S. John Paul II Homil. 1078


Sunday 28 November 1999

1. "Watch ... Watch!" (cf. Mk Mc 13,35). This insistent call to watchfulness and this urgent invitation to be ready to welcome the Lord who comes characterizes the liturgical period of Advent, which we begin today. Advent is a time of waiting and of interior preparation for our meeting with the Lord. Let us therefore prepare our spirit to undertake with joy and decision this spiritual pilgrimage that will lead to the celebration of Holy Christmas.

This year there is another reason to begin Advent with deeper and more heartfelt enthusiasm. On the Holy Night and on Christmas Day there will be, in fact, the long-awaited opening of the Holy Door of St Peter's and of the Lateran Basilica.

In a certain sense, then, this Advent is an immediate preparation for the special time of grace and forgiveness which is the Great Jubilee, when we will commemorate with gratitude and joy the 2,000 years since the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, enlightened by the Word of God and sustained by the Lord's grace, let us set out on our way towards the Lord who comes. But for what reason does "God come", or, as the Bible often says, does "he visit us"? God comes to save, to bring his children into the communion of his love.

2. I am pleased to begin this time of expectation together with your parish community. This occasion is also a good opportunity for me to thank your parish and all the other parishes of Rome for the great efforts they have made to prepare for the Holy Year, especially through the City Mission. How many faithful, priests, religious and laity have become personally involved in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel! The message of Christ has thus reached almost every man and woman in our city. Let us continue this work, which involves all believers, and make Rome ready to live to the full the grace of the Jubilee event.

1079 In this respect I am pleased to repeat today what I recently wrote to all Romans: "Christian Rome, do not hesitate to open the doors of your homes to the pilgrims. Joyously offer fraternal hospitality" (Letter to the Romans on the approach of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, 1 Nov. 1999, n. 4). The city and Diocese of Rome will be able properly to welcome the pilgrims, who will come here for the Jubilee from every part of the world, only if they first open themselves in mind and heart to the ineffable mystery of the Word made flesh.

To open the doors of the soul to the great mystery of the Incarnation by welcoming into our lives the Son of God who comes into the world: here is our task for this Advent. For the Christian communities present and active in the capital, this is the essential condition for making the journey of conversion offered by the celebration of the Holy Year and for acknowledging Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of the world: yesterday, today and for ever.

3. Dear brothers and sisters of Pope St Innocent I and St Guido Bishop Parish, with these sentiments and wishes in view of the imminent start of the Jubilee Year, I greet you all with great affection. My cordial thoughts turn, first of all, to the Cardinal Vicar, to the Auxiliary Bishop of this area, Enzo Dieci, to your zealous parish priest, Fr Maurizio Milani, and to all who in various ways assist him in the great variety of parish activities. I greet the young people and the families, the elderly and the sick, to whom I extend a special greeting.

In the name of the Diocese of Rome, I wish to thank the Guido and Bice Schillaci Ventura Foundation, which made this new parish complex possible. Built 18 years after the early days of the community, which seemed very precarious at the time, today it makes a more incisive and permanent apostolic activity possible.

Unfortunately, there are many other areas that lack a suitable parish centre, and my fervent wish is that these neighbourhoods too may soon have, as you do, a worthy and welcoming house of prayer, a gathering place in which to meet, where the Christian and human formation of the young can be provided, where assistance to families and company to the elderly and to the lonely may be offered. What prompts me to emphasize this strongly felt need is the fact that today in Rome we are celebrating the Advent of brotherhood for the construction of new churches, especially in the outlying areas.

4. Dear friends, let us give thanks to the Lord for what has been achieved here thus far. May the structures which you have help you to carry out a beneficial work of evangelization, by meeting the challenges of secularization and a certain indifference to the traditional values of Christianity. May the spiritual experiences that you will have here be a stimulus to intensify your efforts to proclaim the Gospel, being ready to account for your faith to everyone.

In response to the current crisis of values, let your Christian witness in families be clear and generous; be the first guardians of the purity of your children and young people; do everything possible so that the doors of hearts may be opened and Christ can enter the life of every inhabitant of your neighbourhood.

Do not lose heart before inevitable difficulties! God sustains you with his grace and makes your pastoral initiatives bear fruit. Together, animated by the same spirit, prepare yourselves for the great events of the Holy Year, especially for the Jubilee of the Diocese, the International Eucharistic Congress and the 15th World Youth Day. I am certain that these events will be a special time of growth for your community, instilling new missionary zeal in every member of your parish family.

5. "O that you would rend the heavens and come down" (
Is 64,1). This heartfelt invocation of the prophet Isaiah effectively expresses what our sentiments should be as we wait for the Lord who is coming. Yes! The Lord already came among us 2,000 years ago, and we are preparing to celebrate the great event of the Incarnation this Christmas. Christ radically changed the course of history. At the end he will return in glory and we wait for him by striving to live our lives as an advent of trusting hope. We wish to ask for this in today's liturgical celebration.

May God help us with his grace, so that we may start Advent with enthusiasm and good will by going to meet Christ, our Redeemer, with good works (cf. Collect). May Mary, the Daughter of Zion chosen by God to be the Mother of the Redeemer, guide and accompany us; may she make our preparation for Christmas and for the great event of the Jubilee rich in joy and good fruit.

Praised be Jesus Christ!


Sunday, 12 December 1999

1. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted ... to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (
Is 61,1-2).

These words, spoken by the prophet Isaiah so many centuries ago, sound quite timely to us, today, as we rapidly approach the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. They are words that rekindle hope, prepare souls to receive the Lord's salvation and announce the inauguration of a special time of grace and deliverance.

Advent is a liturgical season that highlights the expectation, the hope and the preparation for the Lord's coming. Today's liturgy invites us to undertake this task by presenting the person and preaching of John the Baptist. As we heard in the Gospel text, he is the one who was sent to prepare men and women for their meeting with the promised Messiah. "Make straight the way of the Lord" (Jn 1,23). The Baptist's invitation is meant for us all; let us accept it! With a joyful heart, let us hasten to the Great Jubilee, to the year of grace in which the whole Church will resound with a great hymn of praise to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

2. Dear brothers and sisters of Sts Urban and Laurence Parish at Prima Porta! The long pilgrimage I began in the first months of my service as Bishop of Rome, and which has enabled me to visit so many parishes of our Diocese, today brings me here to Prima Porta, for the last Pastoral Visit to a parish community of Rome before the opening of the Holy Year. I am pleased to be among you today and I greet you all with affection. I extend a particular greeting to the Cardinal Vicar, to the Auxiliary of this area, Bishop Enzo Dieci, to your zealous parish priest, Fr Fernando Altieri, to the dear Oblate Sons of Our Lady of Divine Love, who are entrusted with the care of this community, and to the priests who assist in the pastoral ministry. I greet the women religious in the parish: the Daughters of St Mary of Leuca, the Handmaids of the Lord and the Daughters of St Vincent. The witness of the consecrated persons working in your parish shows how the consecrated life is a great spiritual and pastoral resource for the community.

I greet the members of the Pastoral Council, those who actively participate in the various parish committees, the leaders and members of the parish groups, the children who attend catechism classes and all the residents of this neighbourhood. I do not want to forget the young people, the elderly and the sick. An affectionate and fraternal greeting also goes to dear Cardinal Gilberto Agustoni, who has resided for many years in the parish territory and since 1994 has been the Cardinal Deacon of Sts Urban and Laurence Church. I also cordially greet Archbishop emeritus Dino Trabalzini of Cosenza-Bisignano.

3. This morning I am at Prima Porta, the area named after the arch next to a recently restored ancient temple dating back to the time of Emperor Augustus, so my thoughts naturally turn to the time when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

In recalling the great event of the Incarnation, we cannot fail to think that our God is very close to us; indeed, he entered our history to redeem it from within. Yes! In Jesus of Nazareth, God came to live among us, "to bring good tidings to the afflicted ... to bind up the brokenhearted ... to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Is 61,1-2).

4. Dear parishioners of Sts Urban and Laurence, the cemetery of Prima Porta, which I was able to visit eight years ago on the Solemnity of All Saints, is part of your parish. During our Eucharistic assembly, we will remember in a special way all the faithful who are buried there, entrusting them to the infinite mercy of God. Our thoughts for those who have gone before us in the kingdom of God must always accompany us. The cross which will be erected in the cemetery to recall my visit will be an eloquent reminder of the glorious death of the Lord, the source of the hope of salvation for everyone. May your entire community, made up of about 2,000 families and spread over an area that covers many kilometres along the Flaminia and Tiberina roads, always be guided by the mystery of Christ.

I know that the majority of the population stayed in this area even after the heavy flooding in 1965 and rebuilt their homes with courage and tenacity. I also know that many of the inhabitants are elderly. Often they welcome into their home their married children who have difficulty in finding a home elsewhere. In this way a great and rich family community is created, where grandparents, children and grandchildren live together. I hope that this shared life will foster not only mutual material aid, but also the transmission of those human and Christian values which form the precious heritage of the beloved Italian nation. The elderly are the guardians of our collective memory and the witnesses to a wisdom rooted in Christian values (cf. Letter to the Elderly, nn. 9-10).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice!

1081 5. Dear brothers and sisters, on this Third Sunday of Advent, the Day for New Churches is celebrated throughout the Diocese of Rome. Through the direct concern of my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, you have had a new church for many years now.

You can therefore well understand how important it is for a community to have a worship and meeting centre that is open and welcoming to all: to families living in the area for some time, to the newly arrived immigrants from other parts of Italy or from countries outside the European Community, and to all who in any way need to be encouraged to walk the paths of faith.

Let us pray to the Lord that in every area of Rome that still lacks a suitable parish centre, a worthy place of worship may be built, thanks to everyone's contribution. Let us also pray that every parish will always be, especially during the imminent Jubilee Year, a community able to bear witness to the Gospel, attentive to the problems of the people, open and hospitable.

6. "Brethren, ... rejoice always" (
1Th 5,16). I would like to conclude with this invitation to joy, addressed by St Paul to the Christians of Thessalonica. It characterizes this Sunday, commonly called "Gaudete". It is an exhortation to the joy that resounds from the very first words of the Entrance Antiphon: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near".

Yes, dear brothers and sisters, we are glad because the Lord is near. In a few days, on Christmas Eve, we will joyfully celebrate the 2,000 years since his birth. May this joy penetrate every aspect of our lives.

Let us ask Mary, she who was the first to hear the angel's invitation: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lc 1,28), to sustain us in this programme of Christian life, while never forgetting that every believer's vocation is one of bearing witness to joy.

May Mary, the Mother of Divine Love, be for us all the cause of our true and deep joy. Amen!



Tuesday, 14 December 1999

1. "See, the Lord is coming.... Then there will be endless day" (Antiphon; cf. Zec Za 14,5).

The words of the liturgy recall the distinctive spiritual climate of Advent in which our celebration is being held in preparation for Christmas.

Dear young students, I welcome you all with great affection. I greet and thank Prof. Giuseppe D'Ascenzo, who expressed your common sentiments in noble words, and Dr Antonio Cicchetti, who explained what you have done and are planning to do for the Jubilee gathering. I respectfully greet the Minister, the rectors, the teachers and administrative staff, and I thank them for their presence at this meeting with the academic community of Rome and of Italy, which began 20 years ago. I am also pleased to greet the delegations from the chaplaincies of several European universities which are twinned with their Roman counterparts.

1082 2. This year, Advent not only prepares us for Christmas but also for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. On Christmas Eve, the Holy Door will be opened in St Peter's Basilica. This is an event with powerful symbolic meaning: it represents the opening of a universal passage as a point on which all persons and peoples are invited to converge, in order to enter into the love, justice and peace of God's kingdom. This universal passage is "Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, the centre of the universe and of history" (Encyclical Letter Redemptor hominis, n. 1.)

The rite of opening the Holy Door will take place in every Diocese of the world. The value of the Jubilee is eminently spiritual; yet it is strongly linked to the Church's history and concrete presence in the world. The Jubilee too draws life from the wonderful unity between the divine and the human, the heavenly and the earthly, the historical and the transcendent which marks every ecclesial reality.

3. The Jubilee theme chosen for the university world, "The university for a new humanism", is very suggestive. It invites us to develop and increase humanity's rich scientific heritage in accordance with a project which places man at its centre.

The Incarnation event opens the believing intellect to knowledge of God's love for man and to understanding the meaning of life and history. By fixing our gaze on the mystery of the Incarnate Word - as we are invited to do by the now imminent Great Jubilee - man discovers himself (cf. Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes,
GS 22). In a special way the researcher and student who are believers understand that every dimension of an authentic humanism is closely linked to the mystery of Christ (cf. Redemptor hominis, RH 10).

To serve man: this is the task which, on the threshold of the third millennium, is especially entrusted to you who work in the university. Dear students and teachers, important events await you in the Jubilee Year. I am thinking of World Youth Day, which will involve numerous university students, and I thank the rectors of the Roman universities for their sensitivity in encouraging the projects for welcoming the young people and the twinning programmes. I am also thinking of the World Meeting of Teachers, which will take place in September, and I encourage all who are preparing for this event to persevere in their praiseworthy commitment.

4. The universal scope of these Jubilee meetings is in harmony with a biblical theme suggested a few moments ago by the first reading: the "pilgrimage of peoples". It is a theme especially dear to the prophets of Israel, who denounce the infidelity of the chosen people and announce the birth of a new people, formed of all who from every nation and race will be converted to the Lord and to his justice. This theme emphasizes the priority requirement of repentance and puts us on guard against the danger of "self-satisfaction", evidenced very clearly in today's Gospel passage.

The essential prerequisite of faith is conversion, that is, sincere repentance and the deep desire to change one's heart with God's help. It is an interior movement from oneself to God, which enables us to rediscover ourselves in a new and genuine way. One begins by becoming aware of one's own poverty, one's own need for salvation. Pride, presumption and trust in oneself alone, which are expressed in arrogance, deceit and wickedness, impede or hinder conversion.

The repentant sinner "goes before" those who consider themselves righteous and in no need of repentance (Mt 21,31). Thus the Jubilee is meant for everyone, but it only helps those who repent and are willing to follow, with the Lord's grace, an authentic path of conversion.

5. The pilgrimage of peoples to the God of Israel, who in Jesus Christ became man and came to dwell among us, is renewed during the season of Advent. This year, however, it becomes particularly intense. The Church has prepared to enter the Year 2000 through five "continental Synods", that is, five Special Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, respectively for Africa, America, Oceania and Europe. Each Assembly was followed by a document with analysis and guidelines for evangelization.

What do these Synods and documents mean? We can say that through them the universal Church wishes to express the path she is taking in every part of the world in the footsteps of Christ. The People of God who live on all the continents speak of themselves, of how they are following Christ in his pilgrimage with the men and women of our time.

These synodal events therefore express a great movement. It is as if people of different nations, tongues, races and cultures were setting out from all the corners of the world, called by the voice of the angels announcing the Good News: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased" (Lc 2,14). We are also included in this invitation and in this saving journey to Christ, who was born 2,000 years ago in a stable at Bethlehem and who in this Jubilee year becomes present among us in a particular way, to make us all share in his divine sonship.

1083 6. Dear friends, your position as individuals who work and study in the university helps you to take part, with your specific skill and sensitivity, in this universal pilgrimage to Christ, the truth about man and history. Love your studies, the knowledge which is broadened and deepened through research and is enriched by dialogue, revealing the splendour of truth. Love life, always respect it, especially where it is most frail and defenceless.

May Mary, Seat of Wisdom, help you to be faithful to God and to man. We are approaching Christmas, which is now close. We are looking at this threshold of the Year 2000, which we will shortly have to cross. Everyone is looking at this threshold, especially young people, because it is to young people that this century, this coming millennium belongs. My wish is that you will courageously enter this time that awaits us. I hope you will enter this time with Christ's strength for the future of all humanity.

Praised be Jesus Christ!


Monday 20 December 1999

1. "Pater quos dedisti mihi volo ut ubi ego sum et illi sint mecum" (Jn 17,24).

Christ's words, from what is known as his "priestly prayer", give us light and comfort, dear brothers and sisters, at this moment when faith gathers us around the altar of Christ and the mortal remains of the revered Jesuit Cardinal, Paolo Dezza.

Our prayer, grafted onto that of the one High Priest and, as it were hidden in his "volo", perfectly reflects the heavenly Father's will for our salvation, source of life in time and in eternity.

Fr Dezza's long life came close to the biblical ideals of longevity, since he lived through almost the entire century which is now ending. He was born in Advent, on the Feast of St Lucy, and he died in Advent, a little closer to Christmas: for him death was the "holy door", the ultimate passage opening onto eternity.

2. With the words of Isaiah, the prophet of Advent, the liturgy just now has resounded with the announcement of the eschatological banquet and God's definitive victory over death. In the presence of Christ, dead and risen, let us, led by grace to Mount Zion, say with faith: "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us; let us ... rejoice in his salvation" (Is 25,9).

A person's death, and especially that of someone to whom we are tied by deep affection, cannot but cause pain and distress. It was also like this for the Lord Jesus, who at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, was moved to tears when he saw his sisters' sorrow. It is these very tears that God promised to wipe away from all faces (Is 25,8); and he has, and does so for us today, with the hand of the risen One. He fills believers with hope and joy, despite life's trials and afflictions through which we are granted to purify ourselves, to be found ready for his coming (cf. 1P 1,3-9).

3. To welcome him beyond death and to accompany him to full communion with God, I like to think that Fr Paolo Dezza has found three most beloved and longed-for faces: Mary, Peter and Ignatius, to whom Providence bound his spiritual journey.

1084 In 1928, he was ordained a priest on the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, almost as if to join his "Fiat" to that of the Blessed Virgin, to open himself to the grace of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in Fr Dezza's intense and numerous tasks and, moreover, in the many virtues of his Christian, religious and priestly soul, the fruitfulness of grace, and the witness of a persevering and generous response to God's plan are unmistakable.

4. However, were we to seek a unifying point that would sum up his whole life and spirituality, the late Cardinal himself provides us with a very clear one. In the homily for the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, he said that Fr de Guibert's expression: "To serve Christ in the person of his Vicar" was always particularly dear to him, because he seemed to see in it "the decisive factor in my vocation to the Society, and the key to my whole religious and priestly life in the Society".

On that occasion, he recalled the "deep impression" made on him, at the age of almost 13, by his attendance at an audience with Pope St Pius X and he explained how fidelity and devotion to the Pope, which he saw as characteristic of the Jesuits, had been crucial for his vocation. His attachment to the Pope increased during his years of formation to the point that, as soon as he was ordained a priest, he wanted to come to Rome to celebrate Mass in the Clementine Chapel, at the Apostle Peter's tomb.

5. Appointed almost immediately to the Pontifical Gregorian University, where from 1941 to 1951 he was a highly esteemed rector, he had ever closer contacts with the Pontiffs. "These contacts", he said, "enabled me to understand better and better the meaning and value of that special bond which unites the Society to the Pope, and showed me the great service which by virtue of that bond the Society can render to the Church, and consequently, the gratitude and special benevolence of the Popes for the Society".

My venerable Predecessor Paul VI, during very difficult years for the Church and for the Society of Jesus, found in Fr Dezza the servant of Christ, the authentic Jesuit, the spiritual man on whose wise advice he could rely in the difficulties of his lofty mission. I myself created him a special Papal Delegate for the Society of Jesus in an important phase of its history.

To serve Christ in the person of his Vicar: St Ignatius' precept was the ideal which inspired the late Cardinal's whole life in his faithful, caring, intelligent and prudent, generous and impartial outlook. He knew of the faults that existed in the Church and in her men, but with caring dedication, full of love and faith, he helped to alleviate their effects, working for the authentic renewal of the Church.

6. All this, which for him was an object of constant commitment before God, today moves us to heartfelt gratitude. We are enlivened by the trusting hope that the Lord has already welcomed our beloved brother into the fullness of eternal joy, for which, especially in the latter period, he so yearned. Let us pray that his hope has been granted, by offering the sacrifice of the altar and invoking upon him the motherly intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Consecrated a priest under the sign of the Annunciation, beloved Fr Paolo Dezza breathed his last under the hope-filled gaze of the Virgin of Advent. May she help him to live his "birth in heaven" and celebrate his jubilee there with the angels and saints.



Friday, 24 December 1999

1. “Hodie natus est nobis Salvator mundi” (Responsorial Psalm).

For twenty centuries this joyful proclamation has burst forth from the heart of the Church. On this holy night the Angel repeats it to us, the men and women living at the end of a millennium: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy... to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour” (Lc 2,10-11). We have prepared to welcome these comforting words during the season of Advent: in them the “today” of our redemption becomes a reality.

1085 At this hour, the word “today” rings out with a unique sound: it is not only the commemoration of the birth of the Redeemer; it is the solemn beginning of the Great Jubilee. We are spiritually linked to that unique moment of history when God became man, taking to himself our flesh.

Yes, the Son of God, of one being with the Father, God from God and Light from Light, eternally begotten of the Father, became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and assumed our human nature. He was born in time. God entered history. The incomparable eternal “today” of God has become present in everyday human life.

2. “Hodie natus est nobis Salvator mundi” (cf. Lk
Lc 2,10-11).

We fall down in adoration before the Son of God. We unite ourselves in spirit to the wonder of Mary and Joseph. As we adore Christ, born in a stable, we make our own the faith, filled with astonishment, of the shepherds of that time; we feel their same amazement and their same joy.

It is difficult not to be overcome by the eloquence of this event: we remain enthralled. We are witnesses of that instant of love which unites the eternal to history: the “today” which begins the time of jubilation and hope, for “to us a son is given; and dominion is laid upon his shoulders” (Is 9,6), as we read in the text of Isaiah.

At the feet of the Word Incarnate let us place our joys and fears, our tears and hopes. Only in Christ, the new man, is true light shed upon the mystery of human existence.

With the Apostle Paul, let us contemplate the fact that in Bethlehem “the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all” (Tt 2,11). This is the reason why on Christmas Night songs of joy ring out in every corner of the earth, in every language.

3. Tonight, before our eyes we see fulfilled what the Gospel proclaims: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him... might have eternal life” (Jn 3,16).

His Only-begotten Son!

You O Christ, are the Only-begotten Son of the living God, come among us in the stable of Bethlehem! After two thousand years, we re-live this mystery as a unique and unrepeatable event. Among all the children of men, all the children born into the world down the centuries, you alone are the Son of God: in an ineffable way, your birth has changed the course of human events.

This is the truth which on this night the Church wants to pass on to the third millennium. And may all you who will come after us accept this truth, which has totally changed history. Ever since the night of Bethlehem, humanity knows that God became Man: he became Man in order to give man a share in his divine nature.

1086 4. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God! On the threshold of the third millennium, the Church greets you, the Son of God, who have come into the world to triumph over death. You have come to illuminate human life through the Gospel. The Church greets you and with you she wishes to enter the third millennium. You are our hope. You alone have words of eternal life.

You who came into the world on Bethlehem night, remain with us!

You who are the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, guide us!

You who came from the Father, lead us to him in the Holy Spirit, along the path which you alone know and which you have revealed to us, that we might have life and have it in abundance.

You O Christ, the Son of the living God, be for us the Door!

Be for us the true Door, symbolized by the door which on this Night we have solemnly opened!

Be for us the Door which leads us into the mystery of the Father. Grant that no one may remain outside his embrace of mercy and peace!

“Hodie natus est nobis Salvator mundi”: it is Christ who is our only Saviour! This is the message of Christmas 1999: the “today” of this Holy Night begins the Great Jubilee.

Mary, dawn of the new times, be at our side as we trustingly take our first steps into the Jubilee Year! Amen!




Basilica of Saint John Lateran

Christmas, 25 December 1999

1087 1. "That which was from the begining ... which we have ... touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life ... we proclaim to you" (1Jn 1,1-2).

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

On this solemn day on which we are commemorating the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, we perceive the truth, the power and the joy of the Apostle John's words.

Yes, in faith, our hands have touched the Word of Life; they have touched the One who, as we recited in the Canticle, is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. Through him and in him all things were created (cf. Col Col 1,15-16). This is the mystery of Christmas that we perceive with deep emotion, especially today, the beginning of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

God entered human history and came to walk the paths of this earth, to enable everyone to become God's children.

I ardently hope that this mystery of holiness and hope will fill with its unfading radiance the hearts of Rome's entire diocesan community, gathered in spirit in this Basilica for the solemn opening of the Holy Door.

At this intensely spiritual moment, I would like to extend my affectionate good wishes and greetings to the Cardinal Vicar, my first co-worker in caring for the faithful of the Church in the city. With him, I greet the Vicegerent, and the Auxiliary Bishops who work with him in the pastoral service of the Diocese. I also extend a cordial greeting to the Lateran Chapter, to the parish priests, to the entire Roman clergy, to the seminary, and to all, men and women religious and lay pastoral workers who are the chosen part of our Church of Rome, called to preside in charity and to excel in fidelity to the Gospel.

I greet the Mayor and the authorities and representatives of the public administration who have wished to be present. I greet the Romans, the pilgrims and everyone who, via television, has joined us for this event of great historical and spiritual importance.

2. After opening the Holy Door in the Vatican Basilica last night, I have just opened the Holy Door of this Lateran Basilica, "omnium Ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis Mater et Caput", Mother and Head of all the churches of Rome and of the world and of the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. It was here, in 1300, that Pope Boniface VIII solemnly inaugurated the first Holy Year in history. Here, in the Jubilee of 1423, Pope Martin V opened the Holy Door for the first time. Here is the heart of that special dimension of the history of salvation which is linked to the grace of the Jubilees and the historical memory of the Church of Rome.

We have entered through this Door, which represents Christ himself: in fact, he alone is the Saviour, sent by God the Father, who enables us to pass from sin to grace, bringing us into the full communion which unites him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Let us give thanks to God, rich in mercy, who gave us his only Son as the Redeemer of man.

1088 3. We could say that this evening's rite takes on a more familiar dimension. Indeed the diocesan family is setting out on its own jubilee journey, in special unity with the Churches spread throughout the world. It has been preparing for this great event for a long time, first through the Synod and then with the City Mission. The devout participation of the city and of the whole Diocese testifies that Rome is aware of the mission of universal concern and of exemplarity in faith and love which God's Providence has entrusted to it. Rome knows well that this service is rooted in the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul and has always found new sustenance in the witness of the multitude of martyrs and saints who have marked the history of our Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Holy Year, which begins today, calls us too to continue on this road. It invites us to respond joyfully and generously to the call to holiness, to be increasingly a sign of hope in today's society, on its way to the third millennium.

4. During the Holy Year there will be many occasions for believers to deepen this religious commitment, which is closely connected with the Jubilee programme.

First of all, the diocesan Jubilee, which will take place on 28 May in St Peter's Square.

Another event, entrusted in a particular way to the Diocese of Rome, is the International Eucharistic Congress, which will be held, please God, from 18 to 25 June.

5. The third significant event is the 15th World Youth Day.

With young people and families. My thoughts turn to the World Meeting of Families which will be held on 14 and 15 October 2000.

Thus so many important events await us! Let us entrust them all to the motherly intercession of Mary, Health of the Roman People. May she accompany us and guide our steps so that this year will be a time of extraordinary spiritual grace and social renewal.

6. Church of Rome, today the Lord comes to visit you to open before you this year of grace and mercy! In crossing the threshold of the Holy Door in humble pilgrimage, may you receive his gifts of forgiveness and love. May you grow in faith and in missionary zeal: this is the principal legacy of the Apostles Peter and Paul. How many times during your 2,000 year-old history have you experienced the marvels of the coming of Christ, who made you mother in the faith and a beacon of civilization for many peoples! May the Great Jubilee, with which you are preparing to begin the new millennium, strengthen you, Rome, in the joy of faithfully following your Lord, and give you an ever ardent desire to proclaim his Gospel. This is your particular contribution to building an era of justice, peace and holiness. Amen!

S. John Paul II Homil. 1078