Works of mercy, justice and compassion are basic to the history of the Church in the United States. The two American women who have been numbered among the saints, Frances Xavier Cabrini and Elizabeth Ann Seton, have been thus honored principally because of their work for their poorer brothers and sisters. The initiatives … go back to before the Declaration of Independence.
When we are tempted to congratulate ourselves on what we have done, we must bear soberly in mind the words of Jesus: “When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty’” (Luke 17:10). When we are faced with the vastness of this duty of love, with the boundless needs of the poor in America and throughout the world, when we are disappointed by slowness and setbacks in the reform of structures and in our own conversion, let us not lose heart, and let us not settle for what has already been accomplished. Love can overcome great obstacles, and God’s love can totally transform the world.
Address to Catholic Charities
San Antonio, Texas
Sept. 13, 1987
Friend of America: John Paul’s Words to U.S.
Why America Exists
Every human person — no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society — is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival — yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.
Address at Detroit Airport
Sept. 19, 1987
The development in the United States of what is commonly called “lay ministry” is certainly a positive and fruitful result of the renewal begun by the Second Vatican Council. Particular attention needs to be paid to the spiritual and doctrinal formation of all lay ministers. In every case they should be men and women of faith, exemplary in personal and family life, who lovingly embrace “the full and complete proclamation of the Good News” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, No. 9) taught by the Church.
Ad Limina address to the bishops of
Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta and Miami
July 2, 1993
Love Doesn’t Run Away
Faced with problems and disappointments, many people will try to escape from their responsibility — escape in selfishness, escape in sexual pleasure, escape in drugs, escape in violence, escape in indifference and cynical attitudes. But today I propose to you the option of love, which is the opposite of escape.
Address at Boston
Oct. 1, 1979
Key Pastoral Problem
One of the key pastoral problems facing us is the widespread misunderstanding of the role of conscience, whereby individual conscience and experience are exalted above or against Church teaching. The young women and men of America, and indeed of the whole Western world, who are often victims of educational theories which propose that they “create” their own values and that “feeling good about themselves” is a primary guiding moral principle, are asking to be led out of this moral confusion.
Ad Limina address to bishops
from New England
Sept. 21, 1993
Peace and Hunger
Peace is not only the absence of war; it also involves reciprocal trust between nations — a trust that is manifested and proved through constructive negotiations that aim at ending the arms race, and at liberating immense resources that can be used to alleviate misery and feed millions of hungry human beings.
Meeting with President
June 7, 1982
Any progress which would secure the betterment of a select few at the expense of the greater human family would be an erroneous and distorted progress. It would be an outrage against the demands of justice and an affront to the dignity of every human being. … [T]he Church cannot fail to emphasize the need to safeguard the life and integrity of the human embryo and fetus.
Address at Phoenix, Arizona
Sept. 14, 1987
Accept Your Responsibility
The Church needs you. The world needs you because it needs Christ, and you belong to Christ. And so I ask you to accept your responsibility in the Church, the responsibility of your Catholic education: to help — by your words and, above all, by the example of your lives — to spread the Gospel. You do this by praying, and by being just and truthful and pure.
Dear young people: By a real Christian life, by the practice of your religion you are called to give witness to your faith. And because actions speak louder than words, you are called to proclaim by the conduct of your daily lives that you really do believe that Jesus Christ is Lord!
Address in New York City
Oct. 3, 1979
Gift of the Catechism
The catechism is truly God’s timely gift to the whole Church and to every Christian at the approach of the new millennium. Indeed, I pray that the Church in the United States will recognize in the catechism an authoritative guide to sound and vibrant preaching, an invaluable resource for parish adult-formation programs, a basic text for the upper grade of Catholic high schools, colleges and universities.
The catechism presents in a clear and complete way the riches of the Church’s sacramental doctrine based on its genuine sources: Sacred Scripture and tradition as witnessed to by the fathers, doctors and saints, and by the constant teaching of the magisterium.
Ad Limina address to the bishops of Alabama, Kentucky,
Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee
June 5, 1993
Christian families exist to form a communion of persons in love. As such, the Church and the family are each in its own way living representations in human history of the eternal loving communion of the three persons of the Most Holy Trinity. In fact, the family is called the Church in miniature, the “domestic church,” a particular expression of the Church through the human experience of love and common life.
Address at Columbia, South Carolina
Sept. 11, 1987
Dear Friends, we are gathered together in this enormous metropolis of New York, considered by many to be the zenith of modern civilization and progress, a symbol of America and American life. For more than 200 years, people of different nations, languages and cultures have come here, bringing memories and traditions of the “old country,” while at the same time becoming part of a new nation. America has a reputation the world over, a reputation of power, prestige and wealth. But not everyone here is powerful; not everyone here is rich. In fact, America’s sometimes extravagant affluence often conceals much hardship and poverty.
Homily at Aqueduct Racetrack
Queens, New York
Oct. 6, 1995
The Scandal Setback
It must be absolutely clear to the Catholic faithful, and to the wider community, that bishops and superiors are concerned, above all else, with the spiritual good of souls. People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young. They must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.
We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its liberating force. Now you must ensure that where sin increased, grace will all the more abound (Romans 5:20). So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.
Speech to 12 U.S. cardinals
on the sex-abuse scandal
April 23, 2002
There are times of trial, tests of national character, in the history of every country. America has not been immune to them. One such time of trial is closely connected with St. Louis. Here, the famous Dred Scott case was heard. And in that case the Supreme Court of the United States subsequently declared an entire class of human beings —people of African descent — outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution’s protection. After untold suffering and with enormous effort, that situation has, at least in part, been reversed.
America faces a similar time of trial today. Today, the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings — the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered “unuseful” — to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. Because of the seriousness of the issues involved, and because of America’s great impact on the world as a whole, the resolution of this new time of testing will have profound consequences for the century whose threshold we are about to cross. My fervent prayer is that through the grace of God at work in the lives of Americans of every race, ethnic group, economic condition and creed, America will resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life.
To choose life … involves rejecting every form of violence: the violence of poverty and hunger, which oppresses so many human beings; the violence of armed conflict, which does not resolve but only increases divisions and tensions; the violence of particularly abhorrent weapons such as anti-personnel mines; the violence of drug trafficking; the violence of racism; and the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.
[T]he spirit of compassion, concern and generous sharing must be part of the “Spirit of St. Louis.” Even more, it must be the renewed spirit of this “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
God bless you all! God bless America!
Arrival speech at St. Louis
Jan. 26, 1999