Vol. VI, No. 6-7: September-October 2000
Jubilee Rome, Part V
San Clemente, St. Peter in Chains, Catacombs — and other noteworthy churches
by Shelia Gribben Liaugminas
Rome has as many good pilgrim sites as there are churches, and there is a vast number of churches. They all hold spiritual and historical benefit in their own way, and broaden the understanding of the roots and spread of Christianity from the time of Christ. This "Jubilee tour" has covered some of the principal churches. Following are a few others popular on the trail of journeying souls, pilgrim or otherwise.
The basilica of San Clemente, one of the most interesting in Rome, is only a few blocks from the Collosseum. It is dedicated to Pope St. Clement, the third successor of St. Peter (after Linus and Cletus) who died about 100 AD. The present 12th century church is one of the few remaining medieval churches in Rome, and it contains exceptionally beautiful mosaics which have been very recently restored. It was built atop the remains of a similar basilica constructed in the fourth century, beneath which is a Roman temple to Mithra. Under this layer are remains of buildings apparently destroyed by Nero’s fire in 64 AD. The excavation of these lower "layers", which may also be visited, was begun in 1857 and continues.
(martyr’s tomb) beneath the high altar are the reputed relics of St. Clement and St. Ignatius of Antioch. Both were great defenders of the faith, and each produced some of the most important documents of the early Christian Church in existence. St. Clement is undoubtedly the author of a Letter to the Church in Corinth (96 AD), in which the Corinthians are rebuked for falling into schism from the Church of Rome and exhorted to follow the true faith:
Shameful, beloved, extremely shameful, and unworthy of your training in Christ, is the report that on account of one or two persons, the well-established and ancient Church of the Corinthians is in revolt against the priests. And this report has come not only to us, but even to those professing other faiths than ours so that by your folly you heap blasphemies on the name of the Lord, and create a danger for yourselves… Brethren, be contentious and zealous for the things which lead to salvation!
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, was arrested during the Christian persecutions and shipped to Rome as a prisoner in chains. On that journey, he wrote seven famous letters to the early Christian communities that are treasured documents of Church history and dogma. In each of these letters, Ignatius stressed the importance of obedience to the Bishop of Rome and the bishops who governed with him. Both saints told the early Church that this was the only way to be obedient to Christ. In Saint Ignatius’s letter to the Philadelphians (ca. A.D. 110), Ignatius warned the Church against teachers of false doctrine, dissidents taking issue with revealed truth and, thus, with Church hierarchy:
Those, indeed, who belong to God and to Jesus Christ they are with the bishop. And those who repent and come to the unity of the Church they too shall be of God, and will be living according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any man walk about with strange doctrine, he cannot lie down with the passion. I cried out while I was in your midst, I spoke with a loud voice, the voice of God: `Give heed to the bishop and the presbytery and the deacons.’ Some suspected me of saying this because I had previous knowledge of the division which certain persons had caused; but he for whom I am in chains is my witness that I had no knowledge of this from any human being. It was the Spirit who kept preaching these words: `Do nothing without the bishop, keep your body as the temple of God, love unity, flee from divisions, be imitators of Jesus Christ, as He was imitator of the Father".
Within the fourth-century church is believed to be the burial place of St. Cyril, the Apostle to the Slavs, who devised the Cyrillic alphabet and translated the Gospels into Old Slavonic. Cyril recovered the remains believed to be those of St. Clement near the Black Sea and brought them to Rome in 867. A chapel in the main basilica honors St. Cyril and his brother, St. Methodius.
Santa Maria in Aracoeli
The word "aracoeli" means "altar of heaven," and it’s use here comes from the old belief that Emperor Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.) was visiting a pagan temple on this site when he heard the prophecy "This is the altar of the first-born of God". The story relates that Augustus erected an imperial altar to this unknown deity. When a church was built over the same site in the sixth century, it became known as
St. Helen is buried here, as is Nicholas of Cusa.
The splendid ceiling here commemorates the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571, one of the pivotal battles in the history of Christianity, one that stopped the spread of Islam across Europe. After the Turks conquered Cyprus, the Turkish fleet turned to attack Europe. Pope St. Pius V called for a crusade, and the Christian fleet assembled under the command of Marcantonio Colonna. They fought under the sign of the crucifix and prayed as the Turks advanced to surround them. The wind suddenly shifted, the Christians captured the ship of the Turkish captain and hoisted the sign of the cross on its masthead, and then freed thousands of Christian galley slaves. The Turks fled after losing 224 ships and 25,000 men, and would not attack Christian Europe by sea again.
It is said that at the moment of victory, Pius V looked out the window of the Vatican at the sky and announced that it was time to give thanks, for the Christian fleet had just conquered the enemy. He declared that day, October 7, as the Feast of the Holy Rosary in gratitude to Our Lady for this crucial victory.
The Chapel of the Santo Bambino contains a statue of the Christ Child celebrated for centuries by both Romans and pilgrims as the cause of countless miracles and graces. The life-sized statue was carved from wood from the Garden of Gethsemane by a fifteenth century Franciscan friar living in Jerusalem. It was believed that the statue was miraculously colored by an angel. Over the centuries, pilgrims grateful for answered prayers have returned with gifts of gold or jewels to leave with the Christ Child, which adorn the statue today. Each year, from Christmas to Epiphany, the Santo Bambino is placed in a special side chapel near the front of the church for the almost constant procession of children who come to honor and celebrate the Christ Child.
I had offered myself, for some time now, to the Child Jesus as His little plaything. I told Him not to use me as a valuable toy children are content to look at but dare not touch, but to use me like a little ball of no value which He could throw on the ground, push with His foot, pierce, leave in a corner, or press to His heart if it pleased Him; in a word, I wanted to amuse little Jesus, to give Him pleasure; I wanted to give myself up to His childish whims. He heard my prayer.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus,
The Story of a Soul
Catacombs of St. Callixtus,
Priscilla and Domitilla
There is a long tradition that the catacombs near Rome, subterranean burial chambers carved in the porous
stone of the region, were the hideouts of early Christians in times of persecution. They were the earliest Christian cemeteries, where the faith was fostered and spread because of the presence of martyrs buried there. Imagine what it was like for the earliest followers of Christ in the time after His death, with its widespread persecution of the Church He founded. Under Emperor Diocletian alone, some estimate that there were perhaps 3,000 martyrs. Many were buried in these earliest catacombs and Christians, keeping a low profile, gathered here to pray and celebrate the Eucharist.
Early Christian symbols, which made reference to the bread and wine, to fish, the dove and olive branch, the Good Shepherd and many other representations of this growing faith, can still be seen along the walls of the catacombs. More martyrs produced many, many more converts by their witness.
Two who were particularly revered were Nereus and Achilleus, soldiers in Diocletian’s Praetorian Guard who were converted by the witness of the martyrs slain before them. After becoming Christian, both were beheaded. They were placed in a crypt in Domitilla’s cemetery, and a cult of faithful formed around the site. Pope St. Damasus built an underground basilica on the site and wrote one of his poetic epitaphs to honor them. The Domitilla Catacomb was vastly enlarged to accommodate the growing numbers of Christians who gathered there, and grew to cover about 17 kilometers with four levels of burial chambers.
The St. Callixtus Catacombs contain a site, only unearthed in 1854, known as the Crypt of the Popes for the tombstones there of five third-century popes. They are St. Pontian, St. Anterus, St. Fabian, St. Lucius I and St. Eutychian, all of them martyred for the faith. Neaby is the Crypt of St. Cecilia, her original burial site. It holds a reproduction of the famous Maderno sculpture, now in the basilica of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, which replicates the position of her body when it was first discovered.
A sign of the truth of Christian love, ageless but especially powerful today, is the memory of the martyrs. Their witness must not be forgotten. They are the ones who have proclaimed the Gospel by giving their lives for love …Yes, this is the host of those who `have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’ (Rev 7:14). For this reason the Church in every corner of the earth must remain anchored in the testimony of the martyrs and jealously guard their memory. May the People of God, confirmed in faith by the example of these true champions of every age, language and nation, cross with full confidence the threshold of the Third Millennium.
Pope John Paul II
The Mystery of the Incarnation
St. Cecilia in Trastevere
Inside the impressive church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere (a section of Rome just south of the Vatican), you can feel the gracefulness and beauty which Cecelia represented in her life and even her terrible death. She was resolute in her faith and unshakeable in her courageous final witness, strengths that seem to pervade this church built on the site of her home.
Cecilia, a beautiful young Roman woman of great virtue, had consecrated herself to God, but was then forced into marriage with a patrician named Valerian. The famous legend, recorded in the Roman Acts of the martyrs, relates that as the music played at her wedding celebration, Cecilia sang love songs to God in her heart. She converted Valerian as well as his brother Tiburtius, and both became dedicated to charitable works and burying the Christians martyred during the persecution. When they were discovered, both were arrested and brought before the Prefect, Almachius, who ordered them to sacrifice to pagan gods. They refused and were sentenced to death. But their Roman guard, Maximus, was converted by their witness, and all three were beheaded together.
After Cecilia buried them, she was also seized and taken before Almachius. He ordered her to sacrifice to the pagan gods, she refused and argued in defense of Christianity. The Prefect ordered her to die by suffocation in her own baths. She survived that, and was sentenced to be beheaded. Roman law allowed for three attempts at beheading, which usually accomplished the execution. But after three strikes at her neck, Cecilia survived. She suffered from those wounds for three days, attracting many new conversions by her great courage and faith. She was buried in the cemetary of Callixtus, where she had earlier laid to rest the three men.
After Cecilia’s martyrdom, Pope Urban I had her home consecrated as a church in the early third century, and it became well-known and loved by Romans and pilgrims over the next few centuries, though over time it was forgotten where she was buried. In the early ninth century, while Pope Paschal I was renovating the church, St. Cecelia appeared to him in a dream and revealed the location of her grave. There, he recovered her remains along with Valerian, Tiburtius and Maximus, and moved them to this church, along with the bodies of Popes Urban I and Lucius I.
In 1599, Cardinal Paolo Sfondrati was remodeling St. Cecilia’s and discovered the sarcophagi of these martyred saints which had lain hidden for centuries beneath the main altar. When they were opened, those present were amazed to find the body of St. Cecilia well-preserved and delicately lying on her side in a golden, blood-stained dress, her head turned to reveal the gashes on her neck. Sculptor Stefano Maderno was present at this official opening, and was so taken with the beauty and grace of the saint that he was inspired to create a sculpture of St. Cecelia exactly as he saw her that day. His statue now rests beneath the altar here. It is believed that she holds her fingers to designate three and one as a symbolic, final gesture to testify to the Trinity in one God.
The chapel on the right side corridor was the
in St. Cecelia’s home, the room where she was held prisoner for three days, and endured attempted suffocation. It is now a chapel, though not always open to the public. The crypt under the main sanctuary is not always open to visitors, but is worth the attempt. That is where St. Cecelia’s body rests, along with the sarcophagi holding the bodies of Sts. Valerian, Tiburtius and Maximus, and Popes Urban I and Lucius I. The apse mosaic was created by Paschal I to commemorate the finding of St. Cecelia’s body here, along with her companions, and to honor her martyrdom.
St. Cecilia is known as the patroness of sacred music, although she was not a musician, but a powerfully faithful disciple of Christ who bravely worked to convert others. In the face of certain persecution, she sought out the hateful Prefect who had killed her husband and forcefully debated the truths of the Christian faith with him, for which she paid with her life. So great was her devotion to Scripture as the revealed word of God that, as St. Francis de Sales tells us in his
Treatise on the Love of God,
St. Cecilia was one of the many saints who "bore upon their breasts the Gospel written out as a talisman of love".
This is our salvation, this our liberation, this the full salvation of every man: that this be his faith in God the Father almighty, as also in Jesus Christ the Son, and as also in the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Marius Victorinus, Roman Orator
Against Arius’ ca. A.D. 356/361
If anyone does not say of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that there is one Godhead, strength, majesty, and power, one glory and dominion, one reign, and one will and truth: he is a heretic …
Pope St. Damasus I
The Tome of Damasus’ A.D. 382
St. Peter in Chains
(San Pietro in Vincoli)
About that time Herod the King laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church … and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also … And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to guard him … The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly". And the chains fell off his hands …
Later, when he was in Rome, Peter was arrested again and imprisoned in chains. In the vast halls of the imperial palace, the Apostle was condemned to death by emperor Nero. Here, in this present day basilica, these historical events all come together in stunning union. This was the site of that imperial palace, now in excavated ruins beneath the foundation of this church. And here, the chains that once bound St. Peter, in both Jerusalem and Rome, are enshrined.
The chains which held Peter in the Jerusalem prison were given by the Christian community of that city to Eudocia, wife of emperor Theodosius II, in the early fifth century when she visited the Holy Land. She sent one of those chains to Rome and asked that a basilica be built to enshrine it. When Pope Sixtus III placed it next to the chain that once held Peter in Rome’s Mamertine prison, both chains miraculously fused into one, with inseparable links. The original basilica was consecrated around 438, and restored and redecorated over the centuries by several popes and cardinals, who filled the church with artwork commemorating the imprisonment and liberation of St. Peter.
The treasures of this church also recall the Old Testament from its earliest accounts of God’s covenant with man. Amid all the shrines and memorials to the saints, you don’t often see a statue of Moses. And yet he was the man chosen by God to establish the covenant law for mankind.
The magnificent statue of Moses in this church was sculpted by Michelangelo. The statue was originally intended as the centerpiece of a massive tomb which Pope Julius II had commissioned as his own resting place, a project never completed. Michelangelo finished this statue of Moses around 1515. The horns on his head are the result of a mistranslation from the Bible of the words describing the rays of light which emanated from the head of Moses.
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel.
Deuteronomy 34: 9-12
At the end of the Old Testament, in the years preceeding the arrival of the Savior, the story of the seven Maccabee brothers is told, describing a most astounding martyrdom to uphold the law of God (2 Maccabees 7). Each of the seven was brutally tortured and then murdered by a vicious king who had ordered them to practice pagan rites, which they resisted. Each in turn boldly rebuked the king and declared their faith in God.
You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.
II Maccabees 7
In a crypt below the altar confessio here, in a fourth-century Christian sarcophagus, lie what are believed to be the remains of the seven Maccabee brothers. Revered from the earliest days of the Church, the sarcophagus was probably placed here when this basilica was first dedicated, in the early fifth century. It was rediscovered beneath the main altar in 1876 while the confessio was being built, and was identified by a lead plate as the tomb of the seven Maccabees.
Consider what is represented here in Peter, Moses and the Maccabees. They obeyed what they were commanded by God, not the relative spirit of the times. Consider how the words of the Maccabees’ mother, speaking to us from the Old Testament, so enlighten modern questions of abortion, creation, and new age paganism, so inform our present day with immutable truth:
I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.
II Maccabees 7:22-23
Il Gesu and the Church of St. Ignatius
There are two very good reasons to visit Il Gesu and the Church of St. Ignatius during a pilgrimage for the Great Jubilee: to celebrate the historic missionary work of the Society of Jesus founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, and to appreciate the splendor of baroque church architecture.
The Society of Jesus has modeled many of its other churches around the world after these two, which emphasize the two functions the Jesuits have traditionally held as the highest for the Church, preaching and celebrating the Mass. Ignatius led his army of Jesuits in the fight against Protestant heresy and in the battle to reform the Church and recover the sense of the sacred.
Ignatius of Loyola helped launch the Counter-Reformation with a philosophy of advanced academic studies, good education of the young, celebration of the cultural arts as they reveal God in His creation, and the spread of authentic Church teachings. And the `centerpiece’ of it all was always the celebration of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Il Gesu, and the Church of St. Ignatius were both designed to lift the heart and mind directly to God. In both these churches the altar is prominent and surrounded with the grandeur of Baroque decor, in a triumphant expression of the glory of God, in dramatic contrast to the austere places of assembly built by the Protestant reformers, who had stripped churches of traditional symbols of piety and of sacred art. Both churches have a very large nave with side pulpits, a setting ideal for preaching.
The ceiling fresco in Il Gesu is a glorious "window into paradise", as it has been called, known as the "Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus". The monogram of the Holy Name, IHS (for Iesus Hominum Salvator, or Jesus Savior of Men), in the center is surrounded by angels and bathed in golden light. Figures of both the good souls and the wicked scatter about the light, making this church a passageway between heaven and earth. This was the Jesuit purpose as defined by St. Ignatius, to locate their churches near busy urban centers to attract the populace passing by and draw them in for the preaching, the Mass and the sacraments.
Il Gesu was built in 1568-75 by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola and Giacomo della Porta in the shape of a Latin cross. The left transept holds the chapel dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola. His remains lie beneath the altar in the midst of ornate artwork that celebrates the miracles and events of his life. Above, a medallion bears the famous Jesuit motto, "For the Greater Glory of God" (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, or AMDG). The chapel directly across from this is dedicated to the first and most renowned of the Jesuit missionaries, St. Francis Xavier, who has been called next to St. Paul the Church’s greatest missionary. The silver and lapis reliquary above the altar contains the saint’s right forearm, which the plaque says has "blessed so many converts in far away lands". During the years Francis Xavier spent in the East, in India, Japan and beyond, living with the natives under extremely harrowing conditions, it is estimated that he was responsible for hundreds of thousands of converts.
I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptized … The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: `The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these". I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary...
from the letters to St. Ignatius by St. Francis Xavier
The Church of St. Ignatius was built some fifty years after Il Gesu, on the site of the Jesuits’ Roman College, when the student population outgrew the school’s former chapel. Two of the school’s better-known and beloved students are enshrined here in side chapels. They are St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of Catholic youth, and St. John Berchmans, patron of altar boys.
The illusionist ceiling painting of "St. Ignatius in Glory and his Apostolate in the World" by Andrea Pozzo is one of Rome’s most famous baroque frescoes. It celebrates the vast reach of the Jesuit founder and his missionaries, extending at that time to the four continents of Africa, America, Asia and Europe.
Today, the Church is going through another reformation of sorts. In his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, Pope John Paul II points out that Europe, itself, is urgently in need of "the liberating message of the Gospel," with "the fall of the great anti-Christian systems … first of Nazism and then of Communism". He likens the vast sectors of modern civilization, culture, politics and economics to the Areopagus of Athens where St. Paul preached against worldliness.
"The more the West is becoming estranged from its Christian roots," warns John Paul, "the more it is becoming missionary territory, taking the form of many different `areopagi’ ".
These Jesuit churches are good places for contemplation of that warning, and of prayer for conversion back to the Christian roots of the West. The Protestant Reformation’s impact on churches and worship sounds familiar to us. Many of our churches today reflect a similar desacralization in the name of "updating" Catholic beliefs. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy seems to echo the "missionary" view of sacred art of St. Ignatius and his Society of Jesus.
The fine arts are rightly classed among the noblest activities of man’s genius; this is especially true of religious art and of its highest manifestation, sacred art. Of their nature, the arts are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God’s praise and of His glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men’s minds devoutly towards God.
Sacrosanctum Concilium no. 122
Pilgrimage and the Catholic Faith in the New Millennium
But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place … A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to asserthimself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubtthe Divine Reason.
Pilgrimage is a challenge in the modern world, where the "inner self" is regarded as the place to seek enlightenment and truth. But truth is not conditioned by the age in which it is sought.
The Holy Father has stressed this point abundantly in all of his writings, especially those leading up to the Great Jubilee. "The fact that in the fullness of time the Eternal Word took on the condition of a creature gives a unique cosmic value to the event which took place in Bethlehem two thousand years ago", Pope John Paul II states in Tertio Millennio Adveniente. "Thanks to the Word, the world of creatures appears as a `cosmos’, an ordered universe. And it is the same Word who, by taking flesh, renews the cosmic order of creation".
Tracing the succession of that order through salvation history, he recalls how the Old Testament was "essentially ordered to preparing and proclaiming the coming of Christ, the Redeemer of the universe", promised to Abraham and foretold by the Prophets.
"Here we touch upon the essential point by which Christianity differs from all the other religions, by which man’s search for God has been expressed from earliest times. Christianity has its starting-point in the Incarnation of the Word. Here, it is not simply a case of man seeking God, but of God who comes in Person to speak to man of himself and to show him the path by which he may be reached".
Tracing that divine intervention into time and how it is revealed in these times, the Holy Father points to Vatican II as the guide for modern man sorting out his faith. But we have to see it in keen and true perspective to understand that. "The Second Vatican Council is often considered as the beginning of a new era in the life of the Church," the Holy Father continued. Some may say it is a very troubled era. But listen to these words of the most profound authority connected with that Council in the world today, Pope John Paul II:
"Humbly heeding the word of God, [the Church] reaffirmed the universal call to holiness; she made provision for the reform of the liturgy, the `origin and summit’ of her life".
In Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Pope says, "No Council had ever spoken so clearly about Christian unity, about dialogue with non-Christian religions, about the specific meaning of the Old Covenant and of Israel, about the dignity of each person’s conscience, about the principle of religious liberty, about the different cultural traditions within which the Church carries out her missionary mandate, and about the means of social communication".
Here, in just one sentence, the Holy Father is calling Catholics to get excited about this "profound renewal" of Christ’s Church on earth in the modern world. "The Council’s enormously rich body of teaching and the striking new tone in the way it presented this content constitute as it were a proclamation of new times".
On the occasion of this Great Jubilee, in the advent of the new millennium of Christianity, Pope John Paul II wants us all to understand that the Second Vatican Council was the intervention of divine providence in the course of human history, to direct all things back to the Creator. "In the Council’s message God is presented in his absolute lordship over all things, but also as the One who ensures the authentic autonomy of earthly realities … (B)eneath all changes there are so many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and for ever".
A Time of Mercy
Jesus told the parable of the man who arrived at the king’s banquet without the proper wedding garments, and was cast out (Mt. 22:11).
The Great Jubilee is like that feast, and we have only to come prepared in order to receive the abundance. Like the king’s servant who stood at the door of the castle handing out wedding robes for guests, Pope John Paul II makes provision for participating in the graces of the Jubilee in his Bull of Indiction, The Mystery of the Incarnation. One of the most important of these is the act of forgiveness both sought and granted. He has already shown the way.
"As the Successor of Peter, I ask that in this year of mercy the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters," wrote John Paul in this 1998 Papal Bull.
"Christians are invited to acknowledge, before God and before those offended by their actions, the faults which they have committed. Let them do so without seeking anything in return, but strengthened only the `the love of God which has been poured into our hearts’ (Rom 5:5)". And then, he quickly added, you yourself must forgive. Forgive all those "incidents of exclusion, injustice and persecution directed against the sons and daughters of the Church" that have proliferated in "past and present history". Don’t, he urges, exclude yourself from the embrace of God by refusing this all too important act of mercy. "May the joy of forgiveness be stronger and greater than any resentment".
In this spirit, we can enjoy the benefits of the Jubilee indulgence. By definition (found in the Catechism), an indulgence is the "remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven", which the Church dispenses with the authority vested in it through the Apostles.
"An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity" (CCC 1471-1479).
In this Church of today, we have the witness of the Apostles and the early Fathers, of all the saints, the martyrs and the faithful who went before. And in Pope John Paul II, we have a modern-day prophet, calling this Church to reconciliation in the Great Jubilee.
The present task of the Bishop of Rome, as the Successor of Peter, is to make the invitation to the Jubilee celebration all the more insistent, in order that the 2000th anniversary of the central mystery of the Christian faith may be experienced as a journey of reconciliation and a sign of true hope for all who look to Christ and to his Church, the sacrament of intimate union with God and the unity of the entire human race.
Pope John Paul II,
The Mystery of the Incarnation:
Bull of Indiction
of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000