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Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God, 2003

New Year 2003 - 36th World Day of Peace
Theme: Pacem in terris: a permanent commitment

Pope Saint John Paul II's Homily
at the Te Deum & 1st Vespers of the Solemnity
Tuesday 31 December 2002 - in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. "Born of woman, born under the law" (Gal 4, 4).

With these words the Apostle Paul sums up the mystery of the Son of God, "begotten not made, one in being with the Father".

"Tu Patris sempiternus es Filius" (You are the eternal Son of the Father), we have just sung in the hymn Te Deum. In the inscrutable abyss of God, Christ's mission has its origin ab aeterno (from eternity), and is destined "to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph 1, 10).

Time, beginning with creation, reaches its fullness when it is "visited" by God in the Person of the Only-Begotten Son. At the moment when Jesus is born in Bethlehem, an event of incalculable importance in the history of salvation, God's goodness acquires a visible, tangible "face" (cf Ti 3, 4).

Before the Child whom Mary wraps in swaddling clothes and lays in a manger everything seems to stand still. The One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, cries in the arms of a woman: the Creator is born among us!

In Jesus the heavenly Father wanted to redeem us from sin and to adopt us as sons (cf Gal 4, 5). With Mary let us pause in worshipful silence before so great a mystery!

2. These are the sentiments that pervade us as we celebrate the First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. The liturgy makes this important Marian feast coincide with the end of the year and the beginning of the new year. This evening, to the contemplation of the mystery of the Virgin's divine motherhood let us join our hymn of gratitude for the ending of 2002, while on the horizon of history 2003 appears. Let us thank God from the depths of our hearts for all the benefits he has bestowed upon us during the past 12 months.

I think especially of the generous response of so many young people to the Christian message; I think of the increasing ecclesial sensitivity to the values of peace, life and the safeguard of creation; I also think of certain significant steps on the not easy ecumenical route. For everything let us thank God. Indeed, his gifts always precede and accompany every positive gesture we make.

3. I am pleased to live these moments, as I do every year, with all of you dear brothers and sisters, who represent the diocesan community of Rome. I warmly greet each of you. I greet the Cardinal Vicar, the auxiliary bishops, the priests and the women religious involved in pastoral service in many parishes and diocesan offices. I greet the Mayor of Rome, the members of the municipal administration and council, as well as the other provincial and regional authorities. My thoughts go to everyone who lives in our city and in our region, particularly those who are going through situations of difficulty or hardship.

This year, the path of the Church of Rome has been marked by a special dedication to recruiting and fostering priestly and religious vocations. The diocesan convention last June focused on this theme, so crucial for the present and future of evangelization. The various pastoral initiatives and activities promoted by the diocese converge on this objective. Attention to vocations belongs correctly to the option for mission which, following the City Mission, has become the direction of the life and pastoral service of the Church of Rome.

4. Everyone must feel personally involved in this far-reaching missionary and vocational activity. However, in the first place, it is the task of priests to work for vocations by living joyfully the great gift and mystery that God has planted in them, so as to "generate" new and holy vocations.

The pastoral care of vocations should be a priority for parishes, that are called to be schools of holiness and prayer, training grounds for charity and service to the brothers and sisters, and especially for families, who, as vital cells, make up the parish community. When there is love between spouses, the children grow up morally healthy and vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life take root more easily.

Dear families of Rome, this year, which I have proclaimed the "Year of the Rosary", I invite you to recite the Rosary daily, so that an atmosphere may be created in you that fosters listening to God and faithfully doing his will.

5. "Fiat misericordia tua, Domine, super nos, quemadmodum speravimus in Te May your mercy always be upon us, Lord, as we have hoped in you".

Your mercy, Lord! In this liturgy at the end of the year, praise and thanksgiving should be joined to a sincere examination of conscience, made individually and as a community. Let us ask the Lord's pardon for the shortcomings of which we are guilty, certain that God, who is rich in mercy, is infinitely greater than our sins.

"In you we have hoped". "In you Lord" we repeat this evening, "is our hope". At Christmas you brought joy to the world, making shine on the paths of persons and peoples your light. Anxieties and worries cannot put it out; the brightness of your presence is a constant comfort.

May every man and woman of good will approach and experience the power of your love and your peace! May the city of Rome and all humanity welcome you as their only Saviour. This is what I hope for all of you; a hope that I place in the hands of Mary, Mother of God, Salus Populi Romani (Salvation of the Roman People)."

Papa Juan Pablo II's Homily at Mass on the Feast of Mary, Mother of God
St Peter's Basilica, Wednesday 1 January 2003 - in English, French, GermanItalian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Brothers and Sisters,
1. "The Lord bless you and keep you.... The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace" (Nm 6, 24.26): this is the blessing that the priests of the Old Testament gave the Chosen People on the great religious feast days. Today, the ecclesial community listens to it again, while it asks the Lord to bless the new year we have just begun.

"The Lord bless you and keep you." In the face of the events that unsettle the planet, it is very clear that only God can touch the depths of the human soul; his peace alone can restore hope to humanity. We need him to turn his face towards us, to bless us, to protect us and give us his peace.

For this reason, we must begin the new year by asking him for this precious gift. Let us do so through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the "Prince of Peace".

2. At this solemn celebration I wish to address a respectful greeting to the distinguished Ambassadors of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See. I also warmly greet my Secretary of State and the other heads of the departments of the Roman Curia, with a special greeting for the new President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I would like to express my gratitude to the Council for their daily work to foster peaceful coexistence among the peoples, along the lines of the Messages for the World Day of Peace. This year's Message commemorates Pacem in terris on the 40th anniversary of its publication. The content of this authoritative and historical document of Pope John XXIII is a "permanent mandate" for believers and people of good will in this time burdened with tensions and also rich with many positive expectations.

3. When Pacem in terris was written, there were menacing clouds on the horizon and the nightmare of an atomic war hung over humanity.

My venerable Predecessor, whom I had the joy of raising to the honours of the altar, was not overcome by the temptation to discouragement. On the contrary, relying on his firm confidence in God and on the capacity of the human heart, he forcefully pointed out "truth, justice, love and freedom" as the "four pillars" on which to build a lasting peace (cf Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2003, 3).

His teaching remains timeless. Today, as then, despite the serious, repeated attacks on the peaceful, solidary harmony of peoples, peace is possible and necessary. Indeed, peace is the most precious good to ask of God and to build with every effort, by means of concrete gestures of peace on the part of every man and woman of good will (cf ibid 9).

4. The Gospel passage we have just heard takes us back in spirit to Bethlehem, where the shepherds went to adore the Child on Christmas night (cf Lk 2, 16). How can we not go in spirit with fear and sadness to visit that holy place where Jesus was born?

Bethlehem! The Holy Land! The tragic, enduring tension this Middle Eastern region lives in, makes the search for a positive solution to the fratricidal and senseless conflict which has shed blood for too long, more urgent. It requires the cooperation of all who believe in God, who know that true religious feeling far from setting individuals and peoples against one another, urges them to build together a world of peace.

In my Message for today's World Day of Peace, I wished strongly to repeat: "Religion has a vital role in fostering gestures of peace and in consolidating conditions for peace". And I added that "it exercises this role all the more effectively if it concentrates on what is proper to it: attention to God, the fostering of universal brotherhood and the spreading of a culture of human solidarity" (ibid 9).

Faced with today's conflicts and the threatening tensions of the moment, once again I ask you to pray to find the "peaceful means" for a solution inspired by "a desire for genuine and constructive dialogue", in harmony with the principles of international law (cf ibid 8).

5. "God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law ... so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal 4, 4-5). In the fulness of time, St Paul recalls, God sent into the world a Saviour, born of a woman. Thus the new year opens under the sign of a woman, under the sign of a mother: Mary.

As a spiritual continuation of the Great Jubilee, whose echo has not died away, last October I chose to proclaim the Year of the Rosary. After having vigorously presented Christ as the only Redeemer of the world, I wished to mark this year with Mary's special presence. In the Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, I wrote that "the Rosary is by its nature a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who is "our peace' (Eph 2, 14). Anyone who assimilates the mystery of Christ - and this is clearly the goal of the rosary - learns the secret of peace and makes it his life's project" (n 40).

May Mary help us discover the face of Jesus, Prince of Peace. May she support and accompany us in this new year; may she obtain for us and for the whole world the desired gift of peace! So be it!"