Speeches 1997 - Sunday, 28 September 1997





Tuesday, 30 September 1997

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. I am pleased to receive you today, Pastors of Godís Church in Spain, from the metropolitan sees of Santiago, Burgos, Zaragoza and Pamplona, and the suffragan Dioceses. These are Churches of an ancient, rich spiritual and missionary tradition, sanctified by the blood of many martyrs and enriched by the solid virtues of many Christian families which have produced abundant priestly and religious vocations. You have come to Rome to make your ad limina visit, a venerable institution that helps keep alive the close bonds of communion that unite each Bishop with Peterís Successor. Your presence here also enables me to feel close to the priests, religious and faithful of the particular Churches over which you preside and some of which I have had the opportunity to visit during my pastoral Journeys to your country.

I thank Archbishop ElŪas Yanes Alvarez of Zaragoza, President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, for the kind words he has addressed to me on behalf of you all, expressing your affection and esteem, and at the same time informing me of your pastoral worries and projects. I respond to all this by praying to the Lord that faith, hope and love and the courageous witness of all Christians will always flourish in your Dioceses and throughout Spain, in conformity with the heritage passed down from the time of the Apostles.

2. Encouraged by the Lordís promises and the strength his Spirit gives us, as Successors of the Apostles you are called to be the first to undertake the mission he has entrusted to his Church, even if you have to face and be willing to bear the weight of the cross, which in a society like ours today can take a variety of forms.

Both individually and collegially through the Episcopal Conference or other ecclesial institutions, you share in the analysis of the expectations and achievements of Spanish society today, attempting to interpret them in the light of the Gospel and to orient society itself in the faith. Consequently, as you face the social and cultural transformation that is taking place, as you face the paradox of a world that is aware of the urgent need for solidarity but at the same time experiences political, social, economic and racial pressures and divisions (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 4), you seek to promote in your pastoral ministry a new social order, based increasingly on ethical values and inspired by the Christian message.

Listening to what "the Spirit says to the Churches" (Ap 2,7), you are also aware of the duty to make a calm, open and comprehensive discernment of the various circumstances and events, initiatives and projects, without neglecting the serious problems and deepest aspirations of society as a whole.

Your pastoral ministry is addressed to the people of our time, the faithful who actively participate in the life of the diocesan community as well as those who say they are non-practising or indifferent, and those who, although calling themselves Catholics, are not consistent in their moral behaviour. For this reason, I encourage you to persevere, tirelessly and without discouragement, in your task of teaching and proclaiming Christís Gospel to men (cf. Christus Dominus CD 11). In presenting Christian teaching to enlighten the conscience of the faithful, the Bishop must do so using suitable language and methods (cf. ibid., n. 13), as the Lord did with the disciples at Emmaus, so that the Scriptures may be understood and thus the Magisterium will not remain sterile or a voice that is not heard by contemporary society, which is so visibly marked by secularism. This is why you must not despair nor cease to devise and implement appropriate pastoral programmes. Although your responsibilities are very great, bear in mind that the Lordís Spirit gives you the strength you need.

As leaders of the particular Churches, be fathers and shepherds for each one of the faithful, seeking to be especially close to the neediest and the marginalized. The pastoral visit, prescribed by ecclesiastical discipline (cf. can. 396-398, ) will help you to be present, close to and merciful among your faithful, in order to proclaim constantly and everywhere the truth which sets them free (Jn 8,32) and to foster the growth of the Christian life. This closeness to everyone must be expressed in a visible and concrete way by making yourselves accessible to those who turn to you with trust and love because they feel the need for guidance, help and advice, and by following St Paulís counsel to Titus that a Bishop must be "hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy and self-controlled" (Tt 1,8).

3. Priests and deacons respectively are close co-workers in your mission to proclaim the Word throughout your Diocese, to celebrate the divine liturgy in its churches and chapels, to manifest the union of all the members of Godís People and to foster active, attentive charity. They take part in your most important mission and, in the celebration of all the sacraments, they are hierarchically united to you in various ways. Thus, in a certain sense they make you present in every one of the communities of the faithful (cf. Presbyterorum ordinis PO 5).

The Second Vatican Council, following the Churchís tradition, studied in particular depth the relationship of Bishops with their presbyterate. You must devote your greatest efforts and energy to your priests. I therefore encourage you to be always close to each of them, to maintain a relationship of true priestly friendship with them, in the manner of the Good Shepherd. Help them to be men of regular prayer, to experience the silence of contemplation despite the noise and distraction of many activities, the devout, daily celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, which the Church has entrusted to them for the good of all Christís Body. The priest's prayer life is a requirement of his pastoral ministry, if Christian communities are to be enriched with the witness of the prayerful priest who proclaims the mystery of God by his words and by his life.

Be concerned with the particular situation of each priest, to help them continue with joyful hope on the path of priestly holiness. Offer them suitable assistance in the difficult situations they might encounter. May none of them lack what he needs to live worthily his sublime vocation and ministry!

As I had the opportunity to recall in the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, continuing formation for the clergy is of the utmost importance. I am pleased to observe that my call for this has been accepted, and in the different Dioceses activities are being planned so that the priest can respond with the pastoral training required by the circumstances and the present moment. This formation "is an intrinsic requirement of the gift and sacramental ministry received" (n. 70), since with ordination, "begins that response which, as a fundamental choice, must be espressed anew and reaffirmed through the years of [the] priesthood in countless other responses, all of them rooted in and enlivened by that Ďyesí of Holy Orders" (ibid.). The Apostle Peterís exhortation: "Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election" (2P 1,10), is a pressing invitiaton not to neglect this aspect.

In this regard, the document Sacerdotes dŪa a dŪa, ("Priests day by day"), prepared by your Episcopal Commission for the Clergy and dedicated to integral continuing formation, will certainly help to strengthen this formation in your country, since it is a question of an activity that the priest must take up to be consistent with himself, and it is rooted in the pastoral charity that must be present throughout his life. It is the responsibility of every priest, his Bishop and the ecclesial community he serves, to provide the necessary means for him to devote some of his time to formation in the various fields throughout his life, without allowing this important duty to be hindered by the various and numerous activities that pastoral life involves, or by the commitments that characterizes the priestly mission.

4. On the other hand, the seminary, where future priests are formed, must be the focus of privileged attention on the part of the Bishop. The vocational crisis, which in recent years has caused a noticeable decrease in the number of seminarians, seems to be passing, and statistics are hopeful in this respect. We give thanks to God for this, but we must continue insistently to implore the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his Church. In recent times, the above-mentioned crisis has also caused the disappearance of minor seminaries, or, in some Dioceses, their transformation. Highly recommended by the Second Vatican Council, they must be re-established wherever possible (cf. Optatam totius OT 3), since they help the vocational discernment of adolescents and young people, providing them at the same time with an integral and coherent formation based on intimacy with Christ. In this way those who are called are prepared to respond joyfully and generously to the gift of their vocation.

The Bishop is ultimately responsible for the seminary since one day, by the imposition of hands, he will admit to the diocesan priesthood those who have been formed there. When a Diocese is without a seminary, it is important that the Bishop and his co-workers remain in frequent contact with the centre where they send their candidates, just as they should make this institution, which is so vital to the Diocese, known to the faithful and especially to the young.

In the seminary a true family spirit should be encouraged, a prelude to the brotherhood of diocesan priests, so that each student, with his own sensitivity, can mature in his vocation, take on commitments and be formed in a priestís particular community, spiritual and intellectual life under the wise and prudent guidance of a formation team suited to the task. It is essential to introduce seminarians to intimacy with Christ, Model of pastors, through prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments. At the same time and in the context of integral formation, it just as important to teach them to become increasingly responsible for their daily actions and to acquire self-control; these are essential aspects for the practice of the theological and cardinal virtues, which in the future they will have to present to the faithful by their own example.

Although seminary formation must not only be theoretical, since seminarians also carry out pastoral activities in parishes and apostolic movements, which encourage them to be rooted in the diocesan community, the priority at this stage is study, so that they may acquire a sound intellectual, philosophical and theological preparation, essential for missionaries who proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to their brothers and sisters. If this training is not acquired during their seminary years, experience shows that it is very difficult, if not virtually impossible, to make up for it later. On the other hand, it is necessary to plan and provide for appropriate advanced studies for young priests who have an aptitude for it, so that they may devote themselves to research and thus assure continuity in seminary teaching or in other ecclesiastical centres. Some priests should also be trained in vocational discernment and spiritual direction, necessary for rounding out the seminary's formation programme.

5. Many factors, among which the prevailing relativism and the myth of materialistic progress as primary values must be pointed out, as you mentioned in your Plan de Acciůn pastoral de la Conferencia Episcopal EspaŮola para el cuatrienio 1997-2000 (cf. 45), such as the fear of young people to make definitive commitments, have had a negative influence on the number of vocations. With this situation, we must trust in the Lord first of all, and at the same time seriously commit ourselves to creating in every ecclesial community a spritual and pastoral environment which fosters the manifestation of the Lordís call to the priestly or consecrated life in the diversity of forms which are found in the Church, encouraging young people to offer their lives totally to the service of the Gospel.

The spiritual life and the daily example of priests themselves is very influential, as is the favourable environment of Christian families, which can help make religious vocations abundant in your particular Churches, so spiritually rich and fruitful until a few years ago.

6. For years some of your Dioceses have endured the suffering of terrorist attacks on peopleís lives and freedom. I follow these tragic events with deep sorrow and with you I would like to express once again the most categorical, unmitigated condemnation of this unjustified and unjustifiable agression. In this regard, teach the way of forgiveness, of living together in brotherhood, solidarity and justice, which are the true pillars of national peace and propserity! I encourage you, with your faithful, to collaborate as much as possible in totally and radically eliminating this violence, and, in God's name, I ask those who perpetuate it to renounce it as a pretext for political action and vindication.

7. "The Compostela Jubilee Year: Gateway to the Holy Year 2000". With this motto the Church in Spain invites people to take part in that ecclesial event, deeply rooted in history, which will take place in the year 1999 and must be an effective preparation for the Great Jubilee of the third Christian millennium. The aim of the Compostela Year is primarily religious and is expressed in the pilgrimage which takes the so-called "Santiago Way". The spiritual fruits of the St James' Years, in which so many pilgrims have come to Compostela from Spain, Europe and other parts of the world to receive the "perdonanza" are well known. I therefore encourage you to prepare this event well, so that it is a true "Year of Grace" in which Christian faith and witness is fostered through continuous conversion and the assiduous preaching of Godís Word; may prayer and charity promote the holiness of the faithful, and may hope in the good thing to come enliven the continual evangelization of society, which can be the great spiritual and apostolic fruit of this jubilee year in harmony with the rich tradition of the past.

8. Dear Brothers, once again I assure you of my deep communion in prayer and my firm hope in the future of your Dioceses, which, despite their trials, show great vitality. May the Lord Jesus Christ grant you the joy of serving him by leading in his name the particular Churches he has entrusted to you. May the Virgin most holy and the patron saints of each locality accompany and protect you always.

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to the faithful of your Dioceses.




Tuesday, 30 September 1997

Dear Young Consecrated Men and Women,

1. It is a great comfort for me to meet you, gathered here in Rome from all over the world, on the occasion of the International Congress of Young Religious. I greet Cardinal Eduardo MartŪnez Somalo, Prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, and I thank him for the cordial words which he has just addressed to me on behalf of you all. I greet Fr Camilo Maccise and Mother Giuseppina Fragasso, Presidents respectively of the Union of Superiors and the Union of Superiors General. They organized todayís meeting, which, for the first time, at a significant moment in the history of the Church and of consecrated life, gathers young people from many religious families. I address my greetings to the superiors and superiors general of the various institutes represented here.

I offer you special greetings, dear young consecrated men and women. Some of you have conveyed the sentiments of all, and have shown me the expectations and generous desires that enliven your youth consecrated to God and to the Church. Your presence here, so numerous and festive, cannot fail to recall the image, still fresh in my mind and dear to my heart, of the 12th World Youth Day celebrated in Paris last August. Like that enthusiastic crowd of young people, you represent, through consecration to God who "gladdens our youth", the rich and exalting manifestation of the spiritís perennial vitality. One could say that young people are now in fashion: young people in Paris, young people last Saturday in Bologna. We will now see in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro.

2. I note with pleasure a motif of continuity between the Paris event and the present Congress, happily highlighted by the themes of the two meetings. In fact, if the World Youth Dayís theme was suggested by the words from Johnís Gospel: "Teacher, where are you staying?" "Come and see" (Jn 1,38-39), the theme of your congress indicates the acceptance of Jesusí invitation to the disciples. This culminated in the paschal proclamation of the decisive discovery of the Risen One: "We have seen the Lord" (Jn 20,25).

Before the world you are privileged witnesses of this formidable truth: the Lord is risen and makes himself the traveling companion of the pilgrim man on life's ways, until the paths of time cross the way of the Eternal One, when "we shall see him as he is" (1Jn 3,2).

Consecrated life thus has a prophetic charism because it extends between the experience of "having seen the Lord" and the certain hope of seeing him again "as he is". It is a journey that you have begun and it will gradually lead you to take on the same sentiments as Christ Jesus (cf. Phil Ph 2,5). Let the Father, through the Spiritís action, form in your hearts and minds the same sentiments of his Son. You are called to vibrate with his passion for the kingdom, and like him, to offer your energy, your time, your youth and your life for the Father and for the brothers and sisters. In this way you will learn true wisdom of life.

This wisdom, dear young people, is the savour of Godís mystery and the taste of divine intimacy, but it is also the beauty of being together in his name; it is the experience of a chaste, poor and obedient life, lived for his glory; it is love for the little ones and for the poor, and the transfiguration of life in the light of the Beatitudes. This is the secret of the joy of so many religious, a joy unknown to the world, and which you have the duty to communicate to your brothers and sisters through the shining witness of your consecration.

3. Dear men and women religious, what spiritual riches there are in your history! What a precious heritage you have in your hands! But remember that all this was given to you not only for your perfection, but also that you put it at the disposal of the Church and of humanity, that it might be a cause of wisdom and happiness for everyone.

This is what St Theresa of Lisieux did, with her "way of spiritual childhood", which is a true theology of love. Young like you, she succeeded in transmitting to so many souls the beauty of trust and abandonment in God, of the simplicity of Gospel childhood, of intimacy with the Lord, from which fraternal communion and service to neighbour spontaneously spring. The simple but great Theresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face will be proclaimed Doctor of the Church precisely for this reason: because with the "theology of the heart" she was able to indicate, in terms accessible to all, a sure way on which to seek God and to meet him.

This is also the experience of many of your brothers and sisters of the past and the present. They have known how to incarnate, in silence and in a hidden life, the typically apostolic soul of religious life, and in particular, the extraordinary capacity of consecrated persons to combine the intensity of contemplation and love of God with the fervour of love for the poor and needy, and for all who are frequently marginalized and rejected by the world.

4. Your congress is not only a meeting of young people and for young religious, it is a prophetic proclamation and witness for all. You have come from every part of the world to reflect on the central themes of the consecrated life: vocation, spirituality, communion and mission. Moreover, you intend to share you experiences in a context of prayer and joyous fraternity. In this way, the consecrated life shines forth vividly as part of the Church's ever youthful spirit.

Because you are many and young, you offer a vibrant and contemporary image of the consecrated life. Certainly, we are all aware of the challenges which face that life, especially in certain countries. Among these are the ageing of men and women religious, the reorganization of apostolates, the diminishing presence and the numeric drop in vocations. However, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit will not cease to stir up and encourage in many young people such as yourselves the call to total dedication to God in the traditional forms of the religious life, as well as in forms that are new and original.

5. Dear friends, I thank you for coming to see me. By your enthusiasm and your joy, even more by your age, you rejuvenate the Church. I would like you to read in my heart the affection and esteem I have for each one of you. The Pope loves you, he trusts in you, he prays for you and he is sure that you will be capable, not only of remembering and telling the glorious history which has preceded you, but also of continuing to build it in the future which the Holy Spirit is preparing for you (cf. Vita consecrata VC 110).

As we prepare, in the context of preparations for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, to enter the year of the Holy Spirit, we entrust the great gift of the consecrated life precisely to the Spirit of the Father and the Son. We include all those who generously dedicate themselves throughout the world to following the poor, chaste and obedient Christ. Let us invoke the intercession of the holy founders and foundresses of your orders and congregations; let us espeically implore the help of Mary, the consecrated Virgin.

6. Mary, young daughter of Israel, you who immediately said "yes" to the Father's proposal, make these young people attentive and obedient to Godís will. You who lived virginity as a total acceptance of divine love, make them discover the beauty and freedom of a virginal life. You who possessed nothing to be enriched only by God and his Word, free their hearts from every worldly attachment, so that the kingdom of God may be their only treasure, their only passion.

Young daughter of Zion, who remained ever virgin in your heart filled with love for God, keep in them and in all of us the perennial youthfulness of spirit and of love. Virgin of sorrows, who stood at the foot of your Son's Cross, generate in each one of your children, as in the Apostle John, love that is stronger than death. Virgin Mother of the Risen One, make us all witnesses to the joy of Christ who lives for ever.

I bless you all from my heart.

October 1997





To my Venerable Brother Serafim de Sousa Ferreira e Silva

Bishop of Leiria-FŠtima
Fraternal greetings in Christ the Lord!

The 80th anniversary of that 13 October 1917, when the miraculous "dance of the sun" occurred in the sky, is an excellent occasion for me to turn in spirit to that shrine, since I cannot do so in person, with a prayer to the Mother of God for the preparation of the Christian people ó and in a certain way of all humanity ó for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and with an exhortation to families and ecclesial communities to recite the Rosary daily.

On the threshold of the third millennium, as we observe the signs of the times in this 20th century, FŠtima is certainly one of the greatest, among other reasons because its message announces many of the later events and conditions them on the response to its appeals: signs such as the two world wars, but also great gatherings of nations and peoples marked by dialogue and peace; the oppression and turmoil suffered by various nations and peoples, but also the voice and the opportunities given to peoples and individuals who in the meantime have emerged on the international scene; the crises, desertions and many sufferings of the Church's members, but also a renewed and intense feeling of solidarity and mutual dependence in Christís Mystical Body, which is being strengthened in all the baptized, in accordance with their vocation and mission; the separation from and abandonment of God by individuals and societies, but also the in-breaking of the Spirit of Truth in hearts and communities to the point of sacrifice and martyrdom to save "Godís image and likeness in man" (cf. Gn Gn 1,27), to save man from himself. Among these and other signs of the times, as I said, FŠtima stands out and helps us see the hand of God, our providential Guide and patient and compassionate Father also in the 20th century.

In analyzing the human separation from God in the light of FŠtima, we should recall that it is not the first time that, feeling rejected and despised by man but respecting his freedom, God allows man to feel distant from him, with the consequent obscuring of life which causes darkness to fall on history, but afterwards provides a refuge. This already happened on Calvary, when God Incarnate was crucified and died at the hands of men. And what did Christ do? After invoking the mercy of heaven with the words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lc 23,34), he entrusted humanity to Mary, his Mother: "Woman, behold, your son" (Jn 19,26). A symbolic interpretation of this Gospel event enables us to see reflected in him the final scene of the well-known and common experience of the son who, feeling misunderstood, confused and rebellious, leaves his father's house to wander into the night.... And his motherís mantle protects him from the cold during his sleep, helping him to overcome his despair and loneliness. Beneath the maternal mantle, which extends from FŠtima over the whole world, humanity senses anew its longing for the Father's house and for his Bread (cf. Lk Lc 15,17). Dear pilgrims, as if it were possible to embrace all humanity, I ask you to say in her name and for her sake, "We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin". "Woman, behold, your son". Thus Jesus spoke to his Mother, while thinking of John, his beloved disciple who also stood at the foot of the Cross. Who has no cross? To carry it day after day, following in the footsteps of the Master, is the condition the Gospel imposes on us (cf. Lk Lc 9,23), certainly as a blessing of salvation (cf. 1Co 1,23-24). The secret lies in not losing sight of the first Crucified One, to whom the Father responded with the glory of the Resurrection, and who began this pilgrimage of the blessed. That contemplation took the simple and effective form of meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, popularly venerated and recommended with great insistence by the Church's Magisterium. Dear brothers and sisters, recite the Rosary every day. I earnestly urge Pastors to pray the Rosary and to teach people in their Christian communities how to pray it. For the faithful and courageous fulfilment of the human and Christian duties proper to each one's state, help the people of God to return to the daily recitation of the Rosary, this sweet conversation of children with the Mother whom "they took into their house" (cf. Jn Jn 19,27).

Joining in this conversation and making my own the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of everyone, I fraternally greet all who are physically or spiritually taking part in the October pilgrimage, invoking for everyone, but in a special way for those who suffer, Godís comfort and strength, so that they may be willing to "complete what is lacking in Christís afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (cf. Col Col 1,24), recalling the "truly tremendous mystery on which one can never sufficiently meditate", i.e., that "the salvation of many depends on the prayers and voluntary mortification of the members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, directed to this end, and on the co-operation that Pastors and faithful, particularly the parents of families, have to offer to our divine Saviour" (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, n. 19). May my Apostolic Blessing be an encouragement to everyone, Pastors and faithful.

From the Vatican, 1 October 1997.




To my Venerable Brother Cardinal Roger Etchegaray

President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

1. I am particularly pleased to convey through you my cordial greetings and esteem to the distinguished representatives of the Christian Churches and communities and of the great world religions meeting for the international prayer meeting on the theme: "Peace Is the Name of God".

Twelve years have passed since the historic day of prayer for peace took place in Assisi at the end of October. I had strongly desired that meeting. In the tragic sight of a divided world subject to the terrible threat of war, a unanimous cry to the God of peace could not fail to rise up from the heart of every believer. Gathered on the hill of Assisi, we all prayed for a better future to the benefit of all humanity.

The day after that significant day, I urged everyone to persevere in spreading the message of peace and in the commitment to live the "spirit of Assisi", so that it might pave an ever broader and more widely shared way to reconciliation.

2. Today I am pleased to note how the dynamic of peace, which received exceptional support in Assisi, has been broadened and deepened. I cordially thank the Sant'Egidio Community, which welcomed the "spirit of Assisi" with enthusiasm and fidelity, and has continued to bring together believers of every religion and continent by inviting them to reflect on and to pray for peace. It has thus created and consolidated a pilgrimage of people of goodwill who are keen to show their brothers and sisters the peaceful name of God, whose intention is to preserve and cherish the life of every rational creature.

This year, the first phase of this symbolic peace march is taking place in Padua and then in Venice. I join it in spirit; first of all I address an affectionate greeting to Cardinal Marco Cť, Patriarch of Venice, and to Archbishop Antonio Mattiazzo, Bishop of Padua, who are hosting this important initiative. I also greet the Christian communities of the Veneto region, who down the centuries have had the important function of acting as a bridge between East and West. History teaches how precious and useful are meetings between peoples, and how important it is to have the determination to eliminate conflicts, divisions and disagreements, to make room for the culture of tolerance, acceptance and solidarity.

This peace process must be accelerated now that there are only two years left before the dawn of the new millennium. With that historic date in sight, our expectations are laden with reflection and hope. If we consider the past centuries, and especially the past 100 years, we can easily discern many shadows in addition to the lights. How can we forget the appalling tragedies which have stricken humanity throughout the century now drawing to a close? We still vividly remember the two world wars and the atrocious slaughter they caused. And unfortunately violent and cruel massacres of defenceless men, women and children still persist today. For the believer, as for every person of good will, all this is unacceptable! Can we remain passive before such tragedies? For every right-thinking man and woman, they are a pressing call to commit themselves to praying and witnessing for peace.

3. I had these worrying situations very much in mind when in my Message for the World Day of Peace this year I wrote: "The time has come for a resolute decision to set out together on a true pilgrimage of peace, starting from the concrete situation in which we find ourselves. At times the difficulties can be daunting: ethnic origin, language, culture, religious beliefs are often obstacles to such a pilgrimage. To go forward together when we have behind us traumatic experiences or even age-old divisions, is not an easy thing to do" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 18 December 1996, n. 1P 3).

Faith, a gift from God, does not of course protect believers from the problems of history. On the contrary, it spurs them to use every means to increase awareness of the common responsibility to build peace. It is more necessary than ever to put aside the "culture of war" in order to develop a solid and lasting "culture of peace". Believers are called to make their own specific contribution to this undertaking. It must never be forgotten that wars are still tragedies which leave victims and destruction, hatred and revenge in their wake, even when they claim to put an end to fighting and to resolve conflicts.

4. In this regard, the leaders of the various religions can make a decisive contribution by raising their voices against wars and by courageously facing the risks resulting from them. Furthermore, they can stem the outbreaks of violence that periodically arise by not encouraging whatever is a source of conflict between the adherents of different beliefs and by acting to eradicate the bitter roots of distrust, hatred and enmity. It is precisely these sentiments that give rise to many conflicts. They are born and flourish in the soil of differentness, and it is in this area that one must intervene with decisiveness and courage.

To overcome the many misunderstandings which divide people and set them against one another: this is the urgent task to which all religions are called! Sincere and lasting reconciliation is the way to take if we are to allow genuine peace based on respect and mutual understanding to flourish. To be diligent artisans of peace: this is the task of every believer, especially in the historic period in which humanity is now living on the threshold of the third millennium.

In these days Venice holds a key place in the peace process. May the God of justice and peace bless and protect everyone who in these days is engaged in witnessing to the "spirit of Assisi" among the dear peoples of the Veneto region, becoming builders of solidarity for a more just and fraternal world.

Your Eminence, as I entrust you with the duty of expressing my most heartfelt solidarity to the distinguished representatives from different parts of the world and to everyone who is attending this important meeting, I assure them of my special prayers and offer my cordial greetings to them all.

From the Vatican, 1 October 1997.

Speeches 1997 - Sunday, 28 September 1997