The Holy See
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Thursday, 16 October 2003


Most Holy Father,

Exactly 25 years ago, at this time, the Cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel elected you to the office of the Successor of St Peter, and you said your "yes" to the grace and burden of that office.

Twenty-five years ago, Cardinal Pericle Felici, Pro-Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, solemnly announced to the crowd waiting in St Peter's Square: "Habemus Papam". Twenty-five years ago, from the Loggia of the Blessings, you imparted the Urbi et Orbi Blessing for the first time and, with an unforgettable Address, instantly won the hearts of the Romans as well as of the many people across the world who were following you and listening to you. You said at that time that you came from a distant country, but we saw immediately that the faith in Jesus Christ that shone from your words and from your whole person overcomes all distances; that in the faith we have all grown close to one another. Right from the start you enabled us to experience this force of Christ that breaks down barriers and creates peace and joy.

In these 25 years as Vicar of Jesus Christ in the apostolic sucession, you have tirelessly travelled the world, not only to bring to men and women the Gospel of the love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, beyond all geographical boundaries; you have also crossed the continents of the spirit, often far from one another and set against each other, to bring strangers close, to make the distant friends, and to make room in the world for the peace of Christ (cf. Eph 2: 17). You have spoken to young and old, to the rich and the poor, the powerful and the humble - after the example of Jesus Christ - and you have always shown special love for the poor and defenceless, bringing to all a spark of God's truth and love. You have proclaimed God's will fearlessly, even when it was in opposition to what people thought and desired. Like the Apostle Paul, you can say that you have never sought to flatter with words nor to be honoured by mankind, but have watched over God's children as a mother. Like Paul, you too felt drawn to people and wanted to help them share not only in the Gospel but also in your own life (cf. I Thes 2: 5-8). You have undergone criticism and insults, arousing, however, gratitude and love, and causing the walls of hatred and unfamiliarity to crumble.

We can note today that you have put your whole being into serving the Gospel and have let yourself be spent by it (II Cor 12: 15). In your life the word "cross" is not merely a word. You have let yourself be wounded by it, body and soul. Again, like Paul, you too bear suffering to complete in your earthly life what is still lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of the Body of Christ which is the Church (cf. Col 1: 24).

Holy Father, today the whole Church thanks you for your service in the past 25 years. A great many non-Catholic sisters and brothers, people of good will and of other religions and beliefs, also thank you. With our prayers, we would like to entrust you to the inexhaustible goodness of Our Lord, who called you and has guided you along your whole journey. We pray that he may also make you feel the light of his presence at this time, too. We salute you with the ancient words of the Church: "Dominus conservet te et vivificet te et beatum te faciat in terra!".

This is a beatitude that also depends - as we well know - on the fidelity of all of us to your person and to your task as Successor of Peter. We gladly make the most of this opportunity to reaffirm to you our desire to persevere "cum Petro et sub Petro" in our service to Christ and to the Church.

With these sentiments, we say to you with heartfelt feeling:  "Congratulations, Holy Father!