Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I would like today to pause over my recent visit to India and Georgia.
Recalling this trip offers me the opportunity to thank first of all the
Heavenly Father, "for whom and through whom all things exist" (Hebrews 2:10).
With his help, I was able to accomplish this task of my service to the
Gospel and to the cause of Christian unity.
The first stop on my spiritual pilgrimage was the city of New Delhi in
India, for the signing and promulgation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortation, "Ecclesia in Asia". In this document I harvested the fruit of
the study and proposals of the Special Assembly for the Synod of Bishops
for Asia, which took place in Rome in 1998. India is the cradle of ancient
cultures, religions and spiritual traditions, that are continuing to mold
the lives of millions of people, in a social context characterized by
centuries of a notable degree of reciprocal tolerance. Christianity, which
accounts for a considerable part of this history of peaceful relations, has
been there since the preaching of the apostle Thomas, according to the
Christians of Southern India.
Today this spirit of reciprocal respect has for some become difficult. It
was therefore important to reaffirm the lively desire of the Church for a
fruitful dialogue among the followers of all religions, that they may bring
renewed relations of understanding and of solidarity to the service of the
entire human family.
2. The synodal document "Ecclesia in Asia" helps us to understand that this
interreligious dialogue and the mandate of the Church to spread the Gospel
unto the ends of the earth are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary,
complementary. On the one hand, the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation
in Jesus Christ must always be deeply respectful of the consciences of
those hearing it, and respectful of all that is good and holy in the
culture and religious tradition to which they belong (cf "Nostra Aetate",
2). On the other hand, freedom of conscience and the free exercise of
religion in society are fundamental human rights, rooted in the innate
value and dignity of every person. This is recognized in many international
documents and accords, including the Universal Declaration of the Rights of
I warmly recall the Mass that I concelebrated with numerous Bishops of
India and of many countries of Asia in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on
Sunday, November 7th. Once again I thank Archbishop Alan de Lastic and the
Archdiocese of Delhi for their organization of the solemn liturgy, marked
by lively and devout participation, and vivified by carefully chosen songs
and multicolored traditional, local dances. The theme of the Mass was:
"Jesus Christ, True Light of the World, Made Flesh on Asian Soil". In this
Eucharistic celebration the Catholic community of India represented, in a
certain sense, all Asian Catholics, to whom I have entrusted the
Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Asia" as a guide for their
spiritual growth, on the threshold of the new millennium. I am certain
that, with the grace of God, they will know how to be strong and faithful!
3. The second stop on my journey was Georgia, in order to return the visit
that President Shevardnadze and His Holiness Ilia II, Patriarch-Catholicos
of Georgia, had made earlier to Rome. It was my ardent desire to honor the
witness of the Georgian Church over the centuries, and to make new points
of contact among the Christians so that, as we begin the third Christian
millennium, they will be able to strive together to proclaim the Gospel
with one heart and one soul to the world.
Georgia is going through a very important period. While it is preparing to
celebrate 3,000 years of its history in a context of refound independence,
it is facing great economical and social challenges. However, it is
determined to confront these challenges with courage, and to become a
reliable member of a united Europe. Christian Georgia has a millenarian and
glorious history. It began in the fourth century when the witness of a
woman, Saint Nino, converted King Mirian and the entire nation to Christ.
From that time on, a flowering monastic tradition gave to this land lasting
monuments of culture, civilization and religious architecture. An example
is the Cathedral of Mtsketa, which I was able to visit in the company of
the Patriarch-Catholicos after our warm, personal meeting.
4. And now, after seventy years of communist repression during which many
Orthodox and Catholic martyrs gave heroic witness to their faith, the
little but fervent Catholic community of Caucasus is progressively
strengthening its life and structure. The joy that I observed among the
priests, religious and laity, who gathered in unexpected numbers for the
Mass in Tbilisi Stadium, is a sign of sure hope for the Church's future
throughout the region. Our meeting in the Church of SS. Peter and Paul in
Tbilisi, the only Catholic church which remained open during the time of
totalitarianism, was a particularly joyous occasion. I pray that the
Catholics of Georgia may always be able to offer their specific
contribution to the building up of their homeland.
An intense moment of reflection was the meeting with men and women of the
worlds of the culture, science and art, presided over by President
Shevardnadze and deepened by the presence of the Patriarch-Catholicos, to
reflect on the specific vocation of Georgia, at the crossroads of East and
West. As I recalled during this meeting, the century that is about to
conclude, marked by many shadows but also characterized by light, bears
witness to the indomitable strength of the human spirit, which is able to
triumph over those who would suffocate the irrevocable aspiration of man
toward truth and liberty.
5. I thank the civil authorities and those in both countries who worked to
make this a profitable and peaceful visit. With a moved and grateful heart
I think of the bishops, priests, religious and laity of India and Georgia,
and I keep an unforgettable memory of them all.
To Mary, Mother of the Church, I entrust those whom I met; to Her I
recommend the Church in Asia and in Caucasus, "confiding fully in her ear
that always hears, in her heart that always accepts, in her prayer that
never fails" ("Ecclesia in Asia", 51).