Pope Benedict XVI's
to the College of Cardinals
and to the World
April 19, 2005
Venerable Brother Cardinals,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Men and Women of Good Will!
1. May grace and peace be multiplied to all of you (cf. 1 Peter 1:2)! In these hours, two contrasting sentiments coexist in my spirit. On one hand, a sense of inadequacy and of human anxiety before the universal Church, because of the responsibility that was entrusted to me yesterday as Successor of the Apostle Peter in this See of Rome. On the other hand, I feel very intensely in myself a profound gratitude to God who -- as we sing in the liturgy -- does not abandon his flock, but leads it through the times, under the guidance of those whom he himself has chosen as vicars of his Son and has constituted pastors (cf. Preface of the Apostles I).
Beloved, this profound gratitude for a gift of the divine mercy prevails in my heart despite everything. And I consider it in fact as a special grace obtained for me by my venerable Predecessor, John Paul II. I seem to feel his strong hand gripping mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and to hear his words, addressed at this moment particularly to me: "Be not afraid!"
The Holy Father John Paul II's death, and the days that followed, were a time of extraordinary grace for the Church and for the entire world. The great sorrow of his death and the sense of emptiness that it left in everyone were tempered by the action of the risen Christ, which was manifested during long days in the unanimous wave of faith, love and spiritual solidarity, culminated in his solemn obsequies.
We can say it: John Paul II's funeral rites were a truly extraordinary experience in which in some way the power of God was perceived that, through his Church, desires to make of all peoples a great family, through the unifying force of Truth and Love (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 1). At the hour of death, conformed to his Teacher and Lord, John Paul II crowned his long and fruitful pontificate, confirming the Christian people in the faith, gathering them around himself and making the entire human family feel more united. How can we not feel supported by this testimony? How can we not perceive the encouragement that comes from this event of grace?
2. Surpassing all my expectations, Divine Providence, through the vote of the venerable Cardinal Fathers, has called me to succeed this great Pope. I reflect again in these hours on all that occurred in the region of Caesarea Philippi, some 2,000 years ago. I seem to hear Peter's words: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," and the Lord's solemn affirmation: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:15-19).
You are the Christ! You are Peter! I seem to relive the same evangelical scene; I, Successor of Peter, repeat with trepidation the anxious words of the fisherman of Galilee and I hear again with profound emotion the reassuring promise of the divine Teacher. If the burden of responsibility that is placed on my poor shoulders is enormous, exceeding is as well the divine power which I can count on: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church" (Matthew 16:18). In choosing me as Bishop of Rome, the Lord has desired me to be his Vicar, he has desired me to be the "rock" on which all can lean with security. I ask him to make up for the poverty of my strength, so that I will be a courageous and faithful Shepherd of his flock, always docile to the inspirations of his Spirit.
I prepare to undertake this peculiar ministry, the "Petrine" ministry at the service of the universal Church, with humble abandonment in the hands of the Providence of God. In the first place it is to Christ that I renew my total and faithful adherence: "In Te, Domine, speravi; non confundar in aeternum!"
To you, Lord Cardinals, with a grateful spirit for the trust shown to me, I ask that you support me with prayer and with constant, active and wise collaboration. I ask also all brothers in the episcopate to be by my side with prayer and counsel, so that I can truly be "Servus servorum Dei." As Peter and the other apostles constituted, by the will of the Lord, a unique Apostolic College, in the same way the Successor of Peter and the bishops, successors of the apostles, must be very closely united among themselves, as the Council confirmed forcefully (cf. "Lumen Gentium," No. 22).
This collegial communion, though in the diversity of roles and functions of the Roman Pontiff and of the bishops, is at the service of the Church and of unity in the faith, from which depends in notable measure the efficacy of the evangelizing action in the contemporary world. Therefore, I wish to continue on this path on which my venerated Predecessors advanced, concerned only to proclaim to the whole world the living presence of Christ.
3. I have before me, in particular, the testimony of Pope John Paul II. He has left a more courageous, free and young Church. A Church that, according to his teaching and example, looks with serenity to the past and has no fear of the future. She was led into the new millennium with the Great Jubilee, carrying in her hands the Gospel, applied to the present world through the authoritative rereading of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John Paul II indicated the Council precisely as a "compass" with which to orient oneself in the vast ocean of the third millennium (cf. apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," Nos. 57-58). In his spiritual testament he noted: "I am convinced that the new generations will still be able to draw for a long time from the riches that this council of the 20th century has lavished on us" (17.III.2000).
Therefore, in preparing myself also for the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, I wish to affirm strongly my determination to continue the commitment to implement the Second Vatican Council, in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000-year tradition of the Church. This year in fact will be the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the conciliar sessions (Dec. 8, 1965). With the passing of the years, the conciliar documents have not lost their current importance; on the contrary, their teachings reveal themselves particularly pertinent in relation to the new needs of the Church and of the present globalized society.
4. How very significant it is that my pontificate begins while the Church is living the special Year dedicated to the Eucharist. How can one not perceive in this providential coincidence an element that must characterize the ministry to which I have been called? The Eucharist, heart of Christian life and source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but constitute the permanent center and the source of the Petrine service that has been entrusted to me.
The Eucharist renders the risen Christ constantly present, who continues to give himself to us, calling us to participate at the table of his Body and his Blood. From full communion with him flows every other element of the life of the Church, in the first place communion among all the faithful, commitment to proclamation and testimony of the Gospel, the ardor of charity toward all, especially toward the poor and the little ones.
In this year, therefore, the solemnity of Corpus Domini must be celebrated with particular prominence. The Eucharist will be at the center, in August, of the World Youth Day in Cologne and, in October, of the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the theme: "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church." I ask all to intensify over the next months their love and devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist and to express in a courageous and clear way their faith in the Lord's real presence, above all through the solemnity and correctness of the celebrations.
I ask this in a special way of priests, whom I am thinking of at this moment with great affection. The ministerial priesthood was born in the Cenacle, together with the Eucharist, as my venerable Predecessor John Paul II underlined so many times. "The life of a priest [must] be 'shaped' by the Eucharist," he wrote in his last letter for Holy Thursday (No. 1). To this purpose contributes first of all the devoted daily celebration of the Holy Mass, center of the life and mission of every priest.
5. Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel stimulated to tend to that full unity that Christ so ardently desired in the Cenacle. The Successor of Peter knows that he must take charge in an altogether particular way, of this supreme longing of the divine Teacher. To him in fact has been entrusted the task of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32).
Fully conscious, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome, which Peter bathed with his blood, his present Successor aims, as a primary commitment, to work without sparing energies for the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all the followers of Christ. This is his ambition, this is his imperative duty. He is aware that for this, manifestations of good sentiments are not enough. There must be concrete gestures that penetrate spirits and move consciences, leading each one to that interior conversion that is the presupposition of all progress on the path of ecumenism.
Theological dialogue is necessary. Also, in-depth knowledge of the historical reasons for choices made in the past is perhaps indispensable. But what is urgent in the main is that "purification of the memory," so many times recalled by John Paul II, which alone can dispose spirits to receive the full truth of Christ. It is before him, supreme Judge of every living being, that each one of us must place himself, in the awareness of one day having to render an account to him of what one has done or not done for the great good of the full and visible unity of all his disciples.
The present Successor of Peter lets himself be challenged in the first person by this request and is prepared to do all that is in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism. In the footsteps of his Predecessors, he is fully determined to cultivate every initiative that might seem appropriate to promote contacts and understanding with representatives of the diverse churches and ecclesial communities. To them, indeed, he also sends on this occasion the most cordial greeting in Christ, the only Lord of all.
6. I recall and go back at this moment to the unforgettable experience lived by all of us on the occasion of the death and funeral rites of the late John Paul II. Around his mortal remains, carefully placed on the naked earth, were gathered the heads of nations, persons of all social classes, and especially young people, in an unforgettable embrace of affection and admiration. The whole world looked to him with trust. To many, it seemed that that intense participation, amplified to the ends of the earth by the means of social communications, was like a unanimous request for help addressed to the Pope by today's humanity which, troubled by uncertainties and fear, wonders about its future.
The Church of today must revive in herself consciousness of the task to propose again to the world the voice of him who said: "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). In undertaking his ministry, the new Pope knows that his task is to make the light of Christ shine before the men and women of today, not his own light but that of Christ.
Conscious of this, I turn to all, also to those who follow other religions or who simply seek an answer to the fundamental questions of life and have not yet found it. I turn to all with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the Church wishes to continue to engage with them in an open and sincere dialogue, in search of the true good of man and of society.
I invoke from God the peace and unity for the human family and declare the readiness of all Catholics to cooperate for a genuine social development, respectful of the dignity of every human being.
I will spare no efforts and devotion to continue the promising dialogue undertaken by my venerable Predecessors with the various civilizations, so that from reciprocal understanding conditions will flow a better future for all.
I think in particular of young people. To them, privileged interlocutors of Pope John Paul II, I direct my affectionate embrace while waiting, God willing, to meet them in Cologne on the occasion of the next World Youth Day. With you, dear young people, future and hope of the Church and of humanity, I will continue to dialogue, listening to you expectations in an attempt to help you to encounter ever more profoundly the living Christ, the eternally young.
7. "Mane nobiscum, Domine!" Stay with us Lord! This invocation, which is the prevailing theme of John Paul II's apostolic letter for the Year of the Eucharist, is the prayer that flows spontaneously from my heart, while I prepare to begin the ministry to which Christ has called me. Like Peter, I also renew to him my unconditional promise of fidelity. Him alone I intend to serve, dedicating myself totally to the service of his Church.
To support me in this promise, I invoke the maternal intercession of Most Holy Mary, in whose hands I place the present and future of my person and of the Church.
May the holy Apostles Peter and Paul and all the saints also intervene with their intercession.
With these sentiments I impart to you, venerable Brother Cardinals, and to those participating in this rite and all those who are listening through television and radio a special, an affectionate blessing.
[Original text in Latin; translation by ZENIT]