Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. In this year of the Great Jubilee, our faith leads us to become
pilgrims in the footsteps of God. We contemplate the path he has taken
through time, revealing to the world the magnificent mystery of his
faithful Love for all humankind. Today, with great joy and deep emotion,
the Bishop of Rome is a pilgrim to Mount Sinai, drawn by this holy
mountain which rises like a soaring monument to what God revealed here.
Here he revealed his name! Here he gave his Law, the Ten Commandments of
How many have come to this place before us! Here the People of God
pitched their tents (cf. Ex 19:2); here the prophet Elijah took refuge
in a cave (cf. 1 Kgs 19:9); here the body of the martyr Catherine found
a final resting-place; here a host of pilgrims through the ages have
scaled what Saint Gregory of Nyssa called "the mountain of desire" (The
Life of Moses, II, 232); here generations of monks have watched and
prayed. We humbly follow in their footsteps, to "the holy ground" where
the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob commissioned Moses to set his
people free (cf. Ex 3:5-8).
2. God shows himself in mysterious ways as the fire that does not
consume according to a logic which defies all that we know and expect.
He is the God who is at once close at hand and far-away; he is in the
world but not of it. He is the God who comes to meet us, but who will
not be possessed. He is "I AM WHO I AM" the name which is no name! I
AM WHO I AM: the divine abyss in which essence and existence are one!
The God who is Being itself! Before such a mystery, how can we fail to
"take off our shoes" as he commands, and adore him on this holy ground?
Here on Mount Sinai, the truth of "who God is" became the foundation and
guarantee of the Covenant. Moses enters "the luminous darkness" (The
Life of Moses, II, 164), and there he is given the Law "written with the
finger of God" (Ex 31:18). But what is this Law? It is the Law of life
At the Red Sea, the people had experienced a great liberation. They had
seen the power and fidelity of God; they had discovered that he is the
God who does indeed set his people free as he had promised. But now on
the heights of Sinai, this same God seals his love by making the
Covenant that he will never renounce. If the people obey his Law, they
will know freedom for ever. The Exodus and the Covenant are not just
events of the past; they are for ever the destiny of all God's people!
3. The encounter of God and Moses on this Mountain enshrines at the
heart of our religion the mystery of liberating obedience, which finds
its fulfilment in the perfect obedience of Christ in the Incarnation and
on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:8; Heb 5:8-9). We too shall be truly free if we
learn to obey as Jesus did (cf. Heb 5:8).
The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical
Lord. They were written in stone; but before that, they were written on
the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and
place. Today as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true
basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as
always, they are the only future of the human family. They save man from
the destructive force of egoism, hatred and falsehood. They point out
all the false gods that draw him into slavery: the love of self to the
exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the
order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our
neighbor. If we turn from these false idols and follow the God who sets
his people free and remains always with them, then we shall emerge like
Moses, after forty days on the mountain, "shining with glory" (Saint
Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, II, 230), ablaze with the light of
To keep the Commandments is be faithful to God, but it is also to be
faithful to ourselves, to our true nature and our deepest aspirations.
The wind which still today blows from Sinai reminds us that God wants to
be honored in and through the growth of his creatures: Gloria Dei, homo
vivens. In this sense, that wind carries an insistent invitation to
dialogue between the followers of the great monotheistic religions in
their service of the human family. It suggests that in God we can find
the point of our encounter: in God the All Powerful and All Merciful,
Creator of the universe and Lord of history, who at the end of our
earthly existence will judge us with perfect justice.
4. The Gospel Reading which we have just listened to suggests that Sinai
finds its fulfilment on another mountain, the Mountain of the
Transfiguration, where Jesus appears to his Apostles shining with the
glory of God. Moses and Elijah stand with him to testify that the
fullness of God's revelation is found in the glorified Christ.
On the Mountain of the Transfiguration, God speaks from the cloud, as he
had done on Sinai. But now he says: "This is my beloved Son; listen to
him" (Mk 9:7). He commands us to listen to his Son, because "no one
knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to
reveal him" (Mt 11:27). And so we learn that the true name of God is
FATHER! The name which is beyond all other names: ABBA! (cf. Gal 4:6).
And in Jesus we learn that our true name is SON, DAUGHTER! We learn that
the God of the Exodus and the Covenant sets his people free because they
are his sons and daughters, created not for slavery but for "the
glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:21).
So when Saint Paul writes that we "have died to the law through the body
of Christ" (Rom 7:4), he does not mean that the Law of Sinai is past. He
means that the Ten Commandments now make themselves heard through the
voice of the Beloved Son. The person delivered by Jesus Christ into true
freedom is aware of being bound not externally by a multitude of
prescriptions, but internally by the love which has taken hold in the
deepest recesses of his heart. The Ten Commandments are the law of
freedom: not the freedom to follow our blind passions, but the freedom
to love, to choose what is good in every situation, even when to do so
is a burden. It is not an impersonal law that we obey; what is required
is loving surrender to the Father through Christ Jesus in the Holy
Spirit (cf. Rom 6:14; Gal 5:18). In revealing himself on the Mountain
and giving his Law, God revealed man to man himself. Sinai stands at the
very heart of the truth about man and his destiny.
5. In pursuit of this truth, the monks of this Monastery pitched their
tent in the shadow of Sinai. The Monastery of the Transfiguration and
Saint Catherine bears all the marks of time and human turmoil, but it
stands indomitable as a witness to divine wisdom and love. For centuries
monks from all Christian traditions lived and prayed together in this
Monastery, listening to the Word, in whom dwells the fullness of the
Father's wisdom and love. In this very Monastery, Saint John Climacus,
wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a spiritual masterpiece that
continues to inspire monks and nuns, from East and West, generation
after generation. All this has taken place under the mighty protection
of the Great Mother of God. As early as the third century Egyptian
Christians appealed to her with words of trust: We have recourse to your
protection, O Holy Mother of God! Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, sancta
Dei Genetrix! Through the centuries, this Monastery has been an
exceptional meeting place for people belonging to different Churches,
traditions and cultures. I pray that in the new millennium the Monastery
of Saint Catherine will be a radiant beacon calling the Churches to know
one another better and to rediscover the importance in the eyes of God
of the things that unite us in Christ.
6. I am grateful to the many faithful from the Diocese of Ismayliah, led
by Bishop Makarios, who have come to join me in this pilgrimage to Mount
Sinai. The Successor of Peter thanks you for your steadfastness in
faith. God bless you and your families!
May the Monastery of Saint Catherine be a spiritual oasis for members of
all the Churches in search of the glory of the Lord which settled on
Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 24:16). The vision of this glory prompts us to cry
out in overflowing joy: "We give thanks to you, O holy Father, for your
holy name, which you have made to dwell in our hearts" (Didache, X).
He reissued a call for inter-faith harmony that he made at a mass for 20,000 faithful on Friday in a Cairo stadium,
when he appealed for an end to communal violence in Nigeria where this week hundreds of people were killed in
"I have learned with deep pain that in Nigeria tensions have caused many deaths," he said in remarks that had
resonance in mainly Muslim Egypt, where Christians form roughly ten percent of a population of 64 million.
Egypt suffered its worst outbreak of Muslim-Christian unrest for decades at the New Year when 19 Coptic Christians
and two Muslims were killed in the southern village of al-Kosheh.
The Pope held an unprecedented meeting on Thursday with Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi of al-Azhar, a
1,000-year-old seat of learning that is the highest authority for the world's one billion Sunni Muslims.
Pope Shenouda III, whose Orthodox Church has never recognized Papal supremacy in nearly 2,000 years of
existence, received the Pope on the same day at his cathedral residence.
Greek Orthodox clerics who run St Catherine's Monastery did not join the Pope in prayer on Saturday, starkly
underlining the differences still dividing the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Asked if the two churches could ever unite, Archbishop Damianos told reporters: "It's possible, but it would take a
The Pope will continue his millennium pilgrimage next month when he walks in the footsteps of Jesus in Jordan, Israel
and Palestinian areas.