April 25, 2000
volume 11, no. 81
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

Calls for Defense of Human Dignity and Opposes Xenophobia

    VATICAN CITY, APR 23 (ZENIT.org).- Eight catechumens were baptized and confirmed by John Paul II, during the luminous Jubilee Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Square. They ranged in age from 5 to 40, and came from Japan, China, Cameroon, Albania and Italy. At the end of the ceremony, they received their First Communion from the Pontiff's hands. Given the extraordinary number of pilgrims, this was the first time a Pope has celebrated this all important Christian feast outside the Basilica.

    The Holy Father encouraged the new Catholics, who would become "intimate sharers in the mystery of the love of God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit," to make of their life "a song of praise to the Most Holy Trinity, and a witness of love that knows no bounds."

    The Vigil began with the blessing of the Paschal fire at the foot of the obelisk in St. Peter's Square, witness of St. Peter's martyrdom in Nero's circus. The Paschal candle was moved forward, in the silence of the night, until it arrived in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, shedding its light along with that of thousands of candles being carried by pilgrims.

    "At the Easter Vigil, 'the mother of all vigils,' everyone can likewise acknowledge their own personal history of salvation, which has its basic moment in our rebirth in Christ through Baptism," the Holy Father said, explaining the reason he administered Baptism to the new Christians, among whom was a darling 5-year old Japanese girl. She was baptized along with her parents. Several times during the ceremony, she made the Holy Father smile. In the last 4 days, John Paul II has presided over close to 20 hours of celebrations.

    At the end of the Vigil, when the catechumens went to greet the Pope, he kissed the little radiant Japanese girl twice, in the presence of her overwhelmed young parents. The other baptized included a 30-year-old man from Cameroon, a 38-year-old Italian, and a 30-year-old Albanian. Particularly significant was the baptism of two Chinese, Peter Cong Shen, 28, and Elena Hong Ye, 38, not only because of the difficult situation of the Church in China and the Holy Father's hope to visit that country, but also because of the stressful circumstances faced by Chinese immigrants in Italy, who must often deal with a type of mafia, which controls some communities of the diaspora. Some underground workshops oblige them to work in inhuman conditions.

    The open-air celebration in the dead of night implicitly underlined the cosmic character of Jesus' Resurrection. "Yes, Christ is truly risen and we are witnesses of this," the Pope exclaimed. "We proclaim this witness to the world, so that the joy, which is ours, will reach countless other hearts, kindling in them the light of the hope that does not disappoint."

    In giving his traditional Easter message, at the end of the Mass on Resurrection Sunday, John Paul II wished a "just and lasting peace" for humanity in the third millennium. The crowds in St. Peter's Square beat all records. There were at least 150,000 pilgrims, but some reporters think the figure was more like 200,000.

    The space embraced by Bernini's colonnade was not large enough to accommodate all those who came to receive the "urbi et orbi" papal blessing; the river of humanity spilled over into adjacent streets, particularly the Via della Conciliazione. There were 58 television channels transmitting the ceremony throughout the world.

    The Holy Father himself beat a personal record: in celebration of Jesus' Resurrection, he greeted Catholics worldwide in 60 languages. The scene was nothing short of spectacular: the atrium of the Vatican Basilica was transformed into a veritable "Garden of Resurrection," thanks to 50,000 bushes, plants, and flowers donated by the Netherlands.

    On Resurrection Day of the Great Jubilee Year, which the Holy Father has been preparing for since the day he was elected Pope, John Paul II addressed the world, speaking about the evils and wars causing bloodshed, announcing the message of universal love, and new life and hope on Easter Sunday. "Yes, life and death were locked in combat, and Life was victorious for ever. All is once again oriented to life, to Eternal Life!," the Pope exclaimed. "The Risen Christ signals the paths of hope along which we can advance together towards a more just and mutually supportive world, in which the blind egoism of the few will not prevail over the cries of pain of the many, reducing entire peoples to conditions of degrading misery."

    As the Pope pronounced these words, the sun broke through a gray and misty Roman morning. "May the message of life, proclaimed by the angel near the stone rolled back from the tomb, overturn the hardness of our hearts; may it lead to removing unjustified barriers and promote a fruitful exchange between peoples and cultures. May the image of the new man, shining on the face of Christ, cause everyone to acknowledge the inalienable value of human life," he added.

    In his Easter message, the Pontiff implored that Christ "grant the human family of the third millennium a just and lasting peace" and "bring to a happy outcome the talks undertaken by people of good will who, despite so many doubts and difficulties, are trying to bring an end to the troubling conflicts in Africa, the armed clashes in some countries of Latin America, the persistent tensions affecting the Middle East, vast areas of Asia, and some parts of Europe."

    Christ's Resurrection is not something of the past but is forever. In the name of this same Jesus, John Paul II called mankind "to overcome old and new rivalries, by rejecting attitudes of racism and xenophobia."

    There was a special liturgical touch to this Jubilee Easter Sunday. The Resurrection was proclaimed by a deacon before the icon of the Most Holy Savior, known as the "Acheropita," which means, "not executed by the human hand," which is kept in the Chapel of the "Sancta Sanctorum" of the Scala Santa in Rome. This was a Medieval tradition, which disappeared when the See of the Bishop of Rome was moved to Avignon in 1309, but which the Holy Father decided to restore on this occasion.

    With the blessing, John Paul II, who will be 80 in May, concluded the marathon of celebrations and liturgical events he has presided this Holy Week. At the end of the ceremony, he climbed into a jeep with his golden priestly ornaments so that the pilgrims could see him close up. By this time, 1 p.m., the sun was strong, but John Paul II smiled at the crowds, despite the past week's punishing schedule. ZE00042305 and ZE00042304


April 25, 2000
volume 11, no. 81

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