1. St Augustine, the greatest African Bishop of all time, was fond of
saying: "All my memories are thanksgiving".
This thought and especially its author provide the very best theme and
example for my humble witness of deep filial gratitude which I would like
to express here to you, and with you, for our great Pope, John Paul II.
Since I had the privilege of taking part in the second Conclave in
October 1978, with our Cardinal Dean [Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger] and some
of my other Eminent colleagues here today, my admiration and veneration
for this "Pope from a distant country" (Introduction to John Paul II's
first "Urbi et Orbi" Blessing, 16 October 1978, L'Osservatore
Romano English edition [ORE], 26 October 1978, p. 6) have not
ceased to grow. The Lord gave him to the Church and to the world after the
short-lived but unforgettable Successor of Peter, Pope John Paul I, Albino
Luciani, whom, indeed, he showed rather than gave to the world. In this
way God paved the way for the Polish Pope.
The ways of God are wonderful, though often surprising.
To celebrate and immortalize the greatest of their compatriots,
generals, military leaders, kings and governors, men of outstanding
culture and wisdom, the ancient Romans assiduously wrote books or poems,
"De Viris illustribus". Christians today have as much reason to be proud
of their Popes. The writings of many of you on Pope John Paul II enhance
our Bishops and priests' libraries. In the nunciatures and episcopal
residences one comes across photographs or busts of John Paul II that
silently tell visitors the history of an exceptional figure who honoured
their land or their people. For example, in Morocco, a Muslim country; the
memory of the Pope's Visit in 1985 is indelible. This country continues to
express its gratitude for the great gesture of his journey of friendship.
People in Casablanca often ask me: "How is 'our' Pope doing?".
Moreover, through our Pope, who is not only Polish but Roman and
universal, it is easy to rediscover Pius XI's spiritual stamina and
brilliant missionary insight, Pius XII's rare nobility and intelligence,
Blessed John XXIII's shining goodness and legendary openness, Paul VI's
sensitivity and exceptional feeling for eloquent gestures and, lastly,
John Paul I's simplicity and catechetical genius.
What a marvellous synthesis of qualities and talents in a single
person! What a stroke of luck for us, his witnesses and beneficiaries!
Yes, all our Fathers in Faith and Love have been most "illustrious", in
the great and beautiful sense of this word.
John Paul II: Great beacon of light and reference
2. The 25th anniversary of the Pontificate of Pope Wojtyla is a
magnificent opportunity for each one of us to reawaken his personal
memories that take the form of respectful homage, full of love and often
laden with immense gratitude to the Lord. We learned to pray for the
Sovereign Pontiff, "pro Pontifice nostro", in our childhood at
home, at school or in our parish churches. Today again, more than ever
before, is the time for a united and faithful Church to pray for her
As for the Bishop who is speaking to you, he came to Rome from very far
away, rather like the Queen of Sheba who, long ago, went to Jerusalem and
visited Solomon to see with her own eyes and touch with her hands
something hitherto unheard of... which the world has been happy to see and
admire for a quarter of a century — something rare — in a supreme
Pontificate that will go down in history as one of the greatest beacons of
light and reference.
It is not destructive wars or conflicts that write the true history of
mankind and peoples. On the contrary, it is the constructive example of
the best of us, men and women of peace, dialogue and love, who blaze the
trial for the generations to come.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, long before this coming 19 October, was
already doubly welcome among the celebrities of our time as well as of our
universe. The heart of John Paul II and multitudes of others will soon be
vibrant with holy joy. Her forthcoming beatification will add to the many
that have preceded it and have gladdened the heart and soul of the whole
Church, Mother of Saints.
The recent canonization of the celebrated and holy Italian missionary,
Bishop Daniel Comboni, showed everyone the impressive features of a
successor of the Apostles whom Africa, as well as its sons and daughters,
will remember and treasure in its heart, as he loved it to the point that
he expended his entire life for it. The same is also true of the German
Founder of the Society of the Divine Word
Janssen — and his faithful companion, Fr Freinademetz, gigantic figures in
the Church's missionary evangelization on all the continents and in China
from the start.
3. As soon as I received the letter from the Cardinal Dean asking me to
give this lecture, a spontaneous remark by an elderly traditional African
chief [from Benin] flashed across my mind. He exclaimed to the vast crowd
waiting to greet the Pope who had just emerged from the aeroplane, "What
an impressive and fascinating man is your great white Chief from Rome!".
This reflection, greeted by enthusiastic applause, says much to all
hearts. The fact that it came from the lips of an illiterate pagan,
untouched by Christianity, unable to read or write, made it all the more
eloquent and striking. His thought could not have been inspired by the
catechism nor by reading pro-Rome newspapers.
It is said that truth generally comes out of the mouths of babes. But I
think that it can also come from the mouths of old people who have
childlike hearts untainted by cunning or prejudice.
For the people, with the people: unreserved availability
4. So it is that I recall a few — just a few! — of the thousands of
memories that are deeply etched within me, and doubtless also in many
First comes the beautiful and surprising image of a youthful
58-year-old Pope who said to millions of spectators and listeners across
the world that he had "come from a distant Church" to be the Pastor of
Rome, hence, of the whole Catholic Church, and that as such he intended to
address the great human family in words that all could understand,
straightaway inviting them to dialogue and sharing.
The humility and unreserved availability of the mind and heart of a
Father and Friend sent by God won every heart.
Happy are those who can remember and say proudly, with the hope of
someone who has witnessed a great event: "On that evening, 16 October
1978, when a new dawn was breaking on the world, I was there in St Peter's
Square, or watching television or listening to the radio!".
This is followed by the image received with unanimous joy of a Pope who
has traversed the whole world in all directions and visited every corner.
We have seen him on all the continents and archipelagos of the globe, in
addition to Italy and Rome, his city, of which he has become a citizen
with full rights.
The Bishops of the world have all learned, once again from a shining
example, that they must visit each and every one of the Christian, human
and parish communities in their dioceses. Is not the Good Shepherd's main
attribute the fact that "he knows his sheep"... by name and by history?
"Urbi et Orbi" has become more than ever the dual and universal
destination of the Pope's words, not only at Easter and Christmas but
every day. And the extraordinary gift for languages, which is one of John
Paul II's attributes, is a clear reference of the many astonishing gifts
of the first Pentecost.
People used to say: "To see the Pope, you must go to Rome!". Today the
reality is: "To see the Pope you must go and meet him on all the highways
of the world". And if we want to know immediately what he says or thinks,
we are overwhelmed by the choice of voluminous and countless biographies
written about him, without counting the entire pages, front pages in the
world's important newspapers, starting with his own paper,
L'Osservatore Romano, published in several languages.
We sometimes have the impression we are re-reading the "Acts of the
Apostles” the famous book that did not end with the pen of the
well-informed Evangelist St Luke. Today once again we see on almost every
page the Apostle Peter setting out to see the first small communities of
the faithful wherever they lived, or again, going to visit groups to be
evangelized and even entering the private "homes" of people who were
delighted to receive the Lord Jesus in his person, for "he brought them
joy, peace, healing and hope...".
One day during a journey in West Africa [Togo], John Paul II
unexpectedly asked the driver to stop the car and the motorcade so that he
could visit a poor hut to greet the families present. They were utterly
astonished, indeed overwhelmed. All the inhabitants of that lucky village
will cherish a grateful, living memory of it for the rest of their lives.
He made a similar gesture in Zacatecas, Mexico. When, on our way to the
stadium with him, we were passing close to the diocesan cathedral to which
a visit was not scheduled, the Pope halted the procession, entered the
cathedral and spent a long time absorbed in prayer.
No one will forget the funeral at which he presided of a Bishop who
died in an aeroplane crash while on his way to welcome the Pope to his
country; John Paul II's deep sorrow was shared by all those participating,
especially the relatives and friends of the deceased Prelate who were
moved to tears... tears of consolation and gratitude.
In the footsteps of the Apostles
5. "Rise in the name Christ": in early Christian times this was the
command of faith that the Apostle Peter often addressed to the sick and
infirm who immediately recovered their health, activity and even life: it
was worth infinitely more than the gold and silver that God's Envoy did
not possess. "[The raising of Tabitha] became known throughout all Joppa,
and many believed in the Lord..." (Acts 9:42).
Today, after 20 centuries of guiding the footsteps of his Apostles and
their successors on the paths of the world, the Holy Spirit is not weary.
It is as though we are once again seeing the Apostle Peter, going
everywhere, teaching to "the holy people who dwelled in Lydda...", for
"The Petrine service", John Paul II has said several times, "consists
of strengthening the brothers in the faith wherever they may be", the
brothers, that is, Bishops, priests, lay faithful and candidates for
Baptism. This is how the mission continues to conform faithfully to the
Pope's vocation in constant communion of heart and faith with all,
regardless of their religion or creed.
Vocation and invitation: I am thinking of these two important and
historic meetings at Assisi under the sign of St Francis, meetings which
have had a worldwide effect on peace. The one whose greeting matched the
Pope's prophetic gesture best was the Representative of the Anglican
Communion, who said: "Only you". Yes "he alone" could dare and succeed in
organizing this frontline event that gathered so many religious and
During the celebrations of the Pope's last birthday, before an immense
crowd in St Peter's Square, our Cardinal Dean publicly emphasized: "To
Believe and to Love". This, he said, summed up the universal Pastor's
total gift of life. If St Peter's Square could speak, what an overwhelming
witness the world would hear! There is no doubt that the testimonies and
images of that square known to all the world would stress the deep
historical dimension of the suffering and Calvary of John Paul II: in
fact, that tragic 13 May 1981 is still present in everyone's mind, as well
as in the glorious martyrology of the Church.
No, Peter was not alone. Nor was John Paul II! The whole Church prayed
intensely for him, as once before in the time of Herod, who threw Peter
into prison to offer those hostile people the unusual spectacle of the
death of the first of the Apostles. But God thwarted the plans of the
wicked! To the joy of all, Our Lady of Fatima, indeed, Our Lady of all the
Marian shrines in the world, gave proof of her maternal protection.
"Against the Church of the Risen Christ, the forces of evil can never
prevail". Non prevalebunt! (they did [sic] not prevail).
Following Jesus and his Church to the very end, even to spilling one's
blood, corresponds to a Will and to a new name the Apostles received from
the Risen Christ: "You will be my witnesses...".
With joy and determination the former Archbishop of Krakow, Karol
Wojtyla, also took the public oath before God and men on the day of the
Consistory as did each one of the new Cardinals: "I will be faithful to
God, to Christ and to the Church, to the very end, even, if need be, to
the spilling of blood…”.
We have actually seen with deep emotion that a profound continuity
exists among all Christ's witnesses, confirmed on 13 May 1981, in St
Peter's Square, by the blood shed by the universal Pastor, John Paul II.
Pacifying, enlightening, strength giving presence
6. Fidelity and sensitivity in friendship: this is what, surprised and
moved, all the journalists of Rome and the world wrote when they learned
that John Paul II's very first trip out of the Vatican, the day after the
Conclave, was to pay a visit to a much loved brother and friend, Mons.
Andre Deskur, in a Roman hospital. He had been laid low by a persistent
ailment, almost at the same time that the first Pole became Pope.
In the unfathomable plans of the Lord mysterious exchanges of grace and
suffering sometimes provide food for thought, the former making the latter
fruitful. The Pope immediately set out on a pilgrimage to thank Our Lady
of Mentorella at the shrine on the hill not far from Rome where he often
went to pray.
His very first journey so long ago, which the Pope rightly described as
a "pastoral pilgrimage", was to take the gift of his word and his prayer
to the Plenary Meeting of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) in
Puebla, Mexico, in February 1979.
This most important historical and fraternal episcopal forum for
meetings, study, research and dialogue then took place in a somewhat
strained atmosphere due to the famous "Liberation Theology" which was
spreading its dangerous metastases. This situation urgently called for the
pacifying and enlightening presence of the First of the Apostles, who had
personally received from Christ the permanent mandate to strengthen his
brothers. "This way!", the biblical prophet had already said to those who
had lost their bearings.
We can also say, without hesitation 25 years later, that the new Pope's
first great, universally-recognized pastoral service to a very important
meeting of national Bishops' Conferences in a part of the world where the
Catholic Church is perhaps the most numerous and active (Latin America),
set the correct and providential tone of the whole of his Pontificate from
Indeed, we know that his pastoral ministry was harassed for a long time
by the ideological provocations that spread throughout his people and that
the Auxiliary Bishop, Archbishop and then Cardinal of Krakow stayed deeply
faithful to the Holy See and set an example of steadfast apostolic
dynamism; one can understand that this served the young Pope Wojtyla as an
excellent preparation for leading his brothers, sisters and children,
groping for a solution, out of great difficulties.
He knew that he was and felt fully at ease in his role and with his
apostolic mandate, as he issued the directives stamped with the deep
evangelical wisdom and vigour that he bequeathed to Puebla: first and
foremost Christ, the Gospel, the Church, then Man as the way from one
reality to another, to enliven the service of the new evangelization by
the concrete, visible witness of the entire Christian community across the
The Pope, whose deep thinking was already prophetic in the perspective
of his very first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, had been a valuable
participant in the Second Vatican Council, which had masterfully traced
out the right paths to take and instilled in them the true spirit of the
Church of the future, saying that it is in close union of mind and heart
with the Roman Pontiff that, in accordance with God's will, the Bishop
must exercise his threefold ministry of teaching, sanctification and
government which he received at ordination, if he is to be faithful and
Only in this way will the People of God journey along safe paths for
their faith, in the light of their love for God.
This is the same Pope who a few years later, in 1985, convoked the
Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to mark the 20th
anniversary of the closure of the Council. This Synod saw in the current
situation the pastoral usefulness and even more the need for Bishops'
Conferences. Nor did it fail to note at the same time, that the Bishops'
Conferences' actions must keep in sight the good of the Church, that is,
the service of unity and the unchanging responsibility of each Bishop to
the universal Church and to his own particular Church.
The Synod thus recommended that the theological and juridical status of
the Bishops' Conferences, and especially the problem of their doctrinal
authority, should be broadly and explicitly studied, taking into account
n. 38 of the conciliar Decree Christus Dominus and canons 447 and
763 of the Code of Canon Law.
On 28 May 1998, this study, treated seriously and at length in the "Motu
Proprio" of John Paul II, was published, with the title of Apostolos
Suos, to clarify and to direct the new pattern of our ecclesial
The collegial union of Bishops, the theological substance of their
existence, the canonical life of their activities, the complementary norms
that concern them, henceforth became for the whole Church reliable
acquisitions. It is the task of the Congregation for Bishops to watch over
The revision of the statutes and additions to the internal norms have
already had concrete and positive results, received by many parts of the
world. The Pope himself is kept regularly informed: it is he who is and
has been their heart and soul from the outset.
‘By the grace of God and with the help of Mary’
It is now clearer, among other things, that the "the Successor of Peter
fully retains 'his power of primacy over all, pastors as well as the
general faithful. For in virtue of his office, that is, as Vicar of Christ
and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and
universal power over the Church. And he can always exercise this power
freely'” (Apostolos Suos, n. 9).
Jesus' gesture, accompanied by his solemn words addressed to the First
of the Twelve: "Peter, on this rock I will build my Church", was an
unheard of demonstration in response to a triple declaration of love. Love
is the basis on which our Church rests: Peter, who became a Rock.
Henceforth, our faith is like a granite foundation-stone.
It was something that had never been seen.
This irrevocable act of foundation gave rise to the vocation and the
mission of investiture of the Apostles, and first and foremost of Peter,
Not for nothing, at the Vatican were the words exchanged between Jesus
and Peter engraved in great golden letters inside the dome that crowns the
largest basilica in the world. On the basis of these solemn declarations,
the Apostles were to be sent out in small groups or two by two, to
proclaim the Gospel and to gather a dispersed world so as to make it one
family, a community of disciples of Christ (Christians) or at least of
believers, in a communion of faith and love, forming one heart and one
For the same commitment John Paul II was also invested and destined on
that day 25 years ago.
"By the grace of God and with the help of Mary", as he said in his
first words after his election. Any one who witnessed this will never be
able to forget these high points in the life of our Church.
It was not long before the Pope rendered his homeland an evangelical
service of the same importance as his service to Latin America. Poland was
then the prisoner of a Communist ideology as harsh and stifling as it was
in the other countries it conquered.
But is it true that no one is a prophet in his own country? The events
of the fall and collapse of all the walls of hatred, shame and division
have proved the opposite. The Pope's journeys in Poland and in other
countries that were hostages in Eastern Europe at last enabled Europe —
East and West — to meet sooner, to breathe fully with their two lungs,
with a view to a common market and normal human and Christian development.
The scandalous wall of division that split the continent thus fell, to the
joy of all people of good will, for hatred has never built anything! John
Paul II was then greeted as the Pope of deliverance and rebuilding, of
hope and of renewal!
In Galilee, at the time of the childhood of Jesus and during his 30
years of preparation for his divine mission, there had not apparently been
much success with regard to his miracles. Yet it was there that he
proclaimed his first great messages, from the Wedding in Cana onwards, in
the presence of Mary, his Mother, and his first disciples.
Poland, the land of his birth, can be proud of her son, who has become
Pope, and we can thank Our Lady of Częstochowa for giving us the most
loving and the most universal devotee of Mary.
‘The distinctive feature of chiefs and kings'
7. The episcopal motto of the Polish Pope, "Totus Tuus", is not
exclusive. Far from it. It is the sign of a heart that is at home
everywhere that Jesus and his Mother are loved and revered, wherever
strong appeals are addressed to the Marian Pope, pilgrim and advocate of
all forms of poverty, distress and wretchedness. Mercy is situated at the
heart of the Petrine Ministry to reveal the Lord Jesus, gentle and humble
of heart, to anyone who does not close his spirit or his heart.
The primacy of Peter dwelling among us is a grace, even before it is a
jurisdiction. To my mind, the essential attribute is the humility and love
that accompany its exercise. John Paul II has a keen awareness of this
gift, received for service to others.
A saying in my country, which I have several times seen put into effect
by our great Pope when he has been confronted with provocative actions,
incorrect, impolite or offensive words or clumsy jokes, is this: "The
distinctive feature of chiefs and kings is to control themselves, and
never to be angry".
This is a reflection of the biblical thought that the wise man speaks
little or not at all, for if words are silver, silence is golden.
Thus, great people confirm their rare greatness. Indeed, their
greatness makes others grow. This is the true, very exalted dimension of
Gospel forgiveness, for injuries or for the lack of respect.
At the school of John Paul II, one learns day by day, through even
fleeting human contacts, the enduring patience and the silence of the
strong, of the exponents of dialogue, the legendary wisdom of the
Ancients, the humble availability of good shepherds and faithful servants;
in a word, the deep love of a father with a motherly heart for children
and young people, for the future of the world and of the Church.
When this love concerns the poor, the sick or infants, it acquires
Gospel tenderness, Jesus' tenderness for those who expect absolutely
everything from the inexhaustible generosity of God.
That is why he is not overbearing. On the contrary, he stretches out
his hands to all his brothers in the Episcopate of the Catholic Church as
well as of the Orthodox Church. To reticent spirits or countries, he
redoubles the signs of reconciliation through gestures of friendship and
requests for forgiveness. And he does so as a faithful disciple of the One
who washed the feet of his Apostles, just before the institution of the
Eucharist and of the Priesthood, and said: "Be reconciled with one another
before celebrating the sacrament of the Lord together".
The Petrine Ministry is fundamentally Peter's service to the whole
Church, starting with the Bishops to whom the diocesan and parish
communities are united. These are both bound to Peter, directly or
indirectly, but profoundly, through the same Baptism conferred in the name
of the same Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Collegiality offers ecclesial communion, fraternal dialogue
Collegiality: it is obvious that each Bishop is personally responsible
for his own diocese. Collegiality should not be understood as a burden of
authority and dependence (as mentioned in the "Motu Proprio" Apostolos
Suos), nor as a sort of heavy cloak that would envelop the Bishop,
crush him and hamper his normal movements and freedom. But from within, it
offers him ecclesial communion, itself a guarantee and help. The Church is
not a purely human and democratic organization as civil societies claim to
be, "but is a mystical, social, universal and hierarchical reality. The
help she offers to each Pastor in charge who is facing common problems is
therefore precious and original, and provides the opportunity for
fraternal dialogue with regard to possible positions taken in a single
country or in a regional context".
It should also be noted that all the pontifical documents for worldwide
circulation, such as the Encyclicals, for example, always begin by
addressing the Bishops.
With Peter, they are responsible for the evangelization of the world.
What can be said of the Messages that the Pope regularly addresses to
the Bishops making their ad limina visit or during his journeys to
their respective countries?
Like all his Predecessors in this deeply evangelical spirit, the Pope
is pleased to call himself and to show himself, after a very beautiful
papal tradition, the "Servant of the Servants of God". Examples abound.
What a grace it is to have such a providential and reliable Magisterium,
often envied, for reference and guidance!
Go... and preach the Gospel to the whole creation....
We could not but speak.... And "they went forth full of joy at having
suffered something for the Risen Jesus…”.
Peter was always in the lead.
The Apostles are not interchangeable; but brotherhood does not suppress
solidarity and sharing. Far from it. No one has ever seen in Scripture
anyone trying to take Peter's place. Peter is unique. If Andrew was called
first, Peter is certainly the Coryphaeus, the "conductor of the
orchestra"! This is what Jesus disposed, without thinking of the human
criteria of culture, social, family or tribal status, age or background.
Peter the First Convert is made responsible for converting others.
Respect for the identity of each one is at the heart of collegiality.
Collegiality is one of the great expressions of the Council. The Council
wanted it to be both affective and effective.
‘Open wide the doors to Christ’: filled with God to give God
8. "Do not be afraid!". "Open wide the doors to Christ!", was John Paul
II's first heartfelt cry on Sunday, 22 October 1978, the solemn and
official day on which he assumed responsibility for the Church and for the
He has been heard to the ends of earth. Heard by men and women of good
will who admit that they do not sufficiently hunger and thirst after the
Word of Truth, forgiveness, light and reconciliation.... Even those who do
not think they can find in the manna offered by the Pope the food of souls
abandoned and sorely afflicted by an empty life or by silent and solitary
disbelief, or pay homage to the brotherly, helping hand held out to
them.... What indeed would be the good of the multitude of documents of
the Magisterium of John Paul II, which constitute an immense library of
Encyclicals, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortations, Addresses, Homilies,
Sunday Angelus Reflections, Messages of compassion and of communion, if
this mine, so rich and inexhaustible of spirituality, culture and
teaching, did not first aim to offer substantial nourishment to our poor
modern world, crammed with pseudo, artificial or superficial food?
When he administers the sacraments like a simple parish priest, or
simply when he begins to pray, John Paul II plunges like "a fish into
water", as St John Vianney, the Holy Curé d'Ars, once said.
To strengthen his brothers also means, never to tire of repeating and
proclaiming loudly, in season and out of season, the Gospel message of
peace, justice, forgiveness and brotherhood, so urgently needed in a world
where the din of violence and missiles threatens to drown the call of the
Father of the family to dialogue and forgiveness. "Weapons must be laid
down: this is an essential condition for pardon and reconciliation", John
Paul cried sorrowfully to the African countries at war, Liberia, the Congo
To strengthen his brothers in the faith and hope to the very ends of
the earth is the essential purpose of the Pope's journeys around the
All Africans know Pope John Paul II as a man of Faith, Truth and Light,
as someone who is afraid of nothing and no one.
He is a Pastor and a Father who, without paternalism, defends and
protects the weak, the little and the humble, without compromising respect
for human rights.
In their eyes, he is a champion of courage and daring, always beside
the poor and the victims of injustice or violence.
The defence of life is the most passionate and constant battle of his
In this regard, people have. heard him in European and in African
countries where he has openly denounced the corrupt and those who corrupt,
dictators, who trade in weapons, who traffic in drugs or in minors.
So it is that the most minute and distant island will have heard the
"clear Words of our God", according to the 1,000-year-old prophesy of the
psalmist, for they are not considered by the universal Pastor as dust to
be ignored, but on the contrary, as much loved, living communities. "In
the heart of the Church they are love", St Thérèse, the little Carmelite
of Lisieux would say, who became very great as a Doctor of the Church, of
a Church that is nothing if not missionary.
John Paul II visited several historical centres that bear the deep
scars of injuries of the past. Forgiveness has of course been granted,
indeed. But the scars make it impossible to forget.
Auschwitz in Europe, the Shoah in Jerusalem, the Island of Gorée
off the coast of Dakar, were all points of no return for so many men and
women abused as slaves or even beasts of burden. Karol Wojtyla, the first
Pope of Poland who knew a similar unjust fate, could find no words
sufficiently strong or moving to condemn the shame of the so-called
Christian countries that have dared to revile and dishonour their
Christian name by engaging in such despicable activities that have no
The Pope's heart is boundless, while it is as gentle and humble as the
Heart of Jesus who came to free from sin men and women, societies and
structures.... which are guilty as Cain who dared to say he did not know
what had befallen his brother Abel.
I am thinking of certain other important or memorable Papal Visits in
which I was privileged to take part as a member of the papal entourage: to
the Island of Mauritius, Rodrigues, the Seychelles and Reunion in the
Indian Ocean. I am also thinking of Cuba, of Haiti in the Caribbean, of
Cape Verde and of Iceland in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I cherish
wonderful memories of them; the joy of visiting them alone as a friend was
doubled for me by the even greater honour of greeting them once again at
the Holy Father's side, and of seeing the effusive demonstrations of their
enthusiastic, colourful crowds.
Inculturated expressions of the Gospel are offered as a tribute to the
Pope who has done and said so much in favour of the local culture and the
promotion of indigenous values with regard to the new evangelization,
communicating the true flavour of the Council. Who better than our present
Pope, both a son and father of the Council, has more completely entered
into the prophetic spirit and outlook of those Church sessions?
John Paul II: Father, Pastor, Friend, 'Cyrenian'
9. One seemed to be seeing, more or less everywhere, a re-enactment of
those beautiful pages of the Acts of the Apostles concerning Peter:
"Behold, three men are looking for you" (Acts 10:19).
This can also explain the attraction John Paul II inspires in young
people and the secret of their World Days, which awakens souls,
consciences and curiosity, and prompts quests for the Essential. Their
success is constantly growing with gatherings on a scale hitherto unknown
of thousands, millions of happy, courageous and tireless participants. The
Days always afford an opportunity for important messages to be delivered
The Bishops are well aware of this when they themselves come on an
ad limina visit. Many will have the joy of receiving the Holy Father
in their own countries or dioceses. In Rome, they meet face to face: a
Father who understands them, a Pastor who knows them, a Friend who
comforts them, a "Cyrenian" who shares the weight of their burdens, the
weight of the Cross....
And some Pastors from poor countries go home with an envelope in their
pockets, discrete but heavy with financial aid and full of meaning, from
the universal Pastor who never forgets the lowly and the destitute.
Through this personal contact they come to know a man of prayer who is
ready to listen, to share, and is sympathetic, at Mass, during a meal,
during the exchange of intimate thoughts in a private conversation.
However, with the young people of the whole world, the "dawn watchmen",
through John Paul II the Church also renews the charism of her own youth.
I once heard someone ask: "With the Holy Father's rather long absences
from Rome and the long and frequent celebrations that take up so much of
his time, how can he possibly know and keep up with his Curia, the Roman
Curia, and its activities?".
To say this is to forget that not only does his pastoral and paternal
presence with the youth of the whole world, in the Vatican or in the
distant Churches, not mean any diminishment of his concern "ad intra", but
on the contrary gives him a dimension of fullness and universality. The
blood that brings life to the whole body also brings new vitality to the
heart each time it returns to its source after its constant regular
Furthermore, I feel well qualified to witness that if anyone in Rome
has a perfect knowledge of the Curia, its staff and its studies, it is
certainly the Holy Father.
Indeed, after his election, the Pope was determined to make a personal
visit to all the dicasteries in succession: the personnel, the equipment,
office after office. At that time I was at San Calisto, in charge of
"Justice and Peace" and "Cor Unum", and this was an unforgettable
encouragement. But John Paul II was not content to manage the past and
consolidate its positive aspects. One day he gave a healthy and well-timed
proof of this by — "updating" the Council — creating some new dicasteries:
for the Family, Culture, Health Care, Social Communications, etc., which
eloquently vouch for this.
Moreover, how can we overlook the Audiences in the Vatican that are not
only granted on request to Heads of State, Diplomats or Scholars, but are
also scheduled by the Pope himself who meets the head of each Dicastery
and his immediate collaborators. All the important dossiers pass through
his hands, and through the critical and authoritative evaluation of his
own ideas and outlook, his signature has been around the world.
The Gospel is what the Church must proclaim, and not ideas, hypotheses
or inventions, however good they might be.
This recalls one of the very beautiful prayers proposed for meditation
by those who are bound to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day: "Lord,
you ask your Church to be a place where the Gospel is proclaimed in
opposition to the spirit of the world. Give your children sufficient faith
not to desert you but to witness to you before men, drawing support from
It seems this programme preserves in its entirety the spirit which has
always enlivened the immense effort of Pope John Paul II, not only for a
quarter of a century but since his preaching as vicar, professor,
university chaplain, teacher of youth and Archbishop.
To serve the entire Church through Bishops' participation
9a. After the example of Paul VI, the Pope who gave the Curia an
international dimension and in 1965 created the Synod of Bishops, John
Paul II continued to appoint Prelates in Rome who had great
responsibilities in their own countries, to occupy various key-posts in
the central government of the Church.
He desired to place a particularly strong emphasis on the Synodal
Assemblies to be held in Rome.
These acts, one can say, are major events with a universal scope and
constitution, the backbone, as it were, of John Paul II's Pontificate. We
cannot forget that the Council of Jerusalem, the very first Council of the
Church, was held under the authority and presidency of Peter, the First of
the Apostles. Their Acts extend to our day.
This implies that Roman Synods, each of which lasts about a month, are
held regularly and after several carefully prepared meetings.
In their wake numerous diocesan Synods have been held throughout the
Church as a pastoral replica of what takes place in Rome.
In fact, there is no better or more fruitful way for the Pope to be
personally tuned in and at the service of the whole Church at the heart of
his Petrine ministry than through the Bishops' participation. It is also
the most effective way today to extend, as it were, to renew and to revive
the great and unforgettable Second Vatican Council, with its spirit,
directives, guidelines and benefits.
A vast library will be required to contain the Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortations of Pope John Paul II and their preparatory documents,
touching on all the important and vital themes of the Church; the Bishops'
reflections have made a substantial contribution to them. It is from this
contribution from the base and the periphery and of course, from his own
experience, that the Pope has drawn the instructions for his Magisterium
addressed to the People of God, which must pass through the Bishops and
their National, Regional or Continental Conferences, if they are to carry
influence and bear the expected fruit.
All the continents without exception have benefited in their turn. This
is also true for each major theme of ecclesial life, as for example, the
Laity, Vocations, Religious Life, the Priesthood, Missions, the
Episcopate.... Each plays its own part in ecclesial life, and they combine
to make up the whole. This expresses the universal solicitude of our
common Father's heart.
For 25 years, Pope John Paul II has wonderfully enriched and deepened
the secular Magisterium of the Church through the Synods. He has
personally convoked and directed each one, every day, from beginning to
end and finally, offered them for reflection and action to the Christian
communities of today, immersed in the "joy and hope, the grief and anguish
of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in
This will endure as a very solid testimonial of the faith and deep
convictions of a Pastor charged to strengthen his brothers. He himself was
enriched by a multiple and exceptional human, Christian, social and
pastoral experience: as a citizen of a suffering country, a worker in a
controlled factory, a priest and Bishop in a Church that was condemned to
silence, a philosopher, theologian and poet recognized in a society whose
aspirations were stifled.
There is no doubt that the Synods serve to enlighten, guide and sustain
all those who seek light on their way and reassurance for their faltering
Are we not in a world intoxicated by technological and scientific
breakthroughs? A world where reason has nothing to do with faith and where
moral deviations, in the name of unbridled freedom, receive a sort of
tacit approval? The Church cannot pass over this without speaking.
Africa recalls the Synod with deep gratitude to John Paul II,
especially for the sessions in 1994 of its own Synod, intensely lived
after a long preparation throughout the continent. All the African
episcopal meetings, like the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa
and Madagascar (SECAM) which has just been held in Dakar, are thus largely
inspired and linked by an underground network of deep, healthy veins to
Cardinal Gantin: personal experience of a beloved Pope
10. In this regard, it is certainly time to talk about my deep memories
and personal experience. I can witness to the Pope's attentive and
prayerful "Petrine" solicitude in the Communion of the Episcopate, since
for almost 14 years the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops was
received regularly every Saturday evening... and this continues at regular
intervals today at the same pace as in the past.
The present Prefect of the Congregation [Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re]
gives us a good description of John Paul II as "a priest of prayer and a
prophet of hope". His service also brings him very close to the Holy
The call of priests to the succession of the Apostles is one of the
Pope's most serious responsibilities: I was about to say his priority
task. He himself appoints every Bishop, after a slow and thorough
In Rome, we all know, everything is urgent, more and more urgent.
However, when it is a matter of an episcopal appointment, I can witness
that things keep pace with wisdom rather than with the feverish speed of
modern life, to the point that people sometimes complain that the extended
period some dioceses remain vacant is too long. As regards the
preparation, however, certain steps must be taken and certain procedures
completed; and at the local level where it all begins, the choice of
candidate is often difficult: all this is a conscientious task. Certain
Pontifical Representations — driving belts — are at times overloaded or
dissatisfied with the dossiers received from the base; moreover,
approximative reports would be unacceptable. In addition, each dossier
concerning a candidate is carefully and rigorously subjected to papal
secrecy, given the importance and gravity of the processes that eventually
lead up to the personal, supreme decision of the Pope.
We must therefore put an end to the accepted but false idea that it is
the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation or the Apostolic Nuncio or some
other influential figure who appoints the Bishops. Of course, all these
have their respective role to play in the long chain of responsible
intermediaries. Today, subsidiarity is a value that civil administrations
claim. It should be recognized that it is also known and respected in the
juridical structures and spiritual initiatives of a hierarchical Church
which is first and foremost Communion. The collaborators of the Holy
Father work for the tireless and exemplary service of this Communion. They
do not do what they like. They do not consider themselves superior to
others, knowing well that they themselves came from Christian or
missionary communities which each have their limitations and shortcomings,
as well as their merits and charisms. We all seek excellence and desire to
do better and better.
This is why it is indispensable to stop saying or believing that the
Curia is not in perfect communion with the Pope and his directives.
Pope and Roman Curia: communion of heart, minds
To think or to allow to circulate the myth which says: "the Pope, yes;
the Curia, no". What a bizarre way of conceiving our Church, divided at
the top into two parts: a sort of High Church and another second rate one.
One considered a servant and available, and the other, merely careerist
and never satisfied. Books and periodicals were already spreading this
idea at the time of the Second Vatican Council. I still hear them today,
not without surprise: misinformation dies hard. However, after more than
31 years spent at the service of three Dicasteries of the Pope's Curia, I
am nowhere near changing my mind.
Nothing matches personal experience lived objectively and without
prejudice to the inner reality of events or situations.
I cite a personal example. At the beginning of my ministry in Rome, in
1971, I received at Propaganda Fide two Polish Prelates, Archbishop
Wojtyla of Krakow and one of his suffragans, Bishop Ablewicz of Tarnow,
who had come to pay a visit to the missionary Dicastery: this was not a
common practice of Bishops answerable for their own dicastery. My visitors
and I talked about the life and evangelization of the Missionary Church in
Africa. They had also come to obtain news of the priests and Religious
whom they had sent to the Congo in line with the Encyclical Fidei Donum
(1957). So it was that I had the opportunity to express Africa's gratitude
to them. The future Pope was pleased to see my presence in Rome as a
prophetic action of the Council that opened the doors of the Curia to the
internationalization of the immediate services of the Sovereign Pontiff.
This is what John Paul II said only four months ago to a group of
lndian Bishops on their ad limina visit to Rome: "Individually you
are the visible source and foundation of unity in your own particular
Churches... together with the Pope all Bishops represent the whole Church
in the bond of peace, love and unity.... In this regard, a Bishop must
never be considered a mere delegate of a particular social or language
grouping but must always be recognized as a successor of the Apostles,
whose mission comes from the Lord. The repudiation of a Bishop, whether by
an individual or a group, is always a transgression of ecclesial communion
and thus a scandal for the faithful and a counterwitness to the followers
of other religions..." (Address to fourth group of Indian Bishops on
their 'ad limina' visit, 3 July 2003, n. 5; ORE, 16 July 2003,
Two thousand years ago St Peter said precisely this but using other
words in his First Letter: "I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow
elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in
the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your
charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but
eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but by being
examples to the flock" (I Pt 5:1-4).
Same star, Jesus Christ; same horizon, salvation of souls
11. So it is that throughout the world's episcopates each one of the
Successors of the Apostles, both Diocesan and titular Bishops, old and
young alike, who have been charged with the care of numerous, different
communities of men and women, Christians and non-baptized, believers and
unbelievers, brothers and sisters of good will, are called to faith in
Christ and in the one God, sometimes without knowing it.
Among her Bishops, the Church has the joy of counting a multitude of
servants who are well-tried, experienced, practical and reasonable, at
home in this field, vigorous, staunch workers, undaunted and free from
complexes, ready if need be to give their life, to pour out their blood.
There are some younger Bishops who still have much to learn and much to
give. They know it and apply themselves with zeal and devotion to their
exalting but not always easy ministry.
Then there are the venerable Bishops emeritus, whose new title speaks
for their wisdom, the legacy of their work, the example of their piety,
the result of their fight for truth, faith and morals in a world of
apparently brilliant and outstanding civilization, but which, with regard
to the healthy values of the conscience and of God's will, is plummeting.
In both groups several great "Cyrenians" stand out, who bear the Cross
of Christ: sick, sorely tried, physically reduced to the minimum in the
maximum of their total gift of self in many different contexts. There are
also some who are harshly tested by political, economic or social
Experience has shown fraternal episcopal communion to be an
unassailable force since, all together, the Successors of the Apostles
hold the same helm and steer by the same compass.
One cannot go wrong, nor another be disoriented if the same eyes and
the same hearts keep their gaze on the same star, Jesus Christ, and the
same horizon, the salvation of souls.
The Pope has the same need as his Brothers in the Episcopate for this
necessary and precious communion.
At this point the "Motu Proprio" Apostolos Suos adds: "Every
individual Conference is to include all the diocesan Bishops of the
territory and those who in law are equivalent to them, as well as
coadjutor Bishops and the other titular Bishops who exercise a special
task entrusted to them by the Holy See or by the Episcopal Conference
"In the plenary meetings of the Episcopal Conference, the deliberative
vote belongs to diocesan Bishops and to those who are equivalent to them
in law, as well as to coadjutor Bishops; and this by reason of the law
itself. The statutes of the Conference cannot provide otherwise.
"The President and Vice-President of the Episcopal Conference must be
chosen only from among the members who are diocesan Bishops.
"As regards auxiliary Bishops and other titular Bishops who are members
of the Episcopal Conference, the statutes of the Conference should
determine whether their vote is deliberative or consultative.
"In this respect, the proportion between diocesan Bishops and auxiliary
and other titular Bishops should be taken into account, in order that a
possible majority of the latter may not condition the pastoral government
of the diocesan Bishops.
"However, it is appropriate that the statutes of Episcopal Conferences
allow for the presence of Bishops emeriti, and that they have a
consultative vote. Particular care should be taken to enable them to take
part in some study Commissions, when these deal with issues in which a
Bishop emeritus is particularly competent...".
Recognition (recognitio) of the Statutes by the Holy See is an
act of communion and not of subjection. It creates bonds of reciprocal
The now regular visits to Rome of the leaders chosen by their brother
Bishops (as President and Vice-President) from their election is another
very praiseworthy sign of reciprocal proximity and constructive communion.
In short, what a heavy responsibility it is today, before God and
before men, to be a Bishop! It is not rare for priests designated to take
this responsibility to hesitate or even to shrink from it when God calls
them through the voice of the Pope. It is a higher service that has
something frightening about it. "This service is a formidable one",
certain great prophets of the Old Testament said in times past.
In 25 years of a supreme Pontificate, a star of courage and heroic
perseverance, what deep congratulations and thanks Pope John Paul II
deserves! On one occasion, some young people with great admiration and
immense respect said spontaneously to him as a token of homage and
encouragement: "The Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel elected you Pope, the
Father of all.... Today we too re-elect you publicly for the same service,
for you perform it so well!".
Like Peter, ‘the Rock', leading Christ's Church
12. 1 had the same impression when I was once in Rome, attending a very
brilliant conference given by an eminent professor of Holy Scripture who
was also the rector of one of the most prestigious universities in the
city. Speaking of John Paul II he recalled several great biblical figures,
Moses and Elijah, Joshua and Elisha, as well as John the Baptist. The
exalted testimony, of this Teacher [Cardinal C.M. Martini], later called
to be the Pastor and guide of one of the most important Dioceses in the
world, cannot but reassure me.
Indeed, the man we have tried to portray as "a prestigious popular
leader" in these difficult times of ours; the man who "sprang up like a
fire" and has been able to reveal God's greatness and goodness to the
elite and the simple alike; the man who introduced us into the Promised
Land of the Great Jubilee of the Holy Year 2000 — in accordance with the
great Cardinal Wyszynski's recommendation in 1978 — the man who, in
conformity with the very names of "John" and "Paul" that he chose upon his
election, will have carried out a most effective ministry as the
illuminator and prophet of the new generations; we greet him with infinite
joy and gratitude.
13. Popes do not retire, since they are chosen to be Servants for life.
In any case it would be good to listen once again to the words of St
Leo the Great for the anniversary of his episcopal ordination: "...1
rediscover my joy with full dignity and holiness in the dispositions of
God. Although he has delegated the care of his sheep to many pastors, he
has not given up tending his beloved flock himself.... St Peter, ever
strong with the solidity of rock imparted to him, has not abandoned the
helm of the Church which was entrusted to his care...".
‘Sustain your brethren as the Lord sustains you’
14. To my regret, I must now stop leafing through the album of my
Permit me to re-read with you by way of conclusion the words of St
Ignatius of Antioch, the illustrious Successor of the Apostles who came
from afar to baptize the Coliseum of Rome with his blood.
He was addressing Polycarp, the Bishop with the predestined name:
"Justify your role as Bishop in perfect solicitude of body and of mind.
Give thought to Unity, for there is nothing better.
Sustain your brethren as the Lord sustains you.
Sustain them all with love, as indeed you do.
Give yourself to prayer without respite....
Have special words for each person, as does God.
Bear the infirmities of all as an accomplished athlete...
The harder the work, the more plentiful the harvest".
I could have contented myself by merely quoting at the outset these
beautiful, evocative words of a saintly Bishop to another Brother in the
Episcopate, as prophetic for all the Bishops of all times... and as a
magnificent programme carried out by John Paul II during his fruitful and
impressive 25 years as Sovereign Pontiff to the glory of God, in honour of
Mary and at the service of humanity.
Cardinal Bernardin Gantin