VATICAN CITY, FEB 26, 2000 (VIS) - This morning Pope John Paul
   travelled by plane to St. Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai
   Peninsula, the focal point of the first of his Jubilee Year
   pilgrimages, which are dedicated to those places linked with the
   history of salvation. He left Cairo International Airport in a C-130
   Hercules at 8:40 a.m., local time, travelling the 250 kilometers in
   just over one hour.
   The Holy Father then travelled by car to St. Catherine's monastery
   where he was welcomed by its abbot, Greek Orthodox Archbishop
   Damianos. The archbishop gave several gifts to the Pope, including a
   ring which he placed on his right hand.
   The Pope, his entourage and the 23 monks of the monastery then paid a
   private visit to the multi-level church, in particular to the relics
   of St. Catherine and, behind the main altar, the roots of the "burning
   bush" where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.
   This visit was followed by the Liturgy of the Word which took place in
   the Garden of Olives outside the walls of the monastery at the foot of
   Mount Horeb, also known as the Mount of the Ten Commandments. The
   Liturgy was in Arabic, French and English.
   In his homily, given in English, John Paul II said that "today, with
   great joy and deep emotion, the Bishop of Rome is a pilgrim to Mount
   Sinai, drawn by this holy mountain which rises like a soaring monument
   to what God revealed here. Here He revealed His name! Here He gave His
   Law, the Ten Commandments of the Covenant!"
   "Here on Mount Sinai, the truth of 'who God is' became the foundation
   and guarantee of the Covenant. Moses ... is given the Law (here)
   'written with the finger of God'. But what is this Law? It is the Law
   of life and freedom! ... If the people obey (God's) Law, they will
   know freedom forever."
   "The encounter of God and Moses on this mountain enshrines at the
   heart of our religion the mystery of liberating obedience," Pope John
   Paul affirmed. "The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary imposition
   of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but before that,
   they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid
   in every time and place. Today, as always, the Ten Words of the Law
   provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies
   and nations. Today, as always, they are the only future of the human
   family. They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred and
   falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw him into
   slavery; the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power
   and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our
   human dignity and that of our neighbor."
   The Holy Father affirmed that "to keep the Commandments is to be
   faithful to God, but it is also to be faithful to ourselves, to our
   true nature and our deepest aspirations."
   "The Ten Commandments are the law of freedom; not the freedom to
   follow our blind passions, but the freedom to love, to choose what is
   good in every situation."
   "In pursuit of this truth, the monks of this monastery pitched their
   tents in the Sinai," said Pope John Paul II in closing remarks.
   "Through the centuries, this monastery has been an exceptional meeting
   place for people belonging to different Churches, traditions and
   cultures. I pray that in the new millennium the monastery of St.
   Catherine will be a radiant beacon calling to the Churches to know one
   another better and to rediscover the importance in the eyes of God of
   the things that unite us in Christ."
   At the end of his visit to St. Catherine's Monastery, the Holy Father
   returned to Cairo and the apostolic nunciature, where he and his
   entourage had lunch.
   He is scheduled to leave the Egyptian capital at 6:15 local time for
   the three and a half hour flight to Rome. President Hosni Mubarak of
   Egypt will be at the airport to bid the Pope farewell, as will other
   civil and religious authorities.