Rome Officially Embraces John Paul II as One of Its Own

1st Pope Proclaimed Honorary Citizen Since Italy Became a Republic

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 31, 2002 ( John Paul II became the first Pope to receive the distinction of honorary citizen of Rome since the creation of the Italian republic.

The honor was conferred today in the Vatican by the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, former Communist and former leader of the Party of Democrats of the Left, who was accompanied by a group of administrators and representatives of Roman institutions.

«The Bishop of Rome is honored to be able to repeat today, with particular intensity of meaning, the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘Civis romanus sum'» — I am a Roman citizen — a smiling Pope said, when he received his guests.

During the ceremony, John Paul II recalled that he began to know and love the Eternal City in November 1946, when he arrived to study theology.

«The affectionate bond which began then has been reinforced over the last 24 years, during which I have felt daily the closeness and warmth of Rome’s citizens,» he said.

«Rome, heir to a thousand-year-old culture in which the fruitful seed of the proclamation of the Gospel has been sown, does not only contain treasures from the past that must be cared for,» the Pope said. «It is conscious of having a fundamental duty to fulfill in the future at the service of mankind today and tomorrow.»

After mentioning that Rome is not lacking in problems, the Pontiff said: «Everyone must be committed to handing down to future generations the rich civil, moral and spiritual patrimony of Rome so that these new generations will be strengthened by it as they approach life with trust.»

«The Church will continue in this field, as it always has done, to carry out its duty, respecting each sphere, always seeking favorable agreements on specific topics and problems with civil authorities through sincere dialogue,» he added.

The Municipal Council agreed unanimously Oct. 17 to give John Paul II honorary Roman citizenship.

During the ceremony, Mayor Veltroni explained that the Pope’s relation with Rome «is real, concrete.»

«You have always combined the word with physical nearness, in a pilgrimage that has taken you through all the city’s neighborhoods; crossing the threshold of Romans’ homes and hospitals, sharing in the suffering of the sick, in particular, of children; visiting the dining halls of the poor, witnessing in the highest way the value of attention to the weakest, of Christian charity,» Veltroni added.

The mayor recalled the Pope’s several visits to prisons, in one of which he offered forgiveness to his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.

John Paul II already has left his mark on Rome, including restoring of the eucharistic procession through the streets on the feast of Corpus Christi, a tradition that was lost with the unification of Italy.

Mayor Veltroni also referred to the Pope’s 1986 visit to Rome’s synagogue.

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