DAMASCUS, May 7, 01 (CWNews.com) On Sunday, May 6, Pope John Paul II invoked the memory of St. Paul as he celebrated Mass for an estimated 40,000 people at the Abbassyine stadium
outside Damascus.

The Pope presided at a liturgical celebration according to the Roman Rite, but the congregation included many members of the Eastern Catholic churches: Melkite, Armenian, Chaldean, Syrian, and Maronite. The concelebrants included all the patriarchs and bishops of Syria. 

In his homily Pope John Paul reminded the congregation that he was traveling as a pilgrim, in the footsteps of St. Paul, who was converted to the faith on the road to Damascus. That remarkable conversion, he pointed out, "was decisive for the future of Paul and of the Church," and continues to have repercussions even today. He urged the Christians who live in Syria today to imitate St. Paul by preaching the Gospel, passing the faith along to their children, and working for unity among all Christians. 

After the Mass, before traveling to the Golan Heights to issue a prayer for peace in the Middle East, Pope John Paul II visited the Church of St. Paul at the Wall in Damascus. That church marks the site where, according to tradition, the Apostle was lowered outside the wall of the ancient city so that he would escape from his own former colleagues: the zealous Jewish persecutors of the young Christian faith.