PERSONAL ACCOUNTS

IN NAZARETH

ON THE MOUNT OF THE BEATITUDES

AT THE EMPTY TOMB


Nazareth, 25 March 2000

It was in Nazareth, early in the morning and the bells were ringing whuile the children were running in the narrow streets shouting " John Paul, we love you. " This was truly a Festive Day in Nazareth for the 2000th anniversary of the Incarnation of the Son of God celebrated by the Christians together with the Pope. Inside the basilica in Nazareth, into which I had slipped carrying chairs, they were all local Christians, Latins, Greeks, Melchites, Greek Orthodox. There were lots of empty places on the stands outside, a sad result of the political difficulties in the country of Israel where the Arabs do not have it easy. It had not been possible to have an outdoor Mass, and I was saddened to see all those humble people being refused entry to the enclosure.

The Pope entered the basilica on the lower level and made his recollection before the grotto of the Annunciation, the remains of a dwelling roughly dug out in the the rock like many of the houses of Nazareth in the first century. It is the traces of later constructions, of the paleo-christian and byzantine eras, that seem to indicate that, from the earliest times, it is this spot that has been venerated as the place where the Annunciation by the angel to the Virgin occurred. It was here that the Son of God, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, began his earthly existence which was to become visible to the world nine months later in Bethlehem. It was in this way that God made his entry into the history of mankind. " For us and for our salvation " he became incarnate " taking flesh of our flesh He, the source of light ".

The Mass at Nazareth bore, for me, the deepest and most joyful signs of this mystery. There was the wonderful choir which sang now in arabic, now in latin ; the prayerful gathering of the faithful who joined in enthusiastically when the hymns and prayers were in their language. The witness of the presence of the Eastern Churches. And, as always, the vigorous presence of the elderly Pope wearing himself out to the extreme in order to proclaim the truth of the Gospel.

He began by recalling that St. Luke, the evangelist, " clearly situated the event in time and place ". He called Mary " the most authentic daughter of Abraham ", and quoted the dialogue between the Father and the Son as it is revealed in the Epistle to the Hebrews : " You wanted no sacrifice or cereal offering , but you gave me a body. You took no pleasure in burnt offering or sacrifice for sin ; then I said, ‘Here I am, I am coming ... to do your will, O God.’ " (10 :5-7) And so it was that Emmanuel, God with us, came to dwell among us. John Paul II, stressing the faith of Abraham which found its fulfilment in Mary, prayed to Our Lady of the " Fiat " for " a deep renewal of the faith of Christians ".

During the time that the Pope was returning by helicopter to Jerusalem where that evening there was to be a meeting with the representatives of the three religions- Jewish, Christian and Muslim - we visited the " house of the Just man ". These are the ruins of a dwelling and urban environment of the first century where it is a possibility that Joseph, the just man lived. In this instance too, in the ruins dating from the beginning of the Roman period and discovered by chance in the last century, it is clear that history is indeed on the side of the Gospels. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, lived there and from this spot, she followed the preaching of the Gospel. And, in this very place, the Pope in the year 2000 prayed to her for the family and for the evangelisation of all mankind.


The Mount of the Beatitudes, 24 March 2000

A crowd of one hundred and fifty thousand people gathered on the mountainside of the Mount of the Beatitudes. Below, stretching out southwards, is Lake Galilee. Tradition has it that it was here that Jesus promised those who had followed him to listen to him that they would be " blessèd . This very message that the Apostles passed on to us and which they witnessed until death ; it is here that they heard it. Today, Peter is there once again to proclain the words of his Divine Master, to teach mankind the way of true happiness.

The biggest gathering of the Pope’s trip to the Holy Land included tens of thousands of Palestinians and as many Christians from all countries. It is difficult to give a figure but I would put it at one and a half times the Gathering at St. Anne d’Auray in 1996. The crowd that had entered at 5 AM had been waiting for five hours when I saw long lines of youngsters coming up from the lake. They must have camped in the open air they day before and been exposed to the torrential rain during the night. Today, between the gusts of wind and the clouds the sun is coming out like a smile from God. I arrived with a small group of the Emmanuel Community. Naturally, we met a delegation of the Community of the Beatitudes, two representative groups from France among many others present, of these New Communities that the power of the Gospel called forth in the last quarter of the XXth century.

The huge open space where we were was so muddy in places that we feared we might lose our shoes. This time, we would not shake " the dust from our sandals ", because the earth stuck…and everyone was listening faithfully to the Gospel announcing " blessèd are the lowly".

Yes, they are present, the lowly, especially the Arabs with their families from Galilee and all the local Christian communities, as well as youngsters from the Neo-Catechumenate from several countries (50.000 youngsters), amongst whom there was a French girl who converted in Africa while serving the poor with Fidesco, a body for Catholic cooperation. Her godmother is also a young volunteer who gave two years’ dedicated service in this organisation in the service of the handicapped in the Ivory Coast and, in so doing, put into practice the call of Jesus made 1970 years ago, to be merciful.

A few days ago, in a French-speaking " socio-religious " forum, a participant spoke of " two thousand years of failures of Christianity ". But these youngsters give testimony to the fact that the words of Jesus spoken here have in fact been passed on through the centuries to us today, faithfully repeated and giving rise throughout the world to the generosity of " the poor in heart ". Yesterday, the successor of Peter asked for forgiveness for the failures of Christians. Today, on the Mount of the Beatitudes, he is handing on to the Youth of the Third Millennium the challenge of the Kingdom of God.

Is Jesus historical ? ask the youth on the Internet Forums. Television programs transport us from doubt to doubt. But here, on the shores of the See of Galilee, it is the entire landscape, the ruins, the images used by Jesus which bear testimony with the Apostles. They speak powerfully to our intelligence, but also to our heart, to those of us who have met Jesus and who love Him. The very stones rise up to cry out the reality of the Saviour on the paths that his footsteps followed, and the lilies of the fields just open on this March morning in Korazin on the Mount are still proclaiming that they " neither spin nor sew " to clothe themselves in the beauty given to them by the Creator, " your Father who is in heaven ".


The Holy Sepulchre, 28 March 2000

From the Holy Sepulchre, John Paul II made an appeal to all the baptised to " announce the essential point of the Gospel ", to say to all that " God so loved the world that he gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him should not die, but that they should have eternal life ".

" You must not separate the Resurrection from the Cross ", but neither must you separate the Cross from the Resurrection . The empty tomb is the silent witness of this death, and has been for almost two thousand years, as well as of this resurrection of Christ into which we enter through Baptism. In this way we receive the new life which is already eternal life.
This mission to go out and evangelise was given by John Paul II to all the baptised ; he put great emphasis on it, as the final message of his pilgrimage.

A few moments later, he paused in utter exhaustion at the entrance to the latin Patriarchate to pray, thus cutting short the programmed meeting.


I saw him going through the Old City of Jerusalem. He had accomplished the earliest wish of his Pontificate, more than twenty years after taking his place on the throne of Peter. The sun shone again on the City of Peace and, as an anticipated response to this message of universal mission, they had gathered there, having come from the ends of the earth ; Palestinians and Israelis, Australians, Philippinos, Spanish, Ivorians, French, Mexicans, and even inhabitants from outer Mongolia. On the Mount of Olives, we heard the bells ringing out the chimes of the Resurrection.

 

> Speeches from the Jubilee Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, 2000:
> http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/travels/sub_index/trav_holyland-2000.htm