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John Paul II's Jubilee Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Pope John Paul II was a pilgrim to Jordan, Israel and Palestine on his Jubilee Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, his 91st apostolic voyage.

Wednesday 22 March 2000

Blessed Pope John Paul II was a pilgrim to the Palestinian Territories on 22 March 2000, speaking at the welcome ceremony at Bethlehem Heliport, before celebrating Mass in Manger Square in Bethlehem. The Holy Father then visited the Deheisheh Refugee Camp before meeting with Yasser Arafat, the President of the Palestinian Territories.

Pope John Paul II's Address at the Welcome Ceremony
Bethlehem Heliport, Palestinian Territories, 22 March 2000 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Chairman Arafat, Your Excellencies,
Dear Palestinian Friends,

1. “Here Christ was born of the Virgin Mary”: these words, inscribed over the place where, according to tradition, Jesus was born, are the reason for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. They are the reason for my coming to Bethlehem today. They are the source of the joy, the hope, the goodwill which, for two millennia, have filled countless human hearts at the very sound of the name “Bethlehem”.

People everywhere turn to this unique corner of the earth with a hope that transcends all conflicts and difficulties. Bethlehem – where the choir of Angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men” (Lk 2:14) – stands out, in every place and in every age, as the promise of God’s gift of peace. The message of Bethlehem is the Good News of reconciliation among men, of peace at every level of relations between individuals and nations. Bethlehem is a universal crossroads where all peoples can meet to build together a world worthy of our human dignity and destiny. The recently inaugurated Museum of the Nativity shows how the celebration of Christ’s Birth has become a part of the culture and art of peoples in all parts of the world.

2. Mr Arafat, as I thank you for the warm welcome you have given me in the name of the Palestinian Authority and People, I express all my happiness at being here today. How can I fail to pray that the divine gift of peace will become more and more a reality for all who live in this land, uniquely marked by God’s interventions? Peace for the Palestinian people! Peace for all the peoples of the region! No one can ignore how much the Palestinian people have had to suffer in recent decades. Your torment is before the eyes of the world. And it has gone on too long.

The Holy See has always recognized that the Palestinian people have the natural right to a homeland, and the right to be able to live in peace and tranquillity with the other peoples of this area (cf Apostolic Letter Redemptionis Anno, 20 April 1984). In the international forum, my predecessors and I have repeatedly proclaimed that there would be no end to the sad conflict in the Holy Land without stable guarantees for the rights of all the peoples involved, on the basis of international law and the relevant United Nations resolutions and declarations.

We must all continue to work and pray for the success of every genuine effort to bring peace to this Land. Only with a just and lasting peace – not imposed but secured through negotiation – will legitimate Palestinian aspirations be fulfilled. Only then will the Holy Land see the possibility of a bright new future, no longer dissipated by rivalry and conflict, but firmly based on understanding and cooperation for the good of all. The outcome depends greatly on the courageous readiness of those responsible for the destiny of this part of the world to move to new attitudes of compromise and compliance with the demands of justice.

3. Dear Friends, I am fully aware of the great challenges facing the Palestinian Authority and People in every field of economic and cultural development. In a particular way my prayers are with those Palestinians - Muslim and Christian - who are still without a home of their own, their proper place in society and the possibility of a normal working life. My hope is that my visit today to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp will serve to remind the international community that decisive action is needed to improve the situation of the Palestinian people. I was particularly pleased at the unanimous acceptance by the United Nations of the Resolution on Bethlehem 2000, which commits the international community to help in developing this area and in improving conditions of peace and reconciliation in one of the most cherished and significant places on earth.

The promise of peace made at Bethlehem will become a reality for the world only when the dignity and rights of all human beings made in the image of God (cf Gen 1:26) are acknowledged and respected.

Today and always the Palestinian people are in my prayers to the One who holds the destiny of the world in his hands. May the Most High God enlighten, sustain and guide in the path of peace the whole Palestinian people!"

Papa Giovanni Paolo II's Homily at Mass in Manger Square
Bethlehem, 22 March 2000 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"“To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given. . . and his name will be called 'Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God. . . Prince of Peace'” (Is 9:6)

Mr. President, thank you for your presence and for that of the other civil authorities.

Your Beatitude, Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The words of the Prophet Isaiah foreshadow the Saviour’s coming into the world. And it was here in Bethlehem that the great promise was fulfilled. For 2000 years, generation after generation of Christians have pronounced the name of Bethlehem with deep emotion and joyful gratitude. Like the shepherds and the wise men, we too have come to find the Child, “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12). Like so many pilgrims before us, we kneel in wonder and adoration before the ineffable mystery which was accomplished here.

On the first Christmas of my ministry as Successor of the Apostle Peter I mentioned publicly the great desire I had to celebrate the beginning of my Pontificate in Bethlehem at the cave of the Nativity. That was not possible then; and has not been possible until now. But today, how can I fail to praise the God of all mercies, whose ways are mysterious and whose love knows no end, for bringing me, in this year of the Great Jubilee, to the place of the Saviour’s birth? Bethlehem is the heart of my Jubilee Pilgrimage. The paths that I have taken lead me to this place and to the mystery that it proclaims.

I thank Patriarch Michel Sabbah for his kind words of welcome and I cordially embrace all the members of the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land. Significant is the presence, in the place which saw the birth of the Son of God in the flesh, of many of the Eastern Catholic Communities which form the rich mosaic of our catholicity. With affection in the Lord, I greet the representatives of the Orthodox Churches and of the ecclesial communities present in the Holy Land.

I am grateful to the officials of the Palestinian Authority who are taking part in our celebration and joining us in praying for the well-being of the Palestinian people.

2. “Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).

The joy announced by the angel is not a thing of the past. It is a joy of today – the eternal today of God’s salvation which embraces all time, past, present and future. At the dawn of the new millennium, we are called to see more clearly that time has meaning because here Eternity entered history and remains with us for ever. The words of the Venerable Bede express the idea clearly: “Still today, and every day until the end of the ages, the Lord will be continually conceived in Nazareth and born in Bethlehem” (In Ev. S. Lucae, 2: PL 92, 330). Because it is always Christmas in Bethlehem, every day is Christmas in the hearts of Christians. And every day we are called to proclaim the message of Bethlehem to the world – “good news of great joy”: the Eternal Word, “God from God, Light from Light”, has become flesh and has made his dwelling among us (cf Jn 1:14).

The newborn Child, defenceless and totally dependent on the care of Mary and Joseph, entrusted to their love, is the world’s entire wealth. He is our all!

In this Child – the Son who is given to us – we find rest for our souls and the true bread that never fails – the Eucharistic Bread foreshadowed even in the name of this town: Beth-lehem, the house of bread. God lies hidden in the Child; divinity lies hidden in the Bread of Life. Adoro te devote latens Deitas! Quae sub his figuris vere latitas!

3. The great mystery of divine self-emptying, the work of our redemption unfolding in weakness: this is no easy truth. The Saviour was born in the night – in the darkness, in the silence and poverty of the cave of Bethlehem. “The people who walked in darkness has seen a great light: on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone”, declares the Prophet Isaiah (9:2). This is a place that has known “the yoke” and “the rod” of oppression. How often has the cry of innocents been heard in these streets? Even the great church built over the Saviour’s birth-place stands like a fortress battered by the strife of the ages. The Crib of Jesus lies always in the shadow of the Cross. The silence and poverty of the birth in Bethlehem are one with the darkness and pain of the death on Calvary. The Crib and the Cross are the same mystery of redemptive love; the body which Mary laid in the manger is the same body offered up on the Cross.

4. Where then is the dominion of the “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God and Prince of Peace” of which the Prophet Isaiah speaks? What is the power to which Jesus himself refers when he says: “All power has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18)? Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world” (Jn 18:36). His kingdom is not the play of force and wealth and conquest which appears to shape our human history. It is rather the power to vanquish the Evil One, the ultimate victory over sin and death. It is the power to heal the wounds which disfigure the image of the Creator in his creatures. Christ’s is the power to transform our weak nature and make us capable, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, of peace with one another and communion with God himself. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). This is the message of Bethlehem today and for ever. This is the extraordinary gift which the Prince of Peace brought into the world 2000 years ago.

5. In that peace, I greet all the Palestinian people, aware as I am that this is an especially important time in your history. I pray that the recently concluded Pastoral Synod in which all the Catholic Churches took part will encourage you and strengthen among you the bonds of unity and peace. In this way you will bear ever more effective witness to the faith, building up the Church and serving the common good. I offer the holy kiss to the Christians of the other Churches and ecclesial communities. I greet the Muslim Community of Bethlehem and pray for a new era of understanding and cooperation among all the peoples of the Holy Land.

Today we look back to one moment 2000 years ago, but in spirit we embrace all time. We gather in one place, but we encompass the whole earth. We celebrate one newborn Child, but we embrace all men and women everywhere. Today from Manger Square, we cry out to every time and place, and to every person, “Peace be with you! Do not be afraid!” These words resound through the pages of Scripture. They are divine words, spoken by Jesus himself after he rose from the dead: “Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:10). They are the words of the Church to you today. Do not be afraid to preserve your Christian presence and heritage in the very place where the Saviour was born.

In the cave of Bethlehem, to use the words of St Paul in today’s Second Reading, “God’s grace has been revealed” (Titus 2:11). In the Child who is born, the world has received “the mercy promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants for ever” (cf Lk 1:54-55). Dazzled by the mystery of the Eternal Word made flesh, we leave all fear behind and we become like the angels, glorifying God who gives the world such gifts. With the heavenly choir, we “sing a new song” (Ps 96:1):

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those whom he loves” (Lk 2:14).

O Child of Bethlehem, Son of Mary and Son of God, Lord of all time and Prince of Peace, “the same yesterday, today and for ever” (Heb 13:8): as we set forth into the new millennium, heal all our wounds, strengthen our steps, open our hearts and minds to “the loving kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high” (Lk 1:78). Amen."

John Paul II's words during his visit to the Refugee Camp of Dheisheh
Wednesday 22 March 2000 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Mr President, Dear Palestinian people,

1. It is important to me that my pilgrimage to the birthplace of Jesus Christ, on this the 2000th anniversary of that extraordinary event, includes this visit to Dheisheh. It is deeply significant that here, close to Bethlehem, I am meeting you, refugees and displaced persons, and representatives of the organizations and agencies involved in a true mission of mercy. Throughout my pontificate I have felt close to the Palestinian people in their sufferings.

I greet each one of you, and I hope and pray that my visit will bring some comfort in your difficult situation. Please God it will help to draw attention to your continuing plight. You have been deprived of many things which represent basic needs of the human person: proper housing, health care, education and work. Above all you bear the sad memory of what you were forced to leave behind, not just material possessions, but your freedom, the closeness of relatives, and the familiar surroundings and cultural traditions which nourished your personal and family life. It is true that much is being done here in Dheisheh and in other camps to respond to your needs, especially through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. I am particularly pleased at the effectiveness of the presence of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and many other Catholic organizations. But there is still much to be done.

2. The degrading conditions in which refugees often have to live; the continuation over long periods of situations that are barely tolerable in emergencies or for a brief time of transit; the fact that displaced persons are obliged to remain for years in settlement camps: these are the measure of the urgent need for a just solution to the underlying causes of the problem. Only a resolute effort on the part of leaders in the Middle East and in the international community as a whole – inspired by a higher vision of politics as service of the common good – can remove the causes of your present situation. My appeal is for greater international solidarity and the political will to meet this challenge. I plead with all who are sincerely working for justice and peace not to lose heart. I appeal to political leaders to implement agreements already arrived at, and to go forward towards the peace for which all reasonable men and women yearn, to the justice to which they have an inalienable right.

3. Dear young people, continue to strive through education to take your rightful place in society, despite the difficulties and handicaps that you have to face because of your refugee status. The Catholic Church is particularly happy to serve the noble cause of education through the extremely valuable work of Bethlehem University, founded as a sequel to the visit of my predecessor Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Dear brothers and sisters, dear refugees, do not think that your present condition makes you any less important in God’s eyes! Never forget your dignity as his children! Here at Bethlehem the Divine Child was laid in a manger in a stable; shepherds from the nearby fields were the first to receive the heavenly message of peace and hope for the world. God’s design was fulfilled in the midst of humility and poverty. Probably the pastors and shepherds of Bethlehem were your predecessors, your ancestors

Dear aid workers and volunteers, believe in the task that you are fulfilling! Genuine and practical solidarity with those in need is not a favour conceded, it is a demand of our shared humanity and a recognition of the dignity of every human being.

Let us all turn with confidence to the Lord, asking him to inspire those in a position of responsibility to promote justice, security and peace, without delay and in an eminently practical way.

The Church, through her social and charitable organizations, will continue to be at your side and will continue to plead your cause before the world.

God bless you all!"

John Paul II's speech during his visit to President Yasser Arafat
Bethlehem, Wednesday 22 March 2000 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Your Excellency,

I am happy to have this opportunity to thank you again, and to return the visits which you have made to me in the Vatican. I thank you for your warm welcome. This is an important moment in the search for peace in this region. Much has been achieved, but there is still much to be done if all the peoples of the region are to live in harmony based upon respect for the rights and dignity of all.

Our meeting today makes clear the commitment of the Catholic Church to work unceasingly for peace in the Middle East as a partner of all peoples. The Church understands the aspirations of the different peoples and insists that dialogue is the only way to make those aspirations a reality rather than a dream. I am thankful for the recognition you have given me here today. I know that you too are convinced that only patient and courageous dialogue will open the way to the future which your people rightly desire.

Entrusting this great challenge to Almighty God, I invoke upon you, upon your family and the Palestinian people the abundant blessings of heaven."



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