Speeches 1997 - Saturday, 11 January 1997

3. Bishop Moutel stressed the main difficulties you encounter. I recall two aspects that concern the whole Church in your country: in the first place, the fact that an important part of the population is still distant from the Church and does not easily hear her message; on the other hand, the deline in the number of priests affects pastoral activities, which are becoming more difficult to provide, although many lay people are assuming more and more responsibilities.

As in many other nations, you must therefore deal with the different ways the Church is impoverished or weakened; these make the Bishop’s task arduous. As apostles of Christ, you are among the first to experience the cross of indifference, misunderstanding and sometimes even hostility. In a society that is often unsure of itself and is going through a prolonged economic and social crisis, you see too many people and too many of the baptized living outside the ecclesial community, rejecting in a way the institution and preferring to live in individualistic isolation: each feels he is the arbiter of his own rules of life, and even if he retains a religious sense and the Church remains a distant reference point for him, he does not live a personal faith in Jesus Christ and ignores the ecclesial dimension.

4. Naturally the analysis of this situation, which differs from place to place, affects the Pastor, who cannot remain passive. You said so in St Paul’s words, “having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.... For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2Co 4,1). The Bishop draws his assurance from Christ’s promises and the gift of his Spirit, for “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1Co 1,9).

Is it necessary to repeat that episcopal responsibility belongs first and foremost to the spiritual order? Watchful and vigilant, the Pastor looks on his faithful and on the whole of society in the light of the Gospel and of his ecclesial experience. It is by listening to what “the Spirit says to the Churches” (Ap 2,7) that he can exercise his responsibilities, starting with an open and well-disposed discernment of the successes or failures, of the dynamic initiatives or unfortunate passivity which mark the progress of the People of God.

The Second Vatican Council clearly stated the major functions of the successors of the Apostles in the Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium and in the Decree Christus Dominus on the pastoral responsibility of Bishops. It is good to mediate again on these major texts of the Church's Magisterium; this reflection is of course worthwhile for anyone invested with a constitutive mission at the service of the people entrusted to him, but it must also involve the faithful.

5. I would like to strengthen you fraternally in your task of teaching and proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to men and women (cf. Christus Dominus CD 12). The Bishop, a prophet who proclaims the Good News, tirelessly preaches it, seeking the language that is the key to the meaning of the Scriptures, as the Lord did with the disciples at Emmaus. The Council says in particular: “Bishops should present the doctrine of Christ in a manner suited to the needs of the times, that is, so it may be relevant to those difficulties and questions which men find especially worrying and intimidating” (ibid., n. 13). These words suffice to show that your apostolic ministry is addressed to people of the present time, according to the needs, expressed or concealed, of the faithful who are visibly present in the diocesan community as persons standing on the threshold and searching for meaning in life.

In particular, the Bishop stands in the front line of commitment to society’s poor and marginalized. He speaks out in defense of the dignity of the individual and of respect for the life of each one, of justice in charity and of solidarity. It is he who calls for service to those you have described as “life’s injured”, who suffer because of sickness or physical handicaps, social problems or the lack of faith and spiritual hope. In the image of the Lord who came as a Servant, the Pastor opens the ways of service to all he is called to lead.

In charity, the apostolic ministry is one of uniting people in close collaboration with the members of the presbyterate who share its responsibilities. I will return later to the current needs of priests, which are your first concern. Today it is enough to stress that priests, and with them those responsible for services and movements, rely on the Bishop for co-ordinating all the missions as a whole, so that everyone can contribute to the diocesan Church’s unity and dynamism.

All your responsibilities can seem to you a heavy burden. Only the Spirit of the Lord, in communion with the whole Church, can give you the strength and light you need. Let us maintain our trust in the one Spirit, “the Lord and giver of life”. Let us meditate constantly on Jesus’ promise: “When the Counsellor comes whom I shall send to you from the Father, ... he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn 15,26-27).

6. The experience of recent decades has enabled Bishops to find support for their mission. Important organs of collaboration at the regional or national level have been developed. I already mentioned these to you in Reims. The Council recommends that Bishops gather together “so that by sharing their wisdom and experience and exchanging views they may jointly formulate a programme for the common good of the Church” (Christus Dominus CD 37). In fact, over and above mere co-operation, episcopal assemblies make it possible to plan common approaches, to issue messages for the whole country, to share at regional or national levels tools of analysis and action that are not available to individual Dioceses.

As an example I take the important work, undertaken by several of you with the aid of experts, representatives of lay movements and numerous faithful, which has led you to address to the Catholics of France the Letter entitled Proposer la foi dans la société actuelle. I hope that this initiative by the Bishops will provide a perceptive evaluation of the situation of Catholics in contemporary society, spurring them to go to the heart of the mystery of faith, in order to form a Church which knows better and better how to offer and share the gifts received through grace.

Together you will be better able to follow the development and activity of the various communities or groups which form the present situation of the Church in your country. You will also impart their dynamism to the principal service institutions where the Church has always been involved, especially in education, the care of the sick, practical and wise charitable assistance within the country as well as to your brothers and sisters in underprivileged regions.

Together, you will also be better understood when you make yourselves the defenders of social solidarity with all the inhabitants of your land, whatever their origin.

7. Your presence in Rome further demonstrates your communion with the universal Church. I am grateful to you for the attention you pay to the Magisterium and the work of the Bishop of Rome, which you help make known and understood. And I am also thinking of your concern for all the Churches, which the Second Vatican Council forcefully stated was incumbent on each of the successors of the Apostles (cf. Lumen gentium LG 23 and Christus Dominus CD 6).

I know that your Dioceses remain atached to their great missionary tradition and that, by virtue of ancient or more recent ties, they maintain lively relations with other particular Churches, especially the young Churches frequently founded by missionaries from your regions, or the ancient Churches that are coming to life again and hoping for the effective exchange of gifts for which I have often appealed. This has already been expressed in the Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops, of which I have announced a new session.

Your communion with the whole Church is also expressed in the General Synods, such as the one being prepared precisely on the episcopal ministry, after reflections on the laity, priests and consecrated life.

8. Important tasks await you in the months and years to come. World Youth Day will soon be held in Paris after all the Dioceses in France have gathered young people from the whole world. I am grateful to everyone who is working for the success of this meeting, because these gatherings inspire great hope: young people share their approaches to faith in Christ, who calls them to follow him: “Come and see” (Jn 1,39).

This event, to be held next August, is part of the direct preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which started with a renewed reflection on “Jesus Christ, the one Saviour of the world, yesterday, today and for ever” (cf. Heb He 13,8). Help the faithful to rediscover their Baptism and the universal call to holiness, to strengthen their faith and witness, to intensify the catechesis of every age group, to pray confidently to the Blessed Virgin, with whom “the Church with reverence enters more intimately into the supreme mystery of the Incarnation (Lumen gentium LG 62)” (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 40-43). And the Jubilee must be marked by a new effort at evangelization (cf. ibid., nn. 21, 40).

9. Dear Brothers, as of the Bishops of France begin their ad limina visits, I assure you of my deep communion in prayer and my firm hope for the future of your Dioceses, in which there is much lively generosity, despite the trials. May the Lord Jesus Christ give you joy in serving him as you lead in his name the diocesan Churches entrusted to your care! May the Blessed Virgin and all the saints of France intercede for you!

I warmly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, Pastors of the Central Apostolic Region, to all those who with you give life to the Church, and to your compatriots.



TO INTERNATIONAL Conference on Space Research,

University of Padua, Italy

Saturday, 11 January 1997

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to welcome the distinguished participants in the International Conference on Space Research which has just concluded its meeting at the University of Padua on the theme, “The Three Galileos: The Man, the Spacecraft, the Telescope”. You have concentrated your attention on recent scientific results from the spacecraft Galileo and on your expectations of future findings both from that spacecraft and from the Italian National Telescope, also named for Galileo and inaugurated just eight months ago at a site in the Canary Islands. I congratulate the scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration whose achievements have been solemnly recognized by the University of Padua, where the great physicist himself spent many fruitful years.

2. The spacecraft Galileo and the Italian National Telescope are both making significant contributions to the formation of a more comprehensive vision of the universe. Building on well-established experimental results, you and others around the world are perfecting a model which traces the whole evolution of the universe from an infinitesimal instant after the starting-point of time up to the present, and beyond, into the distant future. As never before man’s gaze is open to the wonders of the universe. And the marvel of it all is a constant call to ponder ever more seriously the greatness of man’s own destiny and his dependence upon the Creator. Thus, while we stand in awe before the vastness of the cosmos and the dynamism which pervades it, our hearts echo with certain fascinating and fundamental questions which continue to challenge humanity at the dawn of the new millennium.

3. The participation of the Vatican Observatory in your work is a practical sign of the Church’s appreciation of the particular genius, objectivity, self-discipline and respect for truth which scientists bring to the exploration of the universe. Your dedication to scientific research constitutes a veritable vocation at the service of the human family, a vocation which the Church greatly honours and esteems. That vocation is all the more fruitful when it helps us to ac- knowledge the link between the beauty and order of the universe and the dignity of the human person — reflections of the creative majesty of God. The more men and women of science engage in rigorous research to penetrate the laws of the universe, the more insistent becomes the question of meaning and purpose, the more pressing the demand for contemplative reflection which cannot help but lead to a profound appreciation of the sense of man’s transcendence over the world, and of God over man (cf. Address at UNESCO, 2 June 1980, n. 22).

Through you, who have kindly wished to share the deliberations of your conference with me, I address an appeal to all your colleagues in the various fields of scientific investigation: Make every effort to respect the primacy of ethics in your work; always be concerned with the moral implications of your methods and your discoveries. It is my prayer that scientists will never forget that the cause of humanity is authentically served only if knowledge is joined to conscience.

4. Ladies and gentlemen, in concluding these brief remarks I confide to you my hope that the research which brings you so close to the marvellous mysteries of the universe will enkindle in you an ever deeper appreciation of God’s power and wisdom. May your discoveries contribute to the building of a society ever more respectful of all that is truly human. May the Lord of heaven and earth bless you all abundantly!






Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Your Dean, Ambassador Joseph Amichia, has just presented to me your cordial greetings with his usual serenity and graciousness. He has done this for the last time, since after more than twenty-five years he will soon return definitively to his beloved Côte-d'Ivoire. In your name I would like to offer to him, to his wife and family and to all his fellow-citizens, our best wishes for a future which will enable them to realize their most cherished aspirations.

To all of you, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I offer cordial thanks for your greetings and good wishes; and I am grateful for the signs of appreciation which you so often show for the international activity of the Holy See. I will shortly have the opportunity to greet you personally and to express to you my sentiments of esteem. Through you, I would also like to send my affectionate and prayerful good wishes to the leaders of your countries and to your fellow-citizens. May the year 1997 mark a decisive stage in the establishment of peace and a prosperity more fully shared by all the peoples of the earth!

In my Message for the 1997 World Day of Peace, I invited all people of good will to "set out together on a true pilgrimage of peace, starting from the concrete situation in which we find ourselves" (No. 1). How better to begin if not with you, Ladies and Gentlemen, who are expert and attentive observers of international life? At the beginning of this year, what is the state of hope and peace? This is the question which, together with you, I would like to answer.

2. Hope. Very fortunately, hope is not absent from the horizon of humanity. Disarmament has taken important steps forward with the signing of the Treaty completely banning nuclear testing, a Treaty which the Holy See also signed, in the hope that it will be accepted by everyone. From now on the nuclear arms race and the proliferation of nuclear weapons have been banned from society.

This must not however make us less vigilant with regard to the production of increasingly sophisticated conventional and chemical weapons, or indifferent to the problems caused by anti- personnel mines. Regarding the latter, I express the hope that a juridically binding agreement with appropriate provisions for inspection will see the light of day at the meeting scheduled in Brussels next June. Everything must be done in order to build a safer world!

Almost all Governments, meeting in Istanbul under the auspices of the United Nations Organization for the Second Conference on Human Settlements and in Rome for the World Summit of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, have made concrete commitments with a view to better reconciling development, economic growth and solidarity. The right to housing and the equitable sharing of the earth's resources emerged as priorities for the future: these represent decisive steps forward.

We must likewise take note of the agreement reached at the end of the year in Abidjan for peace in Sierra Leone, while at the same time expressing the hope that disarmament and the demobilization of the armed forces will take place without delay. May the same come true in neighbouring Liberia, itself engaged in a difficult process of normalization and of preparation for free elections.

In Guatemala , peace seems finally to be at hand after too many years of fratricidal conflict. The agreement signed on 29 December last, by creating a climate of trust, should favour the settlement, in unity and with courage, of the many social problems still to be resolved.

Turning our gaze towards Asia, we await the date of 1 July 1997, when Hong Kong will return under the sovereignty of Mainland China. By reason of the size and vitality of the Catholic community living in the territory, the Holy See will follow with very particular interest this new stage, trusting that respect for differences, for the fundamental rights of the human person and for the rule of law will accompany this new journey forward, prepared for by patient negotiations.

3. In the second place, peace. It still seems precarious in more than one place on the earth, and, in any event, it is always at the mercy of the self-interest and the lack of proper foresight on the part of many leaders of international life.

Quite near to us, Algeria continues to wallow in an abyss of unprecedented violence, giving a bleak impression of an entire people taken hostage. The Catholic Church in Algeria paid a heavy price last year, with the barbaric murder of the seven Trappist Monks of Notre-Dame de l'Atlas, and the brutal death of Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran. Cyprus, still split in two, awaits a political solution, which ought to be worked out in a European context which would offer it a broader variety of possibilities. And then, on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean, the Middle East continues to search uncertainly for the road to peace. Everything must be tried to ensure that the sacrifices and efforts of these past years, since the Madrid Conference, will not have been in vain. For Christians in particular, this "Holy Land" remains the place where there first was heard the message of love and reconciliation: "Peace on earth to men of good will!"

All people together, Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs, believers and non-believers, must create and reinforce peace: the peace of treaties, the peace of trust, the peace in people's hearts! In this part of the world, as elsewhere, peace cannot be just nor can it long endure unless it rests on sincere dialogue between equal partners, with respect for each other's identity and history, unless it rests on the right of peoples to the free determination of their own destiny, upon their independence and security. There can be no exception! And all those who have accompanied the parties most directly involved in the difficult Middle East peace process must redouble their efforts to ensure that the modest capital of trust already accumulated is not wasted, but rather increases and bears interest.

In recent few months, a hotbed of tension has dramatically enveloped the entire region of the Great Lakes in Africa. Burundi, Rwanda and Zaire in particular have found themselves trapped in the deadly cogs of unbridled violence and ethnic rivalry, which have plunged entire nations into human tragedies which should leave no one indifferent. No solution will ever be worked out until the political and military leaders are seated around the negotiating table, with the help of the international community, in order to study together how their necessary and unavoidable relationships should take shape. The international community, and I include here the regional organizations of Africa, must not only find a remedy for the indifference recently shown with regard to the humanitarian tragedies which the entire world has witnessed, but also increase its political activity lest new tragic developments, the carving up of territories or the displacement of populations, create situations which no one will be able to control. The security of a country or region cannot be founded on the accumulation of risks.

In Sri Lanka, hopes for peace have been shattered in the face of fighting which has again devastated entire regions of the Island. The persistence of these clashes is an obvious obstacle to economic progress. There too negotiations must be taken up anew in order to arrive at a cease-fire which will allow the future to be planned in a more serene manner.

Looking finally at Europe we can see that the forging of European Institutions and the deepening of a European concept of security and defence should ensure for the citizens of this continent's countries a more stable future, because it will rest on a patrimony of shared values: respect for human rights, the primacy of liberty and democracy, the rule of law, the right to economic and social progress. All of this, of course, with a view to the integral development of the human person. But Europeans too must remain vigilant, for it is always possible to drift off course, as the Balkan crisis has made clear: persisting ethnic tensions, exaggerated nationalism, intolerance of every sort constitute permanent threats. The hotbeds of tension remaining in the Caucasus tell us that the contagion of these negative influences can only be checked by the establishment of a true culture of peace and of a true education in peace. For the moment, in too many areas of Europe one has the impression that people are coexisting rather than cooperating. We must never forget what one of post-war Europe's "Founding Fathers" wrote as the inscription to his memoirs, I am quoting here Jean Monnet: "We do not make coalitions of States, we unite people!"

4. This rapid panorama of the international situation suffices to show that between the progress already made and the problems still unresolved, political leaders have a broad field of action. And what the international community perhaps lacks most of all today is not written Conventions or forums for self-expression — there is a profusion of these! — but a moral law and the courage to abide by it.

The community of nations, like every human society, cannot escape this basic principle: it must be regulated by a rule of law, valid for all of them without exception. Every juridical system, as we know, has as its foundation and end the common good. And this applies to the international community as well: the good of all and the good of the whole! This is what makes possible equitable solutions in which gain is not made at the expense of others, even when those who benefit are the majority: justice is for all, without injustice being inflicted on anyone. The function of law is to give each person his due, to give him what is owed to him in justice. Law therefore has a strong moral implication. And international law itself is founded on values. The dignity of the person, or guaranteeing the rights of nations, for example, are moral principles before they are juridical norms. And this explains why it was philosophers and theologians who, between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, were the first theorists of international society and the precursors of an explicit recognition of ius gentium. Moreover, we cannot fail to note that international law is no longer a mere law between States, but rather tends more and more to bring individuals together by international definitions of human rights, of the international right to health care or the right to humanitarian aid, to mention but a few examples.

There is thus an urgent need to organize the post-Cold War peace and the post-1989 freedom on the foundation of moral values which are diametrically opposed to that law which would see the stronger, the richer or the bigger imposing on others their cultural models, economic diktats or ideological models. In this sense, attempts to form an international criminal justice system are evidence of real progress in the moral conscience of the nations. The development of humanitarian initiatives, whether intergovernmental or private, is also a positive sign of a re-awakening of solidarity in response to intolerable situations of violence or injustice. But, in this same regard, we must be careful to ensure that these acts of generosity do not rapidly become a kind of justice of the victors, or conceal ulterior motives of domination which would base decisions on concerns of spheres of influence, the preservation of control or the reconquest of trade markets.

For a long time international law has been a law of war and peace. I believe that it is called more and more to become exclusively a law of peace, conceived in justice and solidarity. And in this context morality must inspire law; morality can even assume a preparatory role in the making of law, to the extent that it shows the path of what is right and good.

5. Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, these are the reflections which I wished to share with you at the beginning of the New Year. Perhaps they can inspire your own reflection and activity in the service of justice, solidarity and peace between the nations which you represent.

In my prayers, I entrust to God the well-being and prosperity of your fellow citizens, the plans of your Governments for the spiritual and temporal good of their peoples, and the efforts of the international community to ensure that right and law prevail.

On our pilgrimage of peace, the Christmas star guides us and shows us mankind's true path as it invites us to follow the path of God.

May God bless you and your countries; may he grant you all a happy year!

13 January 1997




Saturday, 18 January 1997

1. I welcome you with great joy, dear students of the Capranica College, together with your former rector, the newly-ordained Bishop Luciano Pacomio, who has wished to accompany you once again to this annual meeting on the feast of your patroness, St Agnes.

I thank Your Excellency for your kind words to me and I express my deep gratitude for your service during these years in the Capranica community, which is particularly dear to the Pope because of the diligence with which for more than five centuries it has supported the formation of candidates for the priesthood and of young priests. I hope you can fruitfully dedicate to the service of the faithful of Mondovì those talents of mind and heart so appreciated by your dear students at the college.

2. I have reason to believe that the rector's episcopal ordination has instilled extra spiritual fervour in the entire community, calling everyone to reflect on the grace and demands of pastoral ministry in the Church.

Prompted by my priestly jubilee I too was invited to return to this meditation and to intensify it in recent months. The result of this reflection, made prayerfully in the sight of God, was the book Gift and Mystery. Today I would like to give you this witness, with the wish that you may always be full of gratitude for the priceless gift of the priesthood that the Lord has wished to offer you by calling you to be fully conformed to Christ, the High Priest and the Good Shepherd.

With the approach of the liturgical memorial of St Agnes, I invoke on each one of you and on the Capranica community the intercession of this young Roman girl. May she obtain for the former rector, who is now preparing to begin his new mission among the faithful of Mondovì, and for all the students of your College that unconditional fidelity to Christ which was radiant in her witness as a virgin and martyr.

For my part, I wish to support you with my prayers and my Apostolic Blessing, which I willingly extend to all those who are dear to you.





Saturday, 18 January 1997

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. I joyfully receive you as you make your ad limina visit. By your pilgrimage to the tombs of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and your meetings with the Successor of Peter and his collaborators, you will be encouraged in your episcopal mission. Christ, who never abandons his Church and guides her through his Spirit, will increase your hope so that she may be a sign of salvation in the world.

I thank Bishop Michel Saudreau of Le Havre, president of your Apostolic Region, for his words recalling the warm and attentive welcome of the French people during my recent visit to your country, and for his presentation of some of your joint pastoral approaches to help people discover God the Holy Trinity. Your efforts fit into the framework of preparations for the Great Jubilee.

2. In your quinquennial reports you point to the future of the clergy as one of your main concerns. The increase in the average age is a source of worry. The priests also share your anxiety, since they can foresee no replacement and sometimes find it difficult to deal with the many duties of the ministry. I understand your fears for the future of Christian communities, who need ordained ministers. However, I invite you to have hope, in particular by meditating on the Council's Decree on the ministry and life of priests “Presbyterorum ordinis”, whose 30th anniversary we celebrated in 1995. This will be an opportunity for all who have received the priesthood to take a new look at the mission entrusted to them by the Lord and “to rekindle the gift of God that is within them through the laying on of hands” (cf. 2Tm 1,6).

With you, I would therefore like to encourage priests, particularly your diocesan priests, to strengthen and renew their spirit of diocesan priesthood. Through their spiritual life they will discover in the exercise of true caritas pastoralis a way of personal holiness, zeal for their ministry and a strong incentive to young men who are hesitating to commit themselves to the priesthood.

3. The Apostle’s exhortation to Timothy reminds us of the close link that exists between consecration and mission. Without this unity, the ministry would be merely a social function. Called and chosen by the Lord, priests share in his mission of building up the Church, the Body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis PO 1). “In the Church and on behalf of the Church, priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, the Head and Shepherd” (Pastores dabo vobis PDV 15). Taken from among their brethren, they are first of all men of God; it is important that they do not neglect their spiritual life, for all pastoral and theological activity “must in fact begin with prayer” (St Albert the Great, Commentary on Mystical Theology, 15), which is “something important that makes the soul grow and unites it to Jesus” (St Therese of Lisieux, Manuscrits autobiographiques, C, fol. 25).

4. In one's daily intimate relationship with Christ that unifies life and ministry, it is right to give precedence to the Eucharist, which contains the whole spiritual treasure of the Church. Each day it configures the priest to Christ, the High Priest whose minister he is. And in the celebration of the Eucharist as in that of all the other sacraments, the priest is united with his Bishop and “so makes him present in a certain sense in individual assemblies of the faithful” (Presbyterorum ordinis PO 5); he gives the People of God its cohesion and helps it grow, by gathering it around the two tables of the Word and of the Eucharist and by offering men the support of divine mercy and tenderness. The Liturgy of the Hours is the basis of his day and shapes his spiritual life. Meditation on the Word of God, “lectio divina” and mental prayer lead him to live in intimacy with the Lord who reveals the mysteries of salvation to those who stay close to him, following his beloved disciple’s example (Jn 13,25).

In God’s presence, the priest finds the strength to live the essential requirements of his ministry. He acquires the necessary flexibility to do the will of the One who sent him, by being constantly available to the Spirit’s action, for it is he who gives growth and we who cooperate with him (cf. 1Co 3,5-9). According to the promise he made on the day of his ordination, this availability is made concrete through his obedience to the Bishop who, in the name of the Church, sends him to be Christ’s representative among his brothers and sisters, despite his weakness and frailty. The Lord speaks through the priest and reveals himself to men.

5. In contemporary society which prefers certain erroneous concepts of sexuality, priestly or consecrated celibacy ( not unlike the commitment made in the sacrament of marriage) prophetically recalls the profound meaning of human life. Chastity disposes those who are committed to it to put their life in God’s hands, making an offering of all their inner abilities to the Lord, for the service of the Church and the world’s salvation. By “perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”, the priest reinforces his mystical union with Christ to whom he gives himself “in a new and excellent way” and “with undivided heart” (Presbyterorum ordinis PO 16). Thus in his being and in his action, he freely makes the gift and sacrifice of himself in response to the gift and sacrifice of his Lord. Perfect chastity leads the priest to live a universal love and to become attentive to each of his brethren. This attitude is the source of incomparable spiritual fruitfulness “to which no other physical fertility can be compared” and in some way makes him “better fitted for a broader acceptance of fatherhood in Christ” (Presbyterorum ordinis PO 16).

6. Today, the mission is often difficult and its forms are quite varied. The small number of priests means that they are frequently pushed to the limits of their strength. I am familiar with the poor and difficult conditions in which your country’s priests are willing to live their mission. I salute their perseverance and ask them not to neglect their own health. It is natural for Bishops, who are already concerned about the quality of their lives, to be increasingly so. May priests not lose heart and may they reach out to people in order to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples of them all! It is incumbent upon them to ask the laity to fulfil their specific mission, inspiring in each, according to his charism, an appropriate participation in the liturgy and catechesis, or a responsible involvement in movements and different ecclesial activities, for the good of the Church. Thus priests will live their ministry in deep union with all the members of the People of God, who are called to take part in the common mission round their Bishop. A new apostolic spirit will spring from this complementarity.

7. Contemporary man thirsts for the truth; human research is not sufficient to fulfil their deep desires. Those who are consecrated must be the first to present Christ to the world, by preparing and celebrating the sacraments, by explaining the Scriptures, by catechizing young people and adults, by guiding Christian groups. Teaching the Christian mystery also has an essential place in their ministry. Indeed, how will our contemporaries, challenged by cultures and sciences which ask important questions of the faith, be able to follow Christ if they lack a basic knowledge of dogma and a strong spiritual foundation? Sunday homilies should therefore be prepared with great care, prayer and study, as they will help the faithful live their faith in their daily lives and enter into dialogue with their brothers and sisters.

8. The priestly mission is so important that it requires continuing formation. I encourage you in your Dioceses, your Apostolic Regions, or at the national level to allow your close collaborators time for spiritual and theological renewal. The three preparatory years for the Great Jubilee provide a particularly suitable framework, by proposing that we direct our gaze in turn to Christ, to the Holy Spirit and to the Father.

The Church in France has a wealth of holy pastors who are models for today’s priests. I am thinking specifically of the Curé of Ars, patron of the world’s priests, the members of the French School, St Francis de Sales, who offers a sound approach to the spiritual life, the practice of virtues and pastoral governance (cf. Introduction to the Devout Life), and, in this century, the many pastors who are still a true inspiration to priests today. Moreover, you have an ecclesial heritage to keep alive. France has marvellous editions of patristic and spiritual authors, which must be acknowledged and maintained. It is a treasure of faith that can foster the spiritual life and strengthen one's mission. This heritage helps one to meet contemporary demands in a new way.

9. Priestly fellowship is essential within the diocesan presbyterate; it brings each priest support and comfort; it enables them to pray together, to share the joys and hopes of the ministry and to welcome their brothers in the priesthood with sensitivity, while respecting a legitimate diversity of charisms and pastoral options. I urge you and all the members of the clergy to be close to priests and deacons who are experiencing difficult personal or pastoral situations. They need very special help. I am thinking again of those who are elderly and no longer have the strength to undertake a full-time ministry. Most of them can provide many services and be good advisers to their confrères.

10. You have gradually reinstated the permanent diaconate, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, and you have given importance to the diaconate in your Dioceses. Deacons are ordained “for service” (cf. Lumen gentium LG 29) to the ecclesial community and to all people, in trusting collaboration with their Bishop and with all pastors. By preaching, by celebrating baptisms and marriages, by exercising their ministry in many ecclesial services, they guide the spiritual growth of their brothers and sisters. By their professional life, by their responsibilities in society and in the family, they make themselves servants in the serving Church and give concrete expression to her charitable concern for all. In carrying out their mission, those who are married have the important support of their wife and children.

11. You also stressed the influence of monasteries and spiritual centres. In a world marked by indifference and the loss of religious sense, our contemporaries must rediscover the value of silence, which makes it possible to turn to the Lord, to unify their life and to give it its full meaning. For this rediscovery, monks and nuns, as well as men and women religious as a whole, have a leading role to play. By a life given entirely to God and to their brethren, they show the world in a prophetic way that Christ alone gives life and that only an existence based on spiritual and moral values is a source of true happines (cf. Vita consecrata VC 15). But even more, consecrated persons seek to reproduce in themselves “the form of life that the Son of God made his own when he came into the world” (Lumen gentium LG 44). This configuration to Christ’s mystery achieves the Confessio Trinitatis proper to religious life.

Your reports demonstrate the essential role played by men and women religious in the pastoral and charitable life of your Dioceses. I acknowledge their devotion and generosity, particuarly with young people, the sick, those who are furthest from the Church and the most deprived.

12. At the close of our meeting, I would like to recall the Marian dimension of all Christian life, and most particularly of the priestly life. At the foot of the Cross where the Church was born, the disciple welcomes the Saviour’s Mother. Together they receive the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, so that the mystery of the Redemption may be proclaimed to the world (cf. Redemptoris Mater RMA 45).

Lastly, my thoughts turn to the faithful in your communities. Please convey to those who are involved in the Church’s mission through prayer and action, the priests, deacons and religious as well as all the Catholics of your Dioceses, the Pope’s cordial greeting and encouragement, and assure them of my prayer that, despite current problems, they will continue to hope! I also ask you to convey my affectionate greeting to the Bishops emeritus of your region.

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

Speeches 1997 - Saturday, 11 January 1997