Speeches 1996 - Thursday, 12 December 1996


TO H.E. Mr N’Tji LaÏco Traore,


Thursday, 12 December 1996

Mr Ambassador,

I am pleased to welcome Your Excellency to the Vatican on the occasion of the presentation of the Letters accrediting you as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Mali to the Holy See.

I was deeply touched by your courteous words and I warmly thank you. I am particularly grateful to you for conveying to me the greetings of Mr Alpha Oumar Konaré, President of the Republic of Mali, whom I had the opportunity to receive here in the Vatican on 15 November last. Through you, I have pleasure in renewing my best wishes for his person and for the accomplishment of his lofty office at the service of the people of Mali. I also greet the members of the Government and I invoke the assistance of God upon the leaders of the nation and upon all your citizens.

In your address, you recalled the Apostolic See’s peace-making initiatives among the nations and the development of peoples through active solidarity. In fact, the Catholic Church, acting according to the spirit of Christ, seeks to collaborate with all people of goodwill in an effort to eliminate the differences that lead to serious hostilities between nations or human groups. She thus desires to contribute to building a fraternal and united human society. The creation of the Foundation for the Sahel was designed to show the Holy See’s constant concern for the most underprivileged peoples and of its commitment to encourage concrete acts of mutual aid, particularly in this region of Africa.

It gives me pleasure to know what efforts your country is making in the arduous direction of democracy and development. I hope that the ideals of peace, fraternity, mutual understanding and respect for the specificity of all the human and religious communities which make up the nation, continue to inspire more and more those entrusted with guiding the destiny of the Malian people.

The many forms of poverty from which so many people suffer are a permanent moral challenge for States and for the entire human family in the building of a society that truly conforms to legitimate human aspirations. In the Message I addressed to the Church for World Day for Migrants and Refugees which you had the kindness to mention, I expressed the wish that special attention be paid to those who live in precarious conditions, to those who are forced to seek their living outside their own country, as well as to those who cannot return to their native land and who are leading the difficult life of refugees. These noble causes must enlist greater interest and commitment both in national leaders and in public opinion, so that the life, dignity and fundamental human rights of each person and each human group may be respected.

Your presence here, Mr Ambassador, is a sign that Mali considers spiritual and religious values as deeply necessary for the integral development of man and society. The links between Mali and the Apostolic See cannot fail to be reinforced by them.

Allow me, Mr Ambassador, through you, to greet affectionately Mali’s Catholic community. At the beginning of the year, precisely here I had the joy of greeting the members of the Episcopal Conference of Mali, on their ad limina visit. This meeting afforded me an opportunity to be close to your compatriots once again. I have observed with satisfaction that the Church enjoys the esteem of the people and their leaders, and that relations between the Catholic community and believers of Islam are for the most part based on friendship and mutual esteem. I know that the Church can count on the benevolence of your country’s authorities to promote her social and educational institutions which are at the service of young people and families, regardless of origin or religion.

Motivated by their Christian faith, Catholics wish to spread among their brothers and sisters the values of brotherhood and justice, with respect for the convictions of each. I encourage them to continue to work zealously for their country’s development together with all their compatriots who belong to another religious denomination, the followers of Islam and of the traditional religion.

At the time when your mission is beginning, I offer you my best wishes for the noble task that awaits you. I assure you that here with my co-workers you will always find an attentive welcome and cordial understanding.

I wholeheartedly invoke an abundance of Blessings from the Most High on Your Excellency, on the President of the Republic of Mali and on the Malian people and their leaders.




Thursday, 12 December 1996

Your Excellency,

This is indeed a significant moment in the relations between your country and the Holy See, as you present the Credential Letters appointing you first Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of South Africa. I am pleased to accept these Letters and am confident that the exchange of permanent Representatives will strengthen the ties of friendship which already exist between us. I have vivid memories of my visit to your country last year when I presented the results of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. I remember with gratitude the warmth with which I was welcomed by President Mandela and by the Government and people. They have a permanent place in my prayers.

You have mentioned South Africa's rebirth as a "new nation", one which rejects segregation and discrimination in order to walk the path of unity and brotherhood. The recent history of your country clearly shows that peace is a victory won when the human spirit is determined to reject the ways of division and conflict in order to follow the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. Peace calls for a courage much greater than that required by the blind vindictiveness which would resort to violence. While it is important that the truth about the past should be known and responsibility laid where it is due, it is even more important that the delicate process of building a just and harmonious multiracial society should go forward.

As you have noted, many difficulties remain. They are aggravated and compounded by subtle forms of exploitation still afflicting the whole African continent: the crushing burden of debt, unjust trading practices, the constraints imposed by economic restructuring programmes. If justice and peace are to prevail, international solidarity must replace all forms of exploitation. Wealthier nations are called to show "a sense of moral responsibility for the other nations, so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the equality of all peoples" (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis SRS 39).

As South Africa continues its efforts to plan and implement programmes aimed at further development, it must not lose sight of one of its greatest natural resources: the family. At last year's World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen, a point which came up over and over again in the discussions, and which appears repeatedly in the official concluding report, is the affirmation that the family is the basic unit of society and, as such, is to be protected and strengthened. In fact, the whole of human society is deeply rooted in the family and any weakening of the family cannot but be a potential source of tragedy.

In this light, life itself must never be undervalued or neglected. Respect for the life of every human being—not excluding the unborn, the elderly and the infirm—remains the true measure of any society's greatness. The right to life in fact is the foundation of all other human rights, and is the essential factor in upholding and promoting the value and dignity of the human person, in strengthening the social fabric and in ensuring that the priorities of peoples and nations are set in proper order.

It is precisely because of her deep respect for life and her keen interest in promoting human rights and dignity that the Church is an active partner in the quest for authentic development. These are the objectives which she pursues in her service of love, especially in the fields of education, health care and social service. In this regard, I very much appreciate Your Excellency's words concerning the Church's contribution to the building up of South African society, I am certain that, with the new constitutional guarantees of rights and freedom, the Catholic citizens of your nation will continue to bear faithful witness to the Gospel of Christ and work with their fellow South Africans for the common good.

Your Excellency, in offering my good wishes at the beginning of your mission, I assure you of the readiness of the offices of the Holy See to assist you in your work. Upon yourself and all the citizens of the Republic of South Africa I cordially invoke abundant divine blessings.




Thursday, 12 December 1996

Mister Ambassador,

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Vatican and to accept the Letters of Credence by which His Excellency the Right Honourable Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara appoints you Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Fiji to the Holy See. With great joy I recall my Pastoral Visit to your country in 1986, surrounded as I was by the beauty of your homeland and the affection of your people. Reciprocating the President's good wishes, I gladly express my esteem and friendship for all your fellow citizens.

Within the community of nations the Holy See's endeavours are founded on the desire of the Catholic Church to defend and promote the "inalienable dignity of every person, irrespective of racial, ethnic, cultural or national origin, or religious belief" (John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace 1989, 3 [8 Dec. 1988]). The Church rejoices when people unite in building a society which respects the dignity and rights of every human being. It is reassuring to know that Fiji is steadfastly committed to safeguarding the equal rights of all its citizens, a principle which is an essential foundation for a solidly free and just society, the overriding purpose of which is to enable its members to achieve full human development. Essential also is a climate of harmony and co-operation, especially between groups of different ethnic origin.

As recent world events so tragically demonstrate, whenever intolerance creeps into a nation's life, social harmony is undermined. Among the challenges facing the international community on the threshold of the Third Millennium is that of encouraging the peaceful development of multi-religious and multi-cultural societies. As Your Excellency has pointed out, the goal must be to achieve national unity through respect for diversity. Cultural, religious and ethnic differences within a country should be treasured as gifts which help people to appreciate the divinely-bestowed unity in diversity of the human family. More than ever it is necessary to encourage profound esteem for different traditions through educational programmes which foster mutual enrichment and the pursuit of the common good (cf. John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace 1991, 7 [8 Dec. 1990]) . Such programmes can help people recognize "the moral logic which is built into human life and which makes possible dialogue between individuals and peoples" (John Paul II, Address for the Fiftieth General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, 3 [5 Oct. 1995 ]).

Mister Ambassador, I thank you for your kind expression of appreciation for the contribution which Catholics have made to the building of a just and peaceful society in your Islands. While the Church always gives priority to her vocation to evangelize, it is also true that her religious mission "produces a function, enlightenment and resources which can be of service in constructing and strengthening the human community in accordance with the divine law" (Gaudium et Spes GS 42). The Catholics of Fiji are committed to work for the welfare of society as a whole. This is why I urged them, during my memorable visit to Suva, "to work for a more just society, in which wealth will be more equally divided and in which it will be possible for all to live a life in keeping with their human dignity" (John Paul II, Homily at the Holy Mass celebrated in Suva (Fiji), 7 [21 Nov. 1986]).

The freedom of religion which your country enjoys has enabled Catholics to offer their contribution to authentic social progress, especially in the fields of health care, social service and above all education. As you have kindly noted, the Church has been a leader in the field of education, where she is committed not only to providing useful skills but also to developing the capacity of Fijian youth to seek and know the truth, grow in respect for others, work with hope for a new flourishing of the human spirit. You may be assured that the Catholic Church—her priests, religious and laity—will continue to work for your country's well-being by forming the moral conscience of its citizens.

As you begin your mission as the Ambassador of the Republic of Fiji to the Holy See, I assure you of the co-operation of the various offices of the Roman Curia. Upon Your Excellency and upon all the people of Fiji, I cordially invoke the blessings of Almighty God.




Thursday, 12 December 1996

Your Excellencies,

I am pleased to welcome you, the distinguished Ambassadors of Cape Verde, Congo, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Fiji, Haiti, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe, for the presentation of your Letters of Credence. With this solemn act you officially begin a period of close contact with the Holy See, which I hope and pray will be a time of fruitful service to your countries and to the international community. Through you I greet your respective Heads of State, your Governments, and the peoples whose well-being you serve.

As we approach the end of the 20th century and the beginning of a new millennium, humanity is faced with many important challenges. Looming large on the world's horizon is the difficult and complicated task of achieving a just and equitable sharing of the world's resources between that part of the human family which has already reached an adequate standard of life and that much greater part which is still striving, against almost overwhelming odds, for a dignified existence. Upon the outcome of this immense challenge depends the very future of humanity. The present moment offers many signs of hope, but there are also serious reasons for concern. It is difficult to define clearly the changes taking place in policies and attitudes at this stage of world history. On the one hand, a confluence of many complex developments - in the fields of science and technology, in the economy, in growing political maturity, in the pervasive power of the global means of communication - is producing new aspirations to freedom, new demands for a share in all aspects of social life, and a worldwide interdependence from which no one can truly escape. On the other hand, these objectives are being strongly jeopardized by the ever present human tendency to self-interest and the unrestrained defence of particular interests.

The challenge before everyone with public responsibilities is to respond to this moment of awakening without falling into the moral relativism and utilitarianism which dominates much of modern culture. It is particularly in the area of defending the sacredness of human life itself that the utilitarian ethic shows its flawed nature. When the value of life, from its natural beginning to its natural end, is no longer fully respected, every other value is relativized, to the point that only the will to dominate survives as a criterion for behaviour. A different, superior path is needed. The leaders of nations should foster new levels of co-operation between men and women of religion, science, culture, politics and economics in facing the problems of the world: vexing problems such as the preservation of the planet and its resources, peace between peoples and nations, justice in society, and an effective response to all the different forms of poverty affecting millions of human beings.

These are some of the important issues which will require your attention as you fulfil your diplomatic mission to the Holy See. May Almighty God sustain you in your task and noble profession! Upon yourselves and upon the peoples which you represent I willingly invoke an abundance of divine blessings.


TO the Bishops who serve as Presidents of

Latin American Episcopal Commissions for the Family

Thursday, 12 December 1996

Your Eminences,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to receive this morning the Bishops who serve as Presidents of the Latin American Episcopal Commissions for the Family and their co-workers, and various Latin American members of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who have come to take part in this meeting whose primary purpose is to prepare the Second World Meeting with Families.

I am grateful for Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo’s kind words. I also address a special greeting to Cardinal Eugênio de Araújo Sales, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, and Archbishop Cláudio Hummes of Fortaleza, director of the Family Apostolate of the National Bishops’ Conference of Brazil.

The Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, the rest of Brazil and all Latin America, with the valuable collaboration of CELAM, are preparing the world meeting that will take place on 4-5 October 1997. This meeting will afford the Successor of Peter a new opportunity to address the world’s families, encouraging them to intensify and fulfil their commitments at this moment in history, as the theme chosen suggests: The Family: Gift and Commitment, Hope of Humanity.

With a view to this preparation, you have already embarked on an educational campaign, using catechetical material which will be the topic of reflection throughout the world and a help to everyone in taking responsibility for the tasks of this urgent pastoral priority. Accompanying you with my prayers, I am also preparing for this meeting, which will enable me again to visit the Latin America I love so much.

2. Your visit takes place 15 years after the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio was published, the valuable result of the Synod on the Family celebrated in 1980. It is a basic charter as it were that recognizes the family’s decisive and overriding importance for humanity and the Church, and it has given a vigorous incentive to the renewal of the family apostolate. At the same time, it has also given an impetus to this particular apostolate, offering the Bishops a valuable tool for helping families fulfil their mission, so that husband and wife may reflect the Lord’s faithful love and, with his Church, take part in God’s work by transmitting life and raising their children in authentic Gospel values.

In our times, it is essential to deepen everyone's personal commitment to helping enrich this primary and vital cell of society. It should not be forgotten, in the general planning of ecclesial activities, that the family is the first and principal path of the Church. Awareness of its central value for evangelization must imbue the whole structure of diocesan pastoral care.

3. Familiaris consortio insists most particularly on the rights of the family, for which it is as it were a Magna Charta. For this reason, encouragement should be given to projects that endeavour to make all institutions having legislative or governmental responsibilities—in view of the rights of this natural institution expressly desired by God—respect, help and promote the family as a basic, necessary good for society as a whole. The future of humanity and of Latin America certainly passes through the family.

4. As everyone knows, wherever the Church has been unable to carry out her usual work of evangelization, it has frequently been families that have preserved and maintained the faith, passing it on to the new generations. This function proper to the family as the first teacher of its new members expresses the true vocation and mission of Christian parents, whose primary responsibility involves their children’s human and religious formation.

5. In recent years we have witnessed with deep concern the appearance of a systematic challenge to the family, which calls into question the values that form this natural institution’s very foundations. Under the pretext of caring for and protecting the family and all families, the fact that there is a model loved and blessed by God is overlooked. The specific character of the spouses' conjugal promise is denied, underestimating this indissoluble commitment. Likewise, an attempt is sometimes made to introduce other forms of union, contrary to God’s original plan for the human race. In this way, the rights of the family are disregarded or weakened, thereby threatening society at its very roots and attacking its future.

Indeed, marriage or the conjugal commitment of a man and woman, with mutual love and the transmission of life, are primary values for society, which civil legislation cannot disregard or combat. This is why the Church and her Pastors cannot be indifferent to certain attempts at substantial changes which affect the family structure. Undoubtedly everything related to the fundamental rights of children is crucial: to have a real home, to be accepted, loved, educated and to have the good example of their parents. A child’s greatest poverty is to be deprived of the love, protection and tender warmth of a family.

With the Christmas holidays close at hand, we approach the cave of Bethlehem with deep veneration. There we find the Holy Family in which our Saviour was born and grew up. Contemplating this divine mystery, we discover how the light of a star illumines the ways of humanity and guides us toward the threshold of the third Christian millennium. The light of this star, as God's presence among men, must also illumine us all and lead us to truly commit ourselves to tirelessly promoting the perennial values of the family, the little domestic church, the sanctuary of life and the cradle of the civilization of love.

6. Dear brothers, in my Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente I stated that the preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 must necessarily pass through the family (cf. n. 28). I therefore encourage you to continue this specific task. May the contemplation of life in the house of Nazareth, an example for all the world’s families and the place where the Lord, “the Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and forever” (ibid., 40), experienced family life, I encourage you to offer the world the light for which humanity is waiting. May the Apostolic Blessing I affectionately impart to you be of great help.




Friday, 13 December 1996

As they bring to a close their solemn meeting which they are deeply convinced has been of particular significance for the ongoing relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, His Holiness John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and His Holiness Karekin I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, give humble thanks to the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who has enabled them to meet in His love for prayer together, for a fruitful discussion of their common desire to search out a more perfect unity in the Holy Spirit, and for an exchange of views about how their Churches may give a more effective witness to the Gospel in a world approaching a new millennium in the history of salvation.

Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I recognize the deep spiritual communion which already unites them and the Bishops, clergy and lay faithful of their Churches. It is a communion which finds its roots in the common faith in the Holy and life-giving Trinity proclaimed by the Apostles and transmitted down the centuries by the many Fathers and Doctors of the Church and the Bishops, priests, and martyrs who have followed them. They rejoice in the fact that recent developments of ecumenical relations and theological discussions carried out in the spirit of Christian love and fellowship have dispelled many misunderstandings inherited from the controversies and dissensions of the past. Such dialogues and encounters have prepared a healthy situation of mutual understanding and recovery of the deeper spiritual communion based on the common faith in the Holy Trinity that they have been given through the Gospel of Christ and in the Holy Tradition of the Church.

They particularly welcome the great advance that their Churches have registered in their common search for unity in Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Perfect God as to His divinity, perfect man as to His humanity, His divinity is united to His humanity in the Person of the Only-begotten Son of God, in a union which is real, perfect, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without any form of separation.

The reality of this common faith in Jesus Christ and in the same succession of apostolic ministry has at times been obscured or ignored. Linguistic, cultural and political factors have immensely contributed towards the theological divergences that have found expression in their terminology of formulating their doctrines. His Holiness John Paul II and His Holiness Karekin I have expressed their determined conviction that because of the fundamental common faith in God and in Jesus Christ, the controversies and unhappy divisions which sometimes have followed upon the divergent ways in expressing it, as a result of the present declaration, should not continue to influence the life and witness of the Church today. They humbly declare before God their sorrow for these controversies and dissensions and their determination to remove from the mind and memory of their Churches the bitterness, mutual recriminations and even hatred which have sometimes manifested themselves in the past, and may even today cast a shadow over the truly fraternal and genuinely Christian relations between leaders and the faithful of both Churches, especially as these have developed in recent times.

The communion already existing between the two Churches and the hope for and commitment to recovery of full communion between them should become factors of motivation for further contact, more regular and substantial dialogue, leading to a greater degree of mutual understanding and recovery of the communality of their faith and service.

Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I give their blessing and pastoral support to the further development of existing contacts and to new manifestations of that dialogue of charity between their respective pastors and faithful which will bear fruit in the fields of common action on the pastoral, catechetical, social and intellectual levels.

Such a dialogue is particularly imperative in these present times when the Churches are faced with new challenges to their witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ arising out of the rapidly changing situations in the modern world so deeply affected by an extreme secularistic and secularizing pace of life and culture. It requires closer collaboration, mutual confidence and a greater degree of concern for common action. It presumes and requires an attitude of service which is not self-seeking and which is characterized by a mutual respect for the fidelity of the faithful to their own Churches and Christian traditions.

They appeal to their clergy and laity to carry out more actively and effectively their full co-operation in all fields of diaconia, and to become agents of reconciliation, peace and justice, struggling for the true recognition of human rights and dedicating themselves to the support of all those who are suffering and are in spiritual and material need throughout the world.

John Paul II and Karekin I express a particular pastoral concern for the Armenian people, both those living in their historic motherland where freedom and independence were once more recovered and re-established recently through the creation of the new Independent State of Armenia, those living in Nagorno Karabagh in need of permanent peace, and those who live in a state of world -wide diaspora. Amid upheavels and tragedies, especially during this century, these people have remained faithful to the apostolic faith, the faith of martyrs and confessors, the faith of millions of unnamed believers for whom Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate and Saviour of the world, has been the foundation of their hope, and whose Spirit has guided them across the centuries. As they approach the 17th centenary of the official establishment of the Church in Armenia, may they receive the special blessings of the Triune God for peace with justice and for a renewed dedication to witnessing faithfully to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rome, 13 December 1996.


TO THE Bishops' Conference of Viêt Nam


Saturday, 14 December 1996

Your Eminence,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. With great joy I welcome you for your ad limina visit, you who are in charge of the pastoral care of the People of God in Viêt Nam. You have come to the tombs of Peter and Paul to strengthen the awareness of your responsibility as successors of the Apostles, and to feel more intensely your communion with the Bishop of Rome. In fact the ad limina visits have a particular importance in the Church’s life “for they constitute as it were the summit of relations between the Pastors of each particular Church and the Roman Pontiff” (Pastor Bonus ). They highlight the catholicity of the Church and the unity of the Episcopal College in a remarkable way. I warmly thank Cardinal Paul Joseph Pham Dình Tung, Archbishop of Hanoi and President of your Episcopal Conference, for the moving words he has addressed me on your behalf, thereby showing your communities’ fidelity to the Successor of Peter. I greet with particular affection the Bishops of your country who were unable to come with you. I would have really liked to meet all the Bishops, to express to them all my affection for them and their diocesan communities, and to assure them of the interest with which I follow their work in each of their Dioceses. The ad limina visit of an Episcopal Conference in its entirety is not only a visible demonstration of the spiritual links which bind the particular Churches to the universal Church, it is also a sign that religious freedom is respected in a country. I express my solidarity with these Bishops and my profound communion in their apostolic ministry at the service of the people entrusted to them. Through you, I also join the Vietnamese faithful who courageously witness to Christ in your land or outside the country, as well as to all the people of Viêt Nam whom I assure of my warm friendship.

2. Since the arrival of the Gospel in the 16th century, the Church in your country has undergone many trials. Several times she has suffered persecution for the cause of faith in Christ the Redeemer. Marked by the holiness and martyrdom of so many of her children, she has become a Church glorified by their zeal in the service of God and their brothers and sisters. And I would like to recall here the heroic figure of the 117 martyrs whom I had the privilege of canonizing in 1988. This witness, which the sons and daughters of your country have given to Christ through love of God and their brethren, has created a special link between the Christian community and all the Vietnamese. Fully sharing the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 1), the Church has demonstrated that she is deeply rooted there. If down the centuries misunderstandings have sometimes arisen between the Church and the civil community, it must be reasserted that Catholics are loyal members of the nation: today, as in the past, they contribute to the country’s social progress and show a regard for the common good which is no less than that of the other citizens. Although she is a small flock, the Church wants to be fully present among the realities of the country, with her own vocation. She is on the way with all the members of the nation, for she shares the same history and common successes and trials. She does not act in a spirit of rivalry or through seeking her own interest, but aspires to live in communion and harmony with all.

The Church’s mission is to transmit a message of life and love by concrete actions for human dignity, for a better life, in a spirit of compassion for the poorest and most deprived. With humility and in collaboration with the other members of the nation, Catholics take part in the renewal and transformation of human realities. Living her vocation of unity and service for all the people, the Church recognizes and shares the great richness of Vietnamese culture and its human and spiritual values; and she hopes to deepen relations of brotherhood, dialogue and collaboration with all.

Speeches 1996 - Thursday, 12 December 1996