VATICAN CITY ( - "We expect 500 million pilgrims throughout the world for the celebration of the Great Jubilee Year 2000," said Cardinal Giovanni Cheli as he released a new Vatican pastoral letter entitled: "Pilgrimages in the Great Jubilee Year 2000."

      The document was prepared by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerants, which also oversees the world of tourism. It is signed by Cardinal Cheli, president of the council, and Bishop Francesco Gioia, the secretary. It was presented on Tuesday at the Vatican during a press conference. The letter contains in six chapters: The pilgrimage of Israel; The pilgrimage of Christ; The pilgrimage of the Church; The pilgrimage for the Third Millennium; The pilgrimage of humanity; The Christian pilgrimage today.

      Pope John Paul II has in the past said he desired that this Great Jubilee can be celebrated in all the local Churches throughout the world and not only in Rome. The unique character of the Year 2000 Jubilee of the Birth of Christ will give a "new impetus" to the pilgrimages in the five continents: the documents estimates that 500 million Catholics throughout the world will travel to a pilgrimage shrine for the occasion.

      The document recalls that the Christian pilgrimage, the pilgrimage of the Church, itself falls under the biblical tradition of pilgrimage in the Old Testament, from the migration of Abraham to the pilgrimage which Jesus of Nazareth took part in during his childhood, according to the Gospel of Luke. The bishop emphasized the importance of always putting the pilgrimage in relation to these spiritual origins, and said that the pilgrimage is thus conceived to be full of "richness of prayer, of conversion." This foundation in the Bible and in Christ marks the character of the Christian pilgrimage compared to the other religious pilgrimages, the document's authors said.

      The estimated number of pilgrims noted by the Council ("We cannot guarantee exactitude," said Bishop Gioia), for the largest shrines in 1996 in Italy are:
- Rome: 7 million
- Assisi, Loretto, San Giovanni Rotondo (Padre Pio): 5 million
- Padua (the tomb of St. Anthony): 4.5 million
- Pompeii (Our Lady of the Rosary): 2 million

      Italy has another 30,000 churches with historic value, 1,500 shrines, 4,000 monasteries, and 700 diocesan museums.

      The number of pilgrims for the shrines on different continents for 1996 were:
- Our Lady of Aparecida (Brazil): 5.8 million - Lourdes: 5.5 million
- Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland): 4 million, 80% of them young people, 200,000 of them traveling by foot over 600 km.
- Our Lady of Lujan (Argentina): 1 million, the majority of them youth.

      Cardinal Cheli, questioned by a journalist, acknowledged that Medjugorje in Bosnia is currently a significant place of pilgrimage, as mentioned in an interview granted to Vatican Radio.

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April 29, 1998 volume 9, no. 83         DAILY CATHOLIC