GENERAL AUDIENCE 2000 53
1. In the programme for this Jubilee Year we could not omit the dimension of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, as I had indicated earlier in Tertio millennio adveniente (cf. TMA 53 TMA 55). The Trinitarian and Eucharistic line we developed in our previous catecheses now prompts us to reflect on this aspect, examining first of all the problem of restoring unity among Christians. We do so in the light of the Gospel account of the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lc 24,13-35), observing the way that the two disciples who were leaving the community were spurred to reverse their direction to rediscover it.
2. The two disciples turned their backs on the place where Jesus had been crucified, because the event had been a cruel disappointment to them. For this very reason they were leaving the other disciples and returning, as it were, to individualism. "They were talking with each other about all these things that had happened" (Lc 24,14), without understanding their meaning. They did not realize that Jesus had died "to gather into one the children of God who are scattered" (Jn 11,52).
They only saw the tremendously negative aspect of the cross, which had destroyed their hopes: "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel" (Lc 24,21). The risen Jesus comes up and walks beside them, "but their eyes were kept from recognizing him" (Lc 24,16), because from the spiritual standpoint they were in the darkest shadows. Then Jesus, with wonderful patience, endeavours to bring them back into the light of faith through a long biblical catechesis: "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lc 24,27). Their hearts began to burn (cf. Lc 24,32). They begged their mysterious companion to stay with them. "When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight" (Lc 24,30-31). Thanks to the clear explanation of the Scriptures, they emerged from the gloom of incomprehension into the light of faith and were able to recognize the risen Christ "in the breaking of the bread" (Lc 24,35).
The effect of this profound change was an impulse to set out again without delay and return to Jerusalem to join "the Eleven gathered together and those who were with them" (Lc 24,33). The journey of faith had made fraternal union possible.
3. The connection between the interpretation of the word of God and the Eucharist also appears in other parts of the New Testament. In his Gospel John links this word with Eucharist, when in the discourse at Capernaum he presents Jesus recalling the gift of manna in the wilderness and reinterpreting it in a Eucharistic key (cf. Jn 6,32-58). In the Church of Jerusalem, diligent listening to the didache, that is, the apostolic teaching based on the word of God, preceded participation in the "breaking of bread" (Ac 2,42).
At Troas, when the Christians gathered around Paul "to break bread", Luke relates that the gathering began with a long speech by the Apostle (cf. Ac 20,7), which was certainly intended to nurture their faith, hope and charity. It is clear from all this that unity in faith is the necessary condition for common participation in the Eucharist.
With the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist - as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, citing St John Chrysostom (In Joh. hom., 46) - "the faithful, united with their Bishops, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh who suffered and was glorified, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And so, made "sharers of the divine nature' (2P 1,4), they enter into communion with the most holy Trinity. Hence, through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature, and through concelebration their communion with one another is made manifest" (Unitatis redintegratio UR 15). This link with the mystery of divine unity thus produces a bond of communion and love among those seated at the one table of the Word and of the Eucharist. The one table is a sign and expression of unity. "Thus Eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and its visible expression" (Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism, 1993, n. 129).
4. In this light we can understand how the doctrinal divisions between the disciples of Christ grouped in the various Churches and Ecclesial Communities limit full sacramental sharing. Baptism, however, is the deep root of a basic unity that links Christians despite their divisions. Therefore, although Christians who are still separated are excluded from participation in the same Eucharist, it is possible to introduce into the Eucharistic celebration, in specific cases provided for in the Ecumenical Directory, certain signs of participation that express the unity already existing and move in the direction of the full communion of the Churches around the table of the Word and of the Lord's Body and Blood. Consequently, "on exceptional occasions and for a just cause, the Bishop of the Diocese may permit a member of another Church or Ecclesial Community to take on the task of reader" during a Eucharistic celebration in the Catholic Church (n. 133). Likewise, "whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided", a certain reciprocity regarding the sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick is lawful between Catholics and Eastern Christians (cf. nn. 123-131).
55 5. Nevertheless, the tree of unity must grow to its full extent, as Christ implored in his great prayer in the Upper Room, proclaimed here at the start of our meeting (cf. Jn 17,20-26 Unitatis redintegratio UR 22). The limits to intercommunion at the table of the Word and of the Eucharist must become a call to purification, to dialogue and to the ecumenical progress of the Churches.
They are limits that make us feel all the more strongly, in the Eucharistic celebration itself, the weight of our divisions and contradictions. The Eucharist is thus a challenge and a summons in the very heart of the Church to remind us of Christ's intense, final desire: "that they may be one" (Jn 17,11).
The Church must not be a body of divided and suffering members, but a strong, living organism that moves onward, sustained by the divine bread as prefigured in Elijah's journey (cf. 1R 19,1-8), to the summit of the definitive encounter with God. There, at last, will be the vision of Revelation: "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Ap 21,2).
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I warmly welcome the group from the NATO Defense College: I encourage you always to see your professional duties as a service to the cause of peace. I extend a special greeting to the members of the Irish Defence Forces, the Gardaí and the Prison Service, led by the Head Chaplain. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Ireland, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The great fresco just offered to us in the Book of Revelation is filled not only with the people of Israel, symbolically represented by the 12 tribes, but also with that great multitude of nations from every land and culture, all clothed in the white robes of a luminous and blessed eternity. I begin with this evocative image to call attention to interreligious dialogue, a subject that has become very timely in our day.
All the just of the earth sing their praise to God, having reached the goal of glory after traveling the steep and tiring road of earthly life. They have passed "through the great tribulation" and have been purified by the blood of the Lamb, "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26,28).
They all share, then, in the same source of salvation which God has poured out upon humanity. For "God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (Jn 3,17).
2. Salvation is offered to all nations, as was already shown by the covenant with Noah (cf. Gn 9,8-17), testifying to the universality of God's manifestation and the human response in faith (cf. CEC 58). In Abraham, then, "all the families of the earth shall bless themselves" (Gn 12,3). They are on the way to the holy city in order to enjoy that peace which will change the face of the world, when swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks (cf. Is 2,2-5).
It is moving to read these words in Isaiah: "The Egyptians will worship [the Lord] with the Assyrians ... whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage'" (Is 19,23 Is 19,25). "The princes of the peoples", the Psalmist sings, "are gathered together with the people of the God of Abraham. For God's are the guardians of the earth; he is supreme" (Ps 47,10). Indeed, the prophet Malachi hears as it were a sigh of adoration and praise rising to God from the whole breadth of humanity: "From the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts" (Ml 1,11). The same prophet, in fact, wonders: "Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?" (Ml 2,10).
3. A certain form of faith thus begins when God is called upon, even if his face is "unknown" (cf. Ac 17,23). All humanity seeks authentic adoration of God and the fraternal communion of men and women under the influence of the "Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body" of Christ (Redemptor hominis RH 6).
In this connection St Irenaeus recalls that God established four covenants with humanity: in Adam, Noah, Moses and Christ (cf. Adversus Haereses, 3, 11, 8). The first three aim in spirit at the fullness of Christ and mark the stages of God's dialogue with his creatures, an encounter of disclosure and love, of enlightenment and grace, which the Son gathers in unity, seals in truth and brings to perfection.
4. In this light the faith of all peoples blossoms in hope. It is not yet enlightened by the fullness of revelation, which relates it to the divine promises and makes it a "theological" virtue. The sacred books of other religions, however, are open to hope to the extent that they disclose a horizon of divine communion, point to a goal of purification and salvation for history, encourage the search for truth and defend the values of life, holiness, justice, peace and freedom. With this profound striving, which withstands even human contradictions, religous experience opens people to the divine gift of charity and its demands.
The interreligious dialogue which the Second Vatican Council encouraged should be seen in this perspective (cf. Nostra aetate NAE 2). This dialogue is expressed in the common efforts of all believers for justice, solidarity and peace. It is also expressed in cultural relations, which sow the seed of idealism and transcendence on the often arid ground of politics, the economy and social welfare. It has a significant role in the religious dialogue in which Christians bear complete witness to their faith in Christ, the only Saviour of the world. By this same faith they realize that the way to the fullness of truth (cf. Jn 16,13) calls for humble listening, in order to discover and appreciate every ray of light, which is always the fruit of Christ's Spirit, from wherever it comes.
5. "The Church's mission is to foster "the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ' (Ap 11,15), at whose service she is placed. Part of her role consists in recognizing that the inchoate reality of this kingdom can be found also beyond the confines of the Church, for example, in the hearts of the followers of other religious traditions, insofar as they live evangelical values and are open to the action of the Spirit" (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Dialogue and Proclamation, n. 35). This applies especially - as the Second Vatican Council told us in the Declaration Nostra aetate - to the monotheistic religions of Judaism and Islam. In this spirit I expressed the following wish in the Bull of Indiction of the Jubilee Year: "May the Jubilee serve to advance mutual dialogue until the day when all of us together - Jews, Christians and Moslems - will exchange the greeting of peace in Jerusalem" (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 2). I thank the Lord for having given me, during my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Places, the joy of this greeting, the promise of relations marked by an ever deeper and more universal peace.
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I extend a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors, especially the Jubilee pilgrims from England and the United States of America. I pray that your visit to Rome will be a time of particular grace for you, as you are renewed in faith, hope and charity at the tombs of the Apostles. Entrusting you and your families to the protection of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, I invoke upon you all the abundant blessings of Almighty God.
1. In this Great Jubilee year, the basic theme of our catecheses has been the glory of the Trinity as revealed to us in salvation history. We have reflected on the Eucharist, the greatest celebration of Christ under the humble signs of bread and wine. Now we want to devote several catecheses to what we must do to ensure that the glory of the Trinity shines forth more fully in the world.
Our reflection begins with Mark's Gospel, where we read: "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel'" (Mc 1,14-15). These are the first words Jesus spoke to the crowd: they contain the heart of his Gospel of hope and salvation, the proclamation of God's kingdom. From that moment on, as the Evangelists note, Jesus "went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" (Mt 4,23 cf. Lc 8,1). The Apostles followed in his footsteps and with them Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, called to "preach the kingdom of God" among the nations even to the capital of the Roman Empire (cf. Ac 20,25 Ac 28,23 Ac 28,31).
2. The Gospel of the kingdom links Christ with the Sacred Scriptures that, using a royal image, celebrate God's lordship over the cosmos and history. Thus we read in the Psalter: "Say among the nations, "The Lord reigns! Yea, the world is established, it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples'" (Ps 96,10). The kingdom is thus God's effective but mysterious action in the universe and in the tangle of human events. He overcomes the resistance of evil with patience, not with arrogance and outcry.
For this reason Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but destined to become a leafy tree (cf. Mt 13,31-32), or to the seed a man scatters on the ground: "he sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, he knows not how" (Mc 4,27). The kingdom is grace, God's love for the world, the source of our serenity and trust: "Fear not, little flock", Jesus says, "for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Lc 12,32). Fears, worries and nightmares fade away, because in the person of Christ the kingdom of God is in our midst (cf. Lc 17,21).
3. But man is not a passive witness to God's entrance into history. Jesus asks us "to seek" actively "the kingdom of God and his righteousness" and to make this search our primary concern (Mt 6,33). To those who "supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately" (Lc 19,11), he prescribed an active attitude instead of passive waiting, telling them the parable of the 10 pounds to be used productively (cf. Lc 19,12-27). For his part, the Apostle Paul states that "the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness" (Rm 14,17) above all, and urges the faithul to put their members at the service of righteousness for sanctification (cf. Rm 6,13 Rm 6,19).
The human person is thus called to work with his hands, mind and heart for the coming of God's kingdom into the world. This is especially true of those who are called to the apostolate and are, as St Paul says, "fellow workers for the kingdom of God" (Col 4,11), but it is also true of every human person.
4. Those who have chosen the way of the Gospel Beatitudes and live as "the poor in spirit", detached from material goods, in order to raise up the lowly of the earth from the dust of their humiliation, will enter the kingdom of God. "Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world", James asks in his Letter, "to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?" (Jc 2,5). Those who lovingly bear the sufferings of life will enter the kingdom: "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Ac 14,22 cf. 2Th 1,4-5), where God himself "will wipe away every tear ... and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore" (Ap 21,4). The pure of heart who choose the way of righteousness, that is, conformity to the will of God, will enter the kingdom, as St Paul warns: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, ... nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1Co 6,9-10 cf. 1Co 15,50 Ep 5,5).
5. All the just of the earth, including those who do not know Christ and his Church, who, under the influence of grace, seek God with a sincere heart (cf. Lumen gentium LG 16), are thus called to build the kingdom of God by working with the Lord, who is its first and decisive builder. Therefore, we must entrust ourselves to his hands, to his Word, to his guidance, like inexperienced children who find security only in the Father: "Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child", Jesus said, "shall not enter it" (Lc 18,17).
With this thought we must make our own the petition: "Thy kingdom come!". A petition which has risen to heaven many times in human history like a great breath of hope: "May the peace of your kingdom come to us", Dante exclaimed in his paraphrase of the Our Father (Purgatorio, XI, 7). A petition which turns our gaze to Christ's return and nourishes the desire for the final coming of God's kingdom. This desire however does not distract the Church from her mission in this world, but commits her to it more strongly (cf. CEC 2818), in waiting to be able to cross the threshold of the kingdom, whose seed and beginning is the Church (cf. Lumen gentium LG 5), when it comes to the world in its fullness. Then, Peter assures us in his Second Letter, "there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2P 1,11).
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I extend a special greeting to the group of Jubilee pilgrims from Indonesia, led by Bishop Canisius Mandagi of Ambon. I welcome the various pilgrimage groups from the United States of America. Upon all of you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Apostle Paul states that "our homeland is in heaven" (Ph 3,20), but he does not conclude that we can passively wait for our entry into this homeland; rather he urges us to be actively involved. "Let us not grow weary in well-doing", he writes, "for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Ga 6,9-10).
Biblical revelation and the best philosophical wisdom agree in stressing that, on the one hand, humanity strives for the infinite and eternity but, on the other, it is firmly planted on earth, within the coordinates of time and space. There is a transcendent goal to be reached, but along a path that unfolds on earth and in history. The words of Genesis are illuminating: the human creature is tied to the dust of the earth, but at the same time he has a "breath" that unites him directly to God (cf. Gn 2,7).
2. Genesis also says that when man came forth from God's hands, he was put "in the garden of Eden, to cultivate it and care for it" (Gn 2,15). The two verbs in the original Hebrew text are used elsewhere to indicate "serving" God and "observing" his word, that is, Israel's commitment to the covenant with the Lord. This analogy seems to suggest that a primary covenant joins the Creator to Adam and to every human creature, a covenant that is fulfilled in the duty to fill the earth, subduing it and having dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and every other living thing that moves upon the earth (cf. Gn 1,28 Ps 8,7-9).
Unfortunately, man often carries out this mission assigned to him by God not as a wise artisan but as an overbearing tyrant. In the end, he finds himself in a devastated and hostile world, in a shattered and divided society, as Genesis further teaches us in the great fresco of the third chapter, which describes the breaking of the harmony between man and his fellow human beings, the earth and the Creator himself. This is the result of original sin, that is, of the rebellion which occurred at the very beginning of the plan entrusted to humanity by God.
3. Therefore, with the grace of Christ the Redeemer we must once again make our own the plan of peace and development, of justice and solidarity, of the transformation and wise use of earthly and temporal realities foreshadowed in the first pages of the Bible. We must continue humanity's great adventure in the field of science and technology, discovering nature's secrets. We must develop - through the economy, trade and social life - well-being, knowledge and victory over poverty and over every degradation of human dignity.
In a certain sense, God has delegated his creative work to man, so that it will continue both in the extraordinary feats of science and technology and in the daily commitment of workers, scholars and those who, with their minds and hands, seek to "cultivate and care for" the earth and to increase solidarity among men and women. God is not absent from his creation, but has "crowned man with glory and honour", making him so to speak his representative, through his autonomy and freedom, in the world and in history (cf. Ps 8,6-7).
60 4. As the Psalmist says, in the morning "man goes forth to his work and to his labour until the evening" (Ps 104,23). In his parables Christ also refers to this work of man and woman in fields and at sea, in homes and at meetings, in law courts and in the market place. He uses it to illustrate symbolically the mystery of the kingdom of God and of its gradual realization, although he knows that this work is often frustrated by evil and sin, by selfishness and injustice. The mysterious presence of the kingdom in history sustains and enlivens the Christian's commitment to his earthly tasks.
Involved in this work and in this struggle, Christians are called to cooperate with the Creator to build on earth a "home for man" in greater conformity with his dignity and the divine plan, a home in which "mercy and faithfulness shall meet, justice and peace shall embrace" (Ps 85,11).
5. In this light, I would once again like to offer for your meditation the passages in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (cf. chapters III and IV) which the Second Vatican Council devoted to "man's activity in the universe" and to "the role of the Church in the modern world". "To believers", the Council teaches, "one thing is certain: individual and collective activity, that monumental effort of man through the centuries to improve the circumstances of the world, presents no problem: considered in itself, it corresponds to the plan of God" (Gaudium et spes GS 34).
The complexity of modern society makes ever more arduous the commitment to animate the political, cultural, economic and technological structures, which are often soulless. In this difficult but promising horizon, the Church is called to recognize the autonomy of earthly realities (cf. Gaudium et spes GS 36), and also effectively to proclaim "the priority of ethics over techniques, the primacy of the person over things, the superiority of the spirit over matter" (Congregation for Catholic Education, Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests, 30 December 1988, n. 44). Only in this way will Paul's prediction be fulfilled: "Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God ... who subjected it in hope; because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rm 8,19-21).
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I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Northern Ireland and the United States of America. I pray that the Advent Season will be a time of particular grace for you, as you prepare in faith, hope and charity for the celebration of the Two Thousandth Anniversary of the Saviour’s birth. Entrusting you and your families to the protection of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, I invoke upon you abundant divine blessings.
1. "Come, Key of David, opening the gates of God's eternal kingdom: free the prisoners of darkness".
We pray this invocation in today's liturgy which invites us to turn our gaze to the One who is born to redeem humanity. We are now on the threshold of Christmas and the entreaty of the expectant people grows more intense: "Come, Lord Jesus", come and free "the prisoners of darkness"!
We are preparing to commemorate the event that is at the heart of the history of salvation: the birth of the Son of God, who came to dwell among us to redeem every human creature by his death on the Cross. The Easter mystery is already present in the mystery of Christmas; in the night of Bethlehem we already glimpse the Easter Vigil. The light that illuminates the grotto directs us to the brightness of the risen Christ who overcomes the darkness of the tomb.
This Christmas, then, is a special one, the Christmas of the 2,000th anniversary of Christ: an important "birthday", which we have celebrated with the Jubilee Year, meditating on the extraordinary event of the eternal Word made man for our salvation. We are preparing to relive the imminent Christmas celebrations with renewed faith, to receive the fullness of their spiritual message.
2. At Christmas, we naturally think of Bethlehem: "But you", says the prophet Micah, "O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel" (Mi 5,1). These words are echoed by the Evangelist Matthew. To the Magi, who want King Herod to tell them "where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" (Mt 2,2), the high priests and the scribes of the people communicate what the ancient prophet wrote of Bethlehem: "from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel" (Mt 2,6).
The Church of the East prays thus in the Office of the Orthros for the solemnity of Christmas: "Bethlehem, make ready; sing, city of Zion; exult, wilderness that has attracted joy: the star moves to show the Christ, who is about to be born in Bethlehem; a grotto welcomes the One whom absolutely nothing can contain, and a manger is prepared to receive eternal life" (Stichirá idiómela, Anthologion).
3. During these days, Bethlehem becomes the place on which all believers focus their eyes. The representations of the nativity scene, which popular tradition has spread to every corner of the earth, help us to reflect better on the message which continues to radiate from Bethlehem for all humanity. In a poor grotto, we contemplate a God who for love makes himself a child. He gives joy to those who welcome him and reconciliation and peace to the peoples. The Great Jubilee, which we are celebrating, invites us to open our hearts to the One who unlocks "the gates of the kingdom of heaven" for us.
Preparing ourselves to receive him requires first and foremost an attitude of intense and trusting prayer. Making room for him in our hearts demands a serious commitment to convert to his love.
It is he who frees us from the shadow of evil and asks us to make a concrete contribution so that his plan of salvation can be carried out. The prophet Isaiah describes it with vivid images: "the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, / and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. / Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, / and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. / And the effect of righteousness will be peace, / and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever" (Is 32,15-17).
This is the gift we must implore with prayerful trust, this is the project we are called to make our own with constant concern! In my Message to believers and to people of good will for the forthcoming World Day of Peace, I pointed out that "on the path to better understanding among peoples there remain many challenges which the world must face" (n. 18), and I therefore recalled that "everyone must feel the moral duty to take concrete and timely steps to promote the cause of peace and understanding among peoples" (ibid.).
May Christmas revive in everyone the will to become an active and courageous builder of the civilization of love. It is only thanks to everyone's contribution that Micah's prophecy and the proclamation which rang out on the night of Bethlehem will bear their fruit and that it will be possible to live our Christian Christmas to the full.
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I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present. As we prepare for the coming of Christ, I ask Almighty God to bless you and your families with his gifts of joy and peace. I wish you all a happy and blessed Christmas!
GENERAL AUDIENCE 2000 53