience, which strengthens the desire to give one's life to God and to others.

Priests and religious also have an important role in the development of a young person's vocation. They must be eager to show in their personal lives and in their daily ministry the happiness they experience in following Christ. It is important that young people find adults who are models of Christian life and can convey a sense of God, openly inviting them to total consecration in the priesthood or the religious life.

7. You mentioned the problems families must face, both from without, as a couple and in relations between generations, as well as the tensions to which mixed marriages are subjected, especially regarding the religious education of their children. Through suitable family ministry, the Church has the duty to remind the faithful of the indissolubility of marriage and of the need to live their own married life in harmony with the faith. Nor should you fail to help couples experiencing moments of crisis, so that they can rediscover the enthusiasm of their initial commitment, increase their spiritual life and draw from the grace of the sacrament of Matrimony the necessary energy to carry out their mission as spouses and parents. In a secularized and materialistic world, it is important to hold up to today's men and women a Christian ideal that will serve as the basis for their life and daily commitment.

8. If the Catholic Church cares for her faithful, the latter in turn wish to make their responsible contribution to social life by serving the common good. It is for Catholics, then, and for all the country's inhabitants to work tirelessly in promoting peaceful harmony among all Greeks, with each one enjoying the same rights and freedoms, particularly religious freedom. In this regard, I am delighted with the significant efforts being made by various leaders and with the good will shown by all in seeking just and equitable solutions to problems so far unresolved, specifically those concerning the Catholic Church's legal status. I also hope that dialogue will continue and be intensified with the various competent authorities for the good of the people as a whole. This will enable the Catholic community to experience a renewed vitality and help everyone to participate more and more actively in building a common home by instilling trust in all citizens as they construct a peaceful and fraternal society.

9. At the end of your ad limina visit, I hope that you will return to your country strengthened in your mission as successors of the Apostles. May the communion you have experienced with your fellow Bishops in the past few days help you to intensify your collaboration, so that your Dioceses will feel they are sisters and persevere, at the national level, with the cooperation necessary to face the challenges of their mission and, within the framework of the greater Europe, will continue their relations with the various ecclesial institutions! I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all the faithful of your Dioceses.