S. John Paul II Homil. 845
Sunday 22 March 1998
"God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself" (2Co 5,19)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. God has given me the joy, for the second time, of coming here to Onitsha to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with you. Sixteen years ago you welcomed me to this fair land, and I experienced the warmth and fervour of a faith- filled people, men and women reconciled to God and eager to spread the Good News of salvation to those near and far.
846 Saint Paul speaks of "the new creation in Christ" (cf. 2Co 5,17) and goes on to tell us: "God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men's faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled . . . the appeal we make in Christ's name is: be reconciled to God" (2Co 5,19-20). The Apostle is touching here on the history of every man and woman: God, in his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, has reconciled us to himself.
This same truth is presented even more vividly in today's Gospel. Saint Luke tells us of a young man who left his father's house, experienced the painful consequences of this action, and then found the road of reconciliation. The young man comes back to his father and says: " Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants" (Lc 15,18-19). The father welcomes his son back with open arms, he rejoices because his son has returned. The father in the parable represents our Heavenly Father, who wishes to reconcile every person to himself in Christ. This is the reconciliation which the Church proclaims.
When Bishops from all over Africa gathered for a Special Session of the Synod to discuss the problems of this continent, they said that the Church in Africa has to become, through the witness of her sons and daughters, a place of true reconciliation (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). Being first reconciled among themselves, the Church's members will bring to society the forgiveness and reconciliation of Christ our peace (cf Ep 2,14). "Otherwise" — the Bishops said — "the world will look more and more like a battlefield, where only selfish interests count and the law of force prevails" (Ecclesia in Africa ).
Today I wish to proclaim the importance of reconciliation: reconciliation with God and reconciliation of people among themselves. This is the task which lies before the Church in this land of Nigeria, on this continent of Africa, and in the midst of every people and nation throughout the world. "We are ambassadors for Christ . . . and the appeal that we make in Christ's name is: be reconciled to God" (2Co 5,20). For this reason, the Catholics of Nigeria must be authentic and effective witnesses to the faith in every aspect of life, both in public affairs and in private matters.
2. Today, one of Nigeria's own sons, Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, has been proclaimed "Blessed" in the very land where he preached the Good News of salvation and sought to reconcile his fellow countrymen with God and with one another. In fact, the Cathedral where Father Tansi was ordained and the parishes where he exercised the priestly ministry are not far from this very spot in Oba where we are gathered. Some of the people to whom he proclaimed the Gospel and administered the sacraments are here with us today — including Cardinal Francis Arinze, who was baptized by Father Tansi and received his first education in one of Father Tansi's schools.
In the great joy of this event I greet all those taking part in this liturgy, especially Archbishop Albert Obiefuna, Shepherd of this local Church of Onitsha, and all the Bishops from Nigeria and neighbouring countries. With particular affection I greet the priests, the men and women Religious, the catechists and all the lay faithful. I thank the members of other Christian Ecclesial Communities, of the Muslim community and of other Religious Traditions who have joined us today, and the various state and local authorities present at our celebration. In a special way, I ask God to reward those who have worked so hard, giving generously of their time, talents and resources, so that this Beatification might take place on Nigerian soil. I make my own the words of the Psalmist as I invite all of you: "Glorify the Lord with me; together let us praise his name" (Ps 34,3)!
3. The life and witness of Father Tansi is an inspiration to everyone in the Nigeria that he loved so much. He was first of all a man of God: his long hours before the Blessed Sacrament filled his heart with generous and courageous love. Those who knew him testify to his great love of God. Everyone who met him was touched by his personal goodness. He was then a man of the people: he always put others before himself, and was especially attentive to the pastoral needs of families. He took great care to prepare couples well for Holy Matrimony and preached the importance of chastity. He tried in every way to promote the dignity of women. In a special way, the education of young people was precious to him. Even when he was sent by Bishop Heerey to the Cistercian Abbey of Mount Saint Bernard in England to pursue his monastic vocation, with the hope of bringing the contemplative life back to Africa, he did not forget his own people. He did not fail to offer prayers and sacrifices for their continuing sanctification.
Father Tansi knew that there is something of the Prodigal Son in every human being. He knew that all men and women are tempted to separate themselves from God in order to lead their own independent and selfish existence. He knew that they are then disappointed by the emptiness of the illusion which had fascinated them, and that they eventually find in the depths of their heart the road leading back to the Father's house (cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia RP 5). He encouraged people to confess their sins and receive God's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He implored them to forgive one another as God forgives us, and to hand on the gift of reconciliation, making it a reality at every level of Nigerian life. Father Tansi tried to imitate the father in the parable: he was always available for those searching for reconciliation. He spread the joy of restored communion with God. He inspired people to welcome the peace of Christ, and encouraged them to nourish the life of grace with the word of God and with Holy Communion.
4. "God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself" (2Co 5,19).
When we speak of the world as reconciled to God, we are speaking not only of individuals but also of every community: families, clans, tribes, nations, states. In his providence, God made covenant after covenant with mankind: there was the covenant with our first parents in the Garden of Eden; the covenant with Noah after the Flood; the covenant with Abraham. Today's reading from the Book of Joshua reminds us of the covenant made with Israel, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in the land of Egypt. And God has now made the final and definitive covenant with all of humanity in Jesus Christ, who reconciled individual men and women — as well as entire nations — to God by his Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Christ is thus a part of the history of the nations. He is a part of the history of your own nation on this continent of Africa. More than a hundred years ago missionaries arrived in your land proclaiming the Gospel of reconciliation, the Good News of salvation. Your forebears began to learn of the mystery of the redemption of the world, and came to share in the New Covenant in Christ. In this way the Christian faith was firmly planted in this soil, and in this way it continues to grow and to produce much fruit.
847 Blessed Cyprian Michael Tansi is a prime example of the fruits of holiness which have grown and matured in the Church in Nigeria since the Gospel was first preached in this land. He received the gift of faith through the efforts of the missionaries, and taking the Christian way of life as his own he made it truly African and Nigerian. So too the Nigerians of today — young and old alike — are called to reap the spiritual fruits which have been planted among them and are now ready for the harvest. In this regard, I wish to thank and to encourage the Church in Nigeria for her missionary work in Nigeria, in Africa and beyond. Father Tansi's witness to the Gospel and to Christian charity is a spiritual gift which this local Church now offers to the Universal Church.
5. God, in fact, has blessed this land with human and natural wealth, and it is everyone's duty to ensure that these resources are used for the good of the whole people. All Nigerians must work to rid society of everything that offends the dignity of the human person or violates human rights. This means reconciling differences, overcoming ethnic rivalries, and injecting honesty, efficiency and competence into the art of governing. As your nation pursues a peaceful transition to a democratic civilian government, there is a need for politicians — both men and women — who profoundly love their own people and wish to serve rather than be served (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). There can be no place for intimidation and domination of the poor and the weak, for arbitrary exclusion of individuals and groups from political life, for the misuse of authority or the abuse of power. In fact, the key to resolving economic, political, cultural and ideological conflicts is justice; and justice is not complete without love of neighbour, without an attitude of humble, generous service.
When we see others as brothers and sisters, it is then possible to begin the process of healing the divisions within society and between ethnic groups. This is the reconciliation which is the path to true peace and authentic progress for Nigeria and for Africa. This reconciliation is not weakness or cowardice. On the contrary, it demands courage and sometimes even heroism: it is victory over self rather than over others. It should never be seen as dishonour. For in reality it is the patient, wise art of peace.
6. The passage from the Book of Joshua which we heard in the First Reading of today's liturgy speaks of the Passover which the children of Israel celebrated after arriving in the Promised Land. They celebrated it with joy because they saw with their own eyes that the Lord's promises to them had been fulfilled. After forty years of wandering in the desert, their feet now stood on the land which God was giving to them. The Passover of the Old Testament, the memorial of the exodus from Egypt, is the figure of the Passover of the New Testament, the memorial of Christ's passing from death to life, which we recall and celebrate at every Mass.
As we stand before the Altar of Sacrifice, soon to be fed and nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, we must be convinced that each of us, according to our particular state in life, is called to do no less than what Father Tansi did. Having been reconciled with God, we must be instruments of reconciliation, treating all men and women as brothers and sisters, called to membership in the one family of God.
Reconciliation necessarily involves solidarity. The effect of solidarity is peace. And the fruits of peace are joy and unity in families, cooperation and development in society, truth and justice in the life of the nation. May this be Nigeria's bright future!
"The God of peace be with you all. Amen" (Rm 15,33).
Monday 23 March 1998
"You are citizens like all the saints, and part of God's household" (Ep 2,19)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
848 1. These words from Saint Paul's Letter to the Ephesians take on a special significance here in the new Federal Capital, the City of Abuja. In a very real way, this City is meant to represent the dawning of a new era for Nigeria and for Nigerians, an era filled with hope, in which every Nigerian citizen — every man and woman — is called to play a part in the building of a new reality in this land. Nigeria, like all of Africa, is searching for a way to meet the aspirations of its peoples, to leave behind the effects of poverty, disputes, wars, despair, in order to make proper use of the continent's immense resources and achieve political and social stability. Africa needs hope, peace, joy, harmony, love and unity: this was an affirmation made by the Fathers of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). This is what we ask of God in our prayer here today.
From Abuja I wish to express my esteem and affection for every Nigerian: for those of you present at this Eucharist and for those watching on television or listening on the radio. I offer a special word of greeting to Archbishop John Onaiyekan, to the other Bishops, to the priests, the Religious and the lay faithful from all the local Churches of Nigeria and from other parts of Africa. I greet the Government leaders, the traditional rulers and other authorities who are present this morning. I cordially welcome the members of the other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, represented in the Christian Association of Nigeria, as well as the followers of other Religious Traditions who have come to join us, in particular the members of the Muslim community.
2. Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, it has been sixteen years since my last visit to Nigeria. The warmth of your welcome makes me feel once more at home. And are not we all, each and every one of us, called to be at home as members of the one great family of God? This is precisely what Saint Paul is telling us: we are "part of the household of God", that is, members of God's family!
In the natural order, the family is the foundation and basis of every human community and society. From the nucleus that is the family, there arise clans, tribes, peoples and states; even the great family of African nations finds its ultimate source in the human family of husband and wife, mother and father and children.
African culture and tradition hold the family in the highest regard. This is why the peoples of Africa rejoice in the gift of new life, life which is conceived and born; they spontaneously reject the idea that life can be destroyed in the womb, even when so-called "progressive civilizations" try to lead them in this direction; they show their respect for human life until its natural end, and keep elderly parents and relatives within the family (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ). African cultures have an acute sense of solidarity and community life, especially in relation to the extended family and the village (cf. ibid.). These are signs that you understand and fulfil the requirements of that justice and integrity about which the Prophet Isaiah speaks in the First Reading (cf. Is Is 56,1). It is precisely in relationships within the family and between families that justice and integrity become an immediate reality and a practical commitment.
3. When this natural order is raised to the supernatural order we become members of God's family and are built into a spiritual house where the Spirit of God dwells. But how does the natural gain access to the supernatural? How is it that we become members of God's family and are made holy temples for God's Spirit?
The reality of the family, as it exists at the cultural and social level, is elevated by grace and brought to a higher level. Among the baptized, relationships within the family take on a new character: they become a grace-filled communion of life and love, at the service of the wider community. And they build up the Church, the family of God (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 6). The Church, through her evangelizing mission and her active presence in every part of the world, gives new meaning to the very concept of the family and, consequently, to that of the nation as a "family of families", and to that of the world as "the family of nations".
A wonderful sign of the universal character of the family of God, which truly includes all peoples, was the Beatification yesterday in Onitsha — the first ceremony of this sort ever to take place on Nigerian soil, in honour of one of Nigeria's own sons. This was a family celebration for the Nigerian people and nation. At the same time it was a celebration for all of God's family: the whole worldwide Church of God rejoiced with the Church in Nigeria, and has now received from Nigeria the edifying example of the life and witness of Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi.
In human terms, Father Tansi was a son of this country, born in Anambra State. In the supernatural order of grace, however, he became something more: without losing his natural ancestry, he transcended his earthly origins and became, in the words of Saint Paul, "part of God's household", "part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundation, and Christ Jesus as its main cornerstone" (Ep 2,19).
By grace, he was "made joyful in God's house of prayer" (Is 56,7). And he understood that God's house is a "house of prayer for all the peoples" (ibid.). It is a house of prayer for the Hausa, for the Yoruba, for the Igbo. It is a house of prayer for the Efik, the Tiv, the Edo, the Gwari, and the many other peoples — too numerous to mention by name — who inhabit this land of Nigeria. And not just for these peoples alone, but for all the peoples of Africa, for all the peoples of Europe, of Asia, of Oceania, of the Americas: "my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples"!
4. In today's Gospel, Jesus himself shows us how to understand the family of God and how it can include all peoples. He tells us: "Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother" (Mc 3,35).
849 And with this, Jesus reveals a secret of his Kingdom.
He tells us something about his relationship with Mary his Mother. No matter how much Jesus loved her because she was his Mother, he loved her all the more because she always did the will of his Heavenly Father. At the Annunciation she said "Yes" to God's will, manifested by the Angel Gabriel (cf. Lk Lc 1,26-38). At every step, she shared her Son's life and mission, all the way to the foot of the Cross (cf. Jn Jn 19,25). Like Mary, we too learn and accept that every human relationship is renewed, elevated, purified and given new meaning through the grace of Christ: "Through him, all of us have in the one Spirit our way to the Father . . . being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit" (cf. Eph Ep 2,18).
This is the spiritual house which the missionaries began to build over a hundred years ago. Nigeria owes them a great debt of gratitude for their evangelizing efforts, spent largely in schools, hospitals and other areas of social service. Following the lead of these intrepid heralds of the Gospel, the Catholic
Church in Nigeria today is deeply committed to the struggle for integral human development. God has blessed the Church in Nigeria, to the point that Nigerian missionaries are working outside their own dioceses, in other countries of Africa and on other continents. Under the guidance of your Bishops and priests, the whole Catholic community must continue along this path, cooperating with all men and women of good will through an intense ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
To build God's spiritual house, the Church calls all her members to respond with unfailing compassion to those in need: to the poor, the sick and the elderly; to refugees who have had to flee violence and strife in their native lands; to men, women and children suffering from AIDS, which continues to claim numerous victims on this continent and throughout the world; to every person who must endure persecution, affliction and poverty. She teaches respect for every person, for every human life. She preaches justice and love, and insists on duties as well as rights: the rights and duties of citizens, of employers and employees, of Government and people.
There exist, in fact, basic human rights of which no individual can ever be legitimately deprived, for they are rooted in the very nature of the human person and reflect the objective and inviolable demands of a universal moral law. These rights serve as the basis and measure of every human society and organization. Respect for every human person, for his dignity and rights, must ever be the inspiration and guiding principle behind your efforts to increase democracy and strengthen the social fabric of your country. The dignity of every human being, his inalienable fundamental rights, the inviolability of life, freedom and justice, the sense of solidarity and the rejection of discrimination: these must be the building blocks of a new and better Nigeria.
5. The whole Church will soon celebrate the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Christ, the Word of God made man. I therefore say to you: today, you are the hope of this two-thousand-year-old Church of ours. Being young in faith, you must be like the first Christians and radiate enthusiasm and courage. Set yourselves on the path of holiness. Thus you will be a sign of God in the world, and you will re-live in your own country the missionary epic of the early Church (cf. Ecclesia in Africa ).
The Great Jubilee is meant to give life to the spirit of renewal which the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed and Jesus confirmed: to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed (cf. Lk Lc 4,18). Make this spirit the very climate of your national life. Let the time of transition be a time of freedom, of forgiveness, of union and solidarity!
Blessed Cyprian Michael Tansi clearly saw that nothing enduring can be achieved in the service of God and country without true holiness and true charity. Make him your example. Pray to him for the needs of your families and of the entire nation.
With gratitude for all that Divine Providence continues to do for the people of Nigeria, we repeat with the Psalmist:
"O sing to the Lord, bless his name . . .
850 Tell among the nations his glory
And his wonders among all the peoples" (Ps 95,3). Amen.
At the end of Mass the Holy Father added extemporaneously:
Thank you for this beautiful liturgy. I am sure Cardinal Arinze is very proud of you, and also Cardinal Gantin and Cardinal Tomko, and in the first place, your Archbishop of Abuja.
Fifth Sunday of Lent, 29 March 1998
1. “I do not wish the sinner to die, says the Lord, but to turn to me and live” (Gospel acclamation; cf. Ez Ez 33,11).
The words of the Gospel acclamation proclaimed a few moments ago introduce the comforting message of God’s mercy, which was then illustrated by today’s passage from the Evangelist John. Several scribes and Pharisees, “that they might have some charge to bring against him” (Jn 8,6), bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. They intend to show that his teaching on God’s merciful love contradicts the Law, which punished the sin of adultery with stoning.
Jesus however unmasked their cunning: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn 8,7). While this authoritative reply reminds us that it is only the Lord who can judge, it reveals the true meaning of divine mercy, which leaves open the possibility for repentance and emphasizes the great respect for the dignity of the person, which not even sin can take away. “Go, and do not sin again” (Jn 8,11). The last words of this episode show that God does not want the sinner to die, but to repent of the evil he has committed and live.
2. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Ph 3,8). The Apostle Paul had a personal experience of saving righteousness. His meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus opened the way to a deep understanding of the paschal mystery. Paul clearly understood how deceptive it is to want to create for oneself a righteousness based only on observance of the Law. Christ alone justifies man, every man, through the sacrifice of the Cross.
Moved by grace, Paul went from being a ruthless persecutor of Christians to being a tireless preacher of the Gospel, because “Christ Jesus has made me his own” (cf. ibid). We too, especially during this Lenten season, are invited to let the Lord make us his own: by the attraction of his word of salvation, by the power of his grace, by the proclamation of his redemptive love.
3. Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of the Young Jesus, I am pleased to celebrate with you this Fifth Sunday of Lent, which marks another stage in the liturgical journey to Easter, which is now at hand. I cordially greet the Cardinal Vicar, the Vicegerent, your zealous parish priest, Fr Enzo Policari, with his co-workers, the Salesian community which lives and works in the parish, and the Ukrainian seminarians who are guests here while their college is being remodeled.
851 I would like to address a special greeting to the entire Salesian family, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of its presence and activity in this Roman neighbourhood last Sunday. This presence is particularly appreciated because it is connected with the Borgo Ragazzi Don Bosco Institute, a praiseworthy institution founded in the immediate post-war period to offer hospitality to young people without families or homes, who were forced to shift for themselves.
In commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Borgo Ragazzi Don Bosco, so dear to my revered Predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, I would like to thank the many Salesians who, following the charism of St John Bosco, have come one after another here, generously dedicating themselves to the younger generations of this extensive area on the outskirts of Rome. Thank you, dear friends, for the good you have tirelessly done and continue to do through your activities for young people. I am thinking in particular of the inter-parish activities programme, the popular school to aid boys and girls with only a secondary education, sacramental preparation in the numerous youth groups, and the many other formative and recreational activities.
4. Young people are humanity’s future. To show concern for their human and Christian maturation is a valuable investment for the good of the Church and of society. I am delighted with what you are already doing and I hope that, in conformity with the diocesan pastoral directives, your praiseworthy efforts in this area will be intensified. As in the early days of the Borgo Ragazzi Don Bosco, today too there are unfortunately many “troubled young people”, as they are called, without work and lacking sound guidance, involved in petty crime and given to laziness, with all the risks that a disoriented life implies. Do not abandon these troubled young people and children; offer them sincere friendship and open your hearts to them, so that they will experience the tenderness of divine love.
Dear parishioners of the Young Jesus! Your parish’s name itself is an incentive to give the new generations care and attention. This commitment requires the collaboration of all who have educational responsibilities.
The same co-ordination of intentions and efforts is demanded by the missionary work asked of every parish community. Do all you can to make the parish a hospitable home — especially now in this special time of grace which is the City Mission — which excludes no one from the personal proclamation of Jesus, who died and rose for our salvation. A message that should always be accompanied by real attention to the needs of our neighbours, well aware that charity is the best way to open souls to Christ.
Parish of the Young Jesus, imitate the Holy Family of Nazareth. Try to offer yourselves as a peaceful educational environment; enable everyone to breathe a real family atmosphere, promoting collaboration and joint responsibility in the work of evangelization.
5. “Remember not the events of the past.... See, I am doing something new” (Is 43,18-19). The prophet Isaiah invites us today to look closely at the new things God does every day for his faithful. “See, I am doing something new”. The Spirit is always at work and his fruits are the marvels he never ceases to accomplish for us.
“Remember not the events of the past”. Do not turn your gaze to the past — says the prophet — turn it rather to Christ “yesterday, today and forever”. In the mystery of his Death and Resurrection, he reversed humanity’s destiny once and for all. In the light of the paschal events, human life is not afraid of death because the Risen One opens the doors of true life to believers. In these last days of Lent between now and the Easter Triduum, let us prepare our hearts to receive the grace of the Redeemer who died and rose, and who strengthens the steps of our faith.
May Mary, who stood silently at the foot of the Cross and then encountered her risen Son, help us prepare worthily to celebrate the Easter feasts.
Sunday, 5 April 1998
852 1. "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Lc 19,38).
Palm Sunday enables us to relive Jesus' entry into Jerusalem shortly before Passover. The Gospel passage presents him to us entering the city surrounded by a festive crowd. We can say that, on that day, Israel's expectations of the Messiah reached their peak. They were expectations fostered by the words of the ancient prophets and confirmed by Jesus of Nazareth through his teaching and, especially, through the signs he performed.
When the Pharisees asked him to silence the crowd, Jesus replied: "If these were silent, the very stones would cry out" (Lc 19,40). He was particularly referring to the walls of the temple in Jerusalem, built for the Messiah's coming and very carefully rebuilt after being destroyed at the time of the deportation to Babylon. Israel had a conscious and vivid memory of the destruction and rebuilding of the temple, and Jesus referred to this awareness when he said: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn 2,19). As the ancient temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and rebuilt, so the new and perfect temple of Jesus' body was to die on the Cross and rise again on the third day (cf. ibid., 2:21-22).
2. However, as he enters Jerusalem, Jesus knows that the rejoicing by some in the crowd is leading him into the heart of the "mysterium" of salvation. He is aware that he is going to his death and will not receive a royal crown, but one of thorns.
The readings for today's celebration are marked by the Messiah's suffering and culminate in the Evangelist Luke's description of it in the Passion account. This unspeakable mystery of pain and love is presented by the prophet Isaiah, considered in a way as the evangelist of the Old Testament, as well as by the responsorial psalm and the refrain sung a few moments ago: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?". St Paul takes it up again in the Letter to the Philippians, which is the inspiration for the antiphon that will accompany us during the "Triduum Sacrum": "Christ became obedient for us unto death, even death on a cross" (cf. 2:8). At the Easter Vigil we will add: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Ph 2,9).
Every day during the Eucharistic celebration the Church recalls the Lord's Passion, Death and Resurrection — the faithful say after the consecration: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again".
3. For over 10 years Palm Sunday has become an eagerly awaited gathering for the celebration of World Youth Day. The fact that the Church pays special attention to young people on this particular day is in itself very significant. This is not only because 2,000 years ago young people — pueri Hebraeorum — festively accompanied Christ during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but especially because, after 20 centuries of Christian history, young people, led by their perceptiveness and a correct insight, are discovering in the liturgy of Palm Sunday a message uniquely addressed to the them.
Dear young people, today the message of the Cross is offered to you again. You, who will be the adults of the third millennium, are entrusted with this Cross which in a few minutes will be passed from a group of French youths to young people representing Rome and Italy. From Rome to Buenos Aires; from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Compostela; from Santiago de Compostela to Czestochowa; from Jasna Góra to Denver; from Denver to Manila; from Manila to Paris, this Cross has been on pilgrimage with young people from one country to another, from one continent to another. Your choice, young Christians, is clear: to discover in the Cross of Christ the meaning of your life and the source of your missionary enthusiasm.
Starting today, this Cross will go on pilgrimage in the Dioceses of Italy until the World Youth Day of the Year 2000, which will be celebrated here in Rome during the Great Jubilee. Then, with the arrival of the new millennium, it will continue its travels around the world, thus showing that the Cross journeys with young people and young people journey with the Cross.
4. How can we not give thanks to Christ for the exceptional way that young believers have joined forces? At this time I would like to thank all those who have guided young people in this providential activity and have contributed to the great pilgrimage of the Cross along the paths of the world. I am especially thinking, with affection and gratitude, of Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, who died recently. He was present at and presided over many celebrations of World Youth Day. May the Lord shower upon him the heavenly rewards promised to good and faithful servants!
In a few minutes, as the Cross is being symbolically passed from Paris to Rome, allow the Bishop of this city to exclaim with the liturgy: Ave Crux, spes unica! We hail you, O holy Cross! You bring us the One who 20 centuries ago was acclaimed in Jerusalem by other young people and by the crowd: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord".
853 We all join in this song, repeating: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Yes! Blessed are you, O Christ, who also comes to us today with your message of love and life. And blessed is your holy Cross, from which flows the salvation of the world yesterday, today and forever.
Ave Crux! Praised be Jesus Christ.
S. John Paul II Homil. 845