Speeches 1997 - Saturday, 15 February 1997



TO A diocesan pilgrimage from Providence

Saturday, 15 February 1997

Dear Bishop Gelineau and Bishop Mulvee,

Dear Friends in Christ,

I am pleased to meet this pilgrimage from the Diocese of Providence, on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese.

You have wished to come to Rome, to the city of the Apostles Peter and Paul, in order to strengthen the bonds of faith and love between your local Church and the see of Peter, to which has been entrusted, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, the “mission to provide for the common good of the universal Church and for the good of the individual Churches” (Christus Dominus CD 2).

I hope that your visit will indeed confirm you in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith. Your commitment, at the approach of the third millennium, must be to live our Catholic heritage more fully and more deeply, and to communicate it whole and entire to the younger generation. With this intention I entrust you all to the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer. May almighty God pour forth his graces upon you and your families. May he bless your Diocese and your country.



at the end of the Spiritual Exercises

Saturday, 22 February 1997

Your Eminences,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

I join you in thanking the Lord for these Spiritual Exercises, which were an extended experience of intimacy with the Holy Spirit: he speaks to our hearts in silence.

They were God’s precious gift at the beginning of the Lenten season. Just as Jesus spent 40 days in the desert in solitude and fasting, so we too went a little further “into the desert”, to meditate on the ultimate meaning of life and to renew with filial readiness our “Amen” to the Father together with Christ, “the faithful and true witness” (Ap 3,14).

I thank dear Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who has guided us on this journey with profound doctrine and spiritual inspiration, offering us his rich pastoral experience and also many literary suggestions taken from contemporary authors. He has helped us hasten our step on the way to the Great Jubilee. I chose him as the preacher precisely because he is President of the Committee established to prepare that historical event. 1997 is the first stage of the three-year period of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. It is the year dedicated to Jesus Christ, and Cardinal Etchegaray focused his meditations very appropriately on Christ, taking as his leitmotiv Pascal’s words: “Apart from Jesus we do not know who God is nor who we are”.

This week of spiritual retreat has also been a true grace for the Roman Curia. In these days it has drawn even closer around us recollected in these Exercises, and has renewed in the Holy Spirit its own awareness of being not only a community of ecclesial service, but above all, a community of faith and prayer, animated by generous and faithful love for Christ and the Church.

We have now reached the end of this extraordinary experience of the Spirit, and we naturally turn to Our Lady, evoked and invoked so many times during these days. We commend our resolutions and the fruits of these Exercises to her, “Causa nostrae laetitiae”.

Dear brothers and sisters, guided by Mary, Mother of the Church, let us now come down from the “mountain”, where we were attracted by Christ’s ineffable beauty. Let us descend to everyday life and continue on our way, bearing within us the light and joy we have drawn from the inexhaustible source of truth, which is Christ.

I cordially impart my Blessing to you all.




Saturday, 22 February 1997

Mr President of the Provincial Board,

Mr President of the Provincial Council,
Distinguished Members of the Board and Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to meet you this morning for the traditional exchange of best wishes at the beginning of the new year. I extend a cordial greeting to those present and thank Hon. Giorgio Fregosi, President of the Provincial Board, in particular for his reflections and for the best wishes he has offered me on behalf of you all.

I also offer my very best wishes for the year that begun a short time ago to you, distinguished ladies and gentlemen gathered here, to your staff and to all the people of the Province of Rome. May 1997 be rich in fruitful endeavour of service to the common good and bring serenity and peace to every area of civil life!

2. It has just been recalled how in our day renewed attention is being given to the tasks and responsibilities of public administration. This widespread sensitivity to institutions is accompanied by a growing demand for participation in the running of public affairs, and the desire to give increasing importance to autonomous local bodies. This is a significant feature of the present moment in history, marked by rapid and frequently profound social changes. There is a growing desire to take part in the decisions concerning the future of the whole community and, at the same time, an increasing awareness that no institution can be “used”, but must be “served” with selfless dedication.

To meet these expectations, Rome’s Provincial Administration is also called to make a specific contribution based on its own responsibilities. In this service, it can count on the collaboration of the Christian community, which, while remaining within its own area of involvement, would like to offer its effetive support to fully utilizing the potential found in the territory. In any case, it is important to recognize the centrality of the human person, who should be served by every structure and institution, in order to build up a society of ever greater freedom and solidarity. I say this thinking especially of the young people who expect concrete answers to their hopes and problems, and who often look at their future with anxiety. We must be capable of “providing the generations to come with reasons for life and optimism” (Gaudium et spes GS 31).

3. Attention to young people naturally recalls other delicate aspects of social life in our time: first of all the problem of the employment shortage, which is often combined with other unstable conditions for both the individual and the family. How many efforts are being made in this area and how much still remains to be done! Despite the considerable difficulties, the joint endeavour and commitment of all must never be lacking.

Moreover, the Church is close to all those who devote themselves courageously to the improvement of living conditions, defending and making the most of environmental and cultural resources, as well as carefully attending to human settlements. She is concerned that all areas of human life should be given the necessary attention, from those which concern physical health to those on the spiritual level. Indeed, precisely by starting from a religious concept of man and nature it is possible to foster a healthy respect for every living being. Awareness of having received from God the task of safeguarding creation will help man not to pollute or damage natural resources and will commit him to making the earth a home for all, where justice and peace prevail.

4. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, there are many other topics which in circumstances such as these deserve attention. I have limited myself to pointing out a few, echoing what the President of the Board wished to emphasize in his opening speech. However, I must add a necessary reference to the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. I much appreciate the readiness of the Province of Rome to work with the Dioceses located in its territory. I hope that this understanding will become deeper and deeper in view of the forthcoming Jubilee.

On this topic, the Provincial Administration intends to start concrete, farreaching initiatives to accompany the large scale infrastructure projects already planned. I especially appreciate that hospitality centres are being set up and I hope that projects such as these will succeed in creating a climate of collaboration and participation in view of the historic event. The Church in Rome, together with the whole Christian community, has recently begun the three-year period of immediate preparation for this epochal goal. It is primarily a spiritual journey of conversion and renewal based on the Gospel: that is why at this time copies of Mark’s Gospel are being distributed to all the families in Rome, and today I am pleased to present one to each of you personally.

All are invited to make this journey, which will certainly give rise to new hope in our communities. The basic spiritual journey necessarily needs to be backed by the public administration’s efforts to organize the indispensable initiatives for the Jubilee. I thank the Province of Rome for all it will do within the scope of its competence.

5. With our eyes turned towards the beginning of the third Christian millennium, I renew to you all, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, my cordial wishes for serenity and peace in the new year.

I also promise to pray for you, your families and your service to society, as I invoke God’s blessing upon you all.



to representatives of the

Federation of Christian Organizations for

International Volunteer Service

Saturday, 22 February 1997

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I am pleased to welcome you today on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the birth of your worthy Federation. I address a cordial greeting to you all, beginning with the President, Mr Luca Jahier, whom I thank for explaining the significance of today’s meeting. With him, I am pleased to greet all his predecessors in the office of president: I thank you for coming and I thank the Federation of Christian Organizations for International Volunteer Service (FOCSIV) for its service to the Church in recent years, as it guides the activity of so many Christians eager to be useful to their brothers and sisters in distress.

You wish to be “volunteers in the world”. This brings to mind the fundamental role that volunteer organizations carry out together with the public institutions. Their members serve their brothers and sisters freely and directly, especially those who are in situations of hardship or marginalization. Their aim is to stand beside those in difficulty and help them to follow a path of authentically human liberation and advancement.

2. The description “volunteers in the world” reminds us of your role, but primarily of the inspiration that motivates you, because if you “volunteer” to “be in the world”, not for your own advantage but to render a service, this is certainly a spiritual call. Thus your work is an assumption of responsibility towards your neighbour, an expression of a generous commitment aimed at making the culture of love grow in the world.

In this regard, I must say that I appreciated the intention, shown a short time ago by your President, to deepen the Federation’s commitment to a Gospel-inspired renewal by putting the person of Jesus Christ more and more at the centre of your personal and group decisions. In this I see a choice that fully conforms to the journey of preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, which this year, 1997, asks the whole Church, in the multiplicity of her members, to fix her gaze on Christ, the one Saviour, the only Liberator of mankind and the world.

To be “volunteers in the world” for a project of human liberation and of effectively promoting his dignity presupposes that you are continually rooted in that heritage of values which down the centuries has been inspired, nourished and supported by the Gospel. How many, by drawing from these clear springs, have known how to be authentic witnesses of love, peacemakers and promoters of justice and solidarity!

3. During these 25 years, as has already been recalled, volunteers of proven solidarity and great generosity have worked among the ranks of your Federation. They were true witnesses: witnesses of fidelity to man and to Christ. I hope that their example may be an incentive and an encouragement to you all, and may spur you to continue in this direction, in which the Church accompanies and encourages you.

Let no one be discouraged, even when the difficulties become so serious as to seem almost insurmountable! It is precisely when confronted by situations in which we feel powerless that we must be sustained by our faith in God, for whom nothing is impossible (cf. Lk Lc 1,37 Mt 19,26). Your witness is important, especially for the new generations of volunteers, who must learn to combine the effort of a gradual and patient journey of formation and perseverance with their initial enthusiam.

4. Dear volunteers, your silent and active interventions for men and women in difficulty are a living proclamation of the constant presence of Christ, who walks with humanity in every age.

Dear friends, I commend each one of you and the branches of your Federation to the protection of Mary most holy. In her “behold”, here I am, which was immediately followed by concrete, loving service to her cousin Elizabeth (cf. Lk Lc 1,38), you can recognize the “icon” of Christian volunteer service and draw inspiration from it for ever new projects of sharing with your brothers and sisters in every part of the world.

May you be accompanied by my Blessing, which I sincerely impart to you and to all the “volunteers in the world”.




Sunday, 23 February 1997

1. I greet you affectionately, young people, teachers and parents, whom I have the joy of meeting here at the Villa Flaminia Institute, founded 40 years ago by the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

I am pleased to visit this important educational facility, which is active in Holy Cross Parish in the Flaminio neighbourhood. I greet you in particular, dear sons of St John Baptist de La Salle, and encourage you to continue the educational service which has benefited a great many children and young people over these past 40 years. I extend my cordial greetings to all the teaching staff of the institute’s various schools.

I also offer my greetings to the parents and particularly to the alumni and the students: thank you, dear friends, for your warm welcome. I am especially grateful to your two representatives, who have accurately expressed your sentiments. The boys and girls of the parish who attend other schools have also come, and so this is a meeting with the parish as well as with the school community.

2. This occasion affords me an opportunity to stress the importance of an educational project that, beginning with the family, can find distinct but converging spheres where it can thrive, starting with the family, then the parish community and the school. This strong focus on education is a specific task of Catholic schools, as the religious of Villa Flaminia, who dedicate their whole lives to the mission of education, well know.

Some might remark: if young people take part in the parish youth programme, why do they need a Catholic school? Or vice versa. I answer: the parish community is a place for religious and spiritual education. School is a place for cultural education. The two dimensions must be integrated, because the same values inspire them: they are the values of Christian families who, in a society dominated by relativism and threatened by existential emptiness, intend to offer their children an education based on the unchangeable values of the Gospel.

Today, co-operation between family, parish and school is more necessary than ever, not to restrict the freedom of adolescents, but to mould it and enable it to make responsible and well-motivated choices. Catholic schools, while providing a quality education, hold up Christian values to children, inviting them to build their own lives on them. Teaching these values, for those who know how to accept and live them consistently, yields highly positive results —as experience confirms — at the personal, family and professional levels.

3. In Italy an overall reform of the school system is about to be introduced: I sincerely hope that parity for non-State schools, which offer a valid public service appreciated and desired by many families, will finally be put into practice.

I hope, boys and girls, that you will treasure your various educational experiences, those of the family first of all, as well as those you have at school and in the parish. May you know how to communicate the values in which you believe, and feel committed to being witnesses of love and truth in every circumstance of life.

I would like to close by wishing everyone here a pleasant Sunday, and I offer my Blessing to the school, to the teachers, to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, to the parents, the young people and the children. I thank you once again for your kind and warm welcome.






Friday 28 February 1997

Your Eminences,

Your Excellencies,
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

1. It is always a pleasure to meet the Members, Consultors and Staff of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in the course of your annual Plenary Assembly. Your Council supports the ministry of the Successor of Peter in what pertains to the varied, dynamic and constantly evolving means of social communication and their place in the Church's mission to proclaim the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth. I am grateful for your diligent and expert co-operation and support, and for the pastoral charity with which you sustain the Church's action and that of individual Catholics in the communications world.

2. Your Meeting this year falls at the beginning of the three-year preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, towards which the whole Church is advancing, as it were on an intensely spiritual pilgrimage of faith. This preparation is in fact the focus of your discussions, particularly as it refers to "communicating Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life", the theme of the 1997 World Communications Day.

For that occasion I have written: "The way of Christ is the waY of a virtuous, fruitful and peaceful life as children of God and as brothers and sisters in the same human family; the truth of Christ is the etemal truth of God, who has revealed himself to us not only in the created world but also through Sacred Scripture, and especially in and through his Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh; and the life of Christ is the life of grace, that free gift of God which enables us to live for ever in his love. When Christians are truly convinced of this, their lives are transformed". (cf. Message for World Communications Day, 24 January 1997).

This is the message which must be broadcast with increasing effectiveness in order to help the people of our time to escape or shake off the spiritual emptiness which weighs heavily on the hearts of so many. This is the saving truth which we have a duty to transmit to the next generation, when all too many young people are being offered a useless and dangerous diet of false illusions instead of their birthright of true knowledge of the meaning and purpose of their lives (cf. Gn 25,29-34). At the end of a century of extraordinary progress but also of terrible human tragedy, the proclamation of Jesus Christ - the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb He 13,8) - is not only a duty of obedience to a Gospel command but also the only sure means of responding to the urgent need for moral and spiritual discernment, without which individual lives and the social order itself are enveloped by arbitrariness and confusion.

3. Down the years, your Council has gained ample knowledge and experience of the world of social communications. You have published clear guidelines for the Church's Pastors and for those involved in the press, radio, television cinema and other media. You have drawn attention to certain problematical areas as in your most recent document, published just this week, on Ethics in Advertising. You have sought to impress on media professionals their responsibility to serve the truth, to defend human dignity and freedom, and to enlighten the consciences of their readers, listeners and viewers.

In the context of preparation for the Great Jubilee, I encourage your Council to continue to promote high standards, better co-ordination and increased efficacy in the specifically Catholic media. I also take this opportunity to thank you for your work in helping to bring to listeners and viewers some of the more important papal ceremonies and events, such as the Christmas and Easter Masses which are now followed by hundreds of millions throughout the world. I am grateful to the radio and television networks and the sponsoring organizations which make these annual appointments possible.

4. At this time you have a special part to play in making the whole Church aware of the positive role of the means of social communication in ensuring a correct celebration of the Jubilee. The challenge is to see to it that the world is properly informed of the true meaning of the Year 2000, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The Jubilee cannot be a mere remembrance of a past event, however extraordinary. It is to be the celebration of a Living Presence, and an invitation to look towards the Second Coming of our Saviour, when he will establish once and for all his kingdom of justice, love and peace. May Mary, who two thousand years ago offered to the world the Incarnate Word, guide the men and women of the media towards the One who is "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1,9 cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 59). May you be sustained and encouraged in your work by the enlightening gifts of the Holy Spirit.

March 1997





Saturday, 1 March 1997

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am pleased to welcome you at a special audience for the presentation of your Letters of Credence. In addressing a cordial greeting to you, I ask you kindly to convey my sentiments of respectful esteem to the President of the Albanian Republic, to whom I offer my most heartfelt wishes for fruitful service to the welfare of the Albanian people.

As I take pleasure in receiving the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Holy See, I also express my wish, Mr Ambassador, that you will fulfil the lofty mission entrusted to you with the same spirit expressed in your noble words and will reap the satisfaction Providence promises to those who work generously for the common good.

2. Meeting you, Mr Ambassador, reminds me of 25 April four years ago, when I had the joy of making a Pastoral Visit to Albania. Although it was quite short, this was one of the most intense and significant of my Apostolic Visits because of the tragic events your homeland had previously experienced. Indeed, only a few years ago a papal visit would have been absolutely unthinkable. Images and impressions of it remain clearly in my mind and heart. Naturally, I remember in particular the Catholic community of Albania, for which I had the joy of ordaining the first four new Pastors in the cathedral of Shkodrë, after long years of oppression and communist dictatorship. I likewise remember the entire population and especially my last great meeting with the Albanian people in Skanderbeg Square in Tiranë.

Mr Ambassador, through your kind offices I would like to assure the beloved Albanian nation and its political leaders that the Holy See and the Catholic Church intend to show with renewed commitment their effective closeness and prompt solidarity, so that the progress of the country’s young democracy can advance quickly and bring about the expected human and social development.

3. The Church’s contribution cannot fail to be connected with her evangelizing mission: that is, sowing the good seed of the Gospel in the furrows of peoples’ history, so that by welcoming the vital seed of saving faith, they can produce fruits of justice and peace, freedom and truth. This will certainly encourage the citizens to live together in fraternal love and solidarity. Particularly in Albania, where for a long period a violent, systematic deprivation of religious freedom was practised, the Church knows she is sent to carry out a new and, so to speak, “refounding” evangelization. Christ, the liberator of man, must be able once again to walk freely in the country’s cities and villages, healing all those who are weary and oppressed, and spreading comfort and hope.

Only if the sense of certain basic values, beginning with the inviolable dignity of the person and of human life, is reinforced and recognized, will it be possible to establish democratic coexistence on firm and lasting foundations (cf. Message to All the People of Albania, Tiranë, 25 April 1993, n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 May 1993, p. 4).

As I could see during the above-mentioned Pastoral Visit to Albania, “recognition of this value centred in the human person will certainly ensure that in the economy the proper balance is maintained between the rationale of efficiency and the priorities of solidarity, and will make political involvement a responsible search for the common good, to be pursued always with full respect for all the ethical and moral demands” (ibid., n. 5: L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 May 1993, p. 4).

While respecting these principles, one can and must seek a solution to the problems of the present time, initiating a dialogue with all the responsible forces of society who, despite the many difficulties they must overcome, are working to strengthen the democratic system in Albania.

The Catholic Church wishes to make her own contribution to this effort, in a spirit of deep respect and loyal collaboration with the other great religious communities, first of all with Orthodox Christians as well as with Muslims. I renew my hope that believers will feel committed to contributing to the country’s moral renewal, constantly witnessing to those relations of mutual esteem and cordial collaboration of which they are rightly proud.

4. Mr Ambassador, you have courtesouly wished to offer me the book you have edited, which documents the atrocious persecutions of the communist regime and the heroic witness of so many innocent victims, including many priests. I warmly thank you for this tribute, which I greatly appreciate.

The book gives me the idea of returning to a reflection of great importance not only for Albania, but for every nation. If the tragedy of the dictatorship should be left behind as soon as possible, the memory of the suffering and tyranny of that period should be preserved as a warning for the present and the future, and as an incentive to constant spiritual and moral renewal. At the end of a century in which humanity has experienced aberrant human exploitation and unprecedented violence, the generations facing the third millennium have a right to be helped in forming their own critical judgement about the causes and consequences of such phenomena, to alert them to and enable them to oppose the negative tendencies that unfortunately continue to ensnare man and even the social structure of contemporary society.

The memory of the martyrs is a positive source of courage and hope, because it shows that the forces of faith and love are superior to every kind of wickedness. In the end the victory is theirs. May this vivid memory of the sacrifice of her countless children light the way for the present and future generations of Albania, on whom I invoke the protection of Our Lady of Good Counsel and an abundance of divine blessings.



TO THE Episcopal Conference of Zaire

DURING ITS "Ad limina Apostolorum" VISIT

Monday, 3 March 1997

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am pleased to welcome you to the Vatican during your ad limina visit. Pastors of the Church in Zaire in the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Bukavu, Kisangani and Lubumbashi, through your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles, you have come to renew your commitment to the service of Christ’s mission and of his Church, and to reinforce your bond of communion with the Successor of Peter.

You come from a country going through a deep, widespread crisis about which your Episcopal Conference has spoken several times. This crisis is seen in the corruption and insecurity, in the social injustice and ethnic antagonism, in the state of total neglect found in the education and health-care sectors, in hunger and epidemics.... In addition, there is now a war, involving your Dioceses in particular, with all its tragic consequences. What great suffering for Zairians! At this painful time I hope that you will find here the comfort and strength to pursue your episcopal mission with confidence among the people entrusted to you. I warmly thank Bishop Faustin Ngabu, President of the Episcopal Conference of Zaire, for his enlightening words about the life of the Church in your country. They show the hope of your communities despite their trials. I greet the priests, the religious, the catechists and all the faithful of your region with special affection and I encourage them to be, in adversity, true disciples of Christ.

And I would like to recall with deep feeling those among you who have heroically witnessed to the love of God to the very end: Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa of Bukavu, several of your diocesan priests and religious as well as lay people who gave their lives to save those of their brothers and sisters. As you yourselves said, it seems the Church “is the particular target in the events of the war and the present violence in Zaire” (Message des Évêques de Zaïre, 31 January 1997). May these sacrifices be an incentive for the Church’s work in your region and obtain from God the benefits of peace and reconciliation for all the people!

2. You are concerned to be very close to the priests, your immediate co-workers. I am aware of the difficult situation which is often their lot. I warmly encourage them in their generous service to Christ and their brothers and sisters. The Church is deeply grateful to them for their ministry, which gives life and growth to the People of God in your country. I urge them to nurture “faithfulness to their vocation in the total gift of self to their mission and in full communion with their Bishop” (Ecclesia in Africa ). May you yourselves be for each of them a father and guide in the priesthood, attentive to their life and their ministry!

Priests must be models of Gospel life within the Christian community, showing real consistency between what they proclaim and what they live. In their pastoral ministry they will take care to avoid “all ethnocentrism and eccessive particularism, trying instead to encourage reconciliation and true communion between the different ethnic groups” (Ecclesia in Africa ). They will find the source of their apostolic courage and faithulness to the commitments of their ordination, especially to deep love of Christ expressed by regular recourse to the sacraments and by prayer that unifies their life. I also invite them to rediscover more and more deeply the dignity and obligations of the priestly vocation, which exclude from the priest’s life activities that are not in harmony with it.

Speeches 1997 - Saturday, 15 February 1997