FRI-SAT-SUN     March 24-26, 2000    vol. 11, no. 60    SECTION FIVE

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  • The Holy Father in Nazareth on the Feast of the Annunciation
  • Homily on the Feast of the Annunciation from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
  • Ecumenical Meeting with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Diodoros I of Jerusalem

    Urges Renewal of Faith

        NAZARETH, MAR 26 ( Yesterday the Pope visited the city of Jesus' boyhood, Nazareth, celebrating Mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was to be the Mother of the savior.

        Several thousand gathered in the Basilica, despite heavy security and the ongoing tensions over the building of a mosque in the square. In fact, the Muslims had chosen to have their "tent mosque" in operation when the Pope arrived. During the Mass, the muezzin began to call local Muslims to prayer, but the celebration went on as scheduled

        In his homily, the Holy Father connected the Feast of the Annunciation with the journey of faith of Abraham, whom he had celebrated previously in a "spiritual pilgrimage" to Ur of the Chaldeans, starting his Jubilee journey to the holy places. "That journey has brought us today to Nazareth, where we meet Mary, the truest daughter of Abraham," he explained. "It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live the faith of 'our father.' In many ways, Mary is clearly different from Abraham; but in deeper ways 'the friend of God' and the young woman of Nazareth are very alike."

        Each of these two received a promise from God, which became something completely unexpected. In both cases, the promise seemed impossible -- Sarah was sterile, and Mary a virgin. How were they to give birth?

        However, both of these models responded with a "yes." "Like Abraham, Mary must walk through darkness, in which she must simply trust the One who called her. Yet even her question, 'How can this come about?', suggests that Mary is ready to say yes, despite her fears and uncertainties," the Pope explained. "Mary asks not whether the promise is possible, but only how it will be fulfilled."

        The Holy Father urged his listeners to raise their prayers to Mary. "I pray, first, for a great renewal of faith in all the children of the Church. A deep renewal of faith: not just as a general attitude of life, but as a conscious and courageous profession of the Creed."

        John Paul II further consecrated the families of the Holy Land and of the whole world to the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God. He also prayed that Mary would "teach us the way of humble and joyful obedience to the Gospel in the service of our brothers and sisters, without preferences and without prejudices." ZE00032621

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        "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word" (Angelus Prayer).

    Your Beatitude,
    Brother Bishops,
    Father Custos,
    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    1. 25th March in the year 2000, the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Year of the Great Jubilee: on this day the eyes of the whole Church turn to Nazareth. I have longed to come back to the town of Jesus, to feel once again, in contact with this place, the presence of the woman of whom Saint Augustine wrote: "He chose the mother He had created; He created the mother he had chosen" (Sermo 69, 3, 4). Here it is especially easy to understand why all generations call Mary blessed (cf. Lk 1:48).

        I warmly greet Your Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, and thank you for your kind words of presentation. With Archbishop Boutros Mouallem and all of you ­ Bishops, priests, religious women and men, and members of the laity ­ I rejoice in the grace of this solemn celebration. I am happy to have this opportunity to greet the Franciscan Minister General, Father Giacomo Bini, who welcomed me on my arrival, and to express to the Custos, Father Giovanni Battistelli, and the Friars of the Custody the admiration of the whole Church for the devotion with which you carry out your unique vocation. With gratitude I pay tribute to your faithfulness to the charge given to you by Saint Francis himself and confirmed by the Popes down the centuries.

    2. We are gathered to celebrate the great mystery accomplished here two thousand years ago. The Evangelist Luke situates the event clearly in time and place: "In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph ... The virgin's name was Mary" (1:26-27). But in order to understand what took place in Nazareth two thousand years ago, we must return to the Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. That text enables us, as it were, to listen to a conversation between the Father and the Son concerning God's purpose from all eternity. "You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation prepared a body for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin. Then I said ... 'God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will'" (10:5-7). The Letter to the Hebrews is telling us that, in obedience to the Father's will, the Eternal Word comes among us to offer the sacrifice which surpasses all the sacrifices offered under the former Covenant. His is the eternal and perfect sacrifice which redeems the world.

        The divine plan is gradually revealed in the Old Testament, particularly in the words of the Prophet Isaiah which we have just heard: "The Lord himself will give you a sign. It is this: the virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a child whom she will call Emmanuel" (7:14). Emmanuel - God with us. In these words, the unique event that was to take place in Nazareth in the fullness of time is foretold, and it is this event that we are celebrating here with intense joy and happiness.

    3. Our Jubilee Pilgrimage has been a journey in spirit, which began in the footsteps of Abraham, "our father in faith" (Roman Canon; cf. Rom 4:11-12). That journey has brought us today to Nazareth, where we meet Mary, the truest daughter of Abraham. It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live the faith of "our father". In many ways, Mary is clearly different from Abraham; but in deeper ways "the friend of God" (cf. Is 41:8) and the young woman of Nazareth are very alike.

        Both Abraham and Mary receive a wonderful promise from God. Abraham was to be the father of a son, from whom there would come a great nation. Mary is to be the Mother of a Son Who would be the Messiah, the Anointed One. "Listen!", Gabriel says, "You are to conceive and bear a son ... The Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David ... and His reign will have no end" (Lk 1:31-33).

        For both Abraham and Mary, the divine promise comes as something completely unexpected. God disrupts the daily course of their lives, overturning its settled rhythms and conventional expectations. For both Abraham and Mary, the promise seems impossible. Abraham's wife Sarah was barren, and Mary is not yet married: "How can this come about", she asks, "since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:34).

    4. Like Abraham, Mary is asked to say yes to something that has never happened before. Sarah is the first in the line of barren wives in the Bible who conceive by God's power, just as Elizabeth will be the last. Gabriel speaks of Elizabeth to reassure Mary: "Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son" (Lk 1:36).

        Like Abraham, Mary must walk through darkness, in which she must simply trust the One who called her. Yet even her question, "How can this come about?" suggests that Mary is ready to say yes, despite her fears and uncertainties. Mary asks not whether the promise is possible, but only how it will be fulfilled. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when finally she utters her fiat: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me" (Lk 1:38). With these words, Mary shows herself the true daughter of Abraham, and she becomes the Mother of Christ and Mother of all believers.

    5. In order to penetrate further into the mystery, let us look back to the moment of Abraham's journey when he received the promise. It was when he welcomed to his home three mysterious guests (cf. Gen 18:1-15), and offered them the adoration due to God: tres vidit et unum adoravit. That mysterious encounter foreshadows the Annunciation, when Mary is powerfully drawn into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Through the fiat that Mary uttered in Nazareth, the Incarnation became the wondrous fulfilment of Abraham's encounter with God. So, following in the footsteps of Abraham, we have come to Nazareth to sing the praises of the woman "through whom the light rose over the earth" (Hymn Ave Regina Caelorum).

    6. But we have also come to plead with her. What do we, pilgrims on our way into the Third Christian Millennium, ask of the Mother of God? Here in the town which Pope Paul VI, when he visited Nazareth, called "the school of the Gospel", where "we learn to look at and to listen to, to ponder and to penetrate the deep and mysterious meaning of the very simple, very humble and very beautiful appearing of the Son of God" (Address in Nazareth, 5 January 1964), I pray, first, for a great renewal of faith in all the children of the Church. A deep renewal of faith: not just as a general attitude of life, but as a conscious and courageous profession of the Creed: "Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est."

        In Nazareth, where Jesus "grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and men" (Lk 2:52), I ask the Holy Family to inspire all Christians to defend the family against so many present-day threats to its nature, its stability and its mission. To the Holy Family I entrust the efforts of Christians and of all people of good will to defend life and to promote respect for the dignity of every human being.

        To Mary, the Theotókos, the great Mother of God, I consecrate the families of the Holy Land, the families of the world.

        In Nazareth where Jesus began His public ministry, I ask Mary to help the Church everywhere to preach the "good news" to the poor, as He did (cf. Lk 4:18). In this "year of the Lord's favor", I ask her to teach us the way of humble and joyful obedience to the Gospel in the service of our brothers and sisters, without preferences and without prejudices.

        "O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen" (Memorare). ZE00032622

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    Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

    1. With profound gratitude to the Most Holy Trinity I make this visit to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and I greet all of you in the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I thank Your Beatitude Patriarch Diodoros for your fraternal hospitality and for the kind words you have addressed to us. I greet Your Beatitude Patriarch Torkom, and all the Archbishops and Bishops of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities present. It is a source of great joy to know that the Heads of Christian communities in the Holy City of Jerusalem meet frequently to deal with matters of common interest to the faithful. The fraternal spirit which prevails among you is a sign and a gift to the Christians of the Holy Land as they face the challenges before them.

        Need I say that I am greatly encouraged by this evening's meeting? It confirms that we have set out on the path to knowing one another better, with the desire to overcome the mistrust and rivalry inherited from the past. Here in Jerusalem, in the City where our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, His words ring out with special resonance, particularly the words He spoke on the night before He died: "that they may all be one;... so that the world may believe that You have sent Me" (Jn 17:21). It is in response to that prayer of the Lord that we are together here, all followers of the one Lord despite our sad divisions, and all conscious that His will obliges us, and the Churches and Ecclesial Communities we represent, to walk the path of reconciliation and peace.

        This meeting reminds me of the historic meeting here in Jerusalem between my predecessor Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, an event which laid the foundations of a new era of contacts between our Churches. In the intervening years we have learned that the road to unity is a difficult one. This should not discourage us. We must be patient and persevering, and continue to move ahead without wavering. The warm embrace of Pope Paul and Patriarch Athenagoras stands out as a prophetic sign and source of inspiration, urging us on to new efforts to respond to the Lord's will.

    2. Our aspiration to fuller communion between Christians takes on a special meaning in the Land of the Savior's birth and in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Here, in the presence of the different Churches and Communities, I wish to reaffirm that the ecclesial note of universality fully respects legitimate diversity. The variety and beauty of your liturgical rites, and of your spiritual, theological and canonical traditions and institutions, testifies to the richness of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the universal Church, as it has developed down the centuries in the East and in the West. There exists a legitimate diversity which in no way is opposed to the unity of the Body of Christ, but rather enhances the splendor of the Church and contributes greatly to the fulfilment of her mission (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 50). None of this wealth must be lost in the fuller unity to which we aspire.

    3. During the recent Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in this Year of the Great Jubilee, many of you joined in prayer for greater understanding and cooperation among all Christ's followers. You did so in the awareness that all the Lord's disciples together have a common mission to serve the Gospel in the Holy Land. The more united we become in prayer around Christ, the more courageous we shall become in confronting the painful human reality of our divisions. The pilgrim path of the Church through this new century and the new millennium is the path traced out for her by her inherent vocation to unity. Let us ask the Lord to inspire a new spirit of harmony and solidarity among the Churches in facing the practical difficulties which beset the Christian community in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

    4. Fraternal cooperation among the Christians of this Holy City is no mere option; it has a significance all its own in communicating the love which the Father has for the world in sending His only Son (cf. Jn 3:16). Only in a spirit of mutual respect and support can the Christian presence flourish here in a community alive with its traditions and confident in facing the social, cultural and political challenges of an evolving situation. Only by being reconciled among themselves can Christians play their full part in making Jerusalem the City of Peace for all peoples. In the Holy Land, where Christians live side by side with the followers of Judaism and Islam, where there are almost daily tensions and conflicts, it is essential to overcome the scandalous impression given by our disagreements and arguments. In this City it should be eminently possible for Christians, Jews and Muslims to live together in brotherhood and freedom, in dignity, justice and peace.

    5. Dear Brothers in Christ, it has been my intention to give a clearly ecumenical dimension to the Catholic Church's celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000. The opening of the Holy Door at the Basilica of Saint Paul-outside-the-Walls, at which so many Churches and Ecclesial Communities were represented, symbolized our passing together through the "door" which is Christ: "I am the door, if any one enters by me, he will be saved" (Jn 10:9). Our ecumenical journey is precisely this: a journey in Christ and through Christ the Saviour to the faithful fulfilment of the Father's plan. With God's grace the Two Thousandth Anniversary of the Incarnation of the Word will be a "favorable time", a year of grace for the ecumenical movement. In the spirit of the Old Testament Jubilees, this is a providential time for us to turn to the Lord in order to ask forgiveness for the wounds which the members of our Churches have inflicted upon one another down the years. This is the time to ask the Spirit of Truth to help our Churches and Communities to engage in an ever more fruitful theological dialogue, which will enable us to grow in the knowledge of the truth and come to the fullness of communion in Christ's Body. From the exchange of ideas our dialogue will then become an exchange of gifts: a more authentic sharing of the love which the Spirit unceasingly pours into our hearts.

        Your Beatitude reminded us of Christ's prayer on the eve of His Passion and Death. This prayer is His last will and testament, and it challenges us all. What will be our response? Dear Brothers in Christ, with hope-filled hearts and unfailing trust, let us make the Third Christian Millennium the Millennium of our new-found joy in the unity and peace of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. ZE00032623

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    March 24-26, 2000     volume 11, no. 60
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