January 6, 2001
volume 12, no. 6
Last Holy Door Closed as Pope ends Jubilee

    VATICAN, Dec. 6, 01 ( -- Pope John Paul II closed the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica on Saturday, bringing a formal end to the Jubilee year.

    However, in his homily the Holy Father pointed out that the call to conversion of hearts remains an urgent priority for all believers. The Holy Door is a symbol of Jesus Christ, he said, but even after it is closed, "the heart of Christ remains more open than ever."

    Before presiding at the Mass for Epiphany in St. Peter's Square, the Pope knelt in silent prayer at the Holy Door of the Vatican basilica for a few last moments-- just as he had knelt in the same spot after opening the Holy Door to inaugurate the Jubilee on Christmas Eve, 1999.

    At the short ceremony in which he closed the Door, the Pope was joined by well over 150 other prelates. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, the chairman of the Vatican committee that coordinated Jubilee plans, was among the last to step through the door, pausing to kneel in prayer before he continued his passage.

    Following that 20-minute ceremony, the Pope followed the other bishops in procession to the altar in the Square, where he celebrated Mass before a congregation estimated at 100,000. In warm but windy weather, the congregation filled St. Peter's Square, and trickled out onto the street heading toward the Tiber River. The Pope was frequently interrupted by applause during his homily, as he spoke of the "great year of grace" that the Church had enjoyed. "Today that extraordinary year officially ends," he said. "But the spiritual gifts remain, and will last until the end of time."

    The success of the Jubilee should not give rise to any sort of triumphalism, the Pontiff continued. "How could we succumb to that sort of temptation, at the end of such an intensely penitential year?" he asked. He reminded the congregation that the theme of the Jubilee had been a call to penance and conversion, and recalled his plea for a "purification of memory" in light of the fact that Christian history is "marked largely by our sins."

    Nevertheless, John Paul went on, Christians can live with the "interior joy" that comes from recognizing "the gifts we have received, and the certainty of the enduring love of Christ." In that spirit, he urged all Christians to join in a renewed effort to spread the Gospel, and to live a life of active prayer.

    The Pope concluded his homily with same words that he used at the beginning of his pontificate: "Open wide the doors to Christ!"

    After the Mass, the Pope led the singing of the Te Deum in thanksgiving for the blessings of the Jubilee year. Then he offered his thanks to the many people who had helped to make the Jubilee a success. Finally, he toured through St. Peter's Square in his Popemobile, greeting the faithful, before retiring to his apartment.

    The closing of the Holy Door came after a final night when the Vatican basilica remained opened much later than usual-- until 3 in the morning-- to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who had come to Rome for the last day of the Jubilee. (Ordinarily St. Peter's is closed at 6:30 in the evening.) Vatican employees had received instructions that they should not close the doors "until the last pilgrim has passed."

    At the other three great basilicas of Rome, the Holy Doors had been closed during the afternoon of January 5. Cardinal Carlo Furno, the archpriest of St. Mary Major, closed the doors to that basilica. Cardinal Etchegaray was the Pope's representative at St. John Lateran. And Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for the Rome diocese, presided at St. Paul's Outside the Walls.

    At noon on Saturday the Pope signed his apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, closing the Jubilee year. In four chapters, with 59 numbered paragraphs, the document invites local churches to reflect on the results of the Holy Year, and take "concrete initiatives" to capitalize on the spiritual gains.

    "After the enthusiasm of the Jubilee," Christians should not expect a return to the routines of daily life, the Pope writes. "On the contrary, if our pilgrimage has been authentic, it has strengthened our legs for the road that lies ahead of us."

    The full text of the Pope's apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, is available on the Vatican web site: Novo Millennio Inuente.

For other news stories, see

January 6, 2001
volume 12, no. 6
News from the Vatican

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