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Saint John Paul II's Jubilee Pilgrimage to Syria

5th - 8th May 2001

Pope Saint John Paul II was a pilgrim to Syria in 2001, during his 93rd apostolic voyage on which he also visited Greece and Malta.

Pope St John Paul II's itinerary included the following:
5th May - Welcome Ceremony in Damascus, Ecumenical meeting at the Greek-Orthodox Cathedral, Damascus
6th May - Holy Mass followed by the Regina Coeli at Abbassyin Stadium, Damascus, Meeting with the Patriarchs and Bishops of Syria, Meeting with clergy, religious and Christian laity of the Orthodox & Catholic Churches of Syria, Meeting with Muslim leaders at Omayyad Great Mosque
7th May - Visit to the St Paul's Memorial in Damascus, Prayer for peace at the Greek-Orthodox Church in Quneitra, Golan Heights, Meeting with young people at the Greek-Catholic Cathedral, Damascus
8th May - Farewell ceremony

Pope St John Paul II's address at the Welcome Ceremony in Damascus
Saturday 5 May 2001 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Mr President, Members of the Government,
Brother Patriarchs and Bishops, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. As I arrive in Damascus, this "pearl of the East", I am deeply aware that I am visiting a very ancient land, which has played a vital role in the history of this part of the world. Syria’s literary, artistic and social contribution to the flourishing of culture and civilization is renowned. I am most grateful to you, Mr President, and to the Members of the Government, for making my visit to Syria possible, and I thank you for your kind words of welcome. I greet the civil, political and military authorities graciously present, as well as the distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps.

I come as a pilgrim of faith, continuing my Jubilee Pilgrimage to some of the places especially connected with God’s self-revelation and his saving actions (cf Letter Concerning Pilgrimage to the Places Linked to the History of Salvation, 1). Today He allows me to continue this pilgrimage here, in Syria, in Damascus, and to greet all of you in friendship and brotherhood. I greet the Patriarchs and Bishops who are here, representing the Syrian Christian community. My heartfelt greeting goes to all the followers of Islam who live in this noble land. Peace be with you all! As-salámù ‘aláikum!

2. My Jubilee Pilgrimage marking the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ actually began last year, with the commemoration of Abraham, to whom God’s call came not far from here in the region of Haran. Later, I was able to travel to Mount Sinai, where the Ten Commandments were given to Moses. And then there was my unforgettable visit to the Holy Land, where Jesus fulfilled his saving mission and founded his Church. Now my mind and heart turn to the figure of Saul of Tarsus, the great Apostle Paul, whose life was changed for ever on the road to Damascus. My ministry as Bishop of Rome is linked in a special way to the witness of Saint Paul, a witness crowned by his martyrdom in Rome.

3. How can I forget the magnificent contribution of Syria and the surrounding region to the history of Christianity? From the very beginning of Christianity, flourishing communities were to be found here. In the Syrian desert Christian monasticism flourished; and the names of Syrians such as Saint Ephraem and Saint John Damascene are etched for ever in Christian memory. Some of my predecessors were born in this area.

I am thinking too of the great cultural influence of Syrian Islam, which under the Umayyad Caliphs reached the farthest shores of the Mediterranean. Today, in a world that is increasingly complex and interdependent, there is a need for a new spirit of dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Muslims. Together we acknowledge the one indivisible God, the Creator of all that exists. Together we must proclaim to the world that the name of the one God is "a name of peace and a summons to peace" (Novo millennio ineunte, 55)!

4. As the word "peace" echoes in our hearts, how can we not think of the tensions and conflicts which have long troubled the region of the Middle East? So often hopes for peace have been raised, only to be dashed by new waves of violence. You, Mr President, have wisely confirmed that a just and global peace is in the best interests of Syria. I am confident that under your guidance Syria will spare no effort to work for greater harmony and cooperation among the peoples of the region, in order to bring lasting benefits not only to your own land, but also to other Arab countries and the whole international community. As I have publicly stated on other occasions, it is time to "return to the principles of international legality: the banning of the acquisition of territory by force, the right of peoples to self-determination, respect for the resolutions of the United Nations Organization and the Geneva conventions, to quote only the most important" (Speech to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 13 January 2001, n 3).

We all know that real peace can only be achieved if there is a new attitude of understanding and respect between the peoples of the region, between the followers of the three Abrahamic religions. Step by step, with vision and courage, the political and religious leaders of the region must create the conditions for the development that their peoples have a right to, after so much conflict and suffering. Among these conditions, it is important that there be an evolution in the way the peoples of the region see one another, and that at every level of society the principles of peaceful coexistence be taught and promoted. In this sense, my pilgrimage is also an ardent prayer of hope: hope that among the peoples of the region fear will turn to trust; and contempt to mutual esteem; that force will give way to dialogue; and that a genuine desire to serve the common good will prevail.

5. Mr President, the gracious invitation which you and the Government and people of Syria have extended to me, and the warmth of your welcome here today, are signs of our shared belief that peace and cooperation are indeed our common aspiration. I deeply appreciate your hospitality, so characteristic of this ancient and blessed land. May Almighty God grant you happiness and long life! May He bless Syria with prosperity and peace! As-salámu ‘aláikum!"

Pope John Paul II's Address at an Ecumenical Meeting at the Greek-Orthodox Cathedral of Damascus
Saturday, 5 May 2001 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Your Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius, Your Holiness Patriarch Zakka
Venerable Bishops and Representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities of Syria,
1. "When he came and saw the grace of God, [Barnabas] was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose" (Acts 11, 23-24). Such was the joy and amazement of the Apostle in Antioch, where he had been sent by the Church in Jerusalem. Today I share his joy and make my own his exhortation. This visit to Syria takes me back to the dawn of the Church, to the time of the Apostles and the first Christian communities. It concludes my pilgrimage in the Biblical lands which I began in the year 2000. It also provides the happy occasion to meet with you in Syria and to return the visits which you have made to the Church of Rome and to its bishop.

In this Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, I greet most especially Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim. Your Beatitude, I thank you whole-heartedly for your fraternal welcome today and for this Liturgy of the Word which it is our joy to celebrate together. Your Beatitude’s interest and active involvement in the cause of Christian unity is known to all. It is something which I deeply appreciate and for which I thank God. Beloved Brother, I invoke the Lord’s blessing upon your ministry and upon the Church of which you are the Pastor.

2. Built upon the foundation of the Apostles Peter and Paul, the Church in Syria was quick to show an extraordinary flourishing of the Christian life. With good reason, the Council of Nicea recognized the primacy of Antioch over the metropolitan Churches of the region. As we think particularly of Ignatius of Antioch, John Damascene and Simeon Stylites, how can we fail to recall as well the many confessors and martyrs of this region who adorned the beginnings of the Church by their fidelity to God’s grace, even to the point of shedding their blood! How many monks and nuns withdrew into solitude, filling the deserts and mountains of Syria with hermitages and monasteries, in order to live lives of prayer and sacrifice, praising God so that in this way they might, in the words of Theodore of Edessa, "attain to the state of beauty" (Discourse on Contemplation). How many Syrian theologians helped to establish the theological schools of Antioch and Edessa! How many missionaries left Syria to go to the East, following the great missionary movement to Mesopotamia and further still to Kerala in India. Is not the Church of the West greatly indebted to the many pastors of Syrian origin who assumed the ministry of bishop there, even the ministry of the Bishop of Rome? May God be praised for the witness and the influence of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch!

Unfortunately, the unity of the illustrious Patriarchate of Antioch was lost through the centuries, and we must hope that the different Patriarchates existing now will once again find the path that will lead to full communion.

3. Between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Greek Catholic Patriarchate a process of ecumenical rapprochement has begun, and for this I thank the Lord with all my heart. It is prompted by the desire of the Christian people, by dialogue between theologians, and by fraternal cooperation between the bishops and pastors of the two Patriarchates. I urge all those involved to pursue this quest for unity with courage and prudence, with respect but without confusion, drawing from the Divine Liturgy the sacramental strength and theological stimulus which are needed in the process. The quest for unity between the Greek Orthodox and the Greek Catholic Patriarchates of Antioch is clearly part of the wider process of reunion between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. That is why I reaffirm my sincere desire that the Mixed International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches may soon be able to continue its work in the most appropriate way. The more this dialogue touches upon central questions, the more demanding it will become. This is no cause for surprise, and still less an excuse for lethargy. Who can stop us from placing our hope in the Spirit of God who does not cease to kindle holiness among the disciples of Christ’s Church? I wish to thank most sincerely Patriarch Ignatius IV for the positive and effective contribution which the Patriarchate of Antioch and its representatives have constantly made to this process of theological dialogue. I am likewise grateful to Patriarch Gregory III and his predecessor Patriarch Maximos V for their unfailing contribution to the climate of fraternity and understanding, which is so necessary if the dialogue is to develop well.

4. In the same spirit of gratitude and hope, I would like to mention the deepening of fraternal relations between the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate and the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate. I greet especially Patriarch Zakka I, in whom the Catholic Church has always found a faithful promoter of Christian unity, ever since the Second Vatican Council which he attended as an observer. Your Holiness, since your visit to Rome in 1984 it has been our joy to be able to make real progress on the road to unity, having confessed together Jesus Christ as our Lord, true God and true man. On the same occasion, we were able to authorize a plan of pastoral cooperation, notably at the level of sacramental life, in cases where the faithful have no access to a priest of their own Church. With the Syro-Malankar Church in India, which looks to your Patriarchal authority, the Catholic Church has equally good relations. I beg the Lord that the day will soon come when there will be an end to the final obstacles to full communion between the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church.

5. In the course of time, and especially at the start of the 20th century, Armenian, Chaldean and Assyrian communities, forced by violence to leave their homelands, came to the Christian quarters of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and other parts of this region. In Syria they found refuge, a place of security and peace. I give thanks to the Lord God for the hospitality offered by the Syrian people on a number of occasions to Christians of the region suffering persecution. Transcending all ecclesial divisions, such hospitality became the pledge of an ecumenical rapprochement. In the person of the persecuted brother the Christ of Good Friday was recognized and welcomed.

Since then, by conviction and by necessity, the Christians of Syria have learnt the art of sharing hospitality and friendship. Ecumenical contact at the level of families, children, young people and the leaders of society holds the promise of the future of evangelization in this country. It will be up to you, bishops and pastors, to accompany this happy process of rapprochement and communication with wisdom and courage. The cooperation of all Christians, whether at the level of social and cultural life, in promoting peace, or in the education of the young, is a clear indication of the degree of communion already existing between them (cf Ut Unum Sint, 75).

By virtue of the apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist unite in very close bonds our particular Churches who call each other, and love to call each other, Sister Churches (cf Unitatis Redintegratio, 14). "For centuries, we lived this life of ‘Sister Churches’, and together held Ecumenical Councils which guarded the deposit of faith against all corruption. And now, after a long period of division and mutual misunderstanding, the Lord is enabling us to discover ourselves as ‘Sister Churches’ once more, in spite of the obstacles which were once raised between us. If today, on the threshold of the third millennium, we are seeking the re-establishment of full communion, it is for the accomplishment of this reality that we must work and it is to this reality that we must refer" (Ut Unum Sint, 57).

6. Just a few weeks ago, we had the great joy of being able to celebrate the Feast of Easter on the same day. For me, this happy coincidence in the year 2001 was a pressing invitation of Providence, addressed to all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities, to return without delay to a common celebration of the Paschal Feast, the Feasts of all feasts, the central mystery of our faith. Our people rightly insist that the celebration of Easter should no longer be a cause of division. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has shown herself favourable to every effort to re-establish the common celebration of the Paschal Feast. Yet this process seems more difficult than anticipated. Is it perhaps necessary to envisage intermediate or gradual stages, in order to prepare minds and hearts for the implementation of an arrangement acceptable to all Christians of East and West? It falls to the Patriarchs and Bishops of the Middle East to assume together this responsibility with regard to their communities in the various countries of the region. From the Middle East there could be born and go forth a new energy and inspiration on this point.

7. A few weeks from now, we shall celebrate together the Feast of Pentecost. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit "will stir all the disciples of Christ to desire and to work for the peaceful union of all in one flock under one Shepherd, in the way decreed by Christ" (Lumen gentium, 15). Let us implore the Spirit to make us grow in holiness, for there is no lasting unity which is not based upon humility, conversion and pardon, and therefore upon sacrifice.

When the Spirit came upon the Apostles at Pentecost, the Virgin Mary was there in their midst. May her example and her protection help us to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches, even today, and to welcome his words with confidence and joy!

Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's homily at Holy Mass
Abbassyin Stadium, Damascus, Sunday, 6 May 2001 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. "‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And he said: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do" (Acts 9, 4-6).

It is as a pilgrim that I have come today to Damascus, to commemorate the event which took place here 2000 years ago: the conversion of Saint Paul. On his way to Damascus to oppose and imprison those who confessed the name of Jesus, Saul, approaching the gates of the city, experiences an extraordinary illumination. On the road, the Risen Christ appears to him; the meeting deeply affects him and a profound inner transformation takes place. From being a persecutor he becomes an apostle, from an opponent of the Gospel, he becomes its missionary. The Acts of the Apostles recalls in detail the event which changed the course of history: "He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel: for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Acts 9, 15-16).

Your Beatitude, I thank you for your kind words of welcome at the beginning of this celebration. Through you I greet with affection the bishops and the members of the Greek Melkite Church of which you are Patriarch. I warmly greet the cardinals, Patriarchs, bishops, priests and faithful of all the Catholic communities of Syria and the other countries of the region. I rejoice at the fraternal presence of the Patriarchs, bishops and faithful of the other Churches and ecclesial communities. I extend heartfelt greetings to them. I thank the members of the Muslim community who have joined their Christian friends on this occasion.

2. The extraordinary event that took place not far from here was decisive for the future of Paul and the Church. The Apostle’s meeting with Christ radically changed his life, because it affected him at the most intimate level of his being and made him fully receptive to divine truth. Paul freely accepted this truth and freely agreed to commit his life to the following of Christ. By welcoming the divine light and receiving baptism, his deepest being was conformed to Christ. His life was thus transformed and he discovered happiness in placing his faith and trust in the One who had called him from darkness into his own wonderful light (cf 2 Tim 1, 12; Eph 5, 8; Rom 13, 12). Meeting the Risen One in faith is truly a light on man’s journey, a light which calls one’s whole life into question. On the shining face of Christ, God’s truth manifests itself in a spectacular way. May we too keep our gaze upon the Lord! O Christ, light of the world, cause to shine upon us and all men and women the heavenly light which surrounded your Apostle! Enlighten and purify the eyes of our heart, so that we may learn to see all things in the light of your truth and love of humanity!

The Church has no other light to pass on to the world than the light which comes to her from her Lord. We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, we have received light from God and we have been made children of the Light. Let us recall the beautiful exclamation of St John Damascene which emphasises the origin of our common ecclesial vocation: "You have made me come into the light by adopting me as your son, and you have counted me among the members of your holy Church which is without stain" (De Fide Orthodoxa, 1)! On our journey, the word of God is a shining lamp; it enables us to know the truth that sets us free and makes us holy.

3. "I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands" (Rev 7, 9).

This reading in today’s Liturgy, taken from the Book of Revelation, shows, in its own way, the work wrought by St Paul’s apostolic ministry. St Paul played an essential role in the proclamation of the Gospel outside Israel. The Mediterranean lands became the focus of Paul’s evangelizing efforts. And we can say that subsequently, in the centuries that followed down to our own time, the immense progress of the proclamation of the Gospel follows in a sense logically from the ministry of the Apostle of the Nations. Down to our own time the Church continues to bear the fruits of his apostolic activity and constantly refers to the missionary ministry of St Paul, who became for whole generations of Christians the pioneer and inspirer of all mission.

Following the example of St Paul, the Church is invited to look to the ends of the earth in order to continue the mission entrusted to her to transmit the light of the Risen One to all peoples and cultures, while respecting the freedom of individuals and communities, including spiritual communities. The immense multitude of people of every origin is called to give glory to God. For, as Saint Ephraem says, "You have no need to communicate to us the treasures which you give us. You need only one thing: that we open our hearts to carry your good things, by surrendering our will and listening to you with our ears. All your works shine with the wreaths which the wisdom of your mouth made for them when you said: ‘All this is very good’" (Diathermane, 2, 5-7).

Like Paul, the disciples of Christ face a great challenge: they are to transmit the Good News by expressing it in a manner suited to each culture, without losing its content or altering its meaning. Do not be afraid to bear witness to this joyful news among your brothers and sisters, by your word and by your whole life: God loves everyone and calls them to be one family in love, for they are all brothers and sisters!

4. This joyful news should inspire all Christ’s disciples to seek ardently the paths of unity. By making their own the Lord’s prayer "may they all be one", they will bear witness in an ever more genuine and credible way. I truly rejoice at the fraternal relations which already exist between the members of the Christian Churches of your countries, and I encourage you to develop them in truth and with care, in communion with your Patriarchs and Bishops. At the dawn of the new millennium Christ is calling us all to come closer to one another in the charity which forms our unity. Be proud of the great liturgical and spiritual traditions of your Churches of the East! They are part of the heritage of the one Church of Christ and are bridges between people of different persuasions. Since the beginnings of Christianity, your land experienced a flourishing Christian life. In spiritual descent from Ignatius of Antioch, Ephraem, Simeon and John Damascene, the names of many Fathers, monks, hermits and so many other saints who are the glory of your Church are still in the living memory of the universal Church. By your attachment to the land of your fathers, by living your faith here with generosity, you too in turn today bear witness to the fruitfulness of the Gospel message which has been handed down from generation to generation.

With all your compatriots, without distinction of community, continue tirelessly your efforts to build a society marked by fraternity, justice and solidarity, where everyone’s human dignity and fundamental rights are recognized. In this holy land, Christians, Muslims and Jews are called to work together, with confidence and boldness, and to work to bring about without delay the day when the legitimate rights of all peoples are respected and they can live in peace and mutual understanding. Among you, may the poor, the sick, the handicapped and all those hurt by life be always brothers and sisters who are respected and loved! The Gospel is a powerful element in the transformation of the world. By your witness of life, may people today find the response to their deepest aspirations and the foundations for social coexistence!

5. Christian families, the Church looks to you with confidence to pass on to your children the faith you have received over the centuries since the time of the Apostle Paul. By remaining united and open to all, by always defending the right to life from conception, be homes of light, in full conformity to God’s plan and the true requirements of the human person! Give significant time to prayer, to listening to God’s word and to Christian education; in them you will find effective support to tackle the difficulties of daily life and the great challenges of today’s world. Any faithful and consistent Christian life requires regular participation in the Sunday Eucharist. The Eucharist is a privileged gift where communion with God and others comes about and is proclaimed.

Brothers and sisters, do not tire of seeking the face of Christ who shows himself to you. In Him you will find the secret of true freedom and joy of heart! May your hearts be filled with the desire for genuine fraternity with all! By placing yourselves enthusiastically at the service of others, you will find meaning in your life, because Christian identity is not defined by opposition to others but by the ability to go out of oneself towards one’s brothers and sisters. Openness to the world, with clarity and without fear, is part of the vocation of the Christian, conscious of his own identity and rooted in the religious heritage which the richness of the Church’s witness expresses.

6. "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me; and I shall give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them our of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one" (Jn 10, 27-30).

These are the words of today’s Gospel, by which Jesus Christ himself shows us the admirable dynamism of evangelization. God, who in many and various ways spoke to our fathers by the prophets, finally spoke by his Son (cf Heb 1, 1-2). This Son, one in substance with the Father, is the Word of life. It is He who gives eternal life. He came so that we might have life and have it abundantly (cf Jn 10, 10). At the gates of Damascus, when he met the Risen Christ, St Paul learned this truth and made it the content of his preaching. The wonderful reality of the Cross of Christ, upon which the work of the world’s Redemption was wrought, became present before him. Paul understood this reality and consecrated his whole life to it.

Brothers and sisters, let us lift our eyes to the Cross of Christ to find the source of our hope! In it we find a genuine path of life and happiness. Let us contemplate the loving face of God who gives us his Son to make us all "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4, 32). Let us welcome him into our lives to inspire us and bring about the mystery of communion which embodies and makes manifest the very essence of the Church.

Your belonging to the Church should be a sign of hope for you and your brothers and sisters, which reminds us that the Lord meets everyone on their journey, often in a mysterious and unexpected way, just as he met Paul on the road to Damascus, surrounding him with his brilliant light.

May the Risen One, whose resurrection all Christians celebrated together this year, grant us the gift of communion in charity! Amen."

Papa John Paul II's words to Young People
Greek-Catholic Cathedral, Damascus, Monday 7 May 2001 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"My Dear Friends,
When the Cardinals elected me to the Chair of St Peter, I spoke to young people and said: "You are my hope, the hope of the Church."

After 23 years, I repeat with great convinction: you are my hope, the hope of the Church! Today I add: you are the hope of Syria!

The hope of peace, of unity, of the civilization of love, you are the hope.

Dear Young People,
1. "Peace be with you!" I greet you this evening with the Easter greeting of the Risen Lord to his disciples. I am happy to meet you at the conclusion of my pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul in Syria. I thank the young people who welcomed me in your name. Although you belong to a variety of Christian confessions, all of you wish to listen to the voice of the one Lord and to journey together towards him. May your presence here be a sign of your commitment to work together, with Christ’s grace, in promoting full visible unity between all Christians!

I cordially greet His Beatitude Patriarch Gregoire III and I thank him for welcoming me in the name of the bishops of the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate of Antioch. In this Cathedral I also greet with fraternal affection the venerable Patriarch Maximos Hakim, who joins us in prayer from his residence in Beirut.

2. The passage of the Letter to Timothy which we have just heard is a source of encouragment for you: "If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. If we hold out to the end, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim 2, 11-13).

Dear young people, you are going through a time of life filled with questions and uncertainties. Yet Christ is calling you and awakening in you a desire to make your life something magnificent and beautiful, a determination to pursue high ideals, a refusal to be satisfied with mediocrity, and the courage to make commitments, with patience and perseverance.

3. In order to be able to respond to this call, strive constantly to grow in closeness to the Lord of life. Remain faithfully in his presence through prayer, knowledge of the Scriptures, the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this way you will build yourselves up and strengthen what the Apostle Paul calls "your inner self". An intimate relationship with the Lord is also the secret behind a fruitful life, a life grounded on what is essential for every human being: namely, dialogue with God, our Creator and our Saviour. In this way, your life will not be superficial, but profoundly rooted in the spiritual, moral and human values which sustain our whole being and our whole existence. Remember that you cannot be a Christian if you reject the Church founded on Jesus Christ; you cannot be called believers unless you put your faith into practice; and you cannot call yourselves spiritual men and women unless you allow yourselves to be moulded by God, in humble and joyful openness to his Spirit and in docility to his will. Your life’s centre of gravity must be in God.

Only then will you be able to make choices and to undertake generous commitments. Today you may be asking questions like: "What road should I take?", "What should I do with my life?", "Whom should I follow?" Don’t be afraid to take time to reflect with older people, in order to consider seriously the choices you have to make, choices which involve listening to Jesus Christ as he invites you to follow him along the demanding path of a courageous witness to values worth living for and worth giving your lives for: values such as truth, faith, human dignity, unity, peace and love. With the help of Christ and his Church, you will develop each day into men and women who are free and responsible for their own lives, actively involved in the life of their Church, in strengthening relationships between their religious and social communities, and in building an ever more just and fraternal society.

4. The Lord Jesus asks his disciples to be signs in the midst of the world, visible and credible agents of his saving presence wherever they live and work. It is not merely in words but above all by a particular lifestyle, one marked by a free heart and a creative spirit, that you will help the young people of your generation to discover that your joy and the source of your happiness is Christ. Do not separate your faith from your daily life and your daily life from your faith, as so many people do today. The life and the whole being of each Christian must be unified around a central axis: fidelity to Jesus Christ. In this way each Christian will constantly be able to repeat with the Apostle: "I know him in whom I have believed" (2 Tim 1, 12).

5. Like the pagans who asked Philip, saying: "We wish want to see Jesus" (Jn 12, 21) or the man in Paul’s vision who said: "Come and help us" (cf Acts 16, 9), people today are seeking, however hesitantly, to know the truth. Often, even when they are not fully aware of it, they wish to know Christ the one Saviour. Dear young people, I invite you today to proclaim Jesus Christ with courage and fidelity, above all to the young people of your generation. And not only to proclaim Jesus Christ, but also and even more importantly, to help others to see him. In seeing the way you live, your contemporaries ought to wonder what is your inspiration and the source of your joy. Then you can say to them: "Come and see". The Church is counting on you to make Christ better known and better loved. Like the Apostles and the women on Easter morning, you have met the Risen Lord and have been given a mission (cf Jn 20, 11-21,25), which is the mission of all the baptized. Love inspires us to pass on this good news, which has the power to transform individual lives and the future of the world.

6. Dear young people, the future of Christianity in your country depends on better relations and closer cooperation between the Churches and ecclesial communities present here. You know this and you are already working on it. The fellowship which you are happily experiencing in everyday life, in your neighbourhoods, in your schools or training centres, and in your groups or your youth activities, is important to you. It is preparing you even now to contemplate together your future as Christians in Syria. Strengthen the things that unite you. Meditate together on the Gospel, call upon the Holy Spirit, listen to the testimony of the Apostles, pray with joy and thanksgiving. Love your ecclesial communities. They have handed on to you the faith and the testimony for which your forefathers often payed a high price. They are counting on your courage and your holiness, which are the foundation of all true reconciliation. May the prayer of Christ "that all may be one" always resound in your hearts as an invitation and a promise! Your country is marked by fellowship between all parts of society. I highly esteem this fraternal and peaceful fellowship, and I express my hope that everyone will feel a real part of the community and be able to make their own contribution, in freedom, to the common good.

Dear young people, having discovered God, you must now offer him to the world. The "logic" of Christianity is truly unique! No one can keep this gift unless he also gives it away. This is the same "logic" which we have seen in the life of divine Master, who humbled himself, even to making the supreme sacrifice. That is why he was raised up and given the Name which is above every other name (cf Phil 2, 5-11). The true fruitfulness of every human life is linked to this radical experience of the mystery of the Passion and the Resurrection.

7. Tonight, with your Patriarchs and your Bishops, your priests and the whole Church, I say to you once again: Wherever you are, be faithful witnesses to the Incarnate Word of life! Your presence and readiness to help in your parishes and ecclesial movements, your fraternal concern for those suffering in body and spirit, your involvement in the building of a society which respects the rights of all and promotes the common good and peace: these are your commitments because you belong to Christ and are determined to serve humanity. Dear young Christians, bear witness to "the Gospel of charity"! Dear young people of Syria: build "the civilization of love"! I say this with great hope and immense confidence.

8. To you I renew the challenge which I addressed to the young people of the world on the occasion of the Great Jubilee: "Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! ... With Christ, holiness – the divine plan for every baptized person – becomes possible [...]. Jesus walks with you, he renews your heart and strengthens you with the vigour of his Spirit" (Message for the 15th World Youth Day, n 3).

With great affection I bless all of you and your families."