Gaudium et Spes - The council took place, hope for the world
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"That young Bishop of Krakow"

"I must confess that the Gaudium et Spes is particularly dear to me, not only because of the themes it develops, but also because of the direct participation that was allowed to me for its elaboration." With these words John Paul II wanted to express his particular tie with the pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican Council. The occasion marked a solemn recurrence: thirty years from its promulgation. We publish the speech, on the afternoon of Wednesday November 8, 1995, in the Synod Hall, starting from the point where the Holy Father expresses his personal remembrance.

...That young Bishop of Krakow (...) was the member of the subcommission in charge of studying the "signs of the time" and, from November 1964, I was called to be part of the central subcommission, in charge of formulating the text. The great intimate knowledge of the genesis of Gaudium et Spes enabled me to appreciate in great depth the prophetic value and to widely undertake the contents in my Magisterium from the first Encyclical, Redemptor hominis. In that, grouping together the inheritance of the Counciliary Constitutions, I wanted to recall that nature and destiny of humanity and of the world cannot be definitively unveiled if not by the light of Christ, crucified and resurrected.


3. It is this, definitively, the Grande message that Gaudium et Spes had invited "everyone, without distinguishing men" (GS, 2), as an announcement of life and hope. It is the message of the pastoral Constitution on the Church in the contemporary world - the last of the documents promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, and of all of them, the most vast - in some way it is the hope of the itinerary of the Council. With this document the Bishops of the entire world, gathered tightly around the successor of Peter, felt the loving manifestation of solidarity of the Church towards men and women of this century, scarred by two huge conflicts and going through a profound crisis of spiritual and moral values inherited from tradition.

It had never happened, in the bimillennial history of the Church, that the ecumenical Council would focus with such profound involvement its pastoral preoccupation to the temporal events of humanity. It is precisely from here that the particular interest is born from the inception of this Constipation. On the other hand, limiting themselves to historic and sociological considerations, the Council Fathers affront, in a theological optic, the fundamental interrogations that have always plagued the human heart: "What is man? What is the meaning of suffering, of evil, of death, that notwithstanding any kind of progress, continue to exist?" (GS, 10). Sounding out like this the "mystery of man" by the light of the Word of God, they also committed, and strongly, the Christian community, which was called to offer a specific contribution to "render more human the entire family of men (GS, 40).


4. Today we re-read those pages in a world scenario decisively changed. How many changes - political, social, cultural - have intervened since that December 7, 1965! The cold war is ended, science and technology have made unprecedented progresses: from the flight into space and the landing on the moon, from heart transplants to genetic engineering, from cybernetics to robotics, from telecommunications to the most advanced telematic technologies. To the factors of change connected to urbanization and industrialization, the incredible increase of the mass media has added to this, they will always have greater influence on the daily lives of men in every part of the world.

In front of the many new elements with respect to the situation of the 60's, we could ask ourselves what remains from the historic prospective attributed to Gaudium et Spes. In reality, if we go to the heart of the problems, it remains in its incisiveness and it acquires newness, even greater becomes the interrogation at the basis which the Constitution asked then: are the changes happening in the contemporary age all useful for the good of humanity? (cfr. GS, 6). In particular, can you have "a more perfect temporal order, without it going hand in hand with spiritual progression?" (GS, 4). It is still legitimate, on the threshold of the third Millennium, to go back and reflect on the analysis and indications offered by Gaudium et Spes to verify its value and to grasp its knowledge. I have been granted permission to remember some of the most significant themes of the document.


5. Before all, Gaudium et Spes brought to light the perennial human search for meaning: our origins, our goal in life, the presence of sin and suffering, the inevitability of death, the mystery of existence and from here all the other questions that we cannot elude (CFR GS, 4, 10, 21, 41). In every time and place these kinds of questions spurred the human heart and pushed it to find a full and definitive response. Gaudium et Spes underlines with strength that that response is found only in Jesus Christ, who is "the key, the censer and the end of all of human history" (GS, 10).

Connected to the problem of meaning is also the attention that the Council's document dedicates to the challenge of contemporary atheism (cfr. GS, 19-21). The Council affronts it with its typical dialogic style, trying to distinguish the different expressions of this complex phenomena, but above all exerting to gather the reasons which are in its origin. It does it with the courage of truth in denouncing the error, but together with the attitude of comprehension towards those who erred, not hesitating to recognize the blames that not infrequently have, on this matter, the same believers who, for inadequate doctrinal and especially, careless practices, end up "hiding, more than manifesting, the genuine face of God and of religion" (GS, 19).

It is on the basis of these challenging positions of Gaudium et Spes that Pope Paul VI created in 1965 a "secretariat for non-believers," then denominated "Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-Believers," and successively incorporated in the "Pontifical Council of Culture."

I, myself, being in the wake of Gaudium et Spes, have in these years retained it my duty to illustrate in various occasions how notwithstanding the despicable conflicts of the past, that science and faith have no real reason of antagonism, rather they extract a reciprocal advantage in their encounter and from mutual collaboration. (cfr. GS, 36).


6. I cannot extend myself here, just passing over the themes that are fundamental that the Constitution deals with especially in its fist part: the dignity of the human person, the community of men, the human activity in the universe. It must only be underlined that in all of this, the Council throws light which comes from the revelations, indicating Christ as the sense and fullness of every creature, alfa and omega of the world. And in the scope of this global vision, splendidly illustrates the mission of the Church, highlighting the help that it gives, not without recognizing all that it receives from the contemporary world (cfr. GS, 44).

But the Gaudium et Spes does not limit itself to the base questions. In its desire to render a more concrete service to the man of our times, it also touches upon the immediate problems that assail him. Among these, and with particular relevance is the necessity to promote the dignity and holiness of matrimony and the life of the family.

In the years following the Council, the ulterior evaluations of customs showed how the Church had looked in the right direction, asking with clarity this urgency to the attention of the Christian communities and of all humanity. The family is today put at risk, not only by external factors, which are social mobility and the new characteristics of the organization of work, but also and mostly from an individualistic culture, lacking a strong ethical anchorage, which confuses the true sense of love between spouses and, denying the co-natural need of stability, given the capacity of the nuclear family in the community and in peace. On many occasions, the Magisterium of the Church in the past, has intervened to restate and illustrate the design of God on marriage and the family. How can we not remember the post-synodal Exhortation Familiaris consortio and the initiatives which have marked the recent "Year of the Family?" It is a walk of reflection and of witness which specifically in Gaudium et Spes has found a constant and inexhaustible fountain of inspiration.


7. It is not possible, then, to pass in silence, in the face of enormous social problems that still plague the world, especially in the South of the planet, the reflection that Gaudium et Spes dedicated to the socio-economic life. From the introductive exposition, it recalls the attention on the great scandal of our century: "Never has the human genre had at its disposal so much richness, possibilities, and economic potential, and yet, a great number of the inhabitants of the globe are still tormented by hunger and misery, and entire multitudes do not know how to read or write" (GS, 4). It was hoped that this sour constitution of thirty years ago would have been overcome by the successive development, especially after the fall of communism and the end of the cold war put humanity in the place of being able to face with new energy and commitment the problem of poverty. We are instead forced to lament still today absurd inequalities, aggravated by wars between the poor, to which the opulent world often offers not efficient and solid help, but rather the destructive potential of threatening arms.


8. The problem of poverty and of overcoming it through a healthy economy, respectful of the primary value of the person, allows for a vast discussion on political ethics. Justifiably, the Gaudium et Spes, after having considered the economic sphere, dedicates eloquent pages to the fundamental needs of promotion in nations and through nations a political life inspired by inalienable moral values (GS, 73-90). The appeal of the Council to eliminate the destructive fury of war and promote peace is ever still true. The pages are well noted in which the Constitution exhorts men, in the "spirit of family as children of God," to put aside "any dissent between nations and races" (GS, 42) and to develop a real "universal community" (GS, 9). Unfortunately, ethnic and religious hate, refueled by tribal and national memories, continues to forment conflicts, genocide and massacres, with the terrible consequences of which events this painful bring with them, hunger, epidemics, and millions of refugees in flight. It is time that the appeal of the Council is heard. The believers have in this a special responsibility, as I have said many times even calling together the representatives of different religions.

How can we forget the, the "World Day of Prayer for Peace" which in Assisi on October 27, 1986, saw the principle leaders of world religions come together? We were certainly on the long wave of Gaudium et Spes, when in the city of Saint Frances, we prayed and fasted, upheld by faith in contributing in this way to humanize the conviviality of men, still lacerated by mortal contrasts.


9. It is only necessary to make some quick references here, to underline the vast horizon which Gaudium et Spes covers. With it the Church really wanted to embrace the world. Looking at men in the light of Christ, it knew how to capture the profound links and concrete needs. There resulted a kind of "magna carta" of human dignity to defend and promote. In this perspective, the Council was able to put into focus themes of need, which would then later flourish in a clearer way to the conscience of humanity. We think, for example, to the specialized defense which the Gaudium et Spes makes of the rights and of the rights of women (cfr. GS, 29). From the Council to now, much has been achieved in that regard, but much still needs to be done in the international community and in individual nations. The Church, for her part, as I expressed in multiple interventions - especially in the Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem and in the "Letter to Women" - feels strongly committed to faithfully follow the orientation of the Council, working in favor of the real good of women of the world.


10. It can clearly be seen, even from this quick reflection, how the Council's Constitution has not lost any of its newness. We could, if at all ask if, in the face of the grave problems that afflict us, there are not some expressions which are excessively optimistic. In reality, if we carefully read the text, it can be noted that the Council did not hide from itself the problems, but it wanted to face them with the attitude which the 1985 Synod called the "reality of hope" (Final Relation D2).

It is that reality that will not let itself be depressed, nor does it make any room for paralyzing cynicism, because it knows that the world, notwithstanding everything is crossed by the Easterly grace which sustains and redeems it. This grace has a need for active witnesses, who will be for the brothers the figure of hope: all the children of the Church are called to be it.

In particular Gaudium et Spes made an appeal for the personal witness and of illuminating initiatives of the laity, men and women, so that they would take on a greater role in the life of the Church of the world (cfr. GS, 43). This choice still remains one of the great urgencies and, together, one of the great hopes of the Church of our times.

To this matter, I would like to raise how the same participation of qualified lay personalities of every part of the world at this present Congress, constitutes in a very marked way a chance to celebrate the anniversary of a document that had such a grand meaning in the life of the Church in the last thirty years.


11. Dear brothers and sisters, I wanted to remember some of the themes present in Gaudium et Spes, almost to start a deepened analysis that will be completed in the coming days during this Congress. If I can make a wish, it is that the recurrence of the anniversary solicits a renewed interest in the document and pushes the faithful to rediscover it in its entirety, gaining from it profound message which is always valid.

In effect, whoever reads the document with attentive and serene spirit cannot but conclude that its ultimate message is Christ, the same Redeemer of man. It is he whom the Council points as the "end of human history, the focal point of the desires of history and of civilization, the center of the human genre, the joy of every heart, the fullness of its aspirations (GS, 45). Jesus Christ remains as the Light of the world, who illuminates the mystery of man, not only for Christians, but also for the entire human family; he reveals man to himself; he calls everyone to the same identical destiny, and, through the Holy Spirit, "offers to everyone the possibility to come into contact" with his definitive victory over death (GS, 22).

The hopes for a more humane world expressed in Gaudium et Spes cannot be fulfilled without Christ, without welcoming his grace, which works invisibly in the hearts of every man of good will (GS, 22): This conviction guides and upholds the walk of the Church, particularly in our day, marked by shadows and uncertainties, but also by a diffused reawakening of faith and of the desire to build a more fraternal and united world. May the Virgin Mary, in whose Shrine your Congress, dedicated to analyze the themes of Gaudium et Spes will take place, give value to your efforts, to the many of you who in harmony with its message, commit to be witnesses in the world of the Gospel of love and peace.

To all my blessing!