Wednesday 12 April 2000

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The reading just now proclaimed takes us to the banks of the Jordan. Today we pause spiritually at the side of the river that flows through the two biblical Testaments, to contemplate the great epiphany of the Trinity on the day when Jesus is brought into the limelight of history, in those very waters, to begin his public ministry.

Christian art will personify this river as an old man looking with awe at what is happening in his watery depths. For, as the Byzantine liturgy says, "Christ the Sun is washed" in it. This same liturgy, at Matins on the day of the Theophany or Epiphany of Christ, imagines a dialogue with the river: "What did you see, O Jordan, that disturbed you so deeply? I saw the Invisible One naked and I trembled. How can one not tremble and draw back before him? At his sight the angels trembled, the heavens leapt for joy, the earth shook, the sea turned back with all the visible and invisible beings. Christ appeared in the Jordan to bless all waters!".

"This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased'

2. The presence of the Trinity at that event is clearly affirmed in all the Gospel accounts of the episode. We have just heard the most complete one, Matthew's, which includes a dialogue between Jesus and the Baptist. At the centre of the scene we see the figure of Christ, the Messiah who fulfils all righteousness (cf.
Mt 3,15). He is the one who brings the divine plan of salvation to fulfilment, humbly showing his solidarity with sinners.

His voluntary humbling wins him a wondrous exaltation: the Father's voice from heaven resounds above him, proclaiming: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (ibid., v. Mt 3,17). This statement combines two aspects of Jesus' messianism: the Davidic, by evoking a royal hymn (cf. Ps 2,7), and the prophetic, by citing the first song of the Servant of the Lord (cf. Is 42,1). In this way Jesus' deep bond of love with the heavenly Father and his investiture as the Messiah are revealed to all humanity.

3. The Holy Spirit appears on the scene in the form of a "dove" "descending ... and alighting" on Christ. Various biblical references can be cited to explain these images: the dove that indicates the end of the flood and the dawn of a new era (cf. Gn 8,8-12 1P 3,20-21), the dove in the Song of Songs, symbol of the beloved woman (cf. Sg 2,14 Sg 5,2 Sg 6,9), the dove that is like a coat of arms to indicate Israel in several Old Testament passages (cf. Os 7,11 Ps 68,14).

Also significant is an ancient Jewish comment on the passage in Genesis (cf. Gn 1,2) which describes the Spirit moving over the primeval waters with motherly tenderness: "The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters like a dove that hovers over her little ones without touching them" (Talmud, Hagigah 15a). The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus as the power of superabundant love. Referring precisely to Jesus' Baptism, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to "rest on him'. Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind" (CEC 536).

4. The whole Trinity is therefore present at the Jordan to reveal this mystery, to authenticate and support Christ's mission and to indicate that with him salvation history has entered its central and definitive phase. It involves time and space, human life and the cosmic order, but first of all the three divine Persons. The Father entrusts the Son with the mission of bringing "righteousness", that is, divine salvation, to fulfilment.

Chromatius, a fourth-century Bishop of Aquileia, says in a homily on Baptism and the Holy Spirit: "Just as our first creation was the work of the Trinity, so our second creation is the work of the Trinity. The Father does nothing without the Son or the Holy Spirit, because the Father's work is also the Son's and the Son's work is also the Holy Spirit's. There is but one and same grace of the Trinity. Thus we are saved by the Trinity, since in the beginning we were created by the Trinity alone" (Sermon 18A).

5. After Christ's Baptism, the Jordan also became the river of Christian Baptism: in a tradition dear to the Eastern Churches, the water of the baptismal font is a miniature Jordan. This is shown by the following liturgical prayer: "To you we pray, O Lord, that the purifying action of the Trinity may descend upon the baptismal waters and give them the grace of redemption and the blessing of the Jordan in the power, action and presence of the Holy Spirit" (Great Vespers of the Holy Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Blessing of the Waters).

St Paulinus of Nola also seems to have been inspired by a similar idea in some verses he composed as an inscription for the baptistery: "From this font, which gives life to souls in need of salvation, flows a living river of divine light. The Holy Spirit comes down from heaven upon this river and joins the sacred waters with the heavenly source; the stream teems with God and from the eternal seed gives birth to holy offspring by its fruitful waters" (Letter 32, 5). Emerging from the regenerative waters of the baptismal font, the Christian begins his journey of life and witness.
* * *

I am happy to welcome to this audience the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially from England, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, the Philippines, Japan and the United States. May your Jubilee visit to Rome help to strengthen your faith and your resolve to serve Christ in others. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

Wednesday 19 April 2000

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The Lenten journey we began on Ash Wednesday reaches its culmination during this Week which is appropriately called "Holy". In the days ahead we are preparing to celebrate the most sacred events of our salvation: the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.

The Cross stands before us in these days as an eloquent symbol of God's love for humanity. At the same time the dying Redeemer's entreaty rings out in the liturgy: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (
Mt 27,46 Mc 15,34). We often feel this cry of suffering as "our own" in the painful situations of life which can cause deep distress and give rise to worry and uncertainty. In moments of loneliness and bewilderment, which are not unusual in human life, a believer's heart can exclaim: the Lord has abandoned me!

However, Christ's Passion and his glorification on the tree of the Cross offer a different key for reading these events. On Golgotha the Father, at the height of his Only-begotten Son's sacrifice, does not abandon him, but brings to completion his plan of salvation for all humanity. In his Passion, Death and Resurrection, we are shown that the last word in human existence is not death but God's victory over death. Divine love, manifested in its fullness in the paschal mystery, overcomes death and sin, which is its cause (cf. Rm 5,12).

2. In these days of Holy Week, we enter into the heart of God's saving plan. The Church, especially during this Jubilee Year, wishes to remind everyone that Christ died for every man and woman, because the gift of salvation is universal. The Church shows the face of a crucified God, who does not frighten but communicates only love and mercy. One cannot be indifferent to Christ's sacrifice! Feelings of deep gratitude spontaneously arise in the minds of those who pause to contemplate the Lord's Passion. By ascending Calvary in spirit with him, in a certain way we can experience the light and joy that radiate from his Resurrection.

We relive all this, with God's help, in the Easter Triduum. Through the eloquence of the rites of Holy Week, the liturgy will show us the unbreakable continuity between the Passion and the Resurrection. Christ's Death already holds within itself the seed of the Resurrection.

3. The prelude to the Easter Triduum will be the celebration of the Chrism Mass tomorrow morning, Holy Thursday, when priests will gather around their respective Pastors in diocesan cathedrals. The oils of the sick and of catechumens are blessed, and chrism consecrated for the administration of the sacraments. A rite rich in meaning, it will be accompanied by the equally significant renewal of priestly commitments and promises by the priests. It is the day of priests, which every year prompts us, the ministers of the Church, to rediscover the value and meaning of our priesthood, a gift and mystery of love.

In the evening we will relive the institution of the Eucharist, the sacrament of God's infinite love for humanity. Judas betrays Christ; Peter, despite all his avowals, denies him; at the moment of the Passion, the other Apostles disappear. Few stay with him. Yet it is to these weak men that the Lord entrusts his testament, offering himself in his Body given and his Blood poured out for the life of the world (cf. Jn 6,51). An unfathomable mystery of condescension and goodness!

On Good Friday the account of the Passion will be heard again, and we will be invited to venerate the Cross, the extraordinary symbol of divine mercy. To man, so often uncertain in distinguishing good from evil, the crucified Christ shows us the only way to give meaning to human life. It is the way of total acceptance of God's will and the generous gift of self to one's brothers and sisters.

On Holy Saturday, a day of deep liturgical silence, we will pause to reflect on the meaning of these events. The Church will vigilantly watch with Mary, the Sorrowful Mother, and wait with her for the dawning of the Resurrection. In fact, at daybreak on the "first day of the week", the silence will be broken by the joyful Easter message, proclaimed in the festive hymn of the Exsultet during the solemn liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Christ's triumph over death will move, with the tombstone, the minds and hearts of the faithful and flood them with the same joy felt by Mary Magdalen, the devout women, the Apostles and everyone to whom the risen Christ revealed himself on Easter Day.

4. Dear brothers and sisters, let us open our hearts and intensely live this Sacred Triduum. Let us immerse ourselves in the grace of these holy days, and as the holy Bishop Athanasius once urged: "Let us also follow the Lord, that is, let us imitate him, and thus we will find the way to celebrate the feast not only outwardly, but in the most effective way, that is, not only with words but also with deeds" (Paschal Letters, Let. 14, 2).

With these sentiments, I wish all of you and your loved ones a fruitful Sacred Triduum and a joyful Easter of the Lord's Resurrection.
* * * *

I am pleased to welcome the many young people present at today’s audience. I pray that your visit will be a time of particular closeness to Christ and that you will be renewed in your faith and Christian witness. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Ireland, Sweden and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour. To all of you, a Happy Easter!

Wednesday 26 April 2000


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In this Octave of Easter, which is considered one great day, the liturgy tirelessly repeats the message of the Resurrection: "Jesus is truly risen!". This proclamation opens a new horizon to all humanity. All that was mysteriously foreshadowed in the Transfiguration on Tabor becomes a reality in the Resurrection. At that time the Saviour revealed to Peter, James and John the miracle of glory and light sealed by the voice of the Father: "This is my beloved Son!" (
Mc 9,7).

On the feast of Easter these words appear to us in the fullness of their truth. The Father's beloved Son, Christ who was crucified and died, is raised for our sake. In his brightness we believers see the light and, "raised by the Spirit", as the liturgy of the Eastern Church says, "we praise the consubstantial Trinity for ever and ever" (Great Vespers of the Transfiguration of Christ). Our hearts filled with the joy of Easter, today we spiritually climb the holy mountain that dominates the plain of Galilee to contemplate the event that took place on its summit, in anticipation of the Easter events.

2. Christ is the centre of the Transfiguration. Two witnesses of the Old Covenant appear with him: Moses, mediator of the law, and Elijah, a prophet of the living God. The divinity of Christ, proclaimed by the Father's voice, is also revealed by the symbols which Mark describes with picturesque touches. Indeed, there is light and whiteness, which represent eternity and transcendence: "His garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them" (Mc 9,3). Then there is the cloud, a sign of God's presence during Israel's Exodus and over the tent of the Covenant (cf. Ex 13,21-22 Ex 14,19 Ex 14,24 Ex 40,34 Ex 40,38).

At Matins for the Transfiguration the Eastern liturgy again sings: "Immutable brightness of the Father's light, O Word, in your shining light on Tabor we have seen today the light that is the Father and the light that is the Spirit, a light that illumines all creation".

3. This liturgical text emphasizes the Trinitarian dimension of Christ's Transfiguration on the mountain. In fact, the Father's presence with his revealing voice is explicit. Christian tradition catches an implicit glimpse of the Holy Spirit's presence based on the parallel event of the Baptism in the Jordan, when the Spirit descended upon Christ like a dove (cf. Mc 1,10). Indeed, the Father's command: "Listen to him" (Mc 9,7) presupposes that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit so that his words would be "spirit and life" (Jn 6,63 cf. Jn 3,34-35).

21 It is possible, then, to climb the mountain in order to pause, to contemplate and to be immersed in the mystery of God's light. Tabor represents all the mountains that lead us to God, according to an image dear to mystics. Another text of the Eastern Church invites us to make this ascent to the summit and the light: "Come, peoples, follow me! Let us climb the holy and heavenly mountain; let us spiritually pause in the city of the living God and contemplate in spirit the divinity of the Father and the Holy Spirit which is resplendent in the Only-begotten Son" (troparion at the conclusion of the Canon of St John Damascene).

4. In the Transfiguration we not only contemplate the mystery of God, passing from light to light (cf.
Ps 36,10), but we are also invited to listen to the divine word that is addressed to us. Above the word of the Law in Moses and of the prophecy in Elijah, the voice of the Father can be heard referring to the voice of the Son, as I have just mentioned. In presenting his "beloved Son", the Father adds the invitation to listen to him (cf. Mc 9,7).

In commenting on the Transfiguration scene, the Second Letter of Peter emphasizes the divine voice. Jesus Christ "received honour and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the majestic glory: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'; we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts" (2P 1,17-19).

5. Seeing and hearing, contemplating and obeying are therefore the ways that lead us to the holy mountain on which the Trinity is revealed in the glory of the Son. "The Transfiguration gives us a forestaste of Christ's glorious coming, when he "will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body' (Ph 3,21). But it also recalls that "it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God' (Ac 14,22)" (Catechism of the Catholic Church CEC 556).

The liturgy of the Transfiguration, as the spirituality of the Eastern Church suggests, presents a human "triad" in the three Apostles Peter, James and John, who contemplate the divine Trinity. Like the three young men in the fiery furnace of the Book of Daniel (Da 3,51 Da 3,90), the liturgy "blesses God, the Father and Creator, praises the Word who comes down to help them and changes the fire into dew, and exalts the Holy Spirit who gives life to all for ever" (Matins of the Feast of the Transfiguration).

Let us now pray to Christ transfigured in the words of the Canon of St John Damascene: "You have allured me with desire for you, O Christ, and have transformed me with your divine love. Burn away my sins with your spiritual fire and deign to fill me with your sweetness, so that leaping with joy I may exalt all your manifestations".
* * * *

I extend a special greeting to the newly ordained Deacons from the Pontifical Irish College and the Pontifical Scots College: may God strengthen and guide you in your ministry of grace and hope. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Malta, Indonesia, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

                                                                                May 2000

Wednesday 3 May 2000


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. At the end of the Gospel account of Christ's death, the voice of the Roman centurion rings out, anticipating the Church's profession of faith: "Truly this man was the Son of God" (
Mc 15,39). During the last hours of Jesus' earthly life, the supreme manifestation of the Trinity takes place in darkness. The Gospel account of Christ's passion and death records that his intimate relationship with the heavenly Father continues even in the abyss of pain.

Everything begins on the evening of the Last Supper inside the quiet walls of the Upper Room where, however, the shadow of betrayal already looms. John has preserved for us those farewell discourses which wonderfully stress the deep bond and reciprocal immanence between Jesus and the Father: "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.... He who has seen me has seen the Father.... The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me" (Jn 14,7 Jn 14,9-11).

In saying this, Jesus is repeating the words he had spoken a little earlier when he declared concisely: "I and the Father are one.... the Father is in me and I am in the Father" (Jn 10,30 Jn 10,38).

And in the prayer that seals the discourses in the Upper Room, he addresses the Father in contemplation of his glory, saying: "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one" (Jn 17,11). With this perfect trust in the Father, Jesus prepares to make his supreme act of love (cf. Jn 13,1).

2. In the passion the bond that unites him to the Father is manifested in a particularly intense and, at the same time, dramatic way. The Son of God lives his humanity to the full, penetrating the obscurity of suffering and death that are part of our human condition. In Gethsemane, during a prayer similar to a struggle, an "agony", Jesus addresses the Father with an Aramaic term expressing filial intimacy: "Abba, Father! All things are possible to you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mc 14,36).

Shortly afterwards, when human hostility is unleashed against him, he reminds Peter that this hour of darkness is part of the Father's divine plan: "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" (Mt 26,53-54).

3. At his trial the dialogue with the high priest is also transformed into a revelation of the messianic and divine glory that surrounds the Son of God. "The high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God'. Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven'" (Mt 26,63-64).

When he is on the Cross, the spectators will sarcastically remind him of his declaration: "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, "I am the Son of God'" (Mt 27,43).

But at that hour the Father was silent in his regard, so that he could show his full solidarity with sinners and redeem them. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned. But in the redeeming love that always united him to the Father, he assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin" (CEC 603).

4. On the cross Jesus actually continues his intimate dialogue with the Father, living it with the full force of his lacerated and suffering humanity, never losing the trusting attitude of the Son who is "one" with the Father. On the one hand, there is the Father's mysterious silence, accompanied by cosmic darkness and pierced by the cry: ""Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani?', that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mt 27,46).

On the other hand, Psalm 22, quoted here by Jesus, ends with a hymn to the sovereign Lord of the world and of history; this aspect is highlighted in Luke's account, in which the last words of the dying Christ are a clear citation of a psalm, to which is added an invocation to the Father: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Lc 23,46 cf. Ps 31,6).

5. The Holy Spirit also takes part in this continual dialogue between the Father and the Son. We are told this by the Letter to the Hebrews, when it describes Christ's sacrificial offering in a somewhat Trinitarian formula, stating that "through the eternal Spirit [he] offered himself to God" (He 9,14). In his passion, Christ fully opened his anguished human existence to the action of the Holy Spirit, who gave him the necessary force to make his death a perfect offering to the Father.

For its part, the fourth Gospel closely links the gift of the Paraclete with Jesus' "departure", that is, with his passion and death, when it recounts these words of the Saviour: "Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16,7). After Jesus' death on the cross, the water that flows from his pierced side (cf. Jn 19,34) can be seen as a symbol of the gift of the Spirit (cf. Jn 7,37-39). The Father then glorifies his Son, giving him the capacity to communicate the Spirit to all human beings.

Let us contemplate the Trinity, which is also revealed on the day of pain and darkness, as we reread the words of the spiritual "testament" of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein): "It is not human activity alone which can help us, but Christ's passion: my true desire is to take part in it. From now on I accept the death that God has destined for me, in perfect union with his holy will.

Accept, O Lord, my life and my death for the intentions of the Church, to your glory and your praise. May the Lord be welcomed among his own and may his kingdom come to us in glory" (The Power of the Cross).
* * *

In the joy of Easter, I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially the group led by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services. I welcome the visitors who have come from England, Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan and the United States of America. May the peace of the Risen Christ fill your hearts.

Wednesday 10 May 2000


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The final destination of Christ's journey through life is not the darkness of the tomb, but the shining heaven of the Resurrection. Christian faith is based on this mystery (cf.
1Co 15,1-20), as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: "The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the paschal mystery along with the cross" (CEC 638).

A 16th-century Spanish mystical writer said: "In God new seas are discovered the more one sails" (Friar Luis de León). We now intend to navigate the immensity of this mystery, towards the light of the Trinitarian presence in the Easter events. This presence extends throughout the 50 days after Easter.

2. Unlike the apocryphal writings, the canonical Gospels do not present the Resurrection event in itself, but rather the new and different presence of the risen Christ among his disciples. It is precisely this newness that characterizes the first scene on which we would like to reflect. It is the apparition which takes place in a Jerusalem still bathed in the pale light of dawn: a woman, Mary Magdalen, and a man meet in a cemetery. At first the woman does not recognize the man who has approached her: yet he is that Jesus of Nazareth whom she had listened to and who had changed her life. To recognize him she needs another source of knowledge than reason and the senses. It is the way of faith which is opened to her when she hears herself called by name (cf. Jn 20,11-18).

24 Let us focus our attention on that scene, on the words of the Risen One. He says: "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (Jn 20,17), thus revealing the heavenly Father, with whom Christ, in saying "my Father", emphasizes his special, unique bond, different from that between the Father and the disciples: "your Father". In Matthew's Gospel alone Jesus calls God "my Father" 17 times. The fourth Evangelist will use two different Greek words, one - hyios - to indicate Christ's full and perfect divine sonship, the other - tekna - to refer to our being children of God in a real but derivative way.

3. The second scene takes us from Jerusalem to a mountain in northern Galilee. There another Christophany takes places in which the Risen One reveals himself to the Apostles (cf. Mt 28,16-20). It is a solemn event of revelation, recognition and mission. In the fullness of his saving powers, he gives the Church the mandate to preach the Gospel, to baptize and to teach the nations to live according to his commandments. It is the Trinity that emerges in those essential words, which are also repeated in the formula of Christian Baptism, as it will be administered by the Church: "Baptize them [all nations] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28,19).

An ancient Christian writer, Theodore of Mopsuestia (fourth to fifth century), comments: "The words, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, show who it is who gives us the blessings of Baptism: new birth, renewal, immortality, incorruptibility, impassibility, immutability, deliverance from death, slavery and all evil, enjoyment of freedom and participation in future and sublime benefits. This is why we are baptized! The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are invoked so that you can know the source of the blessings of Baptism" (Homily II On Baptism, 17).

4. And so we come to the third scene we would like to recall. It takes us back in time to when Jesus still walked the roads of the Holy Land, speaking and acting. During the Jewish autumn feast of Booths, he proclaims: "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water'" (Jn 7,37-38). The Evangelist John interprets these words precisely in the light of the glorious Easter and the gift of the Holy Spirit: "This he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (Jn 7,39).

The glorification of Easter will come, and with it the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost, which Jesus will anticipate for his Apostles on the very evening of the day of the Resurrection. Appearing in the Upper Room, he will breathe on them and say: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20,22).

5. Thus the Father and the Spirit are united with the Son at the supreme moment of the Redemption. This is what Paul affirms in a particularly luminous passage in the Letter to the Romans, where he recalls the Trinity precisely in connection with the Resurrection of Christ and of us all: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ ... from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rm 8,11).

The condition for this promise to be fulfilled is revealed by the Apostle in the same Letter: "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rm 10,9). The Trinitarian aspect of the profession of faith corresponds with the Trinitarian nature of the Easter event. In fact, "no one can say "Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1Co 12,3), and those who say it, confess it "to the glory of God the Father" (Ph 2,11).

Let us then accept the paschal faith and the joy that flows from it, making our own an Easter Vigil hymn of the Eastern Church: "All things are illumined by your Resurrection, O Lord, and paradise is opened again. All creation blesses you and offers you a hymn each day. I glorify the power of the Father and of the Son; I praise the authority of the Holy Spirit, Godhead undivided, uncreated, consubstantial Trinity who reigns for ever and ever" (Easter Canon of St John Damascene, Holy Saturday, third tone).
* * * * * * *

I warmly welcome the members of the Uganda National Pilgrimage, as well as the many young people and the diocesan and parish groups present at today’s audience. As you walk in the footsteps of the martyrs, I pray that you will be strengthened in faith and commitment to Gospel witness. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Uganda, the Philippines, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

Wednesday 17 May 2000

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. Today I would like to reflect with you on my pilgrimage to Fátima, which the Lord enabled me to make on Friday and Saturday of last week. I still feel the emotions I experienced then. I can see the immense crowd gathered in front of the shrine on Friday evening when I arrived, and especially on Saturday morning for the beatification of the two little shepherds Francisco and Jacinta. A crowd exuberant with joy and, at the same time, capable of spending moments in absolute silence and intense recollection.

My heart is filled with gratitude: for the third time, on 13 May, the anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady in the Cova da Iria, Providence enabled me to go on pilgrimage to the feet of the Blessed Virgin, to the place where she appeared to the three little shepherds, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, from May to October 1917. Lucia is still alive and once again I had the joy of meeting her.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to the Bishop of Fátima and to all the Bishops of Portugal for preparing this visit and for their warm welcome. I also renew my greetings and gratitude to the President, the Prime Minister and the other Portuguese authorities for the attention they showed me and for all they did to ensure the success of this apostolic pilgrimage.

2. In Fátima, as in Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin chose to give her message to children: Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia. They received it so faithfully that they deserved not only to be recognized as credible witnesses of the apparitions, but also to become themselves an example of evangelical life.

Lucia, their cousin who was slightly older and is still alive, has given significant descriptions of the two new blesseds. Francisco was a good, thoughtful child with a contemplative soul, whereas Jacinta was lively, somewhat sensitive but very sweet and loving. Their parents taught them to pray, and the Lord himself drew them more closely to himself through the appearance of an angel who, holding a chalice and a host in his hands, taught them to unite themselves with the Eucharistic sacrifice in reparation for sins.

This experience prepared them for the subsequent meetings with Our Lady, who invited them to pray fervently and to offer sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. With the two shepherd children of Fátima, the Church has beatified two very young people because, although they were not martyrs, they showed that they lived the Christian virtues to a heroic degree despite their young age. The heroism of children, but true heroism.

Their holiness does not depend on the apparitions but on their fidelity and commitment in responding to the extraordinary gift they received from the Lord and from Mary most holy. After their encounter with the angel and with the beautiful Lady, they recited the Rosary many times a day, offering frequent penances for the end of the war and for the souls most in need of divine mercy, and they felt an intense desire to "console" the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. The little shepherds also had to endure the great pressures of those who with force and terrible threats tried to make them deny everything and reveal the secrets they had received. But they encouraged one another, trusting in the Lord and in the help of "that Lady", of whom Francisco said: "She is our friend". Because of their fidelity to God, they are a shining example to children and adults of how to comply in a simple and generous way with the transforming action of divine grace.

3. My pilgrimage to Fátima was also an opportunity to thank Mary for what she wished to communicate to the Church through these children and for the protection she has given me throughout my Pontificate: a thanks which I wanted to renew to her symbolically with the gift of the precious episcopal ring that Cardinal Wyszynski gave me a few days after my election to the See of Peter.

Since the time seemed right to me, I thought it appropriate to make public the content of the so-called third part of the secret.

I am happy to have been able to pray in the Chapel of the Apparitions, built on the spot where the "Lady shining with light" appeared several times to the three children and spoke to them. I gave thanks for all that God's mercy has wrought in the 20th century through the motherly intercession of Mary. In the light of the apparitions of Fátima, the events of this tormented historical period become remarkably eloquent. It is not difficult, then, to have a better understanding of all the mercy God has shown to the Church and to humanity through Mary. We can only thank him for the courageous witness of the many heralds of Christ who remained faithful to him, even to the sacrifice of their lives. Here I would also like to recall the children and adults, the men and women who, following the instructions of the Blessed Virgin at Fátima, have offered prayers and sacrifices everyday, especially through penance and the recitation of the Holy Rosary. I would like to remember them all and give thanks to God.

26 4. A message of conversion and hope has spread from Fátima throughout the world, a message which, in conformity with Christian revelation, is deeply rooted in history. It invites believers, on the basis of their lived experiences, to pray fervently for peace in the world and to do penance so that hearts may be opened to conversion. This is the true Gospel of Christ, which is presented anew to our generation particularly tried by events of the past. God's appeal to us through the Blessed Virgin still retains all its timeliness today.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us receive the light that comes from Fátima: let us be guided by Mary. May her Immaculate Heart be our refuge and the way that leads us to Christ. May the blessed shepherd children intercede for the Church, so that she can continue courageously on her earthly pilgrimage and proclaim the Gospel of salvation with constant fidelity to all mankind!

I greet the members of the NATO Defense College, and encourage you always to see your professional commitment as a service of peace in the world. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Malta, Uganda, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.

Peace appeal for Africa:

In recent days fighting has resumed between Ethiopia and Eritrea, while violence has continued to afflict the peoples of Sierra Leone. As always, it is civilians and defenceless persons who pay the price of such unprecedented cruelty.

I invite you to pray to the Lord of peace that he would hear the cry of the suffering and touch the hearts and minds of the various persons responsible for these senseless conflicts.
I offer special encouragement and fervent prayers for the people of good will who devote their own lives to solidarity with the suffering, as well as for the organizations which are doing all they can to increase any chance of peace.