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Meeting with World of Culture, Vilnius

1993, November 5

When the Holy Father had finished speaking to the Diplomatic Corps on the evening of Sunday, 5 September, he was taken to the University of Vilnius, where he met representatives of the world of culture in the university church dedicated to Sts John the Evangelist and John the Baptist. After being greeted by Prof. Rolandas Povilonis, Rector Magnificus of the University, the Pope gave the following address in Lithuanian.


Mr Minister of Culture,

Rector Magnificus,

Distinguished Professors, Representatives of the world of culture and art!

As the first Roman Pontiff to visit the Baltic lands, I am truly pleased to be able to meet you in the evocative setting of this Athenaeum, which for centuries has been the vibrant heart of your city, whose remarkable vocation as a crossroads of peoples and civilization is expressed in its varied intellectual activity, a vocation that the Rector of this illustrious Alma Mater has just recalled in words as expressive as they are deferential to the person of the Pope, whom he welcomed in the name of you all. He has my deep thanks.

The cordial welcome you have given me is not surprising, not only because it is characteristic of your noble sentiments, but also because it follows us the wake of an ancient history of friendly, productive relationships between your country and the Catholic Church. The history of this university testifies to that as well As you know, it was founded in the same century by Bishop Valerijonas Protaseviesins (Protaszwatz-Szuszkowski), so that Vilnius too could benefit from the culture and apostolic efforts fostered by the Society of Jesus in Europe and the world. In 1579, moreover, your Athenaeum was endowed with rights and privileges by my Predecessor, Gregory XIII, and by Stephen Bathory, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. The Catholic Church thus had no small role in the origins and development of your Alma Mater. Unfortunately, in the course of history the initial friendly relationship was not always honoured and, particularly in recent times, critical voices were heard within these walls, voices suspicious and even openly hostile to the Church and her teaching. All this makes my dialogue with you today particularly significant. It begins a new page in the cultural life of your country.

We have left behind a long history of suffering and we feel the compelling need to look to the future. A memory of history, however, must accompany us, so that we can treasure the experience of those endless decades in which your country too felt the weight of an iron dictatorship that, in the name of justice and equality, violated the freedom and dignity of individuals and of civil society. How could all this have happened?

The analysis would be complex. However, I think one can say that one of the more important reasons was the militant atheism that gave Marxism its inspiration: an atheism offensive to man too, which destroyed the basis of his dignity and its firmest guarantee. There were other errors in addition to this one, such as a materialistic conception of history, a harshly confrontational view of society, the “messianic” role attributed to a single party, the master of the State. Everything converged to make this system, which arose from the presumption of freeing man, ultimately enslave him.

Marxism, however, was not the only tragedy of our century. One should judge no less seriously what took place on the opposite side, the “right wing” regimes, that in the name of the “nation” and “tradition” likewise scorned that dignity which is proper to every human being, regardless of race, conviction and personal qualities. How can we forget here the monstrous violence caused by Nazism, especially towards the Jewish people, offered as a holocaust in the name of a supposed racial primacy and an insane plan of domination.

On the other hand, the “democracies” themselves, organized according to the formula of a constitutional State, have exhibited and today continues to exhibit enormous contradictions between the formal recognition of freedom and human rights and the many social injustices and discriminations they tolerate in their midst. It is actually a question of social models in which the demand for freedom is not always accompanied by ethical responsibility.

The risk in democratic regimes is to become a system of rules insufficiently rooted in those values that are undeniable because they are grounded in the essential nature of man, which must be the basis of all social life and which no majority can deny, without ruinous consequences for the individual and for Society. The Church has vigorously raised her voice against this corruption of freedom, in both the political and economic spheres. In this regard, ever since Leo XIII's Rerum novarum, not only socialism but also an economic liberalism that scorns every limitation and is unconcerned about the demands of solidarity has been condemned. Along the same lines, the Church today continues to oppose those models of society which, in the name of supposed rights to freedom, do not adequately protect unborn human life and the dignity of the most vulnerable social classes.

Totalitarianisms of opposite tendencies and unsound democracies have plagued the history of our century Systems that followed spots and were :opposed to one another have their own recognizable appearance, but I do not believe it is wrong to consider them all the offspring of that culture of immanence that spread throughout Europe in recent centuries, leading to projects for personal and collective life that ignored God and disregarded his plan for the human person.

However, can man exist and “resist” without God? The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council fittingly recalled that “without a Creator there can be no creature” (Gaudium et spes, n. 36). Woe to whoever forgets this fundamental truth! Fortunately, that God whom an atheistic culture has tried in vain to exclude from the human horizon continues to reappear, making an opening for himself among the great questions which scientific and technological achievements have not and cannot resolve.

“In the face of modern developments there is a growing body of men who are asking the most fundamental of all questions or are glimpsing them with a keener insight: What is man? What is the meaning of suffering, evil, death, which have not been eliminated by all this progress? What is the purpose of these achievements, purchased at so high a price? What can man contribute to society? What can he expect from it? What happens after this earthly life is ended?” (Gaudium et spes, n. 10).

On the crest of these inescapable questions, God, the one, true God, the Mystery from whom everything takes its origin and meaning, continually appears on the horizon of the human heart, arousing an Inner, wholesome longing. “You have made us for yourself. Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”, the great Augustine said (Confessions, I, 1, 1). To tend towards God is a law of existence that no system can ever suppress.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen of culture and science, you, more than others, have the responsibility not to close the range of human thought to the horizons of mystery.

It is a duty that does not come to you from outside, as something restricting your research and lessening its freedom. In reality it springs from the inner logic of thought.

When man thinks, he experiences his own finiteness, becoming aware that he is not the truth and toast even grope his way towards it. At the same time he notices that his search cannot and will not stop at lesser, homed goals, since he is powerfully driven ever higher, toward the infinite.

The exhilarating adventure of human thought lies in this essential dynamic that situates man between his awareness of limits and the need for the absolute. For this reason, when man “thinks” deeply, with intellectual rigour and integrity of heart, he is on the way towards a possible encounter with God.

But why then – we can reasonably he asked – have the most systematic and radical denials of God been made precisely by men of thought?

The Church has an answer for this disturbing question: if it is true that God’s existence can be known even by reason alone, nevertheless in the human race’s present condition clouded by sin reason is marked by great weakness (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 37). The progress of human thought does not resemble a solitary, cerebral process, but is profoundly linked to the individual’s existential journey.

Therefore, if one wants human thought to harvest its ripest fruits, especially us the search for metaphysical truths, it is necessary to cultivate an ethic of thought, one which is not limited to striving for logical correctness, but which situates the mind’s activity in a spiritual atmosphere rich in humility, sincerity, courage, honesty, trust, concern for others, openness to the Mystery. This all-encompassing ethic of “thinking” does not excuse one from searching but rather facilitates and supports it, and even gives it direction in matters concerning the Mystery, because of the intrinsic connection between the verum and the bonum, which in God coincide with his very essence.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the pressing events of the time in which we are living understandably lead us to think that we are at an epoch-making turning point in the world’s history. In this difficult transition to a future which no one today can foresee or whose features can be described, the commitment of intellectuals cannot fail to play a decisive role, one to be promoted with new vigour at a time when the collapse of ideologies threatens to cause a paralysing lack of confidence and human thought seems prone to sink into scepticism and a dangerous pragmatism.

No one should in any way think that this crisis of thought can allure the believer, as if faith should inherit the areas vacated by the surrender of reason. Authentic faith, rather, presupposes reason and utilizes, consolidates and stimulates it, as the Church’s Magisterium has stressed many times (cf. DH 3015-3019; Gaudium et spes, n. 15).

In the new cultural climate, wholly to be built, a large area fin dialogue between faith and culture remains open. Indeed, it will not be limited to the specifically religious problem, but will also address the great ethical and anthropological themes that are closely related to it. A renewed “alliance” between the Church and the world of culture, although within a horizon of dialogue that respects their differences, seems necessary and urgent, in order to make sense out of this rumples tune of ours and to discern the necessary direction to be taken.

In reality, a world in “chiaroscuro” before our eyes, a world rich in lights and shadows. This demands patience and the wisdom of discernment.

Humanity is still too humbled by violence and intolerance of every sort, tormented by hunger and the suffering of millions of people, threatened by an ecological disaster of such proportion, that one fears an “environmental holocaust”, no less worrisome than the “nuclear holocaust”. All this is cause for sadness and anguish. But how can our hearts not be ready to hope, when we see increasing at so many social levels, especially among the young generations, one need for a new solidarity, a stronger awareness of human rights, the culture of non-violence, energetic involvement in volunteer work for the poor and marginalized, an aggressive ecological sensitivity.

Lights and shadows, then. The desired “new alliance” between the Church and culture must be responsible for dispelling the clouds and throwing open the doors to the light. To this end, the promising ecumenical activity between Christians and the interreligious dialogue, calling people of various beliefs to work together for the good of humanity, should also be considered an important “sign of the times”. Following the sad memory of the wars of religion, a true right of faith, the dawn of a long awaited religious peace is breaking, fostering social harmony to civil society too.

From this perspective, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, your university represents a remarkable symbol, since it was established in the geographic heart of a Europe called to be increasingly united so as to offer the world a service of peace, consonant with its millennia-old tradition of civilization. The ancient, profound relationship linking it to Christianity is anything but foreign to this role. For her part, the Church is more than ever intent on offering her ancient and ever new contribution to Europe’s new journey. It is the witness to Christ, the “God-with-us”, the “God-with-man”. It is the offer of a God who reveals himself fully in the cross of the Son made man. It is the proclamation of God-Love.

Spurred by this love, I have come among you I am moved at seeing your eyes, which have known tears. In you I embrace my long suffering brothers and sisters. But above all, I want to focus our gaze together on the future, on the goals of progress and peace lying before us. Do not be afraid, my friends, to open the doors to Christ! He knows the human heart and can offer profound answers to its restless anxiety. He incites is to struggle together for a humanity of true freedom and solidarity.

With these sentiments I greet you and thank you for your respectful and cordial attention, as I invoke God’s blessing upon you, your work and all your loved ones.

Source of the English text: L' Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition, 1993, September 8, pp. 7-8.