Updated: Saturday, December 25, 1999 at 22:14

  • St. Peter's Square - Rome
    Christmas Night 1999

    Pope John Paul II
    delivering Christmas Message

    The Latin Patriarch
    arriving in Bethlehem

    Manger Square - Bathlehem

    Midnight Mass in Bethlehem

    Yasser Arafat at Midnight Mass

    Interview with Fr Giovanni Battistelli

    It was almost a simultaneous celebration which took place in Rome and Bethlehem: in Rome the official inauguration of the Great Jubilee by His Holiness Pope John Paul II and in Bethlehem by the celebration of the Nativity Midnight Mass. The unity between these two centres of the Jubilee has been stressed since the proclamation of the Jubilee year and is proclaimed and professed by the Catholics of the world. In Rome Pope John Paul II not only opened the Jubilee Door of the Basilica of St. Peter but also that of his Cathedral (The Lateran Basilica of St. John). During the message to world which the Pope proclaimed in his Urbi et Orbi he stressed the symbolism of this gesture of the opening of the Jubilee Door as being an opening to Jesus Christ. Christ, the Pope proclaimed, is the door, life and light! For this the Pope addressed Jesus and while asking forgiveness for the times that the message of Christ was disregarded he also asked today's humanity to open up its heart to Jesus.

    The celebrations in Bethlehem started on Friday towards midday when the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Michel Sabbah, arrived in Bethlehem where he was welcomed not only by the local civil authorities and scout bands coming from all over Palestine but also by the Franciscan Friars to whom the Catholic Church has entrusted the custody of the Holy shrines. The Patriarch entered solemnly into St, Catherine's Church, which has been completely renovated for the Great Jubilee, and there he presided over solemn Vespers. In the evening the square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity was the beehive of activity with choirs coming from various parts of the world performing Christmas chants and carols. At midnight the Patriarch of Jerusalem celebrated the solemn Mass of the Nativity in the Franciscan parish church of St. Catherine, next to the grotto of the Nativity. During the homily the patriarch spoke of the need for the Peace of Christ to reign in the hearts of those who follow Christ. He also augured that the Peace process undertaken in the Land of the Promise be fulfilled for a harmonic living of the people who live in that land. The mass was also attended by various dignitaries and heads of states coming from various countries. As is customary, soon after midnight mass, a procession leaves the church of St. Catherine and goes down into the Grotto of the Nativity. This procession is led by the Patriarch himself who carries a beautiful statue of Baby Jesus which is laid on the silver star on which are inscribed the words: "Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est" (HERE Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary). A suggestive moment when the deacon reads the Gospel of Luke and the grotto is filled with Christmas chants. Then the statue of baby Jesus is taken and, swaddled in clothes, is laid in the manger. A culminating moment in this opening of the Great Jubilee from the Holy Land.

    The celebrations in Bethlehem were not only concentrated at the nativity site but also at the small shrine of Shepherds' field, the site where tradition indicates the spot where the angels brought the Good News that to us "a son is given" and that he is the "awaited one", the "Messiah, Christ the Lord". The same Christ who completely donated himself to us even to the death on the cross.

    This was also the message of hope which was proclaimed by Fr. Giovanni Battistelli who was interviewed in a special transmission from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the evening of this last Christmas of the second millennium. He emphasised how the site of the crucifixion is not the site of the end but of the beginning of the proclamation of the victory brought over by Christ. This is what Peter and John, who arrived at the empty tomb, proclaimed in their initial proclamation of the Gospel. "The site of the Holy Sepulchre is the site of suffering and hope", said Fr. Battistelli, and it is from here that come forth an "opening for the future".

    Happy Christmas from us all!

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    Created / Updated Saturday, December 25, 1999 at 22:14:26 by John Abela ofm
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