VATICAN CITY, JAN. 6, 2001 (ZENIT.org).- Some of the great challenges to be faced by Christians in the Third Millennium are the New Evangelization, Christian unity, growth in the interreligious dialogue, defense of the family and environment, and the ethical implications of biotechnology, according to the most recent document of the Holy Father.
John Paul II refers to these challenges in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte [At the Beginning of the New Millennium], which he signed, in an unprecedented gesture, in St. Peterís Square in the Vatican at the end of the Mass of the Epiphany. This Mass, attended by over 100,000 pilgrims, began with the closing of the Holy Door and ended with the Te Deum in thanksgiving for the blessings of the Jubilee.
With this Letter, whose title links it to Tertio Millennio Adveniente [As the Third Millennium Approaches] (1994), which prepared Christians for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Pontiff studies in depth the meaning of the 379 days of "grace," which call the Church to "put out into the deep" in keeping with Jesusí order to Peter, to face the challenges of the world.
The first chapter, "Meeting Christ, the Legacy of the Great Jubilee," is centered on remembrance. Pope John Paul II rereads the principal events of the Jubilee Year, not so much to evaluate them as to raise a hymn of praise and to "decipher" the message that the Spirit of God has given to the Church throughout this year of grace.
A few significant moments are revisited: from the great ecumenical beginning in the Basilica of St. Paul to the powerful act of "purification of memory," from the pilgrimage to the Holy Land to the numerous meetings with highly diverse groups of people. Young people receive special mention, since their Jubilee left a profound impression, and served as a reminder of the need for a bold and committed pastoral outreach to the coming generation.
Beyond its external events, Pope John Paul II views the Great Jubilee above all as an event of grace, confident that it has touched countless peopleís lives and has summoned them to undertake a journey of conversion. The title aptly captures the conclusion drawn by the Pope: a renewed meeting with Christ is the Jubileeís true "legacy," one that must now be treasured and invested for the future.
The second chapter, "A Face to Contemplate," has a strongly contemplative vein. Before looking to the future and its practical tasks, the Pope encourages the Church not to neglect, but instead to deepen, her contemplation of the mystery of Christ, with her eyes fixed upon His face.
The chapter is less a doctrinal treatise than a re-echoing of the voice of Peter in his confession at Caesarea Philippi: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). The Letter then sketches a comprehensive historical portrait of Jesus, emphasizing the truth and credibility of the Gospels. It turns to the contemplation of Christís face, to the depths of his divine-human mystery, focusing on his divine self-awareness, even amid the drama of the Cross. It then lifts its gaze to the splendor of the Resurrection.
There follow two chapters directly related to the question of pastoral planning. In the third chapter, "Starting Afresh from Christ," John Paul II stresses the need to orient Christian pastoral care toward a solid experience of faith, which will make holiness flower. The Popeís exacts the highest ideals, in order to avoid contentment with mediocre religiosity.
The "New Evangelization," a summons so often repeated in recent years, remains more urgent than ever after the Jubilee.
This implies the need to rediscover prayer at the depth to which the Christian experience of God can lead it, taking our cue from the rich pastoral and mystical heritage of 2000 years of history: personal prayer, but above all community prayer, starting with the liturgy, "source and summit" of the Churchís life.
The eloquence with which John Paul II refers to the sacrament of Reconciliation is significant. The Jubilee has shown that this sacrament, when properly presented and fostered, can move beyond the seemingly irreversible crisis that it has experienced in many circles in recent decades.
The final chapter, "Witnesses to Love," addresses the challenges to Christian witness at the dawn of the Third Millennium. This witness will not be credible if Catholics are not united, in "communion," and if they do not walk in the way of ecumenism toward the full unity of Christians of different denominations, which the Church already enjoys mysteriously in Christ.
How "can we remain indifferent to the prospect of an ecological crisis, which is making vast areas of our planet uninhabitable and hostile to humanity?" the Pope queried, "Or by the problems of peace, so often threatened by the spectre of catastrophic wars, or by contempt for the fundamental human rights of so many people, especially children?"
"A special commitment is needed with regard to certain aspects of the Gospelís radical message, which are often less well understood, even to the point of making the Churchís presence unpopular, but which, nevertheless, must be part of her mission of charity," the Holy Father stressed.
"I am speaking of the duty to be committed to respect for the life of every human being, from conception until natural death. Likewise, the service of humanity leads us to insist, in season and out of season, that those using the latest advances of science, especially in the field of biotechnology, must never disregard fundamental ethical requirements by invoking a questionable solidarity that eventually leads to discriminating between one life and another and ignoring the dignity that belongs to every human being," explained John Paul II.
If "Christian witness" is to be effective in the world, the Pope stressed that it is not a case of imposing "on nonbelievers a vision based on faith, but of interpreting and defending the values rooted in the very nature of the human person."
"In this way charity will necessarily become service to culture, politics, the economy and the family, so that the fundamental principles upon which the destiny of human beings and the future of civilization depend, will be respected everywhere," he continued.
Hence, this is a challenge that the Pontiff entrusts especially to the laity, who are in the world. It is a challenge that can be met if there is no "yielding to the temptation to turn Christian communities into mere social agencies."
Christians can count on the help offered by interreligious dialogue in witnessing, without taking anything away from the Christian proclamation: dialogue is an important guideline for the growth of all in the quest for truth and the promotion of peace, the Letter explains.
As a sign of Christiansí love, the Pope announced an unexpected decision: once expenses have been paid, what is left of the Jubilee offerings will go to form an endowment in Rome, a symbol of that flowering of charity to which the Church will continue to be committed in the new millennium.
The Letter ends by stating that although the Holy Door has been closed, Christ, the "Living Door," is more open than ever. After this Jubilee Year, the Church must not return to the anodyne, but must work with new apostolic impetus.