March 28, 2000
volume 11, no. 62
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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.

Climbed 16-foot Stairway Privately

    JERUSALEM, MAR 27 (ZENIT.org).- John Paul II's visit to the Holy Land ended with a surprise that upset all the organizers' plans. The result was a most moving picture at the end of this most unforgettable week. Far from the image of a charismatic leader surrounded by crowds, the portrait that emerges is that of an old man of profound faith, rapt in prayer before the mystery of God made Man suffering on Calvary, where he gave his life for all humanity.

    When visiting the Holy Sepulcher yesterday morning, the Pope did not have time to pray in the chapel that commemorates the place of Jesus' death. In the afternoon, putting the official program aside, John Paul II insisted on being able to pray in this place, which is difficult to reach, as it is separated from the Basilica by a narrow 16-foot stairway. But there was no dissuading him. The Holy Father was determined to visit Calvary and, in the end, the organizers gave in. Slowly, leaning on the balustrade, he climbed up to the place that safeguards the mystery of the cross. He stayed there for 20 minutes, in profound recollection.

    One of the witnesses of this episode was Fr. Luis Terrato, Superior of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. He had this to say: "When the Holy Father left the Basilica after Mass to go to dinner, he expressed the wish to go up to the Chapel of Calvary, but the organizers of the trip said it was not possible because of lack of time. The Holy Father left the Holy Sepulcher with a thorn in his heart over not being able to pray on Calvary."

    Because of this, at the end of the dinner, he insisted with the organizers to return to the sacred place. The Pope "went up the steep little stairway leading to the chapel, with effort but with great energy," Fr. Tarrato said. "It was like an ascent to Calvary and he suffered doing it, but he did it: he went to the place of the 'Pieta' of Calvary and he prayed there a good while. We left him alone because he had come there to pray. We stayed behind him."

    The visit to Calvary had a very special meaning for the Pope, at the end of such an important pilgrimage. "During the homily, he spoke about the Resurrection and Calvary: given that there is a profound unity between the death and resurrection of Christ, it seemed that without an ascent to Calvary there was something lacking from his trip. This is why, I think, he wanted to complete his pilgrimage this way."

    The friar said that at that moment, the Pope was not especially tired. "I was surprised by the fact that he would return and have the strength to go up: it seemed as though he received new strength."

    Thanks to the last minute change in the program, John Paul II was able to leave Israel knowing that he had fulfilled his spiritual pilgrimage between the Old and New Testaments, following in Christ's footsteps to the very end. ZE00032704


March 28, 2000
volume 11, no. 62

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