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DISCOURSE TO THE PLENARY ASSEMBLY 
OF THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR CULTURE

 

Your Eminences,
Dear Friends,

1. I am happy to welcome you here. Together with Cardinal Paul Poupard and his collaborators, you are once again conveying to the Holy See echoes of the great cultural changes that are shaking the world. You thereby assist the Church to discern better the signs of the times and the new ways of inculturating the Gospel and evangelizing cultures. In this regard, the year which has just come to an end was rich in exceptional events which rightly hold our attention in this last decade of our millennium.

A common sentiment seems to dominate the great human family today. Everyone wonders what future to construct in peace and solidarity, in this transition from one cultural era to another. The great ideologies have shown their bankruptcy before the harsh trail of events. Self-styled scientific systems of social renewal, indeed of human self-redemption, myths of revolutionary fulfilment of man have been revealed to the eyes of the entire world for what they were: tragic utopias which entailed a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity. In the midst of their brothers and sisters, the heroic resistance of Christian communities against inhuman totalitarianism has aroused admiration. The world of today is rediscovering that, far from being the opium of the people, faith in Christ is the best guarantee and the stimulus of their liberty.

2. Walls have crumbled. Borders have opened. However, enormous barriers still stand between the hopes of justice and their realization, between wealth and wretched poverty, while rivalries are reborn as long as the struggle to possess overrides the respect for the person. An earthly messianism has crumbled and the thirst for a new justice is springing up in the world. A great hope has been born of freedom, responsibility, solidarity, spirituality. Everyone is calling for a new fully human civilization in this privileged hour in which we are living. This immense hope of humanity must not be disappointed: we all have to respond to the expectations of a new human culture. This task requires your reflection and calls for your proposals. There is no lack of new risks of deception and disappointment. Secular ethics has tasted its limits and has proved impotent before the formidable experiments which are being conducted on human beings viewed as mere laboratory objects. The person feels radically threatened in the face of policies which arbitrarily decide over the right to life or the moment of death, while the laws of the economic system weigh heavily on family life. Science manifests its inability to answer the great questions of the meaning of life, love, society, and death. Statesmen themselves seem to hesitate on the paths to be taken to construct this world of brotherhood and solidarity which all our contemporaries are calling for, both within nations and at the level of the continents.

It is the task of women and men of culture to think through this future in the light of the Christian faith which inspires them. Tomorrow's society will have to be different, in a world which no longer tolerates inhuman governmental structures. From East to West, from North to South, the movement of history is calling into question an order that rested primarily on force and fear. This openness towards a new equilibrium requires wise reflection and daring foresight.

3. The whole of Europe is wondering about its future, while the collapse of totalitarian systems calls for a profound renewal of politics and is causing a vigorous return of the spiritual aspirations of peoples. Europe is being forced to seek to redefine its identity beyond political systems and military alliances. It is rediscovering itself as a continent of culture, a land watered by the Christian faith of two thousand years and at the same time nourished by a secular humanism with contradictory cross currents. In this moment of crisis, Europe might be tempted to turn in on itself, momentarily forgetting the bonds that unite it to the vast world. But great voices, from East to West, are inviting it to draw on the full dimensions of its historic vocation in this hour which is at once dramatic and imposing. It is your job, in your own way, to help it rediscover its roots and build its future, measuring up to its ideal and generosity. By their enthusiasm the young people whom I met with joy on the paths of Santiago de Compostela revealed that this ideal was alive in them.

4. On the other shore of the Mediterranean is Africa; scarred by trouble and strife, and often by famine, it is drawing closer to us, while vigorously proclaiming its own identity and its specific place in the concert of nations. The coming Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, in communion with the universal Church, will permit this continent of the future to show how in our times the Gospel is an incomparable leaven of culture in the integral development in solidarity of individuals and peoples. At the heart of the Church, Africa can create cultures rooted in thousands of years of ancestral wisdom and renewed by the strength of the Gospel leaven which the Christian communities bring.

5. Latin America is preparing to celebrate with fervour the fifth centenary of its evangelization. The Fourth General Conference of its bishops has already been announced for 1992; it will be directed entirely towards a new stage of evangelization of its peoples and cultures, and will give a new impulse to this continent of hope. Between anguish and hope, the future of the society and of the Church is here at stake, notably among the poor. Between South America, engaged in a process of renewal, and North America, rich in incomparable economic potential, Central America intends to live its vocation at the confluence and crucible of cultures. Christians, who are in the great majority in the entire American continent, have for this reason a cultural and spiritual vocation that is proportionate to their enormous opportunities. The Pontifical Council for Culture will be able, for its part, to help them assume their full responsibility in this promising process, overcoming the temptations to egoism and to narcissistic nationalism. I am happy that new members of your Council are starting to contribute to the fulfilment of this indispensable task.

6. The contrasts which are beginning to appear along the vast shores of the Pacific are attracting the attention of the whole world. An unprecedented economic growth is giving this geographical area a new role in human history, with enormous clout in international affairs. At the same time, in many regions, entire populations are struggling to free themselves from extreme and inhuman poverty. China is searching for a new destiny that will measure up to its millenary culture. There is no doubt that its human riches and its desire for a renewed communion with modern cultures will enable it to contribute new energies to this world. I await the day when you will be able to make use of its invaluable contribution to enrich your dialogue between cultures and the Gospel.

7. Dear Friends, these are the themes that are nourishing your reflections at the close of a century which has experienced too much horror and terror, and which once again aspires to a fully human culture.

If the future is uncertain, one certitude remains in our minds. This future will be what people make of it, with their responsible freedom, sustained by the grace of God. For us Christians, the human being whom we wish to help to grow at the heart of all the cultures is a person of incomparable dignity, an image and likeness of God, of that God who took on a human countenance in Jesus Christ. Man can seem hesitant today, at times hindered by his own past, anxious about his future, but it is also true that a new person is emerging with a new stature on the world scene. His profound aspiration is to affirm himself in liberty, to move forward with responsibility, to act on behalf of solidarity. At this crossroads of history in search of hope, the Church brings him the ever new sap of the Gospel, creator of culture, fountain of humanity and at the same time, promise of eternity. Its secret is Love. This is the primordial need of every human culture. The name of this Love is Jesus, Son of Mary. Dear friends, bring him, as she did, with confidence, to all the paths of mankind, to the heart of the new cultures which we have to construct in people. Be convinced of this: the strength of the Gospel is capable of transforming the cultures of our times by its leaven of justice and of charity in truth and solidarity. Faith which becomes culture is the source of hope. Strong in this hope and happy to see you thus at work, I ask the Lord to bless you.

12 January 1990

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