February 24, 2000
volume 11, no. 39
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    VATICAN ( -- On February 23, Pope John Paul II carried out his "spiritual pilgrimage" to the birthplace of the Biblical patriarch Abraham, traveling "through thought" to Ur of the Chaldeans during a unique ceremony at the Vatican.

    The Holy Father had indicated his desire to make Ur of the Chaldeans, the home of Abraham, the first step in his Jubilee pilgrimage to "the holy places tied to the history of salvation." But political complications in Iraq, where Ur is located, forced the cancellation of plans for a papal visit to the site. The Pope still intends to visit other sites in Egypt, the Holy Land, Syria, and Greece during the Jubilee year.

    The Pope's "spiritual pilgrimage" to Ur was accomplished with the help of a giant video screen, installed in the Paul VI auditorium, showing images of southern Iraq and other sites associated with the story of Abraham. These images were shown during a "service of the Word" honoring Abraham as the father of all believers.

    "Like us, Jews and Muslims look upon Abraham as a model of unconditional submission to the will of God," Pope John Paul observed in his homily during the ceremony. He noted that Abraham left his own land, and began to travel toward "a Promised Land that he had never seen," in compliance with God's instructions. He was even prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, in what the Pope called "the apogee of Abraham's faith," as well as "an analogy to the salvific event of the death and resurrection of Christ."

    "Through the faith of Abraham," the Pope continued, "God entered into an eternal alliance with the human race-- an alliance which has its definitive accomplishment in Jesus Christ." The liturgical ceremony in the Paul VI auditorium included a series of readings from the Old Testament, relating to the role of Abraham and his call from God. These readings were interspersed with periods of prayer and meditation, accompanied by images designed to encourage reflection on the life of Abraham.

    In addition to the scenes from Ur of the Chaldeans, these images included scenes from the Holy Land, from the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and from the tomb of Abraham in Hebron. There were also images drawn from the world of art, notably including the painting by Marc Chagall which depicts the angels announcing to Abraham that his wife Sarah will bear him a son.

    The Paul VI auditorium was richly decorated for the ceremony, with many symbolic references to Abraham and his covenant with God. About 30 cardinals and 100 bishops participated in the "spiritual pilgrimage" along with Pope John Paul.


February 24, 2000
volume 11, no. 39

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