Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate!
1. You have come to Rome from countries on every continent to reflect together on your concern as Pastors for ecclesial movements and new communities. It is the first time that the Pontifical Council for the Laity, in collaboration with the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops, has assembled such a large and distinguished group of Bishops to examine together ecclesial realities which I have not hesitated to describe as "providential" (cf. Address at the Meeting with Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, 30 May 1998, n. 7; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 3 June 1998, p. 2), because of their encouraging contributions to the life of God's People.
Thank you for coming and for your commitment to this important pastoral field. I also express to the organizers, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Bishops, my great satisfaction with this initiative which will certainly benefit the Church's mission in the contemporary world.
The seminar, which has occupied you these days, happily belongs to an apostolic project very dear to me, which stems from my meeting with the members of over 50 of these movements and communities in St Peter's Square on 30 May last year. I am certain that the results of your reflection will make themselves felt, thus helping that project and meeting to yield even more abundant fruits for the good of the whole Church.
2. The Council's Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops expresses the very heart of the episcopal ministry in these words: "When they exercise their teaching role, Bishops should proclaim the Gospel of Christ to people. This is one of the principal duties of Bishops. Fortified by the Spirit they should call on men and women to believe or should strengthen them when they already have a living faith. They should expound to them the whole mystery of Christ, that is, all those truths ignorance of which means ignorance of Christ" (Christus Dominus CD 12). Every Pastor's concern to reach people and to speak to their hearts, their minds, their freedom and their thirst for happiness is born of Christ's own concern for man, his compassion for those whom he compares to a flock without a shepherd (cf. Mk Mc 6,34 and Mt 9,36), and it echoes Paul's apostolic zeal: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1Co 9,16). In our times the challenges of the new evangelization are often presented in dramatic terms and spur the Church, in particular her Pastors, to seek new forms of missionary proclamation and action that best meet the demands of our era.
Among today's most urgent pastoral tasks, I would first like to point out the need to care for communities in which there is a deeper awareness of the grace connected with the sacraments of Christian initiation, which give rise to the vocation to be Gospel witnesses in all areas of life. The dramatic events of our time spur believers to the essentials of the Christian experience and message in their everyday encounters and friendships, for a faith journey illumined by the joy of communication. Another pastoral priority, not to be underestimated, is the formation of Christian communities as authentic places of welcome for everyone, with constant care for the specific needs of each individual. Without these communities it becomes more and more difficult to grow in faith and one gives into the temptation to reduce to a fragmentary and occasional experience precisely that faith which, on the contrary, should enliven all human experience.
3. The theme of your seminar on ecclesial movements should be seen in this context. If on 30 May 1998 I spoke in St Peter's Square of "a new Pentecost", referring to the growth of charisms and movements which has occurred in the Church since the Second Vatican Council, with this expression I wished to acknowledge the development of the movements and new communities as a source of hope for the Church's missionary action. In fact, because of the secularization that has weakened or even extinguished faith in many hearts and led the way to irrational beliefs, in many parts of the world the Church finds herself facing an environment similar to that of her origins.
I am well aware that in recent years movements and new communities, like any work which develops in human history, even under divine influence, have not produced only positive reactions. As I said on 30 May 1998, their "unexpected newness ... has given rise to questions, uneasiness and tensions; at times it has led to presumptions and excesses on the one hand, and on the other, to numerous prejudices and reservations" (ibid., n. 6). But in the common witness given that day by those gathered round the Successor of Peter and numerous Bishops, I saw and still see the arrival of a "new stage [that] is unfolding before you: that of ecclesial maturity", although in full knowledge that "this does not mean that all problems have been solved. Rather", this maturity "is a challenge. A road to take" (ibid.).
This journey requires of movements an ever stronger communion with the Pastors God has chosen and consecrated to gather and sanctify his people in the light of faith, hope and charity, because "no charism dispenses a person from reference and submission to the Pastors of the Church" (Christifideles laici CL 24). Thus it is the task of movements to share their charismatic riches with humility and generosity within the communion and mission of the local Churches.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I ask you, whose task it is to discern the authenticity of charisms in order to make the best use of them within the Church, to show fatherly magnanimity and far-sighted charity (cf. 1Co 13,4) towards these realities, because every human achievement requires time and patience for its proper and indispensable purification. The Second Vatican Council's words are clear: "Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1Th 5,12)" (Lumen gentium LG 12), so that all charisms in their diversity and complementarity may work together for the common good (cf. ibid., n. 30).
I am convinced, venerable Brothers, that your attentive and heartfelt willingness, together with appropriate meetings for prayer, reflection and friendship, will make your authority more welcome but also demanding, your instructions more effective and incisive, the ministry entrusted to you to utilize the charisms for "the common good" more fruitful. Your first duty, in fact, is to open the eyes of heart and mind to recognize the many forms of the Spirit's presence in the Church, to examine them closely and to lead them all to unity in truth and charity.
4. In the meetings I have had with the ecclesial movements and new communities, I have frequently stressed the close connection between their experience and the reality of the local Churches and the universal Church of which they are the fruit and, at the same time, a missionary expression. Last year, in the presence of those taking part in the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, I publicly noted "their willingness to devote their energies to the service of the See of Peter and the local Churches" (Message for the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, n. 2; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 10 June 1998, p. 2). In fact, one of the most important fruits produced by the movements is precisely that of knowing how to release in so many lay faithful, men and women, adults and young people, an intense missionary zeal, which is indispensable for the Church as she prepares to cross the threshold of the third millennium. However, this objective is only achieved where "these movements humbly seek to become part of the life of local Churches and are welcomed by Bishops and priests within diocesan and parish structures" (Redemptoris missio RMi 72).
What does this really mean in terms of the apostolate and pastoral action? This was prescisely one of the key questions at your seminar. How should this special gift which the Spirit offers to the Church be received at our time in history? How can it be welcomed in all its importance, in all its fullness and in all its dynamism? Answering these questions in a satisfactory way is your responsibility as Pastors. Your great responsibility is not to impede the Spirit's gift, but, on the contrary, to make it bear ever greater fruit in service to all Christian people.
I ardently hope that your seminar will be a source of encouragement and inspiration for many Bishops in their pastoral ministry. May Mary, Bride of the Holy Spirit, help you to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church today (cf. Rv Ap 2,7). I am close to you in fraternal solidarity and accompany you in prayer, as I gladly bless you and all whom divine Providence has entrusted to your pastoral care.
From the Vatican, 18 June 1999.
Dear Brother in the Episcopate,
I am pleased to welcome you this morning, members of the Council of Christian Churches of Madagascar. You have wished to come to Rome in memory of the journey I made to your country 10 years ago. I cordially thank you for this act of courtesy to the Successor of Peter. Your visit reminds me of the warm welcome I was given by the Malagasy people and the fraternal meeting which brought together representatives of the different Christian denominations in Antananarivo.
I know that since then you have fostered collaboration between your different communities to make the united witness of Christ's disciples more living and real in serving all their compatriots. Thus you are joined in making a valuable contribution to the human and spiritual development of the whole nation.
I ardently hope that the Christians of the Great Island will continue with renewed zeal to deepen the bonds of charity and solidarity that unite them. May God grant that you may walk courageously on the ways of sincere love and ever more fraternal collaboration, so that the Lord's prayer, "that they may all be one" (Jn 17,21), may become an ever greater reality among Christians, in order that the world may believe in the One whom the Father sent!
From my heart I invoke an abundance of God's blessing on each of you, your families and the entire Malagasy people.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am pleased to have this meeting with you, who have been taking part in the symposium on The Last 100 Years of Evangelization in Latin America, organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America to commemorate the first centenary of that continent's Plenary Council. It was a meeting which left its mark on the history of the Church in Latin America, unfolding new horizons of hope for those peoples.
In fact, the Plenary Council's Acta et Decreta which you have presented to me in a beautiful facsimile edition, contains the norms, guidelines and suggestions which inspired the path of evangelization in America in the last century.
2. Ever since Jesus Christ's message reached the New World, the Popes have had a special apostolic concern for the American continent, as can be seen by closely examining historical events. This concern culminated in the convocation of the Plenary Council of Latin America by Leo XIII. In his Apostolic Letter Cum diuturnum of 25 December 1898, the great Pontiff wrote: "We have omitted nothing, on any occasion, which could serve to build up or extend Christ's kingdom in these nations; today, accomplishing what we had anxiously desired for some time, we would like to give a new and solemn proof of our love for you. Thus what we considered most relevant was that you should meet to exchange views, with our authority and in accordance with our convocation of all the Bishops of these Republics, in order to dictate the most suitable measures so that in these nations, the identity or at least the affinity of race should continue to be closely associated, the unity of ecclesiastical discipline preserved unharmed, the Catholic vision shine forth and the Church publicly prosper, through the joint efforts of all people of goodwill" (Acta, p. XXIXXII).
Although the decrees of that Council are not directly applicable to the current circumstances, they are a "memorial" which must enlighten, inspire and help us at this crossroads in history. In them, carefully drafted by the Council Fathers, one can perceive a great concern to maintain and elevate the Catholic faith; to form the characteristics of the clergy; to pay attention to divine worship and the celebration of the sacraments; to promote the education of youth and their formation according to the principles of Christian doctrine; to encourage the practice of charity and the other virtues.
The Council Fathers presented a series of resolutions, norms and guidelines, taking into account "the needs of the Church and the salvation of souls" and, prompted by strong ecclesial communion as the last canon (n. 994) says: "with filial reverence and a most obedient heart, we submit to the Holy Apostolic See each and every one of the things that were decreed and sanctioned at this Plenary Council". This affective and effective communion was deeply appreciated by the Pontiff who, in his farewell address to the Bishops on 10 July 1899, which he himself considered "the testament of a loving father", said to them: "Goodbye, a last goodbye, dear Brothers: come close to receive the kiss of peace. May you know that with regard to your Council, all Rome has admired your union, your knowledge and your piety; and that we consider your Council to be one of the most precious jewels in our crown" (Acta, p. CLXIX).
3. After the Plenary Council the Church in Latin America flourished remarkably, sometimes amidst untold trials, serious difficulties and immense problems. But light overcomes darkness, and thus we have been able to congratulate ourselves on the abundant fruits of the Christian life which has developed on this continent, thanks to the silent and self-sacrificing work of so many Bishops, priests, men and women religious and lay people in parishes and apostolic centres, as well as in the area of education and charity. This is why we can say joyfully that the Catholic faith is a sign of Latin America's identity.
I would like to recall that since the celebration of the Council, the Church in America has continued to thrive. The Eucharistic and Marian Congresses are proof of this, as well as the four General Conferences of the Latin American Episcopate celebrated in Rio de Janeiro (1955), Medellín (1968), Puebla (1979) and Santo Domingo (1992), the last two of which I inaugurated. I would also like to recall that with his historic pilgrimage to Bogotá Paul VI paved the way to the Pastoral Visits to America which, with God's grace, I have been able to make. All this culminated in the celebration of the Synod for America in the Vatican, which I had the opportunity to open and afterwards, early this year, to close in the Mexican Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Marian heart of the continent, where I presented the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America.
4. In this document, gathering the Synod Fathers' proposals, I desired to approach the continent's current situation by inviting the Pastors to study this project further and then to carry it out in each particular Church, focusing their attention on what is fundamental: the proclamation of Jesus Christ, who is the "Good News" of salvation made known to people yesterday, today and for ever; but he is also the first and greatest evangelizer. The Church must make the crucified and risen Christ the centre of her pastoral concern and evangelizing activity. "Everything planned in the Church must have Christ and his Gospel as its starting-point". Therefore, "the Church in America must speak increasingly of Jesus Christ, the human face of God and the divine face of man" (n. 67).
5. By participating in this symposium as Pastors and historians, you have looked to the future in the perspective of the past. In this task it is necessary to continue objectively, taking as a basis the real facts and not ideologies or a partial view of events. I thank you for your work in this regard, so that the Church, by knowing her history better, can fulfil her evangelizing programme, updating it in keeping with the new times. In this programme, in addition to pastoral structures, the person of the evangelizer is important: the Bishop, priest, catechist and committed Christian who, with their faith should bear witness to Jesus Christ with joy and courage.
I am grateful to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America for organizing this symposium which will in a certain way be continued at its plenary meeting. I also thank you for your participation and service motivated by an ecclesial spirit. I express my best wishes that your work, shortly to be published in the respective Acta, will offer a wealth of suggestions and proposals to help in the apostolic task so generously being carried out in the American countries.
As I invoke upon everyone the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the first evangelizer of America who with her motherly, gaze in the chapel of the former building of the Pontifical Latin American College, guided and accompanied the Council's steps, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you all.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Members and Friends of the Assembly of Organizations for Aid to the Eastern Churches (ROACO)!
1. I am pleased to address a warm welcome to you on the occasion of your meeting to coordinate aid to Christians of the Eastern Churches.
I affectionately greet Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and President of ROACO, and I thank him for his address to me on your behalf. I greet the Secretary, the Undersecretary and staff of the dicastery for the Eastern Churches, as well as those in charge of the agencies and everyone present here.
Your biannual meetings, which began in 1968, are now more structured, increasingly well-coordinated and well-attended, and have proven to be effective. I know that in recent years special attention has been dedicated to the method of conducting your work in close collaboration with the Eastern Catholic Churches, at whose service you operate. Your assistance is thus valuable to the Pope and enables him to exercise more diligently his ministry of presiding "in universal charity".
I thank you all, dear agency directors, for the work you perform under the guidance of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Through your dedication you alleviate needy situations, guide socio-pastoral initiatives, help countries divided by conflict and come to the aid of numerous people stricken by poverty and many forms of marginalization.
2. In particular, you support the Eastern Catholic communities in the work of evangelization. With the Great Jubilee now imminent, believers are called to live their faith more intensely, in the awareness that they are "a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God" (Gaudium et spes GS 40).
The witness of faith must be accompanied by the service of charity: the proclamation of the Gospel of hope calls for the Gospel of charity. One of the signs of the Jubilee itinerary is the "Holy Door". Pointing to the door is an appeal to the responsibility of every believer to cross the threshold of mercy (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 8). "Door" and "threshold" are signs of that charity "which opens our eyes to the needs of those who are poor and excluded" and to the "need to create a new culture of international solidarity and cooperation, where all ... accept responsibility for an economic model which serves everyone" (ibid., n. 12).
Through your generous dedication to the needs of our brethren of the Eastern Churches, the entire ecclesial community carries out its universal pastoral mission. Creating active co-responsibility helps overcome the temptation to selfish particularism and enables different peoples to feel linked to one great destiny, in which the Gospel has generated trust and hope in a new humanity.
3. With the Jubilee, the Church's attention will focus on Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and the entire Holy Land, in which the Son of God took our flesh from the Virgin Mary. I know that you already devote particular attention to the holy places and are aware of the concerns and problems of the local Christian communities. I invite you above all not to ignore the expectations of young people and to help Christian families not to lose hope about housing and employment, even when faced with socio-economic problems and uncertain living conditions.
The universal Church, also through the traditional Collection for the Holy Land, is concerned for our brothers and sisters who live in the holy places of the Redemption. In earnestly recommending this act of love towards the Christians of those regions, I am sure that your efforts to bring aid to the most diverse parts of the Catholic world will find a grateful response in the Pastors and faithful of the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Latin community of the Holy Land.
Clergy and faithful show their willingness to work together, to plan projects and pastoral programmes in accordance with the recognized priorities of evangelization, charity and educational commitment. The formation of mature and responsible lay Christians who can offer a courageous witness of faith is of the greatest importance.
During the joyful Jubilee celebration, the numerous pilgrims who will visit the sacred places of the Faith will not only have the opportunity to share moments of prayer and communion, but also to come to know the works you support to aid catechesis, pastoral leadership and charitable action.
4. Dear brothers and sisters, I express my satisfaction with your concern to fulfil the requests you receive. Those communities which, through the service of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and ROACO, see their efforts for a more courageous revival of their apostolic zeal encouraged, express their gratitude to you through me.
May the Mother of God, Mary most holy, who "from the day of the virginal conception ... lived the fullness of her motherhood, crowning it on Calvary at the foot of the Cross" (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 14), strengthen you in your intentions and continue to show "everyone the way that leads to the Son".
With these hopes, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you and willingly extend it to the Ecclesial Communities to which you belong, to the organizations you represent and to the projects?for which you ceaselessly work.
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. On the feast of St John the Baptist, your patron saint, you have wished to gather for a solemn celebration in St Peter's Basilica. I extend a welcome to each of you and I greet the entire Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which in these days has been holding its General Chapter.
I particularly greet the Prince and Grand Master, Fra Andrew Bertie, the Cardinal Patron, Pio Laghi, the Prelate, Bishop Donato de Bonis, and the Grand Chancellor and dignitaries of the Sovereign Council which has just been elected. I wish everyone great success in their service of God, the Church and the Order.
For over 900 years your distinguished Order has offered the world a witness faithful to its motto: "Tuitio fidei, obsequium pauperum", which corresponds to the Gospel command "to love God and neighbour".
2. You are convinced that defending and bearing witness to the faith is the basis of evangelization, and you would like to make your contribution so that the Gospel message will also illumine the now imminent third millennium of the Christian era. To this end, you feel obliged to express your fidelity to Christ in deeds, by a loving witness which becomes service to your brothers and sisters, especially the poor: what you rightly call the "obsequium pauperum".
This love of the least ones is effectively shown by your concern for the sick, the suffering, earthquake victims and refugees. It defines your religious and sovereign Order as a valid structure which shoulders the burden of human suffering.
Remain steadfast in your fidelity to Christ, to the Church and to the poor. Always remember Jesus' words: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jn 15,12), and again: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40).
As I hope that you will intensify your praiseworthy efforts, I implore for each of you the motherly protection of your heavenly patronness, the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Philéremo, who has always accompanied you in your homeland and in exile. May you also be sustained by the Order's holy protector, St John the Baptist, the herald of Christ's entry into world history.
With these sentiments I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing to the Grand Master, to everyone here and to the entire Sovereign Military Order of Malta, especially to the sick and the suffering whom you help in every part of the world.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. It is a joy for me to welcome you at the end of the sessions of the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. I greet you all with affection and, as I thank you for your visit, I wish to express profound appreciation for your commitment in the service of the Holy See. I am particularly grateful to Archbishop Stephen Fumio Hamao, President of this Pontifical Council, for the courteous words that he addressed to me in your behalf.
During these days, you reflected on the role of pilgrimages to shrines in the life of the Church. These places of prayer, as I already stressed elsewhere, are “milestones that guide the journey of the children of God on earth” (Homily to the faithful in Corrientes, Argentina, 9 April 1987: Insegnamenti, X, 1 , 1188). Looking at their rich reality, it is easy to see that they represent a great gift of God to his Church and to the whole of humankind.
1. The human person longs to meet God and pilgrimages make him accustomed to thinking of the port where he could land in the course of his religious search. There, the faithful can sing with the Psalmist his thirst and hunger for the Lord: “God you are my God, I am seeking you, my soul is thirsting for you, my flesh is longing for you, a land parched, weary and waterless; I long to gaze on you in the Sanctuary… Your love is better than life itself” (Ps 63,1-3).
These “oases of the spirit” offer the ecclesial community a particularly favourable atmosphere for a meditation on the word of God and the celebration of the sacraments, especially Penance and the Eucharist. Moreover, in these places it is possible to have a fruitful experience of faith, as well as manifest love for one’s brothers and sisters through works of charity and service to the needy.
From this point of view, bishops in the different parts of the world have always promoted shrines as centres of deep spirituality in which the faithful, aside from reviving their own faith, become better aware of their duties in the social sphere and feel bound to give their concrete contribution so that the world may progressively be transformed into that kingdom of justice and peace indicated by the inspired words of Isaiah: “…The law will go out from Zion, and the oracle of Yahweh from Jerusalem… these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles… They will do no hurt, no harm, on all my holy mountain, for the country is filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters swell the sea (Is 2,3-4 Is 11,9).
If we examine things more closely, we would see that peace and solidarity among men and women pour out from reconciliation of the person with God. It is therefore necessary that in shrines, pilgrims find concrete possibilities for prayer and silence, to foster an encounter with God and the intimate experience of the tenderness of his love. This experience is particularly needed by migrants, refugees and displaced people, tried by painful and unjust situations. It is a need felt by seafarers, the personnel of Civil Aviation, nomads and circus people. From it, spiritual comfort is received by all those who, for various reasons, are far from their loved ones.
2. People come to shrines with different inner dispositions. Many of the faithful go there to live intense moments of contemplation and prayer, as well as profound spiritual renewal. Others go there now and then on the occasion of important events. Still others visit them only to find rest, because of cultural interest or simply out of curiosity. It is the task of the Ordinary of the place, in the case of diocesan shrines, and of the Episcopal Conference, in case of national shrines, to establish the appropriate pastoral norms so that every person’s expectations would be given an adequate response. It is important to offer to everyone the merciful initiative of God who wants to communicate His very own life and the gift of salvation to his children. In shrines the words of Christ to the “least” and the “poorest” on earth are echoed: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11,28).
And when there is a possibility of welcoming children and adolescents, this must impel those who are in charge of the pastoral care of shrines, in collaboration with the whole ecclesial community, to offer them an even more specialised service appropriate to their age.
3. Dear Brothers and Sisters, we are on our way towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In the context of the Jubilee event, pilgrimages assume the value of an excellent sign of the journey that the Christian is called to undertake and the commitment with which he must celebrate the Jubilee (cfr. Incarnationis Mysterium, 7). As I cordially thank each one of you for your commitment and pastoral solicitude shown by your daily activities, I entrust your efforts to the efficacious intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, venerated and invoked in many shrines that, in all parts of the world, are witnesses of her maternal presence in the midst of Christ’s disciples.
From a community and personal meeting with Mary, “Star of evangelization” (EN 82), pilgrims are encouraged to be, like Her, proclaimers of the “great works” that God keeps on realising in His Church. May Mary make her maternal presence felt in the midst of the People of God, which is getting ready to cross the threshold of the third millennium.
With these wishes, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing to all of you who are present here and your loved ones.