VATICAN CITY, MAR 23, 2000 (VIS) - In the chapel of the Cenacle at 8:30 a.m. today, the Pope celebrated a private Mass with ordinaries of the Holy Land and the cardinals and bishops of his entourage.

The Cenacle is the place where Christ instituted the ordained priesthood and the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance. The Latin word 'Coenaculum' was used to indicate the dining area, but more generally signified the upper room where guests were welcomed; it is in the upper room that the chapel is located today. The Christian tradition on the authenticity of the Cenacle goes back to the end of the third century. At the present time, the building belongs to the Israeli government.
The lower floor houses a cenotaph (a monument honoring a dead person buried elsewhere), called the 'Tomb of David'. It is a place of national pilgrimage for Jews, although the reference to David's last resting place has no historical or archeological foundation. Also on the lower floor, there is an ancient chapel dedicated to the washing of the feet. The cloister of the Franciscan convent of 1335 gives access to the Museum of the Shoah which recalls the victims of Nazi extermination camps.

In his homily, John Paul II recalled, "with deep emotion," the words of consecration that Christ pronounced in this very place during the Last Supper. "In a sense, Peter and the Apostles, in the person of their Successors, have come back today to the Upper Room, to profess the unchanging
faith of the Church: 'Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again'."

"Through the Eucharist, Christ builds up the Church. The hands which broke bread for the disciples at the Last Supper were to be stretched out on the cross in order to gather all people to Himself in the eternal Kingdom of His Father. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, He never ceases to draw men and women to be effective members of His body."

John Paul II recalled that "this year of the Great Jubilee is a special opportunity for priests to grow in appreciation of the mystery which they celebrate at the altar. For that reason I wish to sign this year's 'Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday' here in the Upper Room, where the one priesthood of
Jesus Christ, in which we all share, was instituted."

Following the celebration of the Eucharist, the Pope made a courtesy visit to the two chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Meir Lau and Rabbi Bakshi-Doron. He then travelled to the presidential palace in Jerusalem where he met Ezer Weizman, president of the State of Israel. Following this he went to Yad Vashem, the monument to the memory of the Holocaust.