March 30, 2000
volume 11, no. 64

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    Today we bring you the Holy Father's regular public Papal Audience from this past Wednesday afternoon, his first since his return from his historic "Jubilee Journey" last week. In his short discourse, His Holiness recalled his pilgrimage and expressed gratitude to God and shared with all his constant prayer to the Almighty to be with him and, in the words of Saint Francis "make me an instrument of Your Peace." Those in attendance heard first hand the depth of meaning that each step held for the Holy Father and for all of us who walked in spirit with him in the footsteps of Christ Himself. Translation provided by ZENIT New Organization ZE00032920.

Holy Father's Wednesday Papal Audience in Saint Peter's Square on Wednesday, March 29, 2000

    Dear Brothers and Sisters,

    1. After the commemoration of Abraham and the brief but intense visit to Egypt and Mount Sinai, my Jubilee pilgrimage to the holy places led me to the Land that saw the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the first steps of the Church. The joy and gratitude that I carry in my heart for this gift from the Lord, which I longed for so much, are inexpressible. After having been in the Holy Land during the Second Vatican Council, I have now had the grace to go back there, together with some of my colleagues, in this Great Jubilee Year, bimillennial of the origins, the roots of the faith and of the Church.

        I thank the Latin Patriarch and Bishops of the various Eastern Catholic Churches present in the Holy Land, together with the Franciscan Custodians, for the warm welcome and great work accomplished. I send heartfelt thanks to the Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian authorities, who welcomed me and supported my religious itinerary. I appreciate the responsibility that they bore for the success of the trip, and I reassure them of the concern of the Holy See for a just peace among all people of the region. I am grateful to the people of these countries for the great cordiality which they showed to me.

    2. The first stop, on Mount Nebo, was in continuity with Sinai. From high atop this mountain Moses contemplated the Promised Land, after having accomplished the mission God entrusted to him, and before offering his soul up to God. I began my itinerary, in a certain sense, from this very glance of Moses, taking note of the intimate suggestion, that crosses the centuries and millenniums.

        This glance turned toward the valley of the Jordan and the desert of Judah, where, in the fullness of time, the voice of John the Baptist, sent by God as the new Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah, would resound. Jesus wanted to be baptized by him, revealing Himself as the Lamb of God Who took upon Himself the sin of the world. The figure of John the Baptist started me in the footsteps of Christ. With joy I celebrated a solemn Mass in the Amman stadium for the Christian community living there. I found this community rich in religious fervor and fitting well into the social milieu of the country.

    3. Leaving Amman, I stayed overnight at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem. From there, the first stop was Bethlehem, that city which was the birthplace of King David three thousand years ago. A thousand years later, according to the Scriptures, the Messiah was born there. In this year 2000, Bethlehem is at the center of the Christian world's attention. In fact, it is from there that the Light of the people, Christ the Lord, emanates; from there ushers the announcement of peace for all who love God.

        Together with my colleagues, the Catholic Ordinaries, some Cardinals and numerous other Bishops, I celebrated the Holy Mass in the central square of the city, which is attached to the grotto in which Mary gave birth to the Jesus and laid Him in a manger. In this mystery the joy of Christmas and of the Great Jubilee was renewed. The prophesy of Isaiah seemed to be heard again: "A child is born for us, a son has been given to us" (Is 9:5), together with the angelic message: "I am bringing you news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord" (Lk 2:10-11).

        That afternoon I knelt with emotion in the grotto of the Nativity, where I felt the entire Church was spiritually present; all the poor of the world, among whom God chose to make His camp. This is a God Who made Himself an exile and refugee to bring us back to His house. This thought accompanied me while, before leaving the Autonomous Palestinian Territory, I visited in Bethlehem one of the many camps, where for too long more than three million Palestinian refugees have lived. May everyone's efforts finally lead to a solution to this sorrowful problem.

    4. The memory of Jerusalem is indelibly written on my heart. Great is the mystery of this city, in which the fullness of time was made, so to say, "fullness of space". Jerusalem, in fact, hosted the central and culminating event of salvation history: the paschal mystery of Christ. In Jerusalem, the purpose for which the Word took flesh was revealed and realized: in His death on the cross and in His resurrection "all was accomplished" (cf Jn 19:30). On Calvary the Incarnation was made manifest as Redemption, according to the eternal design of God.

        The stones of Jerusalem bear silent and eloquent witness to this mystery. I began at the Upper Room, where I celebrated the Holy Eucharist in the same place that Jesus instituted it. There, where the Christian priesthood was born, I remembered all priests, and I signed my letter to them for this coming Holy Thursday.

        The olives and rock of Gethsemani testify to the mystery where Christ, seized by mortal anguish, prayed to the Father before His Passion. In an entirely particular way, Calvary and the empty tomb, the Holy Sepulcher, bear witness to those dramatic hours. Last Sunday, the Lord's Day, I renewed there the proclamation of salvation that crosses the centuries and millenniums: Christ is risen! It was this moment in which my pilgrimage reached its culmination. For this I felt the need to stop again in prayer in the evening on Calvary, where Christ shed His blood for humanity.

    5. In Jerusalem, holy city for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, I met the two Chief Rabbis of Israel and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. I then met with representatives of these two other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Islam. In spite of its many difficulties, Jerusalem is called to become the symbol of peace among those believers in the God of Abraham and put themselves under His law. May we be able to hasten the accomplishment of this plan!

        At Yad Vashem, the Memorial of the Shoah, I paid my respects to the millions of Jews who were victims of Nazism. Once more I expressed my profound sorrow for this terrifying tragedy, and I confirmed that "we want to remember" to take the responsibility together -- Jews, Christians, and all men and women of good will -- to defeat evil with good, to walk the path of peace.

        Today numerous Churches live their faith in the Holy Land, as heirs of ancient traditions. This diversity is a great richness, provided that it is accompanied by a spirit of communion in full adherence to the faith of the Fathers. The ecumenical meeting, which took place in the Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem with intense participation on the part of all, signaled an important step on the path toward full unity among Christians. It gave me great joy to be able to talk with His Beatitude Diodoros, Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, and with His Beatitude Torkom Monoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem. I invite everyone to pray that the process of understanding and collaboration among Christians of various Churches will develop and come together.

    6. A special blessing of this pilgrimage was celebrating Mass on the Mount of the Beatitudes, near the Sea of Galilee, with crowds of youth coming both from the Holy Land and from all over the world. What a hope-filled moment! As I proclaimed and delivered to the young people God's Commandments and the Beatitudes, I saw in them the future of the Church and of the world.

        Still on the banks of the Sea, I visited with great emotion Tabgha, where Christ multiplied the loaves, the "place of primacy", where He entrusted to Peter the pastoral guidance of the Church, and finally, in Capernaum, the ruins of Peter's house and of the synagogue, in which Jesus revealed Himself as the Bread come down from Heaven to give life to the world (Jn 6:28-58).

        Galilee! Homeland of Mary and of the first disciples; homeland of the missionary Church among the peoples! I think that Peter always had it in his heart; and the same is true for his successor!

    7. On the liturgical feast of the Annunciation, as if returning to the source of the mystery of faith, I went and knelt in the grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Here, in the womb of Mary, "the Word was made flesh and came to live among us" (Jn 1:14). Reflecting on the Virgin's "fiat", it is possible to hear, in adoring silence, the "yes" full of love of God and men, the "amen" of the eternal Son, that opened to every man the way of salvation. There, in the reciprocal self-giving of Christ and Mary, are the hinges of every "holy door." There, where God was made man, humanity found again its dignity and highest vocation.

        I thank those in the various dioceses, in the religious houses, and in the contemplative communities, who followed spiritually the steps of my pilgrimage, and I give my assurance that I brought the whole Church with me in prayer to the places I visited. While I once more express my gratitude to the Lord for this unforgettable experience, I ask Him with humble faith that He bring forth from it abundant fruit for the good of the Church and humanity.

        I wish to turn my attention to the dear people of the Philippines, where, on the great island of Mindanao, tensions are unfortunately escalating, causing violent clashes.

        I pray for all the inhabitants of that region, and in particular for the politicians and military personnel responsible, that the Lord may enlighten and move them to do everything possible to put an end to the violence, and to once more seek peaceful solutions to the existing problems.

        To the families that suffer from this situation, I express my closeness and solidarity.


March 30, 2000
volume 10, no. 64

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