VATICAN CITY, FEB 27 (ZENIT).- Yesterday, John Paul II ended his trip to
Egypt with a call to rediscover the force of the Ten Commandments, "the
Law of life and freedom," which he gave at St. Catherine's Monastery at
the foot of Mount Sinai. This was the second stage of John Paul II's
longed for pilgrimage to the places of Revelation. The first was his
"spiritual" journey to Iraq, held in the Vatican last Wednesday.
Although brief, John Paul II's pilgrimage in Moses' footsteps was
intense, experiencing, as he did, decisive moments to give impetus to
the dialogue among believers of different religions and Christians of
different confessions. The Pontiff went so far as to request an
acceleration of the search for this objective.
Although brief, John Paul II's pilgrimage in Moses' footsteps was intense, experiencing, as he did, decisive moments to give impetus to the dialogue among believers of different religions and Christians of different confessions. The Pontiff went so far as to request an acceleration of the search for this objective.
Pilgrim in God's FootstepsJohn Paul II was able to touch the reddish stones that characterize this critical but rough place, a desert of granite mountains. As a "pilgrim in the footsteps of God," he went yesterday morning to the foot of the sacred mountain (known today as "Djebel Mousa," Moses' Mountain), to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine, a fortress of 40-foot thick walls towering to 5,000 feet in height.
The Holy Father explained the meaning of his pilgrimage from the shade of a flowering almond tree during a celebration outside the Monastery, where he addressed some 500 Egyptian Catholics, including numerous members of the Neo-Catechumenal Way. "The Bishop of Rome is a pilgrim to Mount Sinai, drawn by this holy mountain that rises like a soaring monument to what God revealed here. Here He revealed His name! Here He gave His Law, the Ten Commandments of the Covenant!"
A few years ago, John Paul II dreamt of participating in this place in a significant meeting among believers of the monotheist religions: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. This was not possible. Furthermore, the community of Greek monks of the Monastery was initially opposed to the papal visit. However, in this open air sanctuary, consecrated to faith in the one God, the Holy Father did not give up on the idea of re-proposing dialogue, when speaking of the "wind that still blows from Sinai today; a wind that "carries an insistent invitation to dialogue between the followers of the great monotheistic religions in their service of the human family. It suggests that in God we can find the point of our encounter.
The Liberating Force of the Ten CommandmentsThe "pilgrim in the footsteps of God," went to Sinai to contemplate the secret of human liberty. According to John Paul II, the tables of the Law given to Moses "are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but, before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. Today, as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as always, they are the only future of the human family. They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred, and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw him into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbor."
The Holy Father experienced the greatest emotion when visiting the Church of the Transfiguration of the most ancient Christian monastery in the world, erected by Justinian in 527, in the place that preserves the roots of the "burning bush" that God used to speak to Moses and reveal his name: "I am Who am." The pilgrim Pope removed his shoes, as God ordered his prophet, knelt down and kissed this holy ground. He also kissed the relics of St. Catherine of Alexandria, martyred in 307, to whom the Monastery is dedicated. Here he carried out an ancient ritual, placing his ring on the finger of the skeleton, touching the ring to the skull, and putting it back on. He also venerated Christ Pantocrator, the most ancient icon of the Redeemer (6th century), whose face was copied from the Myron, a lost image of Christ's face on a cloth, which many believe to be today's Shroud of Turin, which at the time was in the Greek city of Odessa.
After these moments of intense spiritual experience, the Pope visited the Monastery's library, housing 6,000 works, including 3,500 manuscripts, outstanding among which is the "Codex Syriacus," the Syrian text of the Gospels that dates from the 4th century, and fragments of the "Codex Sinaiticus" (the rest of whose passages are in the British Museum). The visit was guided by Archbishop and Abbot Damianos. This community of 23 monks, which initially had opposed the papal visit because of the anti-Catholic feelings common among Greek Orthodox, in the end were affectionate hosts. Outside the Monastery, the Abbot addressed a long welcome to the Pope. However, neither he nor his monks prayed with their guests. "There is still no full ecclesial communion, that is why we cannot pray together," he explained to reporters.
At the very moment the muezzin (Muslim prayer caller) was calling for evening prayer, John Paul II was leaving Cairo, the city of a thousand minarets, where he arrived after his visit in the Sinai Peninsula. The farewell ceremony at the airport was simple. Normally Egyptian protocol makes no provision for the President's attendance, but Hosni Mubarak wanted to say good-bye to the Holy Father personally. Also at the airport was the Grand Imam Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar University, alongside the Egyptian head of government, and the entire Catholic hierarchy. ZE00022703
February 28, 2000 |
volume 11, no. 41
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