Pope John Paul I – First Message to College of Cardinals and to the World

[Pope John Paul I]
Having been called by a mysterious yet loving Father to this awesome responsibility of the papacy, we extend to you our greetings.

At the same time we greet everyone in the world, all who hear us. Following the teachings of the Gospel, we would wish to think of you as friends, as brothers and sisters. To all of you, I wish good health, peace, mercy and love:

“May the grace of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”

We are still overwhelmed at the thought of this tremendous ministry for which we have been chosen: As Peter, we seem to have stepped out on dangerous waters. Battered by a strong wind, we turn toward Christ crying: “Lord, save me” (Mt. 14:30). Again we hear his voice encouraging and, at the same time, lovingly reminding us: “Why do you doubt, oh you of little faith.”

If human forces alone cannot be adequate to the task before us, the help of almighty God who guides his church throughout the centuries in the midst of great conflicts and opposition will certainly not desert us, this humble and present-day servant of the “servants of God.”

Placing our hand in that of Christ, leaning on him, we have now been lifted up to steer that ship which is the church; it is safe and secure, though in the midst of storms, because the comforting, dominant presence of the Son of God is with it.

According to the words of Saint Augustine, who takes up an image dear to the ancient fathers, the ship of the church must not fear because it is guided by Christ and by his vicar: “Although the ship is tossed about, it is still a ship. It alone carries the disciples and receives Christ. Yes, it is tossed on the sea but without it, one would immediately perish” (Sermon 75, 3; P1. 38, 475). Only in the church is salvation: “Without it one perishes.”

We shall proceed then with this faith. God’s assistance will not be wanting to us, just as he has promised: “I am with you always even to the end of the world” (Mt. 28:20).

The common response and willing cooperation of all of you will make the weight of our daily burden lighter. We bind you to us in this awesome task, realizing the uniqueness of the Catholic Church.

Its tremendous spiritual power is the guarantee of peace and order. As such it is present in the world, as such it is recognized in the world. The echo of its daily life gives witness that, despite all obstacles, it lives in the heart of men, even those who do not share its truth or accept its message.

As the Second Vatican Council (to whose teachings we wish to commit our total ministry, as priest, as teacher, as pastor) has said: “Destined to extend to all regions of the earth, the church enters into human history, though it transcends at once all time and all racial boundaries. Advancing through trials and tribulations, the church is strengthened by God’s grace, promised to her by the Lord so that she may not waver from perfect fidelity, but remain the worthy bride of the Lord and not cease to renew herself under the action of the Holy Spirit until, through the cross, she may attain to that light which knows no setting” (Lumen Gentium, 9).

According to the plan of God, who “has called together all those who look in faith toward Jesus, author of salvation and principle of unity and peace,” the church has been willed by him “so that it may be for each and for all the visible sacrament of this saving unity.” (Ibid.)

In that light, we place ourselves interiorly, turning all of our physical and spiritual strength toward the service of the universal mission of the church, that is to say, at the service of the world. In other words, we will be at the service of truth, of justice, of peace, of harmony, of collaboration within nations as well as rapport among peoples.

We call especially on the children of the church to better under stand their responsibility: “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:13). Overcoming internal tension, which can arise here and there, overcoming the temptation of identifying ourselves with the ways of the world or the appeal of easily won applause, united in the unique bond of love which forms the inner life of the church just as with its external order, the faithful must be ready to give witness of their own faith to the world: “Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt. 3:15).

The church, in this common effort to be responsible and so respond to the pressing problems of the day, is called to give to the world that “strengthening of the Spirit” which is so needed and which alone can assure salvation.

The world awaits this today: It knows well that the sublime perfection which it has reached by research and technology – in which it is just to recognize the fulfillment of the first command of God: “Fill the earth and make it subject to man” (Gn. 1:28) – has reached a height beyond which dizziness occurs. It is the temptation of substituting for God one’s own decisions, decisions that would prescind from moral law. The danger for modern man is that he would reduce the earth to a desert, the person to an automaton, brotherly love to a planned collectivization, often introducing death where God wishes life.

The church, admiring yet lovingly outstretched toward human achievements, intends rather to safeguard the world, that thirsts for a life of love, from dangers that would attack it. The Gospel calls all of its children to place their full strength, indeed their life, at the service of their brothers in the name of the charity of Christ: “Greater love than this no man has than that he would lay down his life for his friends” (in. 15:13).

In this solemn moment, we intend to consecrate all that we are and all that we can achieve for this supreme goal. We will do so until our last breath, aware of the task insistently entrusted to us by Christ: “Confirm your brothers” (Lk. 22:32).

We are helped, given strength in our arduous task, by the most sweet memory of our predecessors, whose lovable sweetness and intrepid strength will be an example for us in the papal program.

We recall in particular the great lessons of pastoral guidance left by the most recent Popes, Pius Xl, Pius XII, John XXIII. With wisdom, dedication, goodness and love of the church and the world, they have left an indelible mark or our time, a time that is both troubled and magnificent.

Most of all the pontifical pastoral plan of Paul VI, our immediate predecessor, has left a strong impression on our heart and in our memory. His sudden death was crushing to the entire world. In the manner of his prophetic style, which marked his unforgettable pontificate, his death placed in clear light the extraordinary stature of a great yet humble man. He cast an extraordinary light upon the church even in the midst of controversy and hostility of these last 15 years, he under took immense, untiring labors, without rest, in the realization of the council and in seeking world peace, the tranquility of order.

Our program will be to continue his; and his in turn was in the wake of that drawn from the great heart of John XXIII.

  • We wish to continue to carry forth the heritage of the Second Vatican Council. Its wise norms should be followed out and perfected. We must be wary of that effort that is generous perhaps but unwarranted. It would not achieve the content and meaning of the council. On the other hand, we must avoid an approach that is hesitant and fearful – and thus would not realize the magnificent impulse of renewal and of life.
  • We wish to preserve intact the great discipline of the church in the life of priests and of the faithful. It is a rich treasure in history. Throughout the ages it has presented examples of holiness and heroism, both in the exercise of the evangelical virtues and in service to the poor, the humble, the defenseless. To achieve that, we place a priority on the revision of the two codes of canon law – that of the Oriental tradition and that of the Latin tradition – to secure to the interior sap of the holy freedom of the children of God the solidity and firmness of juridical structures.
  • We wish to remind the entire church that its first duty is that of evangelization. Our predecessor, Paul VI, presented the directions for this in his memorable document: Animated by faith, nourished by the word of God, and strengthened by the heavenly food of the Eucharist, the church must study every way, seek every means “in season and out of season” (2 Tm. 4:2), to spread the word, to proclaim the message, to announce that salvation which creates in the soul a restlessness to pursue truth and at the same time offers strength from above. If all the sons and daughters of the church would know how to be tireless missionaries of the Gospel, a new flowering of holiness and renewal would spring up in this world that thirsts for love and for truth.
  • We wish to continue the ecumenical thrust, which we consider a final directive from our immediate predecessors. We watch with an un changing faith, with a dauntless hope and with endless love for the realization of that great command of Christ: “That they might all be one” (Jn. 17:21). His heart anxiously beat for this on the eve of his sacrifice at Calvary. The mutual relationships among the churches of the various denominations have made constant and extraordinary advances as anyone can see; yet division remains a cause for concern, and indeed a contradiction and scandal in the eyes of non-Christians and non-believers. We intend to dedicate our prayerful attention to every thing that would favor union. We will do so without diluting doctrine but, at the same time, without hesitation.
  • We wish to pursue with patience but firmness that serene and constructive dialogue that Paul VI had at the base of his plan and program for pastoral action. The principal theme for this was set forth in his great encyclical Ecclesiam Suam. It called for a mutual knowledge, man to man, also with those who do not share our faith. We must always be ready to give witness of the faith that is ours and of the mission that Christ has given to us, “that the world might believe” (Jn. 17:21).
  • We wish finally to express our support for all the laudable, worthy initiatives that can safeguard and increase peace in our troubled world. We call upon all good men, all who are just, honest, true of heart. We ask them to help build up a dam within their nations against blind violence which can only destroy and sow seeds of ruin and sorrow. We ask them too in international life to bring men to mutual understanding, to an association of efforts that would further social progress, overcome hunger of the body and ignorance of the mind, and advance those who are less endowed with goods of this earth, yet rich in energy and desire.

Brothers and dearest sons and daughters, in this awesome moment for us, yet a moment enriched by God’s promise, we extend our greeting to all of our sons and daughters: We wish we could see all of them face to face, embrace them, give them courage and confidence, while asking their understanding and prayers for us.

To all then, our greeting:

  • To all cardinals of the sacred college, with whom we have shared this decisive hour. We depend upon them now, as we will in the future. We are grateful to them for their wise counsel. We appreciate the strong support that they will continue to offer to us, as an extension of their consent which, through God’s will, has brought us to the summit of the apostolic office;
  • To all the bishops of the church of God, “who represent their own church, whereas all, together with the Pope, represent the entire church in a bond of peace, love and unity’” (Lumen Gentium, 23), and whose collegiality we strongly value. We value their efforts in the guidance of the universal church both through the synodal structure and through the curial structure in which they share by right according to the norms established;
  • To all of our co-workers called to a strict response to our will and thus to an honored activity which brings holiness of life, called to a spirit of obedience, to the works of the apostolate and to a most exemplary love of the church. We love each of them and we encourage them to stay close to us as they were to our predecessors in proven faithfulness. We are certain to be able to reply on their highly esteemed labors, which will be for us a great joy;
  • We salute the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Rome, to whom we are bound by our succession to the Chair of Peter and to the unique and singular responsibility of this Roman chair, “which presides over universal love.”
  • We salute in a special way the members of the dioceses of Venice and Belluno, those who are remembered as most beloved sons and daughters, and those of whom we think now with a sincere concern, conscious of their magnificent work for the church and of their common commitment to the cause of the Gospel.
  • And we embrace all priests – especially parish priests and those dedicated to the direction of souls, often in difficult conditions or genuine poverty, yet sustained by the grace of their vocation and by their heroic following of Christ, “the pastor of our souls” (1 Pt. 2:25).
  • We salute religious men and women, those in both contemplative and active life, who continue to make present in the world a hymn of total commitment to the gospel ideal; and we ask them to continue to “see well to it that the church truly shows forth Christ through them with ever-increasing clarity to believers and unbelievers alike” (Lumen Gentium, 46).
  • We salute the entire missionary church, and we extend to all men and women, who in their outposts of evangelization dedicate them selves to the care of their brothers, our encouragement and our most loving recognition.

They should know that, among all who are dear to us, they are the dearest: They are never forgotten in our prayers and thoughts, because they have a privileged place in our heart.

  • To the associations of Catholic Action, as to the movements of various names which contribute with new energy to the renewal of society and the “consecration of the world” as a leaven in the mass (cf. Mt. 13:33) – to them go all support and encouragement, because we are convinced that their work, carried out in collaboration with the hierarchy, is indispensable for the church today.
  • We salute young people, the hope of tomorrow – a better, a healthier, a more constructive tomorrow – that they might know how to distinguish good from bad and, with the fresh energy that they possess, bring about the vitality of the church and the development of the world.
  • We greet the families, who are the “domestic sanctuary of the church” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11), and indeed a true, actual “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium) in which religious vocations can flourish and holy decisions be made. It is there that one is prepared for the world of tomorrow. It is there that one can raise defenses against those destructive ideologies of hedonism which stamp out life and in stead form a vibrant source of generosity, of balance, of dedication to the common good.
  • We extend a particular greeting to all who are now suffering – to the sick, to prisoners, to exiles, to the persecuted; to those who are unemployed, or who have bad fortune in life; to all upon whom restraints are placed in their practice of the Catholic faith which they cannot freely profess except at the cost of the basic human rights – of free men and of willing, loyal citizens. In a special way our thoughts turn to the tortured land of Lebanon, to the situation in the homeland of Jesus, to the area of Sahel, to India, a land that is so tried, indeed, to all those sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who undergo privations in their social and political life or as a result of natural disasters.

My brothers and sisters – all people of the world!

We are all struggling to raise the world to a condition of greater justice, more stable peace, more sincere cooperation. We invite all of you and encourage you, from the humblest who are the underpinning of nations to heads of state responsible for each nation – we encourage you to build up an efficacious and responsible structure for a new order, one more just and honest.

A dawn of hope spreads over the earth, although it is sometimes touched by sinister merchants of hatred, bloodshed and war with a darkness which sometimes threatens to obscure the dawn. This humble vicar of Christ, who begins in fear yet trust in his mission, places himself at the disposal of the entire church and all civil society. We make no distinction as to race or ideology but seek to secure for the world the dawn of a more serene and joyful day. Only Christ could cause this dawn of a light which will never set, because he is the “sun of justice” (cf. Mal. 3:20). He will indeed oversee the work of all. He will not fail us.

We ask all our sons and daughters for the help of their prayers, for we are counting on them; and we open ourselves with great trust to the assistance of the Lord, who, having called us to be his representative on earth, will not leave us without his all-powerful grace. Mary most holy, Queen of the Apostles, will be the shining star of our pontificate. Peter, the foundation of the church will support us through his intercession and with his example of unconquerable faith and human generosity. Saint Paul will guide us in our apostolic efforts directed to all the people of the earth. Our holy patrons will assist us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we impart to the world our first, most loving apostolic benediction.