Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. "Mindful of the words of the Lord: "By this all men will know
that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another' (Jn
13: 35), Christians can yearn for nothing more ardently than to
serve the people of this age with an ever growing generosity and
success" (Gaudium et spes, n. 93).
This task, which the Second Vatican Council gave us at the end
of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,
responds to the fascinating challenge of building a world
enlivened by the law of love, a civilization of love, "founded
on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice and
liberty, which find their full attainment in Christ" (Tertio
millennio adveniente, n. 52).
This civilization is based on recognition of the universal
sovereignty of God the Father, the inexhaustible source of love.
Precisely on the acceptance of this fundamental value, a sincere
examination at the end of the millennium should be made for the
Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, in order to set out more
promptly towards the future that awaits us.
We have seen the decline of ideologies which deprived so many of
our brethren of spiritual reference-points, but the baneful
fruits of a secularism that breeds religious indifference
continue to exist, especially in more developed regions. The
return to a confused religiosity, caused by fragile compensatory
needs and the search for a psycho-cosmic balance, which appears
in many of the new religious paradigms that proclaim a
religiosity without reference to a transcendent and personal
God, is certainly not a valid response to this situation.
Instead, we must carefully analyze the reason for this loss of
the sense of God and courageously proclaim the message of the
Father's face, revealed by Jesus Christ in the light of the
Spirit. This revelation does not diminish but exalts the dignity
of the human person created in the image of God-Love.
2. In recent decades, the loss of the sense of God has coincided
with the advance of a nihilistic culture that impoverishes the
meaning of human life and, in the ethical field, relativizes
even the fundamental values of the family and of respect for
life. This does not often occur visibly, but through a subtle
methodology of indifference that makes all kinds of behaviour
seem normal, so that moral problems are no longer acknowledged.
It is paradoxically demanded that the State recognize as
"rights" many forms of conduct which threaten human life,
especially the weakest and the most defenceless, not to mention
the enormous difficulties in accepting others because they are
different, inconvenient, foreign, sick or disabled. It is
precisely this ever more prevalent rejection of others because
of their otherness that challenges our conscience as believers.
As I said in the Encyclical Evangelium vitae: "We are confronted
by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable
structure of sin ... characterized by the emergence of a culture
which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a
veritable "culture of death'" (n. 12).
3. In face of this death-loving culture our responsibility as
Christians is expressed in commitment to the "new
evangelization", one of whose most important fruits is the
civilization of love.
"The Gospel, and therefore evangelization, are certainly not
identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to
all cultures" (Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 20), but they possess a
regenerating power that can have a positive influence on
culture. The Christian message does not demean cultures by
destroying their particular features; on the contrary, it acts
within them, making the most of that original potential which
their genius can express. The Gospel's influence on culture
purifies and uplifts what is human, making the beauty of life,
the harmony of peaceful coexistence and the originality that
every people contributes to the human community shine
resplendently. This influence finds its strength in a love that
does not impose but proposes, relying on free assent in an
atmosphere of respect and mutual acceptance.
4. The Gospel message of love liberates human needs and values,
such as solidarity, the yearning for freedom and equality, and
respect for pluralism in forms of expression. The cornerstone of
the civilization of love is recognition of the value of the
human person and, concretely, of all human beings.
Christianity's great contribution is recognized precisely in
this area. In fact, the anthropological doctrine of the human
person as a relational being gradually developed precisely from
reflection on the mystery of the Trinitarian God and on the
person of the Word made flesh. This precious discovery gave rise
to the idea of a society which has made the human person its
starting-point and goal. The Church's social teaching, which the
spirit of the Jubilee invites us to reflect on again, has also
helped to base the laws of social coexistence on the rights of
the person. The Christian vision of the human being as the image
of God, in fact, implies that the rights of the person, by their
very nature, demand the respect of society, which does not
create but merely recognizes them (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 26).
5. The Church realizes that this doctrine can remain a dead
letter if social life is not enlivened by the influence of
authentic religious experience, especially by a Christian
witness continuously nourished by the Holy Spirit's creative and
healing action. She knows that the crisis of society and of
contemporary man is largely caused by the reduction of the human
person's specific spiritual dimension.
Christianity makes its contribution to building a more human
society precisely by providing it with soul and by proclaiming
the demands of God's law, on which all social organization and
legislation should be based if they intend to guarantee human
advancement, liberation from every kind of slavery and true
The Church makes this contribution principally through the
witness given by Christians, particularly lay people, in their
daily lives. Indeed, contemporary man accepts the message of
love more from witnesses than from teachers, and if he does
accept it from teachers, it is because they are authentic
witnesses (cf. Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 41). This is the
challenge to be met so that new horizons will be opened for the
future of Christianity and of humanity itself.