Keeping the Spirit of the Jubilee Alive|
The "Jubilee Journey" Begins
Pope's "Spiritual Pilgrimage" to Abraham's Home
VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- On February 23, Pope John Paul II carried out
his "spiritual pilgrimage" to the birthplace of the Biblical patriarch Abraham,
traveling "through thought" to Ur of the Chaldeans during a unique ceremony
at the Vatican.
The Holy Father had indicated his desire to make Ur of the Chaldeans, the
home of Abraham, the first step in his Jubilee pilgrimage to "the holy places
tied to the history of salvation." But political complications in Iraq, where Ur
is located, forced the cancellation of plans for a papal visit to the site. The
Pope still intends to visit other sites in Egypt, the Holy Land, Syria, and
Greece during the Jubilee year.
The Pope's "spiritual pilgrimage" to Ur was accomplished with the help of a
giant video screen, installed in the Paul VI auditorium, showing images of
southern Iraq and other sites associated with the story of Abraham. These
images were shown during a "service of the Word" honoring Abraham as the
father of all believers.
"Like us, Jews and Muslims look upon Abraham as a model of unconditional
submission to the will of God," Pope John Paul observed in his homily during
the ceremony. He noted that Abraham left his own land, and began to travel
toward "a Promised Land that he had never seen," in compliance with God's
instructions. He was even prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, in what the
Pope called "the apogee of Abraham's faith," as well as "an analogy to the
salvific event of the death and resurrection of Christ."
"Through the faith of Abraham," the Pope continued, "God entered into an
eternal alliance with the human race-- an alliance which has its definitive
accomplishment in Jesus Christ."
The liturgical ceremony in the Paul VI auditorium included a series of
readings from the Old Testament, relating to the role of Abraham and his call
from God. These readings were interspersed with periods of prayer and
meditation, accompanied by images designed to encourage reflection on the
life of Abraham.
In addition to the scenes from Ur of the Chaldeans, these
images included scenes from the Holy Land, from the site where Abraham
prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and from the tomb of Abraham in Hebron. There
were also images drawn from the world of art, notably including the painting
by Marc Chagall which depicts the angels announcing to Abraham that his
wife Sarah will bear him a son.
The Paul VI auditorium was richly decorated for the ceremony, with many
symbolic references to Abraham and his covenant with God. About 30
cardinals and 100 bishops participated in the "spiritual pilgrimage" along
with Pope John Paul.
POPE ARRIVES IN EGYPT
VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- Pope John Paul II arrived in Egypt in the early
afternoon of February 24, to begin the 90th foreign voyage of his pontificate.
POPE MAKES HEARTFELT APPEAL FOR INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
"To Promote Violence and Conflict in the Name of Religion is a Terrible
"Peace be with you!" the Holy Father said-- using the Arabic phrase that is a
traditional greeting among Muslims-- as he stepped off the plane in Cairo. He
was greeted by a welcoming delegation that included Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak, Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Patriarch
Stephanos II Ghattas of the Coptic Catholic Church, and Skeikh Mohammed
Sayed Tantawi of the famous Al-Azhar University.
After crossing the red carpet that was stretched from his plane to the
presidential pavilion at the airport, the Holy Father took part in a quiet,
solemn welcoming ceremony. The Pope's traveling party included Cardinals
Francis Arinze, Achille Silvestrini, and Roger Etchegaray.
In his brief remarks, delivered in English, the Pope emphasized that his trip
was a "Jubilee pilgrimage," and should be seen as a spiritual rather than
political occasion. "I have been waiting many years to be able to celebrate
the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, and to make a pilgrimage
to pray at the holy sites that are connected in a special way with God's
interventions in history," he said.
The Pope's opening statement included a few discreet allusions to political
affairs. He mentioned his concern for the progress of peace negotiations in
the Middle East, and for an end to violence against Christians in Egypt.
Speaking directly to President Mubarak, the Pontiff praised the Egyptian
leader for his forthright commitment to peace in the Middle East. He added
that all political leaders have a responsibility to promote "justice and rights
for everyone." The Pope said that when he traveled to Mount Sinai-- the
main focus of his trip to Egypt-- he would pray especially for peace in the
Middle East and for harmony across religious lines.
The Pope also addressed warm words of greeting to Pope Shenouda of the
Coptic Orthodox Church. He recalled how Egyptian Christianity, founded by
the evangelist St. Mark, has given the Church such great teachers and
scholars as Sts. Clement and Catherine of Alexandria, and the Desert Fathers
who introduced the monastic tradition.
After the welcoming ceremony at the airport, the Pope traveled by car to the
residence of the papal nuncio in downtown Cairo. The motorcade was
carefully guarded, with scores of Egyptian police officers stationed along the
route, demonstrating the regime's careful effort to provide security for the
The Pope's arrival in Egypt was televised across the country by the
government-controlled networks. Press officers in the Egyptian government
indicate that all of the Pope's public appearances will receive such coverage.
VATICAN CITY, FEB 24 (ZENIT).- John Paul II began his visit to Egypt as
a pilgrim in Moses' footsteps with a heartfelt appeal that "all the
peoples of this unique area of the world will see their rights respected
and their legitimate aspirations fulfilled."
The Holy Father's words were preceded by sincere praise for the politics
of this country, led by Hosni Mubarak, whom the Pope congratulated for
his commitment to peace in this nation, as well as for his role in the
promotion of peace in the Middle East.
The first welcome of a Pope to Egypt was characterized by a denunciation
of all forms of religious fundamentalism. "To do harm, to promote
violence and conflict in the name of religion is a terrible
contradiction and a great offence against God. But past and present
history give us many examples of such a misuse of religion."
Egypt, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, received the Bishop of Rome in a
climate of festivity. He was welcomed at the airport by the highest
civilian and religious authorities of the country. Among them was
President Hosni Mubarak; the highest Muslim authority Grand Imam of the
Al-Azhar Mosque and University, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi; Coptic Orthodox
Pope of Alexandria Shenouda III; and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Stephanos
The welcoming ceremony took place in Cairo's international airport,
where the Pope's plane landed just after 2 p.m. local time. This visit
broke with tradition a bit, because the official meeting with President
Mubarak took place not in the presidential palace, but in the airport's
This is Karol Wojtyla's second visit to Egypt. His first was in 1963,
when he traveled to Cairo with a group of participants in Vatican
"We must all work to strengthen the growing commitment to
inter-religious dialogue, a great sign of hope for the peoples of the
world," the Holy Father said as he began his fifth trip to an Arab
country. He emphasized his words by recalling the tradition of peaceful
coexistence among different religions for which Egypt is noted. "This is
the land of a 5000-year old civilization known throughout the world for
its monuments and for its knowledge of mathematics and astronomy. This
is the land where different cultures met and mingled, making Egypt
famous for its wisdom and learning."
In this hinge between Africa and Asia, on the banks of the great river
Nile, one of the most ancient civilizations of mankind was born and
developed. Its history includes decisive stages in the story of
salvation: the call of the chosen people out of slavery, the revelation
of God's name, the gift of the Covenant and of the Law, and the Holy
Family's flight. Moreover, 1000 years ago, the "advent of Islam brought
splendors of art and learning that have had determining influence on the
Arab world and Africa," the Holy Father said.
In Egypt, differences "of religion were never barriers, but a form of
mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community." In
fact, the "people of Egypt have for centuries pursued the ideal of
national unity." To stress this idea, the Pope quoted the words of
Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III, who in the 80s was exiled by the
regime in power: "'Egypt is not the native land in which we live, but
the native land which lives in us.' "
Christianity has also made a decisive contribution to this millenarian
history. The Church of Alexandria, founded by the evangelist Mark, has
generated great theologians, such as Clement, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril
and Origen. The memory of St. Catherine is also very much alive. Egypt
has also been marked by saints like Anthony and Pacomius, who made it
"the birthplace of monasticism, which has played an essential part in
preserving the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Church."
Given the above, the Holy Father went on to say, "The unity and harmony
of the nation are a precious value that all citizens should cherish, and
which political and religious leaders must continually promote in
justice and respect for the rights of all."
"As-salám 'aláikum," John Paul II said in bidding farewell. "Peace be
with you." And he added: "This is my greeting to you all. This is the
prayer I offer up for Egypt and all her people. May the Most High God
bless your land with harmony, peace and prosperity."
In the afternoon, Pope John Paul II, the Successor of St. Peter, met
with Pope Shenouda III, the Successor of St. Mark, first Bishop of
Alexandria. The Pope's next visit was to the highest Sunni Muslim
authority in the world, Imam Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar.
Tomorrow morning the Holy Father will preside at a Mass for Egyptian
Catholics in Cairo's Sports Palace. In the afternoon, he will attend an
ecumenical meeting in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Egypt. And finally on
Saturday, one of his cherished dreams will come true: he will go to
Sinai, visit St. Catherine's Monastery, where he will commemorate God's
revelation of his name to Moses and the handing of the Ten Commandments.
JOHN PAUL II VISITS FIRST CHRISTIAN COUNTRY IN HISTORY
Christian Minority: Direct Descendants of Pharaohs
VATICAN CITY, (ZENIT).- Despite its claims, France is not the
"first-born daughter of the Church." Historically, this claim actually
belongs to Egypt, the first Christian country in history.
The expression "first-born daughter of the Church," was used because the
Gauls were the first nation to convert to Christianity in 495, when King
Clovis and 30,000 of his warriors embraced the faith. However, a century
earlier, Christianity was already the religion of Egypt -- 99.9% of
Egyptians converted easily, in spite of the terrible mass martyrdoms
that Christians suffered during emperor Diocletian's reign.
Given this reality, when John Paul II travels to Egypt this Thursday --
where he will visit Cairo and Mount Sinai, where God revealed his name
to Moses: "I am Who am," the Pope will not be arriving in a country
where Christians are foreigners. On the contrary, Egyptian Christians
are the authentic descendants of the pharaohs. Indeed, the name "Copts,"
as Christians are known in this land, designates the way in which Arabs
refer to Egyptians: "Qubt," a contraction of the Greek "Aigyptos."
Origin of Monasticism
The Church in Alexandria was founded by the evangelist St. Mark around
the year 40. At the end of the 1st century, 20% of the Egyptian
population was Christian. By the 2nd century, they constituted 45% of
the population, and included distinguished intellectuals like St.
Clement and Origen, who were leaders of the Alexandrian theological
school. Several edicts were published during the 3rd century, banning
Christianity from the land. From 303 to 305, Diocletian organized a
bloody persecution that ended in thousands of martyrdoms. The Coptic
calendar dates its first year as 284, when Diocletian came to power.
As usually happens, the blood of martyrs became the seed of new
Christians. During the 4th century, Egypt became the land that witnessed
the birth of the first Christian monks in history. The cradle of the
hermitic life was the Egyptian desert of the 3rd century. According to
St. Jerome's writings, Paul of Thebes -- known as Paul the Hermit, was
the founder of the hermitic way of life. The first hermit on whom there
is considerable information was St. Anthony of the Desert (250-356),
whose biography, "Vita Antonii," was written by St. Athanasius, a text
which in no time became a primer of monasticism and spirituality, and
had much influence on the Fathers of the Church, including St.
Augustine, and contributed to the growth of monasticism.
After Christians suffered great upheavals, especially in 389, Theodosius
promulgated an edict in 392, which made Christianity the state religion
and closed pagan temples.
In 451, following the Council of Chalcedon, the Church in Alexandria was
divided. This date marks the birth of the Coptic Monophysite Church --
to which the majority of Egyptian Christians belong. A minority -- the
"Chalcedonites" remained faithful to Rome. Today's Coptic Orthodox, the
heirs of this split, explain that they never actually held the
Monophysite heresy (that Christ had no human nature -- only divine).
Instead, they held (and hold) that the human and divine natures of
Christ combined to form one "Christ nature."
The Arab-Muslim conquest of Egypt, which took place between 639 and 642,
found Christians divided into 3 million Copts and 200,000 Chalcedonites.
Since then, there has been a very complex coexistence between Muslims
and Christians. Between 829 and 831, several monasteries were destroyed
because of Christians' dissatisfaction with tax regulations. The Fatimid
dynasty of the 10th, 11th, and 12th centuries included several Christian
Ministers, although the reign of Caliph al-Hakim (996-1021) was darkened
by the destruction of churches. The year 1219 is of special interest,
because it records St. Francis of Assisi's meeting with Sultan Ayubida
Christians did not enjoy juridical and fiscal equality until 1866. And
in 1908 -- for the first time in history -- a Copt was head of
government. Christians were marginalized once again following Nasser's
revolution; he imposed a unified program of religious teaching in all
schools. Since 1992 the Egyptian Muslim fundamentalists have carried out
repeated bloody attacks against the Christian community.
At present, official statistics tend to minimize the number of
Christians. The 1986 census recorded a total of 3.3 million, but the
local churches, which base their information on baptismal records,
report a figure closer to 10 million faithful. In part the difference is
due to the fact that in Egypt there is a large number of
crypto-Christians -- faithful who because of social pressures, declare
themselves Muslims. Today Christians probably number 6 million, or 10%
of the 64 million inhabitants. This means that one out of every two
Eastern Christians has Egyptian nationality.
In a country where Islam is the state religion, Copts have difficulty in
obtaining key positions in society. Rarely are Copts found in important
political posts. Over recent years, the Coptic Churches have tenaciously
opposed the government in this area, but the latter has been pressured
by fundamentalists to adopt Islamic laws, including the amputation of
hands for theft and the death penalty for apostasy of Islam.
The geographic areas of Christian concentration are Upper Egypt (the
southern part of the country), where the Christian population reaches
35%, as well as the outskirts of Cairo and Alexandria.
At present the Coptic Orthodox Church embraces 93% of Egyptian
Christians. Their leader is Pope Shenouda III, 117th successor of St.
Mark, who was exiled to a monastery in 1981 by President Sadat, where he
remained in "guarded liberty" until 1985. He has made a great effort to
encourage the rebirth of Egyptian monasticism and favor ecumenical
dialogue. He met Pope Paul VI in 1973.
The Catholic Coptic Church is one of the smallest Catholic communities
in the East. The patriarchy was born officially in 1895, although since
1741 Apostolic Vicars have succeeded one another to lead the few
thousand Copts who have converted to Catholicism. Today the Church has
some 200,000 faithful and, since 1986, is led by Patriarch Stephanos II
Ghattas. Since 1959, the Brothers of St. Mark's Preaching -- of
Dominican inspiration -- have played a special role, as has a Coptic
branch of the Franciscans.
In addition to these two Churches, Egypt has communities of Latin
Catholics (150 male religious, including Jesuits, Salesians, and
Christian Brothers, and 800 women, especially of the Combonian
Congregation. The Greek-Catholic Church has some 9,000 members of
Syrian, Lebanese, or Palestinian origin, and the Maronite Church
includes faithful of Lebanese origin who arrived in Egypt in the 19th
century because of the religious freedom the country enjoyed.
Egypt's Sheik of Al Azhar Welcomes Papal Visit
CAIRO (CWNews.com/Fides) - Egypt's leading Muslim religious
leader said this week that he welcomes Pope John Paul II's
visit to Egypt which begins on Thursday, calling the
Pontiff a defender of peace, love, and morality.
The Sheik of Al Azhar, Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, said: "The
Pope is a man of intelligence and wisdom, who defends
peace, love, and moral values and encourages the
propagation of virtues." Tantawi is the leader of the
world's Sunni Muslims, the largest branch of Islam. He will
meet with the Holy Father on Thursday.
The Sheik of Al Azhar, who is known to be affable and
tolerant, had refused to grant a statement on the papal
visit to journalists, but agreed to give the Vatican news
service Fides a written statement. In his message, written
in Arabic, the Sheik explained: "We welcome with joy the
visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Egypt and Al
Azhar ... God, the all merciful, created us in this life so
we may know each other and open our hearts to harmony and
agreement." He quoted a passage of the Koran: "O humanity,
we created you man and woman and made you into peoples and
tribes that you may know one another."
The Sheik also explained that dialogue is part of the
duties of a Muslim and is the authentic Islamic sharia law
"for the good of humanity and the propagation of virtues
sustained by all religions. Dialogue between religions
allows us to listen to each other, to learn about and
compare ideas which commit us in love, truth and justice."
But he also warned about "dogmatic dialogue" which "can
only widen the gap between the interlocutors. Only God can
speak of dogma."
"For Islam all humanity came from the same parents [Adam
and Eve]," the Al Azhar Sheik said. "The Pope's efforts for
peace, love, and moral values and virtues are precisely the
goal of all the revealed religions."
He added, "For our part we wish and work for the
propagation of peace and security in the world. The leaders
of world religions must work together so peace, security,
and love may reign among mankind".
Cardinal Francis Arinze, President of the Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said: "We must thank
God for this historical encounter between the Holy Father
and the Sheik of Al Azhar. The meeting is an indication of
the right path for Muslims and Christians. We must come
together, listen to each other, and try to build a better
world under God's guidance. In religion it is essential to
listen to God and communicate with neighbor."
Pope Leaves Instructions Before Traveling
VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- According to an Italian newspaper report, when
Pope John Paul II departs Rome on February 24 for his trip to Egypt, he will
leave behind instructions to be followed in case he is involved in an accident.
The daily Il Corriere della Sera reports that the Pontiff will leave his
instructions with Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, the dean of the College of
Cardinals. The instructions involve episcopal nominations and other bits of
unresolved business, the paper claims.
The short report in Il Corriere della Sera is unsigned and unconfirmed.
However, the paper reports that it is "habitual" for the Pope to leave such
instructions before embarking on any foreign travel.
February 24, 2001
volume 12, no. 55
JUBILEE MOMENTS TO REMEMBER