Speeches 1999 - Friday, 5 February 1999



Saturday, 6 February 1999

Mr Mayor,
Distinguished Representatives of the Capitoline Administration,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to welcome you for our traditional meeting at the beginning of the New Year, and I extend my most cordial wishes to each of you for the demanding task which has been entrusted to you. I greet the Mayor, the members of the Municipal Board and Council and all who in various ways offer their service to the Capitoline Administration.

Your presence today in the Pope's house reminds me of the visit I had the joy of making last 14 January to the Capitoline. Thank you again for that memorable day which you have just mentioned, Mr Mayor. In addressing courteous words to me on everyone's behalf, you also recalled the intentions and proposals of the Municipal Administration, especially for the sake of an orderly preparation appropriate for the Great Jubilee, an extraordinary spiritual and social event.

2. Only a few months remain until the solemn opening of the Holy Door, which will bring us into the Jubilee celebrations of the Year 2000. This is an epochal event which concerns all humanity and whose principal point of gathering and celebration will be Rome. For a long time the Church in the city has been following an intense path of spiritual preparation, in accordance with the guidelines I suggested in the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente. The City Mission, begun a few years ago, is intended to make the Jubilee, which has great significance for believers and non-believers, an intense experience. This is why it intends to address every person, to reach every place and to enter into dialogue with the city's cultural, social and working milieus. In fact, after being addressed in the previous years to families, this year it aims especially at reaching the places where people live and work.

I wrote a Letter to my brothers and sisters who work in Rome precisely for this new phase of the City Mission. On this solemn and friendly occasion, I would like to offer you a copy of it, as a sort of anticipation of what the missionaries will be doing almost everywhere in the months to come. I trust that, like its families, Rome's living and working environments will promptly and willingly open their doors to the Lord who knocks at the hearts of all: the Good News of Christ is also and specifically the "Gospel of work", which imbues our daily activity with moral strength and renewed vitality.

3. While the spiritual preparation is intensely under way in every parish as, Mr Mayor, you fittingly mentioned, Rome is working to prepare for the Jubilee at the practical and organizational levels. You mentioned all the works that are under way, some of which involve close cooperation between the civil institutions and the Holy See. I express my appreciation of all who are enthusiastically involved in this task, and I am aware of the problems they have to face and solve each day in bringing it to completion. My hope is that the works in progress and those soon to be started can be completed on schedule, to prepare an environment that encourages a worthy celebration of the Holy Year for the benefit of the pilgrims and the city's residents.

How can we not be mindful of the lasting benefits these renovated structures will bring to the city of Rome? Thanks to this effort, the city will be even better equipped to carry out the universal mission Providence has entrusted to it, which goes far beyond the Jubilee deadline. This is why it is important that, during the Jubilee, Rome can once again, in a new and creative way, show her traditional face as an open and hospitable city in which a lofty and perennial spiritual message and the more recent forms of hospitality, organization and communication harmoniously and constructively coexist.

These objectives can, of course, be easily shared by all, with each one remaining within the sphere of his own competence and responsibility. But in order to achieve them, a spirit of active cooperation is required of all.

4. In his intervention, the Mayor stressed the difficulties and problems which hinder the development of our city. I would also like to mention certain concerns which I have particularly at heart.

I am thinking, first of all, of the situation of families and their concrete prospects of life. As in other large cities, here too family ties unfortunately receive less and less support in the overall social context, because of the anonymity and isolation in which so many nuclear families actually find themselves. It is important not to leave them alone to face these conditions which sometimes involve serious and worrisome hardships.

For this reason the Church of Rome has chosen to give priority to the pastoral care of the family, not limiting her attention to those who participate in Church life, but broadening it to include everyone. I ask you, who have direct responsibilities in the city's government, to spare no efforts to ensure, especially for young families just starting out, the material conditions for healthy family life, beginning with the availability of housing and of programmes to support families and their children's education. Take care, in particular, so that neighbourhoods have sufficient structures for early child care, schools and social services.

5. Another one of my continuing concerns is young people: they are society's future. It is to them that we must dedicate our practical attention. We must have trust in them and help them to have confidence in themselves and in life. All those initiatives in the city which seek to offer the young sufficient room to express that great treasure of newness, hope and good they carry within themselves should therefore be encouraged.

One of the great events planned for the forthcoming Jubilee is World Youth Day, which will see young people gathering in Rome from all parts of Italy, Europe and the world. They will certainly be welcomed by their Roman peers, but the whole city is invited to mobilize itself for this extraordinary meeting of young people with Christian Rome and with Rome, teacher of civilization.

6. To speak of youth is naturally to turn one's gaze to the city's future, a future which is already becoming a reality in the growing presence of immigrants, many of whom are in fact young people. Immigration is a serious challenge, but it can also be a great opportunity. In a Rome which leads Italy in the number of immigrants and in the complexity of the problems connected with their presence, the Church is striving to help those in need, regardless of their culture or religion. To this end, she renews her willingness to cooperate constructively with the civil institutions. The objective is not to be satisfied with meeting the primary needs of these brothers and sisters, but to encourage their more stable integration in employment and society. This obviously requires, on the part of the immigrants, respect for the rules of civil society and, by its nature, needs time and appropriate forms.

In view of the Jubilee, the way Rome will practise this hospitality will help to define her civil and spiritual face in the third millennium.

7. Mr Mayor, Administrators of Rome, the problems concerning families, young people and immigrants which I have mentioned are merely examples, although they strongly suggest a more general requirement that can be seen in the city: a demand for high ideals and profound spiritual renewal.

The Church extends her hand to every other religious and cultural group, so that Rome can become the home of brotherhood and peace, and pursue a project of common and shared ideals.

Rome, guardian of the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, preserves the most outstanding memories and relics of Christianity and is home to the See of Peter's Successor. In encountering different cultures and religious traditions, Rome is even more inspired today to offer its Christian face and the witness of those Gospel values which have enlivened the path of her age-old history.

May the merciful face of the heavenly Father shine on our city and enlighten those who govern its destiny. This is the wish I cordially express again, as I entrust all your projects and hopes and those of your families and your coworkers to Mary, Salus Populi Romani. May my affectionate greetings be conveyed, through you, to the entire people of Rome, whom I remember in my daily prayer and to whom I warmly impart a special Apostolic Blessing.




Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am spiritually united with you who have gathered in Paul VI Auditorium on this First Saturday of February to celebrate the feast of the family on the eve of Pro-Life Day. I greet you all with great affection. In particular, I greet the Cardinal Vicar, to whom I have entrusted the task of expressing my good wishes to you. I greet Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who wished to take part in this gathering. I also greet Auxiliary Bishop Luigi Moretti, Director of the Centre for Family Ministry of the Diocese of Rome, and Mons. Renzo Bonetti, Director of the Italian Episcopal Conference's National Office for the Pastoral Care of the Family.

By the recitation of the Holy Rosary, you wish to entrust to your heavenly Mother all the families of our city, so that their every expectation and hope may be heard and that, in fidelity to God's plan, they may fully respond to their special vocation in the Church and in society. This important moment of prayer, which follows the study conference "Genome and Ageing: The Hope of Man" held yesterday at La Sapienza University, prepares for the celebration of Pro-Life Day, which tomorrow will see the entire diocesan community gather in prayerful contemplation of the great gift of fatherhood and motherhood and of the demanding tasks that flow from it. I congratulate you on these interesting programmes, which clearly stress the efforts of our Diocese to proclaim and bear witness to the "Gospel of life and of the family" in the context of the City Mission.

2. The recitation of the Holy Rosary was preceded by songs and testimonies on the family, which gave everyone the opportunity to stress how important it is for the civil and ecclesial community to defend this very special gift. In this regard, I would like to meditate with you on a biblical text taken from the Old Testament, which tells Ruth's story and helps us understand even better what the family's vocation and mission must be.

The sacred author cites Ruth's words to her mother-in-law Naomi: "Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (Ru 1:16).

In the complicated and sometimes sad story of Ruth, the Old Testament offers us a wonderful picture that speaks of motherhood and fatherhood. It shows us how society should help a family in a difficult situation. Ruth, a young woman, is widowed but immediately finds help in her mother-in-law Naomi who, despite being a mother deeply hurt by the death of her own children, continues her vocation to motherhood by adopting her daughter-in-law as a daughter. A man, Boaz, marries the widow Ruth in accordance with Israel's practice, restoring the very precious gift of family to her and guaranteeing her a secure future.

"Where you go I will go ... and your God [will be] my God".

Ruth trusts in God. She has heard others speak of him; she has learned of him through the faith of her mother-in-law who believes in the God of Israel. She abandons the pagan divinities to follow the one true God. God the Father, source of life, has the leading role in Ruth's story, which lacks unusual narrative elements, but is rich in everyday events filled with faith and love. From God's providence comes the fruitfulness of the soil and the fruitfulness of man and woman. God is the protagonist of all motherhood and fatherhood, through which husband and wife open themselves to the gift of new life.

3. In Familiaris consortio I noted that "love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal "knowledge" which makes them "one flesh", does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person" (n. 14).

"Motherhood and fatherhood: gift and commitment". This is the theme of Pro-Life Day, which the Italian Church will celebrate tomorrow, 7 February. No one can refuse the gift of fatherhood and motherhood. Neither for himself nor for others. It is every person's specific task to live this gift according to his or her own vocation.

There is a fatherhood and motherhood even without procreation, but procreation cannot be divided from fatherhood and motherhood. No one can separate it from the love of a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in marriage to form "one flesh". Otherwise there is a risk of treating man and woman not as persons but as objects.

I also observed in the Apostolic Exhortation on the family cited above that, "when they become parents, spouses receive from God the gift of a new responsibility. Their parental love is called to become for the children the visible sign of the very love of God "from which every family in heaven and on earth is named"" (ibid.).

The parents' love is the element that characterizes their educational task. It is an original, primary, irreplaceable and inalienable right and duty.

4. "Where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people".

Society helps Ruth, even though she came from a foreign people, Moab, which after the exile in Babylon would reject Israel's exiles. According to the law of the time, a widow could follow the reapers and was allowed to glean the ears of grain that were left on the ground. The reapers, by order of the field's owner, let the ears of grain fall on purpose so that Ruth could collect enough of them. Therefore their generosity and solidarity go beyond the justice guaranteed by the law. Ruth is not only assisted; she is allowed to work and does so with a sense of responsibility.

This is a lesson of life for contemporary society: the community's laws protect the family institution based on marriage, and families help other families.

In present-day circumstances, when families form associations they become effective partners and a social, political and cultural leaven. At the invitation of the Bishops of Lazio, the Catholic family associations of the region have established the Regional Committee of Family Associations. I sincerely hope this Committee will work for the promotion of the family based on marriage and for the defence of life from conception until natural death. I hope that Christians in our city will become increasingly active in these associations, which give strength to the family.

I accompany these wishes with the assurance of a constant remembrance in my prayer and, as I invoke the protection of Mary, Queen of Families, on all the families in our city and throughout the world, I sincerely impart a special Apostolic Blessing to each of you and to the entire diocesan community, which is the family of families.

From the Vatican, 6 February 1999.




Monday, 8 February 1999

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am very pleased to receive Your Excellency and to welcome you at the beginning of your mission, as you present the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Hungary.

2. I thank you for the cordial words you have just addressed to me, in which you show your concern for the See of Peter. You also express the spirit in which you are undertaking your task and your desire to continue the relations which were re-established between the Holy See and Hungary in 1990. Please convey to President Árpád Göncz, as well as to your fellow citizens, my best wishes and the assurance of my prayers for the nation's peace and prosperity.

3. Today, after a long and painful period, Hungary has courageously entered a new phase of its history, while taking care to respect and safeguard the dignity of the person and the principle of freedom, especially that of religious freedom. In this perspective, I am particularly impressed with the efforts made by your country's authorities to provide the Catholic Church with the means to carry out her spiritual mission and to care for her faithful, particularly by returning unjustly confiscated properties. This permits the resumption of religious life, which is indispensable to the life of faith. At the same time, the Catholic Church is in a position to help build an increasingly just and united society. In particular, you are familiar with the concern of the faithful and the members of consecrated institutes to make a contribution to their country through works of education, social assistance and sharing with the most disadvantaged. For them, it is primarily a question of being involved in young people's formation, through teaching in public or private institutions and educating them in spiritual, moral, human and civic values. We should rejoice over the 1998 agreement in which the authorities recognized the Catholic Church's service in this area, since her greatest desire is for the advancement of people and the conscience formation of the young, who will be the future leaders of the nation.

In this regard, the joint commission, which brings together representatives of the State and of the Bishops' Conference, expresses the spirit of dialogue and mutual esteem which marks our relations, so that the questions still unsettled may be resolved through the good will of all and the desire to promote the common good.

4. I have wonderful memories of my meetings with the Hungarian people and with their religious and civil leaders, and I hope that the event you will be celebrating next year, the millennium of the Hungarian State's foundation, will be an opportunity for all to strengthen their unity and to look to the future with trust. Your compatriots know that it was their religious, cultural and human roots which enabled them to endure the times of trial. Today, by drawing from this cultural heritage and, as you remark, from their faith in God and their attachment to Christian values, Hungarians have the means to build together the society of the future. Among the saints and heroes of your history, you recalled St Stephen, a servant of God and of the people and the father of the nation, as well as St Elizabeth, a queen who served the poor, and the Bishop-martyr Vilmos Apor, whom I had the joy of beatifying. I also recall with deep emotion the figure of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who continues to be for all your compatriots a defender of the faith and of the people's freedom. Thus, the younger generations have before them witnesses who can inspire them in their spiritual and moral growth and in their participation in the country's reconstruction by relying on the essential human virtues.

5. The restoration of religious freedom can only foster the nation's renewal; it allows every person to express his deepest aspirations, and thereby to fulfil his vocation in response to God's will; it is also the basis of respect for others and their dignity. The family, the nucleus of society and the sanctuary of life, has an essential role. In this regard, Christians and all people of good will should be reminded of the primordial value of every human life, particularly the life of the unborn child. To destroy the weakest of beings is to attack every person's right to life. One cannot but encourage everything being done to help couples and families, so that the family institution will be the focus of concern for those responsible for public life, and that every couple will have the means to welcome and educate the children they are given.

6. The Hungarian people are making many efforts to seek justice and peace within their borders and in their relations with neighbouring countries. In fact, building a greater Europe demands commitment of all to developing true brotherhood. The minorities in various nations must also be respected, so that their specific qualities are recognized by the national and international communities and they can make an effective contribution to building up the nation in which they live. For its part, the Holy See continues to defend the rights of all peoples and is pleased with the efforts made to find a unity that will continue to respect the cultural identity of each country and foster harmony between States.

7. As you take up your duties, Your Excellency, I assure you of the full cooperation of all who work here; they will offer you the help and support you may need. May your mission bear fruit for all the citizens!

I invoke the abundant blessings of God upon Your Excellency, your family, your staff and the people of Hungary.


Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

Thursday, 11 February 1999

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I am happy to join you at the end of this celebration in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes. This meeting with you who are sick is very dear to me. The event now has a long history: it goes back 40 years ago to when a zealous parish priest of Rome began a Lourdes celebration for the sick. From the beginning of my Pontificate 20 years ago, I have always wished to preside personally at this liturgy in the Vatican Basilica, with the collaboration of Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi and UNITALSI. It is an inspiring time of prayer which spiritually unites the sick of the whole world, especially since 11 February became the World Day of the Sick seven years ago, and from time to time is celebrated at an important Marian shrine: today at the Lebanese shrine of Harissa, near Beirut.

Dear friends, on our pilgrimage towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, we are "walking towards the Father", as was recalled at the pastoraltheological meeting which ends with this Holy Mass. Blessed Mary goes before us on the path that leads to God: she goes before us in faith and hope. I entrust each of you to her, invoking her comfort in your trials. I assure you of a daily remembrance in my prayer, as I affectionately impart a special Apostolic Blessing to everyone present here and to all who are spiritually united with us.



Thursday, 11 February 1999

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Father Administrator,

1. I welcome you with great joy on the occasion of your pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostles. You, the Pastors of the Catholic Church in Laos and Cambodia, have come together for the first time to meet the Successor of Peter for your ad limina visit. I sincerely hope that your stay will enable you to vitalize the spirit of collegiality among you, in communion with the Bishop of Rome. May this be a time of grace that will help you make the communities entrusted to your pastoral care grow in faith, hope and charity, in close union with the universal Church!

I thank the President of your Episcopal Conference, Bishop Yves Ramousse, for his cordial words on your behalf. They movingly recall the trials your people have undergone in recent years and shed light on the vitality of your communities which are experiencing a spiritual rebirth full of hope for the future.

At these privileged moments of communion with your local Churches, I turn to the priests, religious and all the faithful of your country. On your return, please bring them the Pope's affectionate greeting and encouragement, so that they will continue to be generous witnesses to the Father's love for all men! Please also convey my warm greetings to the peoples of Cambodia and Laos, whose courage and desire to build fraternal, prosperous nations I recognize!

2. I give thanks to the Lord with you for the heroic fidelity shown by the disciples of Christ at the time your nations were subjected to terrible sufferings, when they saw countless innocent victims of blind violence and the denial of human dignity. Many priests, religious and lay people have given their lives, after the Lord's example, mingling their blood with that of their brothers and sisters and facing their trials with dignity and strength of mind. May no one ever forget this admirable witness! It is a reminder that belonging to Christ is a sign of contradiction to the world, today as in the past, and that "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (1Co 1,27).

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I know the selfdenial with which you have served and continue to serve the Church in your countries. Several of you have been imprisoned or exiled, while some of your brothers gave their lives for their flock, following the Good Shepherd's example. Today, you often have to exercise your episcopal ministry in difficult situations. Be assured that the Successor of Peter is close to each of you in your apostolic sufferings and in your joys and hopes.

3. While the new situations in your countries allow for the rebirth of Christian communities, I encourage you always and everywhere to be fervent witnesses to the hope you bear and which gives you life. To preserve within you this gift of the Lord and to give the Church in your countries a new apostolic vigour, shepherd God's flock which is entrusted to your care, eagerly tending it as God wills and becoming examples to it (cf. 1P 5,2-3).

Sent by Christ to the particular Church of which you are in charge, you have primary responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel. To do this as servants of the truth, you must proclaim with humility and perseverance that Christ is the one and only Saviour of man and that to believe in him "means believing that love is present in the world and that this love is more powerful than any kind of evil in which individuals, humanity or the world are involved" (Encyclical Dives in misericordia DM 7).

You have also received the mission to lead the faithful on the path of holiness and to ensure that they benefit as fully as possible from the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, the memorial of the Death and Resurrection of the Lord who builds up the Church. In presiding over the ministry of charity by which the whole community witnesses to its participation in the mission of Christ, sent "to preach the Good News to the poor" (Lc 4,18), be imitators of the Good Shepherd who has compassion for the misfortunes and weakness of his people and draws close to all who suffer.

4. To lighten the burden of your apostolic duties, your priests, who are still very few, often experience difficult conditions in their lives and ministry. I greet them affectionately and encourage them to persevere in their generous service to the People of God and in their contribution to proclaiming the Good News of salvation. May they remember that, since they can always rely on divine strength, they are never alone in their work! May Christ, who called them to share in his mission, help them with his grace so that they can give themselves to their ministry with total trust. May they be the men of faith and prayer that the world needs! I invite them to foster among themselves a growing spirit of priestly fraternity and cooperation so that your joint pastoral efforts will bear fruit. In conformity with their vocation as pastors, may they give priority to the spiritual service of the faithful entrusted to them, so that they may be led to the One they represent while continuing to be men of mission and dialogue for everyone!

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, treat your priests "as sons and friends, just as Christ calls his disciples no longer servants but friends" (Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium LG 28). To encourage ever greater communion in the Church, I also invite you to involve them fraternally in the administration of your ecclesiastical territories, with respect for the directives of the Second Vatican Council and the norms of canon law.

Men and women religious, whether they are natives of your land or from elsewhere, should fully share in the Church's evangelizing work with selfdenial and courage, giving a special place to the care of society's poorest and weakest. I warmly thank them on the Church's behalf for their eloquent witness of charity in sacrificing themselves totally for the love of God and their brothers and sisters. Consecrated life has made a great contribution to establishing and developing the Church in your countries; I hope you will continue to devote particular pastoral care to it, so that its active and contemplative forms may be promoted and its proper nature safeguarded for the service of God's kingdom.

I am pleased to know that vocations to the priesthood and the religious life are becoming more numerous. I congratulate you on your concern for vocations and for your praiseworthy efforts to form the young people who agree to follow Christ in serving the Church. The organization of a seminary will be important for the future of the priestly ministry and brotherhood.

To all the young people who answer the Lord's call and to their families, express the Pope's gratitude for the generous gift they are ready to make to the Church and to Christ! Tell them that Peter's Successor gives thanks to God for all who willingly become workers in the harvest and for those who guide them!

5. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I would like to take this occasion to let the laity of your Dioceses know of my deep appreciation of their fidelity to Christ, at times to the point of heroism, especially when in some regions they were deprived of priests for many years. Today, despite their small numbers and sometimes the distance from a parish centre, they devotedly take part in the life of their communities, courageously assuming their responsibilities in the Church's mission. May they never tire of "maintaining" indeed of making ever more deeply rooted in their mind, heart and life "an ecclesial consciousness, which is ever mindful of what it means to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ, participants in her mystery of communion and in her dynamism in mission and the apostolate" (Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici CL 64).

To enable the faithful, youth and adults, to acquire "an ever-clearer discovery of [their personal] vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfil [their] mission" (ibid., n. 58), they must be able to benefit from a sound catechesis on the truths of the faith and its concrete implications in their lives. Thus they will be helped in leading lives which combine the demands of their commitment to following Christ with their family and social activity. This formation, given and received in the Church, will enable sound Christian missionary communities to be formed.

During the difficult periods you have been through, the Christian family has played an essential role in preserving the faith. It is therefore indispensable for parents to pass on to their children what they themselves received. In basing family life on love, simplicity, concrete commitment and daily witness, the fundamental values which constitute it will be defended against the disintegration which all too often in our day threatens this most important institution of society. I therefore invite you to help families to "be "of one heart and soul" in faith, through the shared apostolic zeal that animates them, and through their shared commitment to works of service in the ecclesial and civil communities" (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio FC 50).

6. Ancient and noble civilizations developed in your countries. They were deeply marked by the great religious traditions of Asia, rich in wisdom and culture, particularly Buddhism which is the traditional religion of the majority of the region's inhabitants. Christianity itself has been there for more than four centuries.

In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, the Church looks with respect and esteem on your peoples - deeply rooted cultural and spiritual wealth, which is also part of humanity's heritage. While firmly believing that Christ is the one Saviour of the world, the Church seeks "to 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, also their social life and culture" (Declaration Nostra aetate NAE 2). In a fraternal attitude which respects the freedom of each individual, she would like to share with people of good will the message of hope and peace she has received from her Founder and, in mutual understanding, to collaborate with them in defending human life and dignity and promoting reconciliation, justice and harmony among all. Thus she intends to express her will to contribute, in her own way, to building a society of ever greater solidarity and more in conformity with the greatness of the human person.

The Gospel message cannot be considered a foreign culture to be implanted from the outside, for the saving plan of God embraces all individuals and all peoples. It is therefore important that the Gospel should be proclaimed, welcomed and deeply incarnated in the culture of your peoples. I am delighted with the recent publication of the first ecumenical translation of the Bible in the Khmer language, which enables numerous Christians in your region to receive the Word of God in their own tongue.

7. In recent years the Church, with the generous help of volunteers from many different countries, has been dedicated in various ways to helping refugees and persons in distress, regardless of their individual political choices. She has helped them to be reintegrated into their country and has cared for those who remained abroad. Today, wherever she is permitted to, she works courageously to rehabilitate persons whose lives have been threatened by human violence and those affected by the natural disasters which have struck the region. She also continues in her firm commitment to the definitive abolition of anti-personnel land-mines, those inhuman weapons which are still claiming so many victims in your countries.

Following her Lord's example, the Church intends, through her committed solidarity on behalf of human beings, to combat all that enslaves the human person and threatens his life, thereby participating with everyone in the nation's reconstrution. I warmly encourage you to continue your generous and disinterested work at the service of your countries - peoples, particularly the weakest. In this way you will help to promote the values of God's kingdom and become a sign of hope for many. We can also welcome with satisfaction today the efforts made towards greater freedom, which enables the Church to continue her commitment to the progress and wellbeing of all.

8. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, at the end of our meeting, I invite you once again to advance courageously towards the future. Among the peoples of Laos and Cambodia, may Catholics be signs of life-giving hope! I hope your nations will progress, with their leaders, in establishing an ever more fraternal and united society, in which lasting peace will enable everyone to find prosperity and to grow humanly and spiritually.

Assure each of your communities, as well as their members who still live far from their homeland, of the Pope's spiritual closeness! As we prepare to enter the third millennium, I invite them to place all their hope in Christ the Saviour and to let themselves be guided by him. I repeat to the young people of your communities that the Church is counting on their generosity and zeal.

I commend your faithful, whose great Marian devotion is frequently expressed in magnificent works of art, to the protection of the Mother of our Saviour, Mother of all human beings, and I warmly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.

Speeches 1999 - Friday, 5 February 1999