on the 25th Anniversary of his Pontificate
H.H. John Paul II
October 16, 2003
Address of Cardinal Ratzinger at the
beginning of the Thanksgiving Mass
Domini in aeternum cantabo - I will sing of your mercies, O
Lord, for ever (cf. Ps 89: 1).
Twenty-five years ago I
had a special experience of divine mercy. At the Conclave,
through the College of Cardinals, Christ said to me, as he once
said to Peter by the Lake of Genesaret: "Tend my sheep" (Jn
I heard echo in my soul
the question he addressed to Peter at that moment: "Do you
love me? Do you love me more than these...?" (cf. Jn 21:
15-16). Humanly speaking, how could I not have been
apprehensive? How could so great a responsibility not burden me?
I had to turn to divine mercy in order to answer the question
"Do you accept?" with confidence: "In the obedience of the
faith, before Christ my Lord, entrusting myself to the Mother of
Christ and of the Church, aware of the great difficulties, I
Today, dear brothers and
sisters, I am pleased to share with you an experience that has
now lasted for a quarter of a century. Every day that same
dialogue between Jesus and Peter takes place in my heart. In
spirit, I focus on the benevolent gaze of the risen Christ.
Although he knows of my human frailty, he encourages me to
answer confidently, like Peter: "Lord, you know everything;
you know that I love you" (Jn 21: 17). And then he invites
me to take on the responsibilities that he himself has entrusted
2. "The Good Shepherd
lays down his life for the sheep" (Jn 10: 11). While Jesus
was saying these words, the Apostles did not realize that he was
referring to himself. Not even his beloved Apostle John knew it.
He understood on Calvary, at the foot of the Cross, when he saw
Jesus silently giving up his life for "his sheep".
When the time came for
John and the other Apostles to assume this same mission they
then remembered his words. They realized that they would be able
to fulfil their mission only because he had assured them that he
himself would be working among them.
As Peter, a "witness of
the sufferings of Christ" (I Pt 5: 1), was particularly
aware of this, he admonished the elders of the Church: "Tend
the flock of God that is your charge" (I Pt 5: 2).
Down the centuries, the
successors of the Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, have
continued to gather Christ's flock and lead it toward the
Kingdom of Heaven, knowing that only "for Christ, with Christ
and in Christ" could they assume so great a responsibility.
I was conscious of the
same thing when the Lord called me to carry out Peter's mission
in this beloved city of Rome and at the serivce of the whole
world. From the beginning of my Pontificate, my thoughts,
prayers and actions were motivated by one desire: to witness
that Christ, the Good Shepherd, is present and active in his
Church. He is constantly searching for every stray sheep, to
lead it back to the sheepfold, to bind up its wounds; he tends
the sheep that are weak and sickly and protects those that are
strong. This is why, from the very first day, I have never
ceased to urge people: "Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and
accept his power!" (Homily at the Mass Inaugurating the
Pontifical Ministry of John Paul II, 22 October 1978,
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 2 November 1978, p.
12). Today I forcefully repeat: "Open, indeed, open wide the
doors to Christ!" (cf. ibid.). Let him guide you! Trust
in his love!
3. When I was beginning my
Pontificate I appealed to all: "Help the Pope and all who wish
to serve Christ and with Christ's power to serve the human
person and the whole of mankind!". As I thank God with you for
these 25 years totally steeped in his mercy, I feel a special
need to express my gratitude to you too, brothers and sisters of
Rome and of the whole world, who have responded and continue to
respond in various ways to my request for help. Only God knows
what sacrifices, prayers and sufferings have been offered to
sustain me in my service to the Church. How much kindness and
concern, how many signs of communion have surrounded me each
day. May the good Lord reward everyone generouslyl! I implore
you, dear brothers and sisters, do not stop your great work of
love for the Successor of Peter. I ask you once again: help the
Pope, whoever wants to serve Christ, to serve man and all
4. To you, Lord Jesus
The one Pastor of the Church
I offer the fruit of these 25 years of ministry
at the service of the people you have entrusted to my care.
Forgive the evil done and multiply the good:
All is your work and you alone deserve glory.
With full confidence in your mercy
I commend to you, again today, those whom years ago
you entrusted to my pastoral care.
Keep them in love, gather them into your sheepfold,
take the weak upon your shoulders,
bind up the wounded, take care of the strong.
Be their Shepherd, so that they do not stray.
Protect the beloved Church which is in Rome
and the Churches of the whole world.
Instil the light and power of your Spirit
in those you have chosen to guide your flock:
May they carry out their mission enthusiastically
as guides, teachers and sanctifiers,
while they await your glorious return.
I renew to you, through the hands of the Beloved Mother, Mary,
the gift of myself, of the present and of the future:
May all be done according to your will.
Supreme Pastor, stay with us,
so that with you we may safely journey onwards
to the house of the Father,
to the house of the Father. Amen!
At the conclusion of
the Thanksgiving Mass for the 25th Anniversary of his
Pontificate the Holy Father spoke briefly to the pilgrims and
Before ending the
celebration, I would like to offer my cordial greeting to
everyone present, thanking in particular the numerous
pilgrimages, from Italy, Poland and from other countries.
I greet the Cardinals with a special thought for Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger, Dean of the Sacred College, whom I thank for his
affectionate words. Likewise I extend my fraternal greeting to
the many Bishops present.
I greet the diocesan
community of Rome, gathered here with the Cardinal Vicar of
Rome, the Auxiliary Bishops and the parish priests.
I greet with respect the
Heads of State, especially the President of Italy, Hon. Carlo
Azeglio Ciampi, whom I thank for the courteous greetings and
good wishes addressed to me yesterday evening in a special
television message. I also greet the President of Poland and all
the authorities and representatives of various Italian and
I thank all those, in so
many parts of the earth, who support my daily apostolic ministry
with prayer and with the offering of their sufferings.
The Holy Father then
thanked the pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish,
Portuguese, Belarusian and Polish. To the English-speaking
faithful he said:
Thank you for the
affection which you have shown toward the Successor of Peter.
The Holy Father ended
Thank you to everyone. May
the Lord bless you!