Pope John Paul II
Visit to the United Nations and the United States given on October 7, 1995
Dear Brothers and Sisters, and Distinguished Guests,
1. It is a great joy for me to be here once more in Saint Patrick's Cathedral, which is
a kind of spiritual landmark for all New Yorkers; in a sense, for all Catholics in the
From this "house of God", I greet the "household of God in the
Spirit" (cf. Eph 2:19): all who have been given "a new birth ... unto hope which
draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Pt 1:3). In the first place
I hail my dear friend Cardinal O'Connor, the Shepherd of this huge Archdiocese, whose
dauntless leadership you all know. I greet all of you who have prayed the Rosary with me
here today on the very Feast of the Holy Rosary, especially the sick and the handicapped.
I offer respectful greetings as well to the civil authorities of City, State and Nation.
2. I am pleased that Cardinal O'Connor has invited two very special categories of
people to pray together this afternoon: representatives of the Religious Institutes in the
Archdiocese, and families from every one of the over four hundred Parishes. These
vocations complement each other. The family, the typical lay vocation, witnesses to God's
presence in history, through the mutual love of the spouses and their service to life.
Religious, living the radical consecration of the evangelical counsels, bear witness that
God is absolute and that his Kingdom of justice, peace and love is our supreme destiny.
Both vocations therefore play an essential part in the Church's mission and in the great
enterprise of humanizing the world.
3. Dear Religious, by following Christ along the "narrow and hard way" (cf.
Mt 7:14), you experience how true it is that "with him is plenteous redemption":
copiosa apud eum redemptio (Ps 130:7). For some of you, perhaps, this has been a cross
made heavy by temptations to doubt the meaning and purpose of your witness, by attacks on
the religious life and on the Church herself. But, your fidelity has withstood the
challenges from within and without, and remains a singular example to a world so much in
need of the "newness of life in Christ" (cf. Rom 6:4) which is made present
through the self-giving love that inspires your entire lives (cf. Perfectae Caritatis, 1).
Every day in my prayer I praise and thank the Father of mercies for the heroic efforts
of so many women and men Religious who live by "the law of the Spirit, the Spirit of
life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2). We must beseech God that, by his grace and through
the intercession of Mary and your holy founders and foundresses, a new Pentecost will take
hold in consecrated life so that it will become clear to everyone, especially the young,
that religious life is a vital, necessary force in the Church. To each one of you and to
all the faithful Religious of the United States, in words taken from the Letter to the
Hebrews I say: "Do not, then, surrender your confidence; it will have great
reward" (Heb 10:35). Society needs your prophetic and unmistakable testimony of God's
4. Dear Families, Dear mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters,
grandparents: I was supposed to come to New York last year for the celebration of the
United Nations' Year of the Family. In the Letter to Families which I wrote on that
occasion, I indicated that "the family is placed at the center of the great struggle
between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to
love" (No. 23). The family therefore is at the heart of the Church's mission and of
her concern for humanity.
When a man and a woman bind themselves to each other without reservation in their
decision to be faithful "in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad",
to the exclusion of every other physical love, they become cooperators with the Creator in
bringing new life into the world. You parents can look with love at your children and say:
this is "flesh of my flesh" (Gen 2:23). Your life is defined by your fatherly
and motherly desire and duty to give your children the best: a loving home, an upbringing,
a healthy and positive start on the road of life, now and for eternity. Above all, through
Baptism you make it possible for your children to become God's beloved sons and daughters,
mystically united with Christ, incorporated into his Church! Consider how important it is
for you to foster the life of faith and the life of grace in yourselves and in your
children. Beneath the high altar of this Cathedral, together with the former Cardinals and
Archbishops of New York, there is buried the Servant of God Pierre Toussaint, a married
man, a one-time slave from Haiti. What is so extraordinary about this man? He radiated a
most serene and joyful faith, nourished daily by the Eucharist and visits to the Blessed
Sacrament. In the face of constant, painful discrimination he understood, as few have
understood, the meaning of the words: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what
they are doing" (Lk 23:34). No treasure is as uplifting and transforming as the light
From many points of view, these are difficult times for parents who wish to pass on to
their children the treasure of the Catholic faith. Sometimes you yourselves are not sure
what the Church stands for. There are false teachers and dissenting voices. Bad examples
cause great harm. Furthermore, a self-indulgent culture undermines many of the values
which are at the basis of sound family life.
5. There are two immediate things which the Catholic families of America can do to
strengthen home-life. The first is prayer: both personal and family prayer. Prayer raises
our minds and hearts to God to thank him for his blessings, to ask him for his help. It
brings the saving power of Jesus Christ into the decisions and actions of everyday life.
One prayer in particular I recommend to families: the one we have just been praying,
the Rosary. And especially the Joyful Mysteries, which help us to meditate on the Holy
Family of Nazareth. Uniting her will with the will of God, Mary conceived the Christ
Child, and became the model of every mother carrying her unborn child. By visiting her
cousin Elizabeth, Mary took to another family the healing presence of Jesus. Mary gave
birth to the Infant Jesus in the humblest of circumstances and presented him to Simeon in
the Temple, as every baby may be presented to God in Baptism. Mary and Joseph worried over
the lost Child before they found him in the Temple, so that parents of all generations
would know that the trials and sorrows of family life are the road to closer union with
Jesus. To use a phrase made famous by the late Father Patrick Peyton: The family that
prays together, stays together!
6. The second suggestion I make to families is to use the Catechism of the Catholic
Church to learn about the faith and to answer the questions that come up, especially the
moral questions which confront everyone today. Dear Parents, you are educators because you
are parents. I exhort and encourage the Bishops and the whole Church in the United States
to help parents to fulfill their vocation to be the first and most important teachers of
the faith to their children. And I wish to say a special word of thanks to all those who
make sacrifices, sometimes heroic sacrifices, to ensure that Catholic children receive
formation in the faith either through the Catholic School system or through Religious
Education Programs in your parishes. I know that the Archdiocese of New York is proud of
its Catholic schools and its Religious Education Programs. Immense effort goes into these
undertakings, in the face of great odds. May God reward everyone involved!
7. Families in difficulties or couples in irregular situations also have a claim on the
Church's pastoral care. Other stronger and spiritually mature families can play a
wonderful role in bringing encouragement and help to such couples and families. Every
strengthening of family bonds is a victory for society. I appeal to all of you to promote
respect for the mystery of life and love which God has entrusted in a special way to
And to Religious, I appeal to you to be, in the heart of the Church in the United
States, what the Second Vatican Council called you: "a blazing emblem of the heavenly
kingdom" (Perfectae Caritatis, 1).
God bless you all! God bless the Church in New York!