Speeches 2001 - Monday, 19 February 2001



Friday, 23 February 2001

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. The great celebrations which yesterday and the day before saw us play a leading role on a new page of the Church's history are still echoing in everyone's mind. With a heart filled with gratitude to the Lord, I welcome you today to this simpler, more informal gathering.

I first greet you, venerable Italian Cardinals. Through you the Church in Italy will further enrich the College of Cardinals with pastoral wisdom and apostolic enthusiasm. I gladly extend my cordial greetings to all who shared the joy of this moment with you and who appreciate your love for Christ and your generous dedication to the Church. I ask you all, dear relatives, friends and diocesans of the new Cardinals, to assure them the support of your prayers so that they will faithfully persevere in their respective tasks and continue their valuable work for the benefit of the whole Christian people.

2. I greet the French-speaking faithful who have accompanied the new Cardinals from their countries: France, Egypt, Syria, Côte d'Ivoire and Viêt Nam. The celebrations we have just experienced invite us to become ever more aware of our personal role in the Church. Every baptized person, by virtue of his Baptism, is called to be a Gospel witness and to take an active part in building up the Body of Christ along with their Pastors, who are responsible for guiding the People of God.

As you return to your Dioceses, may you feel strengthened in your faith and in your love for Christ and his Church, with a renewed desire to follow the Lord and to pattern your life on his! To this end, every Christian is called to develop his spiritual life by contemplating the Saviour. I give you all an affectionate Apostolic Blessing.

3. With affection in the Lord, I greet the new Cardinals from the English-speaking lands and all who have accompanied them to Rome on this happy occasion. Through the years, I have seen at first hand the immense riches of the cultures from which you come - India, South Africa, Ireland, England and the United States of America. Now the new Cardinals place these riches still more generously at the service of the universal Church as they are more closely united with the Successor of the Apostle Peter in the task of proclaiming the Gospel to all nations.

Dear friends, we live in a time when people are hungry for the deeper things of the Spirit. Now is the moment to cast our nets into the deep! The beginning of the new millennium is a time for us to renew our commitment to the mission entrusted to us by Christ, a mission rooted in the depths of contemplation. This contemplation, as I said in the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, is the contemplation of the face of Jesus Christ, the Word of life: "that which was from the beginning ... we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1Jn 1,1).

May the communities of faith to which you belong become more and more true schools of prayer, contemplation and mission. Upon you, your families and your countries I gladly invoke the loving protection of Mary, Mother of the Church.

4. I extend a cordial greeting to the newly appointed Cardinals from Germany. With you, I also greet your relatives and friends, your co-workers in the Dioceses, the authorities and the faithful who have accompanied you to Rome.

You know that I also regard your elevation to the rank of Cardinal as a sign of my esteem for the Church that lives and works in your country. So I am sure that this honour will further encourage you to bear generous witness to Christ and his Gospel. As I wish the Church in Germany growth, prosperity and many spiritual fruits, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, to your loved ones who have accompanied you to the Eternal City and to all who are entrusted to your pastoral care.

5. I affectionately greet the pilgrims from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Spain, Honduras, Peru and Venezuela who have joyfully accompanied their new Cardinals. I now ask them for greater zeal in the Church's service, to the point of giving their lives for the Gospel, as did the saint we are commemorating today, St Polycarp of Smyrna. This also involves a greater responsibility for their ecclesial communities and, above all, for those who, like you, are closest to them. I therefore invite you to help them with prayer, loyal cooperation and spiritual closeness in this new mission entrusted to them.

After these intense days spent in Rome, take back to your families and compatriots the Pope's affectionate greeting. He feels very close to the situation in each of your countries, prays for their people and now cordially blesses you.

6. With particular affection I sincerely greet the Cardinals from Brazil and Portugal. Since they represent a significant part of the Catholic world in nations which, because of their historical tradition and missionary commitment, represent the Church's future hope, I ask almighty God to bless these peoples and their lands and to support them on the path of the new evangelization with abundant fruits of holiness in all areas of society.

I extend a special greeting to the Cardinals' relatives and friends, who have been joined by some members of the local Episcopate, particularly from the Episcopal Conferences and various diocesan communities. This significant participation is meant to show the esteem of the Brazilian and Portuguese peoples for their Pastors and for the work they have carried out in recent years with generosity and self-denial. May the Blessed Virgin protect their countries, so dear to me, and make the new Cardinals living examples of dedicated Pastors who are willing to serve the Church and the Roman Pontiff with fidelity and love!

7. I cordially greet everyone who has accompanied Cardinal Marian and Cardinal Zenon during these solemn days.

I thank Providence that the Latin Church in Ukraine is bearing witness to a living faith which survived the years of oppression and trial; enlivened by the Divine Spirit, she is growing and can rejoice today in her new Cardinal. May the red colour of his robes be a sign of the universal Church's gratitude for all the priests and faithful in Ukraine who paid for their love of Christ and their desire for union with Peter by their sufferings and frequently by the gift of their lives. May it also be a sign of hope that this seed of blood will bear blessed fruits in the new millennium.

I am pleased that the Church in Poland can share in a special way in the Petrine ministry through the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education (for Seminaries and Educational Institutions). I greet everyone who has come to accompany him with prayer during these days.

I ask God that your participation in the Consistory will enable you to experience in faith the mystery of the Church's universality and unity, of which the College of Cardinals is a particular sign. I entrust the new Cardinals and everyone present to Christ and to his Mother. God bless you all!

8. I extend my cordial greetings to you, dear Ukrainian pilgrims, on this solemn day when two sons of your homeland have been created Cardinals together: one of the Latin rite, the other of the Eastern rite. Pray that this sign of unity may become a pledge of full communion between East and West. As I look forward to meeting you during the visit I will make, please God, next June, I send all your compatriots an affectionate greeting.

I also extend an affectionate greeting to you, dear faithful from Lithuania, as you surround your worthy representative who has been raised to the dignity of Cardinal. It is a dignity that honours the entire Church in Lithuania for her fidelity to Christ, for which she paid a high price during the years of communist domination. Persevere in love of the Gospel and always be united with your Pastors: God will always give you his protection, which I implore with a constant remembrance in my prayer.

With great joy I lastly greet you, dear faithful who have come from Latvia to gather round a son of your land, called to be a member of the College of Cardinals. Accompany him with your affection and with your prayer that God will help him in his mission of service to the Church. When you return home, I ask you to bring my blessing and greetings to your compatriots.

9. Dear and venerable Brothers who are now members of the College of Cardinals! In taking my leave, allow me to express my cordial wishes to you again. Each of your various ministries is always at the service of the one Christ and his Mystical Body. With fraternal esteem, I encourage you to continue your spiritual and apostolic mission, which has reached a very important stage today.

Keep your gaze firmly set on Christ, drawing from his Heart an abundance of grace and comfort after the example of the fearless servants of the Church who glorified God down the ages with the heroic practice of the virtues and unswerving fidelity to the Gospel.

To this end I call on the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and cordially impart a special Apostolic Blessing to each of you and to all who have gathered round you with their affection and devotion.



Saturday, 24 February 2001

Dear Friends!

1. Here I am among you once again for a gathering that is now part of the tradition of the Roman Seminary, which is the Pope's Seminary. It is a fitting occasion to reaffirm by my presence what I recently wrote in my Message to the Diocese of Rome: "I wish to assure [our diocesan seminaries] that they are constantly in my thoughts and are especially remembered in my prayer" (n. 6).

First of all, I express my esteem and affection to the Cardinal Vicar, who has just celebrated his 70th birthday. Once again I offer him my gratitude for the good he does in serving the Church of Rome and, as President of the Episcopal Conference, in serving the entire Church in Italy. I greet the Bishops here, the parish priests and the priests who have spoken on this important occasion, as well as the seminary's rector and teachers. I greet each of you, dear seminarians, who are making your formational journey here and are preparing for the total gift of yourselves to the cause of the kingdom. I extend my greetings to your parents, friends and the young people who have joined the seminary community today to honour Our Lady of Trust and to take part in this celebration.

2. We were deeply moved while listening to the oratorio composed by dear Mons. Marco Frisina. It was inspired by the brief but intense earthly life of a former seminarian, the Servant of God Bruno Marchesini, who died dreaming of the priesthood when he was only 23. You rightly call him your "heavenly friend". His life was a constant and courageous journey towards holiness.

We learn from the pages of his diary that in 1936, at the end of May during his second year of philosophical studies, he consecrated himself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Solemnly repeating the offering of his chastity, he wrote: "Through you, O Mary, today I have dared to present the flowering lily of my purity to Jesus, truly present in my heart under the Eucharistic veil. You inspired me to do this, you will help me preserve it with all the fervour of this day". He added, as if clearly to emphasize his thought, that this consecration expressed his intention of a "supreme dedication of love to Jesus Christ".

3. Bruno Marchesini understood that Our Lady is the surest way to reach Jesus and to belong to him totally and for ever. This has also been my personal experience. Welcome the Blessed Virgin into your lives as your Mother, dear seminarians. May each of you have a loving knowledge of Mary's role, especially during the valuable years of formation when you are preparing to become a priest, that is, an "alter Christus".

In the seminary chapel you venerate the Blessed Virgin with the title "Our Lady of Trust". I urge you to come and visit her often and to open your heart to her: Mary is "the radiant dawn and sure guide for our steps" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 58). The Lord's faithful Servant will also help you, like your "heavenly friend" whom we recall today, to dedicate your lives to the service of the Gospel in a generous journey of holiness.

4. To be saints: this is every Christian's programme, because "the ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual" (ibid., n. 31). I hope that this programme will also direct your lives, dear young friends. You have enthusiastically experienced World Youth Day; you saw the hundreds of thousands of your contemporaries who came to the Apostle Peter's tomb from every part of the world. They came to strengthen their faith and to express their firm decision to be men and women of the Beatitudes in the new millennium.

Rome needs saints! The fruitful season of a new evangelization is opening before us, demanding the courage of holiness if it is to be successful. Dear seminarians, bring this yearning to your daily prayer. Make it your own, imitating your friend, Bruno Marchesini, who addressed these words to Jesus on Christmas in 1937: "Make me a holy priest or call me to you first. Make me understand how miserable this life is, if it is not entirely spent in loving you".

5. In the oratorio we heard Jesus' invitation: "Come and see", with John's comment: "They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him" (Jn 1,39).

Dear friends, what the Evangelist said about his own vocation has enabled us to reread Bruno Marchesini's life in depth and to discover his sincere devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the woman who belonged fully and completely to the Lord.

Let us look again to her, the Mother of Christ, and ask her to teach us, too, to "stay" with the Lord. Let us ask her that the Roman Seminary community may be more and more consciously a "genuine school of prayer, where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love'" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 33). May all this become your daily experience!

May she whom you learn to call upon as Our Lady of Trust, a title so dear to Bl. John XXIII who also passed through your seminary, be your hope and comfort!

With these sentiments, as I thank you once again for this meeting, I cordially give you all a special Apostolic Blessing.



Monday, 26 February 2001

Dear Members of the Carabinieri!

1. Welcome and thank you for your visit, which brings to mind the Great Jubilee, when the Carabinieri were called to lend their much appreciated service, which particularly involved the Carabinieri of the Lazio Region who work in the city of Rome. Today's audience offers me the opportunity to express my gratitude and that of the Holy See. I first greet General Corrado Borruso, Commander of the Lazio Region Carabinieri, and thank him for the noble words that he addressed to me on behalf of all those present. I also cordially greet Colonel Baldassare Favara and each of you, who have gathered here to represent your many colleagues who cooperated, together with the other armed forces, in the smooth running of the various Jubilee events and in the safety of the many pilgrims and visitors who came to Rome throughout the Holy Year.

2. In receiving you, who are a skilled part of the Italian Armed Forces, my thoughts cannot fail to turn to Sunday, 19 November last, when, in St Peter's Square, we celebrated the Jubilee of the Armed Forces and the Police. That was an important witness of faith by military personnel from numerous countries and by their families. On that occasion I had the chance to urge everyone to be "custodians of the security and freedom of your fellow-countrymen" and to be "men and women of peace" (Homily, n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 22 November 2000, p. 2).

Today I repeat these words to you, thinking of the mission you carry out in the Rome area. This city has a unique role in the Christian world, and it is important that everyone, from the residents to pilgrims, from migrants to tourists, can live here in a climate of respect for the human person and the values related to him. That is, a substantially human and Christian atmosphere.

For this to happen, it is necessary that military personnel, guardians of order and lawfulness, cultivate these most noble values in their souls. These values, which are rooted in human and Christian traditions, must be constantly nourished through individual and community effort. The faithful know that they are called to this task by virtue of the vocation to holiness given to everyone.

Holiness, in fact, means to live fully the Gospel virtues in the concrete situations of daily life. The history of the Italian Carabinieri shows that the heights of holiness can be reached in the faithful and generous fulfilment of the duties of one's state. I am thinking here of your colleague, Sergeant Salvo d'Acquisto, awarded a gold medal for military valour, whose cause of beatification is under way.

3. In order to progress on this path of human and Christian development, what is necessary is prayer, reconciliation with God through sacramental Confession, the supernatural food of the Eucharist and listening to the Word of God. Moreover, those of you who are married know that the sacrament of Matrimony is an inexhaustible source of grace for daily life.

Sustained by God's help, generously continue your mission in the service of the city and the Province of Rome. May you always be protected by the maternal care of Blessed Mary, the "Virgo fidelis".

I too accompany you with my prayer and, as I sincerely wish all good things for each of you and your families, I bless you all.

                                                         March 2001


Thursday, 1 March 2001

Your Eminence,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Priests!

1. I greet you with affection and I thank you for attending this annual meeting of the clergy of Rome at the beginning of Lent. It is a meeting that I cherish, because of the opportunity it gives me to be personally close to those who are directly involved in the pastoral care of the faithful belonging to this dear Church of Rome.

I greet and thank the Cardinal Vicar, the Vicegerent, the Auxiliary Bishops and all who have addressed me.

2. "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation" (2Co 6,2).

The Apostle's exhortation, which we heard during the solemn Ash Wednesday liturgy, invites us to begin the penitential journey of Lent with sentiments of deep gratitude to the Lord. At this acceptable time, a time of grace, he comes to meet his people, in order to guide them to Easter on the path of conversion and reconciliation.

Lent is an important season which should be observed in parishes and in every ecclesial reality with great spiritual and pastoral intensity. Many commitments and projects await you, scheduled programmes that should be regularly carried out at the catechetical, liturgical and charitable level. But the preoccupation of "doing" must never prevail over those crucial spiritual and interior factors which are the only firm basis for your necessary and intense pastoral activity.

3. I especially urge you, dear priests, to foster your personal spiritual progress in this holy season. The faithful draw great benefit for understanding and welcoming the spiritual riches of Lent from the priest's example and witness, and rediscover the parish as a "school" of prayer, "where the meeting with Christ is expressed not just in imploring help, but also in thanksgiving, praise, adoration, contemplation, listening and ardent devotion, until the heart truly "falls in love'" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 33).

Lent is the acceptable time in every community to foster that spirituality of communion which flows from a more intense encounter with the Lord into mutual relations, making it possible to relish "how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity" (Ps 133,1). From this standpoint, priestly communion, which is expressed in lived brotherhood between parish priests and curates, between elderly and young priests, and especially with confrères who are ill or in difficulty is decisive.

Within the presbyterate, each individual is called to regard others as "those who are a part of me" and to see first what is positive in their brothers, to welcome it and prize it as "a gift for me", "resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 43).

4. The commitment to communion includes that listening to the People of God which use participatory structures, promoted with conviction and seriousness, but also all the opportunities offered to us each day for accepting peoples' requests and meeting their most practical needs.

I am thinking of the many people who, because of work or their busy pace of life, need to be welcomed and guided in catechesis and in preparation for the sacraments with different times, schedules and forms that correspond to their needs. We must reach out to them with openness and kindness, delighted to meet and approach especially those who do not regularly participate in our communities.

I am also thinking of the many families who, during the Lenten season, open the doors of their homes to receive the traditional blessing of the missionaries, to which the City Mission gave such a positive start.

5. As our communities are coming out of themselves to bring the message of the Lord who died and rose again to every home and workplace, we come into contact with the many old and new forms of suffering and poverty in Rome's families and neighbourhoods. You priests, who live daily with the people, know the great expectations and trust which the poor and, in general, all the suffering place in the Christian community.

Therefore, like Christ the Good Shepherd, go and seek out every man, woman, child, young or elderly person who is looking for a sign of affection, solidarity and fraternal sharing in his situation of material or moral and spiritual poverty. This network of concrete, personalized love is the first missionary way which produces the new ""creativity' in charity" (cf. Novo millennio ineunte, NM 50) that opens hearts to the Gospel message.

6. This Lent coincides with a moment that is particularly significant and full of prospects for our Diocese: for in every parish and ecclesial reality, spiritual and pastoral discernment are under way, leading to the great convention to be held in June.

As I recalled in my Letter to the Church of Rome, repeating the invitation of Novo millennio ineunte, we can look to the future in an attitude of faith and Christian hope, and thus "put out into the deep", in order to live the present with enthusiasm and to open ourselves confidently to the future.

The convention is meant to begin a new and fruitful season of evangelization in our city. The permanent mission is a goal which we must pursue with all our energies, a mission centred on Christ, the only Saviour, promoted by the whole People of God, sustained by communion among all its members, directed to each person, family and context, witnessed to by Christians of mature faith, who can have an impact on the mentality and culture of the whole city through their work, convictions and lifestyle.

7. I once again express my deep gratitude to you for the willingness and generosity you showed during the Jubilee. If this great event took place calmly, offering pilgrims from every corner of the earth a living witness of traditional Roman hospitality, full of human and spiritual warmth, it is largely due to the parishes, families, religious communities and many volunteers, young people and adults who were generously involved in service and hospitality.

My gratitude goes especially to Rome's young people, who did their utmost during World Youth Day to offer hospitality to their peers and who accompanied them with friendship and brotherhood in their unforgettable experiences of faith and communion. These young people - large numbers of whom attend our traditional gathering in the Vatican on the Thursday before Palm Sunday - are a great missionary resource for the Church of Rome and for the whole city.

Dear priests, love these young people with the very heart of Christ, and have confidence in each of them. Support their enthusiasm and teach them to bear witness to the faith among their peers. Do not be afraid to invite them to say "yes" courageously and without reservation to even the most demanding calls, such as the vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life. Accompany them on the journey of Christian growth with the celebration of the sacrament of Penance and spiritual direction. Your joy in being priests and your choice of a poor life freely dedicated to the Gospel and to others are the most effective way to sow vocations in the hearts of young people.

8. Lent is the acceptable time for our sanctification. It is so for every baptized person and even more so for us priests, who are called to "celebrate each day what we live and to live what we celebrate", the Lord's paschal sacrifice, the first and eternal source of holiness and grace.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of priests in particular, sustain us on this demanding journey. May the intercession of holy priests, such as the Curé of Ars and the many Roman priests and pastors raised to the glory of the altars, help us. May the example of so many brothers, whose humble service and generous dedication to the Church of Rome we appreciate, encourage us.

I cordially bless you and with you I bless your communities.

Before he began his address, the Holy Father said in answer to a question about communion among priests:

Regarding this last question, how to create this communion among priests, I think that the methods are sufficiently well known: living together, praying together, deciding together and then working together. This is more or less the method of communion followed in the Roman Curia and in the Diocese of Rome, with the Cardinal Vicar, his Bishop collaborators and the priests. I think that today's meeting is exactly this, the expression of a wider communion, not only with the Curia, the parishes and the deaneries, but with all the clergy of Rome. I think this is the answer to the last question. Now I have prepared a speech that is longer, more programmatic.

After his address the Holy Father added:

In conclusion, I want to tell you that for me, as for us all, this Holy Year remains a great encouragement. We saw the crowds gathering in front of St Peter's Basilica to pass through the Holy Door. We saw the countless confessions being heard. We saw young people going to confession en masse. Obviously en masse means in large numbers, but they went to confession individually. We saw all that. So we see that the harvest is great, but the labourers perhaps are not quite enough. But we thank God for those there are. A thank you to God and to all of you, the priests of Rome. Thank you for the vocations we have in the Roman Seminary, which I visited last Saturday. So I would like to close with an invitation to optimism. An optimism that we owe to the great experience of the Jubilee Year. It seems that what the Jubilee Year brought us is visible even to those who are not perhaps our friends. Even the secular press clearly says so: they have to recognize the facts, the concrete experience. Thanks be to God! A great thank-you to God. I also wish you Christian courage for the Lenten period and a Happy Easter.

The Holy Father led the recitation of the Angelus and gave his Blessing. He then spoke extemporaneously.

Regarding the question about communion among priests, I would like to add that it is important for priests to live together, eat together, dine together. With this in mind, buon appetito!



Saturday, 3 March 2001

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am pleased to receive you today, Pastors of God's pilgrim Church in Panama, who have come to Rome for your ad limina visit. During these days you have had an opportunity to renew your faith at the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to express your full communion with the Bishop of Rome, with whom you are united in "a bond of unity, charity and peace" (cf. Lumen gentium, LG 22), and to invigorate your pastoral concern for all the Churches (cf. Christus Dominus, CD 6). Your contacts with the various dicasteries of the Roman Curia will also have given you support and guidance in the mission entrusted to you.

I am deeply grateful to Bishop José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán of David, President of the Episcopal Conference, for the kind words he spoke to me on behalf of all, expressing your sentiments of affection and the aspirations and worries that motivate you in your ministry. As Pastor of the whole Church, I encourage the concern you show for the Panamanian people, to whom I ask you to bring the Pope's affectionate greeting; he has not forgotten the intense and memorable day he spent with them on 5 March 1983.

2. In recent years the Lord, who promised his presence until the end of time (cf. Mt Mt 28,20), has offered his Church an experience of his gifts. The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America and the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America showed the new context of evangelization, which is less and less restricted by the divisions and barriers that seemed insurmountable, so that a broader and more universal sense of communion can be fostered (cf. Ecclesia in America ).

The celebration of the Great Jubilee, in turn, has been not only an extraordinarily rich ecclesial experience in itself, but also a pressing appeal to all ecclesial communities to be open to what God expects of them at the beginning of this new century and this new millennium. As I said in my Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, "we now need to profit from the grace received, by putting it into practice in resolutions and guidelines for action" (n. 3). I therefore also invite you to do this in each of your Dioceses (cf. ibid., n. 29).

3. Among your various tasks as Pastors of the particular Churches in Panama, you know that the proclamation of the Gospel is the priority in your mission as heads and guides of that portion of the People of God entrusted to you. Indeed, Jesus Christ is the "definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life, and to those fundamental questions which still trouble so many men and women on the American continent" (Ecclesia in America, ). Jesus himself made this clear when he sent out his disciples, advising them not to take anything with them for the journey on their mission to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand (cf. Mt Mt 10,7-14). In this way he taught them that the apostle must put all his trust in the Lord and in the message of salvation he brings, living in him and for him and letting no other human support, interest or criteria stand in the way of his task.

In this regard, it is important for each Bishop to inspire this same spirit in his co-workers, especially his priests. It obviously requires him to be close to them, to their spiritual and material needs and to the often difficult conditions in which they carry out their ministry. In this way the indispensable bond of communion with their Bishop, from whom they expect to receive the encouragement they need to live and generously fulfil their priestly work, will be strengthened.

This will also make a decisive contribution to another of the most pressing priorities in your Dioceses, the fostering of vocations, which demands serious effort on everyone's part. In this area the various programmes must be supported especially by the witness of priests and consecrated persons, who should show unconditional devotion to the Gospel cause. Their very life, "their fraternal unity and zeal for the evangelization of the world are the first and most convincing factor in the growth of vocations" (Pastores dabo vobis, PDV 41).

4. I know of your concern for some aspects of your people which seem to prevent the Gospel from penetrating their hearts. There are many differences from one region to another, which sometimes have a marked ethnic and cultural identity; some very rapid social changes which are disconcerting to many, especially to young people; and the excessively widespread temptation of a superficial life, of selfish consumerism, of irresponsible sexuality and even of easy recourse to violence.

In this regard, far from giving in to any temptation to discouragement, you must have an attitude of closeness and a word for young people which challenges them directly and without subterfuge, saves them from a superficial or meaningless life, reawakens their enthusiasm for responsibility and protects them from being beseiged by a world full of deceptive allurements. With St Augustine, we can say of many young people today, "who does not long for truth and life? But not everyone finds the way" (Sermon, 142, 1).

There are many ways for Christ's message to reach them. What is important is that it be authentic and transparent, that it be deeply rooted in their being through an ongoing, systematic catechesis, that it fill their hearts with joy and be celebrated in the liturgy, shared in the community and discovered more and more in every person's heart through prayer (cf. Novo millennio ineunte, NM 33).

5. During my pastoral visit to Panama, I had the opportunity to talk about the Christian meaning of the family, which is not only the basic cell of society, but also a privileged place for living and transmitting the faith. The family should therefore hold the pre-eminent place in evangelization programmes, in order to respond to God's plan for marriage and to make homes themselves channels for the spread of Gospel values. On that occasion I remarked that "marriage is a story of mutual love, a path to human and Christian maturity. Only in the person's progressive self-manifestation can a relationship of love be consolidated which involves the totality of the spouses' life" (Homily at Mass for Families, Panama, 5 March 1983, n. 4).

This lofty concept of marriage and the family continues to be one of the challenges for the Church of the third millennium which, in your country too, shows the existence of certain attitudes which radically impede the fulfilment of a family project based on the divine plan. I am referring in particular to the scant esteem for the dignity of women and the frequent desertion of conjugal and family duties. Indeed, it is sad to see how at times "women still meet forms of discrimination" (Ecclesia in America, ). Therefore, family ministry must work to remedy these deficiencies through necessary and appropriate marriage preparation, constant attention to home life, and appeals to the responsibility of public authorities regarding educational programmes and the integration of young people into society.

6. On the other hand, the celebration of the Great Jubilee has made people feel the need for the Church's gaze to be "more than ever firmly set on the face of the Lord" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 16). Moreover, those who have been entrusted with the mission of guiding the People of God receive from Christ the example and best direction for pastoral activity that is selfless and generous to the point of giving their lives (cf. Jn Jn 10,11 Lumen gentium, LG 27). The present circumstances, which more and more frequently lead to dispersion and alienation, make it particularly important for a pastor not only to serve his regular faithful, but also tirelessly to seek out those who are confused or distant (cf. Lumen gentium, LG 28).

The Gospel image of putting the lost sheep on one's shoulders (Lc 15,4-5), suggests the ever more frequent situation of many Christians who, although they would like to remain firm in their faith or return to it within the Church, do not feel strong enough to resume the journey on their own. Thus there is a need for special attention to the weak and to those who, despite their good will, find it difficult to live in full harmony with their baptismal commitment, so that the flickering flame of their faith will not die but burn radiantly.

7. In Panama the Church and her Pastors have a great tradition of assistance to the needy, defence of ethnic minorities, human advancement and promotion of education. I would like to encourage you to continue in this direction and, to promote with "greater resourcefulness a new "creativity' in charity" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 50), to deal with the magnitude of certain phenomena of social and cultural marginalization, as well as with the new material and spiritual forms of poverty which are emerging at the beginning of the new millennium.

In this regard, it is important to maintain your prophetic voice regarding the continuing situations of discrimination, even when they do not appear to cause social destabilization. However, creativity in charity must aim above all at seeking methods and activities for one and all in building their future and that of the local and national community. The Church, which works to promote the integral good of each individual, and therefore of his social and community dimension, is not satisfied with achieving mere well-being or a comfortable life. She must strive to foster the true dignity of the person, which implies, on the one hand, respect for the individual's fundamental human rights and, on the other, his sense of responsibility, solidarity and cooperation in building a better world for everyone.

This is a specific mission of the lay faithful, who need special pastoral attention to receive strong Christian formation and great strength of mind in their social mission. In this way they will be able to imbue the world of culture, science and politics with Gospel values. Moreover, the unflagging hope that comes from faith and their example of life will encourage others in their commitment to overcome those situations which cause the material and moral degradation that makes women, children and certain social groups especially vulnerable and leads to crime and violence.

8. At the end of this meeting, I would cordially like to share in the hopes that unite you and that help you to work more and more as brothers, thereby strengthening ecclesial communion, as I invited you to do in my Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte (cf. nn. 44-45). The image your country has in the world as a crucial place of passage and communication is an invitation for your Ecclesial Communities to set an example by their ability to join forces, to engage in dialogue with everyone and to create unbreakable bonds of unity, while at the same time respecting the diversity of each culture.

As I ask the Virgin Mary to accompany you in your pastoral ministry and to protect her beloved Panamanian sons and daughters, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you.

Speeches 2001 - Monday, 19 February 2001