The Pope's visit to the statute drew a sizeable crowd of Italians who came to greet the Pontiff and add their own bouquets. The papal visit has been a tradition in Rome since the statue was erected in 1857, to commemorate the 1854 declaration in which Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Immaculate Conception to be a dogma of the faith. The Mayor of Rome, and numerous members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, participated in the short ceremony.
"Today we have thrown ourselves at the feet of the Virgin, with the utmost confidence, to ask her to help us cross the threshold of the Holy Door, with a renewed commitment," the Holy Father said. After the ceremony, he visited the basilica of St. Mary Major, where he spent some time in prayer before another Marian image, entitled, "Salus populi romani."
As he greeted pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for his Angelus message at noon, the Pope offered a few reflections on the Marian feast, "which is so dear to the Christian people." He said that Mary, having been preserved from all sin, is God's "masterpiece," a model for all Christians, "a creature who is completely beautiful, completely holy."
The committee, composed of three Jewish scholars and three Catholics, will study the 11-volume compilation of the Vatican archives from that period, which was compiled between 1965 and 1981 at the request of Pope Paul VI. One of the historians, Robert Wistrich of the University of Jerusalem, had said in October that it would be a "farce" if historians studied that 11-volume series, rather than the original archives. Nevertheless, just one month later, Wistrich accepted a place on the new committee.
All records in the Vatican archives are traditionally kept sealed for several decades before being opened to scholars, as a routine measure to ensure confidentiality. Thus the archives for World War II-- and in fact for all of the years since 1922-- have not yet been made available to the public.
However, the historians' panel will be able to appraise the 11-volume history-- which was compiled by a panel of Jesuit scholars who had access to the secret archives-- and make suggestions as to which areas require more clarification. They may then make requests to search the archives for answers to specific questions.
Aharon Lopez, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, has said that the new study should be "useful" insofar as it could shed new light on Vatican policies during World War II. But Father Pierre Blet, the sole surviving member of the Jesuit team that compiled the 11-volume study, predicted that the new study would not produce any important results. "The historians are hoping to find some very interesting documents in the archives of the Holy See," he said; "but we have already looked through everything, and we found nothing."
In a message sent for the upcoming occasion to the Bishop of Macao, John Paul II expresses the hope that Macao's return to Chinese territory will give the Church in Macao new impetus in the incalculable task of religious testimony, especially in the fields of education and assistance to the needy.
On the eve of a new century and in the context of the imminent Holy Year, the Pontiff hopes that the Church in Macao will "be a prophetic Church, which proclaims to men and women seduced by desire for material goods and disoriented in their aims, the high and inspiring reason of the moral life, the dignity and freedom of every human person, the beauty of the Gospel, the joy of following Christ."
Finally, after expressing the hope that the Church in the Portuguese colony, which has some 450,000 inhabitants, will maintain its communion with the universal Church and that, as in the past, it will be concerned with the union of the whole of China with the Church, the Pope concludes his message by assuring his prayers and those of all Catholics not only for the diocesan community of Macao, but for the great Catholic family of the whole of mainland China. ZE99120909
Prior to the papal audience, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches, presided over a thanksgiving Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.
John Paul II said that it was Pope Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII) himself who in 1949 requested the creation of an agency that would offer assistance to needy peoples of the Holy Land: children, families, the sick, wounded, and exiled, and the elderly. Today, 50 years later, the Mission has extended its activity to Cyprus, Iraq, and Syria.
During the meeting, John Paul II expressed his great appreciation for Cardinal John O'Connor, Archbishop of New York, where this organism has its headquarters, to Monsignor Robert Stern, current president, and to the U.S. Catholic community, which supports this initiative with much generosity.
During times of great tension lived in the Middle East over these last 50 years, the Pontifical Mission multiplied its efforts to help local populations to build their own life with various projects for development, urgent sanitary services, crafts, and agricultural and industrial activity.
The Pope referred to the Bull convoking the Great Jubilee, stating that "in this way, the Pontifical Mission is an eloquent expression of that 'new culture of international solidarity and cooperation,' which is so necessary in the modern world, and which must be a hallmark of the new millennium. This shared responsibility for the well-being of all, especially on the part of the wealthier nations and of the private sector, is part of the deeper meaning of the Great Jubilee upon which we are about to embark."
The Holy Father concluded by saying, "This is the surest path for establishing a true and lasting peace in the lives of the peoples of the Middle East."
Thursday morning, John Paul II spoke about the significant progress made in the dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans when he received Dr. Christian Krause, president of the World Lutheran Federation, and several members of that Federation.
Over the last few years, this dialogue has been strengthened by collaborative initiatives in the civil and charitable fields. However, the cornerstone is, without a doubt, the Joint Declaration on Justification, signed by Catholics and Lutherans On October 31 in Augsburg.
According to the Holy Father, this document is the solid foundation for future important steps toward full unity between the two Churches, especially when it comes to overcoming the obstacles that relate to joint participation at the Eucharistic table.
In thanking the Lutheran Federation for the promise to join the Jubilee celebrations in spirit, John Paul II explained to president Krause that in that year there will be two especially important moments for the joint commitment of the two Churches: Church Unity Week, and the commemoration of 20th century martyrs. The Pontiff said: "Martyrdom has profound ecumenical significance. When Christ is witnessed at the price of one's own life, there can be no division."
After recalling that the world anxiously awaits the unity of Christians, the Holy Father referred to the intense experience of the ecumenical celebration last October 28, which was highly spiritual, and which proves once again that the soul of ecumenism is prayer. ZE99120907 and ZE99120908