ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II
Thursday, 5 September 2002
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. In this high-point of your episcopal ministry, the visit
ad limina, I am delighted to welcome you who exercise your pastoral mission
in the Church in the Eastern Region of Brazil, in which are located the dioceses
of the State of Rio de Janeiro and the "Union of S. João Maria
Vianney", that I wished to establish in Campos as a Personal Apostolic
Administration. You have come together at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and
Paul, to increase in your hearts the apostolic zeal that motivated and led them
here as witnesses to the Gospel of Christ, thereby accepting to offer the total
gift of themselves. Meeting the Bishop of Rome and his collaborators, you also
wish to manifest your communion with the Successor of Peter and with the
universal Church. May the Lord bless this initiative and support you in your
service to the people who are entrusted to your care.
3. As I extend these best wishes, I want to offer a few considerations on the absolute priority of the role of seminaries in the formation of the future priests of Brazil for a renewed and missionary pastoral ministry.
I distinctly recall the famous meeting of 1992 with the Episcopate of South America in Santo Domingo. On that occasion, the themes on the agenda embraced circumstances and ecclesial situations that went beyond the strict limits of one or even several nations. I envisaged the meeting as the necessary place to deal with these themes. On that occasion I said that "an indispensable condition of the new evangelization is its being able to count on many qualified evangelists.
Therefore, the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, as well as for other types of pastoral service, must be a priority for the bishops and a commitment involving the whole People of God" (Inaugural Discourse, n. 26; ORE 21 October 1992, n. 26, p. 9).
Almost 10 years have gone by and there is no doubt that a great deal has been done along these lines, especially in your country, where the population has grown with increasing speed and the obligation of drawing up new ecclesial boundaries has struggled to keep pace with such expansion.
While we ponder the immensity of Brazil and the scarcity of priests, your immediate collaborators in the prophetic, priestly and kingly ministry, I desire to share with you, as the one who is to confirm the faith of his brothers, this problem of the universal Church. Our sentiments must be those of the Lord who "seeing the crowds felt compassion for them" and said: "The harvest is great but the labourers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9,37-38). By means of prayer, human weakness is transformed into divine power because we can do all things in him who strengthens us (cf. Phil 4,13).
With the power of God and with the wise use of human resources we will
discover the secret of obtaining good results. They are wise pastors who combine
their resources either by means of diocesan seminaries open to seminarians from
other dioceses or by means of interdiocesan seminaries, provided they follow an
orientation based on a clear and avowed communion with the norms of the
universal Church. They are wise pastors who do not hesitate to put into the
formation of priests their best "cultivators" who are intellectually,
spiritually and pastorally prepared so that they, in adequate number, might
constitute the group giving formation that the Church needs in each seminary.
While trying to increase the number of vocations, in the light of the immensity
of the harvest, it is a wise policy to reinforce the centres of formation
and praiseworthy prudence for the bishops to foster the quality of formation.
The existence in some theological faculties, or even in
seminaries, of professors who are poorly prepared, who also live in dissent from
the Church creates great sadness and concern. We trust in the mercy of God who
guides the consciences of generous young men, but it is not acceptable for young
men in formation to be exposed to deviations in formation personnel and
professors who are not in explicit ecclesial communion or who give no obvious
witness to the quest for holiness. Even Apostolic Visitations to the seminaries
will have no real lasting effect unless the bishops proceed decisively to
introduce immediately the changes requested by the Visitor. It is also fitting
that the bishops who send seminarians into the seminaries of another diocese or
province should know well the spirit of the seminary and support it entirely.
Along with Christology, ecclesiology is today in particular the cornerstone of the sound formation of candidates for the priesthood. The study and teaching of theology entail requirements that flow from its very nature; without a doubt, one of these is that theology in the Church must maintain its own identity that does not depend intrinsically upon the historical moment through which we are now passing.
The certainly legitimate and necessary endeavours to bring
together the Christian message and the mentality and sensitivity of the modern
person, to expound the truth of faith with instruments borrowed from modern
philosophy and the positive sciences, and taking as a starting point the
contemporary situation of the person and of society, could if not carefully
checked out, threaten the very nature of theology and even the content of faith.
It is necessary that reason, under the movement of the Word of God and of its
greater depth of knowledge, be guided to avoid "the paths which would lead
it to stray from revealed truth" (Encyclical Letter Fides et
It seems, therefore, that the principle expressed in the
Conciliar assembly was truly prophetic, namely, that the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation must
be the point of convergence of the various theological disciplines (cf. Decree Optatam
n. 16). The subject of the Church, as divine mystery, is not only the essence of
the first chapter of Lumen gentium, but it permeates the entire document.
The bishops should adopt an attitude of vigilance so that the teaching of
theology not be reduced to a human vision of the Church in the world.
In the final analysis, this takes us to the formal element that
is at the heart of theology, i.e. its missionary nature (missionarietà). The
Council was very explicit about this when, in the Decree Ad gentes on
missionary activity, it exhorted the professors of seminaries and universities
to bring out in an explicit way in the dogmatic, biblical, moral and historical
disciplines "the missionary aspects contained therein. In this way a
missionary awareness can be formed in future priests" (n. 39). The adequate
formation of seminarians will bring great benefits to the Church both in her
work of evangelization and in the work of genuine human advancement.
At this beginning of the millennium, I hope for all a time of grace that signals a second spring of Christian life and allows everyone to respond boldly to the call of the Spirit. I entrust to the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, your ministry and the life of your ecclesial communities, so that she may guide your steps towards her Son, Jesus. Most happily, I impart to you the Apostolic Blessing which I extend to your priests and seminarians, men and women religious, catechists and all the diocesan laity.