|Six months before the Great Jubilee, the Holy Father
anticipates his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
To all who are preparing to celebrate in faith the Great Jubilee:
years of preparation, we find ourselves at the threshold of the Great Jubilee. Much has
been done during these years throughout the Church, to plan for this event of grace. But
now, as in the last stage of preparation for a journey, the time has come for the
finishing touches. The Great Jubilee is not just a series of functions to be held, but a
great interior experience to be lived. External factors make sense only in so far as they
express a deeper commitment which touches people's hearts. It was in fact this inner
dimension that I wished to point out to everyone in my Apostolic Letter Tertio
millennio adveniente and the Jubilee Bull of Indiction Incarnationis mysterium,
both of which were well received by a great many people. In them the Bishops found helpful
suggestions, and the themes proposed for the. different years of preparation have been
amply meditated upon. For all of this I wish to thank the Lord and to express my sincere
appreciation to the Pastors and the entire People of God.
Now, the imminence of the Jubilee prompts me to offer some thoughts connected with my
own desire, God willing, to make a special Jubilee pilgrimage, to visit some of the places
which are closely linked to the Incarnation of the Word of God, the event which the Holy
Year of 2000 directly recalls.
My meditation therefore turns to the "places" in which God has chosen to
"pitch his tent" among us (Jn 1: 14; cf. Ex 40:34-35; 1 Kgs 8:10-13), thus
enabling man to encounter him more directly. In a sense, I am completing what I wrote in Tertio
millennio adveniente, in which the dominant perspective, ,against the background of
the history of salvation, was the fundamental relevance of "time". In fact, the
spatial dimension is no less decisive than the temporal in the concrete accomplishment of
the mystery of the Incarnation.
2. At first sight, it may seem puzzling to speak of precise "spaces" in
connection with God. No less than time, is not space completely subject to God's control?
Everything has come from his hands and there is no place where God cannot be found:
"The Lord's is the earth and its fullness, the world and all its people. It is he who
set it on the seas, on the waters he made it firm" (Ps 24:1-2). God is equally
present in every comer of the earth, so that the whole world may be considered the
"temple" of his presence.
Yet this does not take away from the fact that, just as time can be marked by kairoi,
by special moments of grace, space too may by analogy bear the stamp of particular
saving actions of God. Moreover, this is an intuition present in all religions, which not
only have sacred times but also sacred spaces, where the encounter with the divine may be
experienced more intensely than it would normally be in the vastness of the cosmos.
3. In relation to this common religious tendency, the Bible offers its own specific
message, setting the theme of "sacred space" within the context of the history
of salvation On the one hand, Scripture warns against the inherent risks of defining space
of this kind, when this is done as a way of divinizing nature: here we should recall the
powerful anti-idolatrous polemic of the Prophets in the name of fidelity to Yahweh, the
God of the Exodus. On the other hand, the Bible does not exclude a cultic use of space, in
so far as this expresses fully the particularity of God's intervention in the history of
Israel. Sacred space is thus gradually "concentrated" in the Jerusalem Temple,
where the God of Israel wishes to be honoured and, in a sense, encountered. The eyes of
Israelite pilgrims turn to the Temple and great is their joy when they reach the place
where God has made his home: "I rejoiced when I heard them say, 'Let us go to God's
house'. And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!" (Ps 122:1-2).
In the New Testament, this "concentration" of sacred space reaches its summit
in Christ, who is, in his person, the new "temple" (cf. Jn 2:21), in which
dwells the "fullness of Godhead" (Col 2:9). With his coming, worship was
destined radically to surpass material shrines in order to become worship "in spirit
and truth" (Jn 4:24). In Christ, then, the Church too is considered by the New
Testament to be a "temple" (cf. 1 Cor 3:17), as is the individual disciple of
Christ, since each is inhabited by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19; Rom 8:11). Clearly,
this does not mean that Christians cannot have places of worship, as the history of the
Church well shows; but it must not be forgotten that these are intended only to serve the
liturgical and fraternal life of the community, at the same time knowing that the presence
of God by its nature cannot be restricted to any one place, since his presence, which has
its fullest expression and communication in Christ, pervades O space.
The mystery of the Incarnation therefore reshapes the universal experience of
"sacred space", on the one hand relativizing it, and on the other hand
underlining its importance in new terms. The very "taking of flesh" by the Word
(Jn 1: 14) is in fact a reference to space. In Jesus of Nazareth, God has assumed the
features typical of human nature, including a person's belonging to a particular people
and a particular land. "Hic de Virgine Maria Iesus Christus natus
est"these words take on a peculiar eloquence in Bethlehem, inscribed
over the place where, according to tradition, Jesus was born "Here Jesus Christ was
born of the Virgin Mary". The physical particularity of the land and its geographical
determination are inseparable from the truth of the human flesh assumed by the Word.
4. For this reason, in the perspective of the 2,000th anniversary of the Incarnation, I
have a strong desire to go personally to pray in the most important places which, from the
Old to the New Testament, have seen God's interventions, which culminate in the mysteries
of the Incarnation and of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. These places are
already indelibly etched in my memory, from the time when in 1965 I had the opportunity to
visit the Holy Land. It was an unforgettable experience. Today I still gladly go back to
what I wrote then, pages full of emotion. "I come across these places which you have
filled with yourself once and for all. ... Oh place ... You were transformed so many times
before you, His place, became mine. When for the first time He filled you, you were not
yet an outer place; you were but His Mother's womb. How I long to know that the stones I
am treading in Nazareth are the same which her feet touched when she was Your only place
on earth. Meeting You through the stone touched by the feet of Your Mother. Oh, comer of
the earth, place in the holy land what kind of place are you in me? My steps cannot tread
on you; I must kneel. Thus I confirm today you were indeed a place of meeting. Kneeling
down I imprint a seal on you. You will remain here with my sealyou will remain and I
will take you and transform you within me into the place of new testimony. I will walk
away as a witness who testifies across the millennia" (Karol Wojtyla, Poezje.
Poems, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krakow 1998, p. 168).
When I wrote those words, more than 30 years ago, I could not have imagined that the
witness to which I pledged myself then I would render today as the Successor of Peter, at
the service of the whole Church. It is a witness which sets me in a long procession of
people, who for 2,000 years have gone in search of the "footprints" of God in
that land, rightly called "holy", pursuing them as it were in the stones, the
hills, the waters which provided the setting for the earthly life of the Son of God. Since
ancient times the travel diary of the pilgrim woman Egeria has been well known. How many
pilgrims, how many saints, have followed her path down the centuries! Even when events in
history disturbed the essentially peaceful nature of pilgrimage to the Holy Land, giving
it an aspect which, whatever the intentions involved, was hard to reconcile with the image
of the Crucified One, more sensitive Christian souls sought only to find the living memory
of Christ on that soil. And Providence decreed that, alongside the brethren of the Eastern
Churches, for Western Christianity it would be the sons of Francis of Assisi, the saint of
poverty, gentleness and peace, who in truly evangelical style would give expression to the
legitimate Christian desire to protect the places where our spiritual roots are found.
5. It is in this spirit, God willing, that I intend on the occasion of the Great
Jubilee of the Year 2000 to follow the traces of the history of salvation in the land in
which it took place.
The starting-point will be certain key places of the Old Testament. In this way I wish
to express the Church's awareness of her irrevocable links with the ancient people of the
Covenant. For us too Abraham is our "father in faith" par excellence (cf.
Rom 4; Gal 3:6-9; Heb 11:8-19). In the Gospel of John we read the words which one day
Christ said of him: "Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was
The first stage of the journey which I hope to make is linked to Abraham. In fact, if
it be God's will, I would like to go to Ur of the Chaldees, the present-day Tell
el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq, the city where, according to tile biblical account, Abraham
heard the word of the Lord which took him away from his own land, from his people, from
himself in a sense, to make him the instrument of a plan of salvation which embraced the
future people of the Covenant and indeed all the peoples of the world: "The Lord said
to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that
I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your
name great, so that you will be a blessing.... By you all the families of the earth shall
bless themselves'" (Gn 12:1-3). With these words, the great journey of the People of
God began. It is not only those who boast physical descent from him who look to Abraham,
but also all those, and they are countless, who regard themselves as his
"spiritual" offspring, because they share his faith and unreserved abandonment
to the saving initiative of the Almighty.
6. The experience of the people of Abraham unfolded over hundreds of years, touching
many places in the Near East. At the heart of this experience there are the events of the
Exodus, when the people of Israel, after the hard trial of slavery, went forth under the
leadership of Moses towards the Land of freedom. Three moments mark that journey, each of
them linked to mountainous places charged with mystery. There rises first of all, in the
early stage, Mount Horeb, as Sinai is sometimes called in the Bible, where Moses received
the revelation of God's name, the sign of his mystery and of his powerful saving presence:
"I am who I am" (Ex 3:14). No less than Abraham, Moses was asked to entrust
himself to God's plan, and to put himself at the head of his people. Thus began the
dramatic event of the liberation, which Israel would always remember as the founding
experience of its faith.
On the journey through the desert, it was again Sinai which was the setting for the
sealing of the Covenant between Yahweh and his people, thus linking the mountain to the
gift of the Ten Commandments, the ten "words" which commit Israel to a life
fully obedient to the will of God. In reality, these "words" are indicative of
the pillars of the universal moral law written in every human heart, but they were given
to Israel within the context of a mutual pact of fidelity, whereby the people undertook to
love God, recalling the wonders he had done in the Exodus, and God guaranteed his enduring
kindness: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the
house of slavery" (Ex 20:2). God and the people pledged themselves to each other. If,
in the vision of the burning bush, the place of the "name" and of the
"plan" of, God, Horeb, was above all "the mountain of faith", now for
the pilgrim people in the desert it became the place of encounter and of the mutual pact,
in a sense therefore "the mountain of love". How often down the centuries, in
denouncing the faithlessness of the Covenant people, did the Prophets see it as a kind of
"marital" infidelity, a genuine betrayal of God the bridegroom by the people,
his bride (cf. Jer 2:2; Ez 16:1-43).
At the end of the Exodus journey, there rises another peak, 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. His gaze from Nebo is the very symbol
of hope. From that mountain he could see that God had kept his promises. Once more,
however, he had to abandon himself trustingly to the divine omnipotence for the sake of
the final accomplishment of the plan that had been foretold.
It will probably not be possible for me on my pilgrimage to visit all these places. But
I would like at least, please God, to visit Ur, the place of Abraham's origins, and then
go to the famous Monastery of St Catherine, on Sinai, near the mountain of the Covenant,
which in a way speaks of the entire mystery of the Exodus, the enduring paradigm of the
new Exodus which was to be fully accomplished on Golgotha.
7. These and other itineraries of the Old Testament are full of meaning for us, but
clearly the Jubilee Year, the solemn commemoration of the Incarnation of the Word, draws
us above all to the places where Jesus lived his life.
First of all, I very much want to visit Nazareth, the town linked to the actual moment
of the Incarnation and the place where Jesus grew "in wisdom, age and grace before
God and men" (Lk 2:52). Here Mary heard the Angel's greeting: "Hail, O full of
grace, the Lord is with you!" (Lk 1:28). Here Mary spoke her fiat to the
message that called her to be mother of the Saviour and, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit,
to become the womb that would welcome the Son of God.
And how could I not then visit Bethlehem, where Christ was born, and the shepherds and
the wise men gave voice to the adoration of all humanity? At Bethlehem too there rang
forth for the first time that greeting of peace which, spoken by the Angels, would
continue to echo from generation to generation until our own day.
Especially charged with meaning will be the visit to Jerusalem, the place of the death
on the Cross and of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Certainly, there are many other places associated with the earthly life of the Saviour
and so many of them deserve to be visited. How can we forget, for instance, the Mount of
the Beatitudes, or the Mount of the Transfiguration, or Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus
entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter, establishing him as the foundation
of his Church (cf. Mt 16:1319)? In the Holy Land, from north to south, we may say that
everything recalls Christ. But I will have to be satisfied with the more important places,
and Jerusalem in a sense sums them all up. There, please God, I intend to immerse myself
in prayer, bearing in my heart the whole Church. There I shall contemplate the places
where Christ gave his life and took it up again in the Resurrection, imparting to us the
gift of his Spirit. There my wish would be to cry out once more the great consoling
certainty that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever
believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).
8. Among the places in Jerusalem most closely tied to the earthly life of Christ, I
will have to visit the Upper Room, where Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the source and
summit of the Church's life. Here too, according to tradition, the Apostles were gathered
in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Christ, when on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit
was poured out upon them. Then began the final stage of the journey of the history of
salvation, the time of the Church, Body and Bride of Christ, a people making its pilgrim
way through time, called to be the sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of
the unity of the entire human race (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 1).
The visit to the Upper Room is thus meant to be a return to the very origins of the
Church. The Successor of Peter, who in Rome lives at the place where the Prince of the
Apostles faced martyrdom, cannot but constantly retrace the steps to the place where
Peter, on the day of Pentecost, began to proclaim in a loud voice with the inebriating
power of the Spirit, the "good news" that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf. Acts 2:36).
9. The visit to the Holy Places of the Redeemer's earthly life leads logically to the
places which were important for the infant Church and which saw the missionary outreach of
the first Christian community. There are many of them, if we follow the account of Luke in
the Acts of the Apostles. But in particular I would also like to be able to pause in
meditation in two cities linked especially to the story of Paul, the Apostle of the
Gentiles. I am thinking first of all of Damascus, the place which recalls his conversion.
The future Apostle was in fact on his way to that city in the role of persecutor, when
Christ himself crossed his path: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts
9:4). From there, the zeal of Paul, now conquered by Christ, spread with unstoppable force
to affect a large part of the then known world. The cities evangelized by him were many.
It would be nice to be able to visit Athens, where Paul gave his magnificent speech in the
Areopagus (cf. Acts 17:22-31). If we consider the role played by Greece in shaping the
culture of the ancient world, we understand how that speech of Paul's can in a sense be
considered the very symbol of the Gospel's encounter with human culture.
10. Abandoning myself completely to the divine will, I would be happy if this plan
could be put into effect at least in its main points. It would be an exclusively religious
pilgrimage in its nature and purpose, and I would be saddened if anyone were to attach
other meanings to this plan of mine. Indeed, spiritually I am already on this journey,
since even to go just in thought to those places means in a way to read anew the Gospel
itself, it means to follow the roads which Revelation itself has taken.
To go in a spirit of prayer from one place to another, from one city to another, in the
area marked especially by God's intervention, helps us not only to live our life as a
journey, but also gives us a vivid sense of a God who has gone before us and leads us on,
who himself set out on man's path, a God who does not look down on us from on high, but
who became our traveling companion.
The pilgrimage to the Holy Places thus becomes a highly meaningful experience and in a
sense is evoked by every other Jubilee pilgrimage. The Church cannot forget her roots.
Indeed , she must return to them again and again if she is to remain completely faithful
to God's plan. This is why I wrote in the Bull Incarnationis mysterium that the
Jubilee, celebrated at the same time in the Holy Land, in Rome and in all the local
Churches throughout the world, "will have, as it were, two centres: on the one hand,
the City where Providence chose to place the See of the Successor of Peter, and on the
other hand, the Holy Land, where the Son of God was born as a man, taking our flesh from a
Virgin whose name was Mary" (n. 2).
While this focus on the Holy Land expresses the Christian duty to remember, it also
seeks to honour the deep bond which Christians continue to have with the Jewish people
from whom Christ came according to the flesh (cf. Rom 9:5). Much ground has been covered
in recent years, especially since the Second Vatican Council, in opening a fruitful
dialogue with the people whom God chose as the first recipients of his promises and of the
Covenant. The Jubilee must be another opportunity to deepen the sense of the bonds that
unite us, helping to remove once and for all the misunderstandings which, sad to say, have
so often through the centuries marked with bitterness the relationship between Christians
Nor can we forget that the Holy Land is also dear to the followers of Islam, who look
to it with special veneration. I dearly hope that my visit to the Holy Places will provide
an opportunity to meet them as well, so that, without compromising clarity of witness,
there may be a strengthening of the grounds for mutual understanding and esteem, as well
as for cooperation in the effort to witness to the value of religious commitment and the
longing for a society more attuned to God's designs, a society which respects every human
being and all creation.
11. In this journey through the places where God chose to pitch his "tent"
among us, great is my desire to be welcome as a pilgrim and brother not only by the
Catholic communities, whom I shall meet with special joy, but also by the other Churches
which have lived uninterruptedly in the Holy Places and have been their custodians with
fidelity and love of the Lord.
More than any other pilgrimage which I have made, the one I am about to undertake in
the Holy Land during the Jubilee event will be marked by the desire expressed in Christ's
prayer to the Father that his disciples "may all be one" (Jn 17:21), a prayer
which challenges us more vigorously at the exceptional time which opens the Third
Millennium. For this reason, I trust that all our brothers and sisters in faith, in a
spirit of openness to the Holy Spirit, win see in my pilgrim steps in the land traveled by
Christ a "doxology" for the salvation which we have all received, and I would be
happy if we could gather together in the places of our common origin, to bear witness to
Christ our unity (cf. Ut unum sint, n. 23) and to confirm our mutual commitment to
the restoration of full communion.
12. It therefore only remains for me to extend a warm invitation to the entire
Christian community to set out spiritually upon the path of the Jubilee pilgrimage. This
can be done in the many ways that I suggested in the Bull of Indiction. But it is certain
that many will also do so by actually journeying to the places that have been particularly
important in the history of salvation. In any event, we must all make that inward journey
which seeks to move us away from whatever, in us and around us, is contrary to God's law,
so as to be able to encounter Christ fully, professing our faith in him and receiving the
abundance of his mercy.
In the Gospel, Jesus seems always to be traveling about. He seems to be in a hurry to
move from one place to another in order to proclaim the imminent coming of God's Kingdom.
He proclaims and he calls. His "Follow me" prompted the Apostles' ready response
(cf. Mk 1:16-20). Let us all feel touched by his voice, his call, his summons to a new
I, say this especially to young people, before whom life is opening up like a journey
full of surprises and promises.
I say it to everyone: let us set out in the footsteps of Christ!
May the journey that I intend to make in the Jubilee Year be an image of the journey of
the whole Church in her desire to be ever more ready to respond to the voice of the
Spirit, in order to go more quickly to meet Christ, the Bridegroom: "The Spirit and
the Bride say, Come!" (Rv 22:17).
From the Vatican, on 29 June, the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, in the year 1999,
the twenty-first of my Pontificate.