GENERAL AUDIENCE 1997 22
1. Sanctus Deus, Sanctus fortis, Sanctus immortalis — miserere nobis.
“Holy God, holy and powerful, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.
From pestilence, hunger and war, deliver us, Lord.
From sudden death, deliver us Lord.
Sinners, we implore you, hear us, Lord.
Jesus, forgive us. Jesus hear us. Jesus have mercy on us.
Mother, beseech. Mother, implore. Mother, intercede for us.
All you saints of God, intercede for us”.
These invocations, dear to the Christian people, accompanied me during my journey to Sarajevo, my stay in that city and my meeting with the Christian community living there. The words “symbolic city” recurred several times. In fact, Sarajevo is the symbol of the European crises. From there the First World War broke out in 1914 and, towards the end of the century, Sarajevo once again has become the symbol of the tragic and senseless war that divided the Southern Slavs, the former Yugoslav nations, causing huge numbers of human victims. That is why Sarajevo has become the city of cemeteries. Next to the stadium where I was able to preside at the Eucharistic celebration on Sunday, 13 April, cemeteries can be clearly seen with the still fresh graves of the victims of the recent conflict. How can we forget that in recent years, almost every day we have been shown heart-rending pictures of mothers or young people kneeling at the graves of their husbands, fathers or fiancés? That is why I wanted forcefully to repeat in Sarajevo what Paul VI said many times, and I myself had stressed in my Message to the Secretary-General of the United Nations: “No more war! Never again!” (Insegnamenti XVI/1, 1993, 564; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 17 March 1993, p. 1).
“From pestilence, hunger and war, deliver us, Lord”.
2. The idea of visiting Sarajevo came to mind several years ago, when warfare was rapidly spreading in that region. I longed to go to that city and I did everything in my power to do so. But since every effort was in vain, I repeatedly organized meetings of prayer and petition in Rome, Castel Gandolfo and Assisi, invoking peace for those tormented lands. I wanted such fervent prayers to show our brothers and sisters in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Christians or Muslims, Croats or Serbs — that they were not alone: that we were with them and that we would continue to be with them until peace returned to their country. The inhabitants of Sarajevo remembered all this and several times during my visit they told me so. They knew that the Church, not only in Europe but throughout the world, was with them; they knew that they had not been abandoned. And this certainly gave them moral support.
The Church’s persevering solidarity was also shown in the elevation of my venerable Brother Vinko Puljiae, Archbishop of Sarajevo, to the rank of Cardinal in the Consistory of 1994.
During the visit I wanted to stress this ecclesial communion by also meeting the other Bishops of Bosnia-Hercegovina: Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka, and Bishop Ratko Periae of Mostar-Duvno.
Pilgrimages of the faithful to the Marian shrines in Bosnia-Hercegovina and in many other parts of the world, especially in Loreto, continued throughout the war to ask the Mother of nations and the Queen of peace to intercede so that peace would be restored to that tormented region.
“Mother, beseech! Mother, implore! Mother, intercede for us! All you saints of God, intercede for us!”
24 3. My entire Pastoral Visit to Sarajevo was marked precisely by this incessant prayer for peace, from Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon, 12-13 April. Every stage of the programme intended to emphasize one principal message: hope. From my arrival at the airport to the meeting in the cathedral of Sarajevo with the Bishops, clergy and religious, to the highlight of the visit, which was the Mass concelebrated with the Cardinals, Bishops and priests of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the other States of the former Yugoslavia, and of many countries in Europe and the world, I wanted to bring words of hope to the inhabitants of the city and of the entire country. After the painful experience of the war, which caused injustices and has left revenge and hatred in its wake, hope takes the concrete form of forgiveness and reconciliation. I urged all the ethnic and religious communities of Bosnia-Hercegovina, profoundly marked by suffering, to forgive and be reconciled, and I have prayed that they will be able to say to one another: “We forgive and we ask for forgiveness”. Reconciliation and dialogue is the only way to lasting peace.
At the meeting with the clergy I could not refrain from mentioning the particular merits of the Franciscan Order in the evangelization of that country, especially under Ottoman rule, and at the same time I urged all diocesan clergy and religious to work together in solidarity under the guidance of their own Bishops. In my homilies and speeches I wanted to thank those who have supported me in various ways and continue to support the suffering peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Nor did I neglect to appeal to the political, economic and military authorities of Europe not to forget the urgent needs of that country, so tried by the war.
During Mass in the stadium of Sarajevo, the Liturgy of the Word for the Third Sunday of Easter presented to us Christ, our advocate before God. Sarajevo, Christ is your advocate in a very special way! He is your advocate, all you nations that once belonged to the Yugoslav Federation. He is your advocate, dear European continent; he is your advocate, peoples of the earth!
Peace, which is born of reconciliation and forgiveness, is the essential concern of every believer. This spirit of unity, forgiveness and reconciliation in the light of faith gave a special eloquence to the meetings I had with the representatives of the Orthodox Church and of the Muslim and Jewish communities. I wished to award the Pope John XXIII International Peace Prize to the humanitarian organizations of the Episcopal Conference’s Caritas, the Muslim Merhamet, the Serbian Orthodox Dobrotvor and the Jewish La Benevolencjia —which are particularly praiseworthy for their assistance to the war victims.
4. Lastly, I would like to thank the authorities of Bosnia-Hercegovina for their invitation to visit Sarajevo and for all they did during my visit. Following a peace treaty, Bosnia-Hercegovina has been placed under the authority of a specific triumvirate: governed by three presidents, one of whom represents the Muslim community, another the Orthodox Serbs, while the third represents the Catholic community consisting particularly of Croats. I had the opportunity to meet this triumvirate and to discuss with each president the issues most important for the country at the present time. Through the President of the triumvirate, Mr Izetbegoviae, I express my feelings of gratitude to all. We will take pains to carry out the desires expressed in the discussions with regard to the Apostolic See, so as to continue to serve the good of these sorely tried people.
“Jesus, forgive us. Jesus hear us. Jesus have mercy on us.
Mother, beseech. Mother, implore. Mother, intercede for us.
All you saints of God, intercede for us”.
With these petitions I end my reflection, beseeching God yet again: “Deliver us, Lord, from pestilence, hunger and war!”.
Let us give thanks for the peace which has finally been achieved and let us pray that it will last. Let us pray that people will never again yield to the dangerous temptation to solve important problems between individuals and nations by armed conflict. May they be resolved only through dialogue and agreement.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, the Holy Father said:
I extend a warm welcome to the pilgrimage group from the Diocese of Portsmouth. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Australia, Japan, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. After recalling the presence of Mary and the other women at the Lord’s cross, St John relates: “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’. Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (Jn 19,26-27).
These particularly moving words are a “revelation scene”: they reveal the deep sentiments of the dying Christ and contain a great wealth of meaning for Christian faith and spirituality. At the end of his earthly life, as he addressed his Mother and the disciple he loved, the crucified Messiah establishes a new relationship of love between Mary and Christians.
Interpreted at times as no more than an expression of Jesus’ filial piety towards his Mother whom he entrusts for the future to his beloved disciple, these words go far beyond the contingent need to solve a family problem. In fact, attentive consideration of the text, confirmed by the interpretation of many Fathers and by common ecclesial opinion, presents us, in Jesus’ twofold entrustment, with one of the most important events for understanding the Virgin’s role in the economy of salvaion.
The words of the dying Jesus actually show that his first intention was not to entrust his Mother to John, but to entrust the disciple to Mary and to give her a new maternal role. Moreover, the epithet “woman”, also used by Jesus at the wedding in Cana to lead Mary to a new dimension of her existence as Mother, shows how the Saviour’s words are not the fruit of a simple sentiment of filial affection but are meant to be put at a higher level.
2. Although Jesus' death causes Mary deep sorrow, it does not in itself change her normal way of life: in fact, in departing from Nazareth to start his public life, Jesus had already left his Mother alone. Moreover, the presence at the Cross of her relative, Mary of Clopas, allows us to suppose that the Blessed Virgin was on good terms with her family and realtives, by whom she could have been welcomed after her Son’s death.
Instead, Jesus’ words acquire their most authentic meaning in the context of his saving mission. Spoken at the moment of the redemptive sacrifice, they draw their loftiest value precisely from this sublime circumstance. In fact, after Jesus' statements to his Mother, the Evangelist adds a significant clause: “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished....” (Jn 19,28), as if he wished to stress that he had brought his sacrifice to completion by entrusting his Mother to John, and in him to all men, whose Mother she becomes in the work of salvation.
3. The reality brought about by Jesus' words, that is, Mary's new motherhood in relation to the disciple, is a further sign of the great love that led Jesus to offer his life for all people. On Calvary this love is shown in the gift of a mother, his mother, who thus becomes our mother too.
We must remember that, according to tradition, it is John whom the Blessed Virgin in fact recognized as her son; but this privilege has been interpreted by Christians from the beginning as the sign of a spiritual generation in relation to all humanity.
The universal motherhood of Mary, the “Woman” of the wedding at Cana and of Calvary, recalls Eve, “mother of all living ” (Gn 3,20). However, while the latter helped to bring sin into the world, the new Eve, Mary, co-operates in the saving event of Redemption. Thus in the Blessed Virgin the figure of “woman” is rehabilitated and her motherhood takes up the task of spreading the new life in Christ among men.
In view of this mission, the Mother is asked to make the acutely painful sacrifice of accepting her only Son’s death. Jesus’ words: “Woman, behold your son” enable Mary to sense the new maternal relationship which was to extend and broaden the preceding one. Her “yes” to this plan is therefore an assent to Christ’s sacrifice, which she generously accepts by complying with the divine will. Even if in God’s plan Mary’s motherhood was destined from the start to extend to all humanity, only on Calvary, by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, is its universal dimension revealed.
Jesus’ words, “Behold, your son”, effect what they express, making Mary the mother of John and of all the disciples destined to receive the gift of divine grace.
26 4. On the Cross Jesus did not proclaim Mary’s universal motherhood formally, but established a concrete maternal relationship between her and the beloved disciple. In the Lord’s choice we can see his concern that this motherhood should not be interpreted in a vague way, but should point to Mary’s intense, personal relationship with individual Christians.
May each one of us, precisely through the concrete reality of Mary’s universal motherhood, fully acknowledge her as our own Mother, and trustingly commend ourselves to her maternal love.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, the Holy Father said:
I offer a cordial greeting to the students and teachers from the Lutheran Church of Norway. I also thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from England, Scotland, Botswana, Korea, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our risen Saviour.
The Holy Father again appealed for peace in Zaire:
Once again my affectionate yet sorrowful thoughts turn to Zaire and all its people, who continue to suffer even in this Easter season, which should be a time of joy.
I insistently ask all the parties involved in the conflict to agree to honest dialogue and real negotiations, co-operating with the international community’s efforts so that hostilities may be brought to an end as soon as possible and the path to authentic democracy may be taken up again. Only in this way will so many innocent people be spared further and graver suffering!
I would like to call everyone’s attention to the tragedy of the Rwandan refugees, which seems never-ending: I beg that they may be provided with the aid they need! I ask that their repatriation in dignity, safety and justice be facilitated, and that no obstacles or hindrance interrupt the plans arranged for this purpose!
Let us raise our unanimous prayer to the risen Christ, victor over hatred and death, that the peace he intends to give as an Easter gift to Zaire and all humanity may be welcomed by renewed and reconciled hearts.
1. “St Adalbert, our patron, protector of our land, pray for us!”. These words and the melody to which they are sung have accompanied me during my visit to the Czech Republic to mark the millennium of St Adalbert’s death.
St Adalbert, a descendant of the princely family of the Slavníks, was born in 956 in Libice, today part of the Diocese of Hradec Králové. He became a Bishop at an early age and was the first Czech to occupy the episcopal see of Prague. However, his pastoral ministry proved so difficult that after a short time he was obliged to leave the city. He came to Rome and became a Benedictine here on the Aventine. The Bishop-monk, obedient to the Apostolic See, declared he was always ready to return to Prague should the Pope ask him. When the situation in Prague had somewhat improved the Successor of Peter asked him to return to his homeland. He obeyed. But it was a temporary improvement. Bishop Adallbert was once again expelled. He then left as a missionary to proclaim Christ to peoples who did not yet know him.
He first spent a time on the plains of Pannonia, today part of Hungary; then, at the invitation of King Boleslaw the Brave, he stayed at his court. Through the Gate of Moravia he went to Gniezno, not only to take advantage of the king’s hospitality, but to undertake further missionary work. This time the mission took him to the coasts of the Baltic Sea, with the prospect of proclaiming Christ to pagan Prussia. And it was precisely on the Baltic that he met his death by martyrdom, as John Canaparius emphasizes in the office of his liturgical memorial. King Boleslaw the Brave ransomed the martyr’s body at a high price and brought his relics to Gniezno.
At that time, in the Christian Middle Ages, the relics of martyrs were highly valued by the civil community as well. And so it was for St Adalbert. Thanks to his relics, in 1000 the first Polish metropolitan see was established in Gniezno, and the Poland of the Piasts entered the family of nations and European states. St Adalbert’s martyrdom became the foundation of Church and State in the Piast lands. Today, in addition to Gniezno, the relics of this holy martyr are found in Prague in the cathedral of Sts Vitus, Wenceslaus and Adalbert.
2. It was right that, before accepting my invitation from the Polish Bishops to go to Gniezno, I went to the Czech Republic. “St Adalbert, our patron, protector of our homeland, pray for us!”.
Without doubt St Adalbert’s first homeland is Bohemia, especially the town of Libice, where he was born and where the family seat of the Slavník princes still stands. St Adalbert's first homeland, his native land and the place where he received Baptism from his parents was, as is logical, the first destination of my Pastoral Visit to mark the millennium. It can be said that Poland was his second homeland, the land where he received his second baptism, martyrdom, by which he was born into the heavenly homeland, the destination of his heroic pilgrimage during the 41 years of his earthly life. He became a Bishop at a young age, and at a young age he was ready for the kingdom of heaven.
After 1,000 years, his personal journey, the way of a martyr, patron of Bohemia and Poland, also has great importance for us believers and for all humanity, who are pilgrims on earth. Through St Adalbert’s earthly itinerarium, through his martyrdom, we can reread the spiritual history of the whole European continent and in particular of Central Europe. This is the purpose of the millennium celebrations, which have gathered Bishops representing every European nation, all aware of St Adalbert’s significance in Europe's spiritual history.
Once again I warmly thank the State authorities and the Bishops of the Czech Republic for their invitation to take part in the celebrations for St Adalbert’s millennium. I thank President Václav Havel for his words, which have clearly interpreted the significance of the great Bishop’s mission. I thank Cardinal Miloslav Vlk and all the Bishops of the Czech Republic for organizing the celebrations for the millennium.
28 At this point, how can I fail to remember the late Cardinal František Tomášek, whose tomb I was able to visit in the cathedral of Prague? Indeed, he was responsible for the “Decade of Spiritual Renewal” for the millennium of St Adalbert’s death. I would also like to thank Bishop Karel Otèenášek, dean of the Czech Episcopacy, who organized the celebrations in his Diocese, Hradec Králové, where St Adalbert was born. How appropriate it was that the young people of Bohemia and Moravia and the neighbouring countries, in a certain sense representing the youth of all Europe, gathered for Mass precisely in the place associated with the saint’s youth.
The meeting with religious, together with the sick, in Prague’s historic Benedictine Archabbey of Bøevnov, which owes its foundation to St Adalbert, was equally rich in meaning. After the long harsh trial of communist dictatorship, consecrated life is now enjoying a springtime, most eloquently expressed by the presence of young vocations side by side with the elderly men and women religious. Bøeznov Abbey, and especially the very well known Archabbot Anastasius, continue their work in the tradition of the great Benedictine family, rich in merits throughout Europe, not only with regard to liturgical and religious life, but also for national culture.
On Sunday, 27 April, a great multitude of the faithful gathered in Prague for Mass, in the same place where seven years ago, immediately after the fall of communism, I was able to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time in the Czech land. The last meeting took place in the afternoon, the ecumenical prayer service in the cathedral, followed by a visit to the relics of St Adalbert which rest there next to those of St Wenceslaus. The cathedral is the great national shrine of all Bohemia. The Christian denominations living in the Czech land took part in the ecumenical prayer service. Together with the Pope, they all felt the urgent need for Christian unity, which St Adalbert convincingly and energetically championed. I thank God for that meeting and for the words spoken by Dr Smetana, President of the Council of Churches of the Czech Republic and the representative of the tradition of the Bohemian Brethen.
When President Václav Havel welcomed me at Prague Airport in 1990, he spoke these memorable words: “I do not know what a miracle is, but the fact of being able to receive the Pope here today is certainly a miracle”. He was speaking of miracle in the moral sense, alluding to the collapse of the communist totalitarian system which for a long time had oppressed various nations of Eastern Europe. It can be said that this visit of mine, linked to the millennium of St Adalbert, was a sequel as it were to that moral miracle. I therefore say to the Lord with the psalmist: “I will thank you for ever, because you have done it” (Ps 52,9 ).
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, the Holy Father said:
I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrim groups from Ireland, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and the United States. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. After entrusting John to Mary with the words “Woman, behold your son!”, Jesus, from the Cross, turns to his beloved disciple, saying to him, “Behold, your mother!” (Jn 19,26-27). With these words, he reveals to Mary the height of her motherhood: as mother of the Saviour, she is also the mother of the redeemed, of all the members of the Mystical Body of her Son.
In silence the Virgin accepts the elevation to this highest degree of her motherhood of grace, having already given a response of faith with her “yes” at the Annunciation.
Jesus not only urges John to care for Mary with special love, but he entrusts her to him so that he may recognize her as his own mother.
During the Last Supper, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” listened to the Master’s commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15,12) and, leaning his head against the Lord’s breast, he received from him a unique sign of love. Such experiences prepared him better to perceive in Jesus’ words an invitation to accept her who had been given him as mother and to love her as Jesus did with filial affection.
May all discover in Jesus’ words: “Behold, your mother!”, the invitation to accept Mary as mother, responding to her motherly love as true children.
2. In the light of this entrustment to his beloved disciple, one can understand the authentic meaning of Marian devotion in the ecclesial community. In fact, it places Christians in Jesus’ filial relationship to his mother, putting them in a condition to grow in intimacy with both of them.
The Church’s devotion to the Virgin is not only the fruit of a spontaneous response to the exceptional value of her person and the importance of her role in the work of salvation, but is based on Christ’s will.
The words “Behold, your mother!”, express Jesus’ intention to inspire in his disciples an attitude of love for and trust in Mary, leading them to recognize her as their mother, the mother of every believer.
At the school of the Virgin, the disciples learn to know the Lord deeply, as John did, and to have an intimate and lasting relationship of love with him. They also discover the joy of entrusting themselves to the Mother’s maternal love, living like affectionate and docile children.
The history of Christian piety teaches that Mary is the way which leads to Christ and that filial devotion to her takes nothing from intimacy with Jesus; indeed, it increases it and leads to the highest levels of perfection.
The countless Marian shrines throughout the world testify to the marvels wrought by grace through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Lord and our Mother.
Turning to her, drawn by her tenderness, the men and women of our time also meet Jesus, Saviour and Lord of their lives.
Above all, the poor, tried in heart, in their affections and in their material need, find refuge and peace in the Mother of God, and discover that for all people true riches consist in the grace of conversion and of following Christ.
30 3. According to the original Greek, the Gospel text continues: “From that hour the disciple took her among his possessions” (Jn 19,27), thus stressing John’s ready and generous adherence to Jesus’ words and informing us about his behaviour for the whole of his life as the faithful guardian and docile son of the Virgin.
The hour of acceptance is that of the fulfilment of the work of salvation. Mary’s spiritual motherhood and the first manifestation of the new link between her and the Lord's disciples begins precisely in this context.
John took the Mother “among his possessions”. These rather general words seem to highlight his initiative, full of respect and love, not only in taking Mary to his house but also in living his spiritual life in communion with her.
In fact, a literal translation of the Greek expression “among his possessions” does not so much refer to material possessions since John — as St Augustine observes (In Ioan. Evang. tract. 119, 3) — “possessed nothing of his own”, but rather to the spiritual goods or gifts received from Christ: grace (Jn 1,16), the Word (Jn 12,48 Jn 17,8), the spirit (Jn 7,39 Jn 14,17), the Eucharist (Jn 6,32-58).... Among these gifts which come to him from the fact that he is loved by Jesus, the disciple accepts Mary as his mother, establishing a profound communion of life with her (cf. Redemptoris Mater RMA 45, note 130).
May every Christian, after the beloved disciple’s example, “take Mary into his house” and make room for her in his own daily life, recognizing her providential role in the journey of salvation.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I extend a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from England, Indonesia, Japan and the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
1. The long-awaited visit to Lebanon finally took place on 10-11 May, during the time when the Church, after the Lord’s Ascension into heaven, is preparing for the Solemnity of Pentecost. She relives as it were the Christian community’s first great novena to the Holy Spirit. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus ordered the Apostles to return to Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Ac 1,8). Obeying the Lord’s command, the Apostles returned to Jerusalem and, as is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Ac 1,14). They remained together in the same Upper Room where the Eucharist had been instituted; where Christ had appeared to them after the Resurrection, showing his wounds, the signs of his Passion, and where he had breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20,22-23). The Upper Room, witness to the institution of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, is the place where the Church returns in spirit, invited by the liturgy in these days following the Ascension into heaven. How could I fail to thank God that precisely at this time I was able to meet the Lebanese nation, a meeting I desired for so long a time?
2. The primary reason for this visit was the solemn conclusion of the Synod of Bishops for Lebanon, whose sessions were held in Rome in November and December of 1995. The results of this assembly were gathered into a Post-Synodal Exhortation, a document which I had the joy of signing during my pilgrimage to Lebanon. This very significant event took place at the meeting with young people on Saturday evening, 10 May. The document, which is the Magna Carta as it were of the Church in Lebanon, was signed in the presence of the young people. The fact that it was signed precisely on that occasion has an eloquence all its own. The presence of young people always makes us think of the future. By entrusting the post-synodal document precisely to them, I wished to emphasize that the fulfilment of the tasks indicated by the Synod of Bishops will depend in large part on Lebanese youth. The future of the Church and of the Lebanese nation depends on young people. It is young people who must cross the threshold of the third millennium and lead their country and Church into this new era of faith.
3. Lebanon is a biblical land, with a past reaching back for several millenniums. Its symbol is the cedar tree, which recalls the cedars brought by King Solomon to Jerusalem for the building of the temple. Lebanon is a land where Jesus of Nazareth walked. The Gospel speaks of Christ’s visit to the region of Tyre and Sidon, and within the borders of the so-called Decapolis. Christ taught there and worked a number of miracles. Most memorable of all was the cure of the Canaanite woman’s daughter, when Jesus answered the mother’s request in admiration of her deep faith (cf. Mt 15,21-28). The Lebanese are very aware of the fact that their ancestors heard the Good News from the mouth of Jesus himself.
Down the centuries the Gospel was proclaimed in various ways. Decisive in this regard was the mission of the holy monk Maron, after whom the Maronite Church is named, the Eastern Church most closely linked to the Christian tradition of Lebanon. Maronites however are not the only community. Lebanon, particularly its capital, Beirut, is a place where the faithful of other Patriarchal Catholic Churches reside: Greek Melkites, Armenian Catholics, Syrian Catholics, Chaldeans and Latins. This enriches the Christian life of that country. In a certain sense Lebanon’s vocation is precisely this universal openness and, since Orthodox Churches are found there, its vocation is ecumenism. Having had occasion in the past to meet the representatives of these Churches and Christian Communities in Rome, my visit to Beirut also served to renew those ties of mutual knowledge and friendship.
This was particularly apparent at the solemn Eucharistic celebration on Sunday, 11 May, which spiritually gathered all of Lebanon and the whole Church in that country. It is said that not only did Catholic and Orthodox Christians take part, but many Muslims as well. Lebanon is also the homeland of many expressions of the Muslim community: Sunni, Shiites, Druze. Everyone knows how Lebanese Muslims have lived for centuries in profound harmony with Christians, and during my visit great stress was put on the need for this coexistence if the national and cultural identity of the Lebanese nation is to be preserved.
4. The purpose of my pilgrimage was also to support the commitment to this social harmony, as we prayed at the same time for peace. In recent years Lebanon has been the scene of a terrible war, whose entire workings would be hard to explain: a war between Lebanese brethren, which was decisively affected by external forces and influences. The fact that the war has finally ended and the time of reconciliation and reconstruction has begun is extremely important, not only for Lebanon itself but also in the more general perspective of the situation in the Near East.
Lebanon is a small country located in the heart of the Middle East. During my pilgrimage, as on many occasions in recent years, I addressed both the entire Middle East region and all the countries of the international community, asking that they would provide effective guarantees for peace in that country which has already suffered so much. In a certain sense, peace is Lebanon’s basic mission. If it is to fulfil this mission, which stems from its cultural and religious complexity itself, the country has the right to be supported in that task by all who can promote peace in its territory. Only under these conditions can Lebanon be itself, that is, a country where various cultural and religious communities coexist and live together with mutual respect for each other’s identity.
All fundamentalism is foreign to Lebanon’s spirit. It is precisely this which distinguishes it from other countries, where social and political life is strongly influenced by extremism, which often makes unwarranted appeals to religion. Lebanon is an open society. I hope that its citizens, as well as the neighbouring countries, can continue to work together in fostering this openness. Only in this way can Lebanon fulfil its mission, within its own territory and in the great family of nations and societies of the Near East. I entrusted these hopes to the President of the Republic, to all the authorities and to the Churches in Lebanon, as well as to the various communities of Islam, thanking everyone who contributed to the success of the apostolic visit for the great hospitality I received.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from England, South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. I thank the Bambanani Choir from Pretoria for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I cordially invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
GENERAL AUDIENCE 1997 22