500 YEARS OF EVANGELIZATION:
THE POPE IN SANTO DOMINGO
The Almighty has done great things!
October 12, 1992
Homily at America's oldest Marian shrine on fifth centenary of
On Monday, 12 October, the Holy Father went to the city of Higüey in the
eastern interior of the Dominican Republic, where he celebrated Mass at the
Marian shrine of Altagracia. During the Mass on the fifth centenary of the
arrival of the Gospel in the Americas, the Pope preached a homily in Spanish, in
which he addressed all sectors of society, speaking of their role in the new
evangelization and the continuing inculturation of the Gospel in America.
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman"
1. These words of the Apostle Paul, dear brothers and sisters, introduce us
to the mystery of this Woman, full of grace and goodness, whom generations of
Dominicans have come to honour in this basilica where we are gathered today.
Since that far off 1514, the watchful and loving presence of Our Lady of
Altagracia has continuously accompanied the beloved children of this whole
nation, causing the immense wealth of Christian life to flourish in their
hearts through the light and grace of her divine Son.
During my visit to this basilica, I wish to embrace with the love coming from
our heavenly Mother each and every one of those present and those from all over
the country who are united with us in spirit. My fraternal greeting is addressed
to all my brothers in the Episcopate who are with me and especially to the dear
Bishops of the Dominican Republic, who prepared for my pastoral visit with so
much dedication and care.
From this Marian basilica, the spiritual heart of this island where 500 years
ago the preachers of the Gospel arrived, I wish to express my thanks and my
affection to the Pastors and the faithful of each Diocese of the republic,
beginning with that of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia en Higüey where we are
now. My gratitude, expressed in prayer, goes also to the Archdiocese of Santo
Domingo, to its Pastor and to the Auxiliary Bishops. I also greet with special
affection the Dioceses of Bani, Barahona, La Vega and Mao-Monte Cristi together
with their Bishops. Peace and blessing to the Pastors and faithful of San
Francisco de Macorís, Santiago de los Caballeros and San Juan de la Maguana. A
special greeting, full of affection and gratitude, goes to all the priests,
religious and all the other people involved in pastoral activity who, with
generosity and sacrifice, devote their lives to the work of the new
God entered human history, being born of a woman
2. We are celebrating, dear brothers and sisters, the arrival of the
message of salvation on this continent. Thus was it predestined in the plan
of the Father who, when the fullness of time had come, sent his Son, born of a
woman (cf. Gal. 4:4), as we heard in the second reading of the Mass.
God is beyond and above time, because he is eternity itself in the
unfathomable mystery of the blessed Trinity. However, God, so as to be even
closer to mankind, decided to enter into time, into human history: by being born
of a woman he became Emmanuel, God with us, as the prophet Isaiah had
foretold. The Apostle Paul concludes that with the coming of the Saviour, human
time reaches its fullness because in Christ history acquires its dimension of
As we profess in the Creed, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity "was
made man through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit". The Angel said to Mary
- "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will
overshadow you" (Lk 1:35). With the "yes" of the Virgin of Nazareth, Isaiah's
prophecy about Emmanuel, God with us, the Saviour of the world, reaches its
fullness and completion.
Together with the Angel Gabriel, let us proclaim Mary full of grace in this
shrine of Higüey, which is under the protection of Our Lady of Altagracia and
which is the first known place of Marian devotion to be built on American soil.
All that is seen in the picture of Our Lady of Altagracia is a clear and pure
expression of what the Gospel tells us about the mystery of the incarnation of
the Son of God.
Within the shadow of this basilica a people was formed from the fusion of
races and cultures, desires and hopes, successes and defeats, joys and sorrows.
The Dominican people were born under the sign of the Virgin Mary, who has
protected them throughout the course of their history. As is written in the
annals the founders of the nation came to this holy place to find courage and
strength; poets, writers and sages came to find inspiration: workers came for
rest; the afflicted, the sick and the poor came to find consolation; the
repentant came for pardon; and those who feel the ugency of being holy came to
find grace and virtue. All this took place under the mantle of Our Lady of
Altagracia, she who is full of grace.
3. This shrine, dear Dominicans, is the house where the Blessed Virgin wished
to dwell among you as a tender mother, always ready to share the sorrows and
joys of this people. To her motherly protection I entrust all the families of
this beloved land that love and peace may reign among all its members. The
greatness and responsibility of the family consists in its being the first
community of life and love, the first circle in which young people learn to love
and to feel loved. Every family has received from God the mission to be "the
first and vital cell of society" (Apostolicam actuositatem
n. 11) and is called on to construct, day by day, its happiness in
communion. Thus, as in every living tissue, the health and strength of a society
depend on the quality of the families composing it. Therefore, public
authorities also have the responsibility for encouraging the family institution,
strengthening its stability and defending its rights. Your country must not
renounce its tradition of respect and firm support for those values which,
cultivated within the family nucleus, are a determinating factor in the moral
development of social relationships and form the basis of a society which wishes
to be truly human and Christian.
Christian spouses must hand on the faith
It is your responsibility, Christian parents, to create and develop
families in which the values of the Gospel are cultivated and expressed. How
many signs of death and lack of love characterize our society! How many attacks
on marital fidelity and the mystery of life! Do not be misled, Christian
spouses, by easy recourse to divorce. Do not allow the flame of life to be
snuffed out. True love in marital communion is of necessity expressed in a
positive attitude towards life. The practice of contraception is a denial of
conjugal love, transforming the gift of being able to participate in God's
creative activity into a pure convergence of misguided egoism (cf. Familiaris
consortio, nn. 30, 32). How can I fail to repeat yet again on this occasion
that if one must not place obstacles to life, even less can those not yet born
be eliminated with impunity, as is done in abortion.
For their part, Christian spouses, in virtue of their Baptism, Confirmation
and through the sacramental strength of marriage, must hand on the faith and
be the leaven of change in society. Fathers and mothers of families, you
must be the first catechists and teachers of love to your children. If one does
not learn to love and pray in the family, it is difficult to make up for this
deficiency later on. With how much fervour I ask God that young Dominicans may
find in their families the Christian witness that will strengthen their faith
amd support them in times of difficulty and crisis!
4. Young Dominicans! I ask Our Lady of Altagracia to strengthen you in
your faith, to lead you to Jesus Christ because it is only in him that you will
find the answer to your anxieties and hopes: he alone can satisfy your heart's
thirst. The Christian faith teaches us that working for a more just society is
worth the effort; that it is important to defend the innocent, the oppressed and
the poor; that it is worthwhile to sacrifice oneself so that the civilization of
love may triumph. You are the youth of the Continent of Hope. May the
difficulties that you experience not create an obstacle to your love and
generosity but rather a challenge to your will to serve. You must be strong and
courageous, clear-headed and persevering. Do not let yourselves be misled by
hedonism, escapism, drugs, violence or the thousands of reasons which seem to
justify them. You are the young people who are on a pilgrimage to the Third
Millennium and you must prepare yourselves to be the men and women of the
future, responsible and active in the social, cultural, political and ecclesial
structures of your country so that, formed by the Spirit of Christ and by your
creativity in finding original solutions, you may contribute to promoting an
ever more human and Christian development.
5. As I am in a rural area of the republic, I turn my thoughts especially to
the men and women of the fields. You, dear campesinos, cooperate in
the work of creation, making the earth produce the fruits which serve to nourish
your families and the whole community. Through your toil and fatigue you offer
society the goods necessary for survival. Therefore I appeal to the authorities'
sense of justice and solidarity to use all the means available to them to
resolve the problems which afflict the agricultural sector today so that farm
workers and their families may live in the dignity corresponding to their status
as workers and children of God. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, so deeply rooted
in the piety of those who work the land, marks their life with a rich sense of
humanity and a Christian concept of life because the hopes of those who place
their trust in God are found in Mary. She is like the synthesis of the Gospel
and she shows us that, "it is by faith and in faith... that the people of God
express in words and translate into life the mysterious plan of salvation with
its liberating effects upon individual and social existence" (Libertatis
conscientia, n. 97).
Mary is also Star of new evangelization
6. "God sent his Son born of a woman" (Gal 4:4).
Mary is the woman who, by accepting with faith the word of God and
indissolubly uniting her life with that of her Son, became the "first and most
perfect follower of Christ" (Marialis cultus, n. 35). For this reason, in
circumstances such as those of the present day, while insistent secularism tends
to stifle the faith of Christians, denying any reference to the transcendent,
the figure of Mary stands out as an example and an incentive for today's
believers, reminding them of the urgent necessity of expressing their acceptance
of the Gospel through practical, concrete actions in their family, professional
and social life (cf. Christifideles laici, n. 2). In fact, as
believers, the Dominican laity are called on to make the Gospel values present
in the various sectors of the life and culture of their people. It is precisely
their Christian vocation that makes them live in the midst of temporal realities
as builders of peace and harmony, always cooperating in the common good of the
nation. Everyone must promote justice and solidarity in the fields of their
concrete social responsibilities: in the economic sector, in trade unions and
political activity, in the area of culture, in the media and in charitable and
educational work. All are called to cooperate in the great task of the new
Today as yesterday, Mary must also be the Star of this new evangelization to
which the universal Church, and especially the Church in Latin America, feels
called in celebration of her 500 years of Christian faith. In fact, the
proclamation of the Gospel in the New World was accomplished "by presenting the
Virgin Mary as its loftiest fulfilment" (Puebla, n. 282). Throughout
these five centuries, Marian devotion has been a fundamental factor of
evangelization because Mary is the Gospel transformed into life. She is the
highest and most perfect fulfilment of the Christian message, the model that all
must follow. As the Latin American Bishops gathered in Puebla de los Angeles
stated, "without Mary, the Gospel is stripped of flesh and blood and is
distorted into an ideology, into a spiritualistic rationalism" (Puebla,
7. "The Mighty One has done great things for me" (Lk 1:49). Thus Mary
proclaims in the Magnificat. She, Our Lady of Altagracia, delivers us to
the Saviour of the world and, as the new Eve, becomes indeed "the mother of all
the living" (Gn 3:20). In the Mother of God "the fullness of time" began to take
place when "God sent his Son, born of a woman,... so that we might receive
(Gal 4:4-5). Emmanuel, God with us, continues to be a new and wonderful
reality which allows us to address God as Father because Mary entrusts us to him
so that we may become his adopted children: "children in his Son".
"As proof that you are children", Saint Paul writes, "God sent the Spirit of
his Son into our hearts, crying out, `Abba Father!" So you are no longer a slave
but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God" (Gal 4:6-7). This is
the great truth the Apostle proclaimed in our Eucharistic celebration:
adoptive filiation in receiving divine life. Therefore our lips can repeat
the same words: "Father... our Father", because it is the Holy Spirit who
inspires them in our hearts.
Let us say a special prayer for Cuba
8. Altagracia! The grace that overcomes sin, evil and death. The great
gift of God spreads among the people of the New World, who five centuries ago
listened to the words of life and received the grace of Baptism. It is a gift
meant for everyone, without exception, which goes beyond race, language and
social status. If there is anyone whom God favours, it is the simple, the
humble and the poor in spirit.
We are all called to be adoptive children of God because "for freedom, Christ
set us free" (Gal 5:1): free from the slavery of sin!
Mother of God! Virgin of Altagracia! Show the paths of Emmanuel, our Saviour,
to all your sons and daughters on the Continent of Hope so that in this fifth
centenary of its evangelization, the faith received may bear fruit in works of
justice, peace and love.
At the end of the Mass the Pope asked for a special prayer for Cuba, speaking
in Spanish as follows:
I ask you to pray for Cuba; I want to assure the Cubans that I offer this
prayer every day, as I do for each and every one of the other countries of
America, Central America and Latin America.
Let us say a special prayer for Cuba.
Teachings of the
Magisterium on Abortion