Wednesday 4 April 2001 - The Spirit prays through us in the Psalms

1. Before beginning the commentary on the individual Psalms and Songs of Praise, let us complete today the introductory reflection which we began in the last catechesis. We will do so by starting with one aspect that is prized by our spiritual tradition: in singing the Psalms, the Christian feels a sort of harmony between the Spirit present in the Scriptures and the Spirit who dwells within him through the grace of Baptism. More than praying in his own words, he echoes those "sighs too deep for words" mentioned by St Paul (cf.
Rm 8,26), with which the Lord's Spirit urges believers to join in Jesus' characteristic invocation: "Abba! Father!" (Rm 8,15 Ga 4,6).

The ancient monks were so sure of this truth that they did not bother to sing the Psalms in their mother tongue. It was enough for them to know that they were in a way "organs" of the Holy Spirit. They were convinced that their faith would enable the verses of the Psalms to release a special "energy" of the Holy Spirit. The same conviction was expressed in their typical use of the Psalms known as "ejaculatory prayer" - from the Latin word "iaculum", that is "a dart" - to indicate concise phrases from the Psalms which they could "let fly" almost like flaming arrows, for example, against temptations. John Cassian, a writer who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries, recalls that monks discovered the extraordinary efficacy of the short incipit of Psalm 69: "God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me," which from that time on became as it were the gate of entry to the Liturgy of the Hours (cf. Conlationes, 10, 10: CPL 512, 298ff.).

2. In addition to the presence of the Holy Spirit, another important dimension is that of the priestly action which Christ carries out in this prayer, associating with himself the Church, his Bride. In this regard, referring to the Liturgy of the Hours, the Second Vatican Council teaches: "Jesus Christ, High Priest of the New and Eternal Covenant ... attaches to himself the entire community of mankind and has them join him in singing his divine song of praise. For he continues his priestly work through his Church. The Church, by celebrating the Eucharist and by other means, especially the celebration of the Divine Office, is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the entire world" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, SC 83).

So then the Liturgy of the Hours has the character of a public prayer in which the Church is specifically involved. It is enlightening to rediscover how she gradually came to shape her specific commitment of prayer to coincide with the various phases of day. To do so we must go back to the apostolic community in the days when there was still a close connection between Christian prayer and the so-called "legal prayers", that is, those prescribed by Mosaic Law - which were prayed at specific hours of the day in the temple of Jerusalem. From the book of Acts, we know that the Apostles were in the habit of "attending the temple together" (Ac 2,46), and "going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour" (Ac 3,1). Moreover, we also know that the "legal prayers par excellence" were those of the morning and the evening.

3. Jesus' disciples gradually identified certain Psalms as particularly appropriate for specific moments of the day, week or year, finding in them a deep sense of the Christian mystery. An authoritative witness of this process is St Cyprian, who writes in the first half of the third century: "We must also pray at the beginning of the day that the Resurrection of the Lord may be celebrated by morning prayer. The Holy Spirit once set this forth, when he said in the Psalms: "O my king and my God. For to you will I pray: O Lord, in the morning you shall hear my voice. In the morning I will stand before you, and will see you' (Ps 5,3-4).... For since Christ is the true Sun and the true Day, as the sun and the day of the world recede, when we pray and petition that the light come upon us again, we pray for the coming of Christ to provide us with the grace of eternal light" (De oratione dominica, 35: PL 39: 655).

4. The Christian tradition is not limited to perpetuating Jewish practice but made certain innovations which end by giving a different character to the entire prayer experience lived by Jesus' disciples. In fact, in addition to reciting the Our Father in the morning and evening, the Christians freely chose the Psalms with which to celebrate their daily prayer. Down through history, this process suggested the use of specific Psalms for certain particularly significant moments of faith. Among these, pride of place was held by the prayer of vigils, which were a preparation for the Lord's Day, Sunday, on which the Resurrection was celebrated.

Later, a typically Christian characteristic was the addition at the end of each Psalm and Canticle of the Trinitarian doxology, "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit". Thus every Psalm and Canticle is illumined by God's fullness.

5. Christian prayer is born, nourished and develops around the event of faith par excellence: Christ's paschal mystery. Thus Easter, the Lord's passing from death to life, is commemorated in the morning, in the evening, at sunrise and at sunset. The symbol of Christ, "Light of the world", can be seen in the lamp light during the prayer of Vespers, which is consequently also called "lucernarium". The hours of the day, in turn, recall the events of the Lord's Passion, and the third hour, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as well. Lastly, prayer during the night has an eschatological character, recalling the watching recommended by Jesus in expectation of his second coming (cf. Mc 13,35-37).

Giving their prayer this rhythm, Christians responded to the Lord's command "to pray always" (cf. Lc 18,1 Lc 21,36 1Th 5,17 Ep 6,18), but without forgetting that their whole life must, in a certain way, become a prayer. In this regard, Origen writes: "One who prays ceaselessly is one who combines prayer with work and work with prayer" (On Prayer, XII, 2: PG 11, 452C).

The whole panorama constitutes the natural habitat of the recitation of the Psalms. If heard and lived in this way, the Trinitarian doxology that crowns every Psalm becomes for the believer in Christ a continual immersion in the waters of the Spirit and in communion with the People of God, in the ocean of life and of peace in which that people was immersed through Baptism, that is, in the mystery of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Denmark, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Ghana, Australia and the United States of America. I invite you all to more intense prayer during the coming days of Holy Week. Upon you and your families I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

After greeting the pilgrims in various languages the Holy Father said:

This year the World Day of Health, with the theme, "Mental Health: Stop the Exclusion Dare to Care", will be celebrated on 7 April. On this occasion, I renew my appeal that, everyone, in accordance with his responsibility, commit himself to defending the dignity and rights of people suffering from mental illness. May no one remain indifferent to these our brothers and sisters. The Church looks with respect and affection on those who suffer from this affliction and urges the entire human family to accept them, giving special care to the poorest and most abandoned.

Wednesday 11 April 2001 - Reflect on Christ's boundless love


1. We are on the eve of the Easter Triduum, already immersed in the spiritual atmosphere of Holy Week. From tomorrow until Sunday we will be living the central days of the liturgy, which present to us, once again, the mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. In their homilies, the Fathers often mention these days which - as St Athanasius observes - bring us to "a new beginning, the announcement of the blessed Passover, in which the Lord was sacrificed". Thus he describes the period in which we are living in his Festal Letters (Letter 5, 1-2; PG 26). Next Sunday the Easter Preface will make us sing with full voice that "Christ's Resurrection is our rising to life".

At the heart of this sacred Triduum is the "mystery of love without limit", that is, the mystery of Jesus who "having loved his own who were in the world ... loved them to the end" (
Jn 13,1). I presented this overwhelming and sweet mystery to priests in the Letter I sent them, as I do every year, for Holy Thursday.

I also invite you to reflect on this same love, to prepare worthily to relive the last stages of Jesus' earthly life. Tomorrow we will enter the Upper Room to receive the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist, the priesthood and the new commandment. On Good Friday we will take the sorrowful way that leads to Calvary, where Christ will complete his sacrifice. On Holy Saturday we will wait in silence to enter the solemn Easter Vigil.

2. "He loved them to the end". The Evangelist John's words express and describe in a particular way the liturgy of tomorrow, Holy Thursday, contained in the Chrism Mass of the morning and in the Evening Mass in Cena Domini, which opens the Holy Triduum.

19 The Eucharist is an eloquent sign of this total, free and gratuitous love, and offers each person the joy of the presence of the One who enables us too to love "to the end" in imitation of him. The love that Jesus proposes to his disciples is demanding.

At our meeting, we heard once again the echo of the Evangelist Matthew's words: "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven" (
Mt 5,11-12). Today, too, loving "to the end" means being prepared to face labours and difficulties in Christ's name. It means fearing neither insults nor persecutions, and being willing to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5,44). All this is a gift of Christ, who has offered himself for every human being as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the Cross.

3. "He loved them to the end". From the Upper Room to Golgotha: our reflection takes us to Calvary, where we contemplate a love whose fulfilment is the gift of life. The Cross is the clear sign of this mystery but at the same time, for this very reason, it becomes a symbol that challenges and troubles consciences. When next Friday we celebrate the Lord's Passion and take part in the Via Crucis, we will not be able to forget the power of this love which is given without measure.

In the Apostolic Letter at the end of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I wrote: "In contemplating Christ's face, we confront the most paradoxical aspect of his mystery, as it emerges in his last hour, on the Cross. The mystery within the mystery, before which we cannot but prostrate ourselves in adoration" (Novo millennio ineunte, NM 25). This is the most fitting attitude with which to prepare ourselves for living the day that commemorates the Passion, Crucifixion and Death of Christ.

4. "He loved them to the end". Sacrificed for us on the Cross, Jesus is raised and becomes the first-fruits of the new creation. We will spend Holy Saturday in silent expectation of the encounter with the Risen One, meditating on the words of the Apostle Paul: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1Co 15,3-4). This is the best way to prepare ourselves for the solemn Easter Vigil, when the brilliant light of the risen Christ will shine out in the heart of the night.

On this last stretch of our penitential journey, may we be accompanied by Mary, the Virgin who remained ever faithful beside the Son, especially during the days of the Passion. May she teach us to love "to the end" following in the footsteps of Jesus, who saved the world through his Death and his Resurrection.
* * * * *

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present, especially those from Norway, Sweden and the United States. I invite all of you to intensify your prayer during these holy days, and upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour. Happy Easter!

Wednesday 18 April 2001 - Contemplating the face of the risen Lord


1. Today, the customary Wednesday General Audience is flooded with the luminous joy of Easter. At this time, the Church celebrates the great mystery of the Resurrection with exultation. It is a deep and inextinguishable joy based on the risen Christ's gift of the new and everlasting Covenant, which endures because now he dies no more. A joy that continues not only during the Easter Octave, which the liturgy considers a single day, but is extended for 50 days until Pentecost. Indeed, it now embraces all times and all places.

During this period, the Christian community is invited to a new and deeper experience of the risen Christ, living and active in the Church and in the world.

2. In this splendid setting of light and joy that belongs to the Easter season, let us now pause to contemplate together the face of the Risen One, taking up and carrying out what I have not hesitated to call the "core" of the great legacy left to us by the Jubilee of the Year 2000. In fact, as I stressed in my Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, "if we ask what is the core of the great legacy it leaves us, I would not hesitate to describe it as the contemplation of the face of Christ ... known through his manifold presence in the Church and in the world, and confessed as the meaning of history and the light of life's journey" (
NM 15).

Just as on Good Friday and Holy Saturday we contemplated the sorrowful face of Christ, we now turn our gaze full of faith and grateful love to the face of the Risen One. The Church looks at him in these days, following in the footsteps of Peter, who professes his love to Christ (cf. Jn 21,15-17), and in the footsteps of Paul, who was overwhelmed by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (cf. Ac 9,3-5).

The Easter liturgy presents to us the various encounters with the risen Christ, which are an invitation to reflect on his message and encourage us to imitate the faith journey of those who recognized him in those first hours after the Resurrection. Thus the devout women and Mary Magdalen spur us to bring the news of the Risen One (cf. Lc 24,8-10 Jn 20,18). The beloved Apostle bears an exceptional witness that it is precisely love which sees the reality symbolized by the signs of the Resurrection; the empty tomb, the absence of the body, the folded burial cloths. Love sees and believes, and urges us to walk towards the One who in himself contains the full meaning of all things: Jesus, living for ever and ever.

3. In today's liturgy the Church contemplates the face of the Risen One, who shares the journey of the two disciples of Emmaus. At the beginning of our meeting, we listened to a passage from this well-known text of the Evangelist Luke.

However tiring, the road to Emmaus leads from a sense of discouragement and bewilderment to the fullness of Easter faith. In retracing this journey, we too are joined by the mysterious traveling Companion. Jesus approaches us on the road, meeting us where we are and asking us the essential questions that open the heart to hope. He has many things to explain about his and our destiny. In particular, he reveals that every human life must pass through his Cross to enter into glory. But Christ does something more: he breaks the bread of sharing for us, offering that Eucharistic Table in which the Scriptures acquire their full meaning and reveal the unique and shining features of the Redeemer's face.

4. After recognizing and contemplating the face of the risen Christ, we too, like the two disciples, are asked to run to our brothers and sisters to bring everyone the great news: "We have seen the Lord!" (Jn 20,25).

"His Resurrection is our rising to life" (Easter Preface II): this is the good news that Christ's disciples do not tire of bringing to the world, especially through the witness of their own lives. This is the most beautiful gift that our brothers and sisters expect of us in this Easter season.

Let us be captivated, then, by the fascination of Christ's Resurrection. May the Virgin Mary help us to experience in full the joy of Easter: a joy which, as the Risen One promised, no one can ever take from us and which will never end (cf. Jn 16,22).

I extend a special greeting to the newly ordained Deacons of the Pontifical Irish College, and I urge you to rely always on the Holy Spirit to guide you in your ministry of word and service. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Finland, India and the United States, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour. Happy Easter!

The Holy Father appealed for peace in the Middle East:

As the light of the risen Christ illumines the whole universe, we can only express solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who have been caught in a maelstrom of armed violence and retaliation.

The roar of weapons must give way to the voice of reason and conscience: sincere concern for the legitimate aspirations of all peoples and the scrupulous observance of international law are the only way to bring the parties back to the negotiating table and to mark out a path of brotherhood for those peoples.

May God speak to the hearts of those who kill, and have pity on those who succumb to so much violence! Tu nobis, Victor Rex, miserere!

Wednesday 25 April 2001 - My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord\b\i (Comment on Psalm 62)

21 Ps 62

1. Psalm 62 on which we are reflecting today is the Psalm of mystical love, which celebrates total adherence to God based on an almost physical yearning and reaching its fullness in a close and everlasting embrace. Prayer becomes longing, thirst and hunger, because it involves the soul and the body.

As St Teresa of Avila wrote: "Thirst, I think, means the desire for something very necessary for us so necessary that if we have none of it we shall die." (The Way of Perfection, chap. XIX). The liturgy presents to us the first two verses of the Psalm which are indeed focused on the symbols of thirst and hunger, while the third verse evokes a dark horizon, that of the divine judgement of evil, in contrast to the brightness and confident longing of the rest of the Psalm.
Believers long to be filled with God, the source of living water

2. Let us begin our meditation with the first song, that of the thirst for God (cf. Ps 62,2-4). It is dawn, the sun is rising in the clear blue sky of the Holy Land, and the person praying begins his day by going to the temple to seek God's light. He has an almost instinctive, one might say "physical" need for that encounter with the Lord. Just as the dried-out earth is dead until it is watered by the rain and the earth's gaping cracks suggest the image of its parched and thirsty mouth, so the believer yearns for God, to be filled with him and thus to live in communion with him.

The prophet Jeremiah had already proclaimed: the Lord is the "source of living waters", and had reproached the people for building "broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jr 2,13). Jesus himself would exclaim aloud: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me; let him drink who believes in me" (Jn 7,37-38). At high noon on a quiet, sunny day, he promises the Samaritan woman: "whoever drinks of the water that I shall give will never thirst; the water that I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4,14).

22 3. The prayer of Psalm 62 is interwoven with the song of the wonderful Psalm 42: "as the deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.... When shall I come and behold the face of God?" (Ps 42,2-3). Now in Old Testament language the Hebrew "soul" is indicated by the term nefesh, which in some texts means "throat" and whose meaning in many others is broadened to encompass the whole of the person. Taken in these dimensions, the word helps us to realize how essential and profound our need for God is; without him we lack breath and even life itself. For this reason the Psalmist comes to the point of putting physical existence itself on the second level, if union with God should be lacking: "for your steadfast love is better than life" (Ps 62,3). In Ps 73 he will also repeat to the Lord: "There is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.... for me it is good to be near God" (Ps 73,25-28).

4. After the song about thirst, the Psalmist sings a song about hunger (cf. Ps 62,5-8). With the images of "the soul feasting as with marrow and fat" and of being filled, the person praying is probably referring to one of the sacrifices that were celebrated in the temple of Zion: the so-called sacrifice "of communion", that is, a sacred banquet at which the faithful ate the flesh of the sacrifice. Another fundamental need of life is used here as a symbol of communion with God: hunger is appeased when people hear the divine Word and encounter the Lord. Indeed "man does not live by bread alone, but ... by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8,3 cf. Mt 4,4). And here flashes across the Christian's mind the thought of the banquet that Christ prepared on the last evening of his earthly life, whose deep value he had explained in his discourse at Capernaum: "For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Jn 6,55-56).

5. Through the mystical food of communion with God, "the soul clings to him" as the Psalmist says. Once again the word "soul" suggests the whole human being. Here one rightly finds the mention of an embrace, an almost physical clinging; henceforth God and man are in full communion and on the lips of his creature only joyful and grateful praise can bloom. Even during the dark night we feel protected by God's wings, just as the ark of the Covenant is covered by the wings of the cherubim. And then the ecstatic expression of jubilation blossoms: "In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy". Fear is dispelled, the embrace does not cling to emptiness but to God himself, our souls are upheld by the power of his right hand (cf. Ps 62,7-8).

6. In reading the Psalm in the light of the Easter mystery, our hunger and thirst which impel us towards God find their fulfillment in the crucified and risen Christ, from whom we receive the gift of the Spirit and the sacraments which give us new life and the nourishment that sustains it.
St John Chrysostom reminds us in commenting on the Johannine phrase: from his side "flowed blood and water" (cf. Jn 19,34), he says "that baptism and the mysteries [that is, the Eucharist] were symbolized in that blood and water". And he concludes: "Have you seen how Christ has united his bride to himself? Have you seen with what kind of food he feeds us all? By the same food we are formed and are fed. As a woman feeds her child with her own blood and milk, so too Christ himself continually feeds those whom he has begotten with his own blood" (Homily III address to catechumens, 16-19 passim: SC 50 bis, 160-162).

I warmly greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present, especially those from England, Finland, Ghana, Korea and the United States. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord.

                                                                                  May 2001

Wednesday 2 May 2001 - Let every creature bless the Lord


1. "Bless the Lord, all works of the Lord" (
Da 3,57). A cosmic dimension imbues this Canticle taken from the Book of Daniel, which the Liturgy of the Hours proposes for Sunday Lauds in the first and third weeks. This marvellous litany-like prayer is well-suited to the Dies Domini, the Day of the Lord, that lets us contemplate in the risen Christ the culmination of God's plan for the cosmos and for history. Indeed, in him, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of history (cf. Ap 22,13), creation itself acquires its full meaning since, as John recalls in the Prologue to his Gospel, "all things were made through him" (Jn 1,3). The history of salvation culminates in the resurrection of Christ, opening human life to the gift of the Spirit and adoption as sons and daughters, while awaiting the return of the divine Spouse who will hand the world back to God the Father (cf. 1Co 15,24).

2. In this text, in the form of a litany, it is as if our gaze passes all things in review. Our gaze focuses on the sun, the moon and the stars; it settles upon the immense expanse of the waters, rises to the mountains, lingers over the most varied elements of the weather; it passes from hot to cold, from light to darkness; considers the mineral and vegetable worlds, dwells on the various types of animals. Then the call becomes universal: it refers to God's angels, reaches all the "sons of men", but most particularly involves the People of God, Israel, the priests and the holy ones. It is an immense choir, a symphony in which the varied voices are raised in praise to God, Creator of the universe and Lord of history. Prayed in the light of Christian revelation, it is addressed to the Trinitarian God, as we are invited to do by the liturgy which adds a Trinitarian formula to the Canticle: "Let us praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit".

3. Reflected in the Canticle, in a certain sense, is the universal religious soul, which perceives God's imprint in the world and is lifted up to contemplate the Creator. However, in the context of the Book of Daniel, the hymn is presented as the thanksgiving of three young Israelites - Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael - who were condemned to die burnt in a furnace for refusing to adore the golden idol of Nebuchadnezzar, but were miraculously preserved from the flames. Against the background of this event is that special history of salvation in which God chooses Israel as his people and makes a covenant with them. It is the same covenant to which the three young Israelites want to stay faithful, even at the cost of martyrdom in the fiery furnace. Their fidelity meets with the fidelity of God who sends an angel to drive the flames away from them (cf. Da 3,49).

In this way the Canticle is patterned on the Old Testament songs of praise for danger averted. Among them is the famous song of victory, cited in chapter 15 of Exodus, in which the ancient Hebrews express their gratitude to the Lord for that night in which they would inevitably have been overcome by Pharaoh's army, had the Lord not opened a passage for them, dividing the waters and hurling "the horse and his rider ... into the sea" (Ex 15,1).

4. It is not by chance, in the solemn Easter Vigil, that every year the liturgy makes us repeat the hymn sung by the Israelites in Exodus. That path which was opened for them, prophetically announced the new way that the risen Christ inaugurated for humanity on the holy night of his resurrection from the dead. Our symbolic passing through the waters of Baptism enables us to relive a similar experience of passing from death to life, thanks to the victory over death won by Jesus, for the benefit of us all.

By repeating the Canticle of the three young Israelites in the Sunday liturgy of Lauds, we disciples of Christ want to be swept up in the same wave of gratitude for the great works wrought by God, in creation and, above all, in the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection.

In fact, the Christian discerns a relationship between the release of the three young men, mentioned in the Canticle, and the resurrection of Jesus. In the latter, the Acts of the Apostles see granted the prayer of the believer who, like the Psalmist, confidently sings: "you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your Holy One see corruption" (Ac 2,27 Ps 15,10).

It is traditional to associate the Canticle with the Resurrection. Some ancient records show the existence of the hymn in the prayer of the Lord's Day, the weekly Easter of Christians. Moreover, iconographical depictions which show three young men praying unharmed amidst the flames have been found in the Roman catacombs, thereby witnessing to the effectiveness of prayer and the certainty that the Lord will intervene.

5. "Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven praiseworthy and glorious forever" (Da 3,56). In singing the hymn on Sunday, the Christian feels gratitude not only for the gift of creation but also because we are the recipients of the fatherly care of God, who in Christ has raised us to the dignity of being his sons and daughters.

God's fatherly care makes us see creation in a new way and its astounding beauty offers an elegant sign in which we can catch a glimpse of his love. With these sentiments Francis of Assisi contemplated creation and lifted his praise to God, the ultimate source of all beauty. It comes naturally to imagine that the prayers of the Biblical text were echoed in his soul when at San Damiano, after touching the peaks of physical and spiritual suffering, he composed the "Canticle of Brother Sun" (cf. Fonti Francescane, 263).

I warmly greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present, especially those from England, Canada and the United States of America. As we give thanks to God in this Easter season for his saving deeds, I invoke his abundant blessings upon you and your families.

After greeting the pilgrims in various languages at the end the Holy Father spoke of his forthcoming visit to Greece, Syria and Malta:

As everyone knows, in two days' time I will be setting out on the last part of my Jubilee pilgrimage to the places linked to the history of salvation. In this way is fulfilled the wish, which I expressed in the perspective of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, to go and pray at the places where God's initiatives for our salvation actually occurred. After having visited Sinai, where God revealed himself to Moses, as well as the Holy Land, I am now preparing to go to some of the cities especially connected with the life of St Paul. My pilgrimage in the great Apostle's footsteps will be a return to the roots of the Church, because we must constantly refer to them in order to remain totally faithful to God's plan. The journey will take me to Athens, in whose Areopagus Paul gave a very illuminating discourse about the impact of the Gospel message on an important culture like that of Greece. I will then go on to Damascus, a place that calls to mind Saul's conversion, and, lastly, to Malta, where the Apostle of the Gentiles was shipwrecked while being taken to Rome as a prisoner.

Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to accompany with prayer the journey that is so important to me. May it be a favourable opportunity to increase understanding with Orthodox Christians, encouraging further progress on our journey towards the full unity of Christians. I also hope that my visit to Syria, and especially to the Great Mosque of Damascus, will effectively strengthen interreligious dialogue with the followers of Islam, encouraging the commitment to an active and peaceful coexistence.