March 26 (EWTnews) Today Pope John Paul II concluded his pilgrimage to the Holy Land by celebrating Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Shrine that commemorates the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was preceded by a special rite where the Holy Father was received by representatives of the three religious communities: Franciscan, Greek and Armenian. The Custos of the Holy Land then invited him to pause in prayer before the Stone of the Anointing, the place where Jesus was prepared for burial. He was accompanied by the chant of the Te Deum to the empty Tomb of the Resurrection, where the Holy Father kissed the tomb and knelt in silent prayer.

The Mass opened with the singing of the Hymn "Lauda Jerusalemc Dominun" and the Pope, together with all the concelebrants dressed in violet vestments (Sunday of Lent), moved to the space in front of the tomb where a makeshift altar was placed. His Holiness introduced the Eucharist by emphasizing once more that he had so much desired to be at this most holy site of Christianity in the footsteps of Christ. The penitential service followed and the opening prayer was taken from the Sunday of Lent in which a petition is presented to God for the forgiveness of sin. The first reading, in Arabic, was taken from Exodus 20:1-17. This was followed by the Responsorial Psalm "Lord you have words of eternal life" which was sung by the choir. The second reading, in English, was taken from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians (1:22-25) while the Gospel was that of John (2:13-25).

In his homily, Pope John Paul II began with words from the Apostles’ Creed, "on the third day He rose again". Being at the very place where this event happened, the Holy Father said:

"Here in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the tomb is empty. It is a silent witness to the central event of human history: the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For almost two thousand years the empty tomb has borne witness to the victory of Life over death. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the sign that the Eternal Father is faithful to His promise and brings new life out of death."

"Here at the Holy Sepulchre and Golgotha, as we renew our profession of faith in the Risen Lord, can we doubt, that in the power of the Spirit of Life, we will be given the strength to overcome our divisions and to work together to build a future of reconciliation, unity and peace?"

In closing, the Pope said, "I urge all of the Church’s members to renew their obedience to the Lord’s command to take the Gospel to all the ends of the earth. At the dawn of a new Millennium, there is great need to proclaim from the roof tops that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16)".

One of the unique features of today’s Mass was the uniting of prayer by all the religious communities gathered. Usually within the Church it is customary for different religious groups to be praying different prayers at the same time. Today, however, all were united. The Mass celebrated today followed the Roman Rite of Catholicism. It is one of the Rites ordinarily celebrated in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre by the Catholic community, along with the Byzantine, Armenian, Coptic and Syrian Rites. Latin, as the characteristic language of the Roman Rite, was the language of the celebration. Arabic, the most common language of the Christian population in the Holy Land, and English was used in the Liturgy of the Word. The intercessions of the Prayer of the Faithful were recited in Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, French, German and Arabic. The hymns were sung in Gregorian chant.

This morning prior to Mass, Pope John Paul II touched the stones of the Western Wall where he prayed and placed a note in its cracks asking for forgiveness. The note written on Vatican letterhead and signed by John Paul II reads: "God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring Your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer and, asking Your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant." The Pope also visited the Temple Mount and met with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Islamic religious leader of the city.