John Paul II, Address to Permanent Interdicasterial Commission for a More Equitable Distribution of Priests, 11 January 1996.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
1. I am very pleased to meet you, the members and advisers of the Permanent Interdicasterial Commission for a More Equitable Distribution of Priests in the World, at the end of your second plenary assembly. I greet the President, Cardinal Pio Laghi, whom I thank or his words to me, and at the same time I greet the Co-President, Cardinal José Sánchez, and all those present.
I would like first of all to express my appreciation for your availability and commitment to this service, which is very dear to me and to the whole Church, especially on the threshold of the third Christian millennium.
2. In my Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, I invited the universal Church to prepare for the great event of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, in the hope that it will become a propitious occasion for “the strengthening of faith an of the witness of Christians” (n. 42). We thank God for the spread of the Gospel, which has now reached every corner of the earth. It has been an extraordinary dissemination and has succeeded in overcoming obstacles and difficulties of every kind.
However, the challenges facing us are neither few nor small. The most demanding challenge comes, obviously, from human beings whom the Christian message has not yet reached. Actually, in recent decades missionary expansion has not been able to keep pace with demographic growth and, especially in Latin America, it is challenged by the divisive activity of the sects. Other challenged exist in East European countries, where the destructive effect of long decades of atheistic communism on Christian values is weighing heavily. Then, in the West secularization has often led to forgetting about God and to the frantic quest for material prosperity alone.
3. The answer to these challenges must come from the harmonious commitment of all the local Churches, which by nature are missionary
and co-responsible for the growth of the faith throughout the world. Thus the temptation to particularism that leads individual Churches to restrict themselves to current problems within their own confines must be rejected. The result of this would be to downgrade the missionary apostolate and to impoverish the “exchange of gifts” between Sister Churches. It must be recognized in this regard that very few Dioceses have communicated to the Interdicasterial Commission their willingness to help with numerous requests for priests. I also know that many have already established direct relations with Sister Churches, and that these include the so-called “mission” Churches. Nonetheless, we cannot forget that the number of “fidei donum” priests is little more than one per cent of the total. It seems legitimate to think that together we can do more and better!
In preparation for the great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I would therefore like to make a heartfelt appeal to Bishops and priests, but also to religious and Christian communities in every country and on every continent, that, in a sprit of deep communion and sincere sensitivity to the mission they have received from God, they assume greater responsibility in task of evangelization.
4. The Bishops, as members of the Episcopal College, “are consecrated not for one Diocese alone, but for the salvation of the whole world” (Ad gentes, n. 38). Fidelity to this conciliar directive demands that all of us Bishops of the Catholic Church sensitize our communities and organize concrete activities so that the Gospel will be proclaimed to the very ends of the earth.
In exhorting all my Brothers in the Episcopate to active generosity, I would like to recall what St Paul wrote to the Corinthians regarding the Churches in Macedonia: “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part” (2 Cor 8:2). We must not forget that generosity, in God’s logic, is the source of fruitfulness!
For their part, may priests and religious have the mind and heart of missionaries; may they be open to the needs of the Church and of the world. In prayer, and particularly in the Eucharistic sacrifice, they should have at heart the Church’s concern for all humanity (cf. Redemptoris missio, n.
67). If this spiritual attitude is deeply rooted in their hearts, it will be easier to respond “to that increasingly serious demand of the Church today which arises from the unequal distribution of clergy” (Pastores dabo vobis, n. 32). When there is an authentic interior willingness, it is easy to find the way to express it in concrete choices. The Church’s future in the third millennium will largely depend on this willingness and on the choices that follow from it.
5. The final word at our meeting must be an invitation to a further increase in collaboration between all the Churches and all Christians in the task of evangelization. In an age of great activity and dynamism such as ours, co-ordinated collaboration is more than ever necessary. This is the task of your Commission, which I wished to establish to make know the requests for and availability of clergy in the particular Churches, to sensitize the available fores to intervene where most needed, and to co-ordinate the “exchange of gifts” between Sister Churches.
Urging the Christians of Corinth to be generous, St Paul said to them: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). This should become the style of all Churches, so that, as it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack” (2 Cor 8:15).
Hoping that your commitment will be crowned with that flowering of generosity for which we all wait and hope, I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you with affecting an appreciation.
OssRomEng, 29 (24 January 1996): 7.