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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 1997

On this feast day, Pope St John Paul II wrote his first Message for the World Day of Consecrated Life.

Pope St John Paul II's homily at Holy Mass
- also in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

1. “Arise [Jerusalem], shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 1:1).

"Today, the Solemnity of Epiphany, this is how the prophet’s words resound. The ancient, evocative oracle of Isaiah in a way foretells the light that shone on the stable in Bethlehem on Christmas night, anticipating the angels' song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:14). In a certain sense, in pointing to the light the prophet is pointing to Christ. As it shone for the shepherds seeking the newborn Messiah, so this light shines today on the path of the Magi, come from the East to adore him who was born King of the Jews.

The Magi represent the peoples of the whole earth who, in the light of the Lord’s birth, set out on the way leading to Jesus and, in a certain sense, are the first to receive that salvation inaugurated by the Saviour’s birth and brought to fulfilment in the paschal mystery of his Death and Resurrection.

When they reached Bethlehem, the Magi adored the divine Child and offered him symbolic gifts, becoming forerunners of the peoples and nations which down the centuries never cease to seek and meet Christ.

2. In the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul comments with deep wonder on the mystery celebrated in today’s solemnity: “Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation.... the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, how the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel (Eph 3:2-3; 5-6). A son of the chosen nation, converted to Christ, Paul came to share in divine Revelation, after the other Apostles, to transmit it to the nations of the whole world. After this great turning point in his life, he understood that all peoples have been chosen as well and that all men are called to salvation because they are “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Eph 3:6). Indeed, the light of Christ and the universal call to salvation are meant for the peoples of all the earth. “This character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit” (Lumen Gentium, n 13).

3. Thus we understand the full meaning of Epiphany, presented by Paul in the way in which he himself understood and practised it. The Apostle’s task is to spread the Gospel throughout the world, proclaiming to mankind the redemption wrought by Christ and to lead all humanity on the path of salvation, manifested by God on the night in Bethlehem. The Church’s missionary activity, through its many stages down the centuries, finds its starting point and universal scope in the feast of Epiphany.

Precisely to stress the universal character of the Church’s mission, it has been the custom for a number of years that on the feast of Epiphany the Bishop of Rome lays his hands on priests from various countries and invokes the Holy Spirit for their episcopal service.

Today I have the joy of conferring the fullness of the priesthood on 12 brothers. During the episcopal consecration the Gospel Book will be placed on their head to emphasize that bringing the Good News is their fundamental mission, a mission filled with joy and labour for all those who are committed to carrying it out with responsibility and faith. Let us pray together that the light which illumined the Magi on their way to Bethlehem may also accompany these newly chosen bishops.

4. Dear brothers chosen by God for the episcopal ministry, I wish each of you the wealth and fullness of Christ's Epiphany. I wish this for you, Archbishop Luigi Pezzuto, who will be the papal representative in Congo and Gabon, in the heart of the African continent so dear to me. I pray for you, Archbishop Paolo Sardi, appointed Apostolic Nuncio with special duties, who will still be working beside me in the Secretariat of State, and I thank you for the service you have given thus far, hoping that you will continue in the same way with the same zeal. I greet you, Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil, to whom I give the very important task of administering the Major Archiepiscopal Church of Ernakulam-Angamaly for Syro-Malabars, in the Indian state of Kerala. I hope that the fullness of Christ’s Epiphany may shine for you, Bishop Delio Lucarelli, Pastor of the Diocese of Rieti; for you, Bishop Ignace Sambar-Talkena of Kara, Togo, and for you, Bishop Luciano Pacomio, Pastor of the Diocese of Mondovì. May the light of the Holy Spirit guide you, Bishop Angelo Massafra, the first Bishop of Rrëshen and Apostolic Administrator of Lezhë, Albania, and you, Bishop Florentin Crihãlmeanu, called to work as Auxiliary with the Bishop of your Diocese of Cluj-Gherla, Romania. May the Lord support you, Bishop Jean-Claude Périsset, in your office as Adjunct Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and you, dear Bishop Piotr Libera, who are to work with my brother, the Archbishop of Katowice, Poland, as his Auxiliary. May he be with you, Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, sent to the faithful of the new Diocese of Baucau, East Timor, and may the same Holy Spirit and his grace be with you, Bishop Hil Kabashi, whom Providence is sending to Southern Albania.

5. Dear and venerable brothers, at this moment I like to think of you beside the Magi as you adore the King of peace, the Saviour of the world, and see the hand of the Child Jesus guided by that of his holy Mother in the act of blessing each one of you. It is the Lamb of God, the Shepherd of Shepherds, who is asking you to extend and spread his charity in the wondrous Body of the Church and in every part of the world, during these years of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Strengthened by his help, go forth without hesitating; be faithful and courageous apostles of Christ, proclaiming and witnessing to the Gospel, the light that illumines all peoples. Do not be afraid! Christ is with us every day, until the end of the world.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today ... and forever” (Heb 13:8). Amen!"

Papa Giovanni Paolo II's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
- in English, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Is 60:3).

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Epiphany, “a manifestation” of Christ to all peoples, represented by the Magi come from the East.

This feast helps us to discern the profound meaning of the Church’s universal mission, which can be understood as a movement of radiation: the radiation of Christ’s light, reflected on the face of his Mystical Body. Since this light is a light of love, truth and beauty, it is not forcibly imposed, but illumines minds and draws hearts.

By radiating this light, the Church obeys the mandate of the risen Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). It is a movement that spreads in all directions from the centre, from the Eucharist, through the witness and proclamation of the Gospel. This “going” is motivated by an inner urge of charity, without which it would produce no fruit.

The experience of the Magi is particularly eloquent in this regard: they move, guided by the light of a star that draws them to Christ. The Church must be like that star, that is, able to reflect Christ’s light, so that individuals and peoples in search of truth, justice and peace may come to Jesus, the one Saviour of the world.

2. This missionary task is entrusted to the entire People of God, but it is especially incumbent on those called to the apostolic ministry, that is, Bishops and priests. Today, the feast of Epiphany, in accordance with a well-established tradition I had the joy of consecrating 12 new Bishops.

Let us pray together for these new Pastors and for all the Bishops of the world, that their service to the Gospel may be ever more generous and faithful.

3. On this day a special thought goes to our brothers and sisters of the Christian East, many of whom are celebrating Christmas today. Before the icon of the Child Jesus, lovingly watched over by Mary and St Joseph, let us invoke the grace of deeper relations of understanding and communion between Christians of the East and West. Indeed, not only must different liturgical traditions not become an obstacle to unity, but they must be an incentive to reciprocal knowledge and enrichment.

We commend this hope to the Blessed Virgin, as we ask her in a special way to guide the Bishops ordained this morning in their pastoral ministry."

After the Angelus

"Saluto di cuore tutti i pellegrini, in modo particolare quanti sono convenuti da vari Paesi per prendere parte alle Ordinazioni episcopali. La vostra odierna presenza, carissimi, è segno eloquente dell’affetto che riservate ai nuovi Pastori, e pegno della vicinanza spirituale con cui sempre li accompagnerete nel loro ministero.

Nella luce dell’Epifania rinnovo fervidi auguri per l’anno da poco iniziato, prima tappa dell’itinerario di preparazione immediata al Grande Giubileo del Duemila. Possa ogni uomo, nel corso di quest’anno, sperimentare nella propria vita personale, familiare e sociale la presenza redentrice e liberatrice di Cristo.

Rivolgo, poi, un cordiale pensiero agli organizzatori ed ai numerosi partecipanti al tradizionale corteo storico folcloristico “Viva la Befana”, che quest’anno si ispira alla storia ed alla cultura di Ceccano in provincia di Frosinone. Mi congratulo con voi per la realizzazione di questa bella iniziativa, che intende tramandare alle nuove generazioni i valori religiosi, storici e culturali dell’odierna solennità dell’Epifania. Estendo volentieri il mio saluto ai bambini, accompagnati dai loro genitori e nonni, provenienti dalla passeggiata ecologica in bicicletta."

JPII - Monday, 6 January 1997 - © Copyright 1997 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana