ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II
Saturday 9 June 2001
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I welcome you with joy during your ad limina visit. Your meetings with the Successor of Peter and those who work with him are an important opportunity to show the communion with the universal Church of yourselves and of your Congolese Dioceses. I hope that you will find here the encouragement and comfort you need to carry out your episcopal ministry in your country.
I thank the President of your Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Anatole Milandou of Brazzaville for presenting to me on your behalf the great problems facing the Congolese Church and people today.
Today, at a stage in your country's life that is crucial to its future, I encourage you to be more and more daring in opening up ways of reconciliation to all the nation's children and in encouraging Catholics and all people of goodwill to be tireless peacemakers.
Continue to proclaim the Gospel the Lord left us with enthusiasm. Be insistent in inviting the faithful of your Dioceses to return to Christ, teach them to fix their eyes on his face which reveals the Father's love for all men and women! The tragic experience of the Congolese must incite Catholics to look ahead with determination and embark on courageous apostolic initiatives, firmly rooted in contemplation and prayer.
3. To express the deep communion that unites you in this apostolic task, it is indispensable to continue developing true loyalty among Pastors, especially by giving due importance to the Bishops' Conference, a place for the brotherly comparison of ideas and for collaboration with a view to the common good of your particular Churches. By being ever closer to your priests and faithful and present and active in your Dioceses, you will be able to rebuild communities torn apart by war, to care for wounded hearts and to help all those entrusted to your care to progress on the paths of the Gospel.
As the Second Vatican Council forcefully emphasized, "As spiritual guides of their flocks, Bishops should be zealous in promoting the sanctity of their clergy, their religious and their laity according to the vocation of the individual, remembering that they are under an obligation to give an example of holiness in charity, humility and simplicity of life" (Decree Christus Dominus, n. 15). Indeed, the responsibility for sanctification that is entrusted to Bishops is of primary importance for the existence of the Church and all her members. In this context, I invite you to pay special attention to your priests who cooperate with you in the mission to help the People of God progress in holiness.
Be attentive to the human and spiritual difficulties they encounter in their daily lives! Their example
of spiritual and moral life must be a clear sign to everyone of the Gospel and its requirements. Bring them the comfort and support of your friendship, especially in the most trying periods for their ministry. May whoever sins find in you a father who faces problems charitably but who can also be firm at the right moment!
5. The problems experienced by young people which, due are above all to conditions of great poverty or to the consequences of violence which often scar them even more deeply, must spur Pastors to develop a youth ministry adapted to their situations and the problems that beset them. I hope that the Church will help them overcome every temptation of violence, so that their inner desire to change their lives may become a genuine commitment to building a new society without division, opposition, or discrimination, a commitment that is based on brotherhood and solidarity.
May they boldly demonstrate that all people are brothers and sisters, because they have the same Father who passionately loves them! Tell the young people of the Congo that, in his heart and in his prayers, the Pope is close to them and their daily anxieties and asks them never to despair of life!
Through her involvement in schools and in education in general, the Church makes an important contribution to the human, moral and spiritual formation of young people. To cooperate more and more effectively in the entire society's search for the common good and for the reduction of the differences that all too often still divide it, young people must be taught mutual respect between individuals, between human groups and between religious communities, and to foster the spirit of acceptance and dialogue. I hope that through a fervent witness to Christian life teachers may pass on really strong convictions to the young, to help them put up a brave front in difficulties and to play their proper part in national and ecclesial life.
Celibacy, which priests have freely chosen, is a remarkable expression of their generous and unconditional attachment to Christ. In respecting this canonical obligation, may they live it in a joyful and transparent way, making it a prophetic witness of the boundless love that unites them to Christ!
An intense spiritual life accompanied by a continuously rigorous formation will enable them to respond serenely and without reticence to this evangelical requirement which the Church asks of them.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, you know how important the formation of future priests is for the future of the Church. I encourage you to give your seminaries a preferential place in your pastoral priorities, so that young people may serenely discern their vocation and receive a solid human, spiritual, moral, intellectual and pastoral formation. A substantial part of the effectiveness of formation depends on the quality of the formation teams, appreciated for their competence and their example of priestly life. This is why I invite you to make the necessary sacrifices to choose with care the priests most suited to this office.
7. I am grateful to the congregations and institutes of consecrated life for their constant and courageous commitment to the service of the Church in Congo, especially through the generous work of their members to further education, formation, health care or other forms of social assistance. I urge religious leaders to give a new impetus to the diocesan and national structures for dialogue. In fact, it is important that in close relation with the Bishops and with respect for their own charisms, that all may work fraternally for the Church's one mission and thus make their own contribution to ecclesial communion.
8. I know the Church is present and active, especially through her national and international charitable agencies, among people afflicted with serious diseases such as AIDS, refugees from neighbouring countries and, in general, all who are suffering the consequences of poverty. I thank and warmly encourage all those who, so generously and selflessly, put themselves at the service of their brethren. In this way they are witnesses, on the Church's behalf, of Christ's charity to society's weakest and neediest members.
I want to address a special message of peace and hope to all the faithful of your Dioceses and to all the Congolese. To overcome the consequences of war, violence and hatred and achieve true reconciliation, the only path to take together is that of brotherhood and solidarity. May all men or women be able to live, in unity, the rich diversity of their origins, cultures, languages, traditions and mentalities. May brothers never again rise up against one another! Trusting to the full, go ahead with hope! God is faithful, he never deserts his children.