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Easter - Pasqua - Pâques - in the Jubilee 2000

Blessed John Paul II's Homily at the Easter Vigil
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

1 “You have a guard of soldiers; go and secure the tomb as best as you can” (Mt 27:65).

The tomb of Jesus had been closed and sealed. At the request of the chief priests and the Pharisees, soldiers were placed on guard, lest anyone steal the body (Mt 27:62-64). This is the event from which the liturgy of the Easter Vigil begins.

Those who had sought the death of Christ, those who considered him an “imposter” (Mt 27:62), were keeping watch beside the tomb. They wanted Him and his message to be buried for ever. Not far away, Mary was keeping watch, and with her the Apostles and a few women. In their hearts they pondered the distressing events which had just taken place.

2. The Church keeps watch this night, in every corner of the world, and she relives the principal stages of salvation history. The solemn liturgy which we are celebrating is the expression of this “keeping watch” which, in a way, evokes the watch kept by God Himself. The Book of Exodus tells us: “It was a night of watching by the Lord, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. This night is a night of watching kept to the Lord in every generation” (Ex 12:42).

In his provident and faithful love, which transcends time and space, God keeps watch over the world. As the Psalmist sings: “He sleeps not nor slumbers, Israel’s guard... The Lord is your guard ... The Lord will guard you... both now and for ever” (Ps 121:4-5,8).

The passage from the 2nd to the 3rd millennium, which we are experiencing, is also guarded in the mystery of the Father. He “is working still” (Jn 5:17) for the salvation of the world, and through his Incarnate Son He leads his people from slavery to freedom, from death to life. All the “work” of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is in some way linked to this night of Vigil, which brings to fulfilment the night of the Lord’s Nativity. Bethlehem and Calvary evoke the same mystery of the love of God, who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

3. In her vigil, on this Holy Night, the Church closely scrutinizes the texts of Sacred Scripture. They portray God’s plan from Genesis to the Gospel and, together with the liturgical rites of fire and water, give this remarkable celebration a cosmic dimension. The whole created universe is summoned to keep watch this night at the tomb of Christ. The history of salvation passes before our eyes, from Creation to the Redemption, from the Exodus to the Covenant on Mount Sinai, from the Old to the New and Eternal Covenant. On this Holy Night, God’s eternal plan reaches fulfilment, the plan which embraces the history of humanity and of the cosmos.

4. At the Easter Vigil, “the mother of all vigils”, everyone can likewise acknowledge their own personal history of salvation, which has its basic moment in our rebirth in Christ through Baptism.

In a very special way, this is your experience too, dear brothers and sisters who are about to receive the Sacraments of Christian Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. You come from various countries throughout the world: Japan, China, Cameroon, Albania and Italy.

The variety of your native countries highlights the universality of the salvation brought by Christ. Soon, dear friends, you will become intimate sharers in the mystery of the love of God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. May your lives become a song of praise to the Most Holy Trinity and a witness of love which knows no frontiers.

5. “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world: come, let us worship!” Yesterday the Church chanted these words, lifting up the wood of the Cross, “on which hung Christ, the Saviour of the world”. “He was crucified, died and was buried”, as we say in the Creed.

The tomb! Behold the place where they buried him (cf Mk 16:6). There the community of the Church throughout the world is spiritually present. We too are there with the three women going to the tomb before dawn to anoint the lifeless body of Jesus (cf Mk 16:1). Their loving concern is our concern too. With them we discover that the large tombstone has been rolled away and that the body is no longer there. “He is not here”, the angel proclaims, pointing to the empty tomb and the winding cloth on the ground. Death no longer has power over him (cf Rom 6:9).

Christ is risen! So the Church proclaims, at the end of this Easter night, even as yesterday she proclaimed Christ’s death on the Cross. It is a proclamation of truth and life.

"Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro, qui pro nobis pependit in ligno. Alleluia!" The Lord, who for us was nailed to the Cross, is risen from the tomb!

Yes, Christ is truly risen and we are witnesses of this.

We proclaim this witness to the world, so that the joy which is ours will reach countless other hearts, kindling in them the light of the hope which does not disappoint.

Christ is risen, alleluia!"

JPII - St Peter's Basilica, 22 April 2000 

Easter in the Great Jubilee Year 2000

Blessed John Paul II's Urbi et Orbi Message
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

1. “Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando ...”
“Death and Life have contended
in a prodigious duel:
The Lord of life was dead;
but now, he lives, triumphant” (Easter Sequence).
Today, the Church stops,
once again stupefied,
near the empty tomb.
Like Mary Magdalen and the other women,
who came to anoint with aromas
the body of the Crucified One,
like the Apostles Peter and John,
who came running at the word of the women,
the Church bows before the tomb
in which her Lord was deposed
after the crucifixion.
A month ago, a pilgrim in the Holy Land,
I had the grace of kneeling
before the stone slab
which marks the place where Jesus was buried.
Today, the Sunday of the Resurrection,
I make my own the announcement of the heavenly messenger:
“He is risen, he is not here” (Mk 16:6).
Yes, life and death have confronted
and Life has triumphed for ever.
Everything is newly oriented to life,
to Eternal Life!

2. “Victimae paschali laudes immolent christiani ....”
“To the paschal victim
offer today the sacrifice of praise.
The Lamb has redeemed his sheep,
the Innocent One has reconciled us sinners to the Father”.
The words of the paschal Sequence
express marvellously the mystery
which is accomplished in the Passover of Christ.
They point to the renewing force 
which is released from his resurrection.
With the weapons of love,
God has defeated sin and death.
The eternal Son, who emptied himself
to become the obedient servant
all the way to death on the cross (cf Phil 2:7-8),
has conquered evil at its roots
by opening to contrite hearts the path of return to the Father.
He is the Gate of Life
who at Easter triumphs over the gates of hell.
He is the Door of salvation open for everyone,
the Door of divine mercy,
who projects a new light onto human existence.

3. The Risen Christ signals the paths of hope
along which we advance together
towards a world more just and united,
where the blind egoism of the few
will not prevail over the cries of pain of the many,
reducing entire peoples
to conditions of demeaning misery.
May the message of life, proclaimed by an angel
near the stone rolled away from the tomb, 
defeat the hardness of hearts;
lead to overcoming unjustified barriers
and promote a fruitful exchange between peoples and cultures.
May the image of the new man,
which shines on the face of Christ,
cause everyone to acknowledge
the intangible value of human life;
may it inspire adequate responses
to the increasingly felt demands 
for justice and equal opportunity
in the various areas of social life;
may it move individuals and States
to full respect for the essential and authentic rights
rooted in the very nature of the human being.

4. Lord Jesus, our Peace (Eph 2:14),
Word incarnate two thousand years ago,
who by rising have conquered evil and sin,
grant to humanity of the third millennium
a just and lasting peace;
bring to a good outcome the dialogues undertaken
by men of good will who,
despite so many perplexities and difficulties,
mean to bring an end to the troubling conflicts in Africa,
the armed clashes in some countries of Latin America,
the persistent tensions affecting
the Middle East, vast areas of Asia,
and some regions in Europe.
Help the nations to overcome old and new rivalries,
by rejecting feelings of racism and xenophobia.
May all the earth,
inundated by the splendour of the resurrection,
rejoice because “the light of the eternal King
has vanquished the darkness of the world” (Easter Proclamation).
Yes, Christ has risen victorious,
and has offered to man,
Adam’s heir in sin and death,
a new heritage of life and glory.

5. “Ubi est mors stimulus tuus?”
“Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55),
exclaims the Apostle Paul,
touched on the road to Damascus by the light of the risen Christ.
His cry echoes down the centuries
as the proclamation of life for the whole of human civilization.
We too, the men and women of the twenty-first century,
are invited to become conscious
of this victory of Christ over death,
revealed to the women of Jerusalem and to the Apostles,
when they came with trepidation to the tomb.
The experience of these eye-witnesses, through the Church, has come down to us.
It is expressed in a significant way
in the path of the pilgrims who,
in this year of the Great Jubilee,
are crossing through the Holy Door,
and departing with more courage
to build roads of reconciliation with God and with their brothers.
At the heart of this Year of grace,
may the announcement of Christ’s disciples resonate more strongly,
a communal proclamation, beyond all divisions,
in the ardent desire for full communion:
“Scimus Christum surrexisse a mortuis vere”.
“Yes, of this we are certain: Christ is truly risen.
You, victorious King, bring us your salvation.” Amen.

JPII - St Peter's Square, Easter Sunday, 23 April 2000

Papa Juan Pablo II's words at the Regina Coeli on Easter Monday
24th April 2000 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. The paschal joy still pervades with Easter joy on this Monday of the Easter Octave, called "Monday of the Angel". After the time of Lent, which the Church lived with particular intensity in this Jubilee Year, after the strong emotions of the Sacred Triduum, we pause also today in meditation before the empty tomb, attracted by the radiant mystery of the resurrection of the Lord.

Life has conquered death. We need faith to open ourselves to this new and marvellous horizon. Let us allow ourselves to be penetrated by the thoughts and emotions that vibrate in the Easter sequence: "Yes, we are certain: Christ is truly risen." This truth marked the life of the Apostles who, after the Resurrection, felt rekindled in their hearts the desire to follow their Teacher and, having received the Holy Spirit, went without delay to proclaim to everyone what they had personally seen and experienced.

2. Dearest Brothers and Sisters, once again the comforting announcement of the Resurrection has rung out for us: "Christ, my hope, is arisen". If Christ is risen, we can look with new eyes and hearts at every event in our existence. This is the paschal message I would like to send to the people of the whole world.

These are also my Easter wishes, which I renew to you all affectionately on this day, in which the liturgy reminds us of the words of the angel to the three women weeping beside the empty tomb. As the Gospel recalls, they went early in the morning to the tomb and there received from a "young man ... dressed in a white robe" the news that changed the course of history: "Do not be afraid! You seek Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here" (cf Mk 16: 6).

3. He has risen. This is the centre of our faith. The silent witness to all these events was Mary. Let us ask her to help us also to receive the fullness of this paschal message.

"Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia - Rejoice, Queen of heaven, alleluia!". With this prayer, which replaces the Angelus, we turn to her throughout the Easter season. The joy of the Virgin contains within it everything for which the Church rejoices: every good of grace and of nature. Let us therefore invoke her, with faith and devotion: Regina caeli laetare, alleluia!"

© Copyright 2000 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Blessed John Paul II's Homily on the 3rd Sunday of Easter
at the Ecumenical Commemoration of the Witnesses to the Faith in the 20th Century - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). With these words on the eve of his Passion, Jesus foretells his glorification through his death. We have just heard this challenging truth in the Gospel acclamation. It resounds forcefully tonight in this significant place, where we remember the “witnesses to the faith in the twentieth century”.

Christ is the grain of wheat who by dying has borne fruits of everlasting life. And down the centuries his disciples have followed in the footsteps of the Crucified King, becoming a numberless multitude “from every nation, race, people and language”: apostles and confessors of the faith, virgins and martyrs, bold heralds of the Gospel and silent servants of the Kingdom.

Dear Brothers and Sisters united by faith in Jesus Christ! I am especially happy today to offer you my brotherly embrace of peace, as we commemorate together the witnesses to the faith in the twentieth century. I warmly greet the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the other Orthodox Sister Churches, as well as those of the ancient Churches of the East. I likewise thank the representatives of the Anglican Communion, of the worldwide Christian Communities of the West and of the Ecumenical Organizations for their fraternal presence.

Gathered as we are at the Colosseum for this meaningful jubilee celebration, our coming together this evening is for all of us a source of great emotion. The monuments and ruins of ancient Rome speak to humanity of the sufferings and persecutions endured with fortitude by our forebears in the faith, the Christians of the first generations. These ancient remains remind us how true are the words of Tertullian who wrote: “sanguis martyrum semen christianorum” — the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians (Apol., 50,13: CCL 1, 171).

2. The experience of the martyrs and the witnesses to the faith is not a characteristic only of the Church’s beginnings but marks every epoch of her history. In the twentieth century, and maybe even more than in the first period of Christianity, there has been a vast number of men and women who bore witness to the faith through sufferings that were often heroic. How many Christians in the course of the twentieth century, on every continent, showed their love of Christ by the shedding of blood! They underwent forms of persecution both old and new, they experienced hatred and exclusion, violence and murder. Many countries of ancient Christian tradition once more became lands where fidelity to the Gospel demanded a very high price. In our century “the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 37).

The generation to which I belong experienced the horror of war, the concentration camps, persecution. In my homeland, during the Second World War, priests and Christians were deported to extermination camps. In Dachau alone some three thousand priests were interned. Their sacrifice was joined to that of many Christians from other European countries, some of whom belonged to other Churches and Ecclesial Communities.

I myself am a witness of much pain and many trials, having seen these in the years of my youth. My priesthood, from its very beginning, was marked “by the great sacrifice of countless men and women of my generation” (Gift and Mystery, p. 39). The experience of the Second World War and of the years following brought me to consider carefully and with gratitude the shining example of those who, from the beginning of the twentieth century to its end, met persecution, violence, death, because of their faith and because their behaviour was inspired by the truth of Christ.

3. And there are so many of them! They must not be forgotten, rather they must be remembered and their lives documented. The names of many are unknown; the names of some have been denigrated by their persecutors, who tried to add disgrace to martyrdom; the names of others have been concealed by their executioners. But Christians preserve the memory of a great number of them. This is shown by the numerous replies to the invitation not to forget, received by the “New Martyrs” Commission within the Committee for the Great Jubilee. The Commission has worked hard to enrich and update the Church’s memory with the witness of all those people, even those who are unknown, who “risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). Yes, as the Orthodox Metropolitan Benjamin of Saint Petersburg, martyred in 1922, wrote on the eve of his execution: “The times have changed and it has become possible to suffer much for love of Christ . . .”. With the same conviction, from his cell in Buchenwald, the Lutheran Pastor Paul Schneider asserted once more in the presence of his prison guards: “Thus says the Lord, ?I am the resurrection and the life!’”.

The presence of representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities gives today’s celebration particular significance and eloquence in this Jubilee Year 2000. It shows that the example of the heroic witnesses to the faith is truly precious for all Christians. In the twentieth century, almost all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities have known persecution, uniting Christians in their places of suffering and making their shared sacrifice a sign of hope for times still to come.

These brothers and sisters of ours in faith, to whom we turn today in gratitude and veneration, stand as a vast panorama of Christian humanity in the twentieth century, a panorama of the Gospel of the Beatitudes, lived even to the shedding of blood.

4. “Blessed are you when they insult 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). How well these words of Christ fit the countless witnesses to the faith in the last century, insulted and persecuted, but never broken by the power of evil!

Where hatred seemed to corrupt the whole of life leaving no escape from its logic, they proved that “love is stronger than death”. Within terrible systems of oppression which disfigured man, in places of pain, amid the hardest of privations, through senseless marches, exposed to cold and hunger, tortured, suffering in so many ways, they loudly proclaimed their loyalty to Christ crucified and risen. In a few moments we shall hear some of their striking testimonies.

Countless numbers refused to yield to the cult of the false gods of the twentieth century and were sacrificed by Communism, Nazism, by the idolatry of State or race. Many others fell in the course of ethnic or tribal wars, because they had rejected a way of thinking foreign to the Gospel of Christ. Some went to their death because, like the Good Shepherd, they decided to remain with their people, despite intimidation. On every continent and throughout the entire twentieth century, there have been those who preferred to die rather than betray the mission which was theirs. Men and women Religious lived their consecration to the shedding of blood. Men and women believers died offering their lives for love of their brothers and sisters, especially the poorest and the weakest. Many women lost their lives in order to defend their dignity and purity.

5. “Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:25). A few minutes ago we listened to these words of Christ. They contain a truth which today’s world often scorns and rejects, making love of self the supreme criterion of life. But the witnesses to the faith, who also this evening speak to us by their example, did not consider their own advantage, their own well-being, their own survival as greater values than fidelity to the Gospel. Despite all their weakness, they vigorously resisted evil. In their fragility there shone forth the power of faith and of the Lord’s grace.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, the precious heritage which these courageous witnesses have passed down to us is a patrimony shared by all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities. It is a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division. The ecumenism of the martyrs and the witnesses to the faith is the most convincing of all; to the Christians of the twenty-first century it shows the path to unity. It is the heritage of the Cross lived in the light of Easter: a heritage which enriches and sustains Christians as they go forward into the new millennium.

If we glory in this heritage it is not because of any partisan spirit and still less because of any desire for vengeance upon the persecutors, but in order to make manifest the extraordinary power of God, who has not ceased to act in every time and place. We do this as we ourselves offer pardon, faithful to the example of the countless witnesses killed even as they prayed for their persecutors.

6. In the century and the millennium just begun may the memory of these brothers and sisters of ours remain always vivid. Indeed, may it grow still stronger! Let it be passed on from generation to generation, so that from it there may blossom a profound Christian renewal! Let it be guarded as a treasure of consummate value for the Christians of the new millennium, and let it become the leaven for bringing all Christ’s disciples into full communion!

It is with a heart filled with deep emotion that I express this hope. I pray to the Lord that the cloud of witnesses which surrounds us will help all of us who believe to express with no less courage our own love for Christ, for him who is ever alive in his Church: as he was yesterday, and is today, and will be tomorrow and for ever!"

JPII - St Peter's Basilica, 7 May 2000 - © Copyright 2000 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana