POPE FULFILLS DREAM AND ENDS PILGRIMAGE TO THE HOLY LAND

March 26 (EWTNews) The fulfillment of a dream of Pope John Paul II to follow the footsteps of Christ came to a completion today as the Pope ended his historic trip to the Holy Land. After a seven-day pilgrimage that included visits to both places from the Old and New Testament, which "have seen God's interventions, which culminate in the mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ," the Pope bid farewell.

At the Ben Gourion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, among a military honor guard and military band, waving flags, cheering crowds, and after greeting dignitaries, the Holy Father walked the red carpet on the tarmac accompanied by President Ezer Weizmann and Prime Minister Barak, then climbed the steps to the airplane, waved goodbye and boarded the airplane for Rome. What was for the Pope a personal pilgrimage became for those living in the Holy Land and around the world, a pilgrimage for all during this Great Jubilee Year.

Pope John Paul II began his pilgrimage in Jordan where he visited Mount Nebo, from which Moses could see the Promised Land (cf. Dt 32:49), without the joy of setting foot there but certain in the knowledge of having reached it. From that mountain he could see that God had kept his promises and give to all generations a symbol of hope.

From there, the Holy Father journeyed to the banks of the River Jordan, in the presence of 2,000 people, where he pronounced a prayer of blessing to the Holy Trinity, recalling the Baptism of Jesus.

The Pope then traveled to Bethlehem, the place he called "the heart of my Jubilee Pilgrimage" because "here, Christ was born of Mary; here, He was proclaimed Lord; here, He was adored by the shepherds and the Wise Men". While in Bethlehem, His Holiness was able have time for private prayer at both the Grotto of the Nativity, the place where Jesus was born of Mary, the Mother of God and the Chapel of the Magi, which is the traditional site of the manger.

From there the Holy Father went to Jerusalem, to the Cenacle near Mt. Zion to celebrate a private Mass at the place where Jesus Christ initiated the Eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood, a sacrament of Love. This liturgical celebration is the heart and soul of the Christian community as it is from the Eucharist that the Church is born. The Cenacle has further significance in salvation history because this was also the place where the Risen Christ appeared to the Apostles and the place where the Holy Spirit descended upon the early Church on the day of the Pentecost.

The next stop for the Pope was Tabgha on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee where he visited the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves. According to tradition, this is the rock upon which Jesus placed the bread and later became the altar of a church. The Holy Father then traveled to Capernaum and visited the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

On Friday, he traveled to the nearby Mount of the Beatitudes to celebrate Mass with 100,000 youth. It was here, on the green hills of Galilee that was the heartland of Christ’s life and teachings, where the Apostles were called and the Gospels delivered. It was here where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount giving Christians the Beatitudes, and considered by John Paul II, in conjunction with the Ten Commandments "the roadmap of our Christian life and a summary of our responsibilities to God and neighbor."

On the Feast of The Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope John Paul II traveled to Nazareth to celebrate Mass "where the eyes of the whole Church were focused". Prior to Mass, he was able for another opportunity for private prayer at the Grotto of the Annunciation, the house where Mary lived and where the Angel Gabriel appeared. It was here where Mary said "fiat". This Mass was chosen as the location for the major address of the Pope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land because of the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh.

The Holy Father concluded his pilgrimage to the Holy Land by celebrating Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Shrine that commemorates the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Other highlights of the Pope’s pilgrimage included visits with the regions religious and political leaders, and visits to Basil Boys School at the Deheish Refugee Camp at the outskirts of Bethlehem, to Yah Vashem, the memorial to the six million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust, with childhood friends from Poland who survived the Holocaust, to the three holiest monotheistic sites in the City of Jerusalem, especially the Western Wall where he prayed and placed a note in its cracks asking for forgiveness.