1. I wish before all else to express my deep gratitude to your Dean,
Ambassador Giovanni Galassi, who has graciously offered greetings and
good wishes in your name while at the same time pointing to a number of
significant events in the life of our contemporaries, their hopes, their
troubles and their fears. He has wished to underline the specific
contribution of the Catholic Church on behalf of harmony between peoples
and in support of their spiritual progress. I offer him heartfelt
Ladies and Gentlemen,
2. Since we have just crossed the threshold of a new year, the Vicar of
Christ strongly desires to offer to the peoples whom you represent his
prayerful good wishes for this Year 2000 which so many have welcomed in
jubilation. Christians have entered into the Great Jubilee
by commemorating the coming of Christ into time and human history: In
many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets;
but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, as we read in
the Letter to the Hebrews (1:1-2).
To God who desired to make a covenant with the world which he continues
to create, to love and to enlighten, I most heartily entrust each ones
noblest aspirations and their fulfilment, without overlooking the tragic
trials and setbacks which so often thwart humanitys march forward.
With our contemporaries I praise God for so many beautiful and good
things, and I invoke his forgiveness for so many attacks on human life and
dignity, on fraternity and solidarity. May the Most High help us to
conquer in us and around us every form of resistance, so that the season
of men and women of good will may dawn or return, a season which the
recent feast of Christmas has proposed to us with the freshness of new
beginnings! These are my prayerful good wishes for all men and women, of
all countries and of all generations.
3. The century just ended has seen remarkable advances in science which
have considerably improved peoples life and health. These advances
have also contributed to our dominion over nature and made easier peoples
access to culture. Information technology has made the world smaller and
brought us closer to one another. Never before were we so quickly informed
about the daily events which affect the lives of our brothers and sisters
in the human family. But one question can be asked: was this century also
the century of brotherhood? Certainly an unqualified answer
cannot be given.
As the balance is made, the memory of bloody wars which have decimated
millions of people and provoked massive exoduses, shameful genocides which
haunt our memories, as well as the arms race which fostered mistrust and
fear, terrorism and ethnic conflicts which annihilated peoples who had
lived together in the same territory, all force us to be modest and in
many cases to have a penitent spirit.
The life sciences and biotechnology continue to find new fields of
application, yet they also raise the problem of the limits imposed by the
need to safeguard peoples dignity, responsibility and safety.
Globalization, which has profoundly transformed economic systems by
creating unexpected possibilities of growth, has also resulted in many
people being relegated to the side of the road: unemployment in the more
developed countries and extreme poverty in too many countries of the
southern hemisphere continue to hold millions of women and men back from
progress and prosperity.
4. For this reason it seems to me that the century now beginning ought
to be the century of solidarity.
We know one thing today more than in the past: we will never be happy
and at peace without one another, much less if some are against others.
The humanitarian efforts deployed during recent conflicts and natural
catastrophes inspired praiseworthy initiatives of volunteerism which
reveal a greater sense of altruism, especially among the younger
The phenomenon of globalization has somewhat changed the role of States:
citizens have become more and more involved, and the principle of
subsidiarity has undoubtedly contributed to greater balance between the
forces present within civil society; the citizen has become more a partner
in the common effort.
This means, it seems to me, that the men and women of the 21st century
will be called to a more developed sense of responsibility. First, their
personal responsibility, in fostering a sense of duty and honest labour:
corruption, organized crime or passivity can never lead to a true and
healthy democracy. But there must also be an equal sense of responsibility
towards others: an attitude of concern for the poor, participation in
structures of mutual assistance in the workplace and in the social sphere,
respect for nature and the environment, all these are required if we are
to have a world where people live together in a better way. Never again
must there be separation between people! Never again must some be opposed
to others! Everyone must live together, under Gods watchful eyes!
This also supposes that we must renounce idols such as prosperity at any
price, material wealth as the only value, science as the sole explanation
of reality. It also supposes that the rule of law will be applied and
respected by everyone and in all places, so that individual liberties can
be effectively guaranteed and equal opportunity become a reality for all
people. It also supposes that God will have his rightful place in peoples
lives: the first place.
In a world more than ever in search of meaning, Christians sense the
call, as this century opens, to proclaim with greater fervour that Jesus
is the Redeemer of mankind, and the Church senses the call to show herself
to be the sign and safeguard of the transcendence of the human
person (Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, No. 76).
5. Such solidarity calls for certain precise commitments. Some of these
are quite urgent:
- The sharing of technology and prosperity. In the absence of an
attitude of understanding and readiness to help, it would be difficult
to restrain the frustration felt by certain countries which see
themselves condemned to founder in ever more serious precariousness and
at the same time to have to compete with other countries. I myself have
brought up on a number of occasions, for example, the issue of the debt
of poor countries.
- Respect for human rights. The legitimate aspirations of the most
defenceless persons, the claims of ethnic minorities, the sufferings of
all those whose beliefs or culture are in one way or another held in
contempt are not merely optional issues to be dealt with as
circumstances, or political or economic interests, dictate. Not to
ensure these rights means quite simply to flout the dignity of persons
and to endanger global stability.
- Conflict prevention would avoid situations difficult to resolve and
would spare much suffering. Appropriate international means are not
lacking; they need only to be used, carefully distinguishing, without
opposition or separation, between politics, law and morality.
- Lastly, calm dialogue between cultures and religions could favour a
new way of thinking and living. Despite their diverse mentalities and
beliefs, the men and women of this millennium, in recalling the errors
of the past, must find new ways of living together and respecting one
another. Quality education, science and information represent the best
means for developing in each of us respect for others, for their talents
and beliefs, as well as a sense of universality worthy of mans
spiritual vocation. This dialogue would also make it possible in the
future to avoid arriving at an absurd situation: that of excluding or
killing others in the name of God. This undoubtedly will be a decisive
contribution to peace.
6. In recent years there has been much talk of a new world order.
The persevering action of far-sighted diplomats, and of multilateral
diplomacy in particular, has resulted in a number of praiseworthy
initiatives aimed at the building of an authentic community of
nations. At present, for example, the Middle East Peace Process is
continuing; the Chinese people are speaking to one another; the two Koreas
are in dialogue; certain African countries are attempting to arrange
meetings between rival factions; the government and armed groups in
Colombia are trying to remain in contact. All this demonstrates a real
desire to build a world based on brotherhood, in order to create, defend
and spread peace all around us. Regrettably, however, we must also
acknowledge that the errors of the past are all too often being repeated:
I am thinking of reactions based on group identity, of persecutions
inflicted for religious reasons, of the frequent and at times rash
recourse to war, of social inequalities, of the gap between the rich and
the poor countries, of the exclusive trust in profit alone, to cite only
some typical traits of the century just ended. At the beginning of the
year 2000, what do we see?
Africa, shackled by ethnic conflicts which hold entire peoples hostage,
impeding their economic and social progress and often condemning them to a
situation of mere survival.
The Middle East, constantly poised between war and peace, when we know
that only the rule of law and justice will make it possible for all the
peoples of the region, without distinction, to live together and to be
free of endemic dangers.
Asia, a continent of immense human and material resources, gathers into
precarious balance peoples of venerable and economically highly developed
cultures and others who are becoming increasingly impoverished. I recently
visited this continent in order to consign the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia
in Asia, the fruit of a recent synodal assembly, which has now become
a charter for all Catholics. I join the Synod Fathers in inviting once
more all the Catholics of Asia and men and women of good will to unite
their efforts in building a society more firmly based on solidarity.
America, an immense continent where one year ago I had the joy of
promulgating the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America,
inviting the peoples of the continent to an ever-renewed personal and
communal conversion, in respect for the dignity of the person and love for
the outcast, for the sake of promoting a culture of life.
North America, where economic and political concerns are often
considered paramount, is home to many poor people, despite its manifold
Latin America, which, with a few exceptions, has seen encouraging
advances towards democracy, remains dangerously crippled by alarming
social inequalities, the drug trade, corruption and in some cases
movements of armed struggle.
Europe, following the failure of the ideologies, is finally on the way
towards unity; it is struggling to meet the two-fold challenge of
reconciliation and the democratic integration of former enemies. Europe
has not been spared terrible forms of violence, as the recent Balkan
crisis and the conflicts of recent weeks in the Caucasus have shown. The
Bishops of the continent recently met in synodal assembly; they
acknowledged the signs of hope, growing openness between peoples,
reconciliation between nations, more frequent cooperation and exchange,
and called everyone to a greater European consciousness.
Faced with this troubled world, at once magnificent and unstable, I am
reminded of a commitment made at the end of the terrible Second World War,
which everyone wanted to be the last. I am speaking of the Preamble to the
Charter of the United Nations, adopted in San Francisco on 26 June 1945: We,
the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding
generations from the scourge of war which twice in our lifetime has
brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm our faith in fundamental
human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal
rights of men and women and of nations, large and small . . . have
resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.
This solemn text and this solemn commitment have lost nothing of their
force and their timeliness. In a world structured around sovereign but de
facto unequal States, it is indispensable for stability, understanding and
cooperation between peoples that international relations be increasingly
imbued with and shaped by the rule of law. Surely what is lacking is not
new texts or juridical instruments; it is quite simply the political will
to apply without discrimination those already in existence.
7. Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I speak to you as one who
has himself been a fellow-traveller of several generations of the century
just ended. I shared the harsh ordeals of my native people as the darkest
hours experienced by Europe. Twenty-one years ago, when I became the
Successor of the Apostle Peter, I felt myself charged with a universal
fatherhood which embraces all the men and women of our time without
exception. Today, in addressing you who represent practically all the
peoples of the earth, I would like to share with each one something
personal: at the opening of the doors of a new millennium, the Pope began
to think that people might finally learn to draw lessons from the past.
Indeed, I ask everyone, in Gods name, to save humanity from further
wars, to respect human life and the family, to bridge the gap between the
rich and the poor, to realize that we are all responsible for one another.
It is God himself who asks this, and he never asks what is beyond our
abilities. He himself gives us the strength to accomplish what he expects
The words which Deuteronomy puts on the lips of God himself come to
mind: See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and
evil; . . . therefore choose life, that you may live (Dt 30:15-19).
Life takes shape in our daily choices. And political leaders, since they
have the role of administering the res publica, can by their
personal choices and their programmes of action guide whole societies
either towards life or towards death. For this reason believers, and the
faithful of the Catholic Church in particular, consider it their duty to
take an active part in the public life of the societies to which they
belong. Their faith, their hope and their charity represent additional and
irreplaceable energies to ensure that not only will there be unfailing
concern for others, a sense of responsibility and the defence of
fundamental rights, but also to ensure that there is a perception that our
world and our personal and collective history are invested with a
Presence. I therefore insist that believers be granted a place in public
life because I am convinced that their faith and their witness can
reassure our contemporaries, who are often anxious and disoriented, and
can ensure that despite failures, violence and fear, neither evil nor
death will have the last word.
8. The time has now come for our exchange of personal good wishes. I
greet all of you most cordially and I ask you kindly to convey my best
wishes to the leaders of the countries which you represent. The doors of
the Great Jubilee have been opened for Christians and the doors of a new
millennium for humanity as a whole. What is important now is to cross the
threshold in order to make our journey. This is a journey on which God
precedes us and in which he traces the path which will lead us towards
himself. Nothing, no prejudice or ambition, should hold us back. A new
history is beginning for us. The peoples whom you represent are going to
write that history in their personal and collective life. It is a history
in which today, like yesterday and like tomorrow, humanity has an
appointment with God. And so to all I say: Safe journey!
From the Vatican, 10 January 2000.