The Holy See
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Your Most Reverend Excellency,

On the occasion of the 29th Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples, scheduled to take place in Rimini from 24 to 30 August this year, I am pleased to convey to you, to the sponsors and to all the participants in this important event the cordial greeting of His Holiness Benedict XVI.

The provocative theme of the Meeting: "Either protagonists or nobodies", commands instant attention. Indeed, this was the organizers' precise intention: "to provoke thought on the concept of a person". What does being a protagonist of one's own life and of that of the world actually mean?
The question has become urgent today because the alternative to protagonism seems all too often to be a life without meaning, the grey anonymity of so many "nobodies" who get lost in the folds of an amorphous mass and unfortunately unable to emerge with a noteworthy face of their own. Then the question should be more focused and could perhaps be rephrased: what does a face give a human being, what makes a person unmistakeable and guarantees his/her existence full dignity?

The society and culture in which we are immersed and of which the media are a powerful soundbox are largely dominated by the conviction that fame is an essential component of personal fulfilment. To emerge from anonymity, to succeed in imposing oneself on public attention with every possible means and pretext is the goal pursued by many. Political or financial power, prestige acquired in one's profession, a display of wealth, the renown of one's own achievements, even the ostentation of one's own excesses... all this is quietly taken to be "success" and a "triumph" in life. That is why the new generations aspire increasingly to idealized professions and careers precisely because they bring them into the limelight, which enables them to "appear", to feel that they are "somebody". The ideal for which they strive is represented by cinema actors, the mythical celebrities of television and of the entertainment world, by athletes, soccer players, etc.

But what happens to those who have no access to this level of social visibility? What happens to those who are forgotten, if not actually crushed by the dynamics of worldly success on which the society they live in is based? What happens to those who are poor, defenceless, sick, elderly or disabled, those who have no talents to forge ahead among others or no means to cultivate them, who have no voice to make their own ideas and convictions heard? How should one perceive those who lead a hidden life, of no apparent importance to newspapers and television? Contemporary men and women, like all people down the ages, strive for their own happiness and pursue it wherever they think they can find it. Here then is the real question the word "protagonism" conceals, which this year's Meeting proposes for our reflection: in what does happiness consist? What can truly help people to achieve it?

This year Pope Benedict XVI established a special Jubilee Year dedicated to a "champion" of Christianity of all time, the Pharisee of Tarsus called Saul, who after ferociously persecuting the early Church, converted when the Lord's call "broke through" to him. From that moment he served the cause of the Gospel with total dedication, tirelessly travelling the then known world and helping to lay the foundations of what was to become the European culture, enlightened by Christianity.

Few have shown a breadth of knowledge and an acumen equal to Paul's. His Letters express the explosive force of his passionate personality and have attracted millions of readers, exercising a unique influence on generation after generation of men and women and on entire peoples and nations. In his writings Paul never ceases to present Christ as an authentic source of respect among men, of peace among nations, of justice in coexistence. Two thousand years later, we can all consider ourselves "sons" of his preaching, and our civilization knows that it is actually indebted to this man for the values on which it is founded.

Yet St Paul's existence is very far from being in the limelight of public recognition. When he died, the Church he had helped to disseminate was still a tiny seed, a group that the supreme authorities of the Roman Empire could allow themselves to neglect or endeavour to crush with bloodshed.
Moreover Paul's existence, examined it in its daily dimension, appears troubled, beset by hostility and dangers, full of difficulties to face rather than consolations and joys to enjoy. He himself bears a vivid witness to this in a great many passages of his writings. This is what he says, for example, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: "Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the Churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?" (11: 24-29). It was with determination and in the Name of his Redeemer that Paul ended or rather completed this obstacle race - as we might describe it - in Rome, where he was condemned to death and beheaded. Many other Christians died with him in the Emperor Nero's raging persecution and among them was Peter, the fisherman of Galilee and Head of the Church.

Can Paul's life really be considered "successful"? Here we are before the paradox of Christian life as such. Indeed, to Christians what does "succeeding" mean? What do the existences of so many holy people, who lived in the retirement of their convents tell us? What do the lives and deaths of numberless Christian martyrs tell us, most of whose names are unknown, who ended their lives not amidst acclamation but rather surrounded by contempt, hatred and indifference? In what does the "greatness" of their lives consist, the luminosity of their witness, their "success"?

Recently too, the Holy Father Benedict XVI recalled that man was made for the eternal fulfilment of his life. This goes far beyond mere worldly success and is not in opposition to the humility of the condition in which he makes his earthly pilgrimage. The fulfilment of the human being is knowledge of God, by whom every person was created and for whom he strives with every fibre of his being. Neither fame nor popularity with the masses serves to achieve this. This is the protagonism that the title of this year's Rimini Meeting seeks to propose anew. The protagonist of one's own existence is someone who gives his life to God, who calls him to cooperate in the universal project of salvation.

The Meeting intends to reaffirm that Christ alone can reveal to man his true dignity and communicate to him the authentic meaning of his life. When a believer follows him docilely, he can leave a lasting trace in history. It is the trace of Love, of which he becomes a witness precisely because he has been grasped by Love. It is then that what was possible for St Paul also becomes possible for each one of us. It does not matter whether or not God's design provides for a reduced sphere of action. It does not matter whether we live within the walls of a cloistered monastery or are immersed in the multiple and different activities of the world; it does not matter whether we are fathers and mothers of families or consecrated people, or priests. God uses us in accordance with his plan of love according to the ways that he chooses and he asks us to support the action of his Spirit; he wants us to be his collaborators for the realization of his Kingdom. He says to each one: "Come, follow me" (Lk 18: 22), and only by following him does man experience the true exaltation of his being.

The experience of the Saints, men and women who very often lived their fidelity to God in a discreet and ordinary manner, teaches us this. Among them we find many true protagonists of history, people who are totally fulfilled, living examples of hope and witnesses of a love that fears nothing, not even death.

The Holy Father hopes that these reflections will help those taking part in the Meeting to encounter Christ, to understand the value of Christian life better and to achieve its meaning in the humble protagonism of service to the mission of the Church, in Italy and throughout the world. To this end he assures you of his prayers for the Meeting's success and imparts a special Blessing to you, to the organizers and to all those present.

I very willingly add my own fervent good wishes for the fruitful success of the event and gladly take advantage of the occasion to confirm my sentiments of distinct respect.