Speeches 1999




Dear Sisters of the Institute of the Daughters of St Joseph of Caburlotto!

1. I greet you affectionately on the occasion of the 23rd General Chapter of your congregation. The Chapter is being held on the eve of the Year 2000, which will mark the 150th anniversary of your religious family's foundation. On this occasion I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to you for the apostolic service you carry out in the Church. At the same time I would like to take the opportunity to reflect with you on your mission, against the background of the experience gained over the years.

My grateful thoughts turn first of all to your venerable founder, Mons. Luigi Caburlotto, whose heroic virtues I recognized in the decree of 2 July 1994. In difficult times, he let himself be guided by the Gospel call to become an educator, a father to children and young people suffering from poverty and neglect. Experience had taught him how important education and schooling also were for the sake of evangelization. He therefore devoted himself with tireless zeal to founding popular schools and formation institutes, all the while collaborating with public institutions.

2. Faithful to your founder's mandate, you have chosen as the theme of your reflections at the next Chapter: "Foundational Charism and Rule of Life". You thus intend to review your spiritual, pedagogical and missionary patrimony, inherited from more than a century of past history, in the light of the Church's Magisterium. Social conditions in the countries where you work, the crisis of vocations, problems connected with school legislation and the education of minors require you to undertake a profound review in terms of formation, mentality, language and apostolic choices.

Looking at the road you have traveled, you feel the need to thank God for the good accomplished by your institute and for the apostolic fruits that have enriched the seasons of its history. At the same time, your awareness of today's challenges spurs you to reflect on and systematically study your Constitutions, Spiritual Directory and Normative Directory in order to recover the full force of your institute's characteristic spirituality. In this regard, it will be valuable to read your venerable founder's writings, a patrimony which belongs to all the sisters and is a sure guide for the future.

3. With this Chapter you are preparing to take another very important step: rewriting your Rule of Life, while obediently listening to the voice of the Magisterium, which recognizes the charism of founders. Your founder's particular experience of the Spirit has been handed down to you so that it might be continually developed in docile adherence to the Church's directives and with careful analysis of the signs of the times. In fact, this precious heritage takes the form of a specific way of living the evangelical counsels, a concrete style of spiritual life, a particular form of apostolate, a characteristic community experience and a specific involvement in the world.

Your religious family, having developed an ever greater awareness of its apostolic identity, now intends to give new expression to the radicalism of its origins. In this perspective, at the General Chapter you have decided to draft a new version of your Rule of Life, which will bring out more clearly the apostolic features of the Daughters of St Joseph of Caburlotto for the third millennium.

I ardently hope that this effort will result in an ever more organic presentation of the spiritual, community and apostolic elements of your specific charism. In particular, you will not fail to make an explicit reference to the mystery of the Incarnation contemplated at Nazareth, from which stems your characteristic "devotion of the heart", summing up your specific style of prayer.

4. On the occasion of this meeting, I would like to address a word of cordial encouragement to you all, Daughters of St Joseph of Caburlotto. May you live and offer your religious consecration as something good for the human person, by showing at every moment a radical fidelity to your educational charism. May each of you have a profound missionary openness to support your sisters who are involved on the frontiers of the mission ad gentes. Pray unceasingly that the Lord will send many holy vocations to the institute. May your prayer be strengthened by the offering of daily trials. I am thinking especially of your elderly and infirm sisters who, by their suffering, are a precious spiritual support for the congregation.

May the constant love that flows from Christ's heart reign among you, sisters of various backgrounds and ages. May you always be an eloquent sign of this divine love in your life and daily activities. Never turn your gaze from Christ, who in his paschal mystery reveals the heavenly Father's mercy to us. To each one he says again: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Is 43,1). And then, having experienced that you are loved by him with a boundless love, be ready and eager to share this same spiritual treasure with others. May the love of Christ, which inspired your founder 150 years ago and has sustained you and your sisters until now, always be the centre of your life.

May Mary, the heavenly Mother of God and of the Church, protect you and make the work of your General Chapter fruitful. For my part, I assure you of a constant remembrance in my prayer, as I gladly bless your Mother General, the capitulars and all the religious of your institute.

From the Vatican, 30 June 1999.


July 1999



Thursday, 1 July 1999

Dear Brothers,

1. I am pleased to extend a cordial welcome to all of you who are taking part in the General Chapter of the Marian Fathers, and I thank the Superior General for his words on your behalf.

I extend a special greeting to the Marian Fathers who have been called to the episcopal ministry: Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevicius (Kaunas); Juozas Žemaitis (Vilkaviškis); Jan Olszanski (Kamyanets); Jan Pawel Lenga (Karaganda), to all your Marian confrères wherever they may be in the world, and especially to the sick and the suffering.

In a congregation's life the General Chapter is a strong moment of fraternal communion in which, according to St Basil's words: "The energy of the Spirit in one is communicated at the same time to all". Our meeting in a certain sense was anticipated by my visit 7 June last to the Marian Shrine of Lichen. During the few moments I was able to spend with your confrères, I noticed the presence of young people and the elderly there together, and I learned that there were priests from various parts of the world. It was an edifying image of fraternal communion. The task of strengthening and deepening this communion is one of the goals that your congregation set during the six-year period now coming to an end.

Dear friends, continue on this path! May it be your constant concern to enliven and strengthen fraternal life in the provinces, the vice-provinces, the vicariates and the individual houses. Keep before you the example of the first Christians who were assiduous in accepting the teaching of the Apostles, in common prayer, in celebrating the Eucharist and in sharing whatever goods of nature and grace they had (cf. Vita consecrata VC 45).

2. We have just celebrated the feast of Sts Peter and Paul. Jesus called Peter to be the foundation of the Church, but at the same time allowed him to understand, by experiencing his own weakness, how much stronger God's grace is than human weakness. On the road to Damascus Paul, too, was transformed from being a persecutor of Christians into the Apostle of the Gentiles.

How can we think that the Apostle Peter, at Jesus' side, did not meet the Blessed Virgin? There was one day in particular that Peter and the Apostles spent intensely with Mary: the day of Pentecost, when the Church was born. Certainly the outpouring of the Spirit's gifts filled the heart of Mary, Mother of Christ, in a special way, making her also the Mother of the Church.

Dear Marian Fathers, it is very important for your congregation, the first founded by a Pole, to have a distinctly Marian character, given its bond with Mary Immaculate. In the 17th century, when the crisis of the then-powerful Polish State began to unfold, Fr Stanislaus Papczynski sought the help of Mary Immaculate. This is the counsel he gave you: in every difficulty seek the Blessed Virgin's help. In doing so, he accepted Jesus' own invitation who, from the Cross, gave Mary as a mother to the Apostle John.

May you also have great trust in Blessed Mary, as Fr Papczyñski taught you by his example! Turn to her fervently, especially when you face serious danger or moments of crisis.

3. The reformer of your congregation, Jurgis Matulaitis-Matulewicz, whom I had the joy of beatifying 12 years ago, perfectly understood the deep bond between the Mother of Jesus and the Church. Among the 12 "Firm Principles" of the renewed congregation, he gave priority to the recommendation of "maintaining a strong and unbending union with the Church and her Head, the Bishop of Rome, and with the whole Catholic hierarchy.... of belonging through the Church and in the Church to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ, so that he is the total centre of our life" (The Guiding Idea and Spirit of the Congregation, n. 55).

He loved the Church and left you this love as a legacy. During his work of renewing the Congregation of Marians, he noted in his spiritual diary, "God grant that we may be seized with one great thought: to work for the Church, to bear burdens and sufferings for her sake, to be concerned with the things of the Church to the point that her sufferings, cares and wounds become the sufferings, cares and wounds of our heart" (Spiritual Diary, 27 October 1910).

4. By trusting in the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you are preparing to take part generously in the new evangelization, which calls for consecrated persons to be fully aware of the theological significance of the challenges of our time (cf. Vita consecrata VC 81). With an attitude of faithful adherence to the Church's Magisterium, continue your great work in Poland, in other European countries, in America and in Australia. I encourage you to persevere, and I bless the schools, publishing houses, parishes, retreat houses, shrines, works of mercy, services for immigrants and the other charitable institutions in your care.

I am thinking in particular of the work of your religious family in Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and am pleased with all you do in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, as well as your work for the past five years in Estonia. Many of your brothers paid for their devotion to the Gospel cause with their lives or with years in the gulags. The commitment to continue and strengthen your difficult but important presence must be one of your apostolic priorities today.

May the Lord make your work, particularly in Africa, rich in spiritual fruit, especially in tormented Rwanda and, in the near future, Cameroon, as well as in other frontier areas like Alaska or other regions where clergy are scarce. Meeting the needs of the Churches which have been tragically deprived of priests, being present in difficult situations in various parts of the world: this corresponds fully to your charism. Your blessed reformer marked out this path for you: you must go "wherever the Church is in the greatest difficulty ... wherever Christ is least known or even hated" (The Guiding Idea, n. 18).

5. Dear Marian Fathers, may your commitment to the apostolate of Divine Mercy and your pastoral work always be accompanied by the witness of serving the poor: "Serving the poor is an act of evangelization and, at the same time, a seal of Gospel authenticity and a catalyst for permanent conversion in the consecrated life" (Vita consecrata VC 82). This is why you are called to undertake courageous initiatives in response to the signs of the times, following in the footsteps of your founder and reformer. In particular, be faithful to your charism, adapting its forms, when necessary, to new situations, in complete docility to divine inspiration and ecclesial discernment.

Your Chapter, in conformity with the recommendations of the Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata (cf. n. 68), is about to approve the Ratio formationis worked out in the past six years for the whole congregation. Formation is especially important for the very future of the congregation. May God help you and may his protection accompany you constantly throughout the work of your Chapter and in the election of the new General Government.

For my part, I assure you of a constant remembrance in prayer and, as I invoke the heavenly presence of Mary Immaculate on your journey towards the third millennium, I cordially impart my Blessing to you all.



Friday, 2 July 1999

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am particularly happy to welcome you, Bishops of the Catholic Church in Togo, as you make your ad limina visit. Your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles is a privileged occasion offered for you to strengthen within you the gifts received from the Lord so that you can fulfil the charge you have received to teach, sanctify and govern the People of God (cf. Decree Christus Dominus CD 2). May your meetings with the Bishop of Rome and his assistants be important moments of ecclesial communion that will help you in your mission at the service of the people of Togo!

I warmly thank the President of your Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Philippe Kpodzro of Lomé, for his kind words to me in your name. They express the devotion of your communities to the Successor of Peter. When you return to your Dioceses, please convey my affectionate greeting to the priests, religious, catechists and laity whose Pastors you are. May God give everyone the strength to express fervently the faith received in Baptism. Through your faithful I address all the people of Togo, ardently hoping that they will advance with courage and hope on the paths of true human and spiritual progress.

2. In recent years three Dioceses have been established in your country. I cordially greet their new Bishops and rejoice in the vitality of the Church in Togo, of which these sees are a sign. I thank God with you for the gift of faith which he never ceases to pour out upon your people. For you and for all Catholics it is a summons to holiness of life and to bear an even more active witness to Christ, in order to pursue with renewed zeal a profound evangelization of society. By relying on the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, you will be able to find new ways, so that with the Holy Spirit's help you can contribute to the building and growth of the Church as God's Family, the community of Christ's disciples, united, warm and open to all.

To fulfil this heavy responsibility, Pastors are called resolutely to follow Christ, who carried out his Father's plan of love for mankind by serving the lowliest of his brethren. Through their deep mutual communion the members of the Episcopal Conference bear an outstanding witness to the unity of the Church's mission and find effective help in fulfilling their pastoral ministry. I also hope that the Dioceses will show true solidarity to each other through an appropriate division of apostolic personnel, which will enable them to aid those with the least resources. By giving priority to your spiritual mission of service to the faithful and to people of good will, you must lead them on the paths of holiness, so that everyone can fulfil the vocation he has received from his Creator!

Moreover, as I wrote in the Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, carrying out the ministry of evangelization in the social field is part of the Church's prophetic role (cf. n. 41). Indeed, the proclamation of the Gospel message to the men and women of our time calls for attention to the realities of their daily life. It is the Church's duty to contribute to the common good, together with all people of good will, so that the dignity and legitimate rights of every person may be more and more respected. I therefore strongly urge your communities to bear witness always and everywhere to the Gospel values which the Lord has bequeathed to us. May they remember that Christ sent us "the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father" (Jn 15,26), thus reminding us of the essential importance of truth in building their personal lives and the life of society! Without it nothing can survive for long, and man cannot find true freedom. In fact, "in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation and man is exposed to the violence of passion and to manipulation, both open and hidden" (Encyclical Centesimus annus CA 46).

3. Over a century ago the Good News of Christ was proclaimed in your land. I thank God with you for the devotion, at times heroic, of all the men and women missionaries who made it possible for the Church in Togo to be planted and to grow. I once again express the esteem and encouragement of Peter's Successor to the men and women who are continuing the work of those Gospel pioneers.

I extend my cordial greetings to your priests who, with you, are responsible for a large part of the work of evangelization today. May they too take as their model of apostolic life Christ, who came to serve and not to be served! May their ministry, whose joys and hopes, as well as its efforts and difficulties are known to me, be a generous and disinterested service to the Church's mission among all people! I strongly invite them to unify and enliven their priestly life and work by remaining attached to Christ as his friends in the intimacy of their whole being. In this way they will offer an experience of Christian and spiritual life to others. I therefore invite them to deepen their encounter with Christ by "faithful meditation on the word of God, active participation in the Church's holy mysteries and the service of charity to the 'little ones'" (Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis PDV 46). In times of temptation and discouragement, it is through a solid spiritual life, based on this personal and daily encounter with the Lord, that they will find the strength to live generously the commitments they made on their day of ordination. I also hope that they will revive the gift they have received from God by giving a proper place to continuing formation. In fact, it is indispensable for discerning and following the Lord's will faithfully. It is also an act of love and justice to the People of God whose servants they are (cf. ibid., n. 70).

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, it is your particular task to be concerned with priestly vocations, so that the Gospel may be proclaimed everywhere. This is an essential dimension of the pastoral care of your Dioceses. The formation and spiritual guidance of candidates for the priesthood often calls for great sacrifices to be made. Be assured that with God's grace they will bear fruit! The current situation demands serious discernment, so that seminarians will be sufficiently aware that the way to which they are committing themselves requires the total renunciation of self and of the search for all personal advancement, so that they can become "convinced and fervent ministers of the "new evangelization", faithful and generous servants of Jesus Christ and of the human family" (ibid., n. 10).

I also greet the men and women religious who are involved in the Church's mission in your country. By leading a life of complete devotion to the Father, held fast by Christ and enlivened by the Spirit, they make a particularly profound contribution to the world's renewal (cf. Apostolic Exhortation, Vita consecrata VC 25). To give their charism solid roots and to develop it in ecclesial life, they must show clearly the specific nature of the gift they have received from God for the good of the entire Church. It is through their entire being, more than their way of acting, that men and women religious must foster in the baptized a constant awareness of their need to respond with holiness of life to the love which God never ceases to offer them. Thus by living their commitments to the full they will meet their contemporaries' aspirations by showing them the ways of genuinely seeking God.

4. In your quinquennial reports, you stressed the importance of catechists in establishing and enlivening Christian communities, in close relationship with their Bishops and priests. Please convey the Pope's gratitude to them all for their generous work at the service of the Gospel and his encouragement that through an exemplary personal and family life, they will be true witnesses of the message they proclaim. Be fathers to them, attentive to their needs, and give them the necessary moral and material support. Their spiritual and doctrinal formation is a primary requirement so that they can competently and responsibly provide the service asked of them in the community.

5. The Church's vitality depends on each Christian's response to God's call to grow and bear fruit. For this reason, it is necessary that the laity receive a solid formation whose "fundamental objective ... is an ever-clearer discovery of one's vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfil one's mission" (Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici CL 58). This formation must enable each one to unify his own life, to live and proclaim his faith genuinely. In fact, ignorance in the area of religion is all too often exploited by esoteric groups or sects to attract believers who are not firmly rooted in their faith.

The integral formation given to lay people must also help them be citizens who fulfil their responsibilities in social life. Actually it must "aim to provide Christians not only with technical expertise in passing on more clearly the content of the faith but also with a profound personal conviction enabling them to bear effective witness to it in daily life" (Ecclesia in Africa ). In society lay people must engage in many forms of action to promote the common good. This also involves the difficult commitment to defending and promoting justice, and to reinforcing an authentic democracy which allows everyone to feel he is in effective control of his own future in the nation.

6. The serious issues concerning Christian marriage and family life are challenges which the Church in your region is facing. It is therefore an important task for you to teach the faithful the fundamental values of marriage and the family. The unity of the couple is a requirement of life which respects God's plan as it was revealed from the beginning. It is also an expression of the equal personal dignity of man and woman, who "in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive" (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio FC 19). The Church must offer constant spiritual assistance to those who have already chosen to enter the community of Christ's disciples, but are living in marital situations that do not permit them to receive the sacrament of Baptism. I strongly encourage you to welcome these people with great pastoral care and to be attentive to their needs, to enable them to advance on the difficult path of the complete acceptance of the Gospel message, with justice and charity for all concerned. I hope that the faithful will become deeply aware of the dignity of Christian marriage and recognize its indissolubility as "a fruit, a sign and a requirement of the absolutely faithful love that God has for man and that the Lord Jesus has for the Church" (ibid., n. 20). May Christian families be models of unity and shared love in the eyes of all! May they not be discouraged by difficulties, but find in their communion with Christ and in mutual help within the Church the strength to remain faithful!

7. For the Gospel to be fully incarnated in your land, true inculturation is necessary. It is in fact indispensable to give everyone the opportunity to accept Christ with the whole of his being and his culture, to reach full union with God. I therefore encourage you in your efforts to help transform your people's authentic values by integrating them into Christianity and by thus firmly rooting the Christian faith in your culture. The Church's mission among the nations also calls for developing fraternal relations with all people. In your country relations with Muslims and the followers of the Traditional Religion are generally good. I therefore urge you to pursue the dialogue of life which is so necessary for maintaining a climate of harmony and solidarity between the different communities and for working together to improve the living conditions of the nation's people.

Moreover, the numerous forms of poverty which affect the people of your region have prompted you to develop social programmes to serve the most underprivileged, without distinction of origin or religion. I offer my warm encouragement to those who are working selflessly to alleviate the sufferings of their brothers and sisters, as well as those who help educate the young. Through their commitment the Church seeks to be the effective sign among all people of God's boundless love for them.

8. Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, as this fraternal meeting comes to an end, I would like to encourage you to look to the future with trust, in renewed fidelity to Christ who "fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling" (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 22). I invite the young people of Togo in particular to follow the way that the Lord Jesus shows them. There they will find the light and strength to advance on the paths of life and to build generously the civilization of love, where everyone will recognize one another as brothers and sisters called to the same destiny. There are only a few months left before the opening of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. For the Church in Togo may this time of grace be an occasion of deep spiritual renewal and intense awareness of her responsibility to proclaim the Good News of salvation, especially through a fervent witness of Gospel life! I entrust all your communities to the motherly protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to guide their steps to meeting her Son. I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and extend it to the priests, religious, catechists and all the faithful of your Dioceses.




To my beloved Brother Dom Mauro Meacci
Abbot of Subiaco

1. I was delighted to learn that the great Benedictine monastic family intends to celebrate the 1,500th anniversary of St Benedict's foundation in Subiaco of that "schola dominici servitii" which down the centuries led countless numbers of men and women "per ducatum Evangelii" to a closer union with Christ. I would like to join spiritually in the thanksgiving that the whole monastic order, born of the holy Patriarch's faith and love, is offering to the Lord for the great gifts which have enriched it since the beginning of its history.

My revered Predecessor, St Gregory the Great, a Benedictine monk and celebrated biographer of St Benedict, invited us to discern the basis of a life wholly dedicated to "seeking and serving Christ, the one true Saviour" (Preface of the Mass of St Benedict), in the atmosphere of great faith in God and intense love for his law which motivated the original family of the saint from Norcia. This spiritual striving, which grew and developed as he faced the challenges of life, soon led the young man to foresake the illusions of worldy knowledge and possessions to devote himself to learning the wisdom of the Cross and to being conformed to Christ alone. From Norcia to Rome, from Affile to Subiaco, Benedict's spiritual journey was guided by the one desire to please Christ. This longing was strengthened and increased during the three years he lived in the grotto of the Sacro Speco, when "he laid those solid foundations of Christian perfection on which he could later build an edifice of extraordinary height" (Pius XII, Fulgens radiatur, 21 March 1947).

His prolonged and intimate union with Christ prompted him to gather other brothers around him in order to carry out "those great designs and goals to which he had been called by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit" (ibid.). Illumined by divine light, Benedict became a beacon and guide for poor shepherds in search of faith and for devout people who needed direction in the way of the Lord. After a further period of solitude and difficult trials, 1,500 years ago, when he was barely 20 years old, he founded the first Benedictine monastery at Subiaco, not far from the Sacro Speco. In this way the grain of wheat that had chosen to hide itself in the soil of Subiaco and to waste away in penance for love of Christ, gave rise to a new model of consecrated life, becoming a fruitful ear of wheat.

2. The small, obscure grotto of Subiaco thus became the cradle of the Benedictine Order. From it a bright beacon of faith and civilization shone out which, through the example and work of the holy Patriarch's spiritual sons, flooded the West and East of Europe and the other continents, as the marble plaque there records.

The fame of his holiness attracted scores of young men in search of God, whom he organized with practical genius into 12 monasteries. Here Sts Placid and Maurus were formed in an atmosphere of Gospel simplicity, living faith and active charity. The first splendid jewels of the monastic family of Subiaco, they were taught the "service of the Almighty" by Benedict himself.

To protect his monks from the consequences of a ferocious persecution, after completing the organization of the existing monasteries with the appointment of suitable superiors, Benedict took a few monks with him and set out for Cassino, where he founded the monastery of Monte Cassino, which would soon become the cradle for the growth of Western monasticism and a centre of evangelization and Christian humanism.

Even in this matter Benedict proved himself a steadfast man of faith: trusting in God and like Abraham hoping against all hope, he believed that the Lord would continue to bless his work, despite the obstacles raised by human envy and violence.

3. At the heart of St Benedict's monastic experience is a simple, typically Christian principle, which the monk adopts in all its radicalness: to unify one's life around the primacy of God. This "tendere in unum", the first, fundamental condition for entering monastic life, must be the commitment unifying the life of the individual and the community, and be expressed in the "conversatio morum" which is fidelity to a life-style lived concretely in daily obedience. The search for Gospel simplicity requires continual examination, that is, the effort "to do the truth", by constantly returning to the initial gift of the divine call which is at the root of one's own religious experience.

This commitment, which is part of the Benedictine life, is particularly called for by the celebrations of the 1,500th anniversary of the monastery's foundation, which falls during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The Book of Leviticus prescribes: "You shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family" (25:10). The invitation to return to one's own "heredity", to one's own family, is especially timely for the Benedictine monastic community, called to live the Jubilee of its 15th centuries of life and that of the Holy Year as a favourable time for a renewed fidelity to the "heredity" of the holy Patriarch by acquiring a deeper sense of his original charism.

4. The example of St Benedict and the Rule itself offer significant direction for fully accepting the gift of these anniversaries. First and foremost they invite a witness of tenacious fidelity to the Word of God, meditated on and received through "lectio divina". This involves maintaining silence and an attitude of humble adoration before God, for the divine word reveals its depths to those who, through silence and mortification, are attentive to the Spirit's mysterious action.

While the requirement of regular silence establishes times when human words must be stilled, it points to a style marked by great moderation in verbal communication. If it is perceived and lived in its profound sense, it slowly teaches the interiorization by which the monk opens himself to a genuine knowledge of God and man. In a particular way, the great silence in monasteries has a unique symbolic power of recalling what really counts: Samuel's absolute availability (cf. 1S 3) and the total, loving gift of self to the Father. None of the rest is eliminated, but is accepted in its profound reality and brought to God in prayer.

It is this school of "lectio divina" which the Church expects from monasteries: she does not seek masters of biblical exegesis, who can also be found elsewhere, but rather witnesses to a humble and tenacious fidelity to the Word in the inconspicuous setting of everyday life. Thus the "vita bonorum" becomes a "viva lectio" which can be understood even by those who, disillusioned by the inflation of human words, seek what is essential and authentic in their relationship with God and are ready to understand the message given by a life in which a relish for beauty and order is combined with moderation.

Familiarity with the Word, which the Benedictine Rule guarantees by reserving much time for it in the daily schedule, will not fail to instil serene trust, to cast aside false security and to root in the soul a vivid sense of the total lordship of God. The monk is thus protected from convenient or utilitarian interpretations of Scripture and brought to an ever deeper awareness of human weakness, in which God's power shines brightly.

5. Along with listening to God's Word there is the commitment to prayer. The Benedictine monastery is above all a place of prayer, in the sense that everything in it is organized to make the monks attentive and responsive to the voice of the Spirit. This is why the complete celebration of the Divine Office, whose centre is the Eucharist and which structures the monastic day, is the "opus Dei" in which "dum cantamus iter facimus ut ad nostrum cor veniat et sui nos amoris gratia accendat".

The Word of Sacred Scripture inspires the Benedictine monk's dialogue with God; in this he is helped by the austere beauty of the Roman liturgy in which this Word, proclaimed with solemnity or sung in plainchant that is the fruit of a spiritual understanding of the riches it contains, has an absolutely pre-eminent role compared to other liturgies, where the most striking element is the splendid poetic compositions which have blossomed on the stock of the biblical text. This praying with the Bible calls for an ascesis of self-emptying which enables us to be attuned to the sentiments that Another places on our lips and stirs in our heart (ut mens nostra concordet voci nostrae). The primacy of the Word is thus affirmed in life, and it prevails, not because it is imposed by constraint but because it draws us discreetly and faithfully by its own attraction. Once it has been accepted, the Word searches and discerns, imposes clear choices and thus brings the monk, through obedience, into the historia Salutis summed up in the Passover of Christ, who was obedient to the Father (cf. Heb He 5,7-10).

It is this prayer, memoria Dei, which makes unity of life possible in practice, despite multiple activities: as Cassian teaches, these are not demeaned but are continually brought back to their centre. By extending liturgical prayer to the whole day through the free and silent personal prayer of the brothers, an atmosphere of recollection is created in the monastery in which the actual times of celebration find their full truth. In this way the monastery becomes a "school of prayer", that is, a place where the community, by deeply encountering God in the liturgy and at various moments of the day, introduces those who seek the face of the living God to the wonders of Trinitarian life.

6. Prayer, which marks the hours of the day in the liturgy and becomes the personal and silent meditation of the brothers, is the most important expression and source of the unity of the monastic community, which is based on the unity of faith. Every monk is required to look with attention and faith at himself and at the community: in this each one will support his brothers and be supported by them - not only by those with whom he lives, but also by those who have gone before him and have given the community its unmistakable features, with its riches and its limitations - and together with them feels supported by Christ who is the foundation. If this basic harmony is lacking and indifference or even rivalry creeps in, every brother begins to feel just "one of many", with the risk of deceiving himself that fulfilment will be found in personal projects that prompt him to seek refuge in contacts with the outside world rather than in full participation in the common life and apostolate.

Today more than ever there is an urgent need to foster fraternal life within communities, in which a style of friendship is lived which is no less true because it maintains those distances which safeguard the other person's freedom. This is the witness that the Church expects of all religious, but first and foremost of monks.

7. I ardently hope that the celebrations of the 1,500th anniversary of the beginning of monastic life at Subiaco will be an opportunity for this community and for the whole Benedictine Order to renew their fidelity to the holy Patriarch's charism, their fervour in community life, in listening to the Word of God, in prayer and in the commitment to proclaiming the Gospel in accordance with the tradition of the Subiaco Congregation.

May every Benedictine community present itself with a well-defined identity, like a "city on a hill", distinct from the surrounding world, but open and welcoming to the poor, to pilgrims and to all who are searching for a life of greater fidelity to the Gospel! With these wishes, which I entrust to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, so devoutly revered and invoked in this monastery and in all Benedictine communities, I cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you and to the monks of Subiaco.

From the Vatican, 7 July 1999

Speeches 1999