THE POPE IN DENVER: Arrival speech at Stapleton Airport
August 12, 1993
Test of greatness is how even the weakest human beings are
The Holy Father arrived at Denver's Stapleton International Airport on the
afternoon of Thursday, 12 August, where he was greeted by authorities of Church
and State, including President Bill Clinton, Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, President
of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan,
Apostolic Nuncio in the United States, and Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of
Denver. A delegation of young people was also on hand to welcome the Pope. After
being greeted by President Clinton the Holy Father gave the following address in
Dear People of America,
Dear Young People,
1. I greatly appreciate your generous words of welcome. The World Youth
Day being celebrated this year in Denver gives me the opportunity to meet
you, and through you to express once again to the American people my sentiments
of deep esteem and friendship. I thank you and Mrs Clinton for your kind gesture
in coming here personally to welcome me, coming together with your daughter.
I take this opportunity to greet the other representatives of the federal
Government, of the state of Colorado and of the city of Denver who are present
here, and to thank all those who have contributed in any way to preparing this
visit. I am grateful to the Bishops of the United States for their part in
organizing the Eighth World Youth Day, and in particular to Archbishop
Stafford of Denver and the Catholic Church in Colorado for serving as the local
hosts for this important international event.
I am aware that the United States is suffering greatly from the recent
flooding in the Midwest. I have felt close to the American people in their
tragedy and have prayed for the victims. I invoke almighty God's strength and
comfort upon all who have been affected by this calamity.
2. There is a special joy in coming to America for the celebration of this
World Youth Day. A nation which is itself still young according to
historical standards is hosting young people gathered from all over the world
for a serious reflection on the theme of life: the human life which is
God's marvellous gift to each one of us, and the transcendent Life which
Jesus Christ our Saviour offers to those who believe in his name.
I come to Denver to listen to the young people gathered here, to experience
their inexhaustible quest for life. Each successive World Youth Day has
been a confirmation of young people's openness to the meaning of life as a gift
received, a gift to which they are eager to respond by striving for a better
world for themselves and their fellow human beings. I believe that we would
correctly interpret their deepest aspirations by saying that what they ask is
that society - especially the leaders of nations and all who control the
destinies of peoples - accept them as true partners in the construction
of a more humane, more just, more compassionate world. They ask to be able to
contribute their specific ideas and energies to this task.
Society must instill high moral vision in young people
3. The well-being of the world's children and young people must be of
immense concern to all who have public responsibilities. In my pastoral visits
to the Church in every part of the world I have been deeply moved by the
almost universal conditions of difficulty in which young people grow up and live.
Too many sufferings are visited upon them by natural calamities, famines,
epidemics, by economic and political crises, by the atrocities of wars. And
where material conditions are at least adequate, other obstacles arise, not the
least of which is the breakdown of family values and stability. In developed
countries, a serious moral crisis is already affecting the lives of many young
people, leaving them adrift, often without hope, and conditioned to look only
for instant gratification. Yet everywhere there are young men and women deeply
concerned about the world around them, ready to give the best of themselves in
service to others and particularly sensitive to life's transcendent meaning.
But how do we help them? Only by instilling a high moral vision can a
society ensure that its young people are given the possibility to mature as free
and intelligent human beings, endowed with a robust sense of responsibility to
the common good, capable of working with others to create a community and a
nation with a strong moral fibre. America was built on such a vision, and
the American people possess the intelligence and will to meet the challenge of
rededicating themselves with renewed vigour to fostering the truths on which
this country was founded and by which it grew. Those truths are enshrined in the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and they
still today receive a broad consensus among Americans. Those truths sustain
values which have led people all over the world to look to America with hope and
4. To all Americans, without exception, I present this invitation: Let us
pause and reason together (cf. Is 1:18). To educate without a value
system based on truth is to abandon young people to moral confusion,
personal insecurity and easy manipulation. No country, not even the most
powerful, can endure if it deprives its own children of this essential good.
Respect for the dignity and worth of every person, integrity and responsibility,
as well as understanding, compassion and solidarity towards others, survive only
if they are passed on in families, in schools and through the communications
If you want justice and freedom, America, defend life!
America has a strong tradition of respect for the individual, for human
dignity and human rights. I gladly acknowledged this during my previous visit to
the United States in 1987, and I would like to repeat today the hope I expressed
on that occasion: "America, you are beautiful and blessed in so many ways... But
your best beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each
man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and
daughter... The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human
being, but especially the weakest and most defenceless ones. The best traditions
of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. It you want
equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend
life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the
extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person" (Departure
Speech in Detroit, 19 September 1987).
5. Mr President, my reference to the moral truths which sustain the life of
the nation is not without relevance to the privileged position which the United
States holds in the international community. In the face of tensions and
conflicts that too many peoples have endured for so long - I am thinking in
particular of the Middle East region and some African countries - and in the new
situation emerging from the events of 1989 - especially in view of the tragic
conflicts now going on in the Balkans and in the Caucasus - the international
community ought to establish more effective structures for maintaining and
promoting justice and peace. This implies that a concept of strategic
interest should evolve which is based on the full development of peoples -
out of poverty and towards a more dignified existence, out of injustice and
exploitation towards fuller respect for the human person and the defence of
universal human rights. If the United Nations and other international agencies,
through the wise and honest cooperation of their member nations, succeed in
effectively defending stricken populations, whether victims of underdevelopment
or conflicts or the massive violation of human rights, then there is indeed hope
for the future. For peace is the work of justice.
6. The bounty and providence of God have laid an enormous responsibility
on the people and Government of the United States. But that burden is also the
opportunity for true greatness. Together with millions of people around the
globe I share the profound hope that in the present international situation the
United States will spare no effort in advancing authentic freedom and in
fostering human rights and solidarity.
May God guide this nation, and keep alive in it - for endless generations to
come - the flame of liberty and justice for all.
May God bless you all! God bless America!
America, I express my gratitude to you for receiving me with rain.
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