Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I am pleased to receive you today, on the occasion of your ad limina visit, during which you have once again had the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and to express your communion with the Bishop of Rome and the universal Church. All this will help you to renew your sense of mission in leading the ecclesial community in the Dominican Republic, which I have had the joy of visiting three times and remember very fondly.
I thank Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, Archbishop of Santo Domingo and President of the Dominican Episcopal Conference, for his kind words on behalf of you all, expressing your affection and at the same time sharing with me the concerns and hopes of the Church in your country, as well as the desires and anxieties that are on your mind.
When you return to your Dioceses, please convey the Pope's affectionate greetings to your priests, religious and lay faithful, whom I remember in my prayer that they may grow constantly in their faith in Christ and in their commitment to the new evangelization.
2. The Church in your nation has marked some important moments in recent years in which two new Dioceses, Puerto Plata and San Pedro de Macorís, were created. She has also held the First Dominican Council, which has made a major contribution to increasing among you, the Bishops, a communion and sharing of pastoral concern. This and other initiatives, such as the National Pastoral Plan, are a sign of unity and at the same time are required by the current circumstances in which there seems to be an ever greater need "to pool resources and aspirations in order to promote both the common good and the good of individual Churches" (Christus Dominus, CD 36).
In the effort to revitalize Christian life among your people, you cannot forget the crucial role of priests, your co-workers in proclaiming the Gospel, who carry out their ministry with dedication and generosity, sometimes in circumstances which are far from easy. You should show them, especially those most lonely or in greatest need, constant concern and closeness, so that they can all live a worthy and holy life in conformity with their vocation and show themselves to be men of God fully consecrated to the service of the Gospel, without yielding to the seductions of the world (cf. Eph Ep 4,22).
In addition, the pastoral care of vocations is still urgently necessary, however comforting the increase in vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life in recent years may be, because the ecclesial community is suffering from a shortage of priests. This pastoral care should always be based on the example given by priests and on their ability to communicate enthusiasm to young people by their total commitment to Christ and the Gospel, as well as on fostering in families an attitude of generosity and perseverance towards the Lord's call.
3. The consecrated life deserves special mention. Not only do your Dioceses receive the riches of the respective institutes' charisms, but also incalculable and in many cases vital help from their commitment, according to their specific identity, in the various apostolates of education, health care and social assistance. In this regard, I would like to recall once again how the history of the evangelization of America is interwoven with the witness of so many consecrated persons who proclaimed the Gospel and defended the rights of the indigenous peoples so that they would fully feel they were children of God. However, the contribution of the consecrated life to building up the Church should not be measured on its activities or external effectiveness alone. For this reason, together with the other forms of consecration, the contemplative life must also be held in ever higher esteem and promoted by diocesan Bishops, priests and faithful, so that consecrated persons can "be fully integrated in the particular Church to which they belong, fostering communion and mutual collaboration" (Ecclesia in America, ).
4. In your quinquennial reports you have stressed the need to have well-formed adult lay people who are authentic Gospel witnesses. In your nation, which is currently undergoing a period of renewal and of profound changes which affect the various sectors of society, it is urgently necessary to be able to rely on the witness and activity of well-formed lay people who are ready to be involved in their particular fields, such as the family, work, culture or politics.
Therefore a continual and systematic formation is first required, which will make them aware of their dignity as baptized persons and of the commitment this entails, and give them a thorough knowledge of the teaching of the Church and of her Magisterium. Indeed, it is only with sound ethical principles that one can promote moral values, especially in a society where a large percentage of the population lives in conditions of extreme poverty, with a high rate of unemployment especially among young people, an increase in violence and corruption almost as a way of life - all of which are factors whose direct impact is moral degradation and phenomena such as single teenage mothers or the employment and exploitation of minors.
5. One of the great challenges confronting your society is the weakening of the family institution, which is leading to a decrease in religious marriages and a consequent increase in civil marriages, to numerous divorces and to the spread of abortion and a contraceptive mentality. Without being resigned to habits that are sometimes widespread, you must vigorously respond to this situation with more effective catechesis and instruction, which will inculcate the Christian ideal of faithful and indissoluble conjugal communion, a true way of holiness and open to procreation. In this task parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, to whom, as a "domestic church", they also pass on the great gift of faith.
In this regard we must also remember the need to respect the inalienable dignity of women, who have an irreplaceable role in the family, in the Church and in society. Indeed, it is sad to note that "women still meet forms of discrimination" (ibid., n. 45), especially when they are the frequent victims of sexual abuse and male domination. This is why public institutions must be made aware, so that they they can "better support family life based on marriage, better protect motherhood and show greater respect for the dignity of all women" (ibid.).
6. The family situation has a decisive influence on the lifestyle of young people, thus conditioning the future of the Church and of society. Many young people are born in irregular situations and grow up without knowing a father figure, thus leading to serious educational problems which have repercussions on their personal maturity. They therefore need special support which will help them in their search for meaning in life and open horizons of hope that will enable them to overcome their experiences of frustration and free them from its consequences, such as resentment and delinquency. This is a task for everyone, in which young people must also be personally involved, making themselves apostles to their neediest contemporaries.
It is thus indispensable to promote a youth ministry that includes all categories of young people without any discrimination, so that the younger generation can be led to a personal encounter with the living Christ, on whom the true hope of a future of greater communion and solidarity is based. Rather than isolated actions, a formation process must be sought that is "constant and active, capable of helping them to find their place in the Church and in the world" (ibid., n. 47), and which therefore invites them to be courageous, faithful to their commitments, witnesses to their faith and leading players in the proclamation of the Gospel.
7. Within your country you also note that "the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time" (Evangelii nuntiandi, EN 20) and that certain ideologies or currents of thought, in one way or another, deny God or encourage people to distance themselves from him, relativizing moral values. In any case they tend to create an insurmountable gap between the religious dimension and other aspects of human life. For this reason, the Church feels it a pressing duty in her work of evangelization not only to defend the truth about man, about his primacy over society and his openness to transcendence, but also to speak and teach in such a way that "the Gospel is proclaimed in the language and in the culture of its hearers" (Ecclesia in America, ).
At the same time, in carrying out this task we must avoid the risk that an excessive attachment to certain cultures and traditions will ultimately relativize the Christian message or empty it of meaning. For "it must not be forgotten that the paschal mystery of Christ, the supreme manifestation of the infinite God within the finitude of history, is the only valid point of reference for all of humanity on its pilgrimage in search of authentic unity and peace" (ibid., n. 70).
8. As the opening of the Holy Door which will inaugurate the Great Jubilee is now so close, I encourage you, dear Brother Bishops, together with the entire pilgrim Church in the Dominican Republic, to see that this Year of Grace be a powerful impulse of spiritual renewal for both individuals and communities. I would also like the experience of the First Dominican Council with its pastoral measures and norms to be for each and every one of your Dioceses an opportunity for strengthening faith, arousing hope and spreading boundless love.
I place all these hopes and pastoral projects at the feet of Our Lady of Altagracia, patroness of the Dominican Republic, that she may always accompany and protect all her sons and daughters with her motherly love in an atmosphere of solidarity and fraternal harmony, as I affectionately impart to them my Apostolic Blessing.
Saturday 11 December 1999
1. "Like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house" (1P 2,5).
It would be difficult to find a more eloquent visual commentary on this biblical image than the Sistine Chapel, whose full splendour we can enjoy today thanks to the recently completed restoration. Our joy is shared by the faithful throughout the world, who not only cherish this place because of the masterpieces it contains, but also for the role it plays in the Church's life. Indeed, it is here - I recall with deep feeling - that the Successor of Peter is elected.
Five years ago, on 8 April 1994, I was able to comment on the works of Michelangelo which, with the restoration of their original colours, undoubtedly give this hall its tone and, in a certain sense, absorb it, such is their magnificence. They extend to the ultimate horizon of Christian theology, pointing to the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the final judgement, the mystery of creation and of history, making everything converge on Christ, the Saviour and Judge of the world.
Today, however, we are asked to turn our gaze to a humbler, but important cycle of murals which gave the Sistine Chapel, commissioned by Sixtus IV, its original appearance. Great Florentine and Umbrian artists contributed to these frescos, from Perugino to Botticelli, from Pinturicchio to Ghirlandaio, from Rosselli to Signorelli. They were inspired by a precise plan and created a unified work, which is well integrated into the architectural and pictorial whole that was gradually developed, making it unusually powerful and evocative.
I am pleased to be able to return it today to new aesthetic enjoyment. I warmly thank Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, President of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, Dr Francesco Buranelli and all those responsible for the General Administration of the Pontifical Monuments, Museums and Galleries, the workers, and all who in their various capacities deserve praise for this latest artistic restoration.
2. Looking over the double series of murals, it is not hard to grasp their symmetry, which is also indicated by the "titles" above them. On one side we see the image of Moses, while the other is dominated by Christ. The iconography is a sort of lectio divina in which, even prior to the individual biblical episodes, the unity of Scripture, of the Old and New Testaments, emerges in the events of salvation history from the Exodus to the fullness of revelation in Christ.
The parallelism effectively illustrates the hermeneutic principle formulated by St Augustine: "Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet, Vetus in Novo patet" (cf. Quaest. in Hept. 2, 73). And, in fact, the very arrangement of the frescoes, whether seen in their progressive historical order or in their specific thematic relationships, show that everything revolves around Christ. His Baptism, wonderfully depicted by Perugino, expresses the fullness of what the Mosaic circumcision merely foreshadowed. Botticelli set the temptations that Christ overcame in symmetry with the trials endured by Moses. The assembly of the new people, expressed by Ghirlandaio in the calling of the first Apostles by the Lake of Gennesaret, corresponds to the gathering of the ancient people depicted against the dramatic background of the crossing of the Red Sea. Christ, portrayed by Roselli in the solemnity of his sermon on the mount, appears, in comparison to Moses, as the new legislator who has come not to abolish the law but to fulfil it (cf. Mt Mt 5,17). Again, the frescoes show Christ conferring the keys and at the Last Supper, which are also depicted in corresponding scenes from the Old Testament.
3. These decorations are a hymn to Christ. Everything leads to him. Everything finds its fullness in him. However, it is important to realize that he is never alone in these paintings: like Moses, he is surrounded by the faces of men and women, the elderly and children. They are the pilgrim People of God; they are the Church, the "spiritual building" made of living stones that adhere to Christ, "that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious" (1P 2,4).
One accent however distinguishes the whole theological and iconographical design, that is, the attention shown to the leaders of this pilgrim people. If for the Old Testament our gaze is focused on Moses, accompanied by the priest Aaron in Botticelli's animated painting which is meant to show his vainly challenged authority, for the New Testament the absolute centrality of Christ is not obscured but highlighted by the role which he himself assigns to the Apostles and especially to Peter.
This is particularly apparent in Perugino's masterpiece, centred on the conferral of the keys. In this painting, through the symbol of the enormous key, the artist stresses the breadth of authority conferred on the first of the Apostles. On the other hand, as if to balance this, Peter's face is depicted with a moving expression of humility as he receives the symbol of his ministry, on his knees and almost drawing back from his Master. One could describe him as a Peter who is crouched in his smallness, taken aback by such immense trust, and eager, as it were, to disappear so that only the Master will remain visible in his person. His rapt expression prompts us to imagine on his lips not only the confession of Caesarea Philippi - "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16,16) - but also the declaration of love he made to the risen Christ after the sorrowful experience of his denial: "You know that I love you" (Jn 21,15). It is the face of one who is well aware of being a sinner (cf. Lk Lc 5,8) and is in constant need of repentance if he is to strengthen his brethren (cf. Lk Lc 22,31). It is a face which expresses his total dependence on the Saviour's eyes and lips, thus wonderfully portraying the meaning of the universal service of Peter, placed in the Church, with the Apostles of whom he is the head, visibly to represent Christ, the "great Shepherd of the sheep" (He 13,20), ever present among his people.
4. Beginning with this original cycle, then, the art in the chapel is presented as a mature fruit of biblical spirituality. It is an art which has the ability - as is typical of authentic sacred art - "to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes ... without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery" (Letter to Artists, n. 12).
We therefore have good reason to rejoice if today so significant an expression of 15th-century art can once again shine with the brilliance of its original colours, recovered by diligent and modern restoration techniques. It continues to communicate the vibrance of the mystery in a language that never ages because it embraces all that is universal in man.
My hope, recently expressed also in the Letter to Artists (cf. n. 10), is that, in the wake of what has been demonstrated in this "shrine", unique in all the world, the fruitful alliance of faith and art will be re-established in our time so that the "beautiful", the epiphany of God's supreme beauty, can illuminate the horizon of the dawning millennium.
As I thank the Lord who has given me the opportunity to preside at today's celebration in which this jewel of art is presented perfectly restored to the world, I invoke God's constant protection on you, on those who work in the Vatican Museums and on the countless visitors who continually come here from all over the world to admire these masterpieces.
My Blessing to all.
Dear Bishops of the Armenian Catholic Church,
Brothers and Sisters!
1. With heartfelt affection I welcome you to this nurturing city, sanctified by the blood of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the See of that Bishop who is himself built upon the rock which is the Church's foundation and whose mandate is to confirm his brethren in the faith.
A special welcome in the holy kiss of brotherhood to you, venerable Brother Nerses Bedros XIX. A few days after your election as Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenian Catholics, after receiving ecclesiastical communion from me, you have come here as a joyful sign and expression of your communion and that of your Church with the Successor of Peter. This event celebrates the goodness of the Lord who has so loved us that he has granted us to share fully in the same faith.
We have shown this gratitude in the highest and most solemn way given to Christians: by concelebrating the same Eucharist and exchanging the holy gifts of the Body and Blood of the Lord, our common hope.
I am particularly grateful for your affectionate words to me. As you did in your first Pastoral Letter, in your address today you also cited the holy Armenian doctor Nerses the Gracious, whose name you have taken as you accept your new responsibility as father and head of the Armenian Catholic Church, together with the name of Peter which, in accordance with a beautiful and significant tradition of love for this Apostolic See, is taken by all Armenian Catholic Patriarchs.
In addition to the depth of his teaching and the edifying witness of his life, St Nerses is particularly dear to me for the great ecumenical openness which prompted him to love and appreciate contact with the other Christian Churches and to long ardently for the re-establishment of full communion between them.
Your Beatitude, I hope that you will follow in the footsteps of the man who has become your patron saint and that you will untiringly promote communion, first of all in your Church, then in the wonderful symphony of catholicity and, lastly, in the ardently desired path to full communion with the beloved brethren of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which you mentioned in your greeting and to which I also send the kiss of peace and my best wishes as the feast of Christmas approaches.
2. You are taking up your sensitive responsibility at a time of special grace, but also of considerable difficulty. Great joy is granted to us on the eve of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a time of grace which reveals to faith the true meaning of history and of humanity's journey towards the Lord who comes. This rejoicing is increased by the fact that in 2001 the people of Armenia will celebrate the 1,700th anniversary of their conversion to Christianity. The history of Armenians would be truly incomprehensible if one failed to consider this event, so deeply etched in their life and its events, particularly through the heroic witness of martyrdom. As you wrote: "To understand our history well, let us read it with Christian eyes.... Every person seeks happiness, but there is no true happiness without the Light, without Christ" (Pastoral Letter, n. 6).
Joy, yes, but joy still marked by the difficulties in which the Armenian people find themselves, especially in their mother country which has recently been tormented by tragic events. Your people can be assured of the Pope's affection, closeness and prayer.
3. Your ministry asks of you vibrant spiritual strength. The absorbing task of reorganizing the Armenian Catholic Church awaits you; its starting-point consists in confirming and reinforcing her faith. There is no true renewal or authentic progress except in faith, a faith which must first be known, deepened and celebrated. The preaching of St Gregory the Illuminator is inscribed in your hearts: it should be brought to life, made conscious and witnessed to. In this way your people's holiness will not only be something to boast of, as if it belonged to the past, but a source of commitment in the present to giving a consistent witness of life. Our world, its illusions and its false gods call for a new "martyrdom": that of consistency, and there is no consistency without an ever deeper assimilation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This will be achieved through a return of hearts and minds to Scripture, to your liturgy, to your Fathers who have so enriched the Christian patrimony.
This is primarily your duty, Most Blessed Brother. You are already known and esteemed for conscientious commitment to your work and strongly supported by your abandonment to God's will; it is also a duty of the Synod over which you preside. An important way to celebrate the events of salvation in the time that awaits us is to make the Synod of Bishops the true driving force of communion in ecclesial faith and life. For this to happen, a great sense of responsibility is asked of everyone and an awareness that the good of the Church extends far beyond personal horizons and even those of each pastoral context, however important: it is the good of the people, the good of the Church, and must be able to operate within the broad horizons that it requires.
People need the tender concern of their Pastors. Each Bishop must feel strongly committed to the expectations of the sheep of his flock. The holy doctor Nerses has Christ the Lord say of the episcopal ministry: "As I did not devote myself to pleasures but took up the priesthood for the human race, enduring the cross and death, so you too must fight to the death for the sheep of your fold, which I purchased with my blood" (Encyclical Letter, Chapter IV).
4. Priests will be the principal object of your care: they ask for help in truly and concretely finding the root and meaning of their ministry in Christ, and not in social status or personal prestige. In today's world boasting of one's own position in the Church, in addition to openly contradicting the Lord's command, is considered by the faithful themselves as a useless form of separation and pastoral insensitivity. What do we, men of the Church, have to boast about, knowing our sin and our weakness? We will boast of one thing only: the Cross of Christ, which has conquered death.
To priests, whom he calls the "midwives of God's children" (ibid., Chapter V), the holy Patriarch Nerses gives two valuable instructions: first of all, to grow in the knowledge of God and his word. He very practically asks them not to run "absent-mindedly through the mystical words of the prayer you are offering, as water runs through a pipe ... but always with the greatest attention, and if possible, with tears and great fear, as if you were drawing them at that very moment from your heart and mind" (ibid.).
Renewing one's own response to Christ also means working, in prayer and study, to gain a deeper understanding of one's vocation. To do this, it will be important to learn diligently and to have constant recourse to those treasures of spirituality of the Armenian tradition, because one understands God better when one approaches his words with the language and sensitivity of one's own Fathers.
This is particularly true of the liturgy whose purity and dignity will be your special concern, in the certainty that it will speak in a wonderful way to your children's hearts. The first liturgical reform, in fact, is the assimilation and knowledge of the traditional common prayer.
5. The second commitment indicated by Nerses is that of harmony in charity: "I beg you all", he writes, "not to rush into useless discussions and conversations: instead, be ready and prompt for reconciliation and peace" (ibid.). The People of God need to see priests who love one another and compete in their esteem for each other. This is the first condition if they are to be able to love those entrusted to them. With this powerful witness young people can look at them as possible models to imitate. With God's help, the scarcity of vocations will be remedied when the Church really seems transparent in her witness, credible in her preaching and ardent in fraternal love. There is no lack of young people who want to follow Christ. We must not disappoint them.
I also entrust to your care the monks and men and women religious, whom the Holy Catholicos describes as "pillars of the world, angels clothed in flesh and stars that shine upon the earth" (ibid., Chapter III). Armenians, as do all the Eastern Churches, find in monasticism strength for their faith, a prayerful soul, a reminder of the end times and a model of fraternal life. Armenian Catholic men and women religious have worked together in times of difficulty for the entire Armenian people, serving them regardless of Church membership, to create sound and harmonious personalities, distinguished by their upright morals, depth of culture and patriotism. May this treasure not be jeopardized. May the heritage of entire generations not be lost. Not only the Pope asks this of you, but all the Armenian people, for whom the service of culture is also a guarantee of survival.
6. Your Beatitude, your sons and daughters have confidence in you and are expecting your fatherly word and effective guidance. May the Spirit guide your steps, support your intentions and inspire your decisions.
When you return to your residence in Lebanon, and when you travel around the world to strengthen in faith the Armenians who are entrusted to you and are found everywhere with their intelligent hard work, bring them the Pope's affection and prayers along with your greeting and blessing.
One last time, in the words of your heavenly protector, St Nerses, I "ask you, the Bishops, the priests and the religious who belong to you to pray for my many needs to the One who in every place is close to all who call upon him in truth ..., so that all of us, shepherds and flock, will reach the heavenly goods in order to possess paradise in Christ. To him be glory and power, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen". (Discourse for his consecration as Catholicos).
Your steps have led you to the Pope's house to celebrate the Eucharist with him as a sign of full and perfect communion in faith. I am pleased to welcome you here, in the intimacy of this chapel which well expresses the sentiment of affection and brotherhood that binds me to you, Your Beatitude, and to the Bishops of the Armenian Catholic Church who have come here.
The Pope's house is your house. The Bishop of Rome and the Catholic Church open their arms to you to welcome you with joy. All your Church's sons and daughters are participating in spirit in this Eucharist. This communion, which is God's gift, is our strength. It is he who gives us his Body and Blood, which we will exchange as a sign of full sharing in the faith. To him, I entrust you, Your Beatitude, and the life of your Church.
May Mary, the holy Mother of God, the holy Armenian Bishops, monks and especially the martyrs accompany you in the first steps of your ministry and for all the time that God will grant you to serve Holy Church.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. I am pleased to extend my cordial welcome to each of you. I warmly thank you for this visit, which you have wished to pay me on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of Bambino Gesù Hospital. Your presence is evidence of the long-standing attention and support that the present Successor of the Apostle Peter has shown to this praiseworthy institution, as did his Venerable Predecessors, especially since 1924 when the noble Salviati family of Rome gave it to the Holy See.
I particularly greet the hospital's president, Prof. Adriano Bompiani, and thank him for his courteous words on your behalf. With him I greet the distinguished members of the Board of Directors. I also extend an affectionate thought to the doctors, staff and the Daughters of Charity, expressing my heartfelt esteem and appreciation for everyone's generous efforts in serving sick children.
2. The 130th anniversary of Bambino Gesù Hospital, celebrated on the threshold of the Year 2000 with important national and international scientific events, is an excellent occasion to stress the importance this institution has attained in the field of modern paediatrics. This event also shows the spirit of loving devotion to sick children which has always marked the long history of your health-care centre. Founded just before the end of the Papal States, thanks to the foresight of the Salviati family, it experienced difficult years in Rome at the end of the 19th century and the entire 20th century, while always remaining faithful to its mission. In this regard it steadily developed its scientific competence and socio-charitable dimension, through the continual and enlightened commitment of the medical and religious staff and the involvement of an increasing number of good-hearted people and public and private agencies.
In considering your humble beginnings in the Regola district, it is surprising to see the subsequent developments which have enabled Bambino Gesù Hospital, after its relocation to the Janiculum, its donation to the Holy See and its new juridical and structural organization, has become one of the most prestigious European institutions in the field.
3. Concern for the world of children is growing in contemporary society, as is an informed awareness of the respect owed to their inalienable right to life, to a family, to health, to instruction and to religious and civil education, as well as the rigorous defence of their innocence. Despite this, children are often subjected to serious affronts and violence, especially in the poorest regions of the world and in countries affected by war and hunger. They are threatened by selfishness and the rush for material well-being which sometimes absorbs their parents, distracting them from their duty to bring up their children by being close to them and listening to the problems associated with their growth and integration into society.
The Church everywhere continues to proclaim the centrality of the child, who is especially loved by Jesus and regarded by him as the model for all who are called to receive the kingdom of God (cf. Mk Mc 10,14). This special care is shown by the frequent interventions of the Magisterium and the innumerable Catholic educational and health-care institutions throughout the world, especially where the life and future of children are most threatened.
This is the context in which Bambino Gesù Hospital carries out a valuable service for sick children through daily service at its three branches in Rome, Palidoro and Santa Marinella, as well as through humanitarian missions in certain Third World countries and in Eastern Europe, and through the important contribution made to scientific research by its famous clinics. Thus it is gaining more and more credit as a significant and concrete expression of the Church's love for children.