Speeches 1978 - Friday, 22 December 1978

So I thank you, therefore, for this choral offering of best wishes, which you do not offer me on your own but together with all those whom you represent. And I reciprocate, with all my heart, wishing for each of you, as well as for all those closest to you, an abundant outpouring of heavenly grace and of that very human kindness of our Saviour, Jesus Christ (cf. Tit. Tt 2,11).

2. I know well how my Predecessor, Paul VI, of happy memory, during the course of similar gatherings taking place in this hall during the exacting and distinguished span of his fifteen-year pontificate, always preferred to widen the horizon to include the duties of his pastoral mission. He used to recall the salient facts of the Church and the world, not only to give precise content to this talk with his most qualified Collaborators, but also to bring specific focus to the situation by a careful examination of the most recent events.

Such an opportunity also presents itself to me today in a form both similar and diverse, but perhaps somewhat easier ... What happened this year? Or, more exactly: what happened after sunset on August 6, when that remarkable Pontiff closed his eyes on the scenes of this world to open them in the light of heaven, where he entered to receive the prize of the good and faithful servant (cf. Mt Mt 25,2)? The events are well-known and it is certainly not necessary to recall them, even less so in your presence, since you were not merely spectators, but active participants and, in great measure, protagonists, None of us—I might say with the disciple of Emmaus—is so much a stranger in Rome as to be ignorant of quae facta sunt in illa his diebus. (what events have taken place here in these days) (cf. Lk Lc 24,8).

In journalistic or bureaucratic terms, there has been talk of "avvicendamento" (change), or even of a twofold "change" at the summit of the Church, so that within one year—as has been noted—we have had three Popes! This is objectively true but it certainly does not exhaust the discussion of what happened in the succession to the Apostolic See and of what is most substantial and determinant in this: I mean the formidable heritage of the very ministry of Peter, which manifested itself in the short span of these crucial years during the Pontificate of Paul VI, and which at the same time was enriched by the seed and sap, the renewing impulses, and the programmatic orientations of the Conciliar sessions.

And one ought to add too that the brief, but very intense, service of Pope John Paul I has marked this already complex heritage, bringing to it a more definite pastoral connotation. Thus, I myself, who have been called to take it up, feel day by day the truly enormous weight of such a great responsibility.

So, should we then be speaking of summits or power? Oh no, my Brothers; the service of Peter—as I intimated in the Sistine Chapel the day after my election—is essentially a task of self-giving and love. This is how I mean my humble ministry to be.

In this, I take comfort, especially, in the certitude, or even more, in the indestructible faith in the power of Jesus the Lord, who has promised to his Church an indefectible assistance (cf. Mt Mt 28,20) and to his Vicar, even more so than to all the other Pastors, he whispers persuasively: Modicae fideim, quare dubitasti? (You of little faith, why did you doubt?) (Mt 14,31). But I also take comfort in the help that you offer me, of which I have had daily confirmation, even during this first period of pontifical beginnings, in many ways and with much efficiency... So here I take up again the theme of best wishes to you, concluding with a renewed invitation to raise up your prayers for me. Let fellowship in prayer and charity take highest priority among the forms of your precious collaboration with me.

3. After a look at the Church, one's thoughts turn quite naturally—as also Pope Paul's used to turn—to the world that surrounds it. How has human society fared during this year which has just come to an end? And how is it faring just now? We all need to look at the facts, and even more at the connections between them, in order to grasp—as far as possible—their sense and direction. Here we might ask, for example, is the cause of peace among men progressing or stagnating? And the answer comes back anxious and uncertain, when we discover, in different countries, the persistence of virulent tensions, which frequently give rise to furious outbreaks of violence.

Peace, unfortunately, remains rather precarious, while it is all too easy to catch a glimpse of the fundamental motives which are ready to threaten it. Where there is no justice—who doesn't know this—there can be no peace, because injustice is itself a disorder, and the words of the prophet remain ever true: Opus iustitiae pax (The work of justice is peace) (Is 32,17). Likewise, where there is no respect for human rights—I mean those inalienable rights which are inherent in every man by his very nature—there can be no peace, because every violation of personal dignity favours rancour and the spirit of revenge. Moreover, where there is no moral formation to favour the growth of good, there can be no peace, because it is always necessary to keep watch and contain the destructive tendencies which nestle in the heart of man.

I do not want to linger on these thoughts, my Brothers, but I want to extract from all this a certain indicative point. Studying this theme, it seems even more necessary to consolidate the spiritual bases of peace, continuing with courage and with perseverance that pedagogy of peace of which Paul VI was such an authoritative master. In the Message for the World Day of Peace, published just yesterday, I took up his exposition on education for peace, and I repeat to you—as to all men, who are my Brothers—the invitation to deepen this theme and assimilate it.

Just how urgent the need is to pledge oneself to the cause of peace has been confirmed by the sad news coming recently from the Continent of South America.

The dispute which has grown ever more aggravated in these recent days between Argentina and Chile, notwithstanding the lively appeal for peace sent to the Authorities on the part of the Episcopates of the two Countries, vigorously supported by my Predecessor, Pope John Paul I, is a cause for deep sorrow and personal anxiety.

Moved by the paternal affection that I bear to both of these dear nations, I, myself, on the vigil of the meeting scheduled for 12 December in Buenos Aires between their Ministers of Foreign Affairs and upon which so many hopes had rested, manifested directly to the two Presidents my own fears, my prayers, and my encouragement in seeking through calm and responsible examination a way of safeguarding that peace so ardently desired by both peoples.

The answers I received are full of respect and expressions of good will. Yet, notwithstanding the acceptance in principle, on the part of both contenders, of recourse to the mediating intervention of this Holy See, in the concrete difficulties then at issue, the common proposal has not been acted upon. The Holy See would not have refused such an appeal, even in the knowledge of the delicacy and complexity of the question, considering the higher interests of peace as prevailing over the political and technical aspects of the quarrel.

Yesterday, when faced with the ever more alarming news arriving here about the aggravated circumstances and what some consider the possibly immanent precipitation of the situation, I made known to the Parties concerned my disposition—indeed, my desire—to send to the two Capitals my own special representative, in order to have more direct and concrete information about the respective positions, and in order to examine and search together for the possibilities of an honourable and peaceful settlement of the question.

In the evening came the news of the acceptance of such a proposal on the part of both of the Governments, with expressions of gratitude and confidence which, while they comfort me, make me feel even more the responsibility that such an intervention involves, but from which the Holy See is determined not to allow herself to shrink. Thus, since both of the Parties jointly emphasize the urgency of such an intervention, the Holy See will proceed with all possible solicitude.

Meanwhile, I wish to renew my sorrowful appeal to the Authorities, that any steps be avoided which could bear unforeseen consequences—or even all too foreseeable ones—of harm and suffering for the populations of the two brother nations. Thus, I invite all to lift up a fervent prayer to the Lord that the violence of arms may not have the advantage over peace.

4. And now I want to give you some good news as a sort of happy first-fruits of initiatives and events, different among themselves, but all demonstrative of the multiform presence and activity of Holy Church.

a) The first news is that, towards the end of next January, I hope to go—please God—to Mexico in order to participate at the Third General Assembly of the Latin American Episcopate, which is to take place—as you know—at Puebla de los Angeles. This is an event of the most relevant ecclesial importance, not only because in the vast Continent of Latin America, called the Continent of Hope, the Catholic faithful are present as the clear majority. But it is so also by reason of that special interest, and even more, those great expectations which are focused upon that meeting, and which it will be the authentic historical credit of the Bishops who govern those ancient and new Churches to transform into comforting reality. But, before going to the seat of the Conference, I shall make a stop at the celebrated Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is there, in fact, that I wish to draw that higher solace and necessary stimulus—the good auspices, as it were—for my mission as the Pastor of the Church, and especially for my first contact with the Church of Latin America. The essential point of a most ardently desired encounter with this Church will be precisely such a religious pilgrimage to the feet of the Holy Virgin, in order to venerate her, to implore her help, and to ask her for inspiration and counsel for my Brothers from the entire Continent.

It is a joy for me to affirm all this on the vigil of Christmas, the moment when all—Pastors and faithful—are reunited around the Mother who, as she once gave to the world the Saviour Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem, still gives him to us in the inexhaustible fruitfulness of her virginal and spiritual maternity. I pray that my presence in her beautiful sanctuary on Mexican soil may contribute to our finding Christ again through her—through her as Mother, not only for the people of that same land, but for all the Nations of Latin America.

As far as the theme assigned to the meeting at Puebla is concerned, you are already familiar with it, together with the wise advice contained in the preparatory document, set forth by CELAM: "Evangelization in the present and in the future of Latin America." Well then, the relevance of this theme, its theological, ecclesiological, pastoral, doctrinal, and practical implications, the very amplitude of the area in which it will be necessary to apply each concrete resolution, are so very evident that I do not need to explain the reason for my decision. As Paul VI wished to be present at the second Assembly, during the International Eucharistic Congress of Bogotà, so I shall be present among the brothers convened there for the new Assembly with the aim of witnessing to them and to their priests and faithful the esteem, the confidence, the hope of the universal Church, and to increase their courage in the common pastoral task. Someone has said that the future of the Church "is being played out" in Latin America. Even if, on a general plane, this future is hidden in God, according to his design that goes beyond the projects of men and socio-historical conditions (cf. Rom Rm 11,33 Ac 16,6-9), this sentence contains a truth of its own, because it signifies how much the fate of the Church of the Central and South American Continent is in solidarity with that of the one and undivided Church of Christ.

So, for now, I send out my very best wishes to that select assembly.

b) The second announcement refers to the decision to open to scholars the Secret Vatican Archives to include the whole Pontificate of Pope Leo XIII. Such a decision, awaited some time now by the world of culture, falls opportunely in the year 1978, which marks—as you well know—a double centenary: that of the death of the servant of God, Pius IX, and that of the successive elevation to the Chair of Peter of Gioacchino Pecci, whose ministry, which lasted fully twenty-five years, "usque ad summam senectutem" (unto exceeding old age), carried over into the first years of our own century. So it is that the Holy See, consenting to the free perusal of the letters and documents concerning this ample and hardly unimportant period, running from 1878 to 1903, which marks the entry into the twentieth century, opens to investigation a panorama of singular richness in the service of historical truth, witnessing, also to the ever active presence of the Church in the world of culture.

c) Much along the same lines of thought is the plan to honour the memory of my great Predecessor, Paul VI. On the one hand, to his perpetual memory, the great Audience Hall, desired by him and entrusted to the ingenious skill of the Architect, Pier Luigi Nervi, will from now on be called "Aula Paolo VI" (Hall of Paul VI). On the other hand, in order to treasure the patrimony that came about during the last year of his Pontificate, the "autographs" (handwritten letters) of so many famous persons, which were offered to him during the course of his eightieth birthday, will be made available to the public. I consider, in fact, that one of my most specific duties is to continue and develop the interest that Paul VI constantly demonstrated in the cause of culture and art: this earned for him so much respect and brought such great prestige to the Church.

Thus, Brothers and dear Sons, I have replied to your well-wishing; I have officially anticipated here certain plans; I have recommended myself to your prayers and to the prayers of all. The contacts I have had until now with you urge me to make clear the meaning of this communion. I thank God that I have already been able to become acquainted personally with one sector of my closest collaborators, those of the Secretariat of State, and I have every intention of continuing, as soon as I possibly can, the visits to the other departments of the Roman Curia, in the conviction that reciprocal acquaintance favours the best coordination of our forces tending—according to the respective functions of each—to the same focal centre of reference: the growth of the People of God in faith and charity.

So, here we are at Christmas, and Jesus is coming. May he find us all—as the Preface of Advent augurs—vigilant in our expectation, exulting in our praise, ardent in our charity, under the gently reassuring gaze of her who, as Mother of Jesus, was and is also Our Mother. May it be so, with my warmest blessing.



Saturday, 23 December 1978

Beloved Young People,

It gives me great joy and deep spiritual consolation to receive this morning you who are regional representatives of Catholic Action Youth. Together with your hardworking leaders you have come here to present your Christmas wishes to the Pope.

I greet you heartily and, in the first place, I address my greeting to dear Monsignor Cè, who is leaving the office of General Assistant of Catholic Action for the new pastoral ministry entrusted to him, and to the President of Catholic Action, Professor Mario Agnes.

I wish I had more time at my disposal to give complete expression to the many, many things that I feel I should say to you. But, as it is not possible now, I postpone the talk, a lengthier one, more in keeping with the affection I cherish for you young people, to another more opportune occasion.

For the present, I will merely thank you for this fine visit and reciprocate your good wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. For 1979 I know you have chosen the slogan: "Hi, we're here too". This motto, even if expressed in a friendly, joking form, sums up well the reason for your activity, which wishes to be first and foremost a Christian presence and evangelical testimony in the midst of the environment in which you live. Remember, however, that if you want this presence to be effective and fruitful, you must undertake to get to know Christ better and better and to draw from him, who is a great friend of children, the strength to be really, not just in desire, the salt of the earth and the light of the modern world (cf. Mt Mt 5,13-14).

Returning to your beautiful Italian regions, which you represent here, tell your Catholic Action friends that the Pope loves you particularly and follows you in the joyful choice that you have made of Christ, whom you venerate in these days in the form of a little Child. Tell them that the Pope is with all young people: with his continual reminder, with his fatherly benevolence, with his incessant prayer and with the Apostolic Blessing which I now willingly impart to you, to all the young people you represent here and to the dear members of your families, as a token of elect graces from the Child Jesus.



Saturday, 23 December 1978

Dear Friends,

Today's meeting takes on a character of special importance and meaning, because, emerging from the usual pattern of presence, reserve, and silent work which you carry out in the Pope's service, it gives rise to a manifestation of sentiments, a communion of spirits and a feast of hearts.

It is the birthday of Jesus! In the happy memory of this wonderful event for the history of human salvation, in the spirit of the teaching of the Word of God Incarnate, full of grace and truth, in the spirit of the light of true goodness which irradiates from the Heavenly Child, we unite more spontaneously together, rediscovering in this way the human and Christian dimension, which reveals to us the most genuine and noble aspects of our hearts.

You are present here, in fact, with your families, to reaffirm to the Pope, by means of the presentation of fervent Christmas greetings, your deep devotion, your reverent affection, and your unconditioned faithfulness to his person and his service.

I express to you, together with my sincere appreciation, deep gratitude for this new and significant testimony of filial respect, in addition to the many others which you continually offer through your work, carried out with discretion, diligence, and refined manners. To your respectful homage, as well as to the assurance of prayers, I reply, also, by beseeching the Child Jesus to shower upon you and your relatives the gifts of his love, to grant his peace to your hearts and your homes, to illuminate your way with his light and, finally, to comfort your existence with his heavenly grace.

To seal these fatherly wishes and as a confirmation of my benevolence, I willingly impart the propitiating Apostolic Blessing to you present here, and to all the persons who are dear to you.



Saturday, 23 December 1978

Mr Mayor,

I am sorry not to be able to give an adequate answer to the problems which you pointed out. My short experience in Rome does not allow me to do so.

I thank you heartily for the address of greeting and good wishes which, at the approach of the Christmas Solemnity and the New Year, you, together with those in charge of the City Council, have come personally to present to me with an act of appreciated courtesy. And I am sincerely glad to reciprocate these noble wishes for prosperity, peace and progress, not only for you and your collaborators, but also and above all for the whole, dear population of this extraordinary City of Rome.

It is just of these citizens that your presence, Mr Mayor, reminds me today. For I feel acutely that I share the responsibility for them with you: not the civil responsibility, which rightly belongs to your City Administration, but the religious and Christian one, entrusted to me through the grace of God with my recent election as Bishop of Rome by the Cardinals. The latter, though scattered all over the world, are by Canon Law an eminent part of the clergy of this diocese.

When Peter of Galilee came to this City, about the middle of the first century, he found there an imperial Capital, in which, as the historian Tacitus did not hesitate to admit, "all atrocities and shames were to be found" (Ann. 15, 44). But this is no longer the city I find before my eyes today. By divine goodness and through the industry of many generations of illustrious men, Rome has become more and more civilised and hardworking, a meeting place and diffusion point of many Christian and human values.

With that, I do not hide from myself the real problems and the urgent necessities which still loom over the citizens, both at the plane of city planning and at the social and welfare plane. Above all it is to be hoped that, at the same time and even more than the affirmation of justice, the quality of the moral and spiritual life of the citizens will improve, so that an atmosphere of reciprocal relations of mutual comprehension, alien to any form of hatred and violence, may be established. It is the firm persuasion of Christianity that human values can triumph only when there is established a climate of love, of which respect for the rights of all (both of the individual citizens and of the various social categories), tolerance, concord, and justice itself, are a necessary expression.

The Church intends to contribute to this above all by means of the work of apostolate, education, and charity carried out by the parishes, the religious communities and the free institutions which have come into being owing to the generous initiative of Catholics in the service of their neighbour. And I am happy that this work, so highly meritorious, has been and is more and more appreciated, requested, and sustained by the population.

It is a comfort for me to know that the special characteristic of this City will always be maintained at its rightful value. It represents not only a common human society, or just the capital of beloved Italy, but also assumes the form of the visible centre of the Catholic Church and a point of reference for the whole of Christianity, both because it is host to the Episcopal See of Peter, and because its soil is soaked with the venerable blood of not a few martyrs of the early Christian generations.

I wish to add here that in my twenty years of ministry as a bishop I have always dedicated myself, with all commitment and solicitude, in order that the right of every family to have a house should be recognized and guaranteed. It is a question that has always been particularly close to my heart, and even the brevity of my experience as Bishop of Rome does not prevent me from feeling all the seriousness of this problem for a dignified human life.

These are all reasons that give meaning and substance to our meeting today. Therefore, I renew my most sincere wishes to you, Mr Mayor, and to the Members of the City Council, for advantageous and disinterested work, which will really take as its aim the welfare of man and of the whole man. Furthermore, my good wishes go also to those whom you represent, that is, to your families and, even more, to all Romans without exception. They have the first place in my heart as universal Pastor, and I invoke the most abundant and fruitful blessings for them from the Lord.



Wednesday, 27 December 1978

Beloved boys and girls, and beloved young people!

Today, too, you have come in large numbers to visit the Pope. And I thank you heartily for this meeting, so festive and affectionate, which gives joy and hope, prolonging the atmosphere of Christmas serenity, so sweet and so beautiful.

In particular, I want to address a cordial greeting to pilgrims from the diocese of Caserta, accompanied by their dear Bishop. Welcome! I am very happy to receive you.

1. We are in Christmas week and the deepest feeling we continue to experience is that of joy. Who knows what a magnificent Christmas day you spent with your parents, your brothers and sisters, relatives and friends!

You will have prepared the Crib and you will have taken part in Midnight Mass and some of you, perhaps, will have sung the poetic Christmas carols in the choir of your own parish ... Above all many—very many, I hope—will have received Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, thus meeting personally the Divine Master, born on this earth about two thousand years ago. Well done! May this intimate joy never vanish from your hearts!

But where does all this joy, so pure, so sweet, so mysterious, come from? It comes from the fact that Jesus came to this earth, that God himself became man and willed to take his place in our poor and great human history. Jesus is the greatest and most precious gift that the Father bestowed on men and for this reason our hearts exult with joy.

We are well aware that even during the Christmas festive days there were and still are tears and bitterness; many children, perhaps, spent them in cold, hunger, tears and loneliness ... Yet, in spite of the grief that sometimes penetrates into our lives, Christmas is a ray of light for all, because it reveals to us God's love and makes us feel the presence of Jesus with everyone, especially with those who are suffering. Just for this reason Jesus willed to be born in poverty and in the abandonment of a cave and to be laid in a manger.

There comes into my mind spontaneously the memory of my feelings and of my experiences, beginning with the years of my childhood in my father's house, through the difficult years of youth, the period of the second war, the world war. May it never be repeated in the history of Europe and of the world! Yet even in the worst years, Christmas always brought some ray with it. And this ray penetrated even into the harshest experiences of contempt for man, destruction of his dignity, and cruelty. To realize this, it is enough to pick up the memoirs of men who passed through prisons or concentration camps, through war fronts and through interrogations and trials.

2. The second feeling that springs spontaneously from these Christmas days is, therefore, gratitude.

Who is the Child Jesus? Who is that little baby, poor and frail, born in a cave and laid in a manger? We know he is the Son of God made man! "And the World became flesh and dwelt among us." (Jn 1,14).

The Christian doctrine teaches us that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, that is, the Infinite Knowledge of the Father (the Word), by the work of the Holy Spirit and in the womb of the Virgin Mary assumed "human nature", taking a body and a soul like us.

This is our certainty: we know that Jesus is a man like us, but at the same time he is the "Word Incarnate", He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity become a man; and therefore in Jesus human nature, and therefore the whole of humanity, is redeemed, saved, ennobled to the extent of participating in "divine life" by means of Grace.

We are all of us in Jesus: our true nobility and dignity has its source in the great and sublime event of Christmas.

Therefore a sense of deep and joyful gratitude to Jesus, who was born for each of us, for our love and for our safety, is spontaneous and logical. Read again and meditate personally on the pages of the Gospel of Matthew and Luke; reflect on the mystery of Bethlehem to understand more and more the true value of Christmas, and never let it degenerate into a feast of the consumer society, or merely an external one.

3. Finally, I will mention further a third feeling which springs from the episode of the shepherds. The angel informs the shepherds, who are completely unaware, that a great event has happened in Bethlehem: the Saviour is born and they will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. What did the shepherds do? "They went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger" (Lc 2,16).

Have you understood the lesson of the shepherds? They listen to the voice of the angel, set out in search of him at once and finally find Jesus. It is a very eloquent and significant historical fact, and it symbolizes the search that man must make to find God. Man is the being who seeks God, because he seeks happiness.

We must all look for Jesus.

Very often we must look for him because we do not yet know him; at other times because we have lost him; and at other times, on the contrary, we look for him in order to know him better, to love him more and to make him loved.

It can be said that man's whole life and the whole of human history is a great search for Jesus.

Sometimes the search may be hindered by intellectual difficulties, or by existential motives, seeing so much evil around us and within us; and also by moral problems, it being then necessary to change one's outlook and way of life.

We must not let ourselves be stopped by the difficulty; but like the shepherds of Bethlehem we must set out courageously and begin to search. All men must have the right and the freedom to look for Jesus! All men must be respected in their search, at whatever point they may be along the way. They must all have also the good will not to wander here and there, without committing themselves completely, but to make for Bethlehem resolutely. Some people have told the story and the route of their journey and their meeting with Jesus in very interesting books which deserve to be read. The majority, on the other ,hand, keep this stupendous spiritual adventure hidden in their innermost hearts. The essential thing is to seek in order to find, remembering the famous sentence that the great French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal makes Jesus say: "You would not be looking for me, if you had not already found me". (B. Pascal, Pensées, 553: Le mystère de Jésus.)

Beloved boys and girls!

The shepherds found Jesus and they "returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them" (Lc 2,16-20).

Lucky are we who have looked for and found Jesus!

Let us not lose Jesus! Do not lose Jesus! On the contrary, like the shepherds, be witnesses to his love! This is the Christmas wish that I express to you from the bottom of my heart.

I ask the Blessed Virgin, the mother of Jesus and our mother, that it may always be Christmas in your hearts, in your families, in your schools, in your games, with the joy of your faith, with the commitment of your goodness, with the splendour of your innocence.

May you be helped and sustained in this also by my blessing, which I impart with fatherly affection to you, to your dear ones, and to all those who have joined you at this Audience



Thursday, 28 December 1978

Gentlemen and beloved Sons of the Italian Catholic Doctors Association,

Welcoming you heartily to this house, which has now become mine, I want to express to you in the first place my joy at this meeting where I can make the acquaintance of so many persons eminent for their scientific merits, admirable for their high sense of duty, and exemplary for their courageous profession of Christian faith. I am sincerely grateful to you for the courtesy and affection of which this visit of yours is a manifest and consoling sign, and I am happy, therefore, to address my greeting to your zealous Ecclesiastical Assistant, our revered Brother, Mons. Fiorenzo Angelini; to your illustrious President, Prof. Pietro de Franciscis, efficiently assisted by the three Vice-Presidents; to the indefatigable Secretary General, Prof. Domenico Di Virgilio; to the members of the National Council; to the Regional Delegates and Presidents of the diocesan Sections; to representatives of the members of the Association, as well as to the group of Catholic nurses whose presence today wishes to be a testimony of the close collaboration which they intend to carry out with you doctors in the service of the patients.

I am glad to take the opportunity to express publicly my great esteem for a profession such as yours, always considered by everyone more as a mission than as ordinary work. The dignity and responsibility of such a mission will never be sufficiently understood, or adequately expressed. To assist, treat, comfort and cure human pain is a commitment which, in its nobility, usefulness and ideality, is very close to the priest's vocation. In both offices, in fact, there is a more direct and evident manifestation of the supreme commandment of love of one's neighbour; a love called not infrequently to assume forms which reach the point of real heroism. We must not be surprised, therefore, by the solemn admonition of Holy Scripture: "Honour the physician with the honour due him, according to your need of him, for the Lord created him; for healing comes from the Most High" (Si 38,1-2).

Your Association came into being to promote the attainment of the high aims of the profession and to enrich them with the specific contribution of Christian values. To measure the importance of the contribution it intends to make to your activity as Christian doctors, it is enough to recall the terms of article 2 of the Statute. The latter indicates as purposes of the Association the qualification of the moral, scientific and professional formation of members; the promotion of medico-moral studies in the light of the principles of Catholic doctrine; the animation of the spirit of real human and Christian service in the relationship of doctors with their patient; action to ensure the most dignified exercise of the profession and for protection of the just interests of the medical class; and education of members to rightful ecclesial co-responsibility and to generous availability for every charitable activity connected with the exercise of the profession.

These are not resolutions which have remained only on paper. I am glad to acknowledge the action of sensitization and orientation carried out by the Association in these years among the Italian medical class, both through varied and specialized publishing productions, and through the appreciated periodical "Orizzonte Medico", and in the "Study Courses" (the Proceedings of the recent one on "The Man of the Holy Shroud" were kindly presented to me) which have seen, in the space of eleven years, eminent specialists of the different sciences deal with anthropological subjects of fundamental interest, in search of an answer that will satisfy man and the Christian. I cannot but express appreciation and praise: the formative purpose, which is pursued by means of these instruments, deserves to be cordially approved, and efforts made in this direction must be warmly encouraged.

That applies particularly today, when powerful movements of opinion, effectively supported by the great media of mass communication, are trying to influence the consciences of doctors in every way, to induce them to lend their services in practices contrary not only to Christian, but also to natural, morality, in open contradiction with professional ethics, expressed in the famous oath of the ancient pagan doctor.

In the Message for the World Day of Peace on first of January last, my great predecessor Paul VI of revered memory, addressing a special word to doctors who were pointed out as "wise and generous defenders of human life", expressed his confidence that alongside the "religious ministry" there could be the "therapeutic ministry" of doctors in affirming and defending human life in all "those particular contingencies in which life itself can be compromised through the positive and wicked intention of human will". I am certain that this heartfelt and prophetic appeal has met, and still meets, .with wide support not only among Catholic doctors, but also among those who, though not sustained by faith, are, however, deeply aware of the higher requirements of their profession.

As minister of that God who is presented in Scripture as the "Lord who loves the living" (Sg 11,26), I, too, wish to express my sincere admiration for all medical practitioners who, following the dictates of sound conscience, are able to resist daily enticements; pressure, threats and sometimes even physical violence, in order not to stain themselves with behaviour that is harmful in any way to that sacred good, which is human life. Their courageous and consistent testimony is a very important contribution to the construction of a society which, in order to be fully human, cannot but be based on respect and protection of the prime premise of every other human right, that is, the right to live.

Speeches 1978 - Friday, 22 December 1978