Speeches 1997 - Champ de Mars





(AUGUST 21-24, 1997)


Friday, 22 August 1997

Dear Brother Bishops,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In the name of the Risen Lord I cordially greet you. I thank the Pastor of this Diocese for welcoming me, along with all of you present in this Cathedral of the Resurrection. I am glad to greet in a special way the representatives of the other Christian communities and of other religious traditions who have wished to join the Catholics of l'Essonne here today. I also thank the civil authorities of the city and the dťpartement who are taking part in this ceremony.

2. Brothers and Sisters, you have erected this stunning building. You have created an admirable space for the liturgical assembly of the diocesan Church. I thank the Lord with you and I share your recognition towards your pastors and towards the architects, builders and benefactors who have united efforts to raise such a sign in the heart of the New City of …vry: the house of God and the house of man. This is an act of hope, a testimony to the vitality of a community which has rightly endeavoured to express itself in the language of these times, at the approach of the new Millennium.

3. As the Successor of Peter, I come to confirm you in your faith, in communion with the universal Church, as attested to by the bonds which unite you with the Diocese of Munich under the patronage of Saint Corbinian. Each particular Church fulfils its part in the mission which Christ entrusted to all of his disciples, each one according to his vocation and state in life. And so, I wish to express my heartfelt encouragement to the priests, the deacons, the men and women religious, and the lay leaders who in different ways work at the service of the diocesan community.

You will be the true builders of the Church, the spiritual temple (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 6), if you bring the Good News to all nations, if you engage in dialogue with your brothers and sisters of different backgrounds and different cultures, if you welcome those scarred by life, the poor, the sick, the handicapped, those in prison. All are called to be the living stones of the edifice in which Christ is the cornerstone.

4. Brothers and Sisters, you will give life to this Cathedral, just as to all the churches of this Diocese, if you come together there to acknowledge the presence of the Risen Christ. He is present in the Eucharist and all the sacraments, present in his Word, present in the assembled community (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 7).

To Him, the Living One, He who is, who was, and is to come, I entrust your diocesan Church. May he grant you a strong faith and a generous love. May he enable you to bring up your children in the faith. May he raise up vocations among you to the priesthood and to the consecrated life, vocations which are indispensable for the life of the community.

For each one of the faithful of the Diocese, for all the inhabitants of l'Essone, for the future of this Diocese, I invoke the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary and of the Saints of your region.

Praised be Jesus Christ!





(AUGUST 21-24, 1997)


Longchamp Racecourse

Saturday, 23 August 1997

Dear Young People, Dear Friends,

1. I begin by greeting all of you who are gathered here, and I do so with the words of the Prophet Ezekiel: for these words contain a marvellous promise from God and express the joy of your presence. "I will take you from the nations . . . a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and be careful to observe my decrees . . . you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (36:24-28).

2. I greet the French Bishops who are hosting us, and the Bishops from so many parts of the world. I also extend cordial greetings to the eminent representatives of the other Christian confessions with whom we share the same Baptism, and who have wished to take part in this Youth Celebration.

On the eve of 24 August we cannot forget the sad Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day, an event of very obscure causes in the political and religious history of France. Christians did things which the Gospel condemns. If I speak of the past, it is because "acknowledging the weaknesses of the past is an act of honesty and courage which helps us to strengthen our faith, which alerts us to face today's temptations and challenges and prepares us to meet them" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente TMA 33). Therefore I willingly support the initiatives of the French Bishops, for, with them, I am convinced that only forgiveness, offered and received, leads little by little to a fruitful dialogue, which will in turn ensure a fully Christian reconciliation. Belonging to different religious traditions must not constitute today a source of opposition and tension. Quite the contrary, our common love for Christ impels us to seek tirelessly the path of full unity.

3. The liturgical texts of our Vigil are, in part, the same as those used for the Easter Vigil. They speak of Baptism. The Gospel of Saint John recounts Christ's night-time conversation with Nicodemus. Having come in search of Christ, this member of the Sanhedrin declares his faith: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him" (3:2). Jesus answers him: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (3:3). Nicodemus asks him: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (3:4). Jesus replies: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (3:5-6).

Jesus makes Nicodemus pass from things visible to things invisible . Each one of us is born of man and woman, of a father and a mother; this birth is the point of departure of our whole existence. Nicodemus is thinking in terms of this natural event. On the other hand, Christ came into the world to reveal a different birth, the spiritual birth. When we profess our faith we proclaim who Christ is: "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light form light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father (consubstantialis Patri). Through him all things were made (per quem omnia facta sunt). For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man (descendit de caelis et incarnatus Spiritu Sancto ex Maria virgine et homo facto )". Yes, young friends, the Son of God became man for you, for each one of you!

4. "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn 3,5). Thus, in order to enter the Kingdom, a person must be born anew, not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Baptism is precisely the sacrament of this birth. The Apostle Paul gives a profound explanation of this in the passage from the Letter to the Romans which we have heard: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (6:3-4). The Apostle gives us here the meaning of this new birth; he shows why the sacrament of Baptism takes place by immersion into water. This is not a merely symbolic immersion into the life of God. Baptism is the concrete and effective sign of immersion into Christ's Death and Resurrection. We understand, then, why tradition has linked Baptism to the Easter Vigil. It is on that day, and above all on that night, that the Church re-lives Christ's death, that the Church as a whole is caught up in the cataclysm of that death from which a new life will burst forth. Therefore, the Vigil, in the precise meaning of the word, is an act of waiting: the Church awaits the Resurrection; she awaits the life which will be victorious over death and will lead man into life.

Everyone who receives this Baptism is given a share in Christ's Resurrection. Saint Paul returns often to this theme which sums up the essence of the true meaning of Baptism. He writes: "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Rm 6,5). And also: "We know that our old self is crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rm 6,6-11). With Paul, dear young people, you say to the world: our hope is steadfast; through Christ we live for God.

5. In recalling this evening the Easter Vigil, we are touching upon fundamental questions: life and death, mortality and immortality. In the history of humanity Jesus Christ has reversed the meaning of human existence. If everyday experience shows us this existence as a passage towards death, the Paschal Mystery opens to us the perspective of a new life beyond death. That is why the Church, which professes her belief in Jesus' death and resurrection, has every reason to speak these words: "We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come".

6. Dear young people, do you know what the sacrament of Baptism does to you? God acknowledges you as his children and transforms your existence into a story of love with him. He conforms you to Christ so that you will be able to fulfil your personal vocation. He has come to make a pact with you and he offers you his peace. Live from now on as children of the light who know that they are reconciled by the Cross of the Saviour!

Baptism ó "mystery and hope of the world to come" (Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Procatechesis 10, 12) ó is the most beautiful of God's gifts, inviting us to become disciples of the Lord. It brings us into intimacy with God, into the life of the Trinity, from this day forward and on into eternity. It is a grace given to the sinner, a grace which purifies us from sin and opens to us a new future. It is a bath which washes and regenerates. It is an anointing which conforms us to Christ, Priest, Prophet and King. It is an enlightenment which illumines our path and gives it full meaning. It is a vestment of strength and perfection. Dressed in white on the day of our Baptism, as we shall be on the last day, we are called to preserve every day its bright splendour and to discover it anew, through forgiveness, prayer and Christian living. Baptism is the sign that God has joined us on our journey, that he makes our existence more beautiful and that he transforms our history into a history of holiness.

You have been called, chosen by Christ to live in the freedom of the children of God; you have been confirmed in your baptismal vocation by the Holy Spirit who dwells in you, in order that you may proclaim the Gospel all your lives. In receiving Confirmation, you commit yourselves to using all your strength in order to make the gift which you have received grow step by step through the reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and Penance which sustain in us the life received at Baptism. As baptized individuals, you bear witness to Christ by your concern for a life that is upright and faithful to the Lord, maintained by means of a spiritual and moral struggle. Faith and moral behaviour are linked. In fact, the gift received leads us to a permanent conversion, so that we might imitate Christ and be worthy of the divine promise. The word of God transforms the lives of those who accept it, because it is the rule of faith and action. In their lives, in order to respect fundamental values, Christians also experience that suffering which can result from moral choices opposed to worldly behaviour and which therefore can be heroic. But this is the price of the life of blessed happiness with the Lord. Dear young people, this is the price of your witness. I count on your courage and fidelity.

7. It is in the midst of your brothers and sisters that you are to live as Christians. In Baptism God has given us a mother, the Church, with whom we grow spiritually in order that we may walk the path of holiness. This sacrament incorporates you as members of a people, it makes you sharers in the life of the Church and gives you brothers and sisters to love, in order that you might be "one in Christ" (Ga 3,28). In the Church, no longer are there borders; we are one people standing together, made up of many groups with different cultures, attitudes and modes of behaviour, in communion with the Bishops, the pastors of the flock. This unity is a sign of richness and vitality. In diversity, your first concern must be for unity and fraternal cohesion, which will enable personal development to take place in a serene way and allow the whole body to grow.

Baptism and Confirmation, however, do not remove us from the world, for we share the joys and hopes of people today and we make our contribution to the human community, in the life of society and in every technical and scientific field. Thanks to Christ, we are close to all of our brothers and sisters, and we are called to show the profound joy which is found in living with him. The Lord calls us to undertake our mission right where we are, for "the place which God has assigned to us is so beautiful that we may never abandon it" (cf. Epistle to Diognetus VI, 10). Whatever we do, our existence is for the Lord: that is our hope and our title to glory. In the Church, the presence of young people, catechumens and newly baptized is a great treasure and a source of vitality for the whole Christian community, called to account for its faith and to bear witness to that faith to the ends of the earth.

8. One day, at Capernaum, when many of the disciples left Jesus, Peter responded to Jesus' question: "Do you also wish to go away?", by saying: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (cf. Jn Jn 6,67). At this World Youth Day in Paris, one of the capitals of the modern world, the Successor of Peter comes to tell you once more that these words of the Apostle must be the beacon which enlightens you on your journey. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6,68). More still: not only do you speak to us of eternal life, but you yourself are that life. Truly, you are "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14,6).

9. Dear young people, by your baptismal anointing you have become members of the holy people. By your anointing at Confirmation you share fully in the Church's mission. The Church, of which you are a part, has confidence in you and is counting on you. May your Christian lives be a progressive "getting used to" life with God, according to the beautiful expression of Saint Irenaeus, so that you may be missionaries of the Gospel!

At the end of the Vigil, the Holy Father greeted English-speaking pilgrims:

To all the English-speaking young people who are in attendance at this evening Vigil I extend a special greeting. Remember that you are never alone, Christ is with you on your journey every day of your lives! He has called you and chosen you to live in the freedom of the children of God. Turn to him in prayer and in love. Ask him to grant you the courage and strength to live in this freedom always. Walk with him who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life"!





(AUGUST 21-24, 1997)




Sunday, 24 August 1997

Unfortunately I have to leave Paris, after spending a wonderful Youth Day here. But one small consolation remains, that is, I am returning to Rome for the feast-day of St Louis, St Louis of the French.

So France is accompanying me to Rome. In the name of this great saint, St Louis, King of the French, I would like to thank everyone who helped prepare the World Youth Day.

I am very grateful, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here in Paris, France. In Rome we will do what we can. Goodbye.





(AUGUST 21-24, 1997)


Orly Airport

Sunday, 24 August 1997

Mr. Prime Minister,

1. At the close of my visit in your country on the occasion of World Youth Day, I wish to express my gratitude for the welcome that you have given to me and to the young people from every continent. I appreciate everything that your government has done to ensure the success of the various meetings at which I have presided. All this has also given the young people of the world the opportunity to discover France, land of culture and land of hospitality. I am certain that they will go home strengthened in their lives as men and women, and comforted in their faith. The experience of dialogue and fraternity which they have had in the various regions and in Paris calls them to be committed in their own countries to the service of their brothers and sisters. At the same time, by their testimony and enthusiasm, these young people call upon all our contemporaries to build bonds of understanding and of solidarity.

I extend my thanks to the civil and military authorities, as also to all the members of the security services and the volunteers who have spared no efforts to solve the numerous problems involved in the preparation and in the realization of this gathering. I also thank those who contributed to the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebrations. To all I express my deep gratitude for their generosity, efficiency and discretion in carrying out the tasks assigned; in this way, each one has contributed to the smooth running and success of these days, which have been unforgettable for me and for the young people who came from all parts of the world. I also cordially greet the leaders of the Christian communities and other religions who have wished to be part of this encounter of the Catholic Church, with the hope that an open and trusting dialogue may continue.

2. Before leaving your country, which I have visited on many occasions since the beginning of my pontificate and also in my youth, I again wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, and to Bishop Michel Dubost who has had the responsibility of preparing this meeting, to all the French Bishops, to the clergy, to the religious, and to the lay people of the Catholic Church who cooperated in welcoming the young people and accompanied them throughout their spiritual journey. In a special way, I thank the young French people who have participated in the organization of the Twelfth World Youth Day. They have placed themselves at the service of the Church, may they receive many spiritual benefits and continue in their Christian mission according to the vocation of each one!

3. I want to assure all the Catholics of France of my affection and profound spiritual communion; I invite them to be witnesses before their brothers and sisters to their faith and to the love of God, and to work for a society which aspires to peace, harmony and solidarity among all for the common good. Committed to dialogue, they are convinced that within a nation possessing a great tradition of brotherhood and freedom the expression of different religious convictions should permit the development of the cultural wealth and the moral and spiritual genius of the people as a whole. It should also contribute to the quality of public life, in particular by fostering concern for the weakest members of society.

4. I would be grateful if you would express my profound thanks to the President of the Republic. Through your person, Mr. Prime Minister, I greet and thank the members of your Government and all the people of France, offering them my best wishes for peace and prosperity.

Thanking you again, I invoke abundant Divine Blessings upon all your countrymen.




Sunday, 31 August 1997

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am pleased to extend a cordial welcome to each of you who have gathered in this courtyard of the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo to pay homage to the art and faith of the greatest Italian poet.

In particular I greet Cardinal Ersilio Tonini and Archbishop Luigi Amaducci of Ravenna. I also greet the Deputy Prime Minister, the President of the Dante Alighieri Association and all who have wanted to participate in this particular moment of the "Dante Project", which, thanks to the rigorous and original reading of Prof. Vittorio Sermonti, has allowed us to hear again the marvellous stages of Danteís spiritual and artistic journey.

With the reading of the last canto of the "Paradiso", we too have been invited this evening to become pilgrims of the spirit and to be led by Danteís sublime poetry to contemplate "the Love that moves the sun and the other stars", the ultimate end of history and of every human life. In these verses the divine Poet points to the definitive goal of existence, where the passions subside and where man discovers his end-point and his extraordinary vocation as one called to contemplate the divine Mystery.

2. In the grand scene presenting manís search for salvation, the Poet assigns a central place to Mary, "humble and higher than creation", the familiar and sublime image of the woman who sheds light on the parable of the final ascent, after having supported the travelerís tiring journey. What a consoling vision!

Almost seven centuries later, Danteís art evokes lofty emotions and the greatest convictions, and still proves capable of instilling courage and hope, guiding contemporary manís difficult existential quest for the Truth which knows no setting.

I would like to thank the organizers of the "Dante Project", particularly Prof. Vittorio Sermonti, for this moment of spirituality and aesthetic pleasure which they wanted to offer me. I express my deep satisfaction with the praiseworthy efforts they have made for several years in Ravennaís Church of St Francis. I also offer my best wishes that their commitment to introducing people of every age to the artistic witness of Dante Alighieri may be crowned with success and stir up renewed interest in the perennial values which motivated the divine Poetís human and religious life.

Invoking the protection of our Virgin Mother, I gladly impart to those present my Apostolic Blessing.

September 1997




Thursday, 4 September 1997

Dear Brother Bishops,

1. With great joy I welcome you during your ad limina visit to the seat of Peterís Successor. First of all, I thank your President, Bishop Henri Salina, who has presented to me several aspects of Church life in your Swiss Dioceses as well as several issues which you must face as their Shepherds. I pray that the Lord will accompany you and that our discussions and your meetings with my collaborators in the Roman Curia and with each other will give you an opportunity to deepen and reinforce the affectus collegialis; may these meetings also help you to continue your apostolic service in trusting co-operation within your Bishopsí Conference.

Today the Bishopís task is particularly difficult. The Bishop must exercise his office and authority as a service to unity and to communion; he must do so with concern for preserving the faith in its entirety, as it has been handed down to us by the Apostles, as well as the Churchís teaching, as it has been defined in the course of history. This includes fundamental aspects which cannot be called into question either by public opinion or by the positions taken by certain special-interest groups. The faithful must be helped to embrace the centuries-old continuity of the Church and thereby to take into account the positive aspects of the modern age, but without letting themselves be influenced by contemporary fashions. A local community must be concerned about catholicity, i.e., to live its faith within the Church and in communion with her. The local Church is an integral part of the universal Church, so she must be one with the whole Body.

It is your task to lead the People of God with tireless and patient teaching (cf. 2Tm 4,2), listening to the faithful and especially to priests, for whom you should have a "particular affection", as the Second Vatican Council stated, for they "assume a part of [the Bishopís] duties and concerns, and are ceaselessly devoted to their work" (Christus Dominus CD 16). Priests often have to cope with a heavy work-load; indeed, their service is more an onus than an honor. St John Chrysostom wrote: "He must find a home for all of us in the Church as in a common house; we must be united in mutual affection, as if we all formed one body" (Sermons on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 18, 4). Your quinquennial reports show your concern to be close to your priests, who are your "sons and friends" (Christus Dominus CD 16 cf. Jn Jn 15,15). Continue to look after their spiritual needs as well. Diocesan priests have a special place in your hearts, because being in-cardinated in the local Church, "they are dedicated ... to the care of a particular section of the Lordís flock, and accordingly form one priestly body and one family of which the Bishop is the father" (ibid., n. 28).

You should also be concerned to promote harmonious co-operation in all the varied works of the Church. This co-operation among all the Churchís members, if well ordered, can help her to strengthen her particular dynamism. Swiss communities however must also take into account the life of other communities. They must be ready to accept, in a spirit of faith, the norms established by the Successor of Peter, Shepherd of the universal Church. The life of local communities must conform to the Churchís own structures, which are different from those of civil institutions.

2. Lay people, some of whom are very active in pastoral life, fulfil their mission in conjunction with the Churchís pastors, the Bishops, priests and deacons, who, as ordained ministers, have the task of teaching, sanctifying and leading the People of God in the name of Christ the Head (CIC 1008-1009). Within the context of the Churchís one mission, the respective tasks both differ from and complement each other. It is particularly important that they work together on an active youth apostolate, in which they encourage the development of movements and associations that can greatly help the Church to achieve a new dynamism. So I am pleased that men and women are actively fulfilling important tasks in catechesis and the guiding of youth groups. They have responsibility for imparting Christian values and the Catholic faith to young people. They should co-operate with parents, since they are the first witnesses to their children. I urge those who are responsible for marriage counseling and for assistance to couples and families to be faithful to what the Church teaches.

It would be good to reflect on what the Second Vatican Council stressed in the fourth chapter of the Constitution Lumen gentium (nn. 30-38) about the particular tasks of lay people in the Church. Their union with Christ in the body of the Church obliges them to orient their own activities towards the proclamation of the Gospel and the growth of the People of God. This particularly occurs when they fulfil their role of imbuing the realities of the temporal world with a Christian spirit (cf. ibid., n. 31; Apostolicam actuositatem AA 7). One of the tasks belonging to pastors in this regard is that of offering lay people a serious formation for their activities.

3. I invite the faithful to accept the Churchís teaching in faith. Being a Christian requires continual interior conversion. Obedience to the Church is indispensable for accepting the Revelation entrusted to the Church, for having communion in the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn Jn 8,32) and in the Holy Spirit who has poured Godís love into our hearts (cf. Rom Rm 5,5). This obedience to the Church also means accepting the order established on the basis of the norms in force for the various levels of their activity. Particularly in the liturgical field, such fidelity is more necessary than ever; in this regard what the Second Vatican Council said should be recalled: "Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the Bishop.... Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium SC 22).

In view of what has been said, I am delighted to see that every day more believers are making the effort to have a better understanding of Catholic doctrine. I would like to underscore the special mission of theologians, whose task is to explain the depths of the divine mysteries to their brothers and sisters. This occurs when their teaching is based on Revelation and is sustained by prayer and an intense spiritual life. Theological teaching is a service to the truth and to communion. It cannot remain a simply private reflection. Therefore the Church herself is the natural context for theological research. Sacred science cannot be separated from the Word of God, which is living and illuminating. It is received and passed on by the Church, whose Magisterium is exercised in the name of Christ (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum DV 10 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian CDF 24 May CDF 1990).

4. As you clearly emphasize in your quinquennial reports, you are worried about the problem of vocations. It is a concern for Christian communities as a whole. There vocations can blossom when supported by everyoneís prayer and fostered by youth ministry in its entirety. It is particularly up to parents and teachers to be the instruments of the Lordís call. In recent years, in some of your Dioceses few young people have been willing to commit themselves to the way of the priesthood or the consecrated life. Rightly, therefore, you have given yourselves the task of putting new efforts into the pastoral care of vocations in Christian communities and famlies, emphasizing the beauty and greatness of the gift of self in celibacy freely chosen for love of the Lord, but without minimizing the value of the lay state and matrimony. As I recalled in the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, making my own the request of the Synod Fathers, it is necessary "to instruct and educate the lay faithful regarding the evangelical, spiritual and pastoral reasons proper to priestly celibacy, so that they will help priests with their friendship, understanding and co-operation" (n. 50). This is all the more important because, in a society where the Christian life and celibacy often seem to be regarded as obstacles to personal fulfilment, some families can be anxious about seeing their sons or daughters leaving everything to follow Christ.

The question concerns education as a whole; in general, it is desirable that parents, in the light of the Churchís faith, guide young people with trust and courage so that they will fully assume their role in the Christian community, actively participate in parish life and become involved in associations and movements. Thus an authentic process of personal, social and spiritual growth will lead young people, who have been called by the Lord, freely to fulfil their vocation; this is the only way they will be happy in their lives. In order that they may willingly give a positive answer to Christís call, it is essential for Christian communities to recognize the role and specific mission of priests and the consecrated life. In fact, how could young people perceive the greatness of these vocations, if doubts remain about the specific role of those who have received the mandate for them from the Church?

5. Today Bishops must be particularly attentive to the formation of seminarians. Continue to attach great importance to the quality of spiritual formation and the programmes for intellectual formation. Every aspect of formation should be balanced to contribute to the maturity of your future co-workers. In this context, it is good to keep in mind the demands of the contemporary world in order to prepare them to carry out a ministry well-adapted to our times; but you must see that formation is focused on the essential content of the faith, so that young priests can suitably address the issues that are constantly raised and debated in public opinion. The sound rules given in the Ratio institutionis sacerdotalis will be particularly useful to you.

6. Here I would like to ask you to convey the Successor of Peterís trustful greeting to the priests of your Dioceses. By living their priesthood in an exemplary way, they are the first witnesses of the vocation to the ministry. By seeing their life, young people can experience a desire to imitate their priestly commitment. May the presbyterate be a spiritual crown around the Bishop! I am aware of the increasingly heavy load borne by priests in your country, particularly by those involved in parish ministry. Express to them the Popeís warm encouragement and that he asks them never to be discouraged but to remain pastors who are zealous for the people entrusted to them. Their mission must be rooted in an intense spiritual and sacramental life, which integrates their personality and makes them ready to receive the graces needed for their Gospel service. In fact, it is the Lord who with his Spirit helps and accompanies those he calls to follow him in the priesthood. Priests must dedicate themselves to being joyful witnesses to Christ by an upright life in harmony with the commitment they made on the day of their ordination.

In Switzerland religious life has had a remarkable tradition in its history. I entrust you with the task of telling religious that today the Church is still counting particularly on them to continue their involvement in the essential areas of pastoral life: education, health care, assistance to the poor and aged, and most especially, the rest and renewal they offer many of the faithful in their guest-houses and retreat centres, or on the pilgrimages they lead. I salute their courage and discreet availability. At a time when the number of vocations is decreasing, it is important for the whole Church to have a greater appreciation of the value and meaning of consecrated life.

7. The Swiss Dioceses have a deep-rooted missionary tradition. I thank them for the attention and generous aid they have given the young Churches for their own mission and for their contribution to development. You give appreciable expression to your concern for the life of the universal Church; this also shows your acute sense of justice and solidarity with the destitute. In concrete ways, Swiss Catholics are thus in communion with the whole Church, for whose care the Bishops have primary responsibility, as the Second Vatican Council clearly stressed: "Bishops, as legitimate successors of the Apostles and members of the episcopal college, should appreciate that they are closely united to each other and should be solicitous for all the Churches (Christus Dominus CD 6).

8. In short, I would also like to mention the importance of the ecumenical movement in your country. Together with your diocesans, continue the shared prayer and dialogue with all of our Christian brethren, while taking into account, without equivocation, the unresolved doctrinal and pastoral questions as well as different sensibilities. There may still be a long way to go. It is by faithfully applying the principles and norms contained in the Directory for ecumenism that true progress will be made on the path to full unity (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, 25 March 1993).

9. You have fittingly presented to the Christian people the figure of St Peter Canisius, who died 400 years ago in Fribourg. His teaching, his educational sense and his apostolic commitment to serving the Gospel are aspects of his life that can today inspire the activity of pastors and Christian communities. He is also a model for ecumenical dialogue: respectful towards others, filled with a heartfelt charity and concerned to bear witness to his faith in Christ and to his love for the Church united around the Bishops and Peterís Successor. The recent beatifications have also had a positive effect on the spiritual and apostolic life of the Christian people: a nationís saints are close to their compatriots. They are privileged witnesses and models of Christian life.

As I entrust you to the intercession of your countryís saints, to whom the faithful remain deeply attached, I cordially impart my Blessing to you and to the priests, religious and lay people of your Dioceses.

Speeches 1997 - Champ de Mars