VATICAN CITY, MAR 25, 2000 (VIS) - At 8:15 this morning, the Solemnity of
the Annunciation, John Paul II travelled by helicopter from Jerusalem to
Nazareth. Prior to celebrating Mass in the Basilica of the Annunciation,
which is entrusted to the care of the Custody of the Holy Land, he paused
for a moment of prayer in the grotto.

   The grotto-house of the Holy Family was incorporated in the crypt below
the major altar of the Franciscan church built in 1730. The church was
subsequently made a parish, enlarged in 1877, then demolished in 1959 to
make way for a new church. The present basilica was visited by Paul VI in
1964 and dedicated in 1969. The upper portion of the main facade houses the
statue of Christ the Redeemer, below which are depicted the scene of the
Annunciation and the four Evangelists. The southern facade is dedicated to
Mary as an adolescent. Inside the building there are two churches, placed
one above the other, with a central opening through which the grotto-house
of the Holy Family may be seen. The lower church houses the grotto and the
17th century Franciscan altar with the inscription 'Verbum caro hic factum
est' (here the Word was made flesh). The upper church is dedicated to the
exaltation of the Virgin, Mother of God made man. The dome is 55 meters
high. The floor that unites the two churches is made of multi-colored
marble and depicts, in eight inlaid illustrations, the Church's Magisterium
regarding Mary: Mother of God; Assumption into heaven; Virginity;
Immaculate Conception; universal mediation; perfect sanctity; regal dignity
and spiritual maternity.

   In his homily, the Pope recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah: "'The
virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a child whom she will call
Emmanuel.' Emmanuel - God with us. In these words, the unique event that
was to take place in Nazareth in the fullness of time is foretold, and it
is this event that we are celebrating here with intense joy and happiness."

   "Like Abraham, Mary is asked to say yes to something that has never
happened before. ... Mary asks not whether the promise is possible, but
only how it will be fulfilled. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when
finally she utters her 'fiat': "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you
have said be done to me.' With these words, Mary shows herself the true
daughter of Abraham, and she becomes the Mother of Christ and Mother of all

   The Holy Father confirmed that he had come to Nazareth to plead with the
Mother of God. "I pray, first, for a great renewal of faith in all the
children of the Church. ... I ask the Holy Family to inspire all Christians
to defend the family against so many present-day threats to its nature, its
stability and its mission. To the Holy Family I entrust the efforts of
Christians and of all people of good will to defend life and to promote
respect for the dignity of every human being. To Mary, the 'Theotokos,' the
great Mother of God, I consecrate the families of the Holy Land, the
families of the world."

   Following the Eucharistic celebration, John Paul II travelled by
helicopter to the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem where he had lunch.


VATICAN CITY, MAR 25, 2000 (VIS) - This afternoon, before the ecumenical
encounter at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, the Holy Father
is scheduled to call on the consuls general of several countries at the
apostolic delegation in Jerusalem and then proceed for a private visit to
the Basilica of the Garden of Gethsemane.

   Gethsemane, from the Hebrew "Gat-shemanin," for oil press, was the name
of a farm at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The two holy sites of
Gethsemane are the Grotto of the Oil Press and the nearby Rock of the Agony.

   No church was ever built on the Grotto of the Oil Press because the
grotto itself was considered a place of prayer as witnessed by the numerous
graffiti. Preserved since 1392 by the Custody of the Holy Land, the grotto
is 19 meters long, 9 wide and 3.5 high. In 1956 the Franciscan Friars Minor
found mosaics from the fourth to sixth centuries, fragments of an altar and
even older traces of an olive press and a well.

   According to an account written by St. Jerome in 386, a church was built
on the Rock of the Agony. This was burned by the Persians in 614, an
imposing church was built during the Crusades and this too was destroyed in
1187. The current basilica was built by the Franciscans between 1919 and
1924 on the ruins of the previous church.

   The Basilica of the Garden of Gethsemane has 12 small domes. In front of
the main altar is the rock of the agony of Jesus, which is protected by a
wrought iron fence resembling a crown of thorns. This church is also known
as the Basilica of the Nations because its construction was made possible
by the donations of faithful from many countries.

   The adjacent Garden of Olives was acquired by the Franciscans in 1666.
There are six centuries-old olive trees in the garden and one which dates
back 2,500 years, as was evidenced by the carbon dating process performed
on it.