Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is with great joy that I meet you today, dear Members of the College of Cardinals, Representatives of the Roman Curia and the Governorate, for this traditional event in the days leading up to the feast of Christmas. I greet each one of you cordially, beginning with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, whom I thank for his kind words and for the warm good wishes that he extended to me on behalf of all present. The Dean of the College of Cardinals reminded us of an expression that appears frequently during these days in the Latin liturgy: Prope est iam Dominus, venite, adoremus! The Lord is already near, come, let us adore him! We too, as one family, prepare ourselves to adore the Child in the stable at Bethlehem who is God himself and has come so close as to become a man like us. I willingly reciprocate your good wishes and I thank all of you from my heart, including the Papal Representatives all over the world, for the generous and competent assistance that each of you offers me in my ministry.
Once again we find ourselves at the end of a year that has seen all kinds of difficult situations, important questions and challenges, but also signs of hope, both in the Church and in the world. I shall mention just a few key elements regarding the life of the Church and my Petrine ministry. First of all, as the Dean of the College of Cardinals mentioned, there were the journeys to Mexico and Cuba – unforgettable encounters with the power of faith, so deeply rooted in human hearts, and with the joie de vivre that issues from faith. I recall how, on my arrival in Mexico, there were endless crowds of people lining the long route, cheering and waving flags and handkerchiefs. I recall how, on the journey to the attractive provincial capital Guanajuato, there were young people respectfully kneeling by the side of the road to receive the blessing of Peter’s Successor; I recall how the great liturgy beside the statue of Christ the King made Christ’s kingship present among us – his peace, his justice, his truth. All this took place against the backdrop of the country’s problems, afflicted as it is by many different forms of violence and the hardships of economic dependence. While these problems cannot be solved simply by religious fervour, neither can they be solved without the inner purification of hearts that issues from the power of faith, from the encounter with Jesus Christ. And then there was Cuba – here too there were great liturgical celebrations, in which the singing, the praying and the silence made tangibly present the One that the country’s authorities had tried for so long to exclude. That country’s search for a proper balancing of the relationship between obligations and freedom cannot succeed without reference to the basic criteria that mankind has discovered through encounter with the God of Jesus Christ.