Keeping the Spirit of the Jubilee Alive|
One Year Ago Today:
POPE CELEBRATES ONE OF JUBILEE'S CLIMACTIC MOMENTS IN BETHLEHEM
BETHLEHEM, MAR 22 (ZENIT.org).- Today, the Holy Father travelled to
Palestinian territory to celebrate one of the high points of the
Jubilee: Celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Manger Square in
Bethlehem has become a symbol of the complicated evolution of
territorial claims in the Middle East. Thus, the Pope used this
opportunity to remind his listeners of the urgent need for peace in this
region and to reaffirm the "natural right" of the Palestinian people to
"a homeland" and to "live in peace and tranquillity with the other
peoples of this area."
"No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in
recent decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has
gone on too long," the Pope asserted.
John Paul II was received with every honor and courtesy by the leader of
the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. The Pope kissed a bowl of
earth from Bethlehem upon arrival. This is a typical gesture of
devotion, explained Holy See spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls, and should
not be interpreted as an act of implicit recognition of the Palestinian
State. "It would have been rather strange if the Pope had not kissed the
land on which Jesus was born," he explained.
"Do Not Be Afraid!"
Afterwards, the Holy Father celebrated the Eucharist on Manger Square,
near the Grotto of the Nativity. The celebration was a celebration for
all the Christian communities of the Holy Land. The Pope called for
renewed hope for the Christians of this land. Bethlehem, he recalled,
means "house of bread" in Hebrew, where "God lies hidden in the Child;
divinity lies hidden in the Bread of Life."
From a stage dominated by a giant star, like that which guided the three
Kings to the manger, John Paul II invited the 10,000 faithful gathered
there, along with all the Christians of the region, to have no fear.
"Today from Manger Square, we cry out to every time and place, and to
every person, 'Peace be with you! Do not be afraid!' " he cried.
"Do not be afraid," he repeated, "to preserve your Christian presence
and heritage in the very place where the Saviour was born." This very
concrete message was directed toward the Arab Christian community, which
has been leaving the Holy Land in increasing numbers, due to the few
opportunities for work, political instability, and Islamic
The Meaning of the Cross
During the homily, the Pope recalled that this humble city "has known
'the yoke' and 'the rod' of oppression. How often has the cry of
innocents been heard in these streets? Even the great church built over
the Saviour's birth-place stands like a fortress battered by the strife
of the ages. The Crib of Jesus lies always in the shadow of the Cross."
However, this poverty and weakness has meaning in the light of the
Gospel. "The Crib and the Cross are the same mystery of redemptive love;
the body which Mary laid in the manger is the same body offered up on
the Cross," explained the Pontiff.
The Kingdom of Christ "is not the play of force and wealth and conquest
which appears to shape our human history. It is rather the power to
vanquish the Evil One, the ultimate victory over sin and death. It is
the power to heal the wounds which disfigure the image of the Creator in
his creatures," continued the Holy Father.
Muslim Call to Prayer
After the Pope's homily, the prayer caller in the minarette of the
mosque located adjacent to the stage began to call the Muslim faithful
of the city to prayer, by means of a loudspeaker, while the faithful in
Mass were waiting in a moment of prayerful silence. The event disturbed
many of those present, particularly Yasser Arafat.
Varying explanations were given for the call. Some thought it a
provocation, while others felt it was an act of deference toward the
Holy Father, because the caller had waited until after the homily was
over. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, almost applauded.
He explained that the prayer for peace of the Pope combined with the
prayer of the Muslims provided joint testimony before God that
Christians and Muslims wanted peace.
Meeting with Arafat
Before Mass, the Pope met with Yasser Arafat in the Presidential Palace
in Bethlehem. In his discourse, the Palestinian leader stressed that
Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palistinian people, presumably
in response to Israeli President Ezer Weizman, who yesterday called the
Holy City the capital of the Jewish State.
A political cartoon in the "Harez" newspaper illustrates well the
political overtones that various factions want to give to this
pilgrimage. It shows the Pope, arms outstetched in a cross, with a Star
of David pulling on one arm, and the Muslim crescent moon pulling the
other. When he spoke about interreligious relations in Jerusalem, Arafat
only mentioned the Christians and Muslims, omitting the Jews. Arafat
ended his discourse quoting Jesus, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for
they will be called sons of God!"
"The promise of peace," responded the Pope, "made in Bethlehem, will
become a reality for the world when the dignity and rights of all human
beings created in the image of God are recognized."
The Pope also took the opportunity to visit a Palestinian refugee camp.
He greeted the descendants of the shepherds who were present at Christ's
birth to comfort them. "Dear refugees, do not think that your present
condition makes you any less important in God's eyes!" he shouted.
"Never forget your dignity as his children! Here at Bethlehem the Divine
Child was laid in a manger in a stable; shepherds from nearby fields who
were your ancestors were the first to receive the heavenly message of
peace and hope for the world. God's design was fulfilled in the midst of
humility and poverty."
MASS IN BETHLEHEM CENTRAL TO POPE'S PILGRIMAGE
BETHLEHEM (CWNews.com) -- Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on
March 22 in the basilica built upon the spot in Bethlehem where
Jesus was born.
The Pope, arriving in Bethlehem after a short helicopter ride from
Jerusalem, went to the Nativity Basilica in Manger Square. That
ancient church-- which faces a small mosque on the opposite side of
the square-- is maintained by Latin-rite Catholics, Greek Orthodox,
and Armenian Orthodox clergy.
"Bethlehem is at the center of my Jubilee pilgrimage," the Pope
commented during his homily. This is the place, he observed, where
"the eternal entered into history, to remain with us forever."
The birth of Jesus was not a manifestation of earthly power, the Holy
Father remarked. On the contrary, the Lord was born amidst poverty
and neglect; his kingdom was not to be an earthly kingdom but a
victory of good over evil, "the definitive victory over sin and death."
And that victory, he continued, can "transform our weak nature and
make us capable of living in peace with one another and in
communion with God."
As he concluded his homily, the Pope encouraged the Christians who
live in Bethlehem-- a dwindling minority in a predominantly Muslim
town-- to "preserve your presence and your Christian patrimony, in
this place where our Savior was born."
After the Mass, the Pope had lunch at a nearby Franciscan residence
for pilgrims. He returned to the basilica in the afternoon, to go to the
grotto beneath the altar that marks the spot where Jesus was born.
PONTIFF DEPLORES CONDITIONS OF PALESTINIAN REFUGEES
BETHLEHEM (CWNews.com) -- During a March 22 visit to a
Palestinian refugee camp, Pope John Paul II renewed his challenge to
the international community to help the people living in such
The Deheisheh camp, which was built in 1948 to accommodate
Palestinians driven from the villages during the quest for Israeli
statehood, now has 8,000 inhabitants. The Pope made a quick tour
through the camp, and stopped in a cinder-block schoolroom to make
his remarks about the conditions in which the refugees have now
been living for more than half a century.
"Only a resolute commitment on the part of the leaders of the Middle
East, and of the international community in general, can solve the
causes of your current situation," the Pope said. He then issued a call
for all political leaders to make their contributions to the peace
The Pope saluted the humanitarian agencies which work with
Palestinian refugees, urging them "do not be discouraged." In
particular he singled out the Catholic services and the UN's Relief and
Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, which helps to administer
dozens of camps in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon, and
Syria-- serving a total of over 2 million Palestinian refugees.
"I pray that my visit will bring you a bit of consolation in your
suffering," the Pope told the residents of the Deheisheh camp. He also
said that he hoped his visit would call public attention to the plight
of the refugee population.
At the conclusion of his remarks, the Pope spoke extemporaneously
for several minutes, concentrating his attention on the young people
in his audience. "You can never allow yourselves to think that your
current condition makes you any less important in the eyes of God,"
he assured them.
ARAB CATHOLICS ARE ESSENTIAL FOR DIALOGUE
Greek-Melkite Exarch of Jerusalem Comments on Pontiff's Visit
JERUSALEM, MAR 21 (ZENIT.org).- "We are Arabs but not Muslims. Orientals
but not Orthodox. Catholics but not Roman. We are open to the West but
we are not part of it. This is the reason we have all the cards to
develop a special 'mission' of dialogue, especially between the Orthodox
Church and Rome," Archbishop Lufti Laham said to the Italian newspaper
Archbishop Lufti Laham, 67, Catholic Greek-Melkite Patriarchal Exarch in
Jerusalem, represents Patriarch Maximus V Haxim, Patriarch of Antioch,
Alexandria and Jerusalem of the Greek Melkites. He is an interesting
personality in the Holy Land from the ecumenical standpoint. This rather
singular Eastern Church has a total of 50,000 faithful in the Holy Land;
many of them live in Galilee.
The Pope is in a part of the world in which Christian Churches have
survived uninterruptedly for 2000 years, in the midst of grave
difficulties. "This adds to the importance of his spiritual pilgrimage.
Perhaps, in the West, the blood of our martyrs is forgotten, the price
that these Churches have paid to preserve the faith," the Archbishop
Among the reasons the Pope asked for forgiveness was the division of
Christians. Archbishop Leham says that the Christians of the East felt
somewhat left out by the Euro-centrism of that prayer for forgiveness.
"I will be sincere with you. Here Christians have lived with a bit of
unease and upset by the instrumentalization they have suffered. We ask
ourselves: What responsibility do we have for the Crusades and the
Shoah, which are the domain of the European Churches?"
"The Pope's merit is in inviting everyone, with the strength of his
example, to an act of repentance in order to express renewed will to
serve God," the Archbishop continued. "The Church is certain of her
dogmas, but she also wants to be self-critical, to give an example to
all and come close to the Father."
The Archbishop says this visit will help to bring about a lasting peace
in the Holy Land and will help the Christian minority. It will be "a
further contribution on the road toward true peace, which will confirm
our dream: to preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land. In order
to do this, the local Church must be ever more rooted, especially
investing in youth."
"As a concrete gesture in memory of this visit, our Church will create a
credit bank to support the new families who want to construct their home
here, so that the Christian presence in Jerusalem will be reinforced,
and in cities like Nablus where we are few. But this isn't the only
thing. As a Greek Catholic Church, we have worked on a document on the
delicate question of the Primacy, which we will to give the Pope within
the next few months," Archbishop Laham continued.
This topic is very dear to John Paul II. "So much so, that he spoke to
us, the Catholic patriarchs of the East, back in 1989. I believe we must
insist on this, encouraging meetings not only at the highest levels, but
favoring and appreciating dialogue experiences in the local churches,"
explained the Exarch. "The Council of Catholic Patriarchs is working on
this. I am convinced that we all must return to 'Orientale Lumen,' which
is somewhat forgotten. And to Catholics of the Latin rite I say: do not
fear the contribution of your eastern brothers."
"KAROL WOJTYLA SAVED MY LIFE AT THE END OF THE WORLD WAR"
Testimony of Jewish Woman Who Was About To Die at 16
JERUSALEM, MAR 22 (ZENIT).- This Thursday will be an unforgettable day
for Edith Zirer, a Jewish woman who was born in Poland but who has lived
in Haifa for decades. At last, in the Yad Vashem Memorial to the
Holocaust, she will be able to personally thank Karol Wojtyla, the man
who saved her life 55 years ago, she said.
The Israeli newspaper "Maariv" reported this event today. ZENIT reported
on Zirer's story in February 1998 (ZE98020605).
At that time, Edith Zirer said: "I remember perfectly well. I was there,
I was a 13 year old girl, alone, sick, and weak. I had spent 3 years in
a German concentration camp at the point of death. And, like an angel,
Karol Wojtyla saved my life; like a dream from heaven: he gave me
something to drink and eat and then carried me on his back some 4
kilometers in the snow, before catching the train to safety."
Edith Zirer tells the story as if it had happened yesterday. It was a
cold morning in early February, 1945. The young Jew, who was not yet
aware that she was the only member of her family to survive the Nazi
massacre, let a tall, strong 25-year-old, tonsured seminarian carry her
and give her a ray of hope.
Today, at 66, Edith is the mother of two and lives in a beautiful home
in the Carmel hills, on the outskirts of Haifa. She rebuilt her life in
Israel, where she arrived in 1951, suffering from tuberculosis and
frightful dreams connected with the war.
For many years, she kept this incident to herself. When Karol Wojtyla
ascended the Chair of Peter in 1978, she felt the need to tell the story
and express her gratitude. The question that arises immediately, of
course, is how could she be certain that that seminarian is the Pope?
The reporters of Haifa's weekly newspaper "Kolbo," who heard the story
for the first time in 1998, say her story is very convincing. "She is
not trying for publicity, all the details she gives seem credible."
The story speaks for itself. "On January 28, 1945 Russian soldiers
liberated the Hassak concentration camp, where I had been imprisoned for
almost 3 years, working in a munitions factory. I felt confused, I was
prostrated with illness. Two days later I arrived at a small railway
station between Czestochowa and Krakow." At this time, Wojtyla was in
Krakow preparing for his priestly ordination.
"I was sure I would arrive at the end of my journey. I was lying on the
ground, in the corner of a large hall where dozens of refugees were
gathering the majority of whom still wore uniforms with the numbers of
the concentration camps. Then Wojtyla saw me. He came with a big cup of
tea, the first hot beverage I had had in weeks. Then he brought me a
cheese sandwich made with Polish rye bread, wonderful. But I didn't want
to eat. I was too tired. He made me eat. Then he told me I would have to
walk to catch the train. I tried, but I fell down on the ground. He then
took me in his arms and carried me for a long time. All the while the
snow fell. I remember his brown jacket, the tranquil voice who told me
about his parents' death, and his brother's, the loneliness he felt, and
the need not to be overcome by sorrow and to fight for life. His name
was indelibly imprinted in my memory."
When they finally arrived at the convoy that would take the prisoners to
the West, Edith met a Jewish family who alerted her: "Be careful,
priests try to convert Jewish children." She was afraid and hid. "Only
later did I understand that all he wanted to do was to help me. Now I
want to thank him personally," she said.
March 22, 2001
volume 12, no. 81
JUBILEE MOMENTS TO REMEMBER