Holy See and Paraguay Seal Pact on Ministering to Armed Forces

John Paul II received Paraguay's president in audience, to celebrate the agreement reached between that country and the Holy See for religious assistance to the armed forces and national police.

Shortly before meeting the Pope today, Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano attended the ceremony for the exchange of instruments of ratification of the agreement.

Duarte then met briefly with the Pope in his study, and then later introduced his delegation to the Holy Father.

The Holy Father delivered a brief address in Spanish, in which he expressed his "affection for the Paraguayan people" and asked the president "to transmit the Pope's greetings and the assurance of his remembrance in prayer" to them.

"I hope that the Christian message, which has penetrated the soul of that noble people and has given fruits of holiness in St. Roque Ruiz and his companion martyrs, will continue to provide inspiration and encouragement to all those who are involved in the development of Paraguay on the path of justice and solidarity," John Paul II said.

During the ceremony to exchange the instruments of ratification of the agreement, Cardinal Sodano said that, in virtue of the agreement, the military bishop and chaplains become "military men with the military, to serve them better and to proclaim the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The agreement, signed in 2002 but in existence since the 1960s, institutionalizes the presence of Catholics in Paraguay's security and armed forces, diplomatic sources revealed.