Siedlce is a place of painful memories. During the Second World War, this region witnessed the Nazi deportation of 15,000 Jews to extermination camps, which the Holy Father mentioned at the end of the Mass. Siedlce was also the scene of forced labor camps for Poles and Soviet prisoners of war, many of whom were later killed.
The martyrs for whom the Pope celebrated Mass were thirteen Greek Catholic laymen, rural workers from Pratulin, shot by the Russians in 1874, while they defended their local Church, even though they were unarmed. Tsarist policy forced the handing over of the Church to the Orthodox.
The papal Mass was enriched by Eastern ornaments and hymns. 400,000 faithful attended, including several thousands of the Byzantine rite, who arrived from neighboring Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania.
"More than ever now there is a need for a genuine witness of faith, made visible through the life of the lay disciples of Christ, men and women, young and old," he stated. "There is a need for committed witness to fidelity to the Church and responsibility towards the Church, which for twenty centuries has brought salvation to every people and nation, announcing the immutable teaching of the Gospel."
This commitment is especially necessary for youth, who often feel lost and wounded in the world. "Some fall victim to sects and travesties of religion, or to manipulations of the truth. Others succumb to different forms of slavery. Attitudes of selfishness, injustice and insensitivity to the needs of others become more widespread," noted the Pope.
Addressing the laity directly, the Pope said: "Through you, Christ wants to act in the power of his Spirit." John Paul II encouraged the work of Catholic Action and of the various ecclesial movements and communities. "It is a new breathing of the Holy Spirit upon our fatherland," he said.
There were two recurring themes in this homily: "witness" and "fidelity."
In the afternoon, John Paul II visited Drohiczyn, a city on the Byelorussian border with 90,000 Orthodox faithful and one thousand Protestants. Here he presided over an ecumenical liturgy. Later, he arrived in Warsaw where tomorrow he will spend a particularly intense and important day. The Pontiff will visit Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski, and meet with the Polish Parliament in its chambers, which he has never done on previous trips. ZE99061004
The sixth day of the papal trip saw him in Siedlce, in the region between Warsaw and the border of Belarus. There the Pope spoke to Eastern-rite Catholics of the Polish and Ukrainian Catholic communities. The choice of location for the Pope's address was significant; Siedlce is not far from Brest, the Belarusian town made famous by the Union of Brest, which in 1596 brought many Byzantine Christians back into full communion with the Holy See. The Pope concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Ivan Martyniak, the Ukrainian Catholic metropolitan, and other Eastern Catholic bishops, for a congregation estimated at 500,000.
During his homily the Holy Father recalled an event that is dear to the memory of the Byzantine Catholics of the region: the beatification of 30 martyrs from nearby Pratulin. Those martyrs were brought before a Russian firing squad in 1874, after they defied an order from the Tsar suppressing the Eastern-rite Catholic churches. Eastern Catholics of the 20th century have shown "the same spirit" of "fidelity to the Church," the Pope said, pointing to the endurance of the Ukrainian Catholic Church despite Communist prohibitions. Today, he continued, the world needs "the same authentic witness of faith" on the part of Christian laymen. The Pontiff said that such witness could "transform the world in the spirit of the Gospel," and have a particularly powerful effect on "the vast and complicated world of politics."
On Thursday afternoon the Pope traveled to Drohiczyn, closer to the Belarus border, for an ecumenical service with Orthodox, Lutherans, and other Christian religious groups. The Pope's plea was for an "examination of conscience" in which all Christian believers took stock of their own efforts to build up the unity of the Church, and their own responsibility for the divisions within the body of the faithful.
"It is not the first time I come to this lake, but it is the first time I come as Pope," said the Pontiff, who will preside today a Mass in Siedcle. Yesterday was the only day that didn't have any public events scheduled.
The Pontiff stayed at the old Camaldolese monastery of Wigry, which was constructed in the year 1668. The Wigry Lake, 17,5 kms long and 3,5 wide, is the largest of the 41 lakes in the recently instituted Wigierski National Park, and is one of the largest and deepest in Poland.
From Poland, where he is traveling with John Paul II, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Holy See's spokesman, expressed "sincere gratitude" to those who have worked so hard for this outcome.
"This is the time to acknowledge all the different international initiatives which have made this new phase possible, and to encourage Europe, which has waited for so long, to take on the responsibility for the reconstruction of the democratic, social and economic life of the region," he stated in a press release.
Navarro-Valls went on to say that "a fundamental priority is the refugees' return home in safe conditions," an "indispensable" guarantee.
The solution to the conflict came about exactly the way the Holy See proposed from the beginning: negotiations at the U.N. headquarters with the cooperation of all those involved, especially Russia.
Over the past two months, John Paul II never ceased in his efforts to remove obstacles which impeded the climate necessary for negotiations. He had meetings and contacts with all the persons directly implicated in the conflict. On June 3, he met with Kofi Annan to request that the U.N. fulfill its role in the conflict; on Holy Thursday he sent his Secretary for Relations with States to try to bring about a "yes" to an agreement from Slobodan Milosevic.
The Holy Father also wrote letters to U.S. President Bill Clinton, and to NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. The Vatican further received the Russian mediators and, on several occasions, met with the ambassadors of all the countries involved. The Holy See's apostolic nunciature in Belgrade, directed by Archbishop Santos Abril, became a place of trust and neutral meetings for the ambassadors of all the countries with diplomatic accreditation in Belgrade.
Meanwhile regarding the future of Slobodan Milosevic, the director of Vatican Radio, Fr. Pasquale Borgomeo, who is traveling with the Pope in Poland, expressed his happiness over peace in the Balkans, but he did not hide his reservations. In commenting on the definitive peace agreement signed by representatives of NATO and Yugoslavia on the night of June 9, Fr. Borgomeo said "it is a peace full of possibilities and hopes, but also full of problems."
The Pastrana government hopes that the guerrillas will also release nine members of the Barranquilla Fishing Club, captured last Sunday while fishing in two boats on the Magdalena river.
The agreements for release were made thanks to the efforts of the Church in Colombia and the Holy See itself. According to the Colombian newspaper 'El Espectador,' Nicolas Rodriguez "Gabino," the leader of the NLA, traveled to Rome to meet a Vatican personality whose identity has not been disclosed. Also present at the meeting was Bernard Schmidbauer, minister of Security of the previous German administration (presently a Social Christian representative in his country's Parliament). The Holy See has neither confirmed nor denied this information.
President Andres Pastrana has confirmed that his government has had contacts with the NLA's central commander, known as Coce, to obtain the release of the hostages, and he announced the establishment of a commission that will discuss the conditions of the release. One of these is the return of communications equipment belonging to the insurgents' spokesmen, who are incarcerated in the Itaguí jail.
On June 2, John Paul II described the interruption of the guerrillas during "the celebration of Mass" as "sacrilegious." They kidnapped 140 faithful, including the priest. The Pope has also requested the release of the Avianca hostages, kidnapped on April 12 during a Bucaramanga to Bogota flight.
The guerrillas have chosen Bishop Victor Lopez of Bucaramanga, as "good will emissary" to help in the release of the hostages, planned for this weekend in the city of San Antonio, Colombia.
In addition to Bishop Lopez, delegates from the governments of Germany, Spain and Venezuela, as well as Juan Uribe, President Pastrana's political adviser, will witness the release. ZE99061005
Mayor Ramez Jeraisi and his driver were attacked outside City Hall where several dozen Muslims were protesting a stalemate over land claimed by the Islamic Trust for a mosque, but designated by the government for a Millennium Square to celebrate the Jubilee Year near the Church of the Annunciation. The driver was hospitalized after being struck in the head with a shovel.
Tension began last November when the Islamic Movement gained a majority on the City Council. Jeraisi has only convened the council once even though the law requires monthly meetings, prompting critics to say he is trying to neutralize the Islamic political voice. On Easter, Muslims and Christians clashed in the streets, and on Wednesday, the Muslim protesters clashed with city workers outside City Hall.
The editor of the Vatican newspaper finds that figure exaggerated. "In fact, even public opinion has raised its voice in disagreement: it is an offense to the poor; it makes no sense in a country where up until a few months ago the people were being asked to make sacrifices for entry into the European Union. It is unworthy when, not far from Italy, the drama of hundreds of thousands of refugees, forced to live in misery and great uncertainty, unfolds."
In this instance, "the voice of the people expresses very well how this millionaire's soccer game is distancing itself from the people," the article states.
"But, given this perspective, what remains of football, or rather, of the ideals and values that the sport fomented?" asks the column. "Events of this kind do not educate, ... [They are] an insidious attempt on the sport and the values it represents."
L'Osservatore Romano concludes by showing how ethics and the market cannot be separated, since "the market rules by themselves are insufficient." Moreover, "to make an evaluation from the ethical point of view does not mean to moralize but simply to ask if it is just and acceptable." ZE99061008
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