Speeches 1978 - Thursday, 28 December 1978
The Pope willingly unites his voice to that of all doctors with a sound conscience, and adopts their fundamental requests: the request, in the first place, for recognition of the deeper nature of their noble profession which wishes them to be ministers of life and never instruments of death. And then the request for full and complete respect, in the legislation and in facts, of freedom of conscience, understood as the fundamental right of the person not to be forced to act contrary to his conscience or prevented from behaving in accordance with it. Finally, as well as the request for an indispensable and firm juridical protection of human life at all its stages, also the request for adequate operational structures, which will encourage the joyful acceptance of life about to be born, its effective promotion during development and maturity, its careful and delicate protection when its decline begins and up to its natural extinction.
Service of life should see committed, with generous enthusiasm, Catholic doctors particularly. These, in their faith in God the creator, whose image man is, and in the mystery of the eternal Word who descended from heaven in the frail flesh of a helpless child, find a new and higher reason for industrious dedication to loving care and disinterested safeguarding of every brother, especially if he is little, poor, defenceless, threatened. It consoles me to know that these convictions are deeply rooted in your hearts: they inspire and direct your daily professional activity and are able to suggest to you, when it is necessary, even public, clear, and unmistakable stands.
How could I fail to mention, in this connection, the exemplary witness you bore, with timely and compact adherence to the indications of the Episcopate, in the recent and distressing matter of the legislation in favour of abortion. It was a witness in which—I proudly stress it in my capacity as Bishop of Rome—this City distinguished itself particularly, offering non-Catholic doctors also a reminder and a stimulus of providential efficacy. This responsible gesture will reach more effectively its aims of asserting the right of the medical and ancillary personnel to freedom of conscience, a right sanctioned by a special clause in the law; to personal consistency; to defence of the right to life and to social denunciation of a legal situation prejudicial to justice, a right adopted with authenticity of motivations and confirmed by disinterested generosity open to all the commitments and initiatives in the service of the human person.
I make no secret of the fact that consistency with Christian principles may mean for you the necessity of exposing yourselves to the risk of incomprehension, misunderstanding and even serious discrimination. In this sad case may you be assisted by the programmatic words by which a great colleague of yours, Blessed Giuseppe Moscati, was constantly inspired: "Love truth", he wrote in a personal note on 17 October 1922, "show yourself as you are, without pretence, fearlessly and bluntly. And if truth costs you persecution, accept it; if torture, bear it. And if you had to sacrifice yourself and your life for truth, be strong in sacrifice." (cf. Positio super virtutibus, Rome 1972). Is it not natural, moreover, that Christ's prophecy: "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you" (Jn 15,20), should come true in the Christian's life? It will be the case, then, to recall that the divine Master reserved a special beatitude for those who are reviled and persecuted "on his account "(cf. Mt Mt 5,11-12).
Confirming to you, therefore, together with my esteem, cordial encouragement to continue along the way of courageous testimony and exemplary service in favour of human life, I implore upon your good resolutions the help of the Blessed Virgin, whom you love to invoke as "Salus Infirmorum et Mater Scientiae". I implore the protection of St Luke "the beloved physician" (Col 4,14), whom you honour as your patron saint. And thinking with fatherly affection of your colleagues of the Association scattered all over Italy, of their respective families, as well as of so many sick persons to whom your daily concern goes, I raise my hands over you and them to impart warmly a special Apostolic Blessing, petitioning all desired heavenly consolation.
Beloved Delegates of the Federation of Institutes of Educational Activities!
Knowing of your presence in Rome on the occasion of the traditional assembly at the end of the year, I wished to reserve for you and for me a special meeting with you, not only because of your large numbers but also and above all for the specialized witness you bear as representatives of the Catholic School in Italy. I have been told that my venerated Predecessor Paul VI never failed to address an enlightened word to you in similar circumstances in past years. And so I thought I, too, could do the same and respond, in the first place, to the deference, the devotion and the fervour of your visit.
Yes, beloved Brothers and Sons, I wish to thank you for your affectionate feelings, and even more for the intelligent, indefatigable work, made precious by so many sacrifices—little and great—that scholastic-educational activity involves nowadays. I am not speaking just of the work of coordination and organization that is necessary in order that your Federation, qua talis, may function smoothly, spreading for the common benefit, among the many Institutes that it unites information, guidelines, proposals and initiatives. I am speaking especially of the work that each Institute and, in his own sphere, each of the directors and teachers, carries out daily, tackling and overcoming problems that are not always easy, in order to make the function of the schools, founded by or depending on the Ecclesiastical Authority, in the framework of public education more and more incisive, profitable, original, and exemplary.
My words wish to be a recognition and at the same time an encouragement. In Italian, recognition (riconoscimento)—I know for the obvious etymological reason—also means gratitude (riconoscenza). Well, the recognition-gratitude that has come to you from the Italian Episcopal Conference is fully shared by the Pope, who assures you that he follows your well-deserving activity with sympathy and confidence. In an age such as ours, it is urgent more than in the past, to keep the image—the typology, I would say—of a Christian school which, in ever loyal observance of the general regulations laid down by the competent scholastic legislation of the respective country, will assume as its starting point and, also, as its goal, the idea of a complete education—human, moral and religious—according to the Gospel of Our Lord.
Before programmes of study, before the contents of the various courses—as you well know—this unavoidable reference to the superior and transcendent teaching of Christ the Master is and remains essential for a really Catholic school. Without this reference, it would lack the very source of inspiration, it would lack its central axis, it would lack that specific element which defines it and characterizes it in the midst of other didactic organizational structures or other centres of cultural promotion. It is only right, therefore, that it should be required by the individual Institutes depending on your Association, and also by all those who operate responsibly in them at the various levels.
Wishing to interpret the initials FIDAE, I noted that you have recently adopted a reading that is partly new in order to stress "educational activities". This clearer pedagogical and formative finalism does you honour, because it means precisely that, for you, the teaching of scholastic subjects and the use of the teaching aids necessary for instruction, take their place in the wider programme of that Christian "paideia", which, in its turn, takes its place in the evangelizing mission entrusted to the Church by her divine Founder.
This approach gives me sincere pleasure and I greatly appreciate this collaboration. I exhort you, therefore, always to remain consistent and faithful to both, sustained by the thought or, better, by the conviction that in this way you are carrying out a precious ecclesial service, as a cu1tural and civil one.
With my cordial Blessing.
Saturday, 30 December 1978
Beloved Sisters and Brothers!
My heart swells with great, fatherly joy on receiving you today for the first time in the inspiring and moving atmosphere of Christmas.
You, members of Italian Catholic Action, asked to "see Peter" and you have come in extraordinarily large numbers, full of fervour and joy, to bring your testimony of faithfulness and love, and to listen to the word of the Vicar of Christ; and I thank you sincerely and address my affectionate greeting to each one of you personally. In particular, I thank your President for the noble words with which he has wished to interpret your sentiments.
1. I wish, in the first place, to express to you my congratulations on what you represent in the Italian Church. For over one hundred years, in fact, Catholic Action has been living and working in this beloved nation, in which its presence has proved to be an effective source of formation for so many faithful of every age and every category, from children to adults, from students to workers, from elementary teachers to graduates; a breeding ground of vocations for priestly and religious life; a school of concrete and direct apostolate in the various places of commitment and work. How many bishops and priests come from the ranks of Catholic Action! How many religious vocations have sprung from among the members of Catholic Action! And how many fathers and mothers have been, and still are, real educators and formers of the conscience of their children, thanks to the formation received at "Association" meetings, and thanks to the apostolate exercised with love and enthusiasm in their own parish and their own diocese!
I can and must, therefore, trust particularly in you.
You have understood what article 2 of your Statute says. According to this the aim of Italian Catholic Action is "the evangelization and sanctification of men, the Christian formation of their consciences in such a way that they will succeed in instilling the evangelical spirit into communities and the various environments". You know the directives given by the Italian Episcopal Conference in a letter of 2 February 1976, according to which Catholic Action operates in three directions: formation; actual pastoral service in ecclesial structures and in situations of life; and the practical recomposition of the synthesis between faith and life in every environment. Finally, you have still in mind the enlightening words of the great Pope Paul VI, of venerated memory, who said to participants in the national Assembly on 25 April 1977: "Catholic Action must rediscover the passion for the proclamation of the Gospel, the only salvation in a world that is otherwise desperate. Certainly, Catholic Action loves the world, but with a love that draws inspiration from the example of Christ. His way of serving the world and promoting the values of man is primarily that of evangelizing, in logical consistency with the conviction that in the Gospel is contained the most overwhelming power, capable of really making all things new."
I trust in you, because Catholic Action, owing to its inner nature, has special relations with the Pope and therefore with bishops and priests: this is its essential characteristic. Every "ecclesial" group is a way and a means of living Baptism and Confirmation more intensely; but Catholic Action must do so in a very special way, because it is conceived as a direct help for the Hierarchy, taking part in its apostolic concerns. So I, as the Vicar of Christ, shaking hands ideally with the six hundred and fifty thousand members, say to each of them: "Take heart! Be strong and generous! I rely on you! Do honour to Christ, to the Church and to the Pope!"
2. What can I say to you, at this exceptional meeting, that will accompany you and sustain you, in these difficult moments in which Providence has set our lives?
Much has already been said and much more will be said, about this second half of the twentieth century, so stormy and restless, analysing the various economic, social and political phenomena which distinguish it. But among its various characteristics the one that is turning out more and more to be fundamental, is "ideological pluralism".
This concept certainly deserves a thorough examination as regards its theoretical content and its practical implications. If we want this "pluralism", at the practical level, not to imply solely the radical contraposition of values, distressing cultural confusion, one-sided "laicism" in state structures, the crisis of institutions and also a dramatic restlessness of consciences, which we experience every day in both public and private relations, then that mature Christian conscience of the Church is necessary to which Pope Paul VI providently referred in the encyclical "Ecclesiam Suam".
It was just for this renewed awareness of the Church, that is, for a deeper, mature faith, sensitive to all the "signs of the times", that the Second Vatican Council prepared us.
Therefore, a great and important task falls upon Catholic Action in our times, in "this distressing, dramatic and magnificent land", as my predecessor Paul VI described it in his Testament.
a) In the first place have the cult of Truth.
In order to be able to use really one's time and one's capacities for the salvation and sanctification of souls, the first and principal mission of the Church, it is necessary to possess, above all, certainty and clarity about the Truths that must be believed and practised. If one is insecure, uncertain, confused, inconsistent, one cannot construct. Today, particularly, it is necessary to possess an enlightened and convinced faith, in order to be enlightening and convincing. The phenomenon of mass "culturalization", calls for a deep, clear and certain faith. For this reason I exhort you to follow faithfully the teaching of the Magisterium. In this connection, how could I fail to recall the words of my predecessor John Paul I in his first and only broadcast on 27 August last? He said:
"Overcoming the internal tensions, which may have been created here and there, rejecting the temptations to conform with the tastes and morals of the world, as well as the titillation of easy applause, united in the one bond of love which must inform the inner life of the Church as well as the external forms of her discipline, the faithful must be ready to bear witness to their own faith before the world: 'Parati semper ad defensionem omni poscenti vos rationem de ea, quae in vobis est, spe' (l Pet 3:15)".
Today, more than ever, great prudence and balance are necessary because, as St Paul already wrote to Timothy (2Tm 4,3-4), we are tempted to follow sound doctrine no longer and to "wander into myths".
Do not let yourselves be intimidated, or distracted, or confused by partial or erroneous doctrines, which then leave you disappointed and empty all fervour from Christian life.
b) In the second place, be concerned about holiness.
Only he who has can give; and the Catholic Action militant is such precisely in order to give, to love, to enlighten, to save, to bring peace and joy. Catholic Action must aim resolutely at holiness.
Every commitment, even if it is of the social and charitable type, must never forget that what is essential in Christianity is the Redemption, that is, that Christ may be known, loved and followed.
Commitment in holiness implies, therefore, austerity of life, serious control of one's tastes and choices, constant commitment in prayer, an attitude of obedience and docility to the directives of the Church, both in the doctrinal, moral and pedagogical field as well as in the liturgical one.
What St Paul wrote to the Romans holds good also for us, men of the twentieth century: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rm 12,2).
The world today needs examples, edification, concrete and visible sermons. This must be the concern of Catholic Action!
c) Finally, feel more and more the joy of friendship!
Today men are in particular need of a smile, kindness, friendship. The great technical and social achievements, the spread of prosperity and of the permissive and consumer mentality, have not brought happiness. Divisions in the political field, the danger and the reality of new wars, continual calamities, implacable diseases, unemployment, the danger of ecological pollution, hatred and violence and the many cases of despair, have unfortunately created a situation of continual tension and neurosis.
What must Catholic Action do? Bring the smile of friendship and goodness to everyone, everywhere.
Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved. Recriminations, bitter and polemical criticism, complaints, are of little use; we must love our time and help the man of our time.
Concern for love must spring continually from the heart of Catholic Action, which, before the cradle in Bethlehem, meditates on the immense mystery of God who became man just out of love for man.
St Paul, again, wrote in the letter to the Romans: "Love one another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honour ... Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep ... Repay no one evil for evil." (Rm 12,9-17).
3. These are the instructions that I leave with you in memory of this first meeting, while I exhort you to invoke the help and protection of the Blessed Virgin, the Queen of Catholic Action:
— May she, who is the Virgin of Tenderness, always make you feel her love and her consolation.
— May she, who is the "Seat of Wisdom", enlighten you to be always faithful to the Truth, knowing that "all those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2Tm 3,12).
— May she, who is our hope be close to you in your parishes and dioceses, so that you may always be consistent with the great commitment that springs from membership of Catholic Action.
And may the Apostolic Blessing which I willingly impart to you, to your Ecclesiastical Assistants, to your Leaders, and to all members of Catholic Action and their respective families, as a token of the most elect heavenly grace, accompany you, help you.
Speeches 1978 - Thursday, 28 December 1978