Speeches 1996 - Friday, 6 December 1996


TO THE Bishops of romania on their "ad limina" visit

7 December 1996

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I am pleased to welcome you during your ad limina visit. I am moved at the memory of our meeting in 1991, which was your first pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul in 43 years. I greet very particularly the Bishops of the Greek Catholic Church, whom I had the opportunity to meet last year when they came to Rome to prepare the reorganization of their communities. I thank the President of your Inter-rite Conference, Archbishop Ioan Robu of Bucharest, for his cordial words to me just now.

2. You are the Pastors of communities of different rites. Together you must proclaim the Gospel and build up the Catholic Church in Romania. My prayers go with you in the ministry you are carrying out, sometimes in conditions that are still difficult. The different rites cannot be considered as rivalling one another in the heart of the one Catholic Church, but as different spiritual journeys, each in its own way, contributing to the riches of a long tradition and bearing fruit for the good of all and the service of communion.

A more intense fraternal life between the communities of the different rites will call all our Christian brothers and sisters to unite around their Lord; it will also be a Gospel witness for all your compatriots. I therefore rejoice at the increasingly important collaboration you seek and the fraternal help you continue to provide, particularly in the area of liturgical reform, and in welcoming communities which do not yet have suitable places for worship and meetings, and in the formation of the clergy.

3. In view of the congress on The Priesthood and Consecrated Life in Europe which will take place in Rome from 5-10 May 1997, you have noted the negative effects on Christian spiritual life and on vocations due to the lack of religious formation in recent years. But at the same time, you rejoice at your communities' new enthusiasm and the increase in the number of young people who desire to consecrate their life to the Lord. For this renewal we can give thanks to God, who ceaselessly continues to call men and women to his service, even in difficult situations marked by poverty of means.

4. Among the preoccupations you expressed in your reports, your concern about the true discernment of vocations and the reorganization of your seminaries must be noted. It is your task, Pastors of the Church, to help young people to develop their vocations, to have an ever more intimate relationship with Christ and to become servants of the Lord and his Church. In particular, attentive reading of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council makes it possible to recognize the place of all vocations in the history of salvation, to revive the special call to holiness on the part of those who have chosen to consecrate their life to the Lord and to show that the priestly ministry is a specific service of Christ and the Church. I encourage you to mobilize all available energies in your communities for the formation of educators of the clergy and future priests.

You are preoccupied about updating the “ratio studiorum” of the seminaries, according to the norms currently in force in the Church. Of course, in the present situation where personnel, housing accomodation for the seminarians, libraries and equipment are still lacking, not every Diocese has the possibility to set up its own seminary. It is therefore important to see among yourselves and with the heads of the religious congregations based in your country how best to prepare secular and regular seminarians, whose numbers continue to grow significantly. Do not hesitate to send some of the priests in formation to foreign universities, especially to Rome, so that they may become future teachers of the clergy and have contact with other ecclesial realities; through meetings they will acquire greater awareness of the Church’s universality; they will deepen their theological research and discover different forms of pastoral life. These initiatives testify to the importance you give to the education of seminarians, at intellectual, spiritual and pastoral levels, in order to form priests to be enlightened witnesses to the faith and good teachers.

5. You feel the need to develop the ongoing formation of the clergy who are called to discover the great documents that have marked the doctrine, thought and life of the Church, and those of the Second Vatican Council in particular. Throughout their ministry, priests are invited to deepen their knowledge. This helps to revive God’s gift within them (cf. 2Tm 1,6), with a definite influence on their spiritual life and pastoral dynamism. In fact, the deep nature of this formation is to be an eminent form of “‘faithfulness’ to the priestly ministry” and a “process of continual conversion”. It involves an act of love both for Christ and “for the People of God, at whose service the priest is placed” (Pastores dabo vobis PDV 70). In this spirit I am pleased with the efforts to translate, spread and explain the texts of the Magisterium, as well as to organize formation sessions and spiritual retreats.

6. You also perceive the importance of the human and religious formation of the lay faithful, who must accept their responsibilities in the Christian communities. I encourage you to continue in this direction and to form lay people for the Church of the future, for they will have an important role in the spiritual, moral, intellectual and civic education of their brothers and sisters, and will have to participate more and more actively in ecclesial life.

Several of you have made the education of young people one of your priorities. I urge you to do all you can to see that this pastoral dimension is widely borne in mind, for it is the future of the Church and of society which is at stake. From the outset it is important to develop the catechesis of children and young people, despite the difficulties you may encounter, especially with regard to religion programmes in schools. Do not let this discourage you! After the painful years you have been through it is urgent that you find the appropriate means for young people again to learn the words of the faith and the words of prayer; they will then be able to enter into intimate communion with God and fully participate in the Church’s growth. To do this you must be attentive to developing the sacramental ministry.

You have also informed me of the moral issues which today’s youth and all Romanians have to face. Certain behaviour, such as the abuse of alcohol, drug use and abortion, are serious threats to people whose individual dignity and that of the group as a whole is undermined, for they destroy the bonds of marriage, family and society. To restrain these scourges of modern times, you are anxious to develop an appropriate family apostolate, and in particular preparation for marriage, a sense of responsibility in interpersonal relations and the pastoral care of adolescents and students. It is necessary to offer children, adolescents and young adults reasons to believe and to hope, as well as to give them spiritual and moral reference points that will enable them to make free and responsible choices in conformity with God’s law. A society’s future very largely depends on the education of those who will be tomorrow’s decision-makers.

7. It is with the desire to rekindle the life of the Christian communities, their ecumenical commitment and their missionary sense that I have invited Catholics to prepare intensely for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. I hope that in your country, Pastors and faithful will prepare for this meeting by conversion of heart and renewed involvement in the Church and in society. In this perspective, it is incumbent on you to continue to work out and implement pastoral plans which will see the blossoming of “that new springtime of Christian life which will be revealed by the Great Jubilee, if Christians are docile to the action of the Holy Spirit” (Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 18).

With the new-found freedom, you have been careful to undertake a thorough reorganization of the Dioceses, diocesan services and parishes, for an ever more appropriate response to the new living conditions and the urgent need for evangelization. I encourage you to pursue this task, because good management of diocesan affairs, at all levels, encourages a community’s dynamism. In your quinquennial reports, you stressed the lack of personnel and your scanty resources. You must acknowledge the substantial aid contributed by some Churches in Europe and North America, as well as by charitable associations, to support you materially and spiritually. This solidarity between ecclesial communities is in direct line with what happened in apostolic times when “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Ac 2,44). For true religious freedom, ministers of Church must be free to act

8. Among your pressing problems, you have told me that you meet obstacles in your dialogue with the authorities on the question of the restoration of goods which belonged to the Catholic Church before 1948 and which were unjustly confiscated. For a true practice of religious freedom and a true democratic life, the Second Vatican Council stressed the need for ministers of the Church to be free to act, for “religious communities have the further right not to be prevented from publicly teaching and bearing witness to their beliefs ... and not to be prevented from freely demonstrating the special value of their teaching” (Dignitatis humanae DH 4). In fact, it is the task of the leaders of nations to permit the faithful of different religious families to develop the spiritual dimension of their daily life and their family and social commitments.

9. Your quinquennial reports have also informed me of your steps in favour of ecumenical relations, particularly with the Romanian Orthodox Church to which the majority of the people belongs. I am pleased with this renewed attention on your part. I hope you can continue the education of the faithful in this area, for they are called under your guidance to commit themselves to the way of full unity. Concerning yourselves, I invite you to pursue and to intensify your fraternal ties with our separated brothers and sisters, who are also committed to the path of dialogue and reconciliation. For the Catholic Church, ecumenism is henceforth an urgent and irreversible task, a witness to fraternal love lived with patience, “a duty of the Christian conscience enlightened by faith and guided by love” (Ut unum sint, UUS 8). This implies concrete achievements. For example, it is important that the different Christian Churches join together for prayer and charitable work, for poverty knows no bounds and our love as brothers and sisters must be creative. Collaboration in social activities will help Christians in your country to understand that they are called to act with one another as disciples of Christ whom all proclaim Lord. Let us recall the exhortations of the Apostle of the Gentiles: “Through love be servants of one another” (Ga 5,13), for “love builds up” (1Co 8,1).

10. At the end of our meeting, my thoughts turn towards the faithful of your communities. Please convey to the priests, the religious and Catholics of Romania the Pope's cordial greetings and encouragement, assuring them of my prayers that in the current problems, they will not lack hope and that the Spirit will inspire all with sentiments of unity and peace! I ask you to convey my affectionate greetings to Cardinal Alexandru Todea, Archbishop emeritus of Fãgãras and Alba Julia, assuring him of my brotherly support in his poor state of health, as well as to the Archbishops and Bishops emeritus of your country.

Through the intercession of the saints of your land, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all the members of the People of God entrusted to your pastoral care.


TO AN international meeting on

promoting the well-being of women

Clementine Hall

Saturday, 7 December 1996

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I joyfully welcome you to this meeting entitled Women, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. A year ago, the Fourth World Conference on Women took place in Beijing. It opportunely shed light on the moral, cultural and social challenges still facing the international community. Prominent among the areas still in need of reflection for finding suitable solutions are the legal and practical norms that guarantee the rights of the individual, universal access to education, respect for human dignity and family units and the recognition of male and female identity.

It is no exaggeration to say that the work of the conference, an event followed with interest on all five continents, rightly stressed the close connection between issues affecting women and the value that the contemporary world puts upon life. I am therefore delighted that during your days of study you will be able to examine these themes in greater depth and thus show the Church’s constant concern that women should renew and continue their involvement in social life. With your reflections you will be making an original contribution to the Church’s mission in the service of man, created in God’s image, “the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake” (Gaudium et spes GS 24), and to whom he entrusted the whole of creation.

2. A renewed commitment by all to the well-being of all the world’s women: this was the theme you chose in accordance with the mandate I gave the members of the Holy See's Delegation — led by a woman — on the eve of their departure for Beijing. Today, I would like to pay tribute once again to the achievements of the Delegation, which was constantly concerned with the true good of all women, while taking into account the sociocultural context and attaching importance above all to respect for the individual. Furthermore, the Delegation forcefully reminded political leaders and all who work in international organizations that every person must be respected for himself, in his physical, intellectual and spiritual integrity, so that a person will never be treated as an object or be exploited by political or economic interests that are often inspired by neo-Malthusian ideologies. Your initiative fits within the framework of the Post-Synodal Exhortation Christifideles laici, in which I described a necessary condition for ensuring women their rightful place in the Church and in society, for the full development of their particular genius: “a more penetrating and accurate consideration of the anthropological foundation of masculinity and femininity for the purpose of clarifying woman's personal identity in relation to man” (n. 50).

3. The legitimate quest for equality between men and women in such important areas as education, the workplace and parental responsibility has led research to the question of the equality of rights.

In principle at least, this has enabled many discriminatory practices to be abolished, although it has yet to be universally implemented and further action will be necessary. In the sphere of human rights, it is more appropriate than ever to ask our contemporaries to question themselves on what is mistakenly called “reproductive health”. The expression contains a contradiction that distorts the very meaning of subjectivity: actually, it includes the alleged right to abortion. Thus it denies the basic right of every human being to life, and in harming one of its members it injures the whole human race. “The roots of the contradiction between the solemn affirmation of human rights and their tragic denial in practice lies in a notion of freedom which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way, and gives no place to solidarity, openness to others and service of them” (Evangelium vitae EV 19). Recognition of someone as a human being is never based on the awareness or experience we may have of him, but by the certitude that he has an infinite value from conception, which comes to him from his relationship with God. A human being has primacy over the ideas others have of him, and his existence is absolute and not relative.

4. At the moment, it should be noted that insistence on equality is also accompanied by renewed attention to the difference between men and women, and a great respect for their distinctive traits. A true reflection might suggest that the foundations of difference and equality have been well laid. In this perspective, the Church does not only make a theological contribution but is also involved in anthropological research. The role played by the 20th-century Christian philosophers who exalted the greatness of the human being cannot be forgotten. Thus the Church takes part in the creation of a common cultural base for men and women of goodwill, so as to offer a systematic answer to our contemporaries’ questions and to recall that equality goes hand in hand with the recognition of differences inherent in them since creation (cf. Gn Gn 1,27).

In our societies, deeply marked by the individual pursuit of success, each person will nonetheless realize that he cannot live without openness to others, for, as Mons. Maurice Nédoncelle commented, “an individual exists for himself through others” (La personne humaine et sa nature, p. 5). He does not find himself and does not consciously develop except by being linked to a specific culture, and through it, to all humanity. The advancement of individuals and their interpersonal relations therefore includes the advancement of cultures, which are like a jewel box in which every human being finds his proper place for the protection and growth of his being.

5. Conjugal love is the loftiest and most beautiful expression of human relations and self-giving, for it is essentially a desire for mutual growth. In this encounter based on reciprocal love, each is recognized for what he is and is called to express his personal talents and achieve his potential. The “logic of the sincere gift of self” (Letter to Families LF 11) is a source of joy, help and understanding.

6. Human love finds in Trinitarian love a model of perfect loving and giving. Through the total gift of himself, Jesus gives birth to the people of the New Covenant. On the Cross, the Lord entrusted the disciple he loved and his Mother to each other (cf. Jn Jn 19,26-27). Does not the Apostle compare the love of Christ and his Church to the love between man and woman? (cf. Eph Ep 5,25-32). The biblical texts also reveal to us the profound meaning of the motherhood of woman “introduced into the order of the Covenant that God made with humanity in Jesus Christ” (Mulieris dignitatem MD 19). In its personal and ethical sense, this motherhood shows a creativity on which the humanity of each human being largely depends; it also invites man to learn and to express his own fatherhood. Thus women contribute to society and to the Church their ability to nurture human beings.

The Church is our mother. We are her children and are called to share in giving birth to a new people for God. We learn this motherhood from Mary, for to all those who are working for the rebirth of man through their participation in the apostolic mission, she is an “exemplar both of virgin and mother” (Lumen gentium LG 63). You are providentially holding your meeting on the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is certainly an occasion for everyone, priests, religious, laity, men and women, to contemplate Mary and to ask her help so that each, according to his own vocation, may contribute to the witness given by the Church, Bride of Christ, “in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ep 5,27).

7. At the close of our meeting, I am delighted with this initiative taken by the Pontifical Council for the Laity and I hope that your work here may be fruitful and give the Church a precious means to carry out her pastoral mission and service in society. I encourage you to continue your activities in the Catholic organizations, ecclesiastical communities and the various associations in which you are involved. As I commend you to the intercession of the holy women who throughout history have shared in the Church’s journey, I cordially give you my Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to all your dear ones.



Consistory Hall

Saturday, 7 December 1996

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Brothers and Sisters.

1. Once again this year the Catholic University's Study and Research Centre for Natural Fertility Regulation is offering a course to train teachers in the natural methods. This meeting is particularly significant, because it is being held during the 20th year of this centre's activity, an event recently celebrated with a congress of international importance significantly entitled: “At the Sources of Life”.

On this occasion I am pleased to renew my sentiments of appreciation and esteem for the work you have done, which is better and better understood by the ecclesial community and by medical and scientific circles.

2. The scientific validity of the methods and their educational effectiveness makes them increasingly appreciated for the human values that they presuppose and strengthen, when they are taught and presented in a suitable anthropological and ethical context, according to the wise directive expressed in Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae vitae and so many times explained in subsequent documents of the Magisterium.

Their humanizing character is all the more obvious from the fact that using the natural methods requires and strengthens the harmony of the married couple, it helps and confirms the rediscovery of the marvellous gift of parenthood, it involves respect for nature and demands the responsibility of the individuals. According to many authoritative opinions, they also foster more completely that human ecology which is the harmony between the demands of nature and personal behaviour.

At the global level this choice supports the process of freedom and emancipation of women and peoples from unjust family planning programmes, which bring in their sad wake the various forms of contraception, abortion and sterilization.

3. But more immediately, your work each day is valuable and sought after in parish communities and in diocesan centres for the pastoral care of the family and life. In this regard, I wrote in the Encyclical "Evangelium vitae" that “an honest appraisal of their effectiveness should dispel certain prejudices which are still widely held, and should convince married couples, as well as health-care and social workers, of the importance of proper training in this area. The Church is grateful to those who, with personal sacrifice and often unacknowledged dedication, devote themselves to the study and spread of these methods, as well as to the promotion of education in the moral values which they presuppose” (n. 97).

The moment has come for every parish and every structure of consultation and assistance to the family and to the defence of life to have personnel available who can teach married couples how to use the natural methods. For this reason I particularly recommend that Bishops, parish priests and those responsible for pastoral care welcome and promote this valuable service.

With this hope, as I ask the Lord to constantly accompany your untiring work, I sincerely bless you and with you the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, whose Faculty of Medicine and Surgery promotes and supports your work, which is worthy of the highest esteem and well-suited to the tasks and role of a Catholic university.




Thursday, 12 December 1996

Your Excellency,

I am pleased to welcome you today to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence by which His Majesty King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev has appointed you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Nepal to the Holy See. I thank you for the kind greetings which you have expressed in your Sovereign's name and gladly reciprocate with good wishes for His Majesty and for the entire Nepalese people.

Diplomatic relations between Nepal and the Holy See are the expression of our shared conviction that greater understanding between peoples and peace in the world can only be built on mutual respect and trust in bilateral and multilateral relations, ultimately based on the sincere dialogue of mind and heart which makes such relations possible. At the same time these relations have a special character of their own. The Holy See's presence and activity in the international community respond to the particular nature of its essentially religious and humanitarian mission. Thus it perceives its diplomatic role in terms of serving the advancement of the human person and of society through the affirmation of such universal values as peace, solidarity, justice and liberty (cf. John Paul II, Address for the Fiftieth General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, 18 [5 Oct. 1995]). The central object of its concern in all situations and in every part of the world is the dignity which belongs to every human being by the simple fact of being human. This dignity is an inalienable, inherent possession coming neither from the community nor the State nor the law, but which precedes institutions, laws and agreements and determines their value and correctness. From this view of human dignity there follows the duty to defend and promote the moral and spiritual dimensions of life, personal and social, without which human beings cannot reach fulfilment, nor build a society respectful of their transcendent nature.

I note Your Excellency's observation that the greater the progress made on the material level, the more people need spiritual enlightenment in order to sustain that progress. This is indeed an important truth, and one which does not always receive the attention it deserves in the determination of public policies; for true progress lies not in having more possessions but in becoming wiser and more responsible in their use. When that happens we become more conscious of the centrality and inalienable worth of the human person, and more open to others, especially the weak and needy. A nation which intends to be just and humane ought to defend and promote such values, and ensure that its institutions follow principles which enable it to organize and govern the life of society for the common good. Your own country is blessed with ancient religious resources, capable of offering insights and incentives for a balanced development, respectful of the integral good of its citizens.

The Catholic community in Nepal, though small in number, expresses this concern for genuine human development in a practical way through the spiritual formation of its members, and through their work in the spheres of education and health care. It is my hope that this work will continue in a serene spirit of mutual respect and co-operation with Government and people. The Church does not seek special privileges, but only the guaranteed freedom which enables people to be true to the dictates of conscience in matters of religion and to practise their faith publicly and peacefully in harmony with the followers of all other traditions.

Mr Ambassador, as you work to strengthen relations between your country and the Holy See, I would assure you of the ready co-operation of the departments of the Roman Curia. Upon Your Excellency and upon the Kingdom of Nepal I invoke abundant divine blessings.


TO H.E. Mr Marc A. Trouillot,


Thursday, 12 December 1996

Mr Ambassador,

I welcome you here, where I am pleased to receive Your Excellency on the occasion of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Haiti to the Holy See.

I am most grateful to you for conveying greetings to me from President René Préval of the Republic of Haiti, whom I had the pleasure of receiving here a few months ago. I would be grateful if you would kindly express to him in return, my good wishes for his person and for the accomplishment of his lofty mission at the service of the nation. I also cordially greet the Haitian people, as I remember my visit to their country and the unforgettable welcome they gave me.

In recent years your country has undergone many changes and I am pleased with the efforts made to lead it on the difficult paths of democracy and development. I am aware of the considerable challenges which the nation must still face today. I therefore encourage all those men and women who are working generously for the advancement of the human person, and who are struggling against all forms of poverty, obstacles to man’s growth and the renewal of society. One of the indispensable requirements in this struggle for man is the unity of the entire people in harmony around ideals of fraternity and co-operation and the establishment of justice.

In this spirit I hope to see the Haitian people find the conditions to live with dignity in a peaceful and supportive society. This requires those who have a responsibility in the nation’s life to devote all their effort to help build a better future for the whole group of their compatriots, and most especially for the underprivileged among them. Thereby creating an atmosphere of trust, they will facilitate the concrete fulfilment of the people’s just aspirations and enable them actively to lead a social life in conformity with their wishes.

Mr Ambassador, in your address you stressed that the Haitian people is a people of believers. I therefore hope that they will discover in God profound reasons for loving life and for establishing true brotherhood among all the members of the nation. Your accreditation to the Holy See is proof of the importance your people attach to spiritual values and to the Gospel message. I have no doubt that your mission which you officially inaugurate today, will strengthen the ties of understanding and friendship between your country and the Apostolic See, to the advantage of all Haitians. In her proper capacity, the Church, faithful to her mission of service to man, desires to help promote the dignity and integral development of individuals so that each may be completely fulfilled according to God’s plan for his whole creation. Her message is the Good News of the Gospel which is addressed to all and proclaims peace, love and freedom. She puts this into practice through her different commitments, especially by giving priority to society’s poorest. Through her educational institutions for the young, she helps to free people from that serious form of poverty which is the lack of cultural and religious formation. Through her works in the field of health care, she seeks to foster respect for human life and to show God’s love for those who are suffering. Further, working in other forms of social advancement, she makes her contribution to the nation’s development and to the progress of justice.

May I take this opportunity, Mr Ambassador, to address through you my warm greetings and encouragement to the Catholic community of Haiti and its Pastors. I invite them with their compatriots generously to pursue their commitment to the service of their fatherland. In the dynamism of their faith they will find the courage to spread around them the great Gospel values in which they believe, for the good of the nation.

As you begin your mission, I offer you my best wishes for its success, and I can assure you that you will always find here, in my co-workers, an attentive welcome and cordial understanding.

With all my heart I invoke abundant divine Blessings on Your Excellency, on the Haitian people and on its leaders.

Speeches 1996 - Friday, 6 December 1996