Rediscover the Council's great wealth
On Sunday, 26 November the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Holy
Father celebrated Mass in St Peter's Square for the Jubilee
of the Apostolate of the Laity. Despite the rainy weather, thousands
of lay people from around the world participated in the solemn
liturgy, during which the Pope entrusted copies of the Second
Vatican Council's documents to 10 representatives of the lay
Christian faithful. Thirty-five years after the close of the
Council, the Holy Father said, "we must return to the Council.
We must once again take the documents of the Second Vatican Council
in hand to rediscover the great wealth of its doctrinal and
pastoral motives". Here is a translation of his homily, which
was given in Italian.
1. "It is you who say I am a king" (Jn 18:37).
This is how Jesus answered Pilate in a dramatic dialogue which
the Gospel recounts to us again on today's Solemnity of Christ the
King. On this day celebrated at the end of the liturgical year,
Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father is presented as the beginning
and end of all creation, as the Redeemer of man and the Lord of
history. In the first reading the prophet Daniel says: "His
dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass
away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed" (7:14).
Yes, O Christ, you are King! Your kingship is paradoxically
manifested in the Cross, in obedience to the plan of the Father,
"who", as the Apostle Paul wrote, "has delivered us
from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of
his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of
sins" (Col 1:13-14). As the first born from the dead,
you, Jesus, are the King of the new humanity, restored to its
A kingdom of justice, love and peace
You are King! But your kingdom is not of this world (cf,
Jn 18:36); it is not the fruit of the conquests of war,
political domination, economic empires or cultural hegemony. Yours
is a "kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and
grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace" (cf. Preface of
Christ the King), which will be revealed in its fullness at the
end of time, when God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). The
Church, which can already taste on earth the first fruits of this
future fulfilment, never ceases to repeat: "Adveniat regnum
tuum", "Thy kingdom come" (Mt 6:10).
2. Thy kingdom come! This is how the faithful, in every
part of the world, pray as they gather round their Pastors today for
the Jubilee of the Apostolate of the Laity. And I joyfully
add my voice to this universal chorus of praise and prayer, as I
celebrate Holy Mass together with you at the tomb of the Apostle
I thank Cardinal James Francis Stafford, President of the
Pontifical council for the Laity, and your two representatives, who
expressed your common sentiments at the beginning of this Holy Mass.
I greet my venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, as well as the
priests and religious present. I extend my greetings in particular
to you, my lay brothers and sisters, Christifideles laici, who
are actively dedicated to the Gospel cause: in looking at you, I am
also thinking of all the members of the communities, associations
and movements of apostolic action; I am thinking of the fathers and
mothers who, with generosity and a spirit of sacrifice, see that
their children are raised in the practice of human and Christian
virtues; I am thinking of those who offer their sufferings,
accepted and lived in union with Christ, as a contribution to
3. I especially greet you, dear participants in the Congress
of the Catholic Laity, which fits well into the context of the
Jubilee of the Apostolate of the Laity. The theme of your meeting is
"Witnesses to Christ in the new millennium". It
continues the tradition of the world conventions of the lay
apostolate which began, 50 years ago under the fruitful
impulse of the keener awareness which the Church had acquired both
of her own nature as a mystery of communion and of her intrinsic
missionary responsibility in the world.
In the growth of this awareness, the Second Vatican Ecumenical
Council marked a decisive turning-point. With the Council the
hour of the laity truly struck, and many lay faithful, men and
women, more clearly understood their Christian vocation, which by
its very nature is a vocation to the apostolate (cf. Apostolicam
actuositatem, n. 2). Thirty-five years after its
conclusion, I say: we must return to the Council. We
must once again take the documents of the Second Vatican Council in
hand to rediscover the great wealth of its doctrinal and pastoral
In particular, you lay people must again take those
documents in hand. To you the Council opened extraordinary
perspectives of commitment and involvement in the Church's mission.
Did the Council not remind you of your participation in the
priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ? In a special way,
the Council Fathers entrusted you with the mission "of seeking
the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing
them according to God's will" (Lumen gentium, n. 31).
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses
Since then a lively season of associations has blossomed,
in which, along with traditional groups, new movements, sodalities
and communities have arisen (cf, Christifideles laici n. 29).
Today more than ever, dear brothers and sisters, your apostolate
is indispensable, if the Gospel is to be the light salt
and leaven of a new humanity.
4. However, what does this mission entail? What does being
a Christian mean today, here and now?
Being a Christian has never been easy, nor is it easy today.
Following Christ demands the courage of radical choices, which often
means going against the stream. "We are Christ!", St
Augustine exclaimed. The martyrs and witnesses of faith yesterday
and today, including many lay faithful, show that, if
necessary, we must not hesitate to give even our lives for Jesus
In this regard, the Jubilee invites everyone to a serious
examination of conscience and lasting spiritual renewal for ever
more effective missionary activity. Here I would like to return to
what my venerable predecessor, Pope Paul VI wrote in his Apostolic
Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi 25 years ago towards the end
of the Holy Year of 1975: "Modern man listens more willingly to
witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is
because they are witnesses" (n. 41).
These words are still valid today in the presence of a humanity
full of potential and expectations, but threatened by a multitude of
snares and dangers. One need only think, among other things, of
social advances and of the revolution in genetics; of economic
progress and of underdevelopment in vast areas of the globe; of the
tragedy of hunger in the world and of the difficulties in
safeguarding peace; of the extensive network of communications and
of the dramas of loneliness and violence reported in the daily
press. Dear lay faithful, as witnesses to Christ you are especially
called to bring the light of the Gospel to the vital nerve
centres of society. You are called to be prophets of Christian
hope and apostles of the One "who is and who was and who is to
come, the Almighty!" (Rv 1:4).
5. "Holiness befits your house!" (Ps 92:5).
With these words we addressed God in the responsorial psalm. Holiness
continues to be the greatest challenge for believers. We
must be grateful to the Second Vatican Council, which recalled how all
Christians are called to the fullness of Christian life and the
perfection of charity.
If you live Christianity, you will set the world ablaze
Dear friends, do not be afraid to take up this challenge: be
holy men and women! Do not forget that the fruits of the
apostolate depend on the depth of spiritual life, on the intensity
of prayer, on continual formation and on sincere adherence to the
Church's directives. Today I repeat to you, as I did to the young
people during the recent World Youth Day, that if you are what you
should be—that is, if you live Christianity
without compromise— you will set the world
You face tasks and goals which may seem to exceed human forces.
Do not lose heart! "He who began a good work in you will bring
it to completion" (Phil 1:6) Always keep your gaze fixed on
Jesus. Make him the heart of the world.
And you, Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, his first and most perfect
disciple, help us to be his witnesses in the new millennium. Let
your Son, King of the world and King of history, reign over our
lives, our communities and the whole world!
"Praise and honour to you, O Christ!". By your Cross
you have redeemed the world. At the beginning of the millennium, we
entrust to you our efforts to serve this world which you love and
which we love too. Support us with the power of your grace! Amen.