VATICAN CITY, OCT. 19, 2003 (Zenit.org).- With tears in his eyes, John Paul II appealed to cardinals, patriarchs and bishops Saturday to give their lives, till their last breath, to the service of the Gospel.
“Courage in the proclamation of the Gospel must never fail; more than that, it should be our principal commitment till our last breath, addressed with ever renewed dedication,” the Pope told the prelates Saturday.
With these words, the Holy Father concluded the congress of 149 cardinals, seven Eastern Catholic patriarchs and 109 presidents of episcopal conferences (not cardinals), convoked by the College of Cardinals on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, for John Paul II’s silver anniversary.
Moved by the words that the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, addressed to him, the Holy Father said in a weak voice: “Continue to pray for me so that I will be able to fulfill faithfully my service to the Church until the Lord wills.”
Cardinal Ratzinger brought tears to the Pope’s eyes, seen on television, when he delivered a moving address which ended: “You, Holy Father, have rekindled in us the joy of the Lord.”
“You have ceaselessly proclaimed — opportunely and importunately — the Gospel, and from its light, have recalled all the fundamental human values: respect for the dignity of man, defense of life, promotion of justice and peace,” the cardinal said on behalf of the college.
“Above all, you have gone out to meet young people, enkindling in them the fire of your faith, with your love for Christ, and your willingness to give yourself to him with all your soul and all your body,” Cardinal Ratzinger added.
The Pope’s response, part of which was read by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute for general affairs of the Vatican Secretariat of State, turned into a strong appeal for unity in the Church.
“It is indispensable to cultivate among us a profound unity that is not limited to an affective collegiality, but that is founded on full doctrinal communion, which is translated in harmonious understanding at the operational level,” the Pope said to the cardinals, patriarchs and bishops.
“How can we be genuine teachers for humanity and credible apostles of the new evangelization, if we allow the weeds of division to enter our hearts?” he asked.
“Our action will be more incisive the more we are able to reflect the face of a Church that loves the poor, that is simple, and that places herself on the side of the weak,” he added, recalling the example of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
“Sanctity is the secret of evangelization and of all genuine spiritual renewal,” the Pope said.
The meeting ended with a luncheon in St. Martha’s House in the Vatican. The Pope stayed a short while, after having spent most of the morning in public meetings.
As a gift for his 25 years in the papacy, the cardinals gave John Paul II a collection of personal donations amounting to 750,000 euros. The Pope earmarked the money for Catholics in the Holy Land.