Talk to National Bishops

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Given on February 17, 1995.

Brother Bishops,

1. "For this reason I kneel before the Father... that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph 3:14-17). At the beginning of a series of ad limina visits by the Bishops of Brazil, this is my prayer for the Church in your vast and beloved nation: may the faith of the Bishops of the Church be renewed and strengthened, so that all believers may be helped to live their own Christian vocation with integrity and courage! I welcome you this morning, members of the first group of Bishops from the Second Southern Region. I greet you with warm fraternal affection in the Lord and I am grateful for the fraternal words of Archbishop Pedro Antonio Marchetti Fedalto of Curitiba, which as always, conveyed comfort and peace.

Basic human values are linked to the family

During the year I will be meeting other groups of Bishops from the different regions of the National Bishops' Conference of Brazil (CNBB). These meetings are deeply meaningful for us all. They are an expression of the collegial structure of the Church's hierarchical communion. On these occasions, we deeply feel the spiritual solidarity of those who have "one Lord, one faith, one Baptism" and are "striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph 4:5, 3). While in our private discussions we speak about the situation in each of your Dioceses individually, these group meetings give me the opportunity to share with you and your brother Bishops of Brazil some reflections on certain more general aspects of your ministry and of the Church's life in your country.

2. Thanks be to God for the signs of your Church's dedication to the service of evangelization, for all the catechetical initiatives that continue to be the principal means of evangelization, especially those aimed at children and adolescents, but which at the same time offer adults sound reasons for their faith amid the prevailing social conditions in your Dioceses.

In this regard, 1994 was highly significant for the Church, because it was proclaimed the Year of the Family. I remember the world-wide mobilization which, with the help of divine Providence, sparked a new awareness in each family of its civil and ecclesial mission to foster respect for the human being as such. It could not be otherwise, when we consider the full significance of the fact that "Christianity is the religion of the Incarnation; it is the joyful proclamation of a God who reaches out to man..." (Angelus, 30 January 1994, L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 2 February 1994, p. 12). Thus throughout the year, the Church sought to give a special witness, recalling that the basic values of the human being and his most sacred rights and duties as a Christian are linked to the family. This is why I must pay homage to the many married couples and Brazilian families who, by joyfully living their fidelity to the Christian faith, keep striving to inculturate in your country the great values of warmth, friendship, hard work and solidarity, on a solid Christian basis.

In thinking about you as you carry our your pastoral ministry, I have often reflected on your concerns, which are also my own, regarding certain situations that worry you. I have often pondered over certain problems in Brazilian society, for I know how much still remains to be done in your highly diversified social circumstances. I thought, for example, of the street children, the spread of drugs, banditry, violence and murders in the cities. Directly concerning the family, I thought of the increase in divorces, separations, irregular situations, the use of contraceptives, the spread of voluntary sterilization and abortion, juvenile delinquency and the elimination of juvenile offenders, and many other things that need not be mentioned.

In calling these problems to mind, it is natural also to raise the following question: what is the root cause of all these evils? If we make a thorough search we will find this answer: the suffering of society reflects the suffering of families. Since the family is the basic, vital cell of society, when the family is sick, society as a whole is sick. Thus the citizens who adopt the virtues and vices of a family are citizens who are sanctified and corrupted: "As the family goes, so goes the nation, because such is the citizen who builds society" (Homily in Nowy Targ Poland, 8 June 1979; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 16 July 1979).

I would like to remind you of something I have very much at heart. Try as we may, we can never do enough to revitalize the family and to reassert its most genuine and basic values; our missionary work must never be as ardent as when we are zealously dedicated to putting into practice the motto coined in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio: "Family, become what you are!" (n. 17).

Church always promotes respect for the right to life

3. Hence, the future of the Church in Brazil comes through the family. We must see the family as the focal point of the Church's pastoral work. It was not without a special light from the Holy Spirit that the Santo Domingo Conference could say: "It is necessary to make the pastoral care of the family a basic, perceived, real and active priority" (n. 64).

A few years ago I reminded the Bishops of Brazil of this priority and of the centrality of the family apostolate in words that today are even more timely and more urgently need to be put into practice: "In every Diocese—large or small, rich or poor, endowed with clergy or not—the Bishop will be acting with pastoral wisdom, will be making a high- yield 'investment' and will be building his particular Church in the meantime.

(Directives for the Bishops of Brazil, n. 5; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 25 June 1990). The family apostolate—at parish, diocesan and national levels—must not be considered just one option among others, but a pressing need that will become like a flame radiating the Christian values of the new evangelization at the very heart of society where the family is rooted. In time, this is what will give your evangelizing effort stability.

You must agree that the most urgent components of this apostolate, expressed in the Santo Domingo Document, must be based on: efforts to "prepare couples for marriage" (n. 222); to promote the "training of pastoral workers" (ibid.); to foster a pro-life mentality; to offer the means for practicing responsible parenthood in a Christian way and always to provide for the "clear imparting of the Church's teaching on birth control" (n. 226 and 222); "to seek, following the Good Shepherd's example, ways and means to give pastoral care to couples in irregular marital situations" (n. 224); and, in particular, to do all you can to make the family a real "domestic Church", "called to be sanctified and to sanctify the ecclesial community and the world" (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, n. 55).

Among these aspects, I would first like to invite you to face courageously the challenges presented by a misguided public opinion that on the one hand repeats monotonously, I would say with little originality, the pseudo-scientific arguments of neo-Malthusianism, warning of the catastrophic consequences of an imminent "population explosion", and on the other, simplifies solutions with a culture of death opposed to the civilization of life. The Church always defends respect for the life and dignity of the human person. Therefore continue to defend the most vulnerable categories of human life: the life of the unborn child and the terminally ill. Legalized euthanasia heightens and aggravates this contempt for life, which began with the laws permitting abortion. When getting rid of an unwanted child is permitted the point can be reached in which the elimination of the terminally ill, the elderly and even the young delinquent who disturbs urban peace is permitted.

The phenomenon of the so-called "street children" and their unjustifiable elimination is the ultimate result of another profound evil that concerns the social, economic and educational structures of your country, and even more, the human values necessary for a dignified life and a basic, indispensable education for children and adolescents. I am aware of your efforts to rectify this tragic situation—I know of the encouraging pastoral effort by some Dioceses to assist numerous abandoned children—and I would like to renew my words of encouragement for all the initiatives which confirm the humanitarian and Christian tradition of the Brazilian people.

Defend the unity and indissolubility of marriage

4. Clearly, then, your concern will be focused on the very heart of the evils that have struck society and cannot be omitted here: the unity and indissolubility of marriage, and the role of woman in society and in the Church.

As I said to you in Campo Grande, it is distressing to note in your beloved country "the extreme fragility of many marriages... with the tragic consequence of countless separations, in which the children are always the innocent victims" (17 October 1991; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 28 October 1991, p. 12). Marriage is indissoluble by its nature and not only by the demands of the Gospel. It was thus "from the beginning" (Mt 19:4). In the primordial plan of the creation of man as such, the unity and indissolubility of marriage are already imprinted in his heart: "the two become one body" (Gn 2:24).

The defense of indissolubility is not only a Christian goal, but especially a human demand: the defense of a radically human value defended by countless nonChristian thinkers, anthropologists and jurists. Unity and indissolubility, the essential properties of marriage (source of the family), cannot change according to fashion and taste, since the family belongs "to humanity's most fundamental and sacred heritage!" (Regina Caeli, 17 April 1994; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 April 1994, p. 2), and should be defended by you as you defend the most precious element in your cultural roots.

In particular, you must protect engaged couples from the avalanche of hedonism that gives precedence to pleasure over love, and to superficial sentiment over the mutual giving on which true love is based. You should also guide young married couples so that they understand that marriage unites them in joy and sadness, in health and in sickness, in enthusiasm and in apathy, until death separates them. Lastly, you should endeavor to form them in love: a deep and lasting love since "we love one another truly and absolutely only when we love forever..." (Angelus, 10 July 1994; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 13 July 1994, p. 1). "Love seeks to be definitive, it cannot be an arrangement 'until further notice'" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1646).

5. Moreover, certain bitter feminist demands appear in the cultural atmosphere of certain social groups, where women are given jobs and roles that in many cases are suited neither to their specific psychological make-up nor to God's design.

We are absolutely convinced of the radical equality between man and woman, who possess the same personal dignity as children of God. We are also convinced that, like man, woman should contribute to the common good in conformity with her nature and her physical, intellectual and moral abilities. "There are those who reproach the Church for insisting too much on woman's mission in the family and for overlooking the question of her active presence in the various areas of social life. Actually this is not the case. The Church is well aware of how much society needs the feminine genius in all aspects of civil society and insists that every form of discrimination of women be eliminated from the workplace, culture and politics, while still respecting the proper nature of femininity: an inappropriate leveling of roles would not only impoverish social life, but would ultimately deprive woman herself of what is primarily or exclusively hers" (Angelus, 14 August 1994; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 24 August 1994, p. 2).

Be strengthened in the truth of Christ

Doubtless, specifically feminine qualities play an important role in the world of business, science, teaching, sociology, politics, the economy and technology. Moreover, professional life receives from the feminine approach a large measure of humanity, gentleness and understanding. But there are tasks in which women are irreplaceable. Women must strengthen precisely what is properly, characteristically and indispensably theirs, like motherhood. Women's vocation to motherhood is a burning issue today. We must work diligently so that the dignity of this vocation is not eliminated from Brazilian culture. "To concentrate on woman's main role as a wife and mother is to place her in the heart of the family; her irreplaceable role must be appreciated and recognized as such, and should go together with the very essence of her womanhood (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, n. 18). Being a wife and mother are two complementary aspects of marriage, this original communion of life and love and the basis of the family" (John Paul II, Address to the 11th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, n. 3; L’Osservatore Romano English edition, 13 April 1994, p. 3). A mother's dedication to her home and her children is the loftiest role she can carry out. Without the mother, there is no home, no family, no country, even no Church!

6. From millions of "domestic Churches" the Church is instilled with life and spiritual fervor. She herself makes the Eucharist a manifestation of love, uniting herself with Christ in "the cup of the new and everlasting covenant". Referring to the parallelism between marriage and Christ's union with the Church (cf. Eph 5:23ff.), I can say that the Redeemer devoted himself to the fulfilment of irrevocable union with generous and self-sacrificing love. And the Church repays this love with a total gift of all her being, of all her life. The grandeur of this love is neither inaccessible nor impossible to realize in married life. In the Eucharist Christ communicates to the spouses the full force of his sacrificial love. Selfishness transforms the great beauty of conjugal love in Christ into an impossible ideal.

7. Dear brother Bishops, at the Last Supper Jesus invited his disciples to be his friends, telling them that they were no longer servants and sealing this intimacy with the Eucharist (cf. Jn 15:13-14). The Lord continues to invite you, the successors of the Apostles, to intimacy with him, so that you may be strengthened in his truth, to be able on your part to proclaim his vigorous and liberating power to the People of God who are entrusted to your pastoral care. I entrust to Mary, Mother of the Church, the difficulties and joys of your ministry, as well as the needs and hopes of the Church in Brazil. The Pope wants to assure you that he is always dose to you with his prayers, encouraging you to persevere in all the initiatives you undertake on behalf of the dignity of the human person and the family. To each of you and to all the priests, religious, and lay people of your Dioceses, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

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