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VATICAN CITY, JAN 2 (ZENIT) - The Children's Jubilee, celebrated Sunday, was the first of a long line of particular jubilees to be held this Holy Year, and quite a surprise for the events organizers. They had hoped there would be 10,000 participants, a pessimistic estimate brought on by the holidays and the cold Rome has experienced over the past few days. The most optimistic had hoped for 50,000. In fact, more than 100,000 attended, turning this event into a festival of color and sound.
John Paul II himself admitted his surprise. Looking over the crowd of youngsters who had gathered in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father put aside his prepared speech and said: "We are very many today. From here I cannot see all of you and I cannot see where the crowd ends. No doubt it goes to the Tiber." The children all shrieked with laughter.
At 6 a.m. the Square embraced by Bernini's columns presented a surrealist spectacle. The lampposts shed light on workers who were rapidly placing chairs for the event, in the same place where 130,000 people had greeted the New Year with the Pope. At the entrance to the Square there were groups hoping to get in early to get good seats. At this point in time, 13 special trains full of children were arriving in Rome, and there were more than 600 buses from all over Europe. In total, 40 countries were represented by some 3,000 non-Italian children.
The atmosphere was overflowing with enthusiasm. Mass in the Vatican Basilica, presided by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Jubilee Vatican Committee, was the first celebration; it was attended by 8,000 children who rose at the crack of dawn. After the Mass, all the children met in St. Peter's Square, enduring the cold and long wait before greeting the Pope.
The Holy Father appeared just before 11 a.m., while the sun warmed the surroundings; a special hymn could be heard in the background, composed for the occasion: "Apostles of Joy." Prior to the Pope's arrival, the children listened to Bishop Sergio Biguzzi of Makeni in Sierra Leone, who was surrounded by ten child soldiers that he rescued from the squadrons that had kidnapped them and forced them to fight in the civil war that lacerates the country. The Bishop said that today he saw his dream of freeing these children, who instead of playing with toys were accustomed to real rifles, was closer than ever, since a group of them had come to Rome to meet the Pope.
When the Pontiff appeared there was an explosion of excitement. The children had white caps, which they waved vigorously. The human river of children not only filled St. Peter's Square, but overflowed into the adjacent Via della Conciliazione.
"The Jubilee brings everyone a message of hope," the children's message said to the Holy Father. "Because of the Jubilee, we the children and youth commit ourselves to give our help so that the new millennium will be better, more beautiful and more just for all."
"God is a good Father who is always ready to forgive and offers opportunities to his children so that they will begin to live and hope. Once again he opens his heart to us so that each one, repentant of his sins and committed to doing good deeds with acts of faith and love, will begin again on the road that leads to Him," the Holy Father replied.
"Children are the future of society. Adults must pay attention to them in order to construct a more free, authentic and just society," John Paul II emphasized.
Along with the children was the entire soccer team of Rome, led by Fabio Capello, the trainer. This team, which is doing very well this season, paid the fare of many children from poor countries to be able to come to the Eternal City.
The celebration continued in the afternoon with a music festival in which children's groups from all over the world performed. ZE00010203
January 4, 2000 |
volume 10, no. 2
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