DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     December 7, 1999     vol. 10, no. 232

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Most Important Ecumenical Celebration in Holy Land's History

        BETHLEHEM, (ZENIT).- The celebrations of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 began in the Holy Land Saturday with an ecumenical event that has no precedents in history: the common celebration of two thousand years of Redemption that brought together Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Churches in the Square of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

        Patriarchs, Archbishops, Exarchs, and representatives of thirteen different rites and creeds, including the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land, celebrated an unprecedented communitarian religious service together. The very elderly and ailing Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem attended in a wheel chair. Together with his separated brethren he confessed "the sin of secular divisions, which at times became rivalry,... to promise that with no recriminations about the past, and adoring the Word of God made man in Bethlehem, we will only express love and peace to one another, until the much desired re-composition of ecclesial communion is reached."

        This commitment was ratified by praying the Our Father. The coming Jubilee Holy Year could not have started with better ecumenical signs. John Paul II sent a message from Rome, which was confirmed by all the Christian leaders of the Holy Land. "May the Great Jubilee lead all Christ's disciples to atone for our past sins against unity and to work to hasten the blessed hour in which we shall all invoke Our Heavenly Father with a single voice," the Pontiff wrote.

        The Inter-Confessional Committee of the Churches of Jerusalem, born three years ago in December to prepare to celebrate the Jubilee, chose this date to allow the different Churches to have the required time to prepare their own Christmas celebrations, which in some cases are very ambitious. The Greek-Catholic Patriarchy, for example, has invited the leaders of the national sister Churches and heads of State of their respective countries from January 2-7. Among the guests are Boris Yeltsin and Slobodan Milosevic. Armenian Christians will celebrate Christmas from January 17-18, and the highest leaders of the Church will come to Bethlehem for the event. Yasser Arafat has invited many heads of State of Catholic and Protestant countries for December 24 and 25. In addition, on Christmas Eve the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, will officially open the Holy Year at the same time as the Pope.

        For Arafat, the Jubilee represents a unique occasion for international meetings which he will take advantage of to promote the Palestinian cause. For this reason, he has built himself a home in Bethlehem. He was excluded from the religious event at the wish of the other religious leaders, in order to avoid political overtones. Nonetheless, he was invited to participate in a "ceremony of light," when some children will carried candles to the Nativity grotto, from which the flame was passed by the Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Bishops to the congregation. At the same time, Arafat lit the Christmas tree in Manger Square, outside the Basilica.

        The Patriarchs and leaders of the 13 Christian communities in the Holy Land also wrote a letter to be read on the occasion offering a message of hope and love to the whole world, particularly the faithful of Palestine, Israel, Jordan and the Arab countries. "May we all be able to live in justice and peace," they prayed.

        The heads of the Churches in Jerusalem continued, "We must confess honestly and frankly that during our pilgrimage in this Holy Land we have not kept the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, and that our obedience to the Savior's prayer at the Last Supper has been imperfect: 'That they all may be one, as you Father in me and I in you, that the world may believe.' " ZE99120308

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

December 7, 1999       volume 10, no. 232


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