DAILY CATHOLIC     THURSDAY     July 1, 1999     vol. 10, no. 127

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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John Paul II Calls for Ecumenical Meeting in Land of Christ's Birth

          VATICAN CITY, JUN 30 (ZENIT).- A return to the Holy Land has become John Paul's II's great dream for the Jubilee of the Year 2000. He admits this fact in a letter published today "On the Pilgrimage to Places Linked to Salvation History."

          In the text, the Pope states he will undertake a journey on the routes of God's Revelation. Therefore, he will visit those sites that witnessed Biblical scenes like the promise to Abraham, the handing of the Ten Commandments to Moses, the Gabriel's Annunciation to Mary, Jesus' birth in a stable, the Crucifixion, and St. Paul's shattering conversion.

          "Abandoning myself entirely to the divine will, I would be very happy if this plan materializes, at least in its essential aspects. It is a strictly religious pilgrimage, both by nature and purpose; it would make me suffer greatly if different interpretations are given to this plan of mine. I have begun this pilgrimage spiritually already because, even going to these places in thought, means rereading the Gospel itself, and traveling on the roads of Revelation," the Holy Father wrote.

          The Pope concedes that "God is also present in every corner of the earth," but there are "sacred places" where encounter with the divine can be lived more intensely.

    First Stage: The Old Testament

          The Pontiff's spiritual adventure will begin in places of the Old Testament, in order to express the Church's awareness of her ties with the chosen people of the Covenant. In fact, the document makes moving references to the Jewish people. The first stage of the pilgrimage is Ur of the Chaldeans, present day Tal al Muqayyar, a city located in the south of Iraq, "where Abraham heard the word of God, which drew him out of his land, away from his people and, in a certain sense, out of himself, to make him an instrument of the plan for salvation."

          John Paul II will continue to Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, and Mount Nebo, from which the prophet saw the Promised Land.

    Second Stage: In Jesus' Footsteps

          The second stage of the trip follows in Christ's footsteps, beginning with the Annunciation in Nazareth, passing through Bethlehem, the Savior's birthplace, and ending in the city of Jerusalem. "Here, God willing, I hope to immerse myself in prayer, taking in my heart the entire Church. Here I will contemplate the places where Christ gave his life and took it up again after the Resurrection, leaving us the Spirit. Here I want to cry out again the profound and consoling certainty that 'God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.' "

    Third Stage: Following the Church's Origins

          The last part of the pilgrimage will cover those places that witnessed the early days of the Church. The Pope writes specifically about two of them, linked to the Apostle St. Paul: Damascus, the place of his conversion; and Athens, the place of his address to the pagans.

    Journey of Dialogue

          One of the primary objectives of the pilgrimage, the Holy Father states in the letter, is to seek the lost unity among Christians. More importantly, the Pope promises that this trip, more than any other of the almost 90 he has already made, will be characterized by its ecumenical thrust. Because of this, he invites all Christians of all denominations to join him in these holy places to witness to Christ and "to confirm the mutual commitment to the reestablishment of full communion."

          The journey to the places of Revelation will also offer the possibility of direct dialogue with the other great monotheist religions. Specifically, the Pope is convinced that the Jubilee must make possible, on one hand, awareness of the ties that unite Christians with Jews, by definitively overcoming the "misunderstandings" of the past: and on the other, an increase of knowledge and understanding of Islam, "in order to demonstrate appreciation for the religious commitment and desire to construct a society that is more in keeping with God's plan, which respects every human being and creation."

    Interior Pilgrimage

          The pilgrimage the Pope proposes for this Jubilee is above all an interior pilgrimage. In his letter, directed "to those who are preparing to celebrate the Great Jubilee in faith," the Pontiff invites everyone to "undertake this interior journey whose objective is to be detached of all that either within or outside ourselves goes against God's law, so that we can fully meet Christ, by confessing our faith in him and receiving his abundant mercy."

    Significance of Pope's pilgrimage to Holy Land is a return to the roots of Faith

          In a letter published today, John Paul II has announced his desire to undertake a great pilgrimage to the places of Revelation. Msgr. Gianfranco Ravasi, director of the Ambrosian Library of Milan, and one of the most prolific Bible scholars of our times, knows these places like the palm of his hand. His reaction to the Pontiff's decision, therefore, is of particular interest.

          "It is, undoubtedly, an emblematic pilgrimage. The journey dreamed by the Pope is also a proposal to all the faithful who wish to go back to the roots of their faith," noted the scholar. "It will be important not to get distracted by the beauty of the scenery, by its beautiful colors and perfumes. When one arrives in Palmyra, in Syria, for example, it is difficult not to be enchanted by the ruins in the desert seen in the moonlight."

          This is, in fact, the second connotation of this type of pilgrimage: the historical, archeological aspect. And, of course, this dimension is important, Msgr. Ravasi says. "The Christian pilgrimage is by definition a trip into history and into space. It consists of earth, stone, water, air. Christian Revelation is not private or disembodied, but takes place in history."

          Msgr. Ravasi reviewed the stages of the papal pilgrimage. He began with Ur of the Chaldeans, "the root of faith of the three religions; the place of the calling; the only source of three rivers: Judaism, Christianity and Islam." Then Mount Sinai, "the place of the Word, of the Covenant, of communion between God and the people. Here, in the desert, an intimacy is established which leads Isaiah to use nuptial images often to describe it."

          Then Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, "where the Word is made flesh; where the meeting between God and man is total. Kierkegaard said: 'the two worlds -- man's and God's -- collide in Jesus, but they do not cause an explosion but an embrace.' "

          To those pilgrims who would like to precede or follow the Holy Father in these places of pilgrimage, Monsignor Ravasi gives some advice. He began with Ur of the Chaldeans, in the a "no fly zone" imposed by the international community on the skies of Iraq. "It will not be easy to reach, but its attraction is unquestionable. Those who make it will find a land that is still wounded; the war left its mark even on the monuments."

          For those visiting Mount Sinai, Monsignor Ravasi recommends prayer in St. Catherine's monastery. "The monks complain sometimes because of the superficiality of tourists ... The place has a very special atmosphere. One should go up the Mount at night."

          Visits to Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem are easier; he suggests they be visited in this order, following the stages of Christ's life itself. It should also be noted that Israel must normally be visited after any Moslem countries on the itinerary, since many Moslem countries will not allow a tourist bearing a passport stamped in Israel to enter.

          Finally, Msgr. Ravasi spoke about the third stage: Damascus and Athens, the place of St. Paul's calling and mission. The ideal ending to the pilgrimage would be Rome, a unique way of experiencing the Jubilee: in the Holy Land and in the Eternal City.

    Statements by Leader of Catholic Church in Iraq

          In Baghdad, Iraqi Christians and Moslems alike await the Pope. Although Iraq is a predominantly Moslem country, it is eager to welcome the Holy Father for a visit. "All Iraqis appreciate the Pope because of his firm stance in their favor at this most difficult time," stated Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid of Babylon, spiritual leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, which is the largest Christian group in Iraq.

          "Last month I went to Rome heading an Iraqi delegation sent by President Saddam Hussein to thank the Pope for all he has done during his ministry. The Iraqi authorities wanted to thank the Holy See officially for the noble stance it has taken in favor of the Iraqi people. At that time, we invited the Pope to come to our country, to Ur of the Chaldeans, to begin his pilgrimage of faith there in the context of the Great Jubilee. The Holy Father was very happy and expressed enthusiastically his desire to undertake this trip," the Patriarch said.

          This hope seems close to realization. "We regard the visit as a blessing from Heaven for Iraq and its people. The Pope does everything possible to unite the hearts of men," continued Patriarch Raphael. "What unites us in the East is the faith of our father Abraham, which is common to the three monotheistic religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam. We hope this visit will be the beginning of a road for all believers of these three religions toward the one faith professed by Abraham."

          The Patriarch is certain the whole of Iraq looks forward impatiently to the Pope's arrival. "Both Christians and Moslems love the Pope and they appreciate him for the position he has taken in their support during the tragedy that they continue to experience. His visit honors us and makes us happy. We hope he will confirm the principles of justice that will enable us to appeal to faith, and that will give stability to our region."

          The Pope's visit to Iraq could even take place while the embargo is still in force, noted the Patriarch. "I think the preparations for the trip will encourage everyone to speed up the end of the embargo. It is a dishonor for humanity to behave this way. I am thinking in particular of those who are politically responsible who impose an inhuman, immoral and senseless measure, when our job as men is to work in the service of peace." ZE99063003, ZE99063004, and ZE99063005 stories

Also from CWN this story on the Pope's proposed pilgrimage to the Holy Land


Ambitious itinerary will include principal places of God's intervention in Scripture

          VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- On June 30, the Vatican released a letter in which Pope John Paul II explains his desire to travel during the Jubilee Year to some of the sites connected with the history of salvation. The Holy Father had alluded to that letter in public remarks a day earlier.

          The Pontiff says that his desire to make this "special Jubilee pilgrimage" in order to pray at "the principal places which, in the Old and New Testaments, saw God's interventions." The sites he mentions in his letter are Ur of the Chaldeans, Mount Sinai, Mount Nebo, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, Damascus, and Athens.

          If he is able to realize his ambitions for the pilgrimage, John Paul would visit six different countries for the first time during his pontificate: Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and Greece, as well as land now governed under the Palestinian Authority. During his years as Archbishop of Krakow, current Pope visited the Holy Land twice: in 1963 and 1964. Pope Paul VI traveled to Jordan, then to Jerusalem, in 1964.

          The Pope mentions that his desire to visit sites connected with the Old Testament is an effort to underline the "inseparable" links between Christianity and Judaism. He writes that he hopes the Jubilee observance will "definitively suppress the misunderstandings" which have harmed relations between Christians and Jews over the centuries.

          The papal letter indicates that the Holy Father is most emphatic in his desire to visit the Holy Land itself, and to pray in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem-- in particular, to visit the Cenacle there. He also hopes to visit Ur in Chaldea, where Abraham heard God's call. He would like to visit both Mount Sinai in Egypt and Mount Nebo-- the latter being the place in what is now Jordan, from which Moses first looked out over the Promised Land-- but "at least" to visit the monastery of St. Catherine near Mount Sinai. And he envisions stops at Damascus, where St. Paul was converted and baptized, and Athens, where the preaching of St. Paul at the Areopagus is "a symbol of the encounter between the Gospel and human culture."

          The Pope's letter does not indicate when his pilgrimage would take place, and the Vatican has not released any dates for the visit he mentions. The Italian daily Il Messaggero reported that the trip to Iraq could take place in December 1999, while the voyage to the Holy Land-- including the visit to Jordan and Syria-- might be scheduled for March 2000. The trip to Egypt would then be scheduled for another time in the year 2000, the Messaggero story suggests.

          Describing the pilgrimage as "exclusively religious," the Pope says that he would be "pained" if anyone attempted to assign some political significance to his travels. But he does write that the trip could provide "occasions for meeting" with leaders of other religious groups-- especially Muslims-- and for efforts to promote unity among Christians.

          The Pope's letter, which is addressed to all people who "all people who are disposed to celebrate the Jubilee," encourages other Christians to make their own pilgrimages during the Holy Year. If they are unable to make an actual physical pilgrimage, he enjoins all believers to be pilgrims "through their thoughts," so that they enter more fully into the spirit of the Jubilee and the life of the Church.

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.

July 1, 1999       volume 10, no. 127


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