VATICAN CITY, JULY 31, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Neither rain nor wind nor hail nor heat has kept John Paul II from his Wednesday general audiences at the Vatican. And this week´s audience will his 1,000th.
Since his election in 1978, the Pope has received 16 million pilgrims at these meetings. The pilgrims have included kings, political leaders and celebrities, including actor Kirk Douglas, cycling champion Eddy Merckx, Formula One driver Michael Schumacher, U2´s singer Bono, and entire soccer teams.
Only international trips and the attempted 1981 assassination and occasional hospitalization — usually related to the shooting — have kept the Pontiff from attending these meetings.
Tickets to the audience are free. When the Pope arrives, he first greets the faithful. In general, he then reads and comments on a passage from Scripture, using it to shed light on a challenge of Christian life.
John Paul II´s first general audience was held Oct. 25, 1978, nine days after his election. That day he focused on the first of the four cardinal virtues: prudence. He chose this topic to continue in the line of John Paul I, who began by discussing the three theological virtues.
After the cardinal virtues, John Paul II focused on the mystery of man, Creation, respect for life, and human love. His later catechesis on the Creed was eventually developed in six volumes.
At the end of a general audience, the Holy Father greets groups in their own language. They often respond with applause, and sometimes with singing and dancing, and even gifts. John Paul II often takes advantage of these final moments to appeal for peace in an area of conflict, or for solidarity with peoples in crisis.
The Pope, who is staying at Castel Gandolfo, will go by helicopter to the Vatican on Wednesday for the general audience in St. Peter´s Square.