24. Papal Journeys have become an
important element in the work of implementing the Second Vatican Council.
Begun by John XXIII on the eve of the Council with a memorable pilgrimage to
Loreto and Assisi (1962), they notably increased under Paul VI who, after
first visiting the Holy Land (1964), undertook nine other great apostolic
journeys which brought him into direct contact with the peoples of the
The current Pontificate has widened this
programme of travels even further, starting with Mexico, on the occasion of
the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate held in Puebla
in 1979. In that same year, there was also the trip to Poland for the
Jubilee of the nine hundredth anniversary of the death of Saint Stanislaus,
Bishop and Martyr.
The successive stages of these travels are well known. Papal journeys have become a
regular occurrence, taking in the particular Churches in every continent and showing
concern for the development of ecumenical relationships with Christians of various
denominations. Particularly important in this regard were the visits to Turkey (1979),
Germany (1980), England, Scotland and Wales (1982), Switzerland (1984), the Scandinavian
countries (1989), and most recently the Baltic countries (1993).
At present, it is my fervent wish to visit
Sarajevo in Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Middle East: Lebanon, Jerusalem and
the Holy Land. It would be very significant if in the Year 2000 it were
possible to visit the places on the road taken by the People of God
of the Old Covenant, starting from the places associated with Abraham
and Moses, through Egypt and Mount Sinai, as far as Damascus, the city which
witnessed the conversion of Saint Paul.
25. In preparing for the Year 2000, the individual Churches have
their own role to play, as they celebrate with their own Jubilees
significant stages in the salvation history of the various peoples. Among
these regional or local Jubilees, events of great importance have
included the millennium of the Baptism of Rus' in 1988 (11) as also the five
hundredth anniversary of the beginning of evangelization in America (1492).
Besides events of such wide-ranging impact, we may recall others which,
although not of universal importance, are no less significant: for example,
the millennium of the Baptism of Poland in 1966 and of the Baptism of
Hungary in 1968, together with the six hundredth anniversary of the Baptism
of Lithuania in 1987. There will soon also be celebrated the 1500th
anniversary of the Baptism of Clovis (496), king of the Franks, and the
1400th anniversary of the arrival of Saint Augustine in Canterbury (597),
marking the beginning of the evangelization of the Anglo-Saxon world.
As far as Asia is concerned, the Jubilee will remind us of the Apostle Thomas, who,
according to tradition, brought the proclamation of the Gospel at the very beginning of
the Christian era to India, where missionaries from Portugal would not arrive until about
the year 1500. The current year also marks the seventh centenary of the evangelization of
China (1294), and we are preparing to commemorate the spread of missionary work in the
Philippines with the erection of the Metropolitan See of Manila (1595). We likewise look
forward to the fourth centenary of the first martyrs in Japan (1597).
In Africa, where the first proclamation of
the Gospel also dates back to Apostolic times, together with the 1650th
anniversary of the episcopal consecration of the first Bishop of the
Ethiopians, Saint Frumentius (c. 340), and the five hundredth anniversary of
the beginning of the evangelization of Angola in the ancient Kingdom of the
Congo (1491), nations such as Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, the Central African
Republic, Burundi and Burkina Faso are celebrating the centenaries of the
arrival of the first missionaries in their respective territories. Other
African nations have recently celebrated such centenaries.
And how can we fail to mention the Eastern
Churches, whose ancient Patriarchates are so closely linked to the apostolic
heritage and whose venerable theological, liturgical and spiritual
traditions constitute a tremendous wealth which is the common patrimony of
the whole of Christianity? The many jubilee celebrations in these Churches,
and in the Communities which acknowledge them as the origin of their own
apostolicity, recall the journey of Christ down the centuries, leading to
the Great Jubilee at the end of the second millennium.
Seen in this light, the whole of Christian history appears to us as a single river,
into which many tributaries pour their waters. The Year 2000 invites us to gather with
renewed fidelity and ever deeper communion along the banks of this great river: the
river of Revelation, of Christianity and of the Church, a river which flows through human
history starting from the event which took place at Nazareth and then at Bethlehem two
thousand years ago. This is truly the "river" which with its
"streams", in the expression of the Psalm, "make glad the city of God"
26. The Holy Years celebrated in the
latter part of this century have also prepared for the Year 2000. The Holy Year proclaimed
by Paul VI in 1975 is still fresh in our memory. The celebration of 1983 as the Year of Redemption followed
along the same lines. The Marian Year 1986/87 perhaps struck a more
resounding chord; it was eagerly awaited and profoundly experienced in the
individual local Churches, especially at the Marian Shrines around the
world. The Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, issued on that occasion,
drew attention to the Council's teaching on the presence of the Mother of
God in the mystery of Christ and the Church: two thousand years ago the Son
of God was made man by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of the
Immaculate Virgin Mary. The
Marian Year was as it were an anticipation of the Jubilee, and contained
much of what will find fuller expression in the Year 2000.