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Single people contribute to the Church's holiness

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 10 August 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. From earliest times in the Christian tradition, particular attention was given to women who, after losing their husbands, were alone in life and were often poor and defenseless. Already in the Old Testament, widows were often mentioned because of their poverty and recommended to the fraternal care and solidarity of the community and in particular, of those responsible for the law (cf. Ex 22:21; Dt 10:18; 24:17; 26:12; 27:19).

A spirit of charity toward widows fills the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters. Jesus repeatedly showed them thoughtful attention. For example, he publicly praised a poor widow's offering for the Temple (cf. Lk 21:3; Mk 12:43); he was moved to compassion at the sight of the widow in Nain as she accompanied her dead son's funeral procession. He approached her, saying gently: "Do not weep," and gave her back the young man he had restored to life (cf. Lk 7:11-15). The Gospel also reminds us of Jesus' words on the "need to pray always, without becoming weary," taking as an example the widow who obtained justice from the dishonest judge by her persistence (Lk 18:5), and Jesus' other words, severely reprimanding the scribes who "devour the houses of widows," but make a hypocritical show of reciting long prayers (cf. Mk 12:40; Lk 20:47).

Christ's attitude, which fulfills the true spirit of the old covenant, is at the root of the pastoral exhortations of St. Paul and St. James concerning spiritual and charitable aid to widows: "Honor widows who are truly widows" (1 Tim 5:3); "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for widows and orphans in their affliction..." (Jas 1:27).

2. However, in Christian communities the widows' lot was not only to be cared for. They also had an active role, an almost distinctive sharing in the universal vocation of Christ's disciples to the life of prayer.

The First Letter to Timothy indicates that a basic duty entrusted to widows was "to continue in supplications and prayers night and day" (5:5). Luke's Gospel introduces a model of holy widowhood in the person of "Anna, daughter of Phanuel," widowed after only seven years of marriage. The Gospel states that she "never left the Temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer" (Lk 2:36-37). She had the great joy of being in the Temple when the Child Jesus was presented. In their distress, widows can and must similarly rely on the valuable graces of the spiritual life, to which they are asked to respond generously.

3. In the pastoral and spiritual framework of the Christian community, there was also a "roll" to which a widow could belong. To use the words of the Letter quoted above, she was to be "no less than sixty years old [in other words, elderly], married only once, with a reputation for good works, namely, that she has raised children, practiced hospitality, washed the feet of the holy ones [an ancient rite of hospitality adopted by Christianity], helped those in distress, involved herself in every good work..." (1 Tim 5:9-10).

In all this, the early Church was offering an example of charitable solidarity (cf. Acts 6:1), which we find again in many other periods of Christian history. This was especially so when, for social and political reasons, wars and epidemics, etc., the phenomenon of widowhood or other forms of solitary life assumed alarming dimensions. The Church's charity cannot be passive.

Today there are many other cases of people on their own, to whom the Church cannot fail to show sensitivity and concern. First of all there are the "separated" and "divorced," to whom I devoted special attention in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (cf. n. 83). Then there are "unwed mothers," who are subject to particular moral, financial and social difficulties. I would like to say to all these people that whatever their personal responsibility for the tragic situation they are in, they continue to belong to the Church. Pastors, who know about their trials, should not abandon them to themselves. On the contrary, they should do all they can to help and comfort them, and to make them still feel part of Christ's flock.

Even when the Church cannot allow practices that would contradict the demands of truth and the common good of families and society itself, she should never give up loving, understanding and being close to all those in difficulty. The Church feels especially close to people with a broken marriage in their past, who persevere in fidelity, foregoing a second marriage and dedicating themselves as best they can to raising their children. They deserve support and encouragement from everyone. It would be impossible for the Church and the Pope not to praise them for their beautiful witness of Christian consistency, lived generously in the midst of trial.

4. However, since this catechesis, like the others in our series, is dedicated to the lay apostolate, I would once more like to mention the large numbers of single people, and especially widows and widowers. Having fewer family obligations, they willingly devote themselves to promoting Christian activities in parishes or in more extensive projects. Their own lives are thus raised to a higher level of participation in the Church's life as the fruit of a higher degree of charity. Consequently, the Church and the world benefit from the generous dedication of people who thus find the way to attain a higher quality of life, expressing themselves fully in service to their brothers and sisters.

5. We close then by reaffirming what we read in the Second Vatican Council, that the example of charitable good works should be given not only by Christian married couples and parents. "A like example, but one given in a different way, is that offered by widows and single people, who are able to make great contributions toward holiness and apostolic endeavor in the Church" (LG 41). Whatever the cause of their state in life, many of these people can recognize the higher plan of God's wisdom directing their lives and leading them to holiness on the way of the cross, a cross which in their circumstances proves especially fruitful.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli francesi

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je salue avec plaisir tous les pèlerins francophones, jeunes et aînés. En particulier, je voudrais dire toute mon affection aux sportifs du Rwanda, témoins des graves épreuves de leur pays bien-aimé: je les assure de ma prière pour eux et pour leurs compatriotes.

Je salue aussi cordialement un groupe de Vietnamiens venu de Lyon, des pèlerins de l’Ile de la Réunion, ainsi que des jeunes de Nea Makri en Grèce. À tous, je donne volontiers la Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Brothers and Sisters,

It is a great joy for me to welcome the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims to today’s Audience. I extend a special greeting to groups from England, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and the United States. May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.

Ad alcuni fedeli nipponici

Rendiamo grazie a Dio! Cari pellegrini del Giappone, voi avete ricevuto l’educazione all’amore di Cristo nella scuola missionaria.

Dedicatevi all’educazione dei giovani con lo stesso amore.

Mi auguro che Gesù, Maestro dell’umanità, vi benedica in abbondanza. Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Ai visitatori di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen Gedanken grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Euch allen wünsche ich in diesen Ferientagen gute Erholung an Leib und Seele und erteile Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo con gran afecto a todos los presentes de lengua española. De España, a los peregrinos del Instituto de Ciencias Religiosas de Valencia, a las familias del Instituto Secular “Cruzada Evangélica”, a los grupos franciscanos de Madrid, Bilbao y San Sebastián, al grupo “Hastadonde” de Alicante, y a los fieles presentes de la diócesis de Cuenca y de la Parroquia de San Bartolomé, de Castellón.

De México, a la peregrinación que se dirige, con la imagen de Jesús de la Divina Misericordia, hacia el Santuario de Częstochowa, as como al grupo de quinceañeras y a todos los demás peregrinos venidos de varios países de Sudamérica.

A las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los diversos países de América Latina y de Espańa imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Queridos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Amados peregrinos que me acompanhais, em particular os visitantes vindos de Portugal e o grupo de ítalo-brasileiros: para todos vós, e extensiva às vossas famílias e comunidades cristãs, vai a minha afectuosa saudação e uma propiciadora Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Witam serdecznie wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski. Pragnę tylko w szczególności powitać: z archidiecezji katowickiej parafię św. Jacka, parafię Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa z Piekar Śląskich oraz trzecia pielgrzymkę z Huty Baildon, z archidiecezji gdańskiej młodzież z Zespołu Szkół “Conradinum” i parafię św. Leona z Wejherowa, z archidiecezji poznańskiej parafię św. Jerzego, parafie Niepokalanego Poczęcia Matki Bożej z Wolsztyna, św. Jana Chrzciciela z Leszna i Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej z Pudliszek. Witam pielgrzymów ze Szczecina, Staszowa, Pabianic oraz Oazy III stopnia z Radomia i Lublina, jak też chór z Liceum Ogólnokształcącego w Rybniku. Na koniec witam liczną grupę dyrekcji i pracowników Giorgio Foods Incorporation z Pensylwanii w Stanach Zjednoczonych, gdzie pracuje wielu Polaków.

Ai pellegrini italiani

Saluto ora i pellegrini italiani. In particolare, desidero rivolgere una parola di benvenuto alle Suore di Nostra Signora della Mercede, come pure alle Figlie di Cristo Re, riunite nel Capitolo generale delle loro Congregazioni. Il mio saluto, poi, va ai membri dell’Arciconfraternita della Misericordia di Viareggio; ai medici, alle suore, al cappellano militare ed ai volontari del Policlinico militare di Roma, venuti insieme ad alcuni loro ospiti del Rwanda e dell’Albania; al gruppo dell’Opera per la Gioventù “Giorgio La Pira” di Firenze, che ha riunito insieme molti giovani provenienti da varie diocesi toscane, da Coimbra in Portogallo, da Esztergom-Budapest in Ungheria e dall’Istituto per le relazioni internazionali di Mosca, al fine di riflettere insieme sulla costruzione di una nuova Europa fondata sui valori della pace e della solidarietà. Un saluto speciale ai pellegrini di Osimo ed alle delegazioni dei Comuni argentini di Lujan e di Amstrong, città gemellata con Osimo, accompagnate dai rispettivi Sindaci. Grazie, carissimi, per la vostra visita. Sono lieto di benedire, al termine dell’Udienza, il tradizionale vostro “covo”, ricoperto di spighe di grano, che riproduce quest’anno il Santuario di Nostra Signora di Lujan in omaggio ai molti vostri conterranei emigrati in Argentina. Vi accompagni sempre la Vergine Santa nel quotidiano lavoro e renda la vostra esistenza ricca di frutti di bene.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli

Il mio cordiale pensiero si volge, infine, ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli, venuti a Roma in questo periodo. Auspico, cari giovani, che l’incontro con tanti luoghi carichi di cultura, di arte e di fede sia occasione propizia per conoscere e imitare l’esempio lasciatoci da tanti testimoni del Vangelo qui vissuti, come san Lorenzo, di cui oggi ricorre la festa. Incoraggio voi, cari malati, ad unirvi costantemente a Gesù sofferente nel portare con fede la croce per la redenzione del mondo, ed auguro a voi, cari sposi novelli, di costruire la vostra nuova famiglia sul solido fondamento della fedeltà al Vangelo dell’Amore. A tutti la mia benedizione.

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