Relics in the news


Bishop Ramon Argüelles Reiterates Opposition to Capital Punishment


    St. Teresa of Lisieux's relics made a dramatic visit to death row in Muntinlupa, Philippines, this morning. The visit was the brainchild of Bishop Ramon Argüelles, chairman of the National Jubilee Committee. Thirty-three men sentenced to death for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking and rape were thus able to celebrate the Jubilee reconciliation. Early this morning, a small aircraft circled over the maximum security compound of the penitentiary showering rose petals over the inmates, many of whom were puzzled by the event. A few minutes later, one of the main gates of the compound opened and a white truck carrying the Saint's reliquary entered, accompanied by Bishop Argüelles, Auxiliary Bishop Jesse Mercado of Manila, and dozens of Theresa's devotees.

    The relics were taken to the chapel, where the Bishops and 4 priests concelebrated Mass. During the homily, Bishop Argüelles, the Philippine Military Ordinary, referred to the time St. Teresa of the Child Jesus prayed for the conversion of a death-row convict and her prayers were answered. Referring to the Jubilee tradition of pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem, Bishop Arguelles said: "St. Teresa has come on pilgrimage to you"; the congregation responded with warm applause.

At the end of the Mass, the authorities wanted the motorcade to leave immediately, but Bishop Arguelles insisted the relics be taken to death row, especially the cells of 33 men scheduled to be executed in the very near future. Although the reliquary

was too large to pass through the main door, the Bishop had it placed in front of the door and began to pray the Rosary, as the 33 condemned men took turns to pray quietly near the reliquary, touching it gently with their hands, their heads bowed in


    "We never expected this," stated Benjamin Ramos, who is charged with murder. "We were told that the relics were coming, but we were not told that St. Teresa and the Bishop would visit us personally." Prison Chaplain Fr. Silvio Borres, S.J., said "It was a very touching event in the lives of those on death row; penitentiaries need visits of saints!" The reliquary was then taken to the medium security compound, where some 4,000 men are housed. As it entered, the inmates smothered it with flowers. In a brief speech, Bishop Argüelles asserted: "We are for the abolition of capital punishment."




Statements in Jesuit Magazine "Civilta Cattolica"



    Scientific research carried out in a sarcophagus in the Basilica of St. Justina in Padua, Italy, appear to confirm the traditionally held belief that the relics kept in this Church are those of St. Luke the Evangelist. The data of confirmation has been published by the prestigious Jesuit magazine, "Civilta Cattolica," in anticipation of the results that will be officially communicated during the

Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The acknowledgement of St. Luke's alleged relics was made in September, 1998 --436 years after they were placed in St. Justina's Basilica. The research was carried out by a commission headed by the anatomy pathologist Vito Terribile Wiel Marin, professor of Anatomy and Histology at the University of Padua. Having removed the

1400-kilo marble slab that covered the sarcophagus, a lead box weighing 600-800 kilos was found. This box, which measures 190 centimeters in length, by 40 cm in width and 50 cm in depth, was resting on a wooden board and had two red wax seals.

    Fr. Daniele Libanori wrote that inside the box, a skeleton was found that was missing the cranium, the right ulna (elbow) and the right astragalus (ankle bone). According to the study, the bones are those of a man who died in old age, presumably between 70 and 85 years old, and measuring 1.63 meters in stature. This data alone already confirms what is known about the evangelist in Christian tradition. His advanced aged is confirmed by the study that revealed he was suffering from acute, diffused osteoporosis, grave arthrosis of the spinal cord, especially in the lumbar region, and pulmonary emphysema, evidenced in the

curvature of the ribs. The bones were arranged with great care, reflecting the esteem in which the person was held and the cult's antiquity. Vessels were also found in the sarcophagus containing coins, four parchments and lead weights that give evidence of the authenticity of the relic.




Her Relics Go to Russia, Siberia and Kazakstan



    The most important missionary of modern times has just finished a genuine tour of the former Soviet Union. The relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who died at 24 years-old and whom John Paul II declared a doctor of the universal Church, traveled by bus through Russia, Siberia and Kazakstan, covering 30,000 kilometers and stopping at 60 important parishes.          Simultaneously, ten small reliquaries, along with a beautiful Byzantine icon of Therese, painted by archimandrite Zenon, visited very distant places, like Astrakhan and Magadan, as well as many small communities, hospitals, prisons, orphanages and sick persons. The mission was possible thanks to the cooperation of the local Churches. Prior to the relics' arrival, all the parishes organized preparatory retreats and translated some of Therese's manuscripts. Cassettes of songs written by the saint, as well as prayer books, were produced in Russian. At present, her "Autobiographical Manuscripts" are being distributed in Russia, Siberia and Kazakstan, becoming the summer's best-seller. "The diocese of Eastern Siberia, the largest in the world -- covering 10 million square kilometers, has only 24 priests and religious -- the same (number) as Monaco," the French Catholic organizers of the mission explained. Therese of Lisieux continues to be one of the most important missionaries of our century, as

many Popes have described her.







    A relic of St. Francis Xavier, which was kept in the Church of Jesus in Rome, has arrived in Japan. The relic was transported to Japan for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish missionary in that country, on August 15, 1549, in the city of Kagoshima. The Japanese Catholics will continue to celebrate this anniversary with numerous activities until

October 11.




John Paul II's Letter for 1,200 Years of Aachen Cathedral




     John Paul II referred to the ties that unite the Catholic community spread over the world with the Church of Rome and the Holy City of Jerusalem, in a letter to commemorate 1,200 years since the construction of Aachen Cathedral, an event which was celebrated last Saturday and Sunday in this historic German locality.

    The Pope's special envoy to the celebration was Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. The Holy Father addressed the letter to Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen. John Paul II pointed out that the Cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin, was built at the request of Charlemagne. That same year, 800, the emporer was crowned in Rome by Pope Leo III in the Vatican Basilica. This historical event reflects the closeness that existed between that local Church and the diocese of Rome. But Aachen Cathedral has yet "another link" that carries it "with heart and mind" to the Holy City. These are 4 precious relics that Jerusalem gave to Charlemagne and that recall "with profound reverence events in the history of salvation." The 4 relics are fragments of the newborn Jesus' diapers, the cloth Jesus wore around his waist on the cross, the dress Mary wore on Christmas Eve, and the cloth of John the Baptist's beheading.

    "In general, Christians in the modern age do not pay with their life to profess the faith. However, witnessing does pay the price of some nights of insomnia and of innumerable drops of perspiration in a social ambience in which frequently Christ

has become a stranger. Precisely at a time in which God is left in silence very often, strength and courage are necessary to become guarantors of the inalienable dignity of all men because of the love of God, who sent his own Son so that they

could have life, and have it in abundance," the Holy Father says in his letter. John Paul II recalled that "orthodoxy of teaching must be reflected in coherence of life" and expressed the hope that the anniversary of the 1,200 years of Aachen Cathedral "will remind all Christians that they are committed to be living stones in God's building."





Conclusion of 3rd International Congress on "The Face of Faces"




    Modern man's thirst for God is reflected in the new interest awakened by Christ's face. The research being carried out at present in this connection by different scientific disciplines could lead, and in fact does lead, many to begin an impassioned search to discover who Jesus of Nazareth really was. This is the conclusion of the 3rd International Congress on "Christ: The Face of Faces," which was held from October 30-31 at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome. 

    The essence of the meeting was well summarized by Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers. "The vicissitudes that characterize the end of this second millennium

of the Christian era make manifest with ever greater realism the need to recover the values of love, in its expression of forgiveness, conversion, mercy, and around these, the unity of the human species. The Face of Christ is an incarnation of these

values, it is an intense call to live it and a source of energy capable of encouraging these."

    An Inter-Disciplinary Attraction "The studies made on the subject of Christ's Face demonstrate that this argument unites theologians and experts of the most varied disciplines. If a man does not contemplate this Face, and walks in front of Christ

without recognizing him, the mission of the Church is not accomplished," Vladimir Fedorov said. Fedorov is director of the St. Petersburg Institute of Missiology and Ecumenism. Referring to the 70 years of the Communist, atheist regime, Fedorov recalled Dostoevski's affirmation: "Perhaps the Russian people's only love is Christ," and he emphasized "although, at the level of atheistic Indoctrination, Christ was ignored and combated, nevertheless, it was impossible to uproot his image from literature,

art and all the creative expressions of Russian culture." Challenge for Theology Heinrich Pfeiffer, Professor of the History of Christian Art at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said that "the pictures of the Holy Shroud of Turin and of Veronica's Veil that are kept in the Italian locality of Manoppello are an enormous challenge for the whole of Western theology," because with these two relics "God has not only left us his Word in Sacred Scripture but also his image."

    Because of this, "the theology of the Incarnation must be based on this fact, as it does on the contents of the Gospels. We have two archeological vestiges that give authentic evidence of the Passion and Resurrection. These images are a divine

testimony of the corporal Passion and Resurrection of Christ and are an initial demonstration of glory. The theological implications are avenues which will only be able to be followed with the cooperation of many branches of science. This new

science could develop a fertile dialogue with theology, which in turn would become more concrete." Revelation of the Father's Face Thomas Spidlik, Professor Emeritus of Eastern Christian Spirituality, emphasized that "Jesus, the Son, reveals the face of the Father. On one hand, the principle of the Old Testament according to which no man has seen God, continues to be valid; on the other hand, the Face of God the Father appears there where we find Christ. From this stems the patristic thesis according to which the Face of Christ appears in the Church. As Spouse of Christ, the Church reveals the Father's face that is also reflected in each one of the faithful." Thus, Spidlik concluded, "just as in children one sees paternal traits, so also in Christians one must find similarities with the Heavenly Father: they must be saints, merciful, humble."

    All this was summarized by Bishop Ambrogio Spreafico, Rector of the Pontifical Urbanian University who believed that these considerations are already implicit in the exegesis of the expression "I seek your Face, Lord," and he said that "to meet him personally, he must be sought. God himself invites us to begin seeking. It is He who says: 'Seek my Face.' The search begins a movement, opens man to a meeting, frees him from the snares of death, because the search is prayer." The Aspiration of All Men Italian Poet Mario Luzi concluded the Congress, by explaining that to contemplate the Face of Christ is the aspiration of man at all times. The Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, liberates one from all anthropomorphism in the representation of God, "but it is not right to choose one of the faces that has been given to Jesus by the hands and imagination of artists and

select it as the supreme identification." Referring to the face of the Holy Shroud of Turin, for example, Luzi explained that "it

does not correspond to the interior iconography that he had conceived of Jesus Christ ... Undoubtedly it is a face that Christ took, when making his own the indescribable anguish and suffering of man. It is a face of suffering, not that of glory and that its why it was vertiginously assimilated with our face."





Cardinal Tomko Encourages America to Produce 50% of Missionaries




    Hundreds of children from the city of Parana, in Argentina, added color and joy to the inaugural celebrations of the 6th

(Latin American Missionary Congress and 1st American Missionary Congress that opened yesterday. More than 30,000 people attended, filling to capacity the stadium of the "Patronato" Club of the city. Identified with the colors of the continent, and taking as their theme the Congress' logo, the children performed a gymnastic number accompanied by songs, and waved handkerchiefs and flags of the different countries to the applause of the crowd.

    Minutes earlier, six Cardinals arrived on the playing field, as well as 103 American Bishops led by John Paul II's special envoy, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The Bishops were received with

rounds of applause to the tune "Welcome, welcome to the one who comes in the name of the Lord." The Slovakian Cardinal imparted the apostolic blessing. Next to him was Archbishop Estanislao Karlic of Parana, president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference; his Auxiliary Bishop Juan Puiggari; and the Emeritus Archbishop of Cordoba, Cardinal Raul Primatesta.

    The colorful celebration was viewed by visitors from all over America and representatives from Africa and Asia, who honored the passing statue of Our Lady of Lujan, patron of Argentina. The inauguration Mass of the 6th Latin American Missionary Congress and 1st American Missionary Congress was preceded by a procession with the Matara Cross, brought especially from Santiago del Estero; and the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and St. Roque Gonzalez, which have been on pilgrimage since July 9 in all the dioceses of the country, in order to prepare spiritually for these days, which will end next Sunday.

    Before the Mass, Archbishop Karlic read a letter in which John Paul II announced that Cardinal Tomko would be the Papal Legate for the COMLA 6 -- CAM 1, and invited all those present to "live in hope a more effective Christian life." "You must be actors in this missionary undertaking that begins today," the local Archbishop emphasized. During the homily, Cardinal Tomko appealed for missionary unity in America and pointed out the virtues of the "Continent of Hope," which must produce 50% of the Church's missionaries. "With Christ, leave your land, America," he said over and over, repeating the Congress' motto.

The different moments of the ceremony were accompanied by the music of the "Misa Criolla," directed by Bishop Jesus Gabriel Segade, with the participation of a local choir, formed especially for the occasion.




700-Year-Old Shrine on the Old Silk Road in Inner Mongolia




    Archeologists have uncovered a 700-year-old church site on the old Silk Road, which they believe to be the earliest Roman Catholic Church in Asia. The Church is located in the town of Abinsm, Inner Mongolia, which means "place with many temples" in the Mongol Language. The remaining walls of the church are some 16 feet tall. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the church consisted of a 1,000 square foot main hall with two rostrums measuring 12 to 15 feet high at one end.

    The body of the church is filled with shattered white tiles similar to those used in ancient Rome. Chinese archeologists had been hesitant to label the church as Catholic until the discovery of a white stone lion, which does not resemble Chinese art so much as the lions found in front of Italian Catholic churches. In the rear of the church is what appears to be a library, which archeologists expect will contain many relics. The Chinese government has allocated $18,000 to preserve the old church for study. Japanese archeologist Namio Egami told Xinhua that the church is the earliest evidence to date of the introduction of European religions in the far East. He stated that the first Synod in Abinsm was held during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), with an attendence of 3,000 faithful.

    Abinsm was discovered over 70 years ago by an international expedition led by Chinese archeologist Huang Wenbi. It was identified as the residence of the chieftains of the Wanggu tribe, which helped Genghis Khan unify Mongolia. The town was an important post on the Silk Road during the Yuan Dynasty, but declined in importance due to wars. Nestorian gravestones had been previously found in Abinsm, such as that of Koligis, a chieftain of the Wanggu. However, this discovery is the first evidence of Catholics in the region. Chen Gaohua, a Yuan Dynasty scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences noted the importance of this discovery in Inner Mongolia. It was known that the Church had sent representatives to China during

the Yuan period, but their activities were previously only recorded in Beijing and the Fujian province.





Revelations Surrounding Valencia's Sacred Chalice




    Salvador Antuñano Alea, professor of Ethics and Sacred Scripture at the Francisco de Vitoria University Center in Madrid, has just published a book on the relic believed to be the chalice used by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper, and at present kept in the Valencia Cathedral. The title of the book is, "The Mystery of the Holy Grail: Tradition and Legend of the Sacred Chalice." "If Indiana Jones had visited Valencia, he would have paid no attention to old medieval legends, and he would have saved himself all the dangers of 'The Last Crusade,' " Antuñano humorously affirms in the book's opening line. Over the

length of 220 pages, the author reviews the tradition that envelops the Sacred Chalice, including archaeological research on its use in the Last Supper, its use by the first Popes of Christianity, it relocation to Spain, medieval legends, its stay in the

Monastery of St. John of la Peña, and its first entry into documented history at the end of the 14th century.

    The author finally brings together the negative publicity and damages it has been subjected to since then, as well as its use by John Paul II during a Mass celebrated in Valencia in November, 1992. According to tradition, the Grail was the chalice from which Jesus and his disciples drank during the Last Supper. It is a proper cup, to which a gold structure with two handles has been added. The piece is 17 centimeters high. The cup is semispherical, about 3.5 inches in diameter and made of dark red agate. Archaeological studies reveal the work was done in a Palestinian or Egyptian workshop between the 4th century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.

At the Dawn of Christianity


    This cup, connected with the first Eucharist, could not have been forgotten after the Redeemer's death, all the more so since the disciples met several times afterwards in the Cenacle. This is the explanation for the Sacred Chalice's appearance in

Rome. According to tradition, it was brought from Jerusalem by St. Peter. Two and a half centuries passed, with clear indications that the chalice was used by the early Pontiffs to celebrate Mass. According to Antuñano, "What most impresses the

researcher is the Roman liturgical canon of the first Popes. At the moment of consecration, they literally said: 'take this glorious chalice,' referring strictly to 'this' [one]." (Here Antuñano is referring to the official Latin text, "hunc praeclarum calicem." The current U.S. English translation is simply, "the cup.") History records that during the persecution of Emperor Valerian, shortly before his death at the hands of the Romans, Pope Sixtus II gave relics, treasures and money to his deacon Lawrence, a native of Huesca, Spain, who was also martyred, but not before sending the Eucharistic Chalice to his native city, accompanied by a letter.This was in the year 258 or, according to some authors, 261. The cup remained in Huesca until the Moslem invasion. Bishop Audeberto of Huesca left his city with the Sacred Chalice in 713, and took refuge in the Mount Pano caves, where the hermit John of Atares lived. Later, the monastery of St. John of la Peña was founded and developed here. It was from here that a nucleus of determined men left to undertake the re-conquest of Spain from the Moslems. This struggle had epic proportions, which were not ignored by literary creativity.

    According to historians of literature, this was the origin or source of the famous poems of Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, about the hero Percival (Parzival). Eschenbach's epic later inspired Wagner's opera, "Parsifal." In all these poems there is a marvelous Cup, which is called "Graal" or "Grail" and whose link with the Sacred Chalice is easy to understand. The presence of the Sacred Chalice in St. John of la Peña is attested by a document dated December 14, 1134. On September 26, 1399, the Chalice went to Zaragoza for safekeeping, at the request of the King of Aragon, Martin the Human. In the text of offer, which is kept in Barcelona, there is evidence that the Sacred Chalice was sent from Rome with a letter of St. Lawrence. During the reign of Alfonso the Magnanimous, the relic was moved to Valencia. Since March 18, 1437,

it has been kept in the Cathedral of that city, according to a document which refers to it as "the Chalice in which Jesus Christ consecrated the blood on the Thursday of the Supper."


The Most Dramatic and Sublime Story of Humanity


    "The Sacred Chalice is not known sufficiently either within or outside of Spain," Antuñano, a Mexican living in Spain, states; he believes its "value is not in scientific rigor fully attested, even if archaeology itself has no objections to its authenticity,

but in the symbolism of the Lord's Supper. It is valuable because it is a sign and figure of the institution of the Eucharist, and this is much greater than any historical vestige." The author states that when "the mystery of the Grail is revealed, one realizes it is

in no way an esoteric enigma; what it encloses is the most dramatic, romantic and sublime story humanity has ever known: the story of the Word made Man and Eucharist."

The book, edited by EDICEP and published in Spanish, has a prologue by Archbishop Agustin Garcia Gasco of Valencia, who highly recommends the reading of the book because "it highlights the value and meaning of the Holy Grail, which acquires its relevance in the Eucharist."








    This morning, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Steering Committee for the Great Jubilee of 2000, presented the

official guides for the Holy Year at a press conference in the Vatican Press Office. "The purpose of these two books is to help meditate on the profound reason that motivates the Catholic Church to celebrate the Jubilee," the Cardinal said. The two pocket-size books, one entitled "Pilgrims at Prayer" and the other "Pilgrims in Rome," are each about 250 pages long. They will prove invaluable because they give an idea of the spiritual, historical and artistic wealth of Rome, the Eternal City. "Pilgrims in Rome" gives concise information on the history, events, and spiritual significance of the seven major Basilicas, where relics and artifacts of the Catholic Church are kept from earliest times. In addition, there is information on the martyrs' shrines, the catacombs, the historical churches, the saints' churches, and the churches of different Catholic communities present in Rome. Mention is also made of the Baptist, Lutheran, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Jewish and Islamic places of worship.

    "It is hoped that the two resources will anchor the Roman celebrations on the faith of the Apostles. Thanks to the well illustrated pages, the pilgrim will move through history and the evolution of the centuries feeling very much a contemporary of

Christ and a citizen of today's world," the Cardinal said. Bishop Crescenzio Sepe, secretary of the Jubilee Committee, emphasized that "we are aware that there is no lack of usual guides in Rome. But for the Holy Year, works are necessary that specifically address the religious and spiritual dimension of the Eternal City's Basilicas and monuments in view of the Jubilee event. This was the reason the Central Committee created a special commission to write a text to fulfill this need."

    "Pilgrims in Rome' focuses... on the reason Rome is called the 'Eternal City,' by highlighting its religious and spiritual history. What is singular about the guide is that it covers the historical and religious aspects in a balanced, organic and complementary synthesis. 'Pilgrims at Prayer' is especially useful for the pilgrim's prayer. This book gives outlines for meditation and reflection that, in synthesis, offer ... readings on the great themes of the Jubilee and make easier the understanding of the central message of each holy place," the Bishop explained. Bishop Francesco Gioia, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of

Migrants and Itinerant People, said that the preparation of the two guides began on December 20, 1996 and, thanks to the contribution of some 70 experts in various fields, and after five phases of work with corresponding meetings, a final version

was defined in 1998. On July 20 of that year, the Holy See signed a contract with the Arnoldo Mondadori Publishing House, the largest in Italy, which also published the Holy Father's book, "Crossing The Threshold of Hope." "Both guides combine historical and artistic information with the itinerary of prayer,"

    Bishop Gioia explained. It is a "virtual journey" the pilgrim makes over the history and religiosity of the churches in Rome. To make it all easier, there are 282 illustrations with topographical plans and chronological diagrams. In the prayer guide there are 142 pictures, which are a commentaries in themselves of the texts for meditation and prayer. Professor Gian Arturo Ferrri, Mondadori's director general, clarified that there are two editions of the guides: one is a hardback, priced at $25, and a cheaper

paperback edition at $5.50, which will be reduced to $4.40 for institutions, groups, parishes and other organisms connected with the Catholic Church. The price of the cheaper edition is not according to economic criteria but, rather, was suggested by

the Steering Committee as a condition for maximum distribution. Mondadori expects to sell 100,000 copies of the hardback in Italy, and 600,000 of the cheaper edition. The books will be available in bookstores beginning in September. In the autumn,

editions in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Polish, Chinese and Japanese will also be available.




John Paul II Welcomes Prime Minister of Macedonia




    The traditional audience John Paul II granted a Macedonian delegation which had arrived in Rome for the feast of Ss.Cyril and Methodius (according to the Julian calendar), gave the Pontiff the opportunity to renew his call for an end to hostilities in Yugoslavia. The Macedonian delegation was headed by the prime minister; there were a number of personalities in his entourage, all of whom came to the Eternal City to venerate the relics of one of the saintly brothers, apostles to the Slavs, which are kept in the Roman basilica of Saint Clement.

    In his words to the delegation, the Holy Father referred to "the terrible crisis which day after day is bringing untold suffering, death and destruction to the Balkans, leaving hundreds of thousands of human beings mourning the loss of their family members, their property and their basic human rights." Over the past three weeks, the Albanians from Kosovo who have crossed the

border are equal to 10% of the Macedonian population. When greeting the prime minister, the Pope referred to the grave humanitarian emergency his country is undergoing and praised the commitment of Macedonians to this humanitarian drama in spite of the terrible difficulties.

    The Macedonian ambassador to the Holy See said that his country does not have the means to cope with the massive health problems, schooling and food supply, and stressed that Macedonia is not receiving the necessary help from the international community. In reply, the Holy Father said: "In expressing to you and your fellow citizens my own and the Church's appreciation of all that you are doing, I again appeal with all my heart to those responsible to bring an end to the violence and to engage in an open and sincere dialogue aimed at creating a just and lasting basis for agreement and peace."

    By way of conclusion, the Holy Father said: "My earnest prayer is that through the intercession of the two holy Brothers the entire region will rediscover the brotherly communion of all its peoples, so that when the present violence and distrust have

been overcome it may be for the rest of Europe and the world a clear example of just and peaceful coexistence in mutual respect and liberty."




Offers Saint Thérèse of Lisieux as Best Example




    As Bishop of Rome, John Paul II left the Vatican this morning to visit the parish of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. On the first day of spring, characterized in Rome by clear skies and brisk temperatures, his words were directed especially to the young who live in the neighborhood, which also includes a high percentage of elderly.

    e took as his example this French girl who died at only 24, after consecrating her brief existence to the Lord. In 1997, her wisdom won her the title Doctor of the Church, conferred by the Pope. "Saint Thérèse reminds us of the enthusiasm and

generosity of youth. Her constant trust in the loving mercy of God made her youth joyful and luminous."

    This was, in fact, the advice the Pontiff wished to give the boys and girls who were listening to him. "I hope you will reach the simplicity of heart and the sanctity of 'young' Thérèse to be able to understand her confidence in Providence." John Paul II gave Saint Thérèse as an example to all the youth who will come to Rome on pilgrimage in the year 2000, as the saint did in 1887. "In fact, among her relics in this church is the veil she wore at the pontifical audience with Pope Leo XIII when she asked for, and was granted, permission to enter the Carmel when she was only fifteen years old."

    Thérèse was very "enthusiastic to discover Rome, 'sanctuary city' which gathers innumerable testimonies of sanctity and love of Christ. Thérèse knew how to express and synthesize in her mystical experience the very heart of the message of the next Jubilee: the announcement of God the Father's mercy and the invitation to have total confidence in Him."

    The Pope's meeting with this parish began at 8:50 a.m.; it was marked by a spirit of trust. He was received by children who, in this neighborhood of very expensive homes, are not numerous. In the parish, there is a total of about thirty. He was welcomed by Agnese, a happy eight-year old Roman who made the Pope smile when she said he was "'simpatico' (friendly), strong and courageous like Jesus." The Pope reminded his listeners that it was the beginning of spring, but he clarified later that for him spring occurs every time he is with children, "because they are the spring of society, the country, the Church, and the parish."

    In this spirit, he interpreted the Sunday liturgy, with two weeks left until Easter, the "spring of life." "In a society, where there are signs of death, and where there is a great need for hope in life, Christians have the mission to proclaim Christ, man's 'resurrection and life.' Faced with the symptoms of an overwhelming 'culture of death,' Jesus' great revelation must resonate throughout the world: 'I am the resurrection and the life.' " The parish of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus was the 284th visited by John Paul II in his twenty years as Bishop of Rome.




John Paul II Will Relive Traditional Imposition of Ashes




    Tomorrow John Paul II will preside over the Ash Wednesday ceremony, in the first prayer meeting which will be repeated every day in Rome during Lent. It will begin a period of reliving all the moving stages of this intense liturgical moment using traditional forms of prayer and penance. The daily meetings will take place in different churches of the Eternal City where

martyrs' relics are preserved. The first will be held at the Basilica of Saint Sabina, in the heart of the Aventine, with a liturgical celebration in which the Pope will participate.

    John Paul II will preside over the liturgy of the word and he will give the homily. After the final blessing, he will impose the ashes. As in previous years, the Mass itself will be celebrated by Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Titular of the Church of Saint Sabina.


The Ashes 


    Since the 4th century, the Church prepares for Easter by forty days of austerity, similar to Christ's, Elias' and Moses' forty days in the desert. The imposition of ashes is a custom practiced in the Church since its beginning. In Jewish tradition,

sprinkling the head with ashes was a sign of repentance and of desire for conversion. Ashes are a symbol of man's frailty and the brevity of life. In the early days of Christianity, ashes were imposed especially on public sinners. Since the 8th century, ashes have been imposed on all the faithful on Ash Wednesday. Then, as now, these ashes are obtained from burnt palms, blessed on the last Palm Sunday. The ashes are placed on the forehead, in the form of a cross, while these words from the first book of the Bible are repeated: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return," or from Saint Mark's Gospel: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

Lent: "a singular time of charity"


    In his message for Lent John Paul II describes this period as a "time of singular charity, which is expressed in corporal and spiritual works of mercy." The Pontiff refers "above all to those excluded from the daily banquet of consumption." "There

are many 'Lazaruses' knocking at the doors of society; they are all those who do not have a share in the material advantages resulting from progress. There are situations of permanent misery which must shake the Christian's conscience and call his attention to the urgent need to face these, both on a personal as well as a community level." The Pope's appeal goes even further. "Not only does each person have the opportunity to show compassion by inviting the poor to share in his wellbeing, but

international institutions, national governments and centers controlling the world economy must also be responsible for articulating audacious projects for a more just distribution of the earth's goods, both in the realm of individual countries as well

as in that of relations among peoples."




From Celebration of Spring to the Marketplace




    Last year, on the feast of Saint Valentine, "Sweethearts' Day," Italians spent half a million dollars on flowers alone. According to the Consumers' Union, the business of the heart, not including flowers or plants, is worth more than $1 billion, spent on chocolates, jewelry, valuable gifts and other things. The market has migrated to Internet as well. In the United States, the Saint

Valentine's market on the Net alone went beyond $311 million in 1998, and this year it reached $563 million. But, what is really celebrated on February 14? In Medieval England and France, popular belief associated Saint Valentine's, in the middle of the shortest month of the year, with the arrival of spring, manifested in the early arrival of birds. In these two countries, the first flowers begin to bloom, announcing the most romantic season of the year, when all of nature seems to awaken to new life.

    This is the reason why the day was dedicated to lovers, to couples engaged to be married. It was the time to send love letters and gifts to the beloved. French and English literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries makes reference to this custom. Countries of Anglo-Saxon heritage, such as the U.S., celebrate it as a cultural tradition, whereas in the Latin countries, it is celebrated simply by way of imitation or because of the influence of the media and advertising. But virtually no one knows who Saint Valentine really was. In fact, the coincidence of the saint's feast in the middle of February, led to the feast's "christening," to its being given Christian meaning. But there is nothing to make one relate the Christian saint with spring love. In fact, there is not just one Saint Valentine, but three. All were martyrs. Two of them, who are mentioned in the Acts of the Martyrs, died in

the persecutions against the first Christians, in the second half of the 3rd century, and they are buried in two different places on the via Flaminia in Rome. It is believed that one of them was a priest and the other a bishop, born in Interamna, the present city of Terni, where there is a basilica named after him. The Flaminia Gate of Rome, at present known as the People's Gate, at one time was called Saint Valentine's Gate. The name seems to have been taken from a small church in the vicinity. Of these two Saints Valentine, there is some documentation, but of little historical value. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered martyrdom in Africa along with a good many companions, not much is known either. Several places in Europe -- a parish in Madrid, a Carmelite convent in Dublin, and a Benedictine convent in Glasgow, Scotland -- all claim to have relics of a martyr called Valentine.




Community of Religious to Be Beatified by Holy Father




    "All the faithful are aware and feel happy. Our diocesan weekly, 'Word of Life,' has published several articles and information on the religious. The secular press has also highlighted the event," Fr. Yaroslaw Hrynaszkiewicz, director of the Grodno diocesan weekly newspaper, said to the Vatican agency "Fides." Fr. Hrynaszkiewicz was commenting on the local community's preparations for the beatification of Maria Stella Adelaide Mardosiewicz and her 10 companions, Polish nuns martyred in Nowogrodek.

    Fr. Hrynaszkiewicz, together with Bishop Aleksander Kaszkiewicz of Grodno and his Auxiliary Bishop Antoni Dziemianko are accompanying a procession of over 150 Belorusians who will attend the nuns' beatification ceremony in St. Peter's on

Sunday, March 5. Bishop Kaszkiewicz wrote a message to the diocesan community for the occasion, which was read in all the parishes, in which he said: "The beatification of the 11 religious of the Institute of the Holy Family of Nazareth is, for the reborn Church in Belarus, a providential event that strengthens the faith... The martyrs will be a model of a life of sacrifice and intrepid Christian edification. They will be patrons of Christian teaching, models of the work of reconciliation among the divided and

fraternal Churches of the world."

    During the years of the Second World War, the religious of the Congregation of the Sacred Family of Nazareth of Nowogrodek, on the eastern border of Poland (today's Belorus), first lived through the Soviet and then the Nazi occupation. On August 1, 1943, the Nazis shot Sister Maria Stella Adelaide Mardosiewicz and 10 companions. Only Sister Maria Malgorzata Banas escaped. She looked after the mortal remains of her companions in the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Nowogrodek, where their relics are at present. The religious arrived in this locality in 1929, at the invitation of the Bishop, to look after the Church of the Transfiguration, known as the White Church, and dedicate themselves to the education of children. They were deeply involved with the local multiethnic community, helping families especially during the war. With the German occupation came the extermination of Jews and massive arrests of Poles. On July 18, 1943, 120 people were arrested and were going to be shot. The nuns offered their lives instead of those arrested, who were fathers of families, thus demonstrating their fidelity to the charism of their founder, who established the Congregation to serve the family.




Pope Bids Farewell to Egypt and Calls for Dialogue Among Believers




    Yesterday, John Paul II ended his trip to Egypt with a call to rediscover the force of the Ten Commandments, "the Law of life and freedom," which he gave at St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. This was the second stage of John Paul II's longed for pilgrimage to the places of Revelation. The first was his "spiritual" journey to Iraq, held in the Vatican last

Wednesday. Although brief, John Paul II's pilgrimage in Moses' footsteps was intense, experiencing, as he did, decisive moments to give impetus to the dialogue among believers of different religions and Christians of different confessions. The Pontiff went so far as to request an acceleration of the search for this objective.


Pilgrim in God's Footsteps


    John Paul II was able to touch the reddish stones that characterize this critical but rough place, a desert of granite mountains. As a "pilgrim in the footsteps of God," he went yesterday morning to the foot of the sacred mountain (known today as "Djebel Mousa," Moses' Mountain), to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine, a fortress of 40-foot thick walls towering to 5,000 feet in height. The Holy Father explained the meaning of his pilgrimage from the shade of a flowering almond tree during a celebration outside the Monastery, where he addressed some 500 Egyptian Catholics, including numerous members of the

Neo-Catechumenal Way. "The Bishop of Rome is a pilgrim to Mount Sinai, drawn by this holy mountain that rises like a soaring monument to what God revealed here. Here he revealed his name! Here he gave his Law, the Ten Commandments of the


    A few years ago, John Paul II dreamt of participating in this place in a significant meeting among believers of the monotheist religions: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. This was not possible. Furthermore, the community of Greek monks of the Monastery was initially opposed to the papal visit. However, in this open air sanctuary, consecrated to faith in the one God, the Holy Father did not give up on the idea of re-proposing dialogue, when speaking of the "wind that still blows from Sinai today; a wind that "carries an insistent invitation to dialogue between the followers of the great monotheistic religions in their service of the human family. It suggests that in God we can find the point of our encounter. 


The Liberating Force of the Ten Commandments


    The "pilgrim in the footsteps of God," went to Sinai to contemplate the secret of human liberty. According to John Paul II, the tables of the Law given to Moses "are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but, before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. Today, as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as always, they are the only future of the human family. They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred, and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw him into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbor."

    The Holy Father experienced the greatest emotion when visiting the Church of the Transfiguration of the most ancient Christian monastery in the world, erected by Justinian in 527, in the place that preserves the roots of the "burning bush" that

God used to speak to Moses and reveal his name: "I am Who am." The pilgrim Pope removed his shoes, as God ordered his prophet, knelt down and kissed this holy ground. He also kissed the relics of St. Catherine of Alexandria, martyred in 307, to

whom the Monastery is dedicated. Here he carried out an ancient ritual, placing his ring on the finger of the skeleton, touching the ring to the skull, and putting it back on. He also venerated Christ Pantocrator, the most ancient icon of the Redeemer

(6th century), whose face was copied from the Myron, a lost image of Christ's face on a cloth, which many believe to be today's Shroud of Turin, which at the time was in the Greek city of Odessa.

    After these moments of intense spiritual experience, the Pope visited the Monastery's library, housing 6,000 works, including 3,500 manuscripts, outstanding among which is the "Codex Syriacus," the Syrian text of the Gospels that dates from the 4th century, and fragments of the "Codex Sinaiticus" (the rest of whose passages are in the British Museum). The visit was guided by Archbishop and Abbot Damianos. This community of 23 monks, which initially had opposed the papal visit because of the anti-Catholic feelings common among Greek Orthodox, in the end were affectionate hosts. Outside the Monastery, the Abbot addressed a long welcome to the Pope. However, neither he nor his monks prayed with their guests. "There is still no full ecclesial communion, that is why we cannot pray together," he explained to reporters.

    At the very moment the muezzin (Muslim prayer caller) was calling for evening prayer, John Paul II was leaving Cairo, the city of a thousand minarets, where he arrived after his visit in the Sinai Peninsula. The farewell ceremony at the airport was simple. Normally Egyptian protocol makes no provision for the President's attendance, but Hosni Mubarak wanted to say good-bye to the Holy Father personally. Also at the airport was the Grand Imam Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar University, alongside the Egyptian head of government, and the entire Catholic hierarchy.





Will Promote Dialogue Between Orthodox and Muslims in Egypt




    The Pope's trip to Egypt from February 24-26 will be brief but intense. This will the first visit of a Roman Pontiff to this country. There, he will be greeted by high government officials and Islamic leaders, as well as leaders of the different Christian Churches. The Holy Father's primary objective is to fulfill his long awaited dream of going on pilgrimage to the places of Revelation, which he will began "spiritually" today and will continue later in the week when he goes to Mount Sinai, where Moses heard God's voice, where he saw the burning bush, and where the Creator revealed his name: "I am who am." The memory of these events has been carefully preserved at St. Katharine's Monastery in Sinai, attested by 16 centuries of pilgrimages, represented by a fortress of prayer and stone erected at Mount Sinai's base in 330.

    John Paul II will arrive at St. Katharine's on Saturday, February 26, on the last stage of his journey to Egypt. At present there are 25 monks living in the Monastery, which is open to visitors for 2 hours every day. One of the places of recollection, not readily accessible to the public, is the Basilica of the Transfiguration. The mosaic of the apse is hidden by a veritable forest of lamps suspended from the ceiling. The walls are covered with icons, some lost in the distance and thus failing to be

appreciated. But a bit of patience will enable the visitor to capture the spirit of this singular Church. Built in the 6th century, it features a chapel dedicated to the burning bush, fulfilling one of St. Helen's dreams in 330, on a site ideally suited for a

monastic community. The monks' decision to welcome the Pope has stirred some controversy in the Greek Orthodox Church to which they belong. But they are able to go ahead with their plans, thanks to the historic autonomy this Sinai community enjoys. Thus, this will be the Holy Father's first meeting with the ancient Greek Church.

    The Pontiff will be received by Bishop Damianos, Superior of the Monastery. He will be taken to see the well from which Jethro's daughters drew water. In that place Moses defended them, and was rewarded by receiving one of them as his wife. The liturgy of the Word will take place in a grove called the "Garden of Olives." According to tradition, the burning bush was here, which told Moses to take off his sandals. The relics of the martyr Katharine are also kept here. She was a woman

from Alexandria tortured for her faith at the beginning of the 4th century, at the time of emperor Maxentius. John Paul II will pray in St. Katharine's Monastery, and will later make a brief visit to the Monastery's famous library, considered the third best collection of ancient manuscripts, after the Vatican and the Escorial in Spain. This will be followed by an open air prayer service presided by the Pontiff. Hundreds of youths will arrive from Cairo in buses and gather in the Garden of Olives in front of the Monastery for the service.

    The Holy Father's pilgrimage to Egypt will begin on February 24. He will arrive in Cairo at 2 p.m., and be greeted at the international airport by president Hosni Mubarak and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Stephanos II Ghattas. At 6 p.m. he will arrive

in the heart of Cairo, at Amba Roueiss, the residence of Shenouda III, the highest authority of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, known as the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Preaching of St. Mark. He will visit the mortal remains of St.

Mark, first Bishop of Alexandria. Formerly, the Evangelist's remains were conserved in Venice, Italy, but they were given to the Coptic Orthodox Church by Pope Paul VI. Immediately afterwards, John Paul II will visit Imam Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority of the Islamic world. The visit will take place in the Imam's new headquarters, near the University mosque of Al Azhar, in front of the City of the Dead.

    After the marathon of meetings, the Pope will retire to the Apostolic Nunciature, in the residential zone of Zamelek, on the Island of Guezira. The Holy Father's second day in Egypt will begin in the early morning with a Mass for the Catholic community in Cairo's indoor stadium. The Mass, which originally was to be celebrated in the Coptic Catholic Cathedral, was moved to the stadium because the Cathedral only has room for 2,000 persons. The stadium has a capacity for 20,000, but for security reasons, only 15,000 will be able to attend. The Pope will later dine in the Nunciature with Egyptian Patriarchs and Bishops. At 5:30 p.m. an ecumenical meeting will be held in the Coptic Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Egypt, inaugurated last Christmas. Among others, the celebration will include leaders of all the Christian denominations in the country. Given the restricted number of places in the Church, many Christians will have to remain outside, but it is hoped that Egyptian television, which generally ignores Christian events, will broadcast this historic event live. Following the Pope's visit to St. Kath- arine's Monastery, his principal engagement on February 26, he will return to Cairo to board his plane at 6 p.m. to return to Rome.