Speeches 1978 - Assisi, Italy
This day that I have wished to consecrate in a particular way to the Patrons of Italy is now drawing to a close. Having been elected by the Sacred College of Cardinals to be Successor of Saint Peter, I accepted this service with profound trepidation, considering it to be the will of our Lord Jesus Christ. When I thought about not being born here, but about being a foreigner to this land, there came to my mind the figure of Saint Peter, who was also a foreigner in Rome. And so, in the spirit of faith and out of obedience, I accepted this election, by virtue of which I have become Successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome.
All the more do I feel the need to insert myself in this new land that Peter chose, coming from Jerusalem, through Antioch, to Rome. And he chose it to establish on it his apostolic See. This land has always been near to me; now it has become my second homeland, and for this reason I wanted to express today in a special way my union with this land, with Italy. I desire to be part of it in all its historical richness, and at the same time in all its current reality. A particular witness of every country is made up by its own saints. Two of these, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Francis of Assisi, have been proclaimed Patrons of Italy.
Here before the relics of Saint Catherine I must once more thank divine Wisdom for having willed to make use of this simple and at the same time profound heart of a woman to point out the way, in a period of uncertainty, to the Church and especially to the Successors of Peter. Such great love, and such great courage! Such wonderful simplicity, but also such wonderful depth of soul: a person open to all the inspirations of the Spirit, and conscious of her mission.
I sincerely hope that in our times Saint Catherine, Doctor of the Church, will continue to be the patroness of the awareness of the Christian vocation of everyone. An awareness which, in a particular way, must mature and be increased, so that the Church can fulfil the mission entrusted to her by Christ, in accordance with the needs of our times!
In Saint Catherine of Siena I see a visible sign of the mission of women in the Church. I would like to say many things about this theme, but the short space of time today does not permit it. The Church of Jesus Christ and of the Apostles is at the same time a Church that is Mother and Spouse. These biblical expressions clearly reveal how deeply the mission of women is inscribed in the mystery of the Church. And may we discover together the many-sided significance of this mission—going hand in hand, with the world of women today, and basing ourselves on the riches which from the beginning the Creator placed in the heart of women, and on the wonderful wisdom of this heart, which God wished to reveal many centuries ago in Saint Catherine of Siena.
Just as in those times she was the teacher and guide of the Popes who had gone away from Rome, so also today may she be an inspiration to the Pope who has come to Rome, and may she bring close to him not only her own homeland but also all the lands of the earth, in the one single embrace of the universal Church. With these hopes I bless you all with all my heart.
St. Peter's Basilica
Wednesday, 8 November 1978
Welcome to you, dear boys and girls, and dear young people.
I greet you with my whole heart and I tell you that you bring me particularly great joy today with your numerous and affectionate presence. One is always happy among the young.
The Pope wishes well to everyone, to each man and to all men, but he has a preference for the youngest, because they had a preferential place in the heart of Christ, who wished to remain with the children (Mc 10,14 Lc 18,16) and to talk to the young. He addressed his call to the young particularly (Mt 19,21), and John, the youngest Apostle, was his favourite.
So I thank you heartily for coming to visit me, bringing me the precious gift of your youth, your eyes full of joy and vitality, and your faces shining with ideals.
At this first meeting I wish to express to you, in addition to the intensity of my feelings of affection, my hope. Yes, my hope, because you are the promise of tomorrow. You are the hope of the Church and society.
Contemplating you, I think with trepidation and with trust of what is in store for you in life and of what you will be in the world of tomorrow, and I wish to leave you, as a viaticum for your lives, three thoughts:
— look for Jesus,
— love Jesus,
— bear witness to Jesus.
1) In the first place, "look for Jesus!"
It is less possible than ever today to stop at a Christian faith that is superficial or of a sociological type; times, as you well know, have changed. The increase in culture, the continual influence of the mass media, knowledge of past and present human events, increased sensitivity and a greater demand for certainty and clarity on fundamental truths, the massive presence in society and in culture of atheistic, agnostic, and even anti-Christian conceptions, call for a personal faith: a faith, that is, sought with longing for the truth, and then put completely into practice in life.
That is to say, it is necessary to arrive at the clear and certain conviction of the truth of one's Christian faith, namely, in the first place, the historicity and divinity of Christ and the mission of the Church willed and founded by him.
When one is really convinced that Jesus is the Word Incarnate and is still present in the Church, then one accepts his "word" completely, because it is a divine word which does not deceive, which does not contradict itself, and which gives us the true and only meaning of life and eternity. He alone, in fact, has words of eternal life! He alone is the way, the truth and the life!
So I repeat to you: look for Jesus, by reading and studying the Gospel, by reading some good books; look for Jesus by taking advantage in particular of the religious instruction lesson at school, of the catechisms, and of the meetings in your parishes.
To look for Jesus personally, with the eagerness and joy of discovering the truth, gives deep inner satisfaction and great spiritual strength in order then to put into practice what he demands, even though it costs sacrifice.
2) In the second place, I tell you, love Jesus!
Jesus is not an idea, a sentiment, a memory! Jesus is a "person", always alive and present with us!
— Love Jesus present in the Eucharist. He is present in a sacrificial way in Holy Mass, which renews the Sacrifice of the Cross. To go to Mass means going to Calvary to meet him, our Redeemer.
He comes to us in Holy Communion and remains present in the tabernacles of our churches, for he is our friend; he is everyone's friend and wishes particularly to be the friend and prop of you boys and girls on your way through life; you need confidence and friendship so much.
— Love Jesus present in the Church by means of his priests; present in the family by means of your parents and those who love you.
— Love Jesus especially in those who are suffering in any way: physically, morally, spiritually. Let it be your commitment and programme to love your neighbour, discovering Christ's face in him.
3) And finally, I tell you, bear witness to Jesus with your courageous faith and your innocence.
It is no use complaining of' the wickedness of the times. As St Paul wrote, we must overcome evil by doing good (Rm 12,21). The world esteems and respects the courage of ideas and the strength of virtues. Do not be afraid to refuse words, acts, and attitudes which are not in conformity with Christian ideals. Be courageous in rejecting what destroys your innocence or wilts the freshness of your love for Christ.
To seek, love and bear witness to Jesus! This is your commitment; these are the instructions I leave you! By doing so, not only will you keep real joy in your lives, but also you will benefit the whole of society, which needs, above all, consistency with the evangelical message.
This is what I wish you from "the bottom of my heart, while I willingly bless you, all your dear ones, and those who are engaged in your formation.
Dear Brothers in Our Lord Jesus Christ,
ONE OF THE GREATEST consolations of the new Pope is to know that he has the love and support of all the People of God. Like the Apostle Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, the Pope is powerfully sustained by the fervent prayers of the faithful. And so it is a special joy for me today to be with you, my Brothers in the Episcopate, the pastors of local Churches in the United States of America. I know that you bring with you the deep faith of your people, their profound respect for the mystery of Peter’s role in God’s design for the universal Church, and their love for Christ and his brethren. In the providence of God I have been able to visit your land and to know some of your people personally. Thus our being together is itself a celebration of the unity of the Church. It is also an attestation of our acceptance of Jesus Christ in the totality of his mystery of salvation.
As Servant and Pastor and Father of the universal Church, I wish at this moment to express my love for all those who are specially called to work for the Gospel, all those who actively collaborate with you in your Dioceses, to build up the Kingdom of God. Like yourselves, I learned as a Bishop to understand firsthand the ministry of priests, the problems affecting their lives, the splendid efforts they are making, the sacrifices that are an integral part of their service to God’s people. Like yourselves, I am fully aware of now much Christ depends on his priests in order to fulfill in time his mission of redemption. And like yourselves I have worked with the Religious, endeavoring to give witness to the esteem that the Church has for them in their vocation of consecrated love, and urging them always to full generous collaboration in the corporate life of the ecclesial community. All of us have seen abundant examples of authentic evangelica testificatio. Now I ask you all to take my greetings to the clergy and Religious, to assure them all of my understanding, my solidarity, my love in Christ Jesus and in the Church.
I am aware also that my pastoral obligations extend to the whole community of the faithful. During this audience I would like to offer a few basic reflections that I am firmly convinced are relevant for each local Church in its entirety. In establishing priorities, my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul I chose topics of extreme importance, and all of their exhortations and directives to the American Bishops I ratify with full knowledge and personal conviction. The very last ad limina address (and the only one given by my immediate predecessor) was on the Christian family. Already during the first weeks of my Pontificate I too have had occasion to speak on this theme, and to extol its importance. Yes, may all the wonderful Christian families in God’s Church know that the Pope is with them, united in prayer, in hope, in confidence. The Pope confirms them in their mission given them by Christ himself, proclaims their dignity, and blesses all their efforts.
I am thoroughly convinced that families everywhere and the great family of the Catholic Church will be greatly served – a real pastoral service will be rendered to them – if a renewed emphasis is placed on the role of doctrine in the life of the Church. In God’s plan a new Pontificate is always a new beginning, evoking fresh hopes and giving new opportunities for reflection, for conversion, for prayer and for resolves.
Under the care of Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, I wish to commit my Pontificate to the continued genuine application of the Second Vatican Council, under the action of the Holy Spirit. And in this regard, nothing is more enlightening than to recall the exact words with which, on the opening day, John XXIII wished to spell out the orientation of this great ecclesial event: "The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught". This farseeing vision of Pope John is valid today. It was the only sound basis for an Ecumenical Council aimed at pastoral renewal; it is the only sound basis for all our pastoral endeavors as Bishops of the Church of God. This then is my own deepest hope today for the pastors of the Church in America, as well as for all the pastors of the universal Church: " that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught". The sacred deposit of God’s word, handed on by the Church, is the joy and strength of our people’s lives. It is the only pastoral solution to the many problems of our day. To present this sacred deposit of Christian doctrine in all its purity and integrity, with all its exigencies and in all its power is a holy pastoral responsibility; it is, moreover, the most sublime service we can render.
And the second hope that I would express today is a hope for the preservation of the great discipline of the Church – a hope eloquently formulated by John Paul I on the day after his election: "We wish to maintain intact the great discipline of the Church in the life of priests and of the faithful, as the history of the Church, enriched by experience has presented it throughout the centuries, with examples of holiness and heroic perfection, both in the exercise of the evangelical virtues and in service to the poor, the humble, the defenseless".
These two hopes do not exhaust our aspirations or our prayers, but they are worthy of intense pastoral efforts and apostolic diligence. These efforts and diligence on our part are in turn an expression of real love and concern for the flock entrusted to our care by Jesus Christ the chief Shepherd – a pastoral charge to be exercised within the unity of the universal Church and in the context of the collegiality of the Episcopate.
These hopes for the life of the Church – purity of doctrine and sound discipline – intimately depend on every new generation of priests, who with the generosity of love continue the Church’s commitment to the Gospel. For this reason, Paul VI showed great wisdom in asking the American Bishops " to fulfill with loving personal attention your great pastoral responsibility to your seminarians: know the content of their courses, encourage them to love the word of God and never to be ashamed of the seeming folly of the Cross". And this is my ardent desire today that a new emphasis on the importance of doctrine and discipline will be the postconciliar contribution of your seminaries, so that "the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph".
And in all your pastoral labors you can be sure that the Pope is united with you and close to you in the love of Jesus Christ. All of us have a single goal: to prove faithful to the pastoral trust committed to us, to lead the People of God "in right paths for his name’s sake", so that, with pastoral accountability, we can say with Jesus to the Father: "As long as I was with them, I guarded them with your name which you gave me. I kept careful watch, and not one of them was lost...".
In the name of Jesus, peace to you and to all your people. With my Apostolic Blessing.
Hall of Blessings
Thursday, 9 November 1978
1. I wish to thank you heartily for the words addressed to me at the beginning of this meeting of ours today. Together with the Cardinal Vicar, Mons. the Vicegerent and the Auxiliary Bishops, the Clergy of the diocese of Rome is present here to meet the new Bishop of Rome, whom Christ designated by means of the Cardinals' vote in the Conclave on 16 October, after the sudden death of beloved Pope John Paul I. I must confess to you, dear Confrčres, that I greatly desired and looked forward to this meeting. However, taking over the succession to my Venerable Predecessors—barely three months, in fact, have passed since the death also of the great Pope Paul VI—I thought it should be done gradually. All the more so in that the circumstances are so unusual.
The succession of the Bishops of Rome, after 455 years, includes a Pope who comes from beyond the frontiers of Italy. Therefore I considered it necessary that the taking possession of the diocese of Rome, together with the solemn entrance into the basilica of St John Lateran, should be preceded by a period of preparation. In the meantime, I wished to take my place in that magnificent movement of Christian tradition in Italy expressed by the figures of its Patron Saints: St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Siena. After this preparation, I wish to carry out the fundamental duty of my pontificate, that is, to take possession of Rome as a diocese, as the Church of this City, and officially assume responsibility for this Community, this tradition, which has its origins in St Peter Apostle. I am deeply aware of having become Pope of the universal Church, because of being Bishop of Rome. The ministry (munus)of the Bishop of Rome, as Peter's Successor, is the root of universality.
Our meeting today, on the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, is, as it were, an inauguration of the solemn act which will take place on Sunday next. I greet the Cardinal Vicar, Mons. the Vicegerent, the Bishops and all the priests gathered here, both diocesan and religious. I extend the most cordial welcome to all on behalf of Christ the Saviour.
2. I listened with great attention to the Cardinal Vicar's address. I add that, even before our meeting today, he has been so kind as to inform me about various questions concerning the Diocese of Rome, and in particular about the pastoral activity which weighs on your shoulders, dear Brother Priests, in it, the first in dignity among the dioceses of the Church.
As I was listening to the address, I realized with joy that the most essential problems are not new to me. They are part of all my preceding experience. As a result of twenty years of episcopal service and nearly fifteen of pastoral guidance in one of the most ancient dioceses of Poland, the archdiocese of Krakow, these problems relive in my memories, forcing me to compare them with one another, though remaining aware—as is obvious—of the difference in the situations. I am perfectly aware what evangelization and pastoral activity mean in a city whose historic centre is rich in churches that are becoming empty, while at the same time new districts and suburbs are springing up for which it is necessary to provide; often even struggling to obtain new churches, new parishes, and the other fundamental conditions for evangelization. I remember the admirable, zealous and often heroic priests, with whom I was able to share the concern and the struggles. Along this way, faith, nourished by tradition, acquires new strength. Secularization, planned or springing from habits and tendencies among the inhabitants of a large city, stops when it meets a living testimony of faith, which also clearly shows the social dimension of the Gospel.
I know too, Dear Brothers, the significance of the individual institutions and structures which the Cardinal Vicar of Rome has been good enough to mention. That is, the Curia, in our case the Vicariate of Rome, the Prefectures and the respective Council of Parish Priest Prefects, and the Priests' Council. I have learned to give their rightful value to all these forms of group work. They are not only administrative structures, but centres by means of which our priestly communion is expressed and realized, as well as the union of the pastoral service and of evangelization. In my preceding episcopal work the Priests' Council rendered me great service, both as a community, and as a meeting place to share, together with the Bishop, common solicitude for the whole life of the "presbyterate" and for the effectiveness of its pastoral activity.
Among the institutions that the Cardinal Vicar enumerated in his address, the following three were always very near and dear to me in my preceding service as bishop: the diocesan seminary, the University of Theological Sciences, and the parish.
How I wish I could contribute to their development! The seminary is, in fact, "the apple" not only of the Bishops' eye, but of that of the whole local and universal Church. The University of Theological Sciences—in this case the Lateran University—will be as dear to me as the Theology Faculty in Krakow, with the attached institutes, was and remains dear to me. With regard to the parish, how profoundly true I find the affirmation that the bishop feels more at ease "in the parish"! How I loved the visits to the parishes—fundamental organizational cells of the Church and at same time of the community of the People of God! I hope that I will be able to continue them here too in order to get to know your problems and those of the parishes. In this connection, we have already had preliminary talks with His Eminence and his Bishops.
3. Everything I say refers to you and concerns you directly, dear Brother Priests of Rome. As I meet you here for the first time and greet you with sincere affection, I have still before my eyes and in my heart the "presbyterate" of the Church of Krakow—all our meetings on various occasions—the numerous talks that had their beginning right from the years in the Seminary—the meetings of priests—ordination groups of each of the seminary classes, to which I was always invited and in which I took part with joy and benefit!
It will certainly not be possible to transfer all that here, in the new conditions of work, but we must do our utmost to be close, to form the "unum", priestly communion, composed of all the diocesan and religious clergy, and of all the priests from various parts of the world who work in the Roman Curia and who also dedicate themselves solicitously to the pastoral ministry. This communion of priests among themselves and with the bishop is the fundamental condition of union among the whole People of God. It constructs its unity in pluralism and in Christian solidarity. The union of priests with the bishop must become the source of the mutual union of priests among themselves and of groups of priests. This union, at the basis of which we find awareness of our own great mission, is expressed by means of the exchange of services and experiences, availability for collaboration, commitment in all pastoral activities, both in the parish and in catechesis, or in guiding the apostolic action of the laity.
Dear Brothers, we must love our priesthood from the bottom of our heart, as a great "social sacrament". We must love it as the essence of our life and of our vocation, as the basis of our Christian and human identity. None of us can be divided in himself. The sacramental priesthood, the ministerial priesthood, calls for particular faith, for particular commitment of all the forces of body and soul, for special awareness of one's vocation, as an exceptional vocation. Each of us must thank Christ on his knees for the gift of this vocation: "What shall I render to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and cal on the name of the Lord." (Ps 116)
We must take, dear Brothers, "the cup of salvation". We are necessary for men, we are immensely necessary, and not part-time, not half-time, like "employees"! We are necessary as those who bear witness and reawaken in others the need to testify. And if it may sometimes seem that we are not necessary, it means that we must begin to bear witness more clearly, and then we will see how much the modem world needs our priestly testimony, our service, our priesthood.
We must give and offer the men of our time, our faithful, the people of Rome, this testimony of ours with our whole human existence, with our whole being. Priestly testimony, yours, beloved priest confrčre, and mine, involves the whole of our person. Yes, the Lord seems, in fact, to speak to us: "I need your hands to continue to bless, / I need your lips to continue to speak, / I need your body to continue to suffer. / I need your heart to continue to love, / I need you to continue to save." (Michel Quoist, Preghiere).
Let us not deceive ourselves that we are serving the Gospel if we try to "water down" our priestly charism through exaggerated interest in the vast field of temporal problems, if we wish to "secularize" our way of living and acting, if we cancel even the external signs of our priestly vocation. We must keep the sense of our singular vocation, and this "singularity" must be expressed, also in our exterior garb. Let us not be ashamed of it! Yes, we are in the world! But we are not of the world!
The Second Vatican Council recalled to us this splendid truth regarding the "universal priesthood" of the whole People of God, which is derived from participation in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Our "ministerial" priesthood, rooted in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, differs essentially from the universal priesthood of the faithful. And it was constituted in order to enlighten more effectively our brothers and sisters who live in the world—that is, the laity—about the fact that in Jesus Christ we are all a "kingdom of priests" for the Father. The priest reaches this purpose through the ministry of the word and of the sacraments, which is specifically his, and above all through the eucharistic sacrifice, for which he alone is authorized; the priest realizes all this also through a suitable lifestyle. Therefore our priesthood must be clear and expressive. And if, in the tradition of our Church it is closely linked with celibacy, this is due precisely to the clarity and "evangelical" expressiveness referred to in Our Lord's words on celibacy "for the kingdom of heaven" (cf. Mt Mt 19,12).
The Second Vatican Council and one of the first Synods of Bishops, that of 1971, gave great attention to the above-mentioned questions. We recall, moreover, that, during this Synod, Pope Paul VI raised to the altars blessed Maximilian Kolbe, a priest. Today I wish to refer to all that was stated then, as well as to this priestly testimony of my fellow-countryman.
1 would like to entrust to you yet another problem which I have particularly at heart: priestly vocations for this dear City of ours and beloved diocese of Rome! Share this concern and solicitude of mine, dear priests! Go back to your most personal memories. At the beginning of your vocation is there not, perhaps, an exemplary priest who guided you in your first steps towards the priesthood? Is not your first thought, your first desire to follow the Lord, linked, perhaps, with the concrete person of a priestconfessor, a priest-friend? Let your grateful thought, your heart overbrimming with thankfulness, go back to this priest. Yes, the Lord needs intermediaries, instruments, to make his voice, his call, heard. Dear Priests, offer yourselves to the Lord to be his instruments in calling new workers to his vineyard. There is no lack of generous youths.
With great humility and love I ask Christ, the One Eternal Priest, through the intercession of his Mother and ours, so venerated in the image known all over the world as "Salus Populi Romani", that our common priestly and pastoral service in this diocese, the most venerable one in the Universal Church, may be blessed and bear abundant fruit. Referring then to Jesus Christ's priestly prayer, I end with these words: "Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one... and none of them is lost... that they may be consecrated in truth" (Jn 17,11).
1. Yesterday, on the festivity of the dedication of the Basilica of the Holy Saviour in the Lateran, I began the preparation for the great act of taking possession of this Basilica—the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome—which will take place on Sunday next. For this reason I met yesterday the Clergy of the Diocese of Rome, the priests engaged particularly in the diocesan apostolate. Today I meet you Sisters. I wanted this meeting to follow yesterday's immediately. Thus, as new Bishop of Rome, I can approach those who constitute, in a certain way, the principal spiritual reserves of this Diocese, the first among all the dioceses in the Church, and I can have at least a first contact with them. This approach and this acquaintance are of great concern to me.
You have come here in very large numbers! Perhaps no episcopal See in the world can count so many. The Cardinal Vicar of Rome has informed me that in the territory of the Diocese there are about 20,000 religious women, about 200 generalates, and about 500 provincial houses of various female Orders and Congregations. These houses are in the service of your religious families in the range of the whole Church, or of the provinces, which go beyond the territory of the city of Rome. During the years of my episcopal ministry, I often met the female Orders (Krakow is the richest in them in Poland), and I had the opportunity to realize how much each Congregation wishes to have a house, and above all the generalate, right in Rome, near the Pope. I rejoice in this and thank you, even if I am of the opinion that you should always remain faithful to your birthplace, where the motherhouse is, where the light of the new community, of the new vocation, of the new mission in the Church appeared for the first time.
2. I welcome all of you, Sisters, gathered here today. I wish to greet you in the first place as the new Bishop of Rome and I wish to specify your place in this "local Church", in this actual Diocese, of which I am preparing to take possession solemnly on Sunday next. Judging by the living centuries-old tradition of the Church, by the recent doctrine of the Second Vatican Council and also by my previous experiences as a Bishop, I come here with the deep conviction that this is a special "place".
This is seen from the vision of man and of his vocation which Christ himself expressed to us. "Qui potest capere, capiat" (Mt 19,12) ("He who is able to receive this, let him receive it"); thus he spoke to his disciples who were asking him insistent questions on the legislation of the Old Testament and especially on the legislation regarding marriage. In these questions, as also in the tradition of the Old Testament, there was included a certain limitation of that freedom of children of God which Christ brought us, and which St Paul, subsequently, confirmed so forcefully. The religious vocation is precisely the fruit of this freedom of spirit, reawakened by Christ, from which there springs the availability of complete giving to God himself. The religious vocation lies in the acceptance of a severe discipline, which does not come from an order, but from an evangelical counsel: the counsel of chastity, the counsel of poverty, the counsel of obedience. And all that, embraced consciously and rooted in love for the Divine Bridegroom, is, in fact, the particular revelation of the depth of the freedom of the human spirit. Freedom of the children of God: sons and daughters.
This vocation is derived from a living faith, consistent to the ultimate consequences, which opens up to man the final perspective, that is, the perspective of the meeting with God himself, who alone is worthy of a love "above everything", an exclusive and nuptial love. This love, consists in the giving of our whole human being, body and soul, to him who gave himself completely to us men by means of the Incarnation, the Cross and abasement, by means of poverty, chastity, obedience: He became poor for us...so that we might become rich (cf. 2Co 8,9). In this way, therefore, the religious vocation takes life from these riches of living faith. This vocation is, as it were, the spark which lights a "bright flame of love" in the soul, as St John of the Cross wrote. This vocation, once accepted, once solemnly confirmed by means of the vows, must continually be nourished by the riches of faith; not only when it brings with it inner joy, but also when it is accompanied by difficulties, aridity, and inner suffering, which is called the "night" of the soul.
This vocation is a special treasure of the Church, which can never cease to pray that the Spirit of Jesus Christ will bring forth religious vocations in souls. They are, in fact, both for the community of the People of God, and for the "world", a living sign of the "future life": a sign which, at the same time, is rooted (also by means of your religious habit) in the everyday life of the Church and of society, and permeates its most delicate tissues. The persons who have loved God unreservedly are particularly capable of loving man, and of giving themselves to him without personal interests and without limits. Do we need proofs? We can find them in every age of the Church's life; we find them also in our times. During my preceding episcopal ministry, I met such testimonies at every step. I remember the Institutes and Hospitals for the seriously ill and for the handicapped. Everywhere, in places where no one could render service as a good Samaritan any longer, there was always still a Sister to be found.
3. This is certainly only one of the fields of activity, and therefore only an example. These fields are certainly far more numerous, in actual fact. Well, meeting you here, today, for the first time, dear Sisters, I wish to tell you in the first place that your presence is indispensable in the whole Church, and especially here in Rome, in this Diocese. It must be a visible sign of the Gospel for all. It must also be the source of a particular apostolate. This apostolate is so varied and rich that it is even difficult for me to list here all its forms, its fields, its orientations. It is united with the specific charism of every Congregation, with its apostolic spirit, which the Church and the Holy See approve with joy, seeing in it the expression of the vitality of the Mystical Body of Christ! This apostolate is usually discreet, hidden, near to the human being, and so is more suited to a woman's soul, sensitive to her neighbour, and hence called to the task of a sister and mother. It is precisely this vocation which is at the very "heart" of your religious being. As Bishop of Rome I beg you: be spiritually mothers and sisters for all the people of this Church which Jesus, in his ineffable mercy and grace, has wished to entrust to me. Be it for everyone, without exception, but especially for the sick, the suffering, the abandoned, the children, the young, families in difficult situations... Go out towards them! Do not wait for them to come to you! Look for them yourselves! Love drives us to do so. Love must seek! "Caritas Christi urget nos—the love of Christ drives us!" (2Co 5,14).
And I entrust to you another request at the beginning of this pastoral ministry of mine: commit yourselves generously to collaborating with the grace of God, in order that so many young souls may accept the Lord's call and new forces come to swell your ranks, to meet the growing requirements that are emerging in the vast fields of the modern apostolate. The first form of collaboration is certainly assiduous invocation to "the Lord of the harvest" (cf. Mt Mt 9,38) to enlighten and guide the hearts of the many girls "in quest" who certainly exist, today too, in this diocese, as in every part of the world. May they understand that there is no greater ideal to which to dedicate their lives, than that of the complete gift of themselves to Christ for the service of the Kingdom. But there is a second way, no less important, of assisting God's call, and it is that of the witness that emanates from your lives:
— the witness, in the first place, of sincere consistency with Gospel values and with the specific charism of your Institute: any surrender to compromise is a disappointment for those who approach you, do not forget!
— the witness, moreover, of a harmonious and mature personality, which is able to establish relations with others without unjustified prejudices or ingenuous imprudence, but with cordial openness and serene balance;
— the witness, finally, of your joy, a joy that can be read in your eyes and in your attitude as well as in your words; a joy which clearly manifests, to those who look at you, awareness of possessing that "hidden treasure", that "pearl of great value", the purchase of which takes away all regret at having renounced everything in accordance with the evangelical counsel (cf. Mt Mt 13,44-45).
And now, before concluding, I wish to address a special word to the dear enclosed Sisters, to those present at this meeting and to those who are in their austere enclosure, chosen for a special love of the Divine Bridegroom. I greet you all with particular intensity of sentiments, and in spirit I visit your convents, apparently closed, but actually so deeply open to the presence of God living in our human world, and therefore so necessary for the world. I commend to you the Church and Rome; I commend to you men and the world! To you, to your prayers, to your "holocaust" I commend also myself, Bishop of Rome. Be with me, close to me, you who are "in the heart of the Church!" May there be fulfilled in each of you that which was the programme of life for St Theresa of the Child Jesus: "in corde Ecclesiae amor ero" —"I will be love in the heart of the Church!"
In this way, I end my first meeting with the Sisters of Holy Rome. In you continues the extraordinary sowing of the Gospel, the extraordinary expression of that call to holiness which the Council recently recalled to us in the Constitution on the Church. I expect a great deal from you. I place great hopes in you. I wish to enclose and express all this in the Blessing which I willingly impart to you.
I commend you to Mary, the Bride of the Holy Spirit, the Mother of the noblest love!
Speeches 1978 - Assisi, Italy