Wednesday 29 August 2001 - The Lord, Creator of the World, protects his people - Canticle of Judith

Jdt 16,1-2 Jdt 16,13-15)

1. The Canticle of praise we have just recited (Jdt 16,1-7) is attributed to Judith, a heroine who became the pride of all the women of Israel, because it was her mission to demonstrate the liberating power of God at a dark moment in the life of his people. The Liturgy of Lauds gives us only a few verses to recite. They invite us to celebrate, to sing with a full voice, play drums and cymbals, to praise the Lord "who crushes wars" (Jdt 16,2).

The last expression, which defines the true countenance of God, who loves peace, introduces us into the world of ideas in which the hymn was conceived. It was about a victory which the Israelites won in a totally amazing way, a work of God who intervened to rescue them from the prospect of an impending and total defeat.

2. The sacred author reconstructs the event several centuries later to offer his brothers and sisters in the faith, tempted to discouragement by a difficult situation, an example that can encourage them.

So he refers to what happened to Israel, when Nebuchadnezzar, irritated by this people's failure to cooperate with his expansionist plans and idolatrous claims, sent the general Holofernes with the specific order to subdue and annihilate them. No one would dare to resist him who claimed the honours of a god. His general, who shared his presumption, derided the warning he was given not to attack Israel, because it would amount to attacking God himself.

In reality, the sacred author wants to emphasize this principle, to confirm believers of his time in faithfulness to the God of the covenant: one must have confidence in God. The true enemy that Israel must fear, are not the powerful ones of the earth, but infidelity to the Lord. This is what deprives them of God's protection and makes them vulnerable. Otherwise, when they are faithful, the people can count on the power of God "wonderful in his power and unsurpassable" (Jdt 16,13).

42 3. The whole story of Judith splendidly illustrates this principle. The scene is that of the land of Israel now invaded by her enemies. From the canticle emerges the drama of the moment: "The Assyrian came down from the mountains of the north; he came with myriads of warriors; their multitude blocked up the valleys, their cavalry covered the hills" (Jdt 16,3). The canticle highlights with sarcasm the fleeting arrogance of the enemy: "He boasted that he would burn up my territory, and kill my young men with the sword, and dash my infants to the ground and seize my children as prey, and take my virgins as booty" (Jdt 16,4).

The situation described in the words of Judith is like others lived by Israel, in which salvation arrived when there seemed to be no way out. Was not the salvation of Exodus with its miraculous passage through the Red Sea also like this? Now too the siege by a powerful and numerous army removed all hope. But all this does but manifest the power of God, who is revealed as the invincible protector of his people.

4. The work of God appears even more gloriously since he did not rely on a warrior or an army. As happened before, in the time of Deborah, he eliminated Sisera through Jael, a woman (Jg 4,17-21), now he makes use of an unarmed woman to come to the aid of his people in trouble. Strong in faith, Judith enters the enemy camp, charms the commander with her beauty and kills him in a humiliating way. The Canticle strongly underlines this fact: "The Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman. For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of young men, nor did the sons of Titans smite him, nor did the tall giants set upon him: but Judith the daughter of Merari undid him with the beauty of her countenance" (Jdt 15,5-6).

Judith is example of woman's mission and prefiguration of Mary's cooperation in redemption

The person of Judith will become the archetype that would permit not just the Jewish tradition, but even the Christian tradition to emphasize God's preference for what is fragile and weak, but precisely, for this reason, chosen to manifest divine power. She is also an exemplary figure who showed the vocation and mission of the woman, called to be man's equal, and to play a significant role in the plan of God. Some of the expressions of the book of Judith will pass, more or less integrally into Christian tradition which sees in the Jewish heroine a prefiguration of Mary. Do we not hear an echo of the words of Judith, when Mary sings in the Magnificat: "He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has raised up the humble" (Lc 1,52). One can understand why the liturgical tradition common to Christians of the East and of the West loves to ascribe to Mary the Mother of Jesus, the praise given to Judith: "you are the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the great glory of Israel, you are the great pride of our nation" (Jdt 15,9).

5. From the experience of the victory, the canticle of Judith ends with an invitation to raise a new song to God, acknowledging him as "great and glorious". At the same time, all creatures are admonished to remain subject to Him who with his word made everything and with his spirit fashioned it all. Who can resist the voice of God? Judith recalls it very forcefully: before the Creator and Lord of history, the mountains shall be shaken to their foundations and the rocks melt like wax (cf. Jdt 16,15). They are effective metaphors to recall that everything is "nothing" before the power of God. However the canticle of victory does not want to terrify, but to comfort. In fact, God puts his invincible power at the support of those who are faithful to him: "to those who fear you, you will continue to show mercy" (Jdt 16,15).

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present, especially those from England, Scotland, Canada, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

                                                                                September 2001

Wednesday 5 September 2001 - Praise the Lord, King of all the earth - Psalm 46 (47)

Ps 47

1. "The Lord, the most high, is a great King over all the earth!". This initial acclamation is repeated in different tones in Psalm 46 (47), which we just prayed. It is designed as a hymn to the sovereign Lord of the universe and of history: "God is king over all the earth ... God rules over all nations" (Ps 47,8-9).

Like other similar compositions in the Psalter (cf. Ps 92 Ps 95-98), this hymn to the Lord, the king of the world and of mankind presumes an atmosphere of liturgical celebration. For that reason, we are at the heart of the spiritual praise of Israel, which rises to heaven from the Temple, the place where the infinite and eternal God reveals himself and meets his people.

2. We will follow this canticle of joyful praise in its fundamental moments like two waves of the sea coming toward the shore. They differ in the way they consider the relationship between Israel and the nations. In the first part of the psalm, the relationship is one of domination: God "has subdued the peoples under us, he has put the nations under our feet" (Ps 47,4); in the second part, instead, the relationship is one of association: "the princes of the peoples are gathered with the people of the God of Abraham" (Ps 47,10). One can notice great progress.

In the first part (cf. Ps 47,2-6) it says, "All you peoples clap your hands, shout to God with joyful cries!" (Ps 47,2). The centre of this festive applause is the grandiose figure of the supreme Lord, to whom the psalm attributes three glorious titles: "most high, great and terrible" (Ps 47,3). They exalt the divine transcendence, the absolute primacy of being, omnipotence. The Risen Christ will also exclaim: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt 28,18).

3. In the universal lordship of God over all the peoples of the earth (cf. Ps 47,4) the psalmist stresses his particular presence in Israel, the people of divine election, "the favourite", the most precious and dear inheritance (cf. Ps 47,5). Israel is the object of a particular love of God which is manifested with the victory over hostile nations. During the battle, the presence of the Ark of the Covenant with the troops of Israel assured them of God's help; after the victory, the Ark was returned to Mount Zion (cf. Ps 68,19 [67],19) and all proclaimed, "God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid trumpet blasts" (Ps 47,6 [46],6).

4. The second part of the Psalm (cf. Ps 47,7-10) opens with another wave of praise and festive chant: "Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praises ... sing hymns of praise!" (Ps 47,7-8). Even now one sings to the Lord seated on his throne in the fullness of his sovereignty (cf. Ps 47,9). The royal seat is defined as "holy", because it is unapproachable by the finite and sinful human being. But the Ark of the Covenant present in the most sacred part of the Temple of Zion is also a heavenly throne. In this way the distant and transcendent God, holy and infinite, draws near to his creatures, adapting himself to space and time (cf. 1R 8,27 1R 8,30).

5. The psalm finishes on a surprising note of universalist openness: "the princes of the peoples are gathered with the people of the God of Abraham" (Ps 47,10). One goes back to Abraham the patriarch who is at the root, not only of Israel but also of other nations. To the chosen people who are his descendents, is entrusted the mission of making converge towards the Lord all nations and all cultures, because he is the God of all mankind. From East to West they will gather on Zion to meet the king of peace and love, of unity and brotherhood (cf. Mt 8,11). As the prophet Isaiah hoped, the peoples who are hostile to one another, will receive the invitation to lay down their arms and to live together under the divine sovereignty, under a government of justice and peace (Is 2,2-5). The eyes of all are fixed on the new Jerusalem where the Lord "ascends" to be revealed in the glory of his divinity. It will be "an immense multitude, which no one can count, from every nation, race, people and tongue ... they (all) cried out with a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on his throne and to the Lamb" (Ap 7,9 Ap 7,10).

6. The Letter to the Ephesians sees the realization of this prophecy in the mystery of Christ the Redeemer when it affirms, addressing Christians who did not come from Judaism: "Remember, that one time you pagans by birth,... were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, extraneous to the covenant of the promise, without hope and without God in this world. Now instead, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near thanks to the blood of Christ. In fact, he is our peace, he who made of the two one people, destroying the dividing wall of enmity" (Ep 2,1-14).

In Christ then, the kingship of God, sung by our psalm, is realized on earth in the meeting of all people. This is the way an anonymous 8th century homily commented on this mystery: "Until the coming of the Messiah, hope of the nations, the Gentiles did not adore God and did not know who he is. Until the Messiah redeemed them, God did not reign over the nations through their obedience and their worship. Now instead, with his Word and his Spirit, God reigns over them because he saved them from deception and made them his friends" (Anonymous Palestinian, Arab-Christian Homily of the Eighth Century, Rome 1994, p. 100).

At the end of his commentary, the Holy Father greeted the 23,000 pilgrims and visitors in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Croatian and Italian. Among the Italian pilgrims, he singled out for mention the Italo-Chinese Institute and Fr Matteo Ricci. Here is a translation of his remarks given in Italian.

I cordially greet the directors of the Italo-Chinese Institute which is promoting, along with others, the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of Fr Matteo Ricci in Peking. There will be two International Congresses in the month of October, the first at Peking, the second in Rome, with the participation of Chinese, American and European experts to remember the person and the apostolic activities of that great Jesuit missionary. I follow these important initiatives with great interest and I wish them great success because the figure of Matteo Ricci is an influential one for those who are engaged in preaching of the Gospel in a variety of cultural and religious contexts.

I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Malta, Japan, Korea, Uganda and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday 12 September 2001


I cannot begin this audience without expressing my profound sorrow at the terrorist attacks which yesterday brought death and destruction to America, causing thousands of victims and injuring countless people. To the President of the United States and to all American citizens I express my heartfelt sorrow. In the face of such unspeakable horror we cannot but be deeply disturbed. I add my voice to all the voices raised in these hours to express indignant condemnation, and I strongly reiterate that the ways of violence will never lead to genuine solutions to humanity’s problems.

Yesterday was a dark day in the history of humanity, a terrible affront to human dignity. After receiving the news, I followed with intense concern the developing situation, with heartfelt prayers to the Lord. How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people. But faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail. Christ’s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit. Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Christian hope is based on this truth; at this time our prayerful trust draws strength from it.

With deeply felt sympathy I address myself to the beloved people of the United States in this moment of distress and consternation, when the courage of so many men and women of good will is being sorely tested. In a special way I reach out to the families of the dead and the injured, and assure them of my spiritual closeness. I entrust to the mercy of the Most High the helpless victims of this tragedy, for whom I offered Mass this morning, invoking upon them eternal rest. May God give courage to the survivors; may he sustain the rescue-workers and the many volunteers who are presently making an enormous effort to cope with such an immense emergency. I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to join me in prayer for them. Let us beg the Lord that the spiral of hatred and violence will not prevail. May the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Mercy, fill the hearts of all with wise thoughts and peaceful intentions.

Today, my heartfelt sympathy is with the American people, subjected yesterday to inhuman terrorist attacks which have taken the lives of thousands of innocent human beings and caused unspeakable sorrow in the hearts of all men and women of good will. Yesterday was indeed a dark day in our history, an appalling offence against peace, a terrible assault against human dignity.

I invite you all to join me in commending the victims of this shocking tragedy to Almighty God' s eternal love. Let us implore his comfort upon the injured, the families involved, all who are doing their utmost to rescue survivors and help those affected.

I ask God to grant the American people the strength and courage they need at this time of sorrow and trial.

I greet with special affection the Carmelite Family, gathered here with a large group of pilgrims from many nations on the occasion of the meeting that commemorates the 750th anniversary of the giving of the Scapular. Dearly beloved, this happy event involves not only those devoted to Our Lady of Mt Carmel, but the whole Church because the rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become in time, thanks to the spread of devotion connected with the Scapular, a treasure for the entire People of God. Draw constantly from this wonderful spiritual patrimony in order to be credible witnesses to Christ and to His Gospel in daily life.

With the Letter that I wrote last 25th March to the Superiors General of the Order of the Carmelites and of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites, I invited you to this special dedication. In it, among other items, I wrote that the Scapular is essentially a habit which evokes the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this life and in the passage to the fullness of eternal glory. The Scapular also reminds us that the devotion to her must become a "uniform", that is a Christian life-style, woven of prayer and interior life. I hope that this anniversary may be for each one of you an occasion for personal conversion, for community renewal, in which we will respond to the divine grace which fortifies us on the path to holiness.

45 At the end of the General Audience address, the Holy Father offered the following prayer of the faithful in Italian.

The Holy Father:

Brothers and Sisters, in great dismay, before the horror of destructive violence, but strong in the faith that has always guided our fathers, we turn to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, salvation of his people, and with the confidence of children, pray that He will come to our aid in these days of mourning and innocent suffering.


Dominum deprecemur: Te rogamus, audi nos.

1. For the Churches of the East and the West, and in particular for the Church in the United States of America so that, though humbled by loss and mourning, yet inspired by the Mother of the Lord, strong woman beside the cross of her Son, they may foster the will for reconciliation, peace, and the building of the civilization of love.

2. For all those who bear the name of Christian, so that, in the midst of many persons who are tempted to hatred and doubt, they will be witnesses to the presence of God in history and the victory of Christ over death.

3. For the leaders of nations, so that they will not allow themselves to be guided by hatred and the spirit of retaliation, but may do everything possible to prevent new hatred and death, by bringing forth works of peace.

4. For those who are weeping in sorrow over the loss of relatives and friends, that in this hour of suffering they will not be overcome by sadness, despair and vengeance, but continue to have faith in the victory of good over evil, of life over death.

5. For those suffering and wounded by the terrorist acts, that they may return to stability and health and, appreciating the gift of life, may generously foster the will to contribute to the well being of every human being.

6. For our brothers and sisters who met death in the folly of violence, that they find sure joy and life everlasting in the peace of the Lord, that their death may not be in vain but become a leaven bringing forth a season of brotherhood and collaboration among peoples.

46 The Holy Father:

O Lord Jesus, remember our deceased and suffering brothers before your Father.
Remember us also, as we begin to pray with your words: Pater noster...

O Almighty and merciful God,
you cannot be understood by one who sows discord, you cannot be accepted by one who loves violence: look upon our painful human condition tried by cruel acts of terror and death, comfort your children and open our hearts to hope, so that our time may again know days of serenity and peace.
Through Christ our Lord.

Wednesday 19 September 2001

47 Ps 57

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. It is a dark night; devouring wild beasts are perceived in the surroundings. The one who prays is waiting for the coming of dawn so that the light will dispel the darkness and fear. This is the background of Psalm 56 (57) on which we reflect today. It is a night prayer made by the one who prays at the break of day, anxiously awaited, in order to be able to praise the Lord with joy (cf. Ps 57,9-12). In fact, the psalm passes from dramatic lament addressed to God to serene hope and joyful thanksgiving, the latter using words that resound again in another psalm (cf. Ps 108,2-6 [107],2-6).

In reality, one assists at the passage from fear to joy, from night to day, from nightmare to serenity, from supplication to praise. It is an experience that is often described in the Psalter: “You changed my mourning into dancing, you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. With my whole being I sing endless praise to you. Lord, my God, forever will I will give you thanks” (Ps 29,12-13).


2. Psalm 56 (57) that we are meditating on has two parts. The first part is the experience of fear before the assault of the evil which tries to strike the just one (cf. Ps 57,2-7). At the centre of the scene there are lions poised to attack. In no time this image is transformed into a picture of war, complete with spears, arrows, and swords. The one who prays feels assailed by a kind of death squadron. Around him there is a band of hunters, setting traps and digging pits to capture their prey. But this tense atmosphere is suddenly dissolved. In fact, already at the beginning (cf. Ps 57,2), the protective symbol of the divine wings appears which refer, specifically, to the Ark of the Covenant with the winged cherubim, sign of the presence of God among the faithful in the holy temple on Mt Zion.

3. The one who prays asks God insistently to send from heaven his messengers to whom he assigns the symbolic names of “Faithfulness” and “Grace” (Ps 57,4), the qualities proper to the saving love of God. For that reason, even if he shudders at the terrible roaring of the wild beasts and the perfidy of his persecutors, the faithful one remains serene and confident within, like Daniel in the lions' den (cf. Da 6,17-25).


The presence of the Lord does not delay in showing its efficacy by means of the self inflicted punishment of his adversaries: they tumble into the pit which they had dug for the just one (cf. Ps 57,7). Such confidence in divine justice, which is always expressed in the Psalter, wards off discouragement and surrender to the power of evil. Sooner or later, God sides with the faithful one upsetting the manoeuvres of the wicked, tripping them up in their own evil plots.

4. Now we reach the second part of the Psalm, that of thanksgiving (cf. Ps 57,8-12). There is a passage which shines because of its intensity and beauty: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody. Awake my soul. Awake O harp and lyre. I will awake the dawn” (Ps 57,8-9). Now the darkness has been dispelled: the dawn of salvation has coloured the song of the one who prays.

Applying this image to himself, the Psalmist seems to translate into terms that belong to the religious imagery of the Bible, which is rigorously monotheistic, the custom of the Egyptian or Phoenician priests who were in charge of “awakening the dawn”, of making the sun reappear, since it was considered a beneficent god. He also alludes to the use of hanging up musical instruments and covering them in a time of mourning and trial (cf. Ps 137,2 [136],2), and of “reawakening” them to a festive sound in times of liberation and joy. Hope blossoms from the liturgy: one turns to God asking him to draw near to his people again and to hear their prayer. In the Psalter, dawn is often the moment when God grants a favour after a night of prayer.

Divine Intervention

5. The Psalm closes with a hymn of praise to the Lord, who works with his two great saving qualities, that already appear with different names in the first part of the supplication (cf. Ps 57,4). Now virtually personified, divine Goodness and Faithfulness enter the scene. They flood the heavens with their presence and are like light that shines in the darkness of trials and persecutions (cf. Ps 57,11). For this reason the Christian tradition has used Psalm 56 (57) as a canticle of awakening to Easter light and joy, which shines out to the faithful removing the fear of death and opening the horizon of heavenly glory.

6. Gregory of Nyssa discovers in the words of the Psalm a kind of typical description of what happens in every human experience open to the recognition of the wisdom of God. “Indeed, He saved me – he exclaims – by shading me with the cloud of the Spirit, and those who trampled me underfoot were humiliated” (From the Italian translation of On the Titles of the Psalms, Rome, 1994, p. 183).

Later, quoting the expressions at the end of the Psalm, where it says, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be above the earth”, he concludes, “To the degree that the glory of God is extended on earth, increased by the faith of those who are saved, the heavenly powers extol God, exulting for our salvation” (ibid.p. 184).


I extend warm greetings to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Canada, Malta, Japan, Indonesia and the United States of America. I invite you to pray in these days that Almighty God will guide the minds and hearts of world leaders so that the ways of justice and peace may prevail. Upon you and your families I invoke abundant divine blessings.

                                                                               October 2001

Wednesday 3 October 2001 - Religion must never be reason for violence


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I thank the Lord who in the last days gave me the chance to successfully accomplish the apostolic pilgrimage to Kazakhstan and Armenia. It was an experience that left the most wonderul impressions and feelings in my heart.

The visit had a twofold goal. In Khazakhstan it was a Pastoral Visit to the Catholic community, who live in a prevalently Islamic country which ten years ago got out from under the harsh and oppressive Soviet regime. In Armenia I went as a pilgrim to pay homage to a Church of very ancient origins: the Armenian people, in fact, are celebrating the 1700th anniversary of when they became officially Christian. It is this identity, which, even at the cost of martyrdom, they have maintained till now.

Once again I want to express my gratitude to the Presidents of the Republics of Kazakhstan and of Armenia, who with their invitation opened to me the doors of their noble countries. I am grateful for the courtesy and the warmth with which they received me.

I express my love and gratitude to the Bishops and Apostolic Administrators, to the Priests and Catholic Communities. My sincere thanks go to all those whose organization made a great success of the apostolic pilgrimage, that I so much desired and prepared at length in prayer.

2. In Kazakhstan the theme of the Pastoral Visit was the commandment of Christ: "Love one another". It was very important to carry this message into that country where over a hundred ethnic groups live together and cooperate with one another to build a better future. The city of Astana, where my visit took place, has become the capital for less than four years and is a symbol of the rebuilding of the country.

I clearly detected in my meetings with the Authorities and with the people the will to overcome a harsh past, with its oppression of human dignity and human rights. Who in fact can forget that hundreds of thousands of persons were deported to Kazakhstan? Who can forget that its steppes were used to test nuclear arms? For that reason, as soon as I arrived, I wished to visit the Monument to the Victims of the Totalitarian Regime to focus on the starting point from which to look to the future. Kazakhstan, a multi-ethnic society, has rejected nuclear arms and is intent on building a peaceful and united society. The great monument to the "Mother Country", which was backdrop to the altar where I celebrated Mass on Sunday 23 September, symbolically recalls this resolve.

49 Thanks be to God, the Church with the help of a renewed diocesan structure is experiencing rebirth. I wanted to be close to that community and its Pastors, committed to a generous and difficult missionary task. With great feeling I paid homage together with them to the memory of those who spent their lives in hardship and persecution in order to bring Christ to the local populations.

In the Cathedral of Astana, with the Ordinaries of the countries of Central Asia, with the priests, men and women religious, seminarians and faithful, who came from the border countries, I entrusted Kazakhstan to Our Lady, Queen of Peace, the title by which she is venerated in the national shrine.

3. "Love one another!" These words of Christ challenge Christians first of all. I directed them above all to Catholics, exhorting them to live in communion with one another and with their Orthodox brothers, who are more numerous. I encouraged them to cooperate with the Muslims to foster genuine progress in their society. From that country, in which the followers of different religions live together in peace, I reaffirmed with force that religion must never be used as a motive of conflict.Christians and Muslims, together with the believers of every religion, are called to repudiate violence firmly in order to build up a humanity that loves life, that develops in justice and solidarity.

To the young people of Kazakhstan, I gave a mesage of hope, reminding them that God loves them personally. With great joy I perceived the strong and vibrant echo of this fundamental truth in their hearts. The meeting with them took place at the University, a place that is always dear to me, where the culture of a people is developed. With the representatives of the world of culture, art and science, I recalled the religious foundation of human freedom and the mutual relations between faith and reason, exhorting them to safeguard the spiritual values of Kazakhstan.

4. When I left that great country in Central Asia, I arrived as a pilgrim in Armenia, to pay homage to a people who for 1700 years have linked their history with Christianity. For the first time ever the Bishop of Rome set foot on this beloved land, evangelized, according to the tradition, by the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, which, through the work of St Gregory the Illuminator, became officially Christian in 301.

The Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, the Apostolic See of the Armenian Church, goes back to 303.

There I went as soon as I arrived and again before I left, as is the custom for pilgrims. There I prayed at the tombs of the Catholicoi of All Armenians, among whom were Vazken I and Karekin I, who created the present cordial relationship between the Armenian Church and the Catholic Church. In the name of this brotherly friendship, His Holiness Karekin II, with exquisite courtesy, wished to give me hospitality in his residence and accompanied me at each moment of the pilgrimage.

5. In its long history, the Armenian people have paid a terrible price for their fidelity to their own identity. Just think of the tremendous mass extermination of the beginning of the 20th century.

As a perennial memorial to the victims - about a million and a half in three years - the solemn cenotaph is located near the capital in Yerevan, where, together with the Catholicos of All Armenians, we prayed intensely for all the dead and for peace in the world.

In the new Apostolic Cathedral of Yerevan, dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator and newly consecrated, the solemn ecumenical celebration took place with the veneration of the Relic of the Saint, which I gave to Karekin II, last year, on the occasion of his visit to Rome. This sacred rite, together with the Common Declaration placed a meaningful seal on the bond of charity that unites the Catholic Church and the Armenian Church. In a world torn by conflicts and violence it is more necessary than ever before that Christians be witnesses of unity and builders of reconciliation and peace.

The Holy Mass on the new "High Altar" in the open air in the garden of the Apostolic See of Etchmiadzin, though it followed the Latin Rite, was celebrated with "two lungs", with readings, prayers and chants in the Armenian language and with the presence of the Catholicos of All Armenians. No words can express the personal joy of those moments, in which one could feel the spiritual presence of so many martyrs and confessors of the faith who with their lives gave witness to the Gospel. Their memory should be honoured forever: we must obey Christ who asked his disciples to be one, with total docility.

The final stop on my apostolic journey was the Monastery of Khor Virab, which means "deep well". There, in fact, according to the tradition, is to be seen the well that is 40 metres (131 feet) deep in which the King Tiridates III held St Gregory the Illuminator prisoner on account of his faith in Christ, until the saint with his prayers obtained a miraculous healing, and the King was converted along with his whole family and the entire people. There I received as a symbol of the faith with which Gregory enlightened the Armenians, a torch (a light drawn from the well of St Gregory the Illuminator), which I solemnly placed in the new chapel, inaugurated in the Hall of the Synod of Bishops. That light burns for 17 centuries! It burns in the world for 2,000 years! It is asked of us Christians, dear brothers and sisters, not to hide the light but that we feed it so that it direct the path of humanity on the ways of truth, love and peace!

I extend a warm welcome to the deacon class of the Pontifical North American College, together with their parents, families and friends. Likewise, I greet the new seminarians from the Pontifical Beda College. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Australia, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.