VATICAN CITY, JAN 7, 2001 (ZENIT.org).- Although the Jubilee ended yesterday with the closing of the Holy Door, there was still one more event to be celebrated. This morning, in St. Peter´s Basilica, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Great Jubilee, celebrated Mass in thanksgiving for the committment of nearly 70,000 volunteers.
Several thousand of those volunteers were present at the Mass. Others had volunteered for a more limited period and were no longer present in Rome. In closing remarks, Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe, Secretary of the Central Committee, remarked that if all the volunteers could have been present, they would not only have filled St. Peter´s Square and spilled out onto the Via della Conciliazione, but would have filled “all of Rome.”
The volunteers all wore their now-familiar blue vests bearing the slogan, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” during the Mass. Several of them formed a choir to help with the singing during the celebration, while others carried the cross, candles, and incense in the procession.
In his homily, Cardinal Etchegaray spoke of the sacrifices the volunteers made to make the Jubilee possible. “How many, many Masses have you taken part in here at St. Peter´s in the course of your service? You were always concerned more for others than for yourselves.”
“This is your Mass!” he affirmed to the gathered crowd, which included the young, the old, the healthy, and the disabled.
The 69,273 volunteers over the course of the year were naturally in large part Italians, with 10,484 coming from Rome alone. Nonetheless 6,321 volunteers came from other countries: 1,003 from France, 861 from Poland, 513 from the United States, 401 from Germany, and 240 from Spain, with others from all over the world. Archbishop Sepe made special mention of the volunteers that came from war-torn regions, such as Uganda and Ivory Coast.
The major concentration of the volunteers´ work came during World Youth Day, when 23,314 volunteers took part. Already at the opening of the Jubilee at Christmas 1999, 1,800 volunteers were active. Some 1,300 helped pilgrims at the ceremony for the closing of the Jubilee. Another 32,000 volunteers remained in waiting lists throughout the Jubilee Year, never called into “active duty.”
The volunteers were very pleased with their experiences during the course of their service. Eleanor, from the U.S., said, “I´m sure I will keep very sweet memories of it in my heart, for the volunteers I met and the area coordinators who were so kind with every one of us.”
After the ceremony, the volunteers took part in the Angelus with the Holy Father and went to the Capitoline Hill to receive the thanks of the authorities of the City of Rome.
Cardinal Etchegaray gave a small reflection to each of the volunteers to send them on their way, describing them as “pilgrims in charity.” “When you return home, take with you a piece of the ´volunteer´s´ heart. Let it continue to beat every day, for the joy and fullness of your life. Yours and those of others. Walk, walk in God´s love! ´Love hopes all things.´ “
For his part, Archbishop Sepe sent the volunteers off with a challenge. “May we all come back to volunteer in the next Jubilee — not in 3000, but in 2025!”