Petrine Ministry and Communion in the Episcopate

Author: Cardinal Bernardin Gantin


Cardinal Bernardin Gantin
Dean Emeritus of the College of Cardinals


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 Pastor.

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 — Fr 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 others.

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 example.

"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 spiritual differences!

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 the start.

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 world.

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 credible.

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 research.

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 them.

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, their leader.

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 mind.

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 world.

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 and others.

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 world.

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 Pontificate.

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 name.

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 and received.

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 circulation.

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 your words".

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 any way".

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 steps.

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 the Council.

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 Father.

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 examination.

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, p. 3).

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 situations.

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 itself.

"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 confidence.

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 memories.

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

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
19 November 2003, page 8

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