Addresses, Speeches, Homilies 1984

Meeting with Government Officials and the Diplomatic Corps

SEPTEMBER 19, 1984

Your Excellency, the Governor-General,

Mr. Prime Minister of Canada,

Honourable Members of the Judiciary,

Honourable Members of the Senate and House of Commons,

Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have looked forward to this encounter with so many distinguished personalities in this capital city of Canada since the beginning of my apostolic visit and all through the different stages of my journey in this unique country of Canada. I am very pleased to have been able to meet already this evening with the Governor-General, and to speak with her about matters that concern Canada and the world. I am deeply touched by the presence of all of you here, and I wish to thank you most cordially for the honour you thus show me as Bishop of Rome and chief Pastor of the Catholic Church. It is not possible for me at this moment even to try to analyze or summarize the deep and lasting impressions which the many unforgettable events of my visit with the people of Canada have made on me. Let me say only that I give thanks to Almighty God for the moments of grace which he has bestowed on me in the many encounters of prayer, sharing and dialogue with so many people in this country.

In meeting today with you who represent not only the people of Canada but also the peoples of many nations, my thoughts go once again to the whole world and to the links that bind together all of humanity: North and South, East and West, men, women and children, old and young. My thoughts and concerns, as those of the whole Church, go out to the industrialized nations that are faced with new problems which impel them to re-examine their old and trusted presumptions; and to the nations that struggle to achieve their own development, reinforce their sovereignty and assume their rightful place in the family of nations. We all know that no nation can live and pursue the good of its citizens in isolation from other nations. Today, more than ever before, we have become aware – or shall I say, we have been forced to become aware – that all nations are bound together in mutual dependence and solidarity.

Any action taken by one nation or religion to solve its problems has a necessary repercussion on the life and interests of other nations as a consequence of economic, monetary, financial and political mechanisms. But at the same time, all peoples are accepting more clearly and with greater commitment a common responsibility for the universal common good. The growing sense of solidarity and shared responsibility among nations is one of the hopeful signs of our times that must inspire all peoples to ever greater availability for collaboration. Legitimate national interests cannot be achieved through sterile confrontation, but only through open, continuing and trustful dialogue and cooperation. All individuals and peoples must know that they are the stewards of a common heritage and the servants of a common destiny.

The particular setting and circumstance of today’s encounter, in this capital city of Canada, at the end of my pilgrimage “a mari usque ad mare” allows me to offer a word of praise to the Canadian people and their leaders for the many achievements which they have realized thus giving tangible expression to their sense of world solidarity. Richer by reason of its own experience of collaboration between many different groups in the common pursuit of the well-being of all Canadians, this country has also, in the field of international collaboration and responsibility, endeavoured to follow the path of an effective commitment to world peace and of selfless contributions to the development of the less advanced nations.

We owe it to the many people and nations that, in the decades since the Second World War, have sincerely and honestly been striving to create a world of peaceful relations and international justice, not to let our perception of the world situation be  obscured by pessimism or defeatism. Real progress has indeed been made in many areas and has to be acknowledged with praise.

At the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the persistence of many unsolved problems and to the many situations of conflict and injustice which still remain as a dark mark on the international scene and as an unavoidable challenge to the international community. We cannot close our eyes, nor should we harden our hearts, in the face of the untold suffering and needs that afflict millions of our fellow human beings. Today, society is not lacking in information and statistics about the ills of the world. It is, however, lacking in sensitivity when it does not allow certain facts to influence its action: the absence of agreements to reduce and eventually to halt the arms race; the investment of scientific talent and funds in weapons of mass destruction; limited wars that continue to kill people in countries not one’s own; disregard for the value and dignity of unborn life; experimentation on human embryos; the starving or undernourished children in countries affected by chronic drought or underdevelopment; the lack of basic health care; the massive flight to urban concentrations that cannot offer employment, education, or food; the loss of liberty, including the freedom to practise one’s religion. In all of this there is the absence of sufficient concern for the ethical dimensions that underlie and are connected with the problems of society.

I appeal to you today, ladies and gentlemen, and through you to all the people whom you represent in different ways, to be the bearers of a new vision of humanity: a vision that does not see society’s problems in terms of economic, technical or political equations alone, but in terms of living people, of human beings created in the image and likeness of God and called to an eternal destiny; a vision that is built upon and therefore promotes true human values; a vision that inspires action and overcomes complacency, insensitivity and selfishness.

It is not, in a particular way, the mission of all those entrusted with public responsibility – on both the national and international levels – to promote this vision of humanity that is capable of marshalling the goodwill that lives in the heart of every citizen? Is it not their responsibility to produce the political will that brings about the changes that are necessary so that all the human and technical potential at the disposal of society can be utilized? None of us can remain passive in the face of today’s challenges; we know that the modern world possesses an immense amount of technical knowledge and means that can be employed to help solve the problems of humanity. It is my conviction that in your executive, legislative and judiciary roles within Canada, and in your international service to your respective countries, you are in a unique position to promote, in all your initiatives, the new vision of humanity, which affects every area of human endeavour and which is at the basis of all legislation, civil activity and social exchange. Be assured of my own support and encouragement.

Nobody will deny that today’s world is truly in need of a new vision of peace. People are being killed in war-torn countries. People live in fear of the ever present possibility that tensions and conflicts will be settled by the might of weapons and not by the force of reason. People feel threatened by the very existence of powerful arsenals of destruction and by the absence of meaningful progress in disarmament negotiations. People suffer from hunger, malnutrition and disease. Many lack education and the possibility of living meaningful lives, while at the same time they see immense funds being engulfed in the arms race. It is important to state again and again that war is made in the hearts and the minds of the men and women of our times, and that true peace will come about only when the hearts and minds of all are converted to compassion, to justice and to love.

In the new vision of peace there is no place for self-centredness and antagonism. We are all involved; we all carry the responsibility for our own conversion to thoughts and actions of peace. One person alone cannot change the world, but all of us together, strong in the conviction and determination that peace begins in our own hearts, will be able to create a peaceful and peace-loving society. On my part I have decided to devote my annual Message for the forthcoming celebration of the World Day of Peace to the theme: “Peace and youth go forward together”. Today’s world population is made up in large measure of young people. Their commitment to peace will make a meaningful difference for the future of the world, and the contributions of everyone – when put together – will change the world.

The relationships between individuals and between peoples are at the core of the problems of society. These relationships must be based on a vision of the human person that proposes and extols the dignity and sacredness of every human being. The dignity of the human person is the basis of all human rights. We cannot but rejoice at the growing awareness that exists of the importance and centrality of respect for human rights for the building up of society in peace and in justice. It remains necessary, however, in the promotion of respect for human rights, to refer back to their ultimate foundation: the human person and his or her dignity viewed in all their dimensions. Every human being lives at the same time in the world of material values and needs and in that of spiritual aspirations and achievements. The needs and the hopes, the freedoms and relationships of the human person never concern one sphere of values to the exclusion of the other. It is in this light that human rights and liberties, and the corresponding duties and responsibilities have to be viewed.

Today I wish to draw your attention in a particular way to what I consider to be extremely fundamental in the whole question of all human rights: the right to religious freedom. Religious liberty is a right that directly concerns what is essential in the human person and what fully manifests his or her dignity: the relationship to God, the Creator and the ultimate destiny of every human being. It is all the more reprehensible that various forms of denial of religious freedom and of discrimination against believers and the whole community of the Church still take place, notwithstanding the existence of constitutional legislation and international instruments which guarantee the right to religious liberty.

I wish at this time, in union with all men and women of goodwill, to proclaim again the right to life, and to make a renewed plea that the right to life of the unborn be respected. We must abhor the fact that in not a few societies abortion has become socially acceptable and is made readily available. Abortion is being presented as the ready answer to many problems: the problems of unwanted pregnancy, the problems of the unmarried pregnant woman, the problems of a fast growing population, the problems of the poor. Not only does society permit the destruction of unborn human beings, it often tries to justify that destruction. When respect for human life is systematically denied or refused, the dignity of every human being and the sacredness of all human life is being attacked.

In inviting you, ladies and gentlemen, to be the bearers of a new vision of peace and justice, I must speak of a phenomenon of increasing urgency today – one in which, I know, you have a great interest: I am referring to refugees and those who migrate. There are many factors to account for this reality and situations vary greatly from place to place. There are political refugees, and refugees forced from their homes by human or natural forces. There are those seeking to flee from injustice, oppression and persecution. There are immigrants seeking an opportunity for work, so that they can take care of the needs of their family, and those who migrate in order to find better and more promising opportunities. Whatever the reasons, the refugee and the immigrant must be understood in a basic twofold relationship: a relationship to the homeland or country of origin, and to the new land that is theirs by choice or necessity.

This new situation, which has taken on wide dimensions in many parts of the world, entails losses and raises challenges both to the individuals and to the nations concerned, and to all humanity as well. It is important today that we all share a greater understanding of refugees and immigrants, whatever the causes of their present circumstances or whatever the possibilities they might have before them. And from this understanding may there develop a greater sensitivity to their needs and to their human dignity. Above all, the world needs to understand the detachment and pain entailed in every sort of migration.

Everyone of these persons carries into new environments those traditions and values belonging to a culture which is a precious heritage. At times these new environments can be inhospitable to the refugee or immigrant, or hostile to his or her background. The sons and daughters of a culture and a nation – of any culture or any nation – have a right to maintain their just traditions, to take pride in them and to have them respected by others. While it would not be right for them to seek to impose their inherited cultures on others, it is quite proper for them to expect that the respect and honour their cultures deserve will be accorded to them as a rightful inheritance. They are entitled to expect that this respect will be a first step to a complementarity of traditions that will enrich the citizens of the host country as a whole, as well as sustain and support the refugees and immigrants themselves.

Here in Canada, as I mentioned in Winnipeg, so much has been done over the years to honour and help the refugees, all those who have immigrated to this land, all those who have known the problems of migration. Besides official assistance, the whole private sector, including families and many religious groups, has generously endeavoured to serve these brothers and sisters. The results in this field have also been a great credit to the Government policy of this country and to all its people. Today I would encourage Canada and all the nations represented here to pursue these splendid efforts, and to resist any temptation to grow tired in performing this good work. Be assured that the Holy See supports this cause and stands by all of you in order to proclaim before the world the importance of your activities and their effectiveness in helping to build true peace.

Ladies and gentlemen: I present to you these elements of an uplifting vision of humanity for your reflection and encouragement as you discharge the lofty responsibilities that are yours. Be always the bearers of this vision here in Canada and throughout the world. Let it become an incentive and a moving force towards actions and commitments that will make the world a world where peace and justice reign. This, dear friends, is the world which God in his goodness has entrusted to our care.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada