Speeches 2000 - Friday, 1 September 2000



Friday, 1 September 2000

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It always gives me joy to be able to say "thank you", and every year my departure from Castel Gandolfo offers me an opportunity to do so. Included among the people I warmly thank are you, the officers of the Inspectorate of Public Security, the Police Commission, the Traffic Police, the Carabinieri and the Customs Officers.

This year your competent and attentive service has again enhanced my stay and activities here in Castel Gandolfo, and has also benefited the many pilgrims who came to meet me. I hope that you too have benefited, at least a little, from this climate which is certainly healthier and more relaxing that that of the big city.

I never forget that your mission is important and difficult, often dangerous and always tiring. It demands sacrifice and requires you to spend many hours away from your homes and families. For this very reason I ask the Lord to keep you safe and to grant peace to you and your loved ones. Thank you again for your discreet and effective presence.

As I entrust you to the protection of the Virgin Mary, Virgo fidelis, I cordially bless you and all your loved ones.



Friday, 1 September 2000

Dear Friends,

Before leaving Castel Gandolfo and returning to the Vatican - this year somewhat earlier than usual - I would also like, as always, to say goodbye to you who look after this summer residence.
As I thank Dr Saverio Petrillo for his courteous words on behalf of you all, I express my gratitude to each of you for your valuable service and especially for the affection and devotion with which you carry it out.

For my part, I assure you that you are in my prayers, with a special remembrance for the children, for the suffering and for your families' needs.

In Rome many important events for the Great Jubilee await me. I also rely on your spiritual support and hope that you yourselves will receive abundant fruits from the last part of the Jubilee Year.

With an affectionate "goodbye for now", I cordially bless you.



Saturday, 2 September 2000

1. Dear brothers and sisters of Senegal, I welcome you with great joy as members of Senegal's national pilgrimage to Rome during this Great Jubilee Year. In particular, I greet Bishop Maixent Coly of Ziguinchor, who is accompanying your group. I would be grateful if he would convey my affectionate greeting to dear Cardinal Hyacinthe Thiandoum, Archbishop emeritus of Dakar.

The pilgrimage you are making is a privileged opportunity to meet Christ fully, the Saviour who became incarnate in Mary's womb 2,000 years ago. In him, the source of divine life for humanity, the history of salvation finds its culmination and complete meaning. May your Jubilee journey enable you to renew your faith in the presence of the Lord Jesus, especially his Eucharistic presence in our world and in our lives! In fact, "in the sign of the consecrated Bread and Wine, Christ Jesus risen and glorified, the light of the nations, reveals the enduring reality of his Incarnation. He remains living and real in our midst in order to nourish the faithful with his Body and Blood" (Bull Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). May the Eucharist always be the centre of your lives: love it, adore it and celebrate it with respect and faith!

In this world, which has great need of peace and brotherhood, live the Eucharist by bearing fervent witness that no one is excluded from God's love! May your Christian communities be authentic signs of ecclesial communion, unity and reconciliation among all people!

The celebration of the Great Jubilee is also a pressing appeal to conversion of heart and to a renewed commitment to developing a true culture of brotherhood and solidarity. I invite you, in collaboration with all your compatriots, to continue your courageous efforts to put an end to the sources of violence, resentment and injustice which contribute to keeping too many men and women in a state of poverty and exclusion.

Dear brothers and sisters, allow me to address more specifically the youth of your communities. Do not be resigned to a world in which human dignity is not respected, in which violence and injustice prevent full human development! Devote all your energies to making this earth more and more human and fraternal. Entrust yourselves to Christ; have confidence in him as he does in you; he will lead you to the truth and give you his strength!

I entrust you all to the motherly intercession of Our Lady of Poponguine, whom you like to invoke with the name of Our Lady of Deliverance, and I ask her to guide you on the path that leads to her Son. I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to each of you, to your families and to your loved ones.

2. I extend a cordial greeting to the "Societad da musica Breil/Dardin" from Switzerland. Dear musicians! You have come to Rome to visit the tombs of the holy Apostles in the Holy Year. I am pleased that you have brought your instruments with you. Hearts open their doors to those who know how to make music. Music is part of every celebration. Music is also part of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Is there any better way to praise the Incarnation of God than with hymns and songs? In this regard, a thought of St Augustine comes to mind: "Qui cantat, bis orat" - He who sings, prays twice. What is said of singers applies no less to musicians: those who make music, who play instruments, pray twice. I congratulate you on this form of prayer and hope that you will also play your instruments enthusiastically in your homeland: for the joy of human beings and for the greater glory of God. I willingly give you my Apostolic Blessing.



Monday, 4 September 2000

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. With deep joy I meet you once again, the day after the solemn beatification of Popes Pius IX and John XXIII, Bishop Tommaso Reggio, the priest William Joseph Chaminade, and the Benedictine Columba Marmion.

I extend a cordial greeting to all of you who are joined by special affection and devotion to the new blesseds, and I thank you for your presence and active participation. In particular, I greet Cardinal Angelo Sodano, my Secretary of State, who has just celebrated Holy Mass in honour of the new blesseds. I also greet the Cardinals and Bishops present, with the other civil and religious authorities.

2. Yesterday two Popes who marked the history of the last two centuries were proposed for the veneration of all the faithful: Pius IX, who steered the bark of Peter through violent storms for almost 32 years; John XXIII who, in his brief pontificate, convoked an Ecumenical Council of extraordinary importance in the Church's history.

Pius IX was loved by the people for his fatherly kindness: he liked to preach as a simple priest, to administer the sacraments in the churches and hospitals, to meet the Roman people on the city streets. The world did not always understand him: the "hosannas" at the beginning were soon followed by accusations, attacks and calumnies. However, he was always lenient even to his enemies. A spirit of poverty, faith in God and trust in Providence, as well as a strong sense of humour, helped him to overcome even the most difficult moments. "My policy", he used to say, "is: Our Father who art in heaven", thereby showing that his guide in the decisions of life and the governance of the Church was God, in whom he placed total trust. He also had a sense of filial abandonment to the Virgin Mary, the dogma of whose Immaculate Conception he defined.

I am also pleased to recall that Pius IX was particularly attentive to the Holy Land, where he re-established the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. For its maintenance he refounded the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. As I affectionately recall the holy places and the people I met during my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I greet the delegation led by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, and again express my sentiments of spiritual closeness to all. I would particularly like to greet the Bishops and faithful who have come from the Marches and, in a special way, from Senigallia and Imola.

3. Prominent among those devoted to the newly blessed Pius IX, is one of his successors, Pope John XXIII, who would have liked - as he himself wrote - to see him raised to the honours of the altar. Pope John combined Christian virtues with a deep knowledge of humanity in lights and shadows. His long-cultivated enthusiasm for history was a help to him in this.

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli acquired the basic features of his personality from his family background. "The few things I learned from you at home", he wrote to his parents, "are still the most precious and important, and they support and give life and warmth to the many things I learned later". The more progress he made in life and holiness, the more he captivated everyone with his wise simplicity.

In his famous Encyclical Pacem in terris he presents the Gospel to believers and non-believers as the way to achieve the fundamental good of peace: indeed, he was convinced that the Spirit of God makes his voice heard in some way by every person of good will. He was not troubled by his trials, but could always look optimistically at life's various events. "It is enough to take care of the present: there is no need to employ imagination or anxiety in building the future". Thus he wrote in his Journal of a Soul in 1961.

As I offer my greeting to all who have come especially from Bergamo and Venice with Cardinal Cé and Bishop Amadei, I hope that Pope John's example will encourage everyone always to trust in the Lord, who guides his children on the paths of history.

4. I now address you, faithful of Genoa, Ventimiglia and the whole of Liguria, and you, Sisters of St Martha, to recall the shining figure of Bishop Tommaso Reggio. In the second half of the last century he taught at the seminaries of Genoa and Chiavari, and was a journalist who promoted the first Genoese Catholic newspaper. But Providence wanted him to be a Pastor, and he was called to govern the Diocese of Ventimiglia; later, precisely when he asked to be relieved of office for reasons of age, the Pope entrusted him with the Archdiocese of Genoa.

His life was very busy, but the secret of so much activity was always his profound communion with God: "I am an ecclesiastic", he wrote, "I must be holy ... therefore let all the means to become so be put into practice. Whatever the cost, it is necessary to succeed...". He proposed this ideal of holiness to all ranks of the faithful: to lay people, priests and consecrated persons; in a particular way to his sisters. Today, as a blessed, he proposes it again to everyone, offering his intercession from heaven.

5. I cordially greet you who have come to Rome for the beatification of Fr William Joseph Chaminade, especially those of you from the South-West of France where he was formed and where he began his pastoral and missionary life. I extend a particular greeting to the members of the Marianist Congregations and to the whole Marianist Family. Dear young people, with Fr Chaminade you have an example of Christian life which leads to a good life and the happiness promised by the Lord. May all of you, priests, religious and lay people who live the charism of Fr Chaminade, bring your dynamism to the Church and be the leaven of the kingdom in the world!

The personality and activity of the new blessed, who wanted to do God's work in all things, invites all the faithful to receive serious catechetical formation in order to develop and strengthen their spiritual life and to enter more deeply into their relationship with Christ, particularly through the sacramental life in their Christian community. Like the new blessed, may you turn ceaselessly to Mary, Mother of Christians and Mother of her Son's disciples!

6. I extend my cordial greeting to you who came to Rome for the beatification of Dom Columba Marmion, particularly the members and friends of the great Benedictine family who have come from Ireland, Belgium and other countries. My thoughts also turn to the religious of the Abbey of Maredsous, where Fr Columba was Abbot and zealously carried out his ministry as a spiritual guide at the service of his community and, especially through his writings, at the service of many priests, religious and lay people.

I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims who have come for the beatification of Dom Columba Marmion. This beatification calls attention to the special place of monastic life in the Church, of which Marmion's native Ireland has a long and rich tradition. In the great Benedictine spirit, Bl. Columba, contemplative and apostle, was an outstanding teacher of the interior life, based on meditation of the word of God, the celebration of the liturgy and personal prayer. May Bl. Columba Marmion help us all to live the Christian life ever more intensely and to have an ever deeper understanding of our membership in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ! God bless you all!

7. Dear brothers and sisters, the Jubilee Year invites us all to make a pilgrimage to Christ: a pilgrimage that the new blesseds made with commitment and effort, passing through the "narrow gate" which is Christ. For this very reason they now share in his glory. Spurred by their example and helped by their intercession, let us too hasten our steps towards the heavenly homeland.
To this end, I invoke upon everyone the motherly protection of Mary Most Holy and of the new blesseds, as I cordially impart my blessing to you all.



Tuesday, 5 September 2000

Dear Cardinal Laghi,
Dear Missionaries of Charity,
Parents and children of adoptive families,
Friends and collaborators of the Work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta,

1. I am pleased to meet you in such numbers and I thank Sr Mary Simon for her kind words expressing your sentiments.

You have wished to celebrate your Jubilee on the third anniversary of Mother Teresa's death. It is a very significant way of expressing your desire to follow Christ in the footsteps of this remarkable daughter of the Church, who devoted her whole life to charity. How can we forget her? As the years pass, her memory remains more vivid than ever. We remember her with her smile, her deep gaze, her rosary. It seems that we still see her traveling the world in search of the poorest of the poor, ever ready to open new areas of charity, welcoming to everyone like a true mother.

2. It is not unusual to call a religious "mother". But this name had special intensity for Mother Teresa. A mother is recognized by her ability to give herself. Seeing Mother Teresa's manner, attitudes, way of being, helps us understand what it meant to her, beyond the purely physical dimension, to be a mother; it helped her to go to the spiritual root of motherhood.

We certainly know what her secret was: she was filled with Christ, and therefore looked at everyone with the eyes and heart of Christ. She had taken seriously his words: "I was hungry and you gave me food ..." (Mt 25,35). She therefore had no trouble in "adopting" her poor as children.

Her love was concrete and enterprising: it spurred her to go where few had the courage to go, wherever poverty was so great as to be frightening.

It is not surprising that the people of our time were fascinated by her. She incarnated that love which Jesus indicated as the distinctive mark of his disciples: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13,35).

3. Among the works that flowed from Mother Teresa's heart, one of the most important is the adoption movement. For this reason so many adoptive families are here today.

I greet you with affection, dear parents and children! I am pleased with this meeting, which allows me to reflect with you on the path you are taking. To adopt a child is a great work of love. When it is done, much is given, but much is also received. It is a true exchange of gifts.

In this area, unfortunately, our time knows many contradictions. Despite the numerous children who, because of the death or inability of their parents, are left without a family, there are so many couples who decide to have no children for often selfish reasons. Others let themselves be discouraged by economic, social or bureaucratic difficulties. Still others, in the desire to have their "own" child at any cost, go far beyond the legitimate help which medical science can offer procreation, even having recourse to morally reprehensible practices. Regarding these tendencies, it must be said that the norms of moral law are more than mere abstract principles, but safeguard the true good of man, and in this case, the good of the child with respect to the interests of his parents.

As an alternative to these questionable means, the existence of so many children without families suggests adoption as a concrete way of love. Families like yours are here to say that this is a possible and beautiful way, despite its difficulties; a way, moreover, which is even more feasible than in the past, in this era of globalization which shortens all distances.

4. Adopting children, regarding and treating them as one's own children, means recognizing that the relationship between parents and children is not measured only by genetic standards. Procreative love is first and foremost a gift of self. There is a form of "procreation" which occurs through acceptance, concern and devotion. The resulting relationship is so intimate and enduring that it is in no way inferior to one based on a biological connection. When this is also juridically protected, as it is in adoption, in a family united by the stable bond of marriage, it assures the child that peaceful atmosphere and that paternal and maternal love which he needs for his full human development.

This is precisely what your experience shows. Your decision and commitment are an invitation to society as a whole to be courageous and generous, so that this gift may be more and more esteemed, encouraged and legally supported.

5. I thank you for your witness! As we celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Christ's birth in this Great Jubilee, let us also remember that every person who comes into the world, in whatever condition, bears the sign of God's love. Christ was born and gave his life for every child in the world. There is no child, then, who does not belong to him.

"Let the children come to me" (Mc 10,14). Mother Teresa echoed these words in a way when she said to mothers tempted by abortion: "Give me your children". Following in her footsteps, you have put yourselves with Christ on the side of children. May the Lord fill you with every consolation and sustain you in the difficulties of your journey.

I embrace you all and bless you in his name.




To the Right Reverend Fathers Dom Isidoro Catanesi
President of the Benedictine Cassinese Congregation
and Dom Innocenzo Negrato
Visitator of the Italian Province of the Benedictine Congregation of Subiaco

1. I learned with deep pleasure that the Benedictine Cassinese Congregation and the Italian Benedictine Historical Center are planning to commemorate with suitable events the 200th anniversary of the election to the Chair of Peter of my venerable Predecessor, Pope Pius VII. On this happy occasion, I am pleased to send my cordial greetings and good wishes to the entire Benedictine community, as well as to the organizers of the International Historical Congress and to all who will take part in the Jubilee celebrations, glad that the figure and work of this distinguished Pontiff and faithful son of St Benedict will be commemorated as he deserves.

Luigi Barnaba Chiaramonti, the youngest of the six children of Count Scipione and Marchioness Giovanna Coronata Ghini, was born in Cesena on 14 August 1742, the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of the Assumption, to whom the monastery where he would receive his formation is dedicated: on that same Marian solemnity, he was baptized in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, so dear to the people of Cesena. Therefore the very date of his birth seems to link him to the Benedictine Abbey of the Madonna del Monte, near Cesena, which I had the joy of visiting in 1986.

At the age of 11 he entered this abbey as a monastic student. His novice master would be Dom Gregorio Calderara who, before he died, was able to see his former novice become Supreme Pontiff. After the solemn profession of his monastic vows in 1758, Gregorio Chiaramonti was sent to Padua, to St Justina's Abbey, the cradle of the ancient Benedictine Congregation, to complete the philosophical and theological studies at which, with his acute intelligence, he shone. He later came to Rome for advanced studies at the Pontifical College of St Anselm, annexed to the urban residence of the Abbey of St Paul-outside-the-Walls, that is, at St Calistus in Trastevere, which was reserved for the ablest students of the Benedictine Cassinese Congregation.

The monastic discipline and spiritual and cultural riches he acquired with a tenacious effort during his years of formation were the best preparation for the exalted universal ministry which he would carry out in a particularly turbulent period for the Church and for Europe.

2. Ordained a priest in 1765, Dom Gregory was sent to Parma to teach philosophy at St John the Evangelist Abbey. There, when he reached the age of 30 in 1772, he was awarded the academic title of "lector", with which his congregation qualified him for teaching theology and canon law. In this regard, it should be recalled that the nine years he spent in Parma were crucial for the cultural formation of the future Pope who, in that context, had his first important contact with French culture and its attempts at renewal, which later resulted tragically in the Revolution.

The young monk Chiaramonti felt that his congregation needed a profound renewal, especially in the area of formation. On the one hand, he hoped for the recovery of the original inspiration of monastic life, and on the other, for a modernization of the teaching programmes, so as to bring the young monks into more direct contact with the practical religious and social problems of the day.

He then became lecturer and librarian at St Anselm's College in Rome, and Prior of the Abbey of St Paul-outside-the-Walls. Pius VI, who had known him personally during his term of office as commendatory abbot of Subiaco, departing from the measures prescribed by the Constitutions of the ancient Cassinese Congregation, raised him to the rank of titular abbot.

3. In December 1782, he was appointed Bishop of Tivoli and in 1785 was transferred to the episcopal see of Imola and also appointed Cardinal. On 14 March 1800, at the end of the Conclave which took place in Venice, the Lord called him to guide the Church of Rome and all Christendom as Successor of the Apostle Peter. He was elected at a time of serious concern and anxiety about the future of the Christian community. As is well known, in 1800 not even the Holy Year could be celebrated. Once the difficult situation, marked for believers by forms of oppression, had been overcome, a season of relative tolerance for the Christian faith could be glimpsed, although it was still relegated to the fringes of European society.

This was the atmosphere of his Pontificate, during which he could effectively make the most of his far-reaching influence and the precious gifts of nature and grace with which God had endowed him: a spirit of simplicity and docility, an outstanding sense of justice, a clear ability to combine prudence and firmness, an extraordinary zeal for the salvation of souls. Pius VII's Pontificate made a significant mark on the Church's history, thanks also to the effective juridical instrument of the Concordat which later proved very useful in regularizing relations with the States.

4. Pius VII was fully aware of the social and political climate marked by the fierce confrontation with Napoleon Bonaparte's personality and the emergence of incentives for restoration in Italy and in Europe. Thus trials and disputes were not wanting: in 1809 he was arrested at the Emperor's orders and taken as a prisoner to France, then to Savona. He was released in 1814. A year later, after the invasion of Rome and the Papal States, he was once again obliged to return to the sorrowful road of exile and seek shelter in Genoa. In these conditions, he displayed constancy in defending the Church and tenacious courage in bearing insults and suffering. Supported by faith, he did not yield to abuse and violence, witnessing to an attachment to his mission and to a service of the Church and of the world which was a cause of undying admiration.

Indeed, since his election, Pius VII showed his awareness of the troubles he would have to face. In his first Encyclical, addressed to the Catholic world from the Venetian monastery of St George, recalling the sad events of his immediate Predecessor, Pope Pius VI, and gradually reviewing the Church's history, he shed light on how persecution and misunderstanding were not new to Vicars of Christ. At the same time, he urged Christians to persevere courageously in the midst of adversities, trusting in God and staying firm in their Gospel witness. He well knew what the mission of the Successor of Peter is: to strengthen his brethren in the faith [cf. Lk 22: 32).

5. In his ministry, Pius VII was always supported by indomitable trust in the Lord and filial love for the heavenly Mother of God. I would like, in this regard, to emphasize his devotion for the Most Holy Virgin, which had been communicated to him in the family, as if with his mother's milk, and which he then constantly nurtured over the years. Raised to the papal throne, he showedcontinuous signs of it. It is enough to remember that he insisted on personally crowning many Marian images.

On his first journey to Rome, passing through Spoleto on 30 June 1800, he crowned the sacred icon of Our Lady of St Luke, venerated in that city's cathedral. He was released from the Napoleonic prison on 22 January 1814 and, before returning to Rome, not only did he himself want to be the one to crown the venerable likeness of the Madonna del Monte in Cesena on 1 May 1814, but during that same month of May, he repeated this act of exquisite devotion for Our Lady of Compassion, popularly known as Our Lady of the Water, who is revered in the cathedral of Rimini, as well as for Our Lady of All the Saints in the cathedral of Ancona. He also returned to Savona on 10 May 1815, solemnly to crown there the image of Our Lady of Mercy, fulfilling a vow he had made during the interminable months of his three-year exile in Savona.

6. Precisely to stress the constant relations between this Pontiff and the Mother of God, the historical congress commemorating his election has chosen as its opening date 15 September, the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, which, in memory of the sorrows afflicting the Church during the period of the French Revolution and Napoleonic domination on 18 September 1814, he extended to the whole Church. In addition, on 15 September 1815, to perpetuate the memory of his triumphal return to Rome on 24 May 1814, he decreed that every year on 14 May the Diocese of Rome should celebrate the Feast of Mary Help of Christians, later included in the individual calendars of many Dioceses and religious families. During troubled times for the Pontificate, it was the Blessed Virgin herself, who supported him in his unshakeable certainty that the rights of God and of the Church would triumph at last.

Another feature of my illustrious Predecessor's pontificate was his great love of study and culture, drawn from the Benedictine tradition and which earned him the praise he deserved for the recovery of the Holy See's artistic and historical heritage, widely dispersed by the Napoleonic raids. His efforts to increase it are eloquently testified by the Chiaramonti Museum, called after him, and the frescos in the Vatican Library, which still recount his actions.

7. Consequently there are many important reasons for commemorating this worthy Successor of the Apostle Peter, harshly tried by adversities and misunderstandings. His witness of invincible and persevering service to the Church is a useful lesson for everyone. Thinking of all he had to suffer to carry out his apostolic ministry prompts meditation on the vocation of every apostle of Christ. In fact, Christians of every epoch, despite disputes and humiliations, obstacles and persecutions, are called to persevere without ceasing in fidelity to their Lord. They know it is their duty to adhere to the Gospel without compromise or fear, ready each day to take up their cross and follow him, the crucified Teacher. To walk behind him, lovingly embracing his Gospel: this is the active and generous commitment of all disciples of Jesus. The experience of the Cross is inevitably linked to this mission, in accordance with the Lord's words: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16,24).

I warmly hope that this Jubilee event will be an opportunity to become better acquainted with Pope Chiaramonti's message and to appreciate more deeply his wisdom and inner fortitude. By looking at his life and example, may the people of our time draw from them valuable information, to face the challenges of the modern age with the same missionary zeal. Today, as in his time, it is necessary to know how to pass through life's difficulties, remaining unshakeable in listening to and obeying the Gospel.

May the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Christians, obtain in a special way for the monasteries of the two congregations which developed from the one ancient Cassinese Congregation, the gift of ever greater fidelity to their charism. May he also grant them many vocations to the "school of divine service", according to the dictates of St Benedict's Rule.

To this end, I assure you my remembrance in prayer, and, as a pledge of abundant heavenly graces, I am pleased to impart to the Most Reverend Father Abbots, to the men's and women's Benedictine communities, as well as to all those who will be taking part in the International Historical Congress, the implored Apostolic Blessing.

From Castel Gandolfo, 14 August 2000.




Thursday, 7 September 2000

Mr Ambassador,

It is with pleasure that I welcome you today and receive the Letters of Credence appointing you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Holy See. I thank you for the gracious words which you have spoken and for the good wishes which you have brought from His Excellency President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak. I would ask you to convey to His Excellency my own cordial greetings, together with the assurance of my prayers for the peace and well-being of the Egyptian people.

Your presence brings back the joy of my days spent in your country last February, and once more I express my heartfelt thanks to President Mubarak and to the Government for making that visit such a memorable and fruitful one. In this year of the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, it was a great grace for me to travel to places of vital significance for the religious history of the world. I recall especially Mount Sinai where I was able to commemorate the gift of the Law which God wrote long ago on tablets of stone and which he continues to write in every age on the human heart.

I have an especially warm recollection of my meeting with Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi. We both expressed the wish for a new era of religious and cultural dialogue between Islam and Christianity. It is in this context, Mr Ambassador, that I am particularly pleased that you have spoken of Egypt as a land where unity and harmony are greatly valued and where differences of religion are seen not as barriers but as a means for mutual enrichment in rendering service to the nation. I trust most sincerely that this will always be the case, and that the difficulties that have arisen from time to time will be overcome, especially in view of the widespread willingness and positive conditions for interreligious dialogue and cooperation which can be found in Egypt.

In a world deeply marked by violence, it is bitterly ironic that even now some of the worst conflicts are between believers who worship the one God, who look to Abraham as a holy patriarch and who seek to follow the Law of Sinai. Each act of violence makes it more urgent for Muslims and Christians everywhere to recognize the things we have in common, to bear witness that we are all creatures of the one merciful God, and to agree once and for all that recourse to violence in the name of religion is completely unacceptable. Especially when religious identity coincides with cultural and ethnic identity it is a solemn duty of believers to ensure that religious sentiment is not used as an excuse for hatred and conflict. Religion is the enemy of exclusion and discrimination; it seeks the good of everyone and therefore ought always to be a stimulus for solidarity and harmony between individuals and among peoples.

Visiting your country, it was also a joy for me to meet with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III and representatives of the ancient Churches of Egypt and to celebrate with them the glorious past of Christianity in your land. I was deeply moved by the memory of the rich Christian culture that emerged in Alexandria, of the many Egyptian saints and martyrs of the Church, and of the Christian monasticism which appeared first in the Egyptian desert and spread from there throughout the world. This is a rich page both of Christian history and of the history of your people; and the Catholic community in Egypt, though small, is determined to continue to work in every way for the progress of the land which gave such impulse to Christianity’s spiritual and theological development.

Today, Egypt occupies a central place among the nations seeking to bring a just and lasting peace to the Middle East. Although there have been positive developments in recent times, these are arduous days in the long and difficult path towards a solution of the many still unresolved problems affecting that deeply unsettled region. I am heartened by your assurance that Egypt shares the Holy See’s constant concern for the future of that part of the world which the three monotheistic religions hold in such high esteem. No efforts must be spared in fostering a genuine and impartial solution which respects the rights and legitimate aspirations of all the peoples involved. I am grateful for what your country and in particular President Mubarak have done to ensure that the horrors of war and its futility are averted and that peace based on justice prevails after so many years of sorrow.

The Church too is deeply interested in the search for peace in the region, though the Church, in serving the cause of peace, has a role quite distinct from that of civil and political authorities. In fulfilling her religious mission, the Church is present in the temporal order above all through her efforts to educate consciences to the truths and values which are the foundations of the well-being of individuals and of societies. This means proclaiming and defending human dignity, working to strengthen harmony and solidarity, and promoting effective action in favour of the common good.

While her efforts are directed in the first place to the Catholic faithful, the Church remains firmly committed to cooperating with all men and women of good will for the true well-being of the whole human family. The Church willingly offers her support and encouragement wherever peaceful and lawful efforts are made to oppose those things which threaten the moral health of nations and peoples, or endanger the understanding and concord which should exist between them.

Speeches 2000 - Friday, 1 September 2000