Speeches 1999 - Monday, 8 March 1999
In speaking of "martyrdom", we are reminded of a tragedy both horrible and wondrous: horrible because of the cruel, organized injustice which caused it; horrible too for the blood shed and the pain suffered; wondrous, however, because of the innocence which docilely surrendered to torture with no attempt at self-defence, happy to bear witness to the invincible truth of faith. Life dies, but faith triumphs and lives. So does martyrdom. It is a supreme act of love and fidelity to Christ, which becomes a witness and an example, a perennial message for humanity today and in the future.
This is also true of the martyrdom of the seven Augustinian Recollects and the parish priest of Motril. They died as they had lived: offering their lives each day for Christ and for their brothers and sisters. The accounts of their martyrdom are moving, especially that of the elderly Fr Vicente Soler, who had been Prior General of the order. In prison he comforted the other inmates, telling them that during his ministry he had been in worse circumstances and the Lord had always helped him. A hero of charity, he wanted to offer himself in place of the father of a family condemned to death; when the final moment came, he commended the fate of all the condemned to Our Lady "de la Cabeza", patroness of Motril.
May these newly beatified martyrs accompany the Church on her way as she works and suffers for the Gospel, and encourage a new springtime of Christian life to flourish in Spain!
3. I am pleased to welcome you who have come to participate in the beatification of Fr Nicolas Barré. Your presence shows your attachment to one who is a gift of God for the Church.
I extend a special greeting to you, the family of the Sisters of the Child Jesus. In your work of instructing children and underprivileged young people, your founder's charism is a call to you to participate in the human and spiritual growth of those entrusted to you. Fr Barré knew that no human wealth is possible without education, no love of God without an apprenticeship in generosity. His undertaking, which you continue with unselfishness, humility and abandonment to God, is a response to extreme human misery. By getting people on their feet, you join the efforts of all who are concerned to make God known. Dear sisters, I encourage you to remain faithful to your educational mission, whose source is found in the love and contemplation of Christ.
Following in the footsteps of Nicolas Barré, may you love the Lord, abandon yourselves to him without reserve and lead young people to God!
4. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, dear brothers and sisters!
I greet all of you who have come to Rome from the Diocese of Regensburg for the beatification of Anna Schäffer. I welcome Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, who as Archbishop of Munich and Freising is your Metropolitan and is representing his Brother Bishops. I also greet your diocesan Bishop Manfred Müller and the many priests and religious who are among the pilgrims.
The celebration of a beatification is always something uplifting. It is an anticipation of what awaits us at the end of time. You should nourish yourselves on this every day. I therefore urge you: take something home with you from this special day! The result of this celebration must be something more than a lovely memory of Rome and the blessed's feast-day in the liturgical calendar. Anna Schäffer remains among us with her message of life, which is a firm support to rely on when we experience sadness and cross dark valleys.
How many people today have to live with a diagnosis that, humanly speaking, leaves them without hope! How many people are confined to a sickbed, where they will always remain day after day! How many people suffer from the complicated stories life has written and from situations that have befallen them through misfortune or their own fault! Of course, there are people whom you are close to and whom you have brought with you in spirit on this pilgrimage. May Anna Schäffer, a woman from your land, encourage you, your families, friends and acquaintances to offer their prayers to God!
What this new blessed did from her sickbed on earth, she now accomplishes even more effectively in heaven: she ceaselessly speaks to God on our behalf. Thanks be to God for giving us such a powerful intercessor.
5. Dear brothers and sisters, the beatification of our heavenly patrons takes place during the Lenten journey which leads us to Easter. May their witness be an encouragement and incentive for everyone to take this path of conversion and reconciliation with a determined will, faithfully following in the footsteps of the blesseds whom we particularly honour today. May Mary, Queen of Saints and Martyrs, intercede for us.
I cordially bless each of you, your families and the ecclesial communities to which you belong.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. I am pleased to welcome you to the Apostolic Palace. Both the editorial staff and many readers have come together on pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Liboriusblatt.
When I see you gathered here before me, I am reminded of a large family. Today I think this comparison is particularly apt, since your publication sees itself precisely as a family paper. This is true not only of the topics that it covers, but also of your paper as a whole: whether writers or readers, whether producers or consumers - together you form in a way the Liboriusblatt family. I gladly take this opportunity to offer you my heartfelt congratulations on your 100-year family tradition. In a sometimes difficult age, you have succeeded in preserving and sharpening the Catholic identity of your paper. You have thus held an important place on the 20th-century press scene.
2. The grateful look at the past which characterizes a family gathering should not alter our view of the future. The contemporary horizon is marked by technological integration and globalization. In a matter of seconds the latest news flashes around the world. Information, which a short while ago reached only limited areas, now spreads across continents like wildfire. Unfortunately, a loss of quality is often the price of quantity. "Public opinion" is frequently moulded more by presentation and sensationalism than by news content. Sometimes it seems that the substance of a report is sacrificed to its market value as a commodity.
This is not only the fault of information producers and suppliers. Readers, viewers and listeners who make their own free, personal decisions about the media also bear a particular responsibility. Choosing what is really valuable and worth knowing is more difficult than ever. As readers of the Liboriusblatt, you have made a good choice. Your loyalty imposes an obligation on all who are responsible for publishing the paper. What the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated in this regard has lost none of its urgency: "If one really wants to form readers in a thoroughly Christian spirit, a Catholic press truly worthy of the name ought to be "supported" (Inter mirifica IM 14).
3. Dear brothers and sisters, the Liboriusblatt is truly worthy of the name and for this I express my appreciation. God be with your paper also as you cross the threshold of the third millennium. The diverse world of the press with its variety of opinions really calls for a Catholic voice. May it also be heard in the Liboriusblatt! With this wish I gladly give you my Apostolic Blessing.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am pleased to welcome you on the occasion of the study week organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the theme of the contribution of science to world development. I thank your President for his kind words and I extend warm greetings to you all, assuring you of my appreciation of the service which you give to the human community. You have chosen to reflect on the serious risks facing the planet as a whole and, at the same time, to consider possible steps for the safeguarding of creation on the eve of the third millennium.
2. In today's world, more and more people condemn the increasing harm caused by modern civilization to persons, living conditions, climate and agriculture. Certainly, there are elements linked to nature and its proper autonomy, against which it is difficult, if not impossible, to struggle. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that human behaviour is sometimes the cause of serious ecological imbalance, with particularly harmful and disastrous consequences in different countries and throughout the world. It suffices to mention armed conflict, the unbridled race for economic growth, inordinate use of resources, pollution of the atmosphere and water.
3. Man has the responsibility of limiting the risks to creation by paying particular attention to the natural environment, by suitable intervention and protection systems considered especially from the viewpoint of the common good and not only of viability or private profit. The sustainable development of peoples calls on everyone to place themselves "at the service of all, to help them to grasp this serious problem in all its dimensions, and to convince them that solidarity in action ... is a matter of urgency" (Populorum progressio PP 1). Unfortunately, economic and political considerations and arguments frequently override respect for the environment, making the life of peoples impossible or placing them at risk in some parts of the world. In order that the world may be habitable tomorrow and that everyone may find a place in it, I encourage public authorities and all men and women of good will to question themselves about their daily attitudes and decisions, which should not be dictated by an unlimited and unrestrained quest for material goods without regard for the surroundings in which we live, and which should be capable of responding to the basic needs of present and future generations. This attention constitutes an essential dimension of solidarity between generations.
4. The international community is called to cooperate with the different groups concerned, to ensure that the behaviour of people, very often inspired by exaggerated consumerism, does not disrupt economic networks, natural resources or the safeguarding of the balance of nature. "Mere accumulation of goods and services, even for the benefit of the majority, is not enough for the realization of human happiness" (Sollicitudo rei socialis SRS 28).
Similarly, the concentration of economic and political strength corresponding to special interests generates power centres which frequently act to the detriment of the interests of the international community. This situation leads to arbitrary decisions against which it is often difficult to react, thus exposing entire groups of people to serious harm. Parity and balance require research and decisions to be carried out with transparency, with the aim of serving the common good and the human community.
More than ever, it is important that a political, economic and legal order be established, based on clear moral principles, so that international relations will have as their objective the promotion of the common good, avoiding the manifestations of corruption which seriously damage individuals and peoples, and not tolerating the creation of unfair privileges and advantages which favour the richer countries and social groups, economic activities developed without regard for human rights, tax havens, and regions exempt from the rule of law. Such an order should have enough authority with national bodies to intervene on behalf of the most disadvantaged regions and to promote social programmes aimed solely at helping these regions to advance on the path of development. On this condition, man will truly be a brother of every man and a cooperator with God in the management of the created order.
5. All those who have a responsibility in public life are also called to develop professional and technological training, and to implement training periods, especially for young people, enabling them to take an active part in national growth. Likewise, it is essential to train managers for developing countries and to carry out technological transfers towards these countries. This promotion of social balance, founded on the sense of justice and effected in a spirit of wisdom, will ensure respect for people's dignity, enable them to live in peace and enjoy the goods produced by their land. Furthermore, a well-organized society will be able to respond more rapidly to catastrophes which occur, in order to give assistance to peoples, especially the poorest and consequently most deprived.
6. Your efforts to work out reliable projections constitute a precious contribution to ensuring that individuals, especially those who have the responsibility of guiding the destiny of peoples, fully assume their responsibilities to future generations, removing the threats arising from negligence, gravely mistaken economic or political decisions, or lack of long-term planning.
The strategies to be adopted, as well as the necessary national and international measures, should have as their primary aim the well-being of individuals and peoples, so that all countries will enjoy "a wider share in the benefits of civilization" (Populorum progressio PP 1). By means of an equitable sharing of the funds allocated by the international community and low-interest loans, it is important to promote initiatives based on impartial solidarity, capable of supporting correctly targeted activities, a concrete application of the best adapted technologies and research corresponding to the needs of local peoples, thus ensuring that the fruits of technological and scientific progress do not exclusively benefit major companies and the more advanced countries. I therefore invite the scientific community to continue its research to better discern the causes of the imbalances linked to nature and to man, in order to anticipate them and to propose replacement solutions for situations which become intolerable.
These initiatives should be based on a conception of the world which places man at the centre and respects the variety of historical and environmental conditions, making sustainable development possible, capable of responding to the needs of the entire population of the world. This is especially a question of having a long-term perspective in the use of natural resources, ensuring that present resources are not exhausted by irrational and uncontrolled intervention.
7. People sometimes have the impression that their individual decisions are without influence at the level of a country, the planet or the cosmos. This could give rise to a certain indifference due to the irresponsible behaviour of some individuals. However, we must remember that the Creator placed man in creation, commanding him to administer it for the good of all, making use of his intelligence and reason. From this, we can be assured that the slightest good act of a person has a mysterious impact on social transformation and shares in the growth of all. On the basis of the covenant with the Creator, to which man is called to turn continually, everyone is invited to a profound personal conversion in their relationship with others and with nature. This will enable a collective conversion to take place and lead to a life in harmony with creation. Prophetic actions, however slight, are an opportunity for a great number of people to ask themselves questions and to commit themselves to new paths. Consequently, it is necessary to ensure that everyone, particularly young people who desire a better social life in the midst of creation, is educated in human and moral values; it is also necessary to develop every person's social sense and attentiveness to others, so that all may realize what is at stake in their daily attitudes for the future of their country and the world.
8. At the end of our meeting, I ask the Lord to fill you with the spiritual strength needed to continue your efforts in a spirit of service to humanity and with a view to a better future on our planet. To all of you and to your loved ones I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. "To him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever!" (Ep 3,20-21).
Dear Pastors of the Church in Croatia, I am pleased to greet you and to offer you my fraternal welcome with the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles. You have come on your ad limina visit to reaffirm your communion with the Successor of Peter, "perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the Bishops and of the whole company of the faithful" (Lumen gentium LG 23).
Meeting you during these days in Rome brings back the unforgettable memory of the two Pastoral Visits God granted me to make to your beloved homeland in September 1994 and last October. These were providential occasions during which I had the joy of experiencing the Croatian people's faith. Following the mandate entrusted to me by the Lord, I strengthened these brothers and sisters in the faith, encouraged them in hope, so that their love might be more intense and deep. In a certain sense, today's meeting completes those apostolic journeys which I made as a "Pilgrim of the Gospel".
I thank Metropolitan Archbishop Josip Bozanic of Zagreb for the cordial words which, as President of your Episcopal Conference, he offered me in the name of all, expressing the expectations and hopes which animate the particular Churches of which you have been made true and authentic teachers and pontiffs (cf. Lumen gentium LG 20 Christus Dominus CD 2) and dispensers of grace (cf. Lumen gentium LG 26).
I am particularly pleased to be able to greet the Pastors of Poega and Varadin, two recently created Dioceses, as well as the Military Ordinary, who have come on an ad limina visit for the first time. This is an eloquent sign of the Church's growth in Croatia and of her apostolic and missionary vitality.
At this time I would also like to mention venerable Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, Archbishop emeritus of Zagreb, whom I thank for all he has done for the Church in Croatia and for what he continues to do to teach the new generations about the great figure of his predecessor, Bl. Alojzije Stepinac.
2. The meetings I have had with each of you in the past few days have given me an idea of the plans and expectations, difficulties and potential, joys and anxieties that mark your daily ministry. As I thank the Lord for the good you are doing in your Dioceses, I would like to assure you of my constant spiritual closeness. Beloved and venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, continue on the path you have taken to build up God's kingdom in your land, which after some particularly difficult times is now experiencing a new and promising springtime of religion.
When I came to your country last year, I wished to recall at our first meeting that "it is fundamentally important that the Croatian people remain faithful to their Christian roots, while at the same time remaining open to the demands of the present which, if it has its difficult problems, offers as well consoling reasons for hope". In particular, I added: "I trust especially that Christians will give a decisive impulse to the new evangelization, offering in all generosity their witness to Christ the Lord, Redeemeer of man" (Arrival speech in Zagreb, 2 October 1998; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 7 October 1998, p. 3). Today I renew this fervent plea: consider evangelization an urgent pastoral priority! Renewed in its forms and adapted to new needs, it must nevertheless continue to uphold the authentic and unchanging message of the Gospel without compromise. No individual, family or social milieu should be excluded from the Gospel proclamation, because the "Good News" must reach and penetrate every person's life, wherever he lives and works, suffers and rejoices.
Evangelization is a task for all the members of God's People and this is why, as I had the occasion to emphasize last year in Split, "the Church in Croatia needs to strengthen communion between all its different parts, in order to attain the goals which beckon in the present climate of freedom and democracy" (Message to the Croatian Bishops, 4 October; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 14 October 1998, p. 7). In this way she will be able to bear great witness of unity in Christ to everyone and to meet old and new challenges, by responding to the expectations of all who, moved by the Holy Spirit, search for the truth and want to give full meaning to their lives.
Make it your priority, venerable Brothers, to help all the faithful answer the universal call to holiness. To do this, never tire of pointing out to those entrusted to your apostolic care the pure, inexhaustible sources of grace, that is, the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Penance. Strengthened by the gifts of grace, may every Christian community, in communion with its Pastors, be seen as a joyous family of God, where priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful grow together in fidelity and in love for Christ and for their brethren
3. There is another reason which makes the proclamation of the Gospel to our contemporaries even more urgent: the preparation for the forthcoming Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In this perspective, it is necessary to identify new paths and seek new opportunities for preaching the Gospel message and for bearing Christian witness, by making the most of the great religious, spiritual, human and cultural resources of God's People. Only in this way will believers be able to offer society their own specific contribution towards authentic development and harmonious material and spiritual growth.
Various forms of pastoral activity in the parish and the Diocese, as well as in the Ecclesiastical Provinces and the Episcopal Conference, will give a further impetus to the new evangelization. In this regard they are a significant reference- point for the celebrations commemorating the 13 centuries of the Croatian people's adherence to Christianity, celebrations which began in Solin in 1975 and ended in Marija Bistrica in 1984. How can one not mention the happy initiative, started in that period, of daily prayer which in the evening hour gathers Croatian Catholics in a harmonious communion of praise and thanksgiving for the gift of faith and prayer for present and future needs? The zeal, discernment and far-sightedness of the Pastors of that time certainly did not lack the Holy Spirit's inspiration and impulse. I am sure that you too will continue to walk on this path, listening to what the Spirit says today to the Churches the Lord has entrusted to your care (cf. Rv Ap 2,7).
4. May you never lack apostolic zeal and the Gospel way of thinking and acting. You are called to be teachers of faith, heralds of hope, witnesses of charity. May concern for priestly vocations and those of special consecration, as well as for the continuing religious formation of the lay faithful, be at the centre of your thoughts.
In my experience as a Pastor, I have seen proof of how important it is for seminaries and places of formation in general to be the "apple of the Bishop's eye". Fostering vocations, however, is a duty that concerns the whole Christian community (cf. Optatam totius OT 2). Indeed, vocations arise within the Christian community and it is here that they are strengthened. In time, it will be the same Christian community which will enjoy the fruits of its commitment to vocations.
The best way to deal with the social and spiritual crisis which has also involved your country is to strengthen the religious sense of life by helping Christian families to be an environment and school where the perennial human and Gospel values are practised and passed on. Young people need eloquent examples that help them not to lose the ideals which transcend the immediate and the contingent; they need a witness of life that is permeated by faith, in order to open themselves to broader and more demanding horizons. How important is the witness given by Bishops, priests and consecrated persons who are generously conformed to Jesus Christ and are completely dedicated to the disinterested service of God and neighbour!
Dear Brothers, help the young generations to follow faithfully the call God gives to each person, in the Church and in society. In particular, provide candidates for the priesthood with a formation adapted to the ministry which will be entrusted to them. Take fraternal care of priests, your closest co-workers. They are not employees acting in the Church's name, but servants and preachers of the Gospel, ministers of God's grace. Made to share in Christ's priesthood and united with the Bishop in their ministry, they are sent to the individual ecclesial communities to assist the Bishop in caring for the entire People of God. If they are to fulfil their tasks properly, their life must be rooted in Christ, a blameless example of holiness and prayer, filled with a deep sense of the Church. Dear Brothers, see that together with you they are always and everywhere examples to the flock entrusted to your pastoral care (cf. 2Tm 4,12 1P 5,3).
5. The Church has always had a particular esteem for vocations and the work of consecrated persons, since they are a great spiritual resource that God offers his people. Their charisms are given for the growth and mission of the Church as well as for their personal sanctification, since the special gifts of the Spirit "directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they are to her building up, to the good of men and to the needs of the world" (CEC 799). Therefore, as I had the occasion to recall: "It is also the Bishop's task to support men and women religious in their total dedication to the Lord, encouraging them to live generously the charism of the institute to which they belong and to work always in communion with the particular and universal Church" (Message to the Croatian Bishops, 4 October 1998; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 14 October 1998, p. 7).
If the pastoral governance of parishes is primarily the diocesan clergy's responsibility, nevertheless consecrated persons have the mission of bearing witness to the real harmony of the various charisms that serve the good of the Church. True charisms build up Christ's Mystical Body in charity, obedience and the unconditioned following of the Divine Master. Venerable Brothers, support men and women religious with your prayer, your affection and your help, so that they will always be faithful to their vocation. With their gifts and in communion with you, they will be able to make an effective contribution to pastoral work by putting their energies at the service of the evangelization of all society.
6. All our energies need to be gathered for the new evangelization. In this last part of the century, we see the material and moral ruins left by so many ideologies: in the last century we have seen the collapse of long and oppressive dictatorships. Even your country, after experiencing a period of trial, now enjoys a time of peace and freedom. However, you must be on guard that the path of legitimate freedom with respect for all human rights is taken. Your role as Pastors, always dedicated to the true good of your flock, is to call constant attention to the perennial principles and unchanging values established by the Creator, on which the dignity of every person and every nation is based.
To be able to address and resolve in a positive way the problems facing society and the Church in Croatia, which have deep roots in history, it is necessary to have a spirit of charity, patient endurance and shrewd far-sightedness. Only in this way will the saplings of freedom and democracy grow and become sturdy trees. Dear Pastors of the beloved Church in Croatia, together with your priests, teach the faithful to be the light and salt of society (cf. Mt Mt 5,13-14). Christians in turn will be able to help give "a new face to their country " by taking on public duties, fulfilling them as true believers in Christ and promoting the common good with justice and a spirit of solidarity (cf. Gaudium et spes, GS 43,75). On your part, may you offer them the ongoing religious formation that will help them live and work in harmony with the faith they profess.
Taking your inspiration from the parable of the weeds and the wheat (cf. Mt Mt 13,24-30), help them so that constructive dialogue and edifying love will always prevail over destructive criticism. A consistent commitment is necessary always and everywhere, so that faith can work through love (cf. Gal Ga 5,6), and its benefits will reach everyone, particularly the poor and marginalized.
The Second Vatican Council recalls that Christians, "holding loyally to the Gospel, enriched by its resources and joining forces with all who love and practise justice, have shouldered a weighty task here on earth and they must render an account of it to him who will judge all men on the last day. Not everyone who says: "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of the Father, and who vigorously put their hands to the work" (Gaudium et spes GS 93).
The Church and the political community are independent in their own spheres, but both are devoted to serving the same human beings (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 76). Sound and fruitful collaboration between Church and State for the good of all the country's citizens is certainly fostered by mutual respect and reciprocal understanding, which have been increased by the four recent accords signed by the Holy See and the Republic of Croatia.
7. "Stand firm in the Lord" (Ph 4,1). "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word" (2Th 2,16-17). Dear Brothers, understand how the Apostle's words are addressed to you and from them draw comfort in order to persevere in generously fulfilling your mission.
May the Holy Mother of God, so beloved and venerated in your lands, accompany your apostolic efforts and all your projects in the Church's service with her powerful intercession and implore an abundance of grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ for you and for your Dioceses.
With these sentiments, I am pleased once again to give my Apostolic Blessing to you, to your priests and to your religious, as well as to all the lay faithful in your homeland and abroad.
1. Your Eminence, prelates and officials of the Apostolic Penitentiary, confessors of the Patriarchal Basilicas of the city, young priests and candidates for the priesthood who have taken the course on the internal forum organized again this year by the Apostolic Penitentiary, I welcome you affectionately to this traditional audience, which is particularly dear to me.
As I thank Cardinal William Wakefield Baum for the sentiments he has expressed in his address, I would like to emphasize the significance of this meeting, which in a way tangibly reaffirms the connection between the priest's mission of reconciliation as a minister of the sacrament of Penance and the See of Peter. Was it not to Peter and his successors that Christ entrusted in universal terms the power, duty, responsibility and, at the same time, the charism - which is extended to my Brothers in the Episcopate and to priests, their co-workers - of freeing souls from the power of evil, that is, from sin and the devil?
Our meeting, shortly before the Easter celebration of our Redemption and the Jubilee Year, acquires the symbolic value of communion lived in the daily effort to serve others and their eternal salvation. Given this universal significance, as I speak to you who are gathered here in the Pope's residence, I see present in spirit all the priests of the Holy Catholic Church, wherever they live and work, and I affectionately address my message to them all.
2. In the harmonious variety of its elements and goals, the Jubilee Year is centred above all on conversion of heart, metanoia, with which Jesus begins his public preaching in the Gospel (cf. Mk Mc 1,15). Already in the Old Testament, salvation and life are promised to those who repent: "Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?" (Ez 18,23). The Great Jubilee, now close at hand, commemorates the end of the second millennium since the birth of Jesus, who at the moment of his unjust condemnation said to Pilate: "For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (Jn 18,37). The truth to which Jesus bore witness is that he came to save the world, otherwise destined to be lost: "For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost" (Lc 19,10).
In the economy of the New Testament, the Lord wanted the Church to be a universal sacrament of salvation. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council teaches that "the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament - a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God" (Lumen gentium LG 1). It is God's will that the forgiveness of sins and the return to divine friendship should be mediated by the Church's action: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16,19), Jesus solemnly said to Simon Peter, and in him to the Supreme Pontiffs, his successors. He also entrusted the same task to his Apostles and, in them, to the Bishops, their successors: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 18,18). On the evening of the very day of the Resurrection, Jesus would make this power effective by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20,23). Because of this mandate, the Apostles and their successors in priestly charity would henceforth be able to say with humility and truth: "I absolve you from your sins".
I am fully confident that the Holy Year will be, as it should be, an extraordinarily effective chapter in the history of salvation. In Jesus Christ it finds its culmination and ultimate meaning, for in him we all receive "grace upon grace" and are reconciled with the Father (cf. Bull Incarnationis mysterium, n. 1). I therefore trust and pray that through the generous service of priest confessors, the Jubilee Year will be an occasion for the devout and supernaturally serene reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation.
3. In this regard, you certainly know the in-depth analysis of this fundamental theme in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.Nevertheless, I would like to remind you at this meeting of several truly essential points, which you will certainly teach the faithful entrusted to your pastoral care.
- By institution of our Lord Jesus Christ, as explictly seen in the passage quoted above from the Gospel according to John, sacramental confession is necessary to obtain the forgiveness of mortal sins committed after Baptism. However, if a sinner, touched by the grace of the Holy Spirit, is sorry for his sins out of supernatural love, that is, because they are an offence against God, the Supreme Good, he immediately receives the forgiveness of his sins, even if they are mortal, as long as he has the intention to confess them sacramentally whenever, within a reasonable period of time, he is able.
- The same resolution should be made by a penitent who, having committed serious sins, receives general absolution without prior individual confession of his own sins to the confessor: this intention is so necessary that, should it be lacking, the absolution would be invalid, as is said in can. 962, §1 of the Code of Canon Law and can. 721, §1 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.
- Venial sins can also be forgiven outside sacramental confession, but certainly it is extremely beneficial to confess them sacramentally. Indeed, presupposing the proper dispositions, not only is the sin forgiven, but the special help of the sacramental grace is received to avoid it in the future. It is helpful here to reaffirm the right of the faithful - and the obligation of the priest confessor corresponding to their right - to confess and to receive sacramental absolution even for venial sins. It should not be forgotten that the socalled confession of devotion was the school which formed the great saints.
- For the Eucharist to be received licitly and fruitfully, it must be preceded by sacramental confession when one is aware of having committed a mortal sin. In fact, the Eucharist is the source of all grace, since it is the re-presentation of the saving sacrifice of Calvary; as a sacramental reality, however, it is not directly ordained for the forgiveness of mortal sins: this is clearly and unequivocally taught by the Council of Trent (Session 13, chap. 7 and the relative canon, DS 1647 and 1655), giving a disciplinary and juridical form, so to speak, to the word of God itself: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself" (1Co 11,27-28).
4. Thanks to the sacrament of Penance, then, the Jubilee Year should be a special year of great forgiveness and full reconciliation. But God, to whom we are grateful for having reconciled us, or with whom we hope to be reconciled, is our Father: my Father, the Father of all believers, the Father of all human beings. Therefore, reconciliation with God requires and entails reconciliation with our brothers and sisters, without which God's forgiveness is not received, as Jesus taught us in the perfect prayer of the Our Father: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". The sacrament of Penance presupposes and should foster a generous noble and active fraternal love.
Elevating this attitude to its greatest perfection, the Jubilee Year invites us to profound solidarity in a "marvellous exchange of spiritual gifts, in virtue of which the holiness of one benefits others in a way far exceeding the harm which the sin of one has inflicted upon others. There are people who leave in their wake a surfeit of love, of suffering borne well, of purity and truth, which involves and sustains others. This is the reality of "vicariousness", upon which the entire mystery of Christ is founded" (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 10).
Reconciled through the sacrament of Penance and thus assimilated to Christ the Lord and Redeemer, we must let him - draw us into his saving work and, in particular, into his Passion. This is said in the famous passage of the Letter to the Colossians: "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church" (Col 1,24) (ibid., n. 10).
5. In the sacrament of Penance, once the divisions caused by sin are eliminated, the unity of the Church is strengthened, which has one of its highest expressions in the Jubilee: here too we can see the connatural bond between the Jubilee and the sacrament of Forgiveness.
God's mercy and the Church's mediation also offer a precious corollary to the sacramental forgiveness of sin with the gift of the remission of its temporal punishment through the indulgence. I pointed this out with regard to the Jubilee Year in the Bull of Indiction: "Reconciliation with God does not mean that there are no enduring consequences of sin from which we must be purified. It is precisely in this context that the indulgence becomes important, since it is an expression of the "total gift of the mercy of God"" (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 9).
Jesus was born, rather, he was conceived Priest and Victim in his Mother's womb, as the Holy Spirit teaches us in the Letter to the Hebrews (cf. 10:5-7), applying Psalm 40:7-9 expressly to Jesus: "Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, "Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart"". The Jubilee of the Year 2000 recalls to our faith, to our hope, to our love that salvation comes from the birth of the Eternal Priest, the Victim of the sacrifice to which he freely offered himself.
Through the intercession of Blessed Mary, who gave the Word of God his Humanity as priest and victim, may we relive his saving mission, even in our littleness and poverty, with personal holiness and in exercising the ministry of Forgiveness, and, as God's instruments, may we restore to sinners grace, joy of heart and the wedding garment which allows entry into eternal life.
Everything I have recalled in this conversation with you is expressed, in a short and marvellous synthesis, in the ritual formula of sacramental absolution: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace".
May my Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly impart to you, be an assurance of this peace for you and for all whom the Lord has entrusted or will entrust to your ministry.
Speeches 1999 - Monday, 8 March 1999