2,000 CHILDREN MAKE FIRST COMMUNION AT PAPAL MASS

VATICAN CITY, MAR 21, 2000 (VIS) - At 9 this morning local time, in the stadium of Amman's Al-Hussein Youth City sports complex, Pope John Paul celebrated the first Mass of his Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Among those present were Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah, Greek Melkite Exarch Georges El-Murr, members of the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land and representatives of other Churches and ecclesial communities.

Today's Mass was in honor of St. John the Baptist, prophet and precursor of Christ, and patron saint of Jordan. At the start of the celebration, water from the Jordan River was blessed and sprinkled on the faithful, including 2,000 children who received First Communion. The Gospel was proclaimed according to the Greek Melkite rite. Patriarch Sabbah introduced the profession of faith. At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, the Pope blessed three cornerstones which will be used in building a Maronite church, a Syro-Catholic church and the "Regina Pacis" Center.

"The Successor of Peter," said the Holy Father in his homily in English, "is a pilgrim in this land blessed by the presence of Moses and Elijah, where Jesus Himself taught and worked miracles, where the early Church bore witness in the lives of many saints and martyrs. In this year of the Great Jubilee the whole Church, and especially today the Christian community of Jordan, are spiritually united in a pilgrimage to the origins of our faith, a pilgrimage of conversion and penance, of reconciliation and peace."

The Pope highlighted the story of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, "the covenant of love between God and man" made on Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments, "the divine pedagogy of love," and "the prophets, including John the Baptist, who paid with their blood for denouncing failures to keep the Covenant." 

He also spoke of "the divine promise - 'I am with you ... to deliver you'," saying that "Jesus is the realization of the promise ... (and) the fulfillment of the Law. ... He reveals the true nature of the Promised Land where "'death shall be no more'."

John Paul II then turned to the fact that, "during the last five years, the Church in this region has been celebrating the Pastoral Synod of the Churches in the Holy Land." Saying that he "gladly receives the fruits of the synod," the Pope remarked that it "has made clear that your future lies in unity and solidarity."

Addressing the bishops and priests, he urged them to "be good shepherds according to the Heart of Christ!" to guide their flocks to the Kingdom of Christ and to "strengthen the pastoral life of your communities." He expressed "the Church's immense gratitude for your witness to the supremacy of God in all things" to the men and women religious. 

He told the laity: "Do not be afraid to take your proper place and responsibility in the Church." He invited mothers, who today are celebrating Mother's Day in Jordan, "to be builders of a new civilization of love. Love your families! Teach them the dignity of all life; teach them the ways of harmony and peace."

The Pope asked young people "to build your future on the solid foundation of God's love" and to "help transform the world around you. ... To the children making their First Holy Communion, I say: Jesus is your best friend. He knows what is in your hearts. Stay close to Him, and in your prayers remember the Church and the Pope."

Following Mass, Pope John Paul went to the Latin vicariate of Amman where he had lunch with the patriarch, Latin patriarchal vicar for Jordan, bishops and members of the papal entourage. In the early afternoon he returned to the apostolic nunciature.