ADDRESS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
Monday, 24 January 2005
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. I receive you with joy, Pastors of the pilgrim Church of God in Spain. You are the first group to come to Rome on your ad limina visit and to strengthen the close bonds that unite you with this Apostolic See.
I greet with affection the Cardinal Archbishop of Madrid, President of the Spanish Bishops' Conference, with his three Auxiliaries; the Archbishop of Toledo, Primate of Spain, with his two Auxiliaries; the Archbishop who is Military Ordinary and the Archbishops of Burgos, Oviedo, Valladolid, Zaragoza, Mérida-Badajoz, as well as the suffragan Bishops of these metropolitan sees and of the See of Pamplona, to whose Archbishop I wish a speedy recovery. Through you, I would like to greet with affection and esteem the priests, men and women religious and faithful of your particular Churches.
I cordially thank Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela for his kind words on behalf of you all, presenting to me the worries and the hopes of your pastoral activity in which you courageously exercise your ministry, guiding the People of God on the path of salvation and vigorously proclaiming the principles of the Catholic faith for a better formation of the faithful.
2. Spain is a Country with deep Christian roots. Believing in Christ and belonging to the Church has been part of Spanish life and history and has inspired the achievements of the Spanish down the centuries. The Church in your Nation has left a shining trail of generosity and sacrifice, of strong spirituality and altruism, and has bestowed upon the universal Church many sons and daughters who were often distinguished by their practice of the virtues to a heroic degree or by their witness to martyrdom. I myself have had the joy of canonizing and beatifying many sons and daughters of Spain.
In my Apostolic Letter
Tertio Millennio Adveniente, I suggested to the faithful the study,
updating and presentation of the "heritage of sanctity" (n. 37). I am convinced
that at this time in history it will be a precious and effective help for
Pastors and the faithful as a reference point in their Christian life,
especially since many of the challenges and problems that still exist in your
Nation already existed in other periods, and it was the saints who gave a
brilliant response to them with their love for God and neighbour. Spain's deep
Christian roots, as I pointed out during my last Pastoral Visit in May 2003,
cannot be torn out; indeed, they must continue to nourish the harmonious growth
Certain areas have an abundance of resources, whereas others are suffering from
serious deprivation. Sometimes, what in previous periods were a source of wealth
- for example, mining and the iron and steel industry, shipbuilding and various
kinds of business - are now going through a certain crisis in which it is
necessary to keep hope alive. In some areas there has been a civil confrontation
over a natural resource: water. Since water is a common property it must not be
wasted, nor must people forget that it is their duty, out of solidarity, to
share it. Wealth cannot be monopolized by those who possess it, nor can
desperation or dissatisfaction justify certain uncontrolled actions on the part
of those who do not.
In the contemporary social context, new generations of Spaniards are growing up influenced by religious indifferentism and by ignorance of the Christian tradition with its rich spiritual heritage. Moreover, they are exposed to the temptation of moral permissiveness. Young people are entitled to instruction in the faith from the very beginning of their schooling; nor can the integral education of younger children fail to include the teaching of religion at school, when parents request it, with an academic appreciation that does credit to its importance. The public Authorities, for their part, are duty bound to guarantee this parental right. And they must assure the real conditions for it to be effectively exercised, as set down in the Partial Agreements between Spain and the Holy See in 1979 and currently in force.
5. With regard to the religious situation, your reports reflect a serious concern for the vitality of the Church in Spain, while they emphasize at the same time various challenges and problems. Attentive to the difficulties and expectations of the faithful as they face this new situation, you feel called as Pastors to remain united in order to make the Lord's presence among men and women more tangible through pastoral projects better suited to the new situations.
To succeed in this, it is essential to preserve and increase the gift of unity
that Jesus requested of the Father for his disciples (cf. Jn 17: 11). In your
own Dioceses, you are required to live and bear witness to the unity that Christ
desired for his Church. Moreover, far from threatening this unity, the diversity
of peoples with their different cultures and traditions must enrich it, starting
with their common faith. It is up to you, as successors of the Apostles, to
strive to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4: 3). I
would like to remind you, therefore, that "in the historical transition that we
are experiencing, you have a difficult mission before you: to make the Church
the place where we live and the school where the mystery of God's love is
taught. How will this be possible without rediscovering an authentic
spirituality of communion?" (Message
to 25th Conference of Bishops-Friends of the Focolare Movement, 14
February 2001, n. 3; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 4 April
2001, p. 7), valid for all people at every moment.
7. In your quinquennial reports you expressed concern for your priests and seminarians. Priests are on the front line of evangelization and bear "the burden of the day and the scorching heat" (Mt 20: 12). They especially need your pastoral care and closeness, since they are your "sons" (Lumen Gentium, n. 28), your "friends" (Christus Dominus, n. 16) and your "brothers" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 7).
Your relations with priests must not be merely of an institutional and administrative kind but must first and foremost be inspired by love (cf. I Pt 4: 8). Indeed, in your relations with them you should show your episcopal fatherhood, which will set an example to priests that they in turn can hold up to the faithful in their care. In the current situation you must express this fatherhood especially to sick and elderly priests, and with those who face the greatest number of pastoral responsibilities.
Priests, for their part, must remember that before anything else, they are men
of God and cannot therefore neglect their spiritual life and their continuing
formation. All their ministerial work "must effectively begin with prayer"
(St Albert the Great, Commentary on Mystical Theology, 15). Among the
many activities that fill every priest's day, they should give priority to the
celebration of the Eucharist, which conforms them to the Eternal High Priest.
Priests find in God's presence the strength to live the demands of the ministry
and the docility to the will of the One who called and consecrated them, sending
them forth to carry out a special and necessary mission. The devout celebration
of the Liturgy of the Hours, private prayer, assiduous meditation on the Word of
God, devotion to the Mother of the Lord and to the Church and the veneration of
the Saints are as many valuable instruments that priests cannot afford to ignore
if they are to assert the splendour of their own identity and ensure that they
exercise a useful priestly ministry.
9. It is incumbent upon Catholic faithful to seek the Kingdom of God in dealing with temporal realities and in ordering them in accordance with the divine will. They are called to be courageous witnesses of their faith in the various public arenas. Their participation in Church life is fundamental, and there are times when without their collaboration your apostolate as Pastors would not reach all persons "of every epoch and all over the earth" (Lumen Gentium, n. 33).
Young people, the future of the Church and of society, must be the special
object of your pastoral care. Here you must spare no efforts that are necessary,
even if they are not always immediately fruitful. In this regard, how is it
possible not to remember the impressive and moving prayer vigil at which I
presided with hundreds of thousands of young people at Cuatro Vientos, reminding
them that it is possible to be both modern and Christian? Many of them are now
getting ready to go to Cologne to take part in World Youth Day. Tell them that
the Pope expects them there, under the theme of "We have come to worship him"
(Mt 2: 2), so that, together with their peers from other countries, they may
discover in Christ the face of God and of the Church as "the home and the school
of communion" and love (Novo
Millennio Ineunte, n. 43).
In Spain, evangelization and religious practice have always gone hand in hand with special love for the Virgin Mary. This is demonstrated by the many churches, shrines and monuments that dot the whole of your countryside; and by the confraternities, congregations, university corporations and councils that persist in defending her privileges as well as the practices of popular piety and celebrations in honour of the Mother of God. Moreover, she has also been a source of inspiration to many artists, celebrated painters and famous sculptors.
Spain is Mary's Land. To her I commend your pastoral intentions. I place all priests, men and women religious, seminarians, children, young people and the elderly, families, the sick and the needy under her protection. Take back to them all the greeting and affection of the Pope, together with the Apostolic Blessing.
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