Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. It gives me great joy to welcome you during these days when you are making your ad limina visit. By your meetings with the Successor of Peter and his collaborators, you show the communion of the Dioceses of Benin with the universal Church. I hope that these days of pilgrimage and reflection will be a source of spiritual renewal and apostolic zeal for each one of you in carrying out your episcopal ministry.
In his kind words, Archbishop Nestor Assogba of Cotonou, the President of your Bishops' Conference, has expressed your hopes and concerns at the beginning of this new millennium. I thank him most cordially. I extend a special greeting to the bishops who are making this visit for the first time. I warmly encourage them in their task as Pastors, at the service of the Church's mission. Take back my affectionate greetings to your priests, the religious, the catechists and all the faithful of your dioceses. May the Lord make the graces of the Jubilee Year fruitful in them! I hope that all the people of Benin, whom I have had the joy to visit twice, will live in peace and prosperity, asking God to accompany them in their efforts to build a society that is more and more brotherly and supportive.
2. The challenges which the Church is facing at the beginning of the new millennium are a pressing incitement to renew within us the commitment to proclaim the Gospel to all. Today, the urgent need for the mission is more obvious than ever. As successors of the Apostles who have a living experience of the Word of life, bishops have received the responsibility of directing human eyes to Christ's mystery. In this new phase of evangelization which is unfolding before us, only a close encounter with the Lord can provide the daring of an authentic and determined commitment to the service of the Gospel. May the Successor of Peter invite your communities and their pastors to make a determined act of faith in the word of Christ, which strongly impels us to put out into the deep. May this act of faith be expressed first of all in a renewed commitment to prayer and confident dialogue with God!
Thus the missionary task must first consist in helping the faithful strengthen their faith in Christ the Saviour, so that confronting the many demands that we made on them, they are not tossed about by every wind of doctrine but, living in truth and love, are built up in every way into Christ (cf. Eph Ep 4,14-15). May they all find strength to persevere on the paths of the Gospel and its demands in their attachment to Jesus and in their community's support. May they remember that "No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Lc 9,62)!
In their efforts to build the Church, God's family, may the Christians of your dioceses also be men and women of communion and unity! As I wrote in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, in order to be faithful to God's plan and to respond to the world's profound expectations, before we think of concrete projects, "we need to promote a spirituality of communion, making it the guiding principle of education wherever individuals and Christians are formed, wherever ministers of the altar, consecrated persons, and pastoral workers are trained, wherever families and communities are being built up" (n. 43). In spirituality of communion we can locate an essential path for each person, if he is to be recognized and respected in his own vocation, sharing the gifts he has received from the Spirit, to build a supportive and fraternal humanity.
May the unity of your communities, based on Christ's design for his Church, be a concrete sign of the presence of God who dwells in them and whose light must shine on the faces of all!
3. For several years you have made a wonderful effort to foster vocations. The number of young people entering seminaries is constantly growing. So it is important that these young men have a keen awareness that their vocation is a gift of the Lord which they receive through the intermediary of the Church, and that it is through the Church that this vocation is fulfilled. "The candidate to the priesthood should receive his vocation not by imposing his own personal conditions, but accepting also the norms and conditions which the Church herself lays down, in the fulfilment of her responsibility" (Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, PDV 35). It is therefore a serious responsibility of the bishop to discern the human, intellectual, moral and spiritual aptitudes of candidates, and to recognize the authenticity of their vocation.
Life in the seminaries is a constant concern for you. I earnestly ask that you continue to be demanding about the quality of the formation provided there in all areas. Seminaries must enable young men who are called to the priesthood to set out generously to follow Christ and to let themselves be introduced by him to the service of the Father and of men. This requires a sufficient number of formation staff, teachers and spiritual directors, who are well trained and exemplary in their priestly life. It is to be hoped that, with the generous participation of other local Churches, you can assure seminarians effective spiritual direction, so that they will have a clear view of their true vocation and respond to it in a free and conscientious way.
4. On your return to your dioceses, take my cordial greeting to each of your priests. The Church is counting on them, so that, through their exemplary life, they may be credible witnesses of the Word they proclaim, fully committed to the path of holiness to which Christ calls them and on which they must guide the faithful. Throughout their ministry, priests are required to be attentive to their continuing formation, which has become indispensable in order to respond to the new demands of evangelization. May they find in this formation, first and foremost, the expression and condition for fidelity to their ministry and to their very existence! May they be convinced of accomplishing in it an act of love and justice to the People of God whose servants they are!
Moreover, I insistently invite priests to become ever more aware of the missionary dimension of their priesthood. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council recalled, "the spiritual gift which priests have received in ordination does not prepare them merely for a limited and circumscribed mission, but for the fullest, in fact the universal mission of salvation.... Priests, therefore, should recall that the solicitude of all the Churches ought to be their intimate concern" (Decree Presbyterorum ordinis, PO 10). In this perspective, I encourage the dioceses that are more greatly endowed to continue exchanging priests generously with those who are less well endowed. These exchanges will also encourage the unity of the People of God in the different regions of the country, whose missionary and pastoral situations vary considerably.
5. Since the origins of the proclamation of the Christian faith in your countries, religious institutes have played an important role. One cannot but admire the work of the missionaries, men and women religious and lay people who, at the price of great self-denial, made it possible for the Church to be born and grow among you. Today, although their numbers are lessening, their courageous and disinterested work is still appreciable, demonstrating the Church's universality. I hope that fraternal collaboration in a spirit of mutual esteem will be increasingly reinforced among diocesan priests and the members of the missionary institutes.
I am also aware of the high esteem which the people have for women religious, who give themselves without counting the cost to serve the poorest and most forsaken of society, regardless of their origins. The Church is grateful to them because in so doing they express, often very humbly and in difficult conditions, Christ's love for suffering humanity. Indeed, the commitment of consecrated men and women to the Church's mission is an eloquent expression of God's love for every man and woman. Through their fidelity to their commitments and the deepening of their friendship with God in prayer and in inner renouncement, may consecrated people also be daring models for their brothers and sisters, who help them in the quest for perfection to which all are called! I hope that many young people, attracted by this gift of self to Christ and to others, will accept to respond to it, to show the world the primacy of God and the Gospel values in Christian life.
6. To broaden the horizons of evangelization, it is right to stimulate and support a mature and responsible laity, by giving them a solid human and spiritual formation, which will make them concious of their responsibilities in the Church and in the world. In fact, because they are members of the Church, the laity have the vocation and the mission to announce the Gospel in their own walks of life. The fields in which they can exercise their missionary action are vast. Thus they have a special place in the Christian reshaping of the temporal order. Christians must take their place and act competently in the highly complex world of politics, social life and the economy, in accordance with the Church's social teaching, holding up to their compatriots a vision of man and society in conformity with the fundamental human values. I ask them most particularly to work tirelessly to promote respect for the inviolable dignity of every human person. "The dignity of the person is the most precious possession of an individual. As a result, the value of one person transcends all the material world" (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, CL 37). Christians have an urgent duty to champion respect for the life of every human being, from his conception to his natural end. This respect for the person should therefore be shown in particular to the most underprivileged, the sick, all life's injured. May they never be forgotten in your communities! "There is a special presence of Christ in the poor, and this requires the Church to make a preferential option for them" (Novo Millennio ineunte, NM 49).
Within the Church, the different types of services and forms of inculcating awareness which are entrusted to lay people must be appreciated, in order to give renewed vigour to Christian life and to the apostolate. Brothers in the Episcopate, may I address a special word of gratitude and encouragement to the catechists of your dioceses. They are irreplaceable evangelizers in the life of your communities. By their witness of an irreproachable life and their commitment to serving the Gospel, they always show the happiness of having discovered Christ and of living from his life to their brothers and sisters!
7. The involvement of lay people finds a primordial place for growth in couples and in the family. In your quinquennial reports, you have highlighted the serious problems which today are threatening families, their unity and their indissolubility. I warmly encourage you to persevere with a vigorous pastoral approach to families, and I rejoice in your efforts for formation, especially the establishment of a university centre. It is fundamental for the future to teach young people the proper hierarchy of values and to prepare them to live conjugal love responsibly in relation to the needs of communion and the service of life. The Christian outlook on marriage must be presented with its full greatness, stressing that, without love, the family cannot live, grow or perfect itself as a community of individual people, and that husbands and wives are called to grow constantly in communion through daily fidelity to the promise of the mutual, unique and exclusive gift which marriage entails. It is therefore necessary that the Church's solicitude also be expressed by a discreet and sensitive guidance of families, which will effectively help to face and solve the problems of married life.
8. Contact with the faithful of other religions, which is often experienced peaceably in the sharing of daily life, can sometimes come up against more difficult situations. For the Catholic Church, interreligious dialogue is a very important commitment which aims to encourage unity and charity among individuals and peoples. "Each member of the faithful and all Christian communities are called to practise dialogue, although not always to the same degree or in the same way" (Encyclical Redemptoris missio, RMi 57). I encourage you in your efforts to foster a better mutual knowledge as well as truer and more fraternal relationships between individuals and between communities, and particularly with Muslims. While you may long for true reciprocity, you must persevere with faith and love, precisely where your efforts meet with neither attention nor a response (cf. ibid.).
The formation of competent people in this field is essential to help the faithful have an evangelical view of their compatriots of different religions and collaborate with everyone for the common good of society. Furthermore, from their earliest education, young people must be encouraged to have respect and mutual esteem in a spirit that calls for the development of authentic freedom of conscience.
9. Brothers in the Episcopate, at the end of our meeting, I ask you to continue your episcopal ministry with unconditional trust in Christ's fidelity to his promise to stay with us until the end of time (cf. Mt Mt 28,20). In the face of difficulties, his loving presence never fails those who remain faithful to the grace received. As I stressed in my Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte, "At the beginning of this new century, our steps must quicken as we travel the highways of the world" (n. 58).
Keep close to your people, particularly the young, whom I invite to look to the future with a gaze full of hope. May they retain their enthusiasm, to build a new world! Morning watchmen, now, more than ever, leave wide open the living door that is Christ!
I entrust you all to the motherly intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ, and Mother of mankind, and I wholeheartedly impart an affectionate Apostolic Blessing to you, which I extend to all the members of your dioceses.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am please to extend my most cordial welcome to all of you who are taking part in the Days of Encounter and Reflection organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, in collaboration with the Pontifical Lateran University and the Piero Rossano Foundation, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Bishop Rossano's death. The meetings will be taking place here in Rome and at Vezza d'Alba, the late Bishop's birthplace.
I greet Cardinal Francis Arinze, whom I thank for his courteous words on behalf of all who are taking part in this meeting. I also greet the Bishops, priests, authorities and everyone here. The 10th anniversary of Bishop Rossano's death is an especially favourable occasion to remember gratefully his unflagging commitment to interreligious dialogue. In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio ineunte I wanted to reassert the importance of this task: "This dialogue". I wrote, "must continue.
In the climate of increased cultural and religious pluralism which is expected to mark the society of the new millennium, it is obvious that this dialogue will be especially important in establishing a sound basis for peace and warding off the dread spectre of those wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history. The name of the one God must become increasingly what it is: a name of peace and a summons to peace" (n. 55).
2. A serious and authentic interreligious dialogue must rest on solid foundations so that it will bear the hoped for fruit at the appropriate time. Being open to dialogue means being absolutely consistent with one's own religious tradition. This is the teaching that stands out in the life of Bishop Rossano. For many years he served the universal Church in the then-Secretariat for Non-Christians, today the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In his spiritual experience and at the service of the Holy See, openness to others was never separated from fidelity to Christ's teaching. This unconditional adherence to Christ did not prevent him from conversing with the exponents of other religions. Indeed, this absolute fidelity to Christ became a solid starting point for meeting people and appreciating those riches which - as the Second Vatican Council says - God in his munificence has distributed to the peoples (cf. Ad gentes AGD 11).
3. Dear brothers and sisters, may Bishop Rossano's example encourage you to redouble your efforts for dialogue, offering to all a clear witness of the mystery of Christ, Lord and Saviour of all. Indeed, as I reasserted in the Apostolic Letter cited, "we should not fear that it will be considered an offence to the identity of others what is rather the joyful proclamation of a gift meant for all, and to be offered to all with the greatest respect for the freedom of each one: the gift of the revelation of the God who is Love, the God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3,16)" (Novo Millennio ineunte, NM 56).
Far from encouraging withdrawal into self, acceptance of Christ is a crucial incentive to meet and accept all people. Bishop Rossano gave ample proof of this openness. His tireless efforts to find solutions through exchanges and sharing between the exponents of different religions were expressed in an important enrichment for all those with whom he had the opportunity to be in contact.
Even in his generous and fruitful episcopal ministry as Auxiliary Bishop of Rome with responsibility for culture and as rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, Bishop Rossano never lost sight of the commitment to dialogue, perfectly carrying out what can be read in the Document published in 1984 by the Secretariat for Non-Christians: "The attitude of the Church to the followers of other religions: "Dialogue is first and foremost a style of action, an attitude and a spirit that directs conduct. It entails attention, respect for and acceptance of others, and makes room for their personal identity, their own form of expression and values" (n. 29).
4. It is well known that the ecumenical dimension is also important for the task of interreligious dialogue. In this regard, I would like to express my deep pleasure at the constant and fruitful collaboration between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Office for Relations and Interreligious Dialogue of the World Council of Churches. This is a significant collaboration, which Bishop Rossano started and encouraged. I would also like to pay him a tribute for this. May the work he has undertaken receive a new impetus from your initiative. As I thank the Lord for the good he has worked through the humble and faithful person of Bishop Piero Rossano, I invoke upon you and upon your appreciated work an abundance of the Holy Spirit, as a pledge of whose gifts I impart my Blessing to you and to all your loved ones.
Dear Members of the Association of Sts Peter and Paul,
1. I am delighted to meet with you on the 30th anniversary of your sodality. I greet your families and the new members received by you today. I greet your President, Mr Gianluigi Marrone, and thank him for his words on your behalf and your spiritual director, Mons. Franco Follo. I offer my heartfelt gratitude to each of you for your generous and professional service to the Holy See, and especially to the Successor of Peter.
I am likewise pleased that our meeting takes place just before the solemnity of the Holy Apostles, on whose witness and martyrdom Divine Providence built the Church of Rome. St Augustine expresses this in the Liturgy of the Hours on the day dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul: "One day is assigned for the celebration of the martyrdom of two apostles. But those two were one. Although their martyrdom occurred on different days, they were one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We celebrated the feast day which is made sacred for us by the blood of these apostles. Let us love their faith, their life, their trials, their passion, their profession and their teaching" (Sermon 295: PL 38, 1352).
2. A mysterious unity was given to the Church on Pentecost, a unity that does not come from man and transcends every reason for human division. The gift of the Holy Spirit, that makes the faithful of Christ "of one heart and one soul" (cf. Acts Ac 1,14 Ac 2,46), remains through history, accompanying the Church in her mission of announcing the Gospel to all peoples to the end of time. This gift is "in earthen vessels" (cf. II Cor 4,7) and is continually threatened by our human fragility. Peter was called, in a singular way, to guard the precious gift of ecclesial unity. After the triple confession of his love, the Lord gave him the task of feeding the sheep (cf. Jn Jn 21,15-17). The assistance that Christ promised to Peter also accompanies his successors, who are entrusted with the same task for the Church: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lc 22,32).
3. So Peter becomes the "rock" on which Christ can build his Church in history, by a gift from on high: the gift of faith, solemnly confessed at Caesarea Philippi: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16,16). But it is also in virtue of his response of singular love that he is chosen to be the foundation of the Church: "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?... Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you" (cf. Jn Jn 21,15-19). On the rock of this faith and this love, the Lord holds together his mystical Body and assures the permanent unity and mission in the varied events of history.
Dear friends, the service entrusted to you is closely linked with the mission of Peter's Successor. Today I want to repeat my sincere appreciation for the diligent work that you carry out, both during the sacred Liturgies and in contact with pilgrims in the Patriarchal Basilica of St Peter. May the Lord reward you! May your activity, nourished by constant prayer, bring you to fulfil your Christian vocation always more.
4. If your spirit is illumined by faith, you can understand yourselves better and help the pilgrims and all whom you meet, to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ and his Church. How many people come to Rome "to see Peter" and to be confirmed in their faith! The recent Jubilee Year offered a moving witness to this affection for the Apostolic See, called to guard the truth and unity of the Church and to confirm the baptized in their faith in the Redeemer.
In repeating my grateful appreciation for your collaboration, I encourage you to make your daily activity the occasion to show a sincere love for Christ, a generous dedication to the Church, a special bond with the Successor of Peter. Grow in faith to be more motivated in your service. May your motto be a program of life: "Fide constamus avita" (we stand firm in our ancestral faith).
With these sentiments, while assuring you of my constant remembrance in prayer, I invoke Mary's protection, whom you venerate with the title Virgo Fidelis, and impart to you and to your loved ones a special Apostolic Blessing.
Monday, 18 June 2001
1. I receive you with great pleasure at this solemn act of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Chile to this Apostolic See, and I am delighted to offer you a most cordial welcome at the time when you are beginning the important office entrusted to you by your Government. I am grateful for your kind words, and especially for the greeting of President Ricardo Lagos Escobar, which I reciprocate with my best wishes that his service to the Chilean people, at this moment in its history, will help everyone to progress on the path of concrete, mutual understanding and peace.
2. You come as a representative of a people with deep Christian roots, as you recalled in your address. They have enriched the country with noble traditions that have shaped the national identity and made Chileans a profoundly religious people. I had the opportunity to meet them in my unforgettable pastoral visit in 1987, during which I received many expressive demonstrations of affection from them all, from Antofagasta to Punta Arenas. Thus I could see that Chileans are resistant people, in search of paths that will lead them to the longed for reconciliation although on the way to this goal they will have to pass through some narrow straits. This is why I would like to repeat once again as I did at the beatification of the young Carmelite, Teresa de los Andes, that "love is stronger", since "love can always do more".
Faith and piety, so deeply rooted in the Chilean soul, have been most fruitful, even producing saints like St Teresa de los Andes and the Blessed Servants of God like Bl. Laura Vicuņa and Bl. Alberto Hurtado. Further, it is only right to recall how the Founding Fathers were convinced believers. In this regard, attention should be drawn to General Bernardo O'Higgins' initiative in asking the Apostolic See for a papal mission in Chile that could resolve the religious problems which had arisen with independence and with the new organization of the Church in Chile, by providing various Episcopates: thus Chile became the first Latin American nation to welcome a papal mission after its national emancipation. From that time, the country has recognized the Catholic Church's importance as the true mother and guarantor of its independence, creating through the Church ties of respect and filial attachment to the Roman Pontiff, and constantly maintaining cordial relations with the Holy See in this spirit.
3. The Church has made a vast and enriching contribution to Chilean life, both in colonial times as well as after national independence, for her presence in the significant periods of your homeland's history can easily be perceived. In your address, you cited several eminent servants of the Church who, with their words and pastoral action, accompanied Chile's development towards ever higher goals. Together with them should be recalled the numerous pastors and faithful who found in the Gospel ideals the source of inspiration to work for the common good in different professional contexts, each one wherever Providence sent him.
In fulfilling her mission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Church helps to promote the integral good of individuals and is most particularly involved in fostering supportive coexistence and reconciliation among all the citizens, children of the same land; likewise, she wants to enlighten consciences so that certain dangers in contemporary society such as ethical relativism, consumerism and other pseudo-cultures, do not corrode the treasure of Christian values on which the national identity is based. Concerning this, the recent Pastoral Guidelines of the Bishops of Chile entitled: "If you but knew the gift of God!", are intended to be an announcement of hope at the beginning of the third millennium, inviting people to recover from the wounds that sap the strength of Chile's social growth, among which should be pointed out poverty and the enormous inequalities, the problems that families must contend with and the impaired dignity of individuals, families, groups and institutions.
4. You also mentioned your desire to defend and reinforce families, which is so necessary since "at a time in history like the present, special attention must also be given to the pastoral care of the family, particularly when this fundamental institution is experiencing a radical and widespread crisis" (Novo Millennio ineunte, NM 47). I am pleased with these resolutions and hope that government leaders and all society will be consistent with history and with the country's most genuine tradition, and will spare no efforts in this regard, so that it will not give into to the easy temptations that are sometimes masked by the appearance of false modernity. It is therefore of the greatest importance to safeguard and strengthen this institution. There is no doubt that many social evils derive from the disintegration of the family which is why the new generations must be taught the meaning of true love and the total and indissoluble gift of self in marriage, which makes it possible to overcome moments of misunderstanding and distrust, so that each Chilean home may be a place of love and peace, and a true school of humanity.
5. The aspiration to an ever more prosperous and developed Chile demands an effort to improve the quality of life and standard of living of Chileans. I am pleased with the recent deliberation of the Supreme Government and the legislative authority which - with the Church's loyal collaboration - has abolished the death penalty and it is to be hoped that this will be a motive that encourages the most zealous and indispensable respect for the life of every human being, from his conception to his natural death. In this way, bearing witness to love of neighbour, to love of the family in its most fundamental sense and to love of life, it will be possible to give the new generations a grounding in basic ethics that will result in the moral greatness of your people.
6. Mr Ambassador, your country has given eloquent proof of affection for its democratic tradition and of a strong national integration, which is reflected in the stability of its institutions. Since the bicentenary of national independence is at hand and the ideal is to increase as far as possible the civil, social and cultural freedoms, as you yourself pointed out, it must be borne in mind that the strengthening of democracy must always be accompanied by the constant promotion of the genuine values that are the guarantee of stability, because a democracy devoid of values does not serve progress but, on the contrary, turns against man himself.
On the international scene, Chile has achieved a significant position in Latin America, both by her contribution at the international forums and by her membership in organizations that promote development and progress. In this regard, I would like to draw attention to the Chileans' desire for peace, which was highlighted during Chile's quarrel with her sister republic, Argentina, where I was an eye witness of the understanding between two nations that wanted to overcome the disagreement and to dedicate to development what had been destroyed by weapons and succeeded. More recently, Chile has resolved outstanding matters with Peru, by signing, in November 1999, the Act for implementing the clauses of the Treaty of Lima of 1929, once again focusing her forces on the development and well-being of her society and avoiding conflicts with other nations.
To conclude, Mr Ambassador, I offer you my very best wishes for the success of your mission. At the Holy See you will always find the willingness to serve the good of the beloved Chilean people and to foster the good relations that exist between your country and this Apostolic See. I ask the Lord, though the intercession of Our Lady of Carmel, to help you carry out your role, to bless your distinguished and numerous family and your staff as well as the government leaders and citizens of the noble Chilean nation, which I always remember with esteem and bless with affection.