Apostolic Letter Anticipates New Springtime of Christian Life

Author: VIS


VATICAN CITY (VIS)-Pope John Paul's apostolic letter on the Jubilee Year 2000, dated Nov. 10th, was made public Nov. 14th and is addressed to "the bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful."

Translated into Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Latin, it is divided into a presentation and five chapters, and two-thirds of it is dedicated to the preparatory stages of this jubilee.

I. "Jesus Christ Is the Same Yesterday and Today." This chapter focuses on the birth of Jesus Christ, the mystery of the Incarnation, and the redemption: "Christ, the Redeemer of the world, is the one Mediator between God and men, and there is no other name under Heaven by which we can be saved.... Christ fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.... As the image of the invisible God, Christ is the perfect man who has restored to the children of Adam the divine likeness which had been deformed by sin.

"Christianity," writes the Pope, "has its starting point in the Incarnation of the Word [which is] thus the fulfillment of the yearning present in all the religions of mankind.... Jesus Christ is the new beginning of everything." He points out that in Christ "God seeks man out . . . to persuade him to abandon the paths of evil which led him further and further afield. . . . Overcoming evil: This is the meaning of the redemption."

II. "The Jubilee of the Year 2000." This chapter is dedicated to the meaning of jubilees which, says Pope John Paul II, "began in the Old Testament and continue in the history of the Church." He explains that "in Christianity, time has a fundamental importance" and "in Jesus Christ . . . time becomes a dimension of God who is Himself eternal." He states that the custom of jubilees arose because "from this relationship of God with time, there arises the duty to sanctify time."

The Holy Father stresses that a "jubilee was a time dedicated in a special way to God," adding that customs regarding its celebration over time "were broadened and celebrated with even greater solemnity." He emphasizes that "for the Church, the jubilee is precisely this 'year of the Lord's favor,' a year of remission of sins and of the punishments due them, a year of reconciliation between disputing parties, a year of manifold conversions and of sacramental and extrasacramental penance.... Jubilees are celebrated not only but also ."

Pope John Paul says that the "Year 2000 will be celebrated as the Great Jubilee" and adds that "among the most fervent petitions which the Church makes to the Lord . . . is that unity among all Christians of the various confessions will increase until they reach full communion."

III. "Preparation for the Great Jubilee." Here the Holy Father outlines the events of this past century which have been, in some way, preparatory to the forthcoming jubilee, including Vatican Council II, "whereby the Church began the more immediate preparation for the Jubilee of the Second Millennium." What has been accomplished by Popes since then, he adds, marks a "significant contribution to the preparation of that new springtime of Christian life which will be revealed by the Great Jubilee if Christians are docile to the action of the Holy Spirit."

Other events of this last century which Pope John Paul identifies as preparatory moments for the Great Jubilee include synods, Holy Years, the 1987-1988 Marian Year, papal documents, primarily encyclicals, papal journeys, local jubilees such as the millennium of the Baptism of Rus in 1988 and the fifth centennial of the evangelization of the Americas in 1942, and the current Year of the Family.

Regarding papal journeys, he stated: "It is my fervent wish to visit Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Mideast: Lebanon, Jerusalem, and the Holy Land. It would be very significant if in the Year 2000 it were possible to visit the places on the road taken by the People of God of the Old Covenant."

The Holy Father underlined that "since the publication of the very first document of my Pontificate, I have spoken explicitly of the Great Jubilee.... In fact, preparing for the Year 2000 has become as it were a hermeneutical key of my Pontificate.... It is aimed at an increased sensitivity to all that the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church and to the churches, as well as to individuals through charisms meant to serve the whole community. "

IV. "Immediate Preparation." Pope John Paul at this point, after mentioning the "widespread consultation" on how to prepare for the Great Jubilee, divides the period into two phases: the first, an ante-preparatory period, 19941996, and the second, "the strictly preparatory phase, from 1997 to 1999."

He notes that the Holy See has established a special committee for the first phase which "will suggest courses of reflection and action at the universal level." There will also be "corresponding commissions in the local Churches." The Holy Father declares that, while a jubilee is a period for joy, it is also one in which "the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children" and of those times "of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counterwitness and scandal." Among these "should certainly be counted those which have been detrimental to the unity willed by God for His People."

An examination of conscience is also due, adds Pope John Paul II, with respect to "intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of truth," "religious indifference . . . the widespread loss of the transcendent sense of human life and confusion in the ethical sphere . . . the violation of fundamental human rights by totalitarian regimes."

"Faith," writes Pope John Paul II, "already put to the test by the challenges of our times, is sometimes disoriented by erroneous theological views, the spread of which is abetted by the crisis of obedience vis-a-vis the Church's "

Consultation with bishops and cardinals indicated a need for continental synods, continues the Pope, and proposals have been made for synods for the Americas, for Asia, and for Oceania.

The second phase, "centered on Christ, Son of God made man, must necessarily be theological, and therefore Trinitarian" in nature. The first year, 1997, will reflect on Christ, the nature of faith, and the Sacrament of Baptism; 1998 will be dedicated to the Holy Spirit, the theological virtue of hope, and Confirmation; 1999 will focus on God the Father, the gift of charity, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Year 2000 will be dedicated to the Eucharist and "to giving glory to the Trinity."

The eve of the Year 2000, says the Pope, "will provide a great opportunity . . . for interreligious dialog" in which "Jews and Muslims ought to have a pre-eminent place.... In this regard, attention is being given to finding ways of arranging historic meetings in places of exceptional symbolic importance like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Mt. Sinai."

Pope John Paul announces that the International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Rome on the occasion of the Great Jubilee.

V. "Jesus Christ Is the Same . . . Forever." Christ, states the Holy Father, "embraces within His redemptive power the whole past history of the human race.... The future also belongs to Him: 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever'." In words addressed specifically to youth, Pope John Paul II writes: "The future of the world and the Church belongs to the younger generation.... Christ expects great things from young people.... If they succeed in following the road He points out to them, they will have the joy of making their own contribution to His presence in the next century, and in the centuries to come, until the end of time: 'Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever'."

During the Nov. 14th presentation of the apostolic letter in the Holy See Press Office, Roger Cardinal Etchegaray said that "this document offers us a key to understanding Pope John Paul's entire Pontificate, both in its extension and unity. Past and future enlighten each other on the way toward the Year 2000.

"We discover today that the thought of the Jubilee for the Year 2000 is the main beam of his whole pastoral activity," said the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He recalled that the Pope, at the May 29th angelus, spoke of Stefan Cardinal Wyszinski and said: "At the beginning of my Pontificate, he told me: 'If the Lord has called you, you must introduce the Church into the Third Millennium'."