DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     November 15, 1999     vol. 10, no. 216


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      Today, we bring you the words from His Holiness Pope John Paul II from last Wednesday November 17 on the third Wednesday of November during his weekly Wednesday Papal Audience at St. Peter's Square where the Holy Father paused to reflect on his recent trip East to India and to Georgia , extolling great hope for what is on the horizon for Asia, including India and Georgia. He pinpointed the enthusiasm and faith of the people who are at the crossroads on the eve of a new millennium. The full English text was translated and provided by ZENIT news agency, article ZE99111720.

Crossroads on the eve of the new millennium

Papal Audience Address from Wednesday, October 17, 1999

        On this past Wednesday, the Holy Father addressed over 12,000 in St. Peter's Square in recalling the fruits of his trip last week to India to officially close the Asian Synod and then to Georgia where he met with the Orthodox Patriarch in efforts to reconcile between East and West in the country that stands at the crossroads between East and West.

      Dear Brothers and Sisters,

          I would like today to pause over my recent visit to India and Georgia. Recalling this trip offers me the opportunity to thank first of all the Heavenly Father, "for whom and through whom all things exist" (Hebrews 2:10). With his help, I was able to accomplish this task of my service to the Gospel and to the cause of Christian unity.

          The first stop on my spiritual pilgrimage was the city of New Delhi in India, for the signing and promulgation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, "Ecclesia in Asia". In this document I harvested the fruit of the study and proposals of the Special Assembly for the Synod of Bishops for Asia, which took place in Rome in 1998. India is the cradle of ancient cultures, religions and spiritual traditions, that are continuing to mold the lives of millions of people, in a social context characterized by centuries of a notable degree of reciprocal tolerance. Christianity, which accounts for a considerable part of this history of peaceful relations, has been there since the preaching of the apostle Thomas, according to the Christians of Southern India.

          Today this spirit of reciprocal respect has for some become difficult. It was therefore important to reaffirm the lively desire of the Church for a fruitful dialogue among the followers of all religions, that they may bring renewed relations of understanding and of solidarity to the service of the entire human family.

      2. The synodal document "Ecclesia in Asia" helps us to understand that this interreligious dialogue and the mandate of the Church to spread the Gospel unto the ends of the earth are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary, complementary. On the one hand, the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ must always be deeply respectful of the consciences of those hearing it, and respectful of all that is good and holy in the culture and religious tradition to which they belong (cf "Nostra Aetate", 2). On the other hand, freedom of conscience and the free exercise of religion in society are fundamental human rights, rooted in the innate value and dignity of every person. This is recognized in many international documents and accords, including the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man.

          I warmly recall the Mass that I concelebrated with numerous Bishops of India and of many countries of Asia in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Sunday, November 7th. Once again I thank Archbishop Alan de Lastic and the Archdiocese of Delhi for their organization of the solemn liturgy, marked by lively and devout participation, and vivified by carefully chosen songs and multicolored traditional, local dances. The theme of the Mass was: "Jesus Christ, True Light of the World, Made Flesh on Asian Soil". In this Eucharistic celebration the Catholic community of India represented, in a certain sense, all Asian Catholics, to whom I have entrusted the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Asia" as a guide for their spiritual growth, on the threshold of the new millennium. I am certain that, with the grace of God, they will know how to be strong and faithful!

      3. The second stop on my journey was Georgia, in order to return the visit that President Shevardnadze and His Holiness Ilia II, Patriarch-Catholicos of Georgia, had made earlier to Rome. It was my ardent desire to honor the witness of the Georgian Church over the centuries, and to make new points of contact among the Christians so that, as we begin the third Christian millennium, they will be able to strive together to proclaim the Gospel with one heart and one soul to the world.

          Georgia is going through a very important period. While it is preparing to celebrate 3,000 years of its history in a context of refound independence, it is facing great economical and social challenges. However, it is determined to confront these challenges with courage, and to become a reliable member of a united Europe. Christian Georgia has a millenarian and glorious history. It began in the fourth century when the witness of a woman, Saint Nino, converted King Mirian and the entire nation to Christ. From that time on, a flowering monastic tradition gave to this land lasting monuments of culture, civilization and religious architecture. An example is the Cathedral of Mtsketa, which I was able to visit in the company of the Patriarch-Catholicos after our warm, personal meeting.

      4. And now, after seventy years of communist repression during which many Orthodox and Catholic martyrs gave heroic witness to their faith, the little but fervent Catholic community of Caucasus is progressively strengthening its life and structure. The joy that I observed among the priests, religious and laity, who gathered in unexpected numbers for the Mass in Tbilisi Stadium, is a sign of sure hope for the Church's future throughout the region. Our meeting in the Church of SS. Peter and Paul in Tbilisi, the only Catholic church which remained open during the time of totalitarianism, was a particularly joyous occasion. I pray that the Catholics of Georgia may always be able to offer their specific contribution to the building up of their homeland.

          An intense moment of reflection was the meeting with men and women of the worlds of the culture, science and art, presided over by President Shevardnadze and deepened by the presence of the Patriarch-Catholicos, to reflect on the specific vocation of Georgia, at the crossroads of East and West. As I recalled during this meeting, the century that is about to conclude, marked by many shadows but also characterized by light, bears witness to the indomitable strength of the human spirit, which is able to triumph over those who would suffocate the irrevocable aspiration of man toward truth and liberty.

      5. I thank the civil authorities and those in both countries who worked to make this a profitable and peaceful visit. With a moved and grateful heart I think of the bishops, priests, religious and laity of India and Georgia, and I keep an unforgettable memory of them all.

          To Mary, Mother of the Church, I entrust those whom I met; to Her I recommend the Church in Asia and in Caucasus, "confiding fully in her ear that always hears, in her heart that always accepts, in her prayer that never fails" ("Ecclesia in Asia", 51).

November 22, 1999       volume 10, no. 221


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