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Pope's Pilgrimage: John Paul II - Syria To Malta

Transcript from Vatican Website

In this bulletin:
1. Youth meeting at the Greek-Catholic Cathedral - Damascus
2. Farewell ceremony - International airport of Damascus


1. Youth meeting at the Greek-Catholic Cathedral - Damascus


May 7, 2001

Dear Young People,

1. "Peace be with you!" I greet you this evening with the Easter greeting of the Risen Lord to his disciples. I am happy to meet you at the conclusion of my pilgrimage in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul in Syria. I thank the two young people who welcomed me in your name. Although you belong to a variety of Christian confessions, all of you wish to listen to the voice of the one Lord and to journey together towards him. May your presence here be a sign of your commitment to work together, with Christ’s grace, in promoting full visible unity between all Christians!

I cordially greet His Beatitude Patriarch Gregoire III and I thank him for welcoming me in the name of the Bishops of the Greek-Melkite Patriarchate of Antioch. In this Cathedral I also greet with fraternal affection the venerable Patriarch Maximos V, who joins us in prayer from his residence in Beirut.

2. The passage of the Letter to Timothy which we have just heard is a source of encouragment for you: "If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. If we hold out to the end, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he will remain faithful, for he cannot deny himself" (2 Tim 2:11-13).

Dear young people, you are going through a time of life filled with questions and uncertainties. Yet Christ is calling you and awakening in you a desire to make your life something magnificent and beautiful, a determination to pursue high ideals, a refusal to be satisfied with mediocrity, and the courage to make commitments, with patience and perseverance.

3. In order to be able to respond to this call, strive constantly to grow in closeness to the Lord of life. Remain faithfully in his presence through prayer, knowledge of the Scriptures, the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this way you will build yourselves up and strengthen what the Apostle Paul calls "your inner self". An intimate relationship with the Lord is also the secret behind a fruitful life, a life grounded in what is essential for every human being: namely, dialogue with God, our Creator and our Saviour. In this way, your life will not be superficial, but profoundly rooted in the spiritual, moral and human values which sustain our whole being and our whole existence. Remember that you cannot be a Christian if you reject the Church founded on Jesus Christ; you cannot be called believers unless you put your faith into practice; and you cannot call yourselves spiritual men and women unless you allow yourselves to be moulded by God, in humble and joyful openness to his Spirit and in docility to his will. Your life’s centre of gravity must be in God.

Only then you will be able to make choices and to undertake generous commitments. Today you may be asking questions like: "What road should I take?", "What should I do with my life?", "Whom should I follow?". Don’t be afraid to take time to reflect with older people, in order to consider seriously the choices you have to make, choices which involve listening to Jesus Christ as he invites you to follow him along the demanding path of a courageous witness to values worth living for and worth giving your lives for: values such as truth, faith, human dignity, unity, peace and love. With the help of Christ and his Church, you will develop each day into men and women who are free and responsible for their own lives, actively involved in the life of their Church, in strengthening relationships between their religious and social communities, and in building an ever more just and fraternal society.

4. The Lord Jesus asks his disciples to be signs in the midst of the world, visible and credible agents of his saving presence wherever they live and work. It is not merely in words but above all by a particular lifestyle, one marked by a free heart and a creative spirit, that you will help the young people of your generation to discover that your joy and the source of your happiness is Christ. Do not separate your faith from your daily life and your daily life from your faith, as so many people do today. The life and the whole being of each Christian must be unified around a central axis: fidelity to Jesus Christ. In this way each Christian will constantly be able to repeat with the Apostle: "I know him in whom I have believed" (2 Tim 1:12).

5. Like the pagans who asked Philip, saying: "We wish want to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21) or the man in Paul’s vision who said: "Come and help us" (cf. Acts 16:9), people today are seeking, however hesitantly, to know the truth. Often, even when they are not fully aware of it, they wish to know Christ the one Saviour. Dear young people, I invite you today to proclaim Jesus Christ with courage and fidelity, above all to the young people of your generation. And not only to proclaim Jesus Christ, but also and even more importantly, to help others to see him. In seeing the way you live, your contemporaries ought to wonder what is your inspiration and the source of your joy. Then you can say to them: "Come and see". The Church is counting on you to make Christ better known and better loved. Like the Apostles and the women on Easter morning, you have met the Risen Lord and have been given a mission (cf. Jn 20:11-21,25), which is the mission of all the baptized. Love inspires us to pass on this good news, which has the power to transform individual lives and the future of the world.

6. Dear young people, the future of Christianity in your country depends on better relations and closer cooperation between the Churches and Ecclesial Communities present here. You know this and you are already working on it. The fellowship which you are happily experiencing in everyday life, in your neighbourhoods, in your schools or training centres, and in your groups or your youth activities, is important to you. It is preparing you even now to contemplate together your future as Christians in Syria. Strengthen the things that unite you. Meditate together on the Gospel, call upon the Holy Spirit, listen to the testimony of the Apostles, pray with joy and thanksgiving. Love your ecclesial communities. They have handed on to you the faith and the testimony for which your forefathers often payed a high price. They are counting on your courage and your holiness, which are the foundation of all true reconciliation. May the prayer of Christ "that all may be one" always resound in your hearts as an invitation and a promise! Your country is marked by fellowship between all parts of society. I highly esteem this fraternal and peaceful fellowship, and I express my hope that everyone will feel a real part of the community and be able to make their own contribution, in freedom, to the common good.

Dear young people, having discovered God, you must now offer him to the world. The "logic" of Christianity is truly unique! No one can keep this gift unless he also gives it away. This is the same "logic" which we have seen in the life of divine Master, who humbled himself, even to making the supreme sacrifice. That is why he was raised up and given the Name which is above every other name (cf. Phil 2:5-11). The true fruitfulness of every human life is linked to this radical experience of the mystery of the Passion and the Resurrection.

7. Tonight, with your Patriarchs and your Bishops, your priests and the whole Church, I say to you once again: Wherever you are, be faithful witnesses to the Incarnate Word of life! Your presence and readiness to help in your parishes and ecclesial movements, your fraternal concern for those suffering in body and spirit, your involvement in the building of a society which respects the rights of all and promotes the common good and peace: these are your commitments because you belong to Christ and are determined to serve humanity. Dear young Christians, bear witness to "the Gospel of charity"! Dear young people of Syria: build "the civilization of love"! I say this with great hope and immense confidence.

8. To you I renew the challenge which I addressed to the young people of the world on the occasion of the Great Jubilee: "Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! ... With Christ, holiness – the divine plan for every baptized person – becomes possible [...]. Jesus walks with you, he renews your heart and strengthens you with the vigour of his Spirit" (Message for the Fifteenth World Youth Day, No. 3).

With great affection I bless all of you and your families.

2. Farewell ceremony - International airport of Damascus


May 8, 2001

Mr President,
Distinguished Syrian Friends,

1. As I take my leave of the ancient land of Syria, I am filled with a sense of gratitude. I give thanks above all to Almighty God for enabling me to continue my Jubilee Pilgrimage of faith on the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to Saint Paul, who has been my travelling companion at every step of the way.

I am especially grateful to you, Mr President, and to the members of the Government, who have welcomed me with open hearts and extended to me the hand of friendship. The Syrian people are renowned for their hospitality, and during these days they have made a pilgrim feel at home. I shall not forget this kindness.

I thank the Christian community, and in particular Their Beatitudes the Patriarchs and the Bishops, for the way in which they have accompanied me on my Pilgrimage.

I shall cherish the memory of my visit to the Umayyad Mosque and of the courteous welcome I received from His Excellency the Minister of the Waqf, and His Eminence the Grand Mufti and the Muslim community.

I pray that Syria’s long tradition of harmonious relations between Christians and Muslims will endure and become even stronger, as a testimony before the world that religion, as adoration of Almighty God, sows the seed of peace in peoples’s hearts. By responding to the deepest yearnings of the human spirit, it enriches and unites the human family on its path through history.

2. Syria is an ancient land with a glorious past. Yet in some ways yours is still a young nation which in a relatively short time and through difficult circumstances has achieved a great deal. My pilgrim prayer is that Syria will move confidently and serenely into a new and promising future, and that your country will flourish in an era of well-being and tranquillity for all its people.

Syria is a vital presence in the life of this whole region, whose peoples have long suffered the tragedy of war and conflict. But for the door of peace to open, fundamental issues of truth and justice, of rights and responsibilities must be resolved. The world looks to the Middle East with hope and concern, expectantly awaiting every sign of constructive dialogue. Many serious obstacles remain, yet the first step towards peace must be a steadfast conviction that a solution is possible within the parameters of international law and the resolutions of the United Nations. I appeal once more to all the peoples involved, and to their political leaders, to recognize that confrontation has failed and will always fail. Only a just peace can bring the conditions needed for the economic, cultural and social development to which the peoples of the region have a right.

Thank you, Mr President. My thanks to you all: Shukran!

May your future be filled with Almighty God’s blessings. His peace be with you always: As-salámu ‘aláikum!



Gudja International Airport, 8 May 2001

Mr President,
Members of the Government,
Brother Bishops,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. With heartfelt gratitude to God, I stand on Maltese soil for the second time. The Jubilee Pilgrimage which I am making on the Two Thousandth Anniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ has brought me to Malta. After visiting some of the places especially connected with the history of salvation, at Sinai, in the Holy Land, and now in Athens and Damascus, my pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul brings me to you.

2. Thank you, Mr President, for the kind invitation which you extended to me in the name of the Maltese people. Thank you for your courteous words of welcome here today. I am grateful also to the distinguished members of Parliament, the Civil and Military Authorities, the members of the Diplomatic Corps, and all who are honouring this occasion with their presence.

With affection in the Lord, I greet Archbishop Mercieca, Bishop Cauchi, and Auxiliary Bishop Depasquale, as well as the other Bishops present, some of whom represent the missionary vocation of the Maltese Church, while others are descendants of Maltese emigrants. I greet the priests, the deacons, the men and women religious; and in particular the young people who are preparing to serve the Lord in the priesthood and consecrated life. I greet the catechists and all who actively collaborate in the Church’s mission.

In the words of your Patron Saint Paul I greet all the Maltese people, without exception: "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:2).

3. The memory of my first visit, eleven years ago, spontaneously comes to my mind. I remember my meetings with the priests and religious, the workers, the intellectuals, the families and the young people. I remember the Co-Cathedral of Saint John in Valletta, the Marian Shrines of Mellieha and Ta' Pinu on the Island of Gozo. I remember the Bay and the Islands of Saint Paul, and in particular the ancient Grotto, venerated as the place where he stayed.

I remember above all the faith and the enthusiasm of the Maltese and Gozitans.

Saint Paul arrived in Malta as a prisoner on his way to Rome, the place of his martyrdom. Here he and his shipwrecked companions were treated – as we read in the Acts of the Apostles – "with unusual kindness" (28:2). Here he bore witness to Christ and restored to health the father of Publius and other people of the Island who were sick (cf. Acts 28:8). The goodness of the Maltese people was met by the "the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour" (Tit 3:4). For two millennia you have been faithful to the vocation involved in that singular encounter.

Today the Successor of Peter wishes to confirm you in the same faith, and to encourage you in the spirit of Christian hope and love. He prays that, like your forbears, you too may bear good and abundant fruit. Good trees yield abundant good fruit (cf. Mt 12:33-35), as has been the case of the Venerable Servants of God whom I shall have the joy of declaring Blessed tomorrow.

4. Marked by its position in Europe and in the Mediterranean, Malta is heir to a singularly rich cultural tradition, the heart of which is the humanism of the Gospel. In a world in search of a sure light to guide the transformations which it is undergoing, you have a spiritual and moral heritage perfectly able to heal and elevate the dignity of the human person, to strengthen the fabric of society, and to endow human activity with a deeper sense and meaning (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 40). This is the wisdom and insight which Malta can offer to the new historical era that is slowly but surely emerging.

Dear Maltese Friends, cherish your Christian vocation! Be proud of your religious and cultural heritage! Look to the future with hope, and set out with renewed vigour to make this new Millennium a time of solidarity and peace, of love for life and respect for God’s creation.

5. I have entrusted my pilgrimage to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostle Paul. I invoke their intercession upon all the inhabitants of Malta and Gozo!

I bless you all, and in particular the sick, the elderly and all those who are suffering in body and spirit.

Il-Mulej ibierek il-poplu kollu ta’ Malta u ta’ Ghawdex! [God bless the people of Malta and of Gozo!]


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