Speeches 2001 - Sunday, 6 May 2001





Sunday, 6 May 2001

Your Holiness,
Your Beatitudes,
Eminences and Excellencies,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

1. As evening approaches on the Lordís Day, we are gathered in this sacred place Ė the Syrian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George Ė to celebrate the undying light of the Most Holy Trinity. The fullness of the light of "the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come" (Ap 1,8) shines in the face of Jesus Christ (cf. 2Co 4,6). Through him, in the Holy Spirit, we give God glory, for the sublime heritage of faith that is ours, and for the call to the ministry of truth and love which makes us servants of the Gospel.

My heart is filled with gratitude to God that I have been able to come to Damascus as a pilgrim in the footsteps of Saint Paul. It was on the road to Damascus that the Apostle of the Nations was claimed by Jesus Christ; and it was here that he received the light of the Holy Spirit and was baptized. Here, the Holy Spirit has now gathered us for this common prayer Ė to listen to the word of God, to implore his forgiveness for our sins and divisions, and to praise his infinite mercies. In the peace of the Risen Christ, let us pray with one mind and one heart, eager to heed the call of the great Syrian theologian and mystic, Ab al-Faraj, who exhorts believers to "destroy in the depth of their hearts the roots of enmity between Christians" (Book of the Dove, IV).

2. With fraternal affection, I greet His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, whose guests we are in this magnificent cathedral. I am especially pleased to be able to return the visits made to Rome by Your Holiness and your predecessor Moran Mor Ignatius Jacoub III. Mutual contacts of this kind help to sustain and deepen our brotherly love; they seal the agreement of our Churches regarding the common profession of faith in the mystery of the Word Incarnate, truly God and truly man; and they encourage us to pursue still further the pastoral cooperation which we began seventeen years ago with our Common Declaration. Your Holiness, the marked ecumenical openness of your Church is a source of deep joy to many, and an encouragement to move steadily along the path towards full communion (cf. Ut Unum Sint UUS 62-63). It is a sign of the spiritual and pastoral vitality of your Church, to which the many vocations to the priesthood and monastic life also bear witness.

In the same fraternal bond I greet His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV and His Beatitude Patriarch Gregory III, as well as the Metropolitans and Bishops accompanying them. I welcome the Patriarchs and Bishops who have come from neighbouring countries and I thank them for honouring us with their presence. With a brotherís love I greet His Beatitude Patriarch Emeritus Ignace Moussa Daoud I. When I appointed him Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and created him Cardinal, I wished not only to draw upon his experience and wisdom, but also to pay tribute to the Churches of the East and to the Church in Syria in particular.

I extend heartfelt greetings to the priests, monks and nuns, religious men and women, and all the faithful here present: I am truly happy to be among you!

3. The joy of Easter flowered on the wood of the Cross. Here in Damascus the disciple Ananias was told in a vision to go to Saul, the persecutor of the Church. Despite his doubts and fears Ananias obeyed the Lord, and without hesitation he addressed the enemy of the Christians as "brother" (Ac 9,17). Here we see two essential marks of the Churchís mission: courageous obedience to Godís word and a willingness to forgive and be reconciled. When God acts, the impossible becomes possible. It is our task to say "yes" to Godís saving will and to accept his mysterious plan with our whole being.

When Ananias came to him, Paul was praying (cf. Acts Ac 9,11). He was, in a sense, preparing to receive the mission which would bind him ever after to the Cross: "I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Ac 9,16). These are two further marks of our call to discipleship: prayer and endurance in the face of trials. Perhaps more than ever today, these will be the marks of our fidelity to God: to pray, to carry the Cross, to obey Godís will and to honour everyone as a brother or sister. In following this path, we will walk in the footsteps of a "cloud of witnesses" (cf. Heb He 12,1), including the countless monks and nuns who have gone before you in these lands. By Godís providence, the whole of the Middle East is deeply marked by the culture of Syrian monasticism and its ardent witness.

4. Here in Damascus I wish to pay homage to the entire Syrian tradition, with its rich unity in diversity. Saints Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, Ephraem, John Chrysostom, Simeon Stylites, John Damascene and so many others are luminous teachers for us all. In them we see that the obedience of faith and the suffering of the Cross never fail to bear fruits of salvation.

The wonderful creativity of your tradition appears in a figure like Saint Ephraem of Nisibis, the "harp of the Holy Spirit", whose works were quickly translated into all the languages of Christian antiquity. May such an exchange of gifts never cease! It is my fervent hope that Christians everywhere will once again open their hearts to the spiritual and doctrinal treasures of the Churches of the Syrian tradition.

Among the great host of those who followed the Lamb was that matchless saint of your country, Simeon Stylites, who was in his time a living icon of holiness and is now venerated by the Church throughout the world. His prayer was ceaseless and his charity universal, as he welcomed all who came to him from near and far, the greatest and the least. He also bore in his body the wounds of the Crucified Lord (cf. Theodoret of Cyr, Historia Religiosa, 26). In the account of his life written by his disciples fifteen years after his death, Saint Simeonís extraordinary vocation is described in these terms: "By the sufferings of his servant, God wished to rouse the world from its deep slumber". The world today needs to be awakened to Godís love and to his saving plan. The Gospel reading has exhorted us: "Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest" (Jn 4,35). The harvest is ready for reaping because the human heart is always hungry for "the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (Jn 14,6). A more united witness on the part of Christians is essential if the world of the Third Millennium is to believe (cf. Jn Jn 17,21). May the Holy Spirit hasten the day of our complete union!

5. At the end of our brief meeting, I make my own the words spoken by the Bishop or priest at the end of the Divine Liturgy in the West Syrian Rite: "Go in peace, my beloved, as we entrust you to the grace and mercy of the holy and glorious Trinity. . . Saved by the victorious Cross of the Lord and sealed by the seal of holy Baptism, may the Holy Trinity forgive you your sins, remit your debts and grant peace to the souls of your departed ones". May all these blessings come upon you through the mighty intercession of the holy Saints and Martyrs, and of the All Holy Mother of God, the Theotokos - Yoldat Aloho. Amen.




Sunday, 6 May 2001

Dear Muslim Friends,

As-salŠmu ĎalŠikum!

1. I give heartfelt praise to Almighty God for the grace of this meeting. I am most grateful for your warm welcome, in the tradition of hospitality so cherished by the people of this region. I thank especially the Minister of the Waqf and the Grand Mufti for their gracious greetings, which put into words the great yearning for peace which fills the hearts of all people of good will. My Jubilee Pilgrimage has been marked by important meetings with Muslim leaders in Cairo and Jerusalem, and now I am deeply moved to be your guest here in the great Umayyad Mosque, so rich in religious history. Your land is dear to Christians: here our religion has known vital moments of its growth and doctrinal development, and here are found Christian communities which have lived in peace and harmony with their Muslim neighbours for many centuries.

2. We are meeting close to what both Christians and Muslims regard as the tomb of John the Baptist, known as Yahya in the Muslim tradition. The son of Zechariah is a figure of prime importance in the history of Christianity, for he was the Precursor who prepared the way for Christ. Johnís life, wholly dedicated to God, was crowned by martyrdom. May his witness enlighten all who venerate his memory here, so that they Ė and we too Ė may understand that lifeís great task is to seek Godís truth and justice.

The fact that we are meeting in this renowned place of prayer reminds us that man is a spiritual being, called to acknowledge and respect the absolute priority of God in all things. Christians and Muslims agree that the encounter with God in prayer is the necessary nourishment of our souls, without which our hearts wither and our will no longer strives for good but succumbs to evil.

3. Both Muslims and Christians prize their places of prayer, as oases where they meet the All Merciful God on the journey to eternal life, and where they meet their brothers and sisters in the bond of religion. When, on the occasion of weddings or funerals or other celebrations, Christians and Muslims remain in silent respect at the otherís prayer, they bear witness to what unites them, without disguising or denying the things that separate.

It is in mosques and churches that the Muslim and Christian communities shape their religious identity, and it is there that the young receive a significant part of their religious education. What sense of identity is instilled in young Christians and young Muslims in our churches and mosques? It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict. It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence. Violence destroys the image of the Creator in his creatures, and should never be considered as the fruit of religious conviction.

4. I truly hope that our meeting today in the Umayyad Mosque will signal our determination to advance interreligious dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam. This dialogue has gained momentum in recent decades; and today we can be grateful for the road we have travelled together so far. At the highest level, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue represents the Catholic Church in this task. For more than thirty years the Council has sent a message to Muslims on the occasion of őd al-Fitr at the close of Ramadan, and I am very happy that this gesture has been welcomed by many Muslims as a sign of growing friendship between us. In recent years the Council has established a liaison committee with international Islamic Organizations, and also with al-Azhar in Egypt, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year.

It is important that Muslims and Christians continue to explore philosophical and theological questions together, in order to come to a more objective and comprehensive knowledge of each othersí religious beliefs. Better mutual understanding will surely lead, at the practical level, to a new way of presenting our two religions not in opposition, as has happened too often in the past, but in partnership for the good of the human family.

Interreligious dialogue is most effective when it springs from the experience of "living with each other" from day to day within the same community and culture. In Syria, Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for centuries, and a rich dialogue of life has gone on unceasingly. Every individual and every family knows moments of harmony, and other moments when dialogue has broken down. The positive experiences must strengthen our communities in the hope of peace; and the negative experiences should not be allowed to undermine that hope. For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness. Jesus teaches us that we must pardon othersí offences if God is to pardon us our sins (cf. Mt Mt 6,14).

As members of the one human family and as believers, we have obligations to the common good, to justice and to solidarity. Interreligious dialogue will lead to many forms of cooperation, especially in responding to the duty to care for the poor and the weak. These are the signs that our worship of God is genuine.

5. As we make our way through life towards our heavenly destiny, Christians feel the company of Mary, the Mother of Jesus; and Islam too pays tribute to Mary and hails her as "chosen above the women of the world" (Quran, III:42). The Virgin of Nazareth, the Lady of Saydn‚ya, has taught us that God protects the humble and "scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts" (Lc 1,51). May the hearts of Christians and Muslims turn to one another with feelings of brotherhood and friendship, so that the Almighty may bless us with the peace which heaven alone can give. To the One, Merciful God be praise and glory for ever. Amen.



Monday, 7 May 2001

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I greet the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land, who are responsible for managing this house, and the women religious and lay people who are here today. I am pleased to commemorate the Apostle Paul with you, in this house desired by Pope Paul VI to gather the treasure of faith, spirituality and missionary enthusiasm of the Apostle of the Gentiles, who, on the road to Damascus, accepted to welcome the light of Christ. Having found the whole truth, the Apostle Paul first lived three days in silence and in the darkness of faith before being baptized, discovering the local Christian community and setting out to proclaim the Gospel. The centre's vocation is to present the Pauline spirituality to the men and women who want to pause a moment in their Christian life, in order to live more fully their baptismal life and vocation in the Church. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the mission is born in the acceptance of the light of Christ, from whom comes the whole revelation, in silent and loving contemplation of the divine mysteries and the humble, trusting acceptance of the mission entrusted to them by the Church.

May those who benefit from the spiritual space offered by this house walk every day in the footprints of the Apostle of the Gentiles! With my Apostolic Blessing.



Golan Heights - May 7, 2001

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Mt 5,9). From this place, so disfigured by war, I wish to raise my heart and voice in prayer for peace in the Holy Land and in the whole world. Genuine peace is a gift from God. Our openness to that gift requires a conversion of heart and a conscience obedient to his Law. Mindful of the sad news of the conflicts and deaths which even today arrives from Gaza, my prayer becomes more intense.

God of infinite mercy and goodness,
with grateful hearts we pray to you today
in this land where Saint Paul once walked.
To the nations he proclaimed the truth that God was in Christ
reconciling the world to himself (cf. 2Co 5,19).
May your voice resound in the hearts of all men and women,
as you call them to follow the path of reconciliation and peace,
and to be merciful as you are merciful.

Lord, you speak words of peace to your people
and to all who turn to you in their hearts (cf. Ps Ps 85,9).
We pray to you for the peoples of the Middle East.
Help them to break down the walls of hostility and division
and to build together a world of justice and solidarity.

Lord, you create new heavens and a new earth (cf. Is Is 65,17).
To you we entrust the young people of these lands.
In their hearts they aspire to a brighter future;
strengthen their resolve to be men and women of peace,
and heralds of new hope to their peoples.

Father, you make justice spring forth from the earth (cf. Is Is 45,8).
We pray for the civil leaders of this region
that they may strive to satisfy their peoplesí rightful aspirations,
and educate the young in the ways of justice and peace.
Inspire them to work generously for the common good,
to respect the inalienable dignity of every person
and the fundamental rights which have their origin
in the image and likeness of the Creator
impressed upon each and every human being.

In a special way we pray for the leaders of this noble land of Syria.
Grant them wisdom, farsightedness and perseverance;
may they never yield to discouragement in their challenging task
of building the lasting peace for which their people yearn.

Heavenly Father,
in this place which saw the conversion of the Apostle Paul,
we pray for all who believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Guide their steps in truth and love.
May they be one as you are one, with the Son and the Holy Spirit.
May they bear witness to the peace which surpasses all understanding (cf. Phil Ph 4,7)
and to the light which triumphs over the darkness of hostility, sin and death.

Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of the one human family,
we pray for the followers of all religions.
May they seek your will in prayer and purity of heart;
may they adore you and worship your holy name.
Lead them to find in you the strength to overcome fear and distrust,
to grow in friendship and to live together in harmony.

Merciful Father,
may all believers find the courage to forgive one another,
so that the wounds of the past may be healed,
and not be a pretext for further suffering in the present.
May this happen above all in the Holy Land,
this land which you have blessed with so many signs of your Providence,
and where you have revealed yourself as the God of Love.

To the Mother of Jesus, the ever blessed Virgin Mary,
we entrust the men and women living in the land where Jesus once lived.
Following her example, may they listen to the word of God,
and have respect and compassion for others,
especially those who differ from them.
May they be inspired to oneness of heart and mind,
in working for a world that will be a true home for all its peoples!

Salam! Salam! Salam!

In concluding I wish to extend a word of appreciation to the International Force stationed here. Your presence is a sign of the international communityís determination to be of assistance in bringing closer the day of harmony between the peoples, the cultures and religions of the area. May Almighty God protect you and sustain your efforts!


May 7, 2001

My Dear Friends,

When the Cardinals elected me to the Chair of St Peter, I spoke to young people and said: "You are my hope, the hope of the Church".

After 23 years, I repeat with great convinction: you are my hope, the hope of the Church! Today I add: you are the hope of Syria!

The hope of peace, of unity, of the civilization of love, you are the hope.

Dear Young People,

1. "Peace be with you!" I greet you this evening with the Easter greeting of the Risen Lord to his disciples. I am happy to meet you at the conclusion of my pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul in Syria. I thank the young people who welcomed me in your name. Although you belong to a variety of Christian confessions, all of you wish to listen to the voice of the one Lord and to journey together towards him. May your presence here be a sign of your commitment to work together, with Christís grace, in promoting full visible unity between all Christians!

I cordially greet His Beatitude Patriarch Gregoire III and I thank him for welcoming me in the name of the Bishops of the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate of Antioch. In this Cathedral I also greet with fraternal affection the venerable Patriarch Maximos Hakim, who joins us in prayer from his residence in Beirut.

2. The passage of the Letter to Timothy which we have just heard is a source of encouragment for you: "If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. If we hold out to the end, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2Tm 2,11-13).

Dear young people, you are going through a time of life filled with questions and uncertainties. Yet Christ is calling you and awakening in you a desire to make your life something magnificent and beautiful, a determination to pursue high ideals, a refusal to be satisfied with mediocrity, and the courage to make commitments, with patience and perseverance.

3. In order to be able to respond to this call, strive constantly to grow in closeness to the Lord of life. Remain faithfully in his presence through prayer, knowledge of the Scriptures, the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this way you will build yourselves up and strengthen what the Apostle Paul calls "your inner self". An intimate relationship with the Lord is also the secret behind a fruitful life, a life grounded in what is essential for every human being: namely, dialogue with God, our Creator and our Saviour. In this way, your life will not be superficial, but profoundly rooted in the spiritual, moral and human values which sustain our whole being and our whole existence. Remember that you cannot be a Christian if you reject the Church founded on Jesus Christ; you cannot be called believers unless you put your faith into practice; and you cannot call yourselves spiritual men and women unless you allow yourselves to be moulded by God, in humble and joyful openness to his Spirit and in docility to his will. Your lifeís centre of gravity must be in God.

Only then you will be able to make choices and to undertake generous commitments. Today you may be asking questions like: "What road should I take?", "What should I do with my life?", "Whom should I follow?". Donít be afraid to take time to reflect with older people, in order to consider seriously the choices you have to make, choices which involve listening to Jesus Christ as he invites you to follow him along the demanding path of a courageous witness to values worth living for and worth giving your lives for: values such as truth, faith, human dignity, unity, peace and love. With the help of Christ and his Church, you will develop each day into men and women who are free and responsible for their own lives, actively involved in the life of their Church, in strengthening relationships between their religious and social communities, and in building an ever more just and fraternal society.

4. The Lord Jesus asks his disciples to be signs in the midst of the world, visible and credible agents of his saving presence wherever they live and work. It is not merely in words but above all by a particular lifestyle, one marked by a free heart and a creative spirit, that you will help the young people of your generation to discover that your joy and the source of your happiness is Christ. Do not separate your faith from your daily life and your daily life from your faith, as so many people do today. The life and the whole being of each Christian must be unified around a central axis: fidelity to Jesus Christ. In this way each Christian will constantly be able to repeat with the Apostle: "I know him in whom I have believed" (2Tm 1,12).

5. Like the pagans who asked Philip, saying: "We wish want to see Jesus" (Jn 12,21) or the man in Paulís vision who said: "Come and help us" (cf. Acts Ac 16,9), people today are seeking, however hesitantly, to know the truth. Often, even when they are not fully aware of it, they wish to know Christ the one Saviour. Dear young people, I invite you today to proclaim Jesus Christ with courage and fidelity, above all to the young people of your generation. And not only to proclaim Jesus Christ, but also and even more importantly, to help others to see him. In seeing the way you live, your contemporaries ought to wonder what is your inspiration and the source of your joy. Then you can say to them: "Come and see". The Church is counting on you to make Christ better known and better loved. Like the Apostles and the women on Easter morning, you have met the Risen Lord and have been given a mission (cf. Jn Jn 20,11-21,25), which is the mission of all the baptized. Love inspires us to pass on this good news, which has the power to transform individual lives and the future of the world.

6. Dear young people, the future of Christianity in your country depends on better relations and closer cooperation between the Churches and Ecclesial Communities present here. You know this and you are already working on it. The fellowship which you are happily experiencing in everyday life, in your neighbourhoods, in your schools or training centres, and in your groups or your youth activities, is important to you. It is preparing you even now to contemplate together your future as Christians in Syria. Strengthen the things that unite you. Meditate together on the Gospel, call upon the Holy Spirit, listen to the testimony of the Apostles, pray with joy and thanksgiving. Love your ecclesial communities. They have handed on to you the faith and the testimony for which your forefathers often payed a high price. They are counting on your courage and your holiness, which are the foundation of all true reconciliation. May the prayer of Christ "that all may be one" always resound in your hearts as an invitation and a promise! Your country is marked by fellowship between all parts of society. I highly esteem this fraternal and peaceful fellowship, and I express my hope that everyone will feel a real part of the community and be able to make their own contribution, in freedom, to the common good.

Dear young people, having discovered God, you must now offer him to the world. The "logic" of Christianity is truly unique! No one can keep this gift unless he also gives it away. This is the same "logic" which we have seen in the life of divine Master, who humbled himself, even to making the supreme sacrifice. That is why he was raised up and given the Name which is above every other name (cf. Phil Ph 2,5-11). The true fruitfulness of every human life is linked to this radical experience of the mystery of the Passion and the Resurrection.

7. Tonight, with your Patriarchs and your Bishops, your priests and the whole Church, I say to you once again: Wherever you are, be faithful witnesses to the Incarnate Word of life! Your presence and readiness to help in your parishes and ecclesial movements, your fraternal concern for those suffering in body and spirit, your involvement in the building of a society which respects the rights of all and promotes the common good and peace: these are your commitments because you belong to Christ and are determined to serve humanity. Dear young Christians, bear witness to "the Gospel of charity"! Dear young people of Syria: build "the civilization of love"! I say this with great hope and immense confidence.

8. To you I renew the challenge which I addressed to the young people of the world on the occasion of the Great Jubilee: "Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! ... With Christ, holiness Ė the divine plan for every baptized person Ė becomes possible [...]. Jesus walks with you, he renews your heart and strengthens you with the vigour of his Spirit" (Message for the Fifteenth World Youth Day, No. 3).

With great affection I bless all of you and your families.


May 8, 2001

Mr President,
Distinguished Syrian Friends,

1. As I take my leave of the ancient land of Syria, I am filled with a sense of gratitude. I give thanks above all to Almighty God for enabling me to continue my Jubilee Pilgrimage of faith on the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to Saint Paul, who has been my travelling companion at every step of the way.

I am especially grateful to you, Mr President, and to the members of the Government, who have welcomed me with open hearts and extended to me the hand of friendship. The Syrian people are renowned for their hospitality, and during these days they have made a pilgrim feel at home. I shall not forget this kindness.

I thank the Christian community, and in particular Their Beatitudes the Patriarchs and the Bishops, for the way in which they have accompanied me on my Pilgrimage.

I shall cherish the memory of my visit to the Umayyad Mosque and of the courteous welcome I received from His Excellency the Minister of the Waqf, and His Eminence the Grand Mufti and the Muslim community.

I pray that Syriaís long tradition of harmonious relations between Christians and Muslims will endure and become even stronger, as a testimony before the world that religion, as adoration of Almighty God, sows the seed of peace in peoplesís hearts. By responding to the deepest yearnings of the human spirit, it enriches and unites the human family on its path through history.

2. Syria is an ancient land with a glorious past. Yet in some ways yours is still a young nation which in a relatively short time and through difficult circumstances has achieved a great deal. My pilgrim prayer is that Syria will move confidently and serenely into a new and promising future, and that your country will flourish in an era of well-being and tranquillity for all its people.

Syria is a vital presence in the life of this whole region, whose peoples have long suffered the tragedy of war and conflict. But for the door of peace to open, fundamental issues of truth and justice, of rights and responsibilities must be resolved. The world looks to the Middle East with hope and concern, expectantly awaiting every sign of constructive dialogue. Many serious obstacles remain, yet the first step towards peace must be a steadfast conviction that a solution is possible within the parameters of international law and the resolutions of the United Nations. I appeal once more to all the peoples involved, and to their political leaders, to recognize that confrontation has failed and will always fail. Only a just peace can bring the conditions needed for the economic, cultural and social development to which the peoples of the region have a right.

Thank you, Mr President. My thanks to you all: Shukran!

May your future be filled with Almighty Godís blessings. His peace be with you always: As-salŠmu ĎalŠikum!



Gudja International Airport, 8 May 2001

Mr President,
Members of the Government,
Brother Bishops,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. With heartfelt gratitude to God, I stand on Maltese soil for the second time. The Jubilee Pilgrimage which I am making on the Two Thousandth Anniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ has brought me to Malta. After visiting some of the places especially connected with the history of salvation, at Sinai, in the Holy Land, and now in Athens and Damascus, my pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul brings me to you.

2. Thank you, Mr President, for the kind invitation which you extended to me in the name of the Maltese people. Thank you for your courteous words of welcome here today. I am grateful also to the distinguished members of Parliament, the Civil and Military Authorities, the members of the Diplomatic Corps, and all who are honouring this occasion with their presence.

With affection in the Lord, I greet Archbishop Mercieca, Bishop Cauchi, and Auxiliary Bishop Depasquale, as well as the other Bishops present, some of whom represent the missionary vocation of the Maltese Church, while others are descendants of Maltese emigrants. I greet the priests, the deacons, the men and women religious; and in particular the young people who are preparing to serve the Lord in the priesthood and consecrated life. I greet the catechists and all who actively collaborate in the Churchís mission.

In the words of your Patron Saint Paul I greet all the Maltese people, without exception: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Ph 1,2).

3. The memory of my first visit, eleven years ago, spontaneously comes to my mind. I remember my meetings with the priests and religious, the workers, the intellectuals, the families and the young people. I remember the Co-Cathedral of Saint John in Valletta, the Marian Shrines of Mellieha and Ta' Pinu on the Island of Gozo. I remember the Bay and the Islands of Saint Paul, and in particular the ancient Grotto, venerated as the place where he stayed.

I remember above all the faith and the enthusiasm of the Maltese and Gozitans.

Saint Paul arrived in Malta as a prisoner on his way to Rome, the place of his martyrdom. Here he and his shipwrecked companions were treated Ė as we read in the Acts of the Apostles Ė "with unusual kindness" (28:2). Here he bore witness to Christ and restored to health the father of Publius and other people of the Island who were sick (cf. Acts Ac 28,8). The goodness of the Maltese people was met by the "the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour" (Tt 3,4). For two millennia you have been faithful to the vocation involved in that singular encounter.

Today the Successor of Peter wishes to confirm you in the same faith, and to encourage you in the spirit of Christian hope and love. He prays that, like your forbears, you too may bear good and abundant fruit. Good trees yield abundant good fruit (cf. Mt Mt 12,33-35), as has been the case of the Venerable Servants of God whom I shall have the joy of declaring Blessed tomorrow.

4. Marked by its position in Europe and in the Mediterranean, Malta is heir to a singularly rich cultural tradition, the heart of which is the humanism of the Gospel. In a world in search of a sure light to guide the transformations which it is undergoing, you have a spiritual and moral heritage perfectly able to heal and elevate the dignity of the human person, to strengthen the fabric of society, and to endow human activity with a deeper sense and meaning (cf. Gaudium et Spes GS 40). This is the wisdom and insight which Malta can offer to the new historical era that is slowly but surely emerging.

Dear Maltese Friends, cherish your Christian vocation! Be proud of your religious and cultural heritage! Look to the future with hope, and set out with renewed vigour to make this new Millennium a time of solidarity and peace, of love for life and respect for Godís creation.

5. I have entrusted my pilgrimage to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostle Paul. I invoke their intercession upon all the inhabitants of Malta and Gozo!

I bless you all, and in particular the sick, the elderly and all those who are suffering in body and spirit.

Il-Mulej ibierek il-poplu kollu taí Malta u taí Ghawdex! [God bless the people of Malta and of Gozo!]

Speeches 2001 - Sunday, 6 May 2001