Pope´s Address at Wednesday General Audience

Reviews Pilgrimage in St. Paul´s Footsteps

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 16, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience.

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1. My pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps, which took me to Greece, Syria and Malta, ended a week ago. Today, I am happy to reflect with you on this event, which constitutes the last part of the Jubilee journey to the principal places of the history of salvation. I am grateful to all those who followed me in prayer on this unforgettable «return to the sources,» where one draws the freshness of the initial Christian experience.

I renew my feelings of cordial gratitude to Mr. Kostis Stephanopoulos, president of the Hellenic Republic, for having invited me to visit Greece. I thank Mr. Bashar Assad, president of the Syrian Arab Republic, and Mr. Guido De Marco, president of the Republic of Malta, who welcomed me to courteously in Damascus and Valletta.

I have wished to express to all Orthodox Churches everywhere the affection and esteem of the Catholic Church, with the hope that the memory of past faults against communion will be fully purified and leave room for reconciliation and fraternity. Moreover, I had the opportunity to reaffirm the sincere openness with which the Church turns to the believers of Islam, to whom we are united in adoration of the one God.

I consider it a special grace to have been able to meet the Catholic bishops of Greece, Syria and Malta in their mission field and, together with them, the priests, men and women religious, and numerous lay faithful. Following in St. Paul´s footsteps, Peter´s Successor was able to comfort and encourage those communities, exhorting them to fidelity and, at the same time, to openness and fraternal charity.

2. The words of Paul´s famous speech, reported in the Acts of the Apostles, resounded in the Areopagus of Athens. They were read in Greek and English, and this was moving in itself: Indeed, the Greek language was the most spoken in the Mediterranean area at the beginning of the first millennium, as English is considered today at the global level. The «Good News» of Christ, revealer of God and savior of the world, yesterday, today and always, is for all men and women on earth, in keeping with his explicit command.

At the beginning of the third millennium, the Areopagus of Athens became, in a certain sense, «the Areopagus of the world,» from which the Christian message of salvation is proposed again to all those who seek God and are «conscientious» in accepting his inexhaustible mystery of truth and love. In particular, through the reading of the «Joint Declaration,» which, at the end of a fraternal meeting, I signed together with His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, it is directed to all the people of the European Continent not to forget their Christian roots.

Paul´s speech in the Areopagus constitutes a model of inculturation and, as such, it conserves its timeliness intact. Because of this, I proposed it again at the eucharistic celebration with the Catholic community in Greece, recalling the wonderful example of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, natives of Salonica. Inspired in the fidelity and creativity of that model, they did not hesitate to spread the Gospel among the Slavic peoples.

3. After Greece, I went to Syria where, on the road to Damascus, the risen Christ appeared to Saul of Tarsus, transforming him from a fierce persecutor into a tireless apostle of the Gospel. As with Abraham, it was a return to the origins, a rising again to the call, the vocation. I was thinking of this when visiting St. Paul´s Memorial. God´s history with men always begins with a call, which invites one to leave oneself and one´s own security to start out for a new land, trusting the One who calls. It was like this for Abraham, Moses, Mary, Peter, and the other Apostles. It was also like this for Paul.

Today, Syria is a country inhabited primarily by Muslims, who believe in one God and seek to subject themselves to Him following the example of Abraham, to whom they gladly refer (see «Nostra Aetate,» No. 3). At the beginning of the third millennium, the interreligious dialogue with Islam becomes ever more important and necessary. In this connection, the warm welcome given to me by the civil authorities and the Grand Mufti was truly encouraging. [The latter] accompanied me in the historic visit to the Great Mosque of the Omayyad, where the Memorial to St. John the Baptist is found, also very much venerated by Muslims.

In Damascus, my pilgrimage assumed, above all, a strong ecumenical character, thanks especially to the visit I had the joy of making to the respective cathedrals of His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Greek-Orthodox patriarch, and His Holiness Mor Ignatius Zakka I, Syrian-Orthodox patriarch. Then, in the historic Greek-Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, we celebrated a solemn prayer meeting. Thus, with heartfelt emotion, I saw one of the principal objectives of the Jubilee pilgrimage realized, namely, to «gather together in the places of our common origin, to bear witness to Christ our unity (see Ut Unum Sint, No. 23) and to confirm our mutual commitment to the restoration of full communion» (Letter on the Pilgrimage to Places Linked to History of Salvation, No. 11).

4. In Syria, I could not but turn to God in a special prayer for peace in the Middle East, motivated, unfortunately, by the dramatic present situation, which becomes increasingly worrying. I went up to the Golan Heights, to the church of Quneitra, semi-destroyed by the war, and raised my supplication there. In a certain sense, my spirit remained there, and my prayer continues and will not end until the vendetta gives way to reconciliation and the recognition of reciprocal rights.

This hope is based on faith, and the hope I entrusted to the youth of Syria, whom I had the joy of meeting precisely on the evening before leaving Damascus. I carry in my heart the warmth of their greeting and I pray to the God of peace, so that Christian, Muslim and Jewish youth will be able to grow together as children of the one God.

5. The last stage of my pilgrimage in Paul´s footsteps was the island of Malta, where the Apostle spent three months, after the sinking of the ship, which was taking him as a prisoner to Rome (see Acts 27:39–28:10). For the second time, I also experienced the warm welcome of the Maltese, and had the joy of proclaiming two sons of their people Blessed — Don Giorgio Preca, founder of the Society of Christian Doctrine, and Ignatius Falzon, lay catechist — together with Sister Maria Adeodata Pisani, Benedictine religious.

Once again I wished to indicate the path of holiness as the master way for believers of the third millennium. In the vast ocean of history, the Church does not fear the challenges and snares that it finds in her navigation; the rudder is held firm on the course of holiness, toward which it has been steered by the Great Jubilee of 2000 (see «Novo Millennio Ineunte,» No. 30).

May it be so for all, thanks also to the intercession of Mary, to whom we take constant recourse during this month of May, dedicated to her. May the Virgin help every Christian, every family, and every community to continue with renewed impetus in the commitment of daily fidelity to the Gospel.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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