Speeches 2001 - Saturday, 17 March 2001




Saturday, 17 March 2001

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Welcome! I cordially greet each of you, priests and lay people, who have gathered in Rome to spend some days reflecting on the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte and on the prospects that I outlined in it for the future of evangelization. I especially greet your Prelate, Bishop Javier Echevarría, who organized this meeting for the purpose of strengthening the Prelature's service to the particular Churches where its faithful are present.

You are here representing the components by which the Prelature is organically structured, that is, priests and lay faithful, men and women, headed by their own Prelate. This hierarchical nature of Opus Dei, established in the Apostolic Constitution by which I erected the Prelature (cf. Apos. Const. Ut sit, 28 Nov. 1982), offers a starting point for pastoral considerations full of practical applications. First of all, I wish to emphasize that the membership of the lay faithful in their own particular Churches and in the Prelature, into which they are incorporated, enables the special mission of the Prelature to converge with the evangelizing efforts of each particular Church, as envisaged by the Second Vatican Council in desiring the figure of personal prelatures.

The organic way that priests and laity work together is one of those privileged areas where pastoral activity will take life and be strengthened, activity marked by that "new energy" (cf. Apost. Let. Novo millennio ineunte, NM 15) which has encouraged us all since the Great Jubilee. In this connection, we should recall the importance of that "spirituality of communion" stressed by the Apostolic Letter (cf. ibid., nn. 42-43).

2. The laity, inasmuch as they are Christians, are involved in carrying out a missionary apostolate. Their specific skills in various human activities are, first of all, an instrument entrusted to them by God to enable "the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture" (ibid., n. 29). They should be encouraged, then, to put their knowledge actively at the service of the "new frontiers" that are emerging as so many challenges for the Church's saving presence in the world.

It will be their direct witness in all these fields that will show how the highest human values only achieve their fullness in Christ. And their apostolic zeal, fraternal friendship and supportive charity will enable them to turn daily social relationships into opportunities for awakening in others that thirst for truth which is the first condition for the saving encounter with Christ.

Priests, on their part, exercise an irreplaceable primary function: that of helping souls, one by one, through the sacraments, preaching and spiritual direction to open themselves to the gift of grace. A spirituality of communion will make the most of the roles of each ecclesial element.

3. I urge you, dear friends, in all your work not to forget the central point of the Jubilee experience: the encounter with Christ. The Jubilee was a continuous, unforgettable contemplation of the face of Christ, the eternal Son, God and Man, crucified and risen. We sought him in the pilgrimage towards the Door that opens the way to heaven for man. We experienced his sweetness in the very human and divine act of forgiving the sinner. We saw him as a brother to all men and women, restored to unity in the gift of saving love. The thirst for spirituality felt in our society can only be quenched by Christ.

"No, we shall not be saved by a formula, but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!" (Apos. Let. Novo millennio ineunte, NM 29). For the world, for all our brothers and sisters, we Christians must open the way that leads to Christ. "Your face, O Lord, do I seek" (Ps 27 [26]: 8). This aspiration was often on the lips of Bl. Josemaría, a man who thirsted for God and was therefore a great apostle. He wrote: "In intentions, may Jesus be our end; in affections, our love; in speech, our theme; in actions, our model" (The Way, 271).

4. It is time to put aside all fear and pursue daring apostolic goals. Duc in altum! (Lc 5,4): Christ's invitation spurs us to put out into the deep and to nurture ambitious dreams of personal holiness and apostolic fruitfulness. The apostolate always overflows from one's interior life.

Certainly, it is also action, but action sustained by love. And the source of love always lies in a person's deepest dimension, where the voice of Christ is heard inviting us to put out into the deep with him. May each of you welcome this invitation of Christ and respond to it with fresh generosity every day.

With this wish, as I entrust your commitment to prayer, work and witness to Mary's intercession, I affectionately give you my Blessing.



Tuesday, 20 March 2001

Dear Brothers,

1. I gladly welcome you and I am pleased to extend my cordial greeting to each of you who are preparing for your forthcoming expedition to the North Pole. It is being made 100 years after the one made by Prince Luigi Amedeo di Savoia Aosta, Duke of the Abruzzi, in which the young mountaineering priest, Fr Achille Ratti, the future Pius XI, also wanted to take part but was prevented by unexpected setbacks at the last minute.

In a certain way, you would like to complete the arduous expedition of 1900 and to emulate the daring men who, in difficult conditions, resolved to achieve goals that no human being had ever achieved before. Following this undertaking and the subsequent expedition led by Umberto Nobile in 1928, you are preparing to bear witness to man's constant yearning to know little-explored pages in the marvellous book of creation. I am sure that your special journey will enable you to share the wonder of the Psalmist who exclaims with ecstatic wonder before nature's marvels: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!".

2. Please God, you will reach the North Pole precisely on Easter Day and will be able to celebrate Holy Mass there. Thus you will be fulfilling the wish that Pius XI was unable to realize in his own time. You will also fulfil another desire of his: to plant the Cross of Christ in that furthest tip of the globe. The artistic astylar cross, which I am very pleased to bless today, portrays men and women in search of salvation. Led by the Successor of Peter, they meet Christ who died on the cross for us. He is the one Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and forever.

These two "signs" give your expedition a distinct missionary significance. By planting the "tree of the cross" and renewing the Eucharistic sacrifice at the "ends of the earth", you intend to recall that human beings only find their true dimension when they can fix their gaze on Christ and abandon themselves totally to him.

In a special way, by celebrating the divine sacrifice at the North Pole on Easter Day itself, you want to make the proclamation of the risen Lord ring out loudly, to "the ends of the earth" (Ac 1,8).

I warmly hope that this mission, so challenging and full of significance, may be crowned by full success and to this end I entrust each of you to the motherly protection of the Virgin Mary, "Spes certa poli". With these wishes, I wholeheartedly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and willingly extend it to all who are taking part in your courageous initiative.





To Mrs María Eugenia Díaz de Pfennich
President of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations

1. With joy I greet the participants in the General Assembly of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, taking place in Rome from 17 to 21 March 2001. Since 1910 your movement has brought Catholic women together from all the continents and from a great variety of backgrounds and cultures. In a spirit of respect for this diversity you now form a large and dynamic family within the Catholic Church. Your meeting at the heart of the universal Church is a special opportunity to reaffirm your identity and to draw on the graces of the Jubilee to open wide to Christ the doors of your hearts and of the homes and communities in which you live, pray and follow the vocation which God has entrusted to each one.

2. At the beginning of a new millennium, the six hundred delegates at this Assembly have the opportunity to thank God for all that being a woman signifies in the divine plan, and to ask his help in overcoming the many obstacles which still hinder full recognition of the dignity and mission of women in society and within the ecclesial community. The journey travelled in the course of the past century has been remarkable. In many countries women today enjoy freedom of movement, of decision and of self-expression, a freedom which they have achieved with clear-mindedness and courage. They express their characteristic genius in many spheres. In today’s world there exists a growing awareness of the need to affirm women’s dignity. This is no abstract principle for it involves a concerted effort at every level to oppose vigorously "all practices that offend woman’s freedom or femininity. . . so-called ‘sexual tourism’, trafficking in young girls, mass sterilization and, in general, every form of violence" (General Audience, 24 November 1999, No. 2). However, women also face many impediments to their genuine fulfilment. The prevailing culture spreads and imposes models of life which are contrary to women’s deeper nature. There have been serious aberrations, some arising from individual selfishness and a refusal to love, others from a mentality that stresses each individual’s rights to such an extent that respect for the rights of others is weakened, and particularly those of defenceless unborn children who in many cases are deprived of all legal protection.

3. Your Union exists to help you to acquire a deeper understanding of your mission and to live it to the full. It is present as a voice even in international forums, to insist that every life is a gift of God and deserves to be respected. Working together, you must seek to provide increasing material and moral support to women in difficulty, victims of poverty and violence. Never forget that this important work is rooted in God’s love and will bear fruit to the extent that your witness reveals his infinite love for every human person.

Feminine holiness, to which each one of you is called, is indispensable to the life of the Church. "The Second Vatican Council, confirming the teaching of the whole of tradition, recalled that in the hierarchy of holiness it is precisely the ‘woman’, Mary of Nazareth, who is the ‘figure’ of the Church. She ‘precedes’ everyone on the path to holiness" (Mulieris Dignitatem MD 27). Women who live in holiness are "a model of the ‘sequela Christi’, an example of how the Bride must respond with love to the love of the Bridegroom" (ibid., 27).

4. The theme of your Assembly, The Prophetic Mission of Women, should offer an occasion for you to engage in a broad reflection on your commitment. The world and the Church need your specific witness. Christ’s prophetic office is shared by the whole People of God and consists above all in listening to God’s word and understanding it (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 12). Catholic women who live by faith and charity and give honour to God’s name in prayer and service (cf. ibid.) have always had a supremely fruitful and indispensable role in transmitting the genuine sense of the faith and in applying it to all life’s circumstances. Today, at a time of a deep spiritual and cultural crisis, this task has assumed an urgency that cannot be overstated. The Church’s presence and action in the new millennium passes by way of woman’s capacity to receive and keep God’s word. In virtue of her specific charism, woman is uniquely gifted in the task of passing on the Christian message and mystery in the family and in the world of work, study and leisure.

5. The recent Jubilee of the Laity was an opportunity to renew the Second Vatican Council’s call to all the lay faithful to proclaim the Good News of Christ by word and witness. In the family and in society you work "for the sanctification of the world from within" (Lumen Gentium LG 31). Every task, even the most ordinary, provided it is carried out with love, contributes to the sanctification of the world. This is an important truth to recall today, in a world fascinated by success and efficiency, but in which many people have no share in the benefits of global progress and are becoming poorer and more neglected than ever.

The Jubilee brought new energies to the whole Church. Let us go forward in hope! (cf. Novo Millennio ineunte NM 58). Today, as the Church sets out again on her journey to proclaim Christ to the world, she needs women who contemplate the face of Christ, who keep their gaze fixed on him and recognize him in the weakest members of his Body. "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40). Keep watch, be an attentive and strong presence, never fail to look to Christ, follow him, keep his word in your hearts. In this way, your hope will not fail; it will spread throughout the world at this promising and challenging time.

I once again assure you of my closeness in prayer, confident that this Assembly will be an occasion for you to find fresh energies for your mission. Entrusting all of you to the protection of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 7 March 2001





Thursday, 22 March 2001

Dear Friends in Christ,

The visit of a delegation from the Presbyterian Church USA is indeed a cause for joy. I greet all of you with affection in the Lord.

Your visit to this City, where the Apostles Peter and Paul shed their blood for the name of Christ, takes place following the year-long celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Incarnation and at the dawn of the Third Christian Millennium. The participation of so many Churches and Ecclesial Communities in a number of the Jubilee events testifies to our common thanksgiving for the great outpouring of grace which accompanied the Lord’s first coming. It confirms our commitment to work for full Christian unity as we await his return in glory.

Despite the significant steps taken in recent decades towards the goal of visible unity, we must acknowledge that, "as we cross the threshold of the new millennium, we take with us the sad heritage of the past", and we know that "there is still a long way to go" (Novo Millennio ineunte NM 48). May we see the future now opening up before us as a summons from the Lord to be increasingly "renewed in the spirit of our minds, putting on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (cf. Eph Ep 4,24). This in fact is a condition of our being able to overcome the barriers which still keep Christians apart.

May your stay, and your conversations with the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, bear abundant fruit for the ecumenical tasks ahead. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.




Friday, 23 March 2001

Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am pleased to receive you this morning, councillors and members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America who are holding your plenary assembly for the purpose of offering some pastoral guidelines for continuing the new evangelization of what we call the "Continent of Hope", precisely because of what it means for the Church. In fact, these lands which received Christ's light over five centuries ago and now represent about half the world's Catholics, are distinguished by a cultural identity that is deeply marked by the Gospel and can count on a Church which is vital and full of evangelizing energy.

I cordially thank your President, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, for his affectionate greeting to me on behalf of you all and for describing to me your work and the goals that motivate your efforts.

2. Starting from my recent Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, you have examined the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America and have attempted to assess its application in these first two years since its publication during that unforgettable celebration at the Shrine of Guadalupe, Mexico.

You have reflected on the principal contents of the Exhortation, studying it in the light of current realities in order to examine problems and outline pastoral proposals for intensifying the work of evangelization in the beloved Latin American nations.

I would like to encourage and spur you in your pastoral work, because we are faced with many challenges and need ecclesial insight and apostolic daring to deal with them adequately.

3. One of these is to preserve, defend and increase the integrity of the faith. Consquently, with my confirmation and ratification, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last year published the Declaration Dominus Iesus on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church. In this Declaration, I invited all Christians "to renew their fidelity to him in the joy of faith and to bear unanimous witness that the Son, both today and tomorrow, is "the way, and the truth, and the life' (Jn 14,6)" (Angelus, 1 October 2000).

In this regard, we need to pay special attention to the problem of the sects, which are "a grave hindrance to the work of evangelization" (Ecclesia in America, ). They have been much studied and discussed, since they are a phenomenon that cannot be regarded with indifference.

Resolute pastoral action is essential for dealing with this serious problem, by reviewing the pastoral methods used, strengthening the structures of communion and mission, and making the most of "the evangelizing possibilities of a purified popular religiosity" (Ecclesia in America, ). In this regard, you know how important is the presence of evangelizers, since wherever priests, religious or lay people are dedicated to the apostolate, sects do not thrive. Although faith is God's gift, it cannot be instilled or maintained without the help of evangelizers.

In the process of strengthening the faith, the Eucharist is the privileged place for meeting the living Jesus Christ. Sunday Mass must be a constant commitment and practice of all the faithful. Continually dedicate yourselves and, at the same time, pastorally commit your priests to the task of promoting this very important aspect of ecclesial life, which I already recommended in my Apostolic Letter Dies Domini (cf. Chapter II). Therefore it is necessary, as I recently recalled, "to stress particularly the Sunday Eucharist and Sunday itself experienced as a special day of faith, the day of the risen Lord and of the gift of the Spirit, the true weekly Easter" (Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, n. 35).

4. Another challenge of capital importance is the promotion and care of vocations. Latin America needs far more priests. I am pleased to see that new seminaries are being started in many Dioceses, including minor seminaries. It is also a good idea to organize formation courses for seminary educators, who must be exemplary priests in perfect harmony with the Church's Magisterium, so that their work in seminaries may be effective and promising.

I urge the Bishops to be assiduously and constantly available to their seminarians and especially to their priests, in order to guide, motivate and encourage them to work generously.

5. Among the many topics which, like the latter, I extensively treated in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America and to which we now need to return here, I would particularly like to mention the evangelization of young people. On them are based the hopes and expectations of a future of greater communion and solidarity for the Church and the societies of America (cf. Ecclesia in America, ).

The last World Youth Day, celebrated in August of the Jubilee Year, underscored how young people are a powerful force for the evangelization of the world today. They must be evangelized in depth, starting from their resources of generosity, openness and intuition.

I hope that the next World Youth Day, which will be celebrated in America, more precisely in Toronto, Canada, will be a new and decisive step for the evangelization of young people on this beloved continent.

6. You began this assembly of the Pontifical Commission, whose "primary task is to study in a unified way the doctrinal and pastoral questions which concern the life and development of the Church in Latin America" (Motu Proprio Decessores nostri, I), by presenting the image of Jesus Christ the Evangelizer, thereby emphasizing the centrality of the Saviour in the Church and in her evangelizing work. For, "everything planned in the Church must have Christ and his Gospel as its starting-point" (Ecclesia in America, ). I developed this fundamental idea more amply in the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, in which "I indicated the guidelines for the Church's life and her evangelizing mission in the third millennium" (Homily, 4 February 2001, n. 1).

7. The Jubilee which has just closed has left us the legacy of a pressing invitation to meet the future by setting out anew from Christ, keeping the Lord at the centre of our peoples' personal and social life.

The habit of generous renewal and of consistency with one's faith, which emerged during the Jubilee year, is a call to "put out into the deep", with determination, on to the vast ocean of the new millennium, while relying on divine help.

"Duc in altum" (Lc 5,4), Christ said to the Apostle Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Duc in altum, the Pope repeats to you, fishers of men, at the end of your plenary meeting. Open wide the doors of America to Christ and his Gospel!

Your nations need, today as in the past, great evangelizers with the spirit and talent of St Turibius of Mogrovejo, whose feast we celebrate today. He, whom I proclaimed patron of all the Bishops of Latin America in 1983, is a genuine example of a Pastor whom we can and must imitate in the task of the new evangelization, which I once again entrust to the protection and guidance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, "the sure path to our meeting with Christ" (Ecclesia in America, ).

In the name of Christ, our life and our hope, I bless you all.




To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgio
Archbishop of Palermo President of the Sicilian Episcopal Conference

1. With great joy I spiritually join you, and the Cardinals, Bishops, priests, men and women religious, and the laity who are taking part in Acireale in the Fourth Conference of the Churches in Sicily. May each and every one of you receive my fraternal embrace and most cordial greeting: "May the grace and peace of God our Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all".

This important meeting, which has as its motto "Leaven in History for the Kingdom" and as its theme "The Laity for the Mission of the Church in Sicily in the Third Millennium", is being held just a few months after the conclusion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. It forms one of the ripe fruits of the Jubilee, because the preparation and celebration of the Jubilee event were like a providential direct and immediate preparation for it. It also marks the fourth stage of the community journey of the Churches of Sicily; a spiritual and pastoral journey that began with the Second Vatican Council, from which it drew inspiration, motivations and objectives to be projected more consciously and deliberately towards the new millennium.

Actually, since the first Conference held in 1985, with its motto "A Presence to Serve" and in its theme "The Churches of Sicily 20 Years after the Second Vatican Council", the Sicilian Dioceses have begun a common ecclesial journey, that broadened, in the subsequent two Conferences, their missionary perspective. I would also like to mention here the three Conferences of the years 1982, 1988, 1998, run by priests for priests, which led to the constitution of the Mother of the Good Shepherd Regional Centre for the permanent formation of priests and deacons, with its headquarters in Palermo.

2. These numerous regional meetings, like those of the young people that were held in 1991, in 1998 and last October after the World Youth Day, testify to the pastoral vivacity and desire of the Churches of Sicily to proceed together. During the pastoral visits that I have been able to make to almost all of your Dioceses, dear brothers and sisters of Sicily, I was repeatedly able to demonstrate my attention to the problems and hopes of your land. I take this occasion to thank you for the fidelity with which you have undertaken to follow the directives of the Magisterium in the many pastoral initiatives that you have promoted, at local and regional levels, during these years.

And this Fourth Conference, which pauses to reflect on the role of the laity in the mission of the Church, also wishes to manifest its fidelity to the Magisterium of the Apostolic See. The Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, of 10 November 1994, has accompanied its preparation in the past years. The post-Jubilee Letter Novo millennio ineunte, of 6 January of this year, now directs its celebration under the sign of the invitation of Christ: "Duc in altum!", "Put out into the deep!".

"Duc in altum!", I repeat today to the Sicilian Dioceses, in their efforts to reflect on how best to achieve the missionary mandate of Christ. "Put out into the deep," dear brothers and sisters, in the awareness that the God of hope asks you to be the heralds of the Gospel in our time. But to fulfil this mission you must set out anew from Christ and treasure the rich ecclesial experience that has marked the last decades of the past century, especially since the Second Vatican Council. This is the task that your Conference wishes to highlight, emphasizing the vocation of the "laity for the mission of the Church in Sicily in the third millennium".

On the occasion of the Jubilee of the apostolate of the laity I wished to give the whole Church symbolically the Conciliar documents, recalling that, in spite of the passage of time, these texts have lost none of their value and timeliness. It is therefore most necessary that they be received and assimilated as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, to be read within the Tradition of the Church, which they confirm and apply to present circumstances. I especially encourage the laity to return to the Council, which is "the great grace bestowed on the Church in the 20th century".

May they be schooled in the Council, in the conviction that "there we can find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 57). I am pleased to learn that the work of the congress intends to offer the opportunity especially to study the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium and the Decree Apostolicam actuositatem, while also adding a timely rereading of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici.

3. The Conference's primary objective is a deep renewal of ecclesial life and pastoral action in Sicily. May what I said at the Conference of the Italian Churches, which took place in Palermo in 1995, guide you: "Our time ... is not the time of the simple preservation of what exists, but of mission". I repeated these observations in the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, detailing the primary condition for such a renewal: "All pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness" (n. 30), "this high standard of ordinary Christian living" (n. 31).

The perspective of holiness is a perspective that I am sure the Churches of Sicily share with special fervour, because from the beginnings of Christianity to the 20th century they have generated wonderful figures of martyrs and saints - priests, religious and laity, men and women - who have known how to receive the "gift" of the call to a life of grace in order to translate it into a "commitment" in the ordinary conditions of daily living. You will surely remember them for the edification and example of all.

It is in the vocation to holiness, understood as the perfection of charity, that the dignity of the lay faithful is revealed in all its fullness: "Holiness is the greatest testimony of the dignity conferred on a disciple of Christ" (Christifideles laici, CL 16). The lay believer, disciple of Christ, becomes holy "in the world" and "for the world"; he takes part in temporal realities, in earthly activities, in ordinary professional and social life so that he can order them according to God, thus becoming in history and in time leaven for the kingdom and for eternity.

4. "Leaven in history for the kingdom". This is the motto of the Conference, which translates and interprets "a presence to serve". This is the specific mission of lay believers in a social context, marked occasionally by a secularism that tends to separate believers from Christ and from the Gospel, jeopardizing human coexistence, which becomes increasingly fragile and uncertain.

The risk that I indicated in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici is also true for Sicily: "Christian faith as well, while maintaining some of the externals of its tradition and rituals, tends to be separated from those moments of human existence, which have the most significance, such as birth, suffering and death. In such cases, the questions and formidable enigmas posed by these situations, if remaining without responses, expose contemporary people to an inconsolable delusion or to the temptation of eliminating the truly humanizing dimension of life implicit in these problems" (n. 34). For this reason "only a re-evangelization can assure the growth of a clear and deep faith, and serve to make these traditions a force for authentic freedom" (ibid.). And it is true that in Sicily too "a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed.... But for this to come about what is needed is first to remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself" (ibid.).

5. This is the double task, of great pastoral importance, that awaits the laity in the Church today. There will be mature Christian communities, if there are mature lay persons in them, able to make their mark effectively as evangelical leaven in society, working in it with a renewed and courageous missionary drive. "All the laity ... have the exalted duty of working for the ever greater spread of the divine plan of salvation to all men, of every epoch and all over the earth" (Lumen gentium, LG 33).

How can we not feel the relevancy and urgency of this warning of the Council? May the Gospel impress a more solid hope on our beloved Sicily, which welcomed the Gospel from the first century of Christianity and which today has even more need of Christ to free itself from the evils that afflict it. There are evils that are unceasingly criticized by the Bishops of the local Churches, beginning with the worst one of the Mafia, which I myself have repeatedly felt the need to stigmatize. Only by defeating these negative forces will it be possible to implement fully the great potentials for good and the many human values that characterize the industrious people of Sicily.

6. The lay faithful must not limit their actions to remaining within the Christian community, so to speak, inside the walls of the "temple". After having drawn the light of the Word and the strength of the Sacraments, they must announce and testify Christ, the only Redeemer of man, in the society to which they belong. Like "salt" and "light" they are called to operate prophetically in the family and in the school, in the sphere of culture and social communications, in the economy and in the world of work, in politics and in art, in the field of health and where there is sickness and suffering, in sport and tourism, beside the marginalized and the many immigrants. Nor should their courageous initiative be missing in the places where the destinies of the life and dignity of the person, of the family and of society itself, are decided.

Actually, if every member of the Church shares in her secular dimension, the laity do so in their "own manner of realization and function" which, according to the Council is "properly and particularly" theirs. This manner is designated with the expression "secular character", as "the place in which they receive their call from God" and therefore as a privileged place of their mission, in the logic of the Incarnation and "in light of the act of God the creator and redeemer" (Christifideles laici, CL 15).

7. The laity have the task of bringing the Gospel and the original and always timely contribution of the social doctrine of the Church to all areas of human existence. They must always be careful not to give in to the temptation of reducing Christian communities to being social agencies, and, at the same time, to reject decisively the no less insidious temptation to practise a too introspective spirituality. This would mix badly with the demands of charity as well as with the logic of the Incarnation and, finally, even with the eschatological tension of Christianity. If, in fact, the eschatological tension makes us conscious of the action of Providence in history, it does not free us in any way from the duty to work actively in the world in order to establish in it every authentically human value. In this regard the teaching of the Second Vatican Council remains as relevant as ever: "There is no question ... of the Christian message inhibiting men from building up the world or making them disinterested in the good of their fellows: on the contrary it is an incentive to do these very things" (Gaudium et spes, GS 34).

8. This will be possible if "the lay faithful will know how to overcome in themselves the separation of the Gospel from life, to take up again in their daily activities in family, work and society, an integrated approach to life that is fully brought about by the inspiration and strength of the Gospel" (Christifideles laici, CL 34). A conviction about the need for a permanent and integral formation of the different aspects of the human person is necessary for this, to help them to live as "witnesses to Christ in all circumstances and at the very heart of the community of mankind", since "one of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives" (Gaudium et spes, GS 43).

This requires that they act with the strongest sense of ecclesial communion, constantly nourished by the "spirituality of communion", which must be at the base of every pastoral programme, if we want to be "faithful to God's plan and respond to the world's deepest yearnings" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 43).

It is the Church in her mystery of communion that is the subject of pastoral care and mission, and all - clergy, men and women religious and laity - are called to acknowledge and respect this community subjectivity. I wrote in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici that "the lay faithful together with the clergy and women and men religious, make up the one People of God and the Body of Christ" (n. 28), so that they must constantly cultivate the purpose of the Diocese, in which the parish is like a cell, always ready at the invitation of their Bishop to join their forces to the initiatives of the Diocese.

This is true especially for the numerous lay gatherings, associations, groups, communities, movements that in Sicily, thanks to the Lord, are particularly active. It is well to remember that they are never an end in themselves. The aim that constantly animates them can only be "the responsible participation of all of them in the Church's mission of carrying forth the Gospel of Christ, the source of hope for humanity and the renewal of society" (Christifideles laici, CL 29).

9. In addition to its being an example and stimulus for a more serene and harmonious human co-existence, an ever stronger communion within the individual communities and among the various Dioceses of Sicily also represents an opportune condition for actively promoting the journey towards the full unity of all believers in Christ. The full and visible communion of Christians, especially through the ecumenism of holiness, prayer and love in truth, is the task of every ecclesial community, with which the prayer and yearning of our only Saviour unceasingly resounds: "Ut unum sint". Every possible effort must be made to hasten the complete achievement of the unity of believers in Christ. In this sense great significance must be attached to the prayer meeting towards the end of the Conference with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, to whom I send my respectful greeting and an embrace of peace in Jesus Christ, our common Teacher and Lord.

Next to the ecumenical effort, how can we forget the great challenge of interreligious and intercultural dialogue? It is a commitment that greatly involves your region, at the heart of the Mediterranean, which over the centuries has become a crossroads of different peoples, cultures, civilizations and religions. Without falling into religious indifferentism, may you take care, dear brothers and sisters, to offer the witness of hope that must live in the heart of every believer, in the conviction that the joyous announcement of the Gospel, the message of salvation destined for all peoples and cultures, does not constitute an offence to the identity of our neighbour.

I know in this regard that you have begun some opportune initiatives: continue with courage and care, always sustained by the strong support of Christ and constant recourse to prayer.

10. Proceed with hope! This is the invitation that I affectionately address to you, dear brothers and sisters. Receive, venerable Churches in Sicily, this fraternal exhortation of mine. At the beginning of this new millennium, all of us believers must quicken our pace. May Mary, the Mother of Hope, whom you Sicilians venerate and invoke as your "Hodegetria", guide you and accompany you. I entrust the projects, proposals and progress of the ecclesial Conference and its hoped-for apostolic and missionary fruits to the Blessed Virgin and to Joseph her Spouse, on this day solemnly dedicated to him.

In invoking the protection of the numerous saints of your Dioceses on your work, I willingly impart to you, Your Eminence, and to all the participants in the Conference, the Apostolic Blessing, pledge of abundant heavenly favours.

From the Vatican, 19 March 2001.

Speeches 2001 - Saturday, 17 March 2001