Speeches 1997 - Tuesday, 24 June 1997




To the Very Reverend Father José Maria Balcells Xuriach

Superior General of the Piarist Fathers

1. In the fourth centenary of the opening in Rome of “Europe's first free, popular public school” by St Joseph Calasanz, I wish to share in the joy of this institute and of all those who, thanks to the educational and evangelizing ministry of the Piarist Fathers, have received a solid human and Christian formation.

The meeting in the spring of 1597 between Joseph Calasanz and Antonio Brendani, parish priest of St Dorothy parish, was the occasion for your Founder's total conversion to the Gospel, a conversion which led him to give up his legitimate personal aspirations to find in the small school of Trastevere a “better way to serve God by helping these poor children” (Vincenzo Berro, Annotazioni della Fondatione della Congregatione e Religione delle Scuole Pie [1663], vol. 1P 73).

From that first educational experience, opportunely transformed and confirmed by Calasanz, the first nucleus of the Pious Schools came into being the following autumn. It was an example of Christian instruction, open to everyone, which was to be the origin of public schools in the modern sense.

As Benedict XV, my venerable Predecessor, recalled on the occasion of the third centenary of the approval of the work of Calasanz, “he (Calasanz), was also the first to invent this way of Christian charity: at a time when children were barely offered even elementary schooling, he took on the task of teaching the children of the poor free of charge, so that they would not be entirely deprived of instruction because of poverty” (AAS 1917, 9, 105.)

2. Joseph Calasanz, wise interpreter of the signs of the times, considered education, given in a “brief, simple and effective manner” (cf. Constitutiones [1622], n. 216), the guarantee of success in the life of students and the leaven of social and ecclesial renewal. Moreover, he saw school as a new way of evangelizing and for this reason he wished religious and preferably priests to take on the task of teaching, committing themselves to offering the child an all-round culture, in which the religious dimension would be considered and lived in a profound manner. Calasanz consequently outlined the figure of the priest, teacher of little ones and of the poor, while at the same time raising to ministerial dignity an office considered by his contemporaries as lowly and of little prestige.

Following in his footsteps, the Piarists, those many “unknown Piarists”, whom Pius XII praised (Audience, 22 November 1948), have given witness, down the centuries, of fidelity to Christ in their daily devotion to their educational mission to young people and to the proclamation of the Gospel. They have been and continue to be sowers of hope. Indeed, the teacher himself becomes a seed capable of producing fruit for a better world.

3. Calasanz's gifted intuition opened a fertile furrow in society, which other founders and foundresses have continued and deepened, and so today schools are one of the fields in which the Church can more effectively carry out her evangelizing mission. Therefore, in 1948 my venerable Predecessor Pius XII, rightly proclaimed him the “heavenly patron of all Christian public schools in the world” (Brief Providentissimus Deus, in: AAS 1948, 11, PP 454-455).

Calasanz’s contemporaries saw in his work of “evangelization of the poor” (cf. Lk Lc 7,22) a sign of the closeness of the kingdom of heaven and promoted its rapid expansion in many European countries. Today, four centuries later, Calasanz's initiatives are present in about 30 nations of the world. The present commitment to education, considered one of the fundamental duties of a modern State, rather than dispensing with the work of Catholic schools, on the contrary makes it even more urgent. In fact, on the one hand, they make it possible to respond to the right of families to ensure an education founded on the perennial values of the Gospel for their children, and, on the other, to offer the whole of society authentic educational centres in which the quality of the instruction is combined with a sound basic formation. I thus strongly renew the hope that all democratic countries may finally implement effective parity for non-State schools, a parity which at the same time respects the latter's educational programme: such schools in fact offer a service to the public that is appreciated and sought by many families.

The secularized environment in which, unfortunately, the new generations are growing up demands, in fact, that the Christianly-inspired school should continue to be offered to all those who seek in it an excellent place of formation and evangelization. The negative models that are often proposed to the young people of our time require the religious who are involved in the educational field to continue their mission with “creative fidelity” (cf. Vita consecrata VC 37), in order to fulfil Jesus' commandment: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mc 16,15).

In fact, education is a modern areopagus, in which the Church, now more than ever before, is called to carry out her mission of evangelization and cultural charity (cf. Vita consecrata VC 96).

4. Calasanz did not confine himself to developing an ideal “school for everyone”, later acknowledged as one of the fundamental human rights; he wanted his school, run by teachers especially committed to evangelization, to be destined “mainly for poor children” (Constitutiones [1622], n. 4, 198). This orientation which appeared particularly innovative in the 16th century, is more timely than ever today. In fact in the marginalized areas of affluent countries and especially in developing countries, many children still receive inadequate schooling or are completely left to their fate, so that the evangelization of the poor continues to be a prophetic sign of the presence of the kingdom of God among men (cf. Vita consecrata VC 89-90). If Calasanz could see in the face of those Roman children, left to their own devices, the reflection of the face of Christ, it is your turn now, in a world where peoples and persons are appreciated and considered only in proportion to their economic importance, to show the world that little ones and the poor continue to be the favourites of the heart of Christ.

If the Catholic school is a suitable setting for evangelization, today the Calasanz popular public school is often a place of mission. As I recalled in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita consecrata, religious teachers must feel particularly committed “to be faithful to their founding charism and to their traditions, knowing that the preferential love for the poor finds a special application in the choice of means capable of freeing people from that grave form of poverty which is the lack of cultural and religious training” (n. 97).

5. In your educational works the number of lay people who share the Calasanz ministry with you in different ways and to different degrees is ever increasing. After the example of your founder who, from the beginning, associated priests and laity in his educational apostolate, I urge you to undertake together paths of qualified and fraternal collaboration in the field of the development and transmission of culture, so that the richness of your institute's special charism may continue to produce fruits in the Church and in society (cf. Vita consecrata VC 54). To this end you must intensify your spiritual, theological and cultural formation, so that religious and laity may accomplish the ideal of the Christian educator in their three-fold fidelity “to the spirit of your founder, to the Church and to the cause of the Catholic school” (Paul VI, Address of 26 August 1967).

To Mary, the first teacher and disciple of Jesus, under whose protection your founder placed you, calling you “the Poor of the Mother of God” (Constitutiones, [1622], n. 4) I entrust you, most Reverend Father, and the whole Piarist Order. May the example of the Virgin encourage you to follow Christ in everything with the spirit of children, the privileged recipients of the kingdom of God (cf. Lk Lc 18,16-17).

With these wishes, I sincerely impart a special Apostolic Blessing to you all.

From the Vatican, 24 June 1997.





To My Venerable Brother Giulio Nicolini

Bishop of Cremona

1. On 13 November 1197 Homobonus Tucenghi, a cloth merchant in Cremona, ended his earthly life contemplating the Crucifix, while attending Mass in his city parish of St Giles, as was his daily custom.

Little more than a year later, on 12 January 1199, my Predecessor, Innocent III, inscribed him in the list of saints, in compliance with the petition Bishop Sicardo had made to him, when he came as a pilgrim to Rome with the parish priest Osberto and a group of citizens, and after having evaluated the numerous testimonies, some written, of the miracles attributed to the intercession of Homobonus.

Eight centuries later, the figure of St Homobonus continues to be constantly alive in the memory and in the heart of the Church and of the city of Cremona, which venerate him as their patron saint. He is the first and only layman of the faithful, not to belong either to the nobility or to a royal or princely family, to be canonized during the Middle Ages (cf. A. Vauchez, I Laici nel Medioevo, Milan 1989, p. 84; La Santità nel Medioevo, Bologna 1989, p. 340). "Father of the poor", "consoler of the afflicted", "assiduous in constant prayer", "man of peace and peacemaker", "a man good in name and deed", this saint, according to the words used by Pope Innocent III in the Bull of canonization Quia pietas, is still like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in our time.

2. Thus I learned with joy that you, Venerable Brother, have decided to dedicate to his memory the period between 13 November 1997 and 12 January 1999, calling it "The year of St Homobonus", to be celebrated with special spiritual, pastoral and cultural initiatives, as part of the journey of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and in the spirit of communion created by the Synod that the Diocese recently celebrated.

Although distant in time, Homobonus does in fact figure as a saint for the Church and society of our time. Not only because holiness is only one, but because of the exemplary way this faithful layman worked and lived Gospel perfection. The striking parallels with the demands of the present time give the jubilee celebration a profound sense of "contemporaneity".

3. Testimonies of the time unanimously define Homobonus "pater pauperum", father of the poor. This definition, having remained in the history of Cremona, in a certain way sums up the merchant's deep spirituality and extraordinary life. From the time of his radical conversion to the Gospel, Homobonus became an artisan and apostle of charity. He made his home a place of welcome. He personally attended to the burial of the abandoned dead. He opened his heart and his purse to every category of needy person. He did his utmost to settle the controversies which broke out between factions and families in the city. He entirely devoted himself to the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and, at the same time, he safeguarded the integrity of the Catholic faith faced with heretical infiltrations, with the same fervour with which he participated daily in the Eucharist and devoted himself to prayer.

In pursuing the path of the Gospel Beatitudes, in the time of the Communes when money and market trends constituted the centre of city life, Homobonus combined justice and charity and made almsgiving a sign of sharing, with the spontaneity of one who from the assiduous contemplation of the Crucifix learned to testify to the value of life as a gift.

4. Faithful to these Gospel choices, he had to face and overcome obstacles from his family circle, because his wife did not share his choices, from the parish, which looked with suspicion at his austerity, and from his work environment, because of the competition and bad faith of some who tried to cheat the honest merchant.

Thus Homobonus' image emerges as that of a businessman engaged in the cloth trade and, while involved in the market dynamics of Italian and European cities, conferred spiritual dignity on his work: that spirituality which was the hallmark of all his activity.

In his life experience there was no connection between the various dimensions. In each one he found the "way" to express his desire for holiness: in the family nucleus, as an exemplary spouse and father; in the parish community, as a believer who lives the liturgy and is dedicated to catechesis, profoundly linked to the ministry of the priest; in the context of the city, in which he spread the appeal of goodness and peace.

5. Such a meritorious life could not fail to leave a profound and memorable mark. Admirable indeed is the persevering affection and devotion which Cremona has retained for this special leading figure, who came from the working class.

It is significant that, in 1592, the Cathedral was dedicated to him and to St Mary’s Assumption. And it is no less significant that it was precisely the members of the City Council, who chose him as patron of the city in 1643, amidst the jubilation, "the immense joy", the "tears of devotion" of the people. A layman saint, elected as patron of the laity themselves.

Nor should we marvel that the cult of St Homobonus has spread to many Italian Dioceses and even beyond the national boundaries. Homobonus is a saint that speaks to hearts. And it is good to note that hearts are sensitive to his loving appeal. This is shown in the constant rush to visit his mortal remains, especially, but not only, on his liturgical feast day, and the intense devotion that the people have for him, mindful of the graces received and trusting in the intercession of the beloved "heavenly merchant".

6. In the jubilee year, his voice in some essential aspects assumes tones, as I noted at the beginning, of "contemporaneity".

The times are no longer those of 800 years ago. We cannot attribute the character of a "promotion of the lay status", in the modern sense of this concept, to the canonization of Homobonus, which matured in the context and procedures of the Middle Ages.

It is however true that it is in this very light that we interpret the spiritual adventure that marked the centuries-old history of Cremona. And it is in this light that we rediscover the message, still new, of its famous patron. He is the faithful layman who, as a layman, earned the gift of sainthood.

His life assumes an exemplary value as a call to conversion without any restrictions whatsoever, and therefore to sanctity that is not reserved for some, but proposed to everyone without distinction.

The Second Vatican Council makes holiness a constitutive element of membership of the Church when it states that "all Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love" (Lumen gentium LG 40); and it points out that "by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society" (ibid.). This is exactly what we need in the climate of unremitting transition that we are experiencing: we need it for developing the present positive premises and for responding to the serious challenges deriving from the profound crises of civilization and culture, which influence the collective ethos.

7. The call to holiness involves and enhances the life and activity of the laity as the Council also teaches and as I confirmed in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici.

In the context of the above-mentioned document, St Homobonus' example and life appear to me to be of particular relevance for the Church and for the society of Cremona, in the present day. To undertake a new evangelization, in fact, "a mending of the Christian fabric of society is urgently needed in all parts of the world. However, for this to come about, what is needed is first to remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself" (Christifideles laici CL 34).

The lay faithful must become fully involved in this task, with the special charisms of the "secular character". The new situations, both ecclesial and social, economic, political and cultural, most especially require their specific participation (ibid., n. 15, p. 4).

8. It is a happy coincidence that the jubilee celebration of this "Saint of Charity" has fallen within the last decade of our century, which the ecclesial community in Italy has consecrated to the programme "Evangelization and testimony of love".

Again, as I wrote in Christifideles laici, charity in its various forms, from almsgiving to works of mercy, "gives life and sustains the works of solidarity that look to the total needs of the human being" (n. 41). The same charity is and will always be necessary, both for individuals and for communities. And "such charity is made increasingly necessary the more the institutions become complex in their organization and claim to manage every area at hand. In the end such projects lose their effectiveness as a result of an impersonal functionalism, an overgrown bureaucracy, unjust private interests and an all-too-easy and generalized disengagement from a sense of duty" (ibid., p. 13).

The sensitivity of Homobonus urges us in a special way to be open to the entire horizon of charity in its various expressions, apart from material ones: the charity of culture, political charity, social charity, for the common good. Such an eloquent example can effectively contribute to brightening the current political and social climate, promoting a style of harmony, of mutual trust, of committed involvement.

9. I am particularly pleased that the celebration of the "Year of St Homobonus" is to cover the whole of 1998, the second year of the preparatory phase for the Great Jubilee, dedicated especially to the Holy Spirit.

May the endearing figure of the ancient merchant accompany the providential event from heaven. Invoked with your profound and traditional devotion and with an ever more conscious faith, may he obtain for all the baptized loyalty to the gifts of the Spirit, received especially in the sacrament of Confirmation. May he obtain for the lay faithful a more mature awareness that their participation in the life of the Church "is so necessary that without it the apostolate of the pastors will frequently be unable to obtain its full effect" (Apostolicam actuositatem AA 10). For all the members of the Church in Cremona may he obtain from the Lord the fervour requested of the new evangelizers, called in the post-synodal period to be true witnesses to faith, hope and love.

With these fervent wishes, as I recall my Pastoral Visit to Cremona in June 1992, and the subsequent meeting with those who came to Rome on pilgrimage in November of last year, as a seal to the diocesan synod, I sincerely impart to you, Venerable Brother, to the priests, deacons, consecrated persons, to the lay faithful, to every family, every parish and the whole city my affectionate Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 24 June 1997.






Thursday, 26 June 1997

Mr Ambassador,

1. I am pleased to receive the Letters accrediting Your Excellency as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Ecuador to the Holy See on this occasion which also gives me the opportunity to offer you my most cordial welcome.

I am sincerely grateful for the respectful greeting that President Fábian Alarcón has conveyed to me through Your Excellency, an expression of your country’s spiritual closeness to this Apostolic See, a closeness built up throughout its history by the Church’s continuous work through her members and her institutions. Please convey my best wishes to the President, together with the assurance of my prayers to the Most High that he will grant prosperity and spiritual well-being to all Ecuadoreans.

Your kind words, Mr Ambassador, have made me relive the moments of my Pastoral Visit to your country, of which I have lasting and grateful memories. There I had the opportunity to share your peoples’ concerns and hopes, to profess the same faith with them in the various moving celebrations, and to appreciate “the most genuine values of the Ecuadorean soul, which even in the midst of difficulties shows its trust in God and its resolution to remain faithful to the heritage of its forebears: its Christian faith, the Church, its culture, its traditions, its vocation to justice and freedom” (cf. Farewell Address, 31 Jan. 1985; L' Osservatore Romano English edition, 4 March 1985, PP 5,10).

2. I am pleased to see that the bonds uniting the Ecuadorean people with the See of Peter are strongly enhanced by our cordial relations which, on the basis of agreements and mutual respect, permit trustworthy and fruitful collaboration between Church and State. This collaboration sometimes extends to international forums, in which great issues of interest for all humanity are debated today. It is desirable that this cooperation continue and bear fruit for the good of Ecuador. The Church, for her part, feels it her duty to promote the fundamental values that safeguard the dignity of the person such as, among others, the protection of human life at all stages of its development, and the defence of the family as a basic and irreplaceable institution for the individual and for society. Likewise, through integral education and religious formation, she endeavours to promote the transcendent aspects of the human being necessary for his complete maturity and personal fulfilment in freedom. The Church’s mission to proclaim Christ as the one Saviour of mankind and of history also demands efforts for peace between nations and within each one.

Thus it is comforting to know that the Government you represent has firmly resolved to engage in dialogue and broad collaboration with international agencies, in which it certainly has an important word to say about its own tradition, culture and belief. It is important that this voice should not be lacking in the face of conceptions or proposals which, under the pretext of partial or temporary success, violate the most sacred moral principles and actually lead to the degradation of individuals and of society itself.

3. Overcoming the barriers of national isolationism means saving peoples from international marginalization and impoverishment (cf. Centesimus annus CA 33), which is not limited to economic aspects but must also be applied to the world of ideas, basic rights and values. In this regard, I recalled in the Message for the World Day of Peace this year the importance of multinational organizations and of dialogue for discussing, with good hopes of success, issues that could be a cause of conflict among peoples and nations (cf. n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 18 Dec. 1996, PP 3,8).

A cause of satisfaction in this regard is the will your Government has expressed to continue the discussions in Brasília, with the constructive support of the guarantor countries, and which aim at reaching a worthy and mutually acceptable solution to the disagreements about the well-known border problem with the sister nation of Peru. I can assure you that my special prayers to the Almighty will not be lacking for the successful outcome of the efforts to find a solution that will establish a stable peace between these two sister nations. This will be more easily accomplished if diplomatic initiatives are accompanied by an authentic pedagogy of peace, which helps to increase the attitude of co-operation and harmony among all.

4. The international community has followed, not without a certain apprehension, the unforeseen events which, starting this year, have put the spirit of the Ecuadorean people and their most important institutions to the test. Providentially, the difficulties were overcome promptly and peacefully without falling into the trap of violence, and so political institutions were reinforced.

The Government you represent, Mr Ambassador, has publically commited itself to improving the constitutional State for a better guarantee of institutional stability, while at the same time it has taken the firm decision to do everything possible to establish a more just social order. The pursuit of both objectives calls for the reconciliation of political activity with ethical values, so that the public authorities will be imbued, in their goals and methods, with the sincere desire to serve the common good without reserve.

In this difficult undertaking, problems could tempt one to seek reductionist solutions, which do not pay due attention to the spiritual and human values that are both a sign and guarantee of a truly promising future, firmly rooted in the social fabric of the Ecuadorean people. It would in fact be hard for a nation to achieve great goals if the highest ideals and deepest values were not lived with firm conviction by the citizens. In this regard, one is comforted that the “Freedom of Education Law for Ecuadorean Families” is in force. It aims, through religious instruction in the schools, at fostering the students’ integral formation, which will also promote the development of the human being’s transcendent dimension. I offer my best wishes for a suitable and increasingly wider application of this law.

5. The Church in Ecuador is not indifferent to the sometimes serious and urgent problems which this country faces and even less does she aspire to any other good than that of the people themselves of whom she is a part and whom she generously serves. Her essential mission, to proclaim the salvation of Christ to all men and to the whole man, makes her a source of inspiration and the promoter of a culture of solidarity and peaceful coexistence in justice, fostering the desire to work together for progress and the common good, without forgetting the attention owed to the poorest and most abandoned. Her many initiatives in such important fields as education, health care and service to the various indigenous or needy communities result from her conviction that evangelization is also “to preach good news to the poor” (Lc 4,18). The Church in Ecuador, asking sometimes for the solidarity of other Churches, also fulfils her particular mission in this way, while at the same time she contributes from her own identity and autonomy to the good of the Ecuadorean people and nation.

6. Mr Ambassador, before bringing this meeting to a close, I express the assurance of my esteem and support, together with my best wishes, that the important mission you are beginning today will be fruitful for Ecuador, and that your stay in this city, which is not new to you, will be pleasant and beneficial.

As I ask you once again to express my sentiments and hopes to your Government, I invoke God’s Blessing upon you, your distinguished family and your staff and on the beloved children of the noble Ecuadorean nation.





Friday, 27 June 1997

Reverend Mother Superior,

Dear Sisters of the Congregation of the Armenian Sisters of the Immaculate Conception,

1. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of your congregation’s foundation by Catholicos Antoine Pierre IX Hassoun and Mother Srpuhì Hagiantonian, I am pleased to welcome you to the house of the Successor of Peter, where the Bishops of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, gathered in Rome for their Synod, met a few days ago. As I receive you, my thoughts reach out to the Armenian people who were sorely tried during this century; I also recall the recent visits of Patriarch Karekin I and Patriarch Aram I, to whom I wholeheartedly renew my fraternal sentiments on this occasion.

I would like to thank the Lord for your founders’ fidelity to the Holy See and for their devotion to the cause of Church unity; in the perspective dear to Nerses IV Šnorhali and Gregory the Illuminator, the Armenian Christian community strives to make ecclesial communion the primary task of pastors and faithful. The religious who preceded you gave their lives to remain faithul to Christ and to his Church, as well as to their consecration; may the blood of the Armenian martyrs be a Gospel seed, so that the Christian unity for which Jesus prayed to the Father may be fully achieved!

2. From the beginning, as successors of Hripsimè and companions, the religious of your institute have been eager to bear witness to Christ through prayer, an ascetic life, by spreading God’s word and by charitable assistance to poor families; during the periods in recent history when the Armenians suffered most, they tirelessly devoted themselves to bringing relief to their brothers and sisters, with an intense love.

Strengthened by your spiritual heritage in the heart of the Armenian Christian community which is preparing to celebrate its 17th centenary, may you preserve your specific vocation. Through contemplation you contribute to raising the world to God and you mysteriously contribute to the sancification of the whole people. Through meditating on the Gospel and praying to the Lord with the help of the psalms, you receive the graces necessary for your missions.

Furthermore, I urge you to continue your tasks as teachers in the formation of youth, in Armenia and in the countries where you are established, so as to open young people to human, civil and Christian values, to foster the advancement of woman, and relations between Christians of different denominations and with non-Christians.

3. Continue your original work “in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary” today as well. To do this, I invite you always to place your trust in the Mother of the Saviour and each day to take her as a model of the love of God and neighbour; in fact, she knew how to accept the angel’s word, to make herself available to the divine call and to put herself at the service of her cousin, Elizabeth.

At the end of our meeting, I entrust you to the Immaculate Virgin and I ask her to help you in your religious life and in your apostolate. I wholeheartedly impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, as well as to your Sisters and all who benefit from your pastoral zeal.




28 June 1997

Dear Friends,

It is a joy for me to meet the Catholic-Pentecostal Commission as you celebrate twenty-five years of international ecumenical dialogue. This is an achievement for which we must give heartfelt thanks to God.

The theme of reconciliation is at the centre of the ecumenical meeting being held this week at Graz, in Austria. The need of Christians for reconciliation with one another, for mutual forgiveness, is indeed great. Our search together in dialogue for ways to overcome the theological difficulties which stand in the way of Christian unity is a duty founded in the prayer of Christ himself for his disciples. Our efforts to come closer to one another are a response to the Lord's words: "that they may all be one . . . so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17,21).

The world is scandalized by divisions among Christians. As the Year 2000 approaches, let us continue to listen to the word of God calling us to ever greater communion and cooperation. Our search for reconciliation therefore must go forward. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that leads us on this pilgrimage. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us to conversion of mind and heart. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rm 1,7).





To Cardinal Achille Silvestrini

Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches

1. It gives me deep pleasure to convey my greeting in the Lord, through your kind offices Venerable Brother, to those taking part in the meeting of the Bishops and religious superiors of the Eastern Catholic Churches in Europe with the representatives of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, to be held in Hajdúdorog, Hungary, from 30 June to 6 July.

The conference is an event of primary importance: the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches will gather to understand better and better what the universal Church expects from the Eastern Catholics in full communion with the See of Rome. The meeting was possible because of the new-found freedom which presents the Eastern Catholic Churches of Europe with unheard of opportunities and commitments. They have paid dearly for their choice to remain faithful to the Lord and to communion with the Bishop of Rome, sometimes even the price has been the supreme gift of life. Deprived for decades of their clergy, often imprisoned or at any rate subject to wearisome surveillance and constantly restricted pastoral action, today these Churches, their strength depleted but trusting in him who overcame the world, face the arduous task of emerging from the catacombs to respond to the needs of the faithful, released at last from the bond of oppression but troubled by new illusions and subjected to new challenges.

2. The dicastery of the Roman Curia, over which your Eminence presides, has most fittingly sponsored this meeting to offer the Bishops, some of whom are proven confessors of the faith, the opportunity to meet, pray and reflect together with their co-workers in the Congregation, so that it may become better acquainted with their expectations and express more effectively and promptly the Holy See’s instructions for Eastern Catholics. Through the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, it is the Pope himself who is beside them, like a stone on which to construct the ever new building of fidelity to the Lord Jesus. The Church is built up through straightforward reciprocal listening.

Speeches 1997 - Tuesday, 24 June 1997