The Mother Church of Jerusalem prepares for the Great Jubilee


Foreign Press Correspondents and Agencies

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you to this Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on the eve of Christian Easter celebrations. I catch the opportunity to convey my best wishes of a blessed and happy Easter to our Christians in this Holy Land and all over the world. At the same time my wishes of peaceful coexistence, prosperity and happiness to each one for his coming festivities: Pesach and Adha. May Almighty God inspire all our Authorities, Israelis and Palestinians, wisdom and good will to establish in Jerusalem and in all this Holy land a real, just and lasting peace so that we may live in understanding, harmony and cooperation, for the benefit of all and each inhabitant of this area.

The Holy Land centre of the celebrations The year 2000 is already at the door. It leads us to the great celebrations of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, called, between other important and significant names: Prince of peace. He came to the world to bring us inner peace and joy through his message of salvation. Therefore the year 2000 is a year of jubilation in the Lord to those who follow our Lord Jesus Christ first, but also to every human being on this earth. Is it not significant enough to remember that this calendar referring to Christ's birth has become the universal reference calendar in the whole world? It is really the Great Jubilee! It was declared as such by the Holy Father Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter: Tertio mellennio adveniente”, published on November 10, 1994. In this same letter, the Holy Father designated also the Holy Land as a centre for the Great Jubilee, along with Rome. “A separate chapter, he says, "will be the actual celebration of the Great Jubilee, which will take place simultaneously in the Holy Land, in Rome and in the local Churches throughout the world." (T.M. A. 55)

It is therefore necessary to enter into the spirit of the Jubilee. The year 2000 MUst therefore offeR the imprint of the Jubilee: an enounter with the grace of God and the God of grace, a time of conscience-taking, revision, and reconciliation with God and with our human brothers: the Jubilee actually is "a year of God's favour". But theological reflection on the Jubilee in general, and on the Biblical jubilee in particular, is very important since the Christian Jubilee includes also its elements. The jubilee must be a time of liberation a) liberation of slaves: certainly spiritual slavery, but also the actual slaveries our modern society continues to impose; b) liberation of debts which should be cancelled, and c) liberation of land since each should return to one's property and family, by respect for God, the only proprietor of land and its resources. The pilgrimage of the year 2000 will gain depth from this awareness and should also be centered upon the essential, offering time for meditation, prayer and deeper reflection upon the mystery of Christ. The pilgrim must feel challenged personally to respond with sincerity and conviction to the fundamental question posed to all: “Who is Christ to you?”

Organization The Jerusalem Committee for the Great Jubilee The Holy Land immediately began to prepare for this great event. In a meeting of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, (A.O.C.T.S.)

March 14-16, 1995, the Heads of all the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land established a committee for the Great Jubilee, made up of two Ordinaries for each of the three regions of a) Jerusalem and Palestine, b) Israel, and c) Jordan. The appointed co-ordinator is H.E. Msgr. Kamal-Hanna Bathish, the Auxiliary Bishop of H.B. Msgr. Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. After consultations, the co-ordinator forrned the Jerusalem Committee, made up of representatives of the clergy, religious, and laity. As president of the committee, he was also named by the Holy Father as member of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee in the Vatican, to serve as the liaison between Rome and Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Committee was the first to be privileged by the visit, in February, 1996, of H.B. Msgr. Sergio Sebastiani, secretary of the Central Committee of the Vatican, accompanied by H.E. Msgr. Michael L. Fitzgerald, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. The goal of the visit was to find out what had been accomplished and to encourage the work in the Holy Land.

Commission for Pilgrimages Soon the activity of the Committee had to be divided among other working groups. The Diocesan Commiission for Pilgrimages took upon itself all that concerns pilgrimage. It is already occupied with the following: study and development of existing possibilities in the religious institutions of the Holy Land for the accommadation of the extraordinary number of piligrims expected for the Year 2000; preparation of the Pilgrim Handbook, as well as an international consultation Encounter in 1997, with the aid of specialists from Jerusalem, for the study of piligrimage needed for the year 2000, along with related questions such as: receiving pilgrims, information, publication in different languages of guidebook to the Holy Places; the discourses of Paul VI, pilgrim in the Holy land, to aid meditation; special leaflets for each Holy Place, etc.

Commision for Cutural Activities A Commission for Cultural Activities, formed by the responsibles or representatives of the various Biblical Institutes, Seminaries, and of the University of Bethlehem, has also been at work since the beginning of the year 1996. It is in the process of finalizIng the details of a Week Study on Christology, for priests and Bible and theology students of all these institutions. This course will take place in Jerusalem, on April 29 through May 4 of 1997, the first year of preparation for the Jubilee. Later, this course will be simplified to reach thousands of those who are less prepared. Also in the process of preparation are leaflets vulgarizing the Apostolic letter, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, for distribution to the laity. Another possible project of this commission is the programming of a large conference on the "2000 years of Christian presence in the Holy Land" and others.

Other working groups will be likewise occupied with lirurgical, pastoral, and youth activities.

The Diocesan Svnod of the Catholic Church of Jerusalem One must also remember that the preparation of the Great Jubilee in the Holy Land porvidentially coincides with the Diocesan Synod of the Catholic Church of Jerusalem, inaugurated on the eve of Pentecost, 1995, by all the memhers of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinarits of the Holy Land. This Synod is working on renewing the faith and life of the Church in the Holy Land and can conceivably end at the dawn of the year 2000. Thus the two initiatives will complement one another.

The Jerusalem Inter-Church Committee The Great Jubilee of the year 2000 also stirs a particular interest within the Orthodox and Protestant Churches. Already in May of 1995, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches of the Holy Land had established a committee for the preparation and joint celebration of the year 2000. Since then, this committee has worked in a spirit of openness and brotherhood. Thus the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches were able to hold a press conference at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem on December 21, 1995, during which was presented their common Message for Christmas. This message officially announced the opening of the joint preparation of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000,- along with the individual and particular celebrations of each Church,- and the constitution of the “Jerusalem Inter- Church Committee" (J.l.C.C.), chaired by H.E. Anba Abraham, Coptic Archbishop of Jerusalem and of the Middle East. This committee is now in the process of preparing a common document on the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, as well as a book on the Church of Jerusalem in which each Church will present itself. Other projects, such as a common calendar and common Church Directory etc., are also being studied. One rejoices to see continually manifested the desire and will for more unity and collaboration in the great event of the year 2000. In addition to those initiatives there will of necessity be encounters to be organized for the pilgrims with various local Christian Churches, or at least their representatives.

We also hope and look forward for an openness within the two other monotheistic religions Leaders in the Holy land, that is, Judaism and Islam, for the possibility of better relations and dialogue.

The bilateral Commissions

As is understandable, the civil authorities, both Palestinian and Israeli, consider the year 2000 as a very important event for the country. At their request, two bilateral commissions have also been formed. On Christmas eve, President Yasser Arafat, personally announced during the Christmas 1995 celebrations in Bethlehem, the nomination of H.E. Msgr. Kamal-Hanna Bathish, auxiliary of the latin Patriarch and President of the Jerusalem Committee, as well as Sheikh Hassan Tahboub, Minister of the Moslem Waqfs and Religious Affairs for the Palestinian Authority and President of the Supreme Islamic Council, as delegates to the bilateral Commission with the Palestinian Authority for the year 2000. Nowadays the Commission is being better and officially organized under the name "Bethlehem 2000".

At the end of January of 1996, the bilateral Commission with the Israeli Authorities was also officially established. This commission, on the Israeli side, is formed by representatives of the Ministry of Tourism, as well as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Religious Affairs, and the municipality of Jerusalem, and headed by the under-director of the Tourism Ministry, Mr. Shabtai Shai. During the last meeting on July 8,1996 the Israeli delegation proposed projects for adaptation and modernization which are of interest to the Catholic Church. But since then regretfully no other meeting took place.

Frequent contacts are also going on with the municipalities of Bethlehem and Nazareth. The well planned municipality's project "Nazareth 2000" started well since at least four years, but has slowed down very much during last year.

The Church of Jerusalem prepares Spirit of Service in difficult social conditions It is in the spirit of service that the Church of Jerusalem is preparing at all levels and dimensions. It will be impossible for everything to be perfect, since human beings and material resources are limited, while the task seems without limit.

The Church of Jerusalem is at work with great commitment: from its dioceses (through the Jerusalem Committee and commissions of the Great Jubilee) to the Custody of the Holy Land (responsible for the majority of the Holy Places) and the other religious congregations which also serve the shrines. Locations are being prepared which will be better adapted for the encounters and celebrations of large groups. Work has begun in Bethlehem to prepare a great hall from the Crusader period; similar work is being done at Cana, Nazareth, Gallicantu, and elsewhere. Many other initiatives have either begun or at least have been decided upon. . . The Church of Jerusalem, furthermore, must work under very difficult conditions, given the precarious social situation and the uncertainty of the peace process, and most of all the closure of the Holy City of Jerusalem. How can one enjoy working in a Holy Land so parcelled into tiny cantons, so separated and often impenetrable? One sincerely wishes that the Israeli and Palestinian authorities come to an agreement whereby these conditions would change as soon as possible; because all this could jeopardize the spiritual and temporal (social and economical) benefits of this special year of grace that the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 embodies.

Broader dimensions a) Coordination with the Vatican and Rome. On Saturday, November 30, 1996, the Church of Jerusalem celebrated the prayer of Vespers in Jerusalem (Gethsemane), Bethlehem (S. Catherine Church) and Nazareth (the Basilica of the Annunciation) in coordination with the Holy Father in the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome opening the first year of preparation for the Great Jubilee.

On the 11th and 12 of this month the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee met in the Vatican to organize the preparation for the second preparatory year 1998. The president of the Jerusalem Committee attended the meeting. Rereported about the ongoing preparations in the Holy Land and participated in the discussions and the proposals. The different commissions working for it are preparing their documents and instructions to be given to the local committees all over the world. At the same time They decided to have a second meeting with the national delegates at the beginning of 1998, and reviewed the proposed calendar of the Holy Father for the Jubilee year which has to be finalized. One thing is almost sure that the opening of the Jubilee will take place on Christmas 1999 in Rome and in the Holy Land at the same time. Such coordination will continue between these two centers of the Jubilee.

In its meeting on the 4 - 6 of this month the Assembly of the Heads of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land reiterated the invitation to the Holy Father to visit the Holy Land on the occasion of the Great Jubilee at a convenient date.

b)Ecumenical Dimension: In Jerusalem we rejoice in the fact that one can no longer ignore this dimension, which is one of the great preoccupations of the Holy Father in "Tertio Millennio Adveniente." The Patriarchs and the Heads of the Christian Churches of the Holy Land are decided to prepare and celebrate the Great Jubilee together.. This cooperation is intended to extend to a large part of the initiatives of the Year 2000.

c) Internatinaf dimension: The Church of Jerusalein, like the Church in every part of the world, has to look after the preparation of its local members to benefit from the Jubilee in the best spiritual way. But also, like the Church of Rome, she has to take into account the so many pilgrims supposed to visit her on that great occasion and at the same time all that she can offer to the world by her example, her activities and her spiritual message.

So great is the job lying on the Church of Jerusalem! Noblesse oblige! It would be so sad and disappointing for the world ,expectations if the political conditions would not help her to fulfil it!

Jerusalem. March 25, 1997.

Bishop Kamal-Hanna Bathish, President of the Jerusalem Committee for the Great Jubilee