Basilica of Saint John Lateran
Christmas, 25 December 1999


1. "That which was from the beginning ... which we have ... touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life ... we proclaim to you" (1 John 1: 1-2).


Dear Brothers and Sisters!


On this solemn day on which we are commemorating the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, we perceive the truth, the power and the joy of the Apostle John's words.


Yes, in faith, our hands have touched the Word of Life; they have touched the One who, as we recited in the Canticle, is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. Through him and in him all things were created (cf. Colossians 1: 15-16). This is the mystery of Christmas that we perceive with deep emotion, especially today, the beginning of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.


God entered human history and came to walk the paths of this earth, to enable everyone to become God's children.


I ardently hope that this mystery of holiness and hope will fill with its unfading radiance the hearts of Rome's entire diocesan community, gathered in spirit in this Basilica for the solemn opening of the Holy Door.


At this intensely spiritual moment, I would like to extend my affectionate good wishes and greetings to the Cardinal Vicar, my first co-worker in caring for the faithful of the Church in the city. With him, I greet the Vicegerent, and the Auxiliary Bishops who work with him in the pastoral service of the Diocese. I also extend a cordial greeting to the Lateran Chapter, to the parish priests, to the entire Roman clergy, to the seminary, and to all, men and women religious and lay pastoral workers who are the chosen part of our Church of Rome, called to preside in charity and to excel in fidelity to the Gospel.


I greet the Mayor and the authorities and representatives of the public administration who have wished to be present. I greet the Romans, the pilgrims and everyone who, via television, has joined us for this event of great historical and spiritual importance.


2. After opening the Holy Door in the Vatican Basilica last night, I have just opened the Holy Door of this Lateran Basilica, "omnium Ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis Mater et Caput", Mother and Head of all the churches of Rome and of the world and of the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. It was here, in 1300, that Pope Boniface VIII solemnly inaugurated the first Holy Year in history. Here, in the Jubilee of 1423, Pope Martin V opened the Holy Door for the first time. Here is the heart of that special dimension of the history of salvation which is linked to the grace of the Jubilees and the historical memory of the Church of Rome.


We have entered through this Door, which represents Christ himself: in fact, he alone is the Saviour, sent by God the Father, who enables us to pass from sin to grace, bringing us into the full communion which unites him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.


Let us give thanks to God, rich in mercy, who gave us his only Son as the Redeemer of man.


3. We could say that this evening's rite takes on a more familiar dimension. Indeed the diocesan family is setting out on its own jubilee journey, in special unity with the Churches spread throughout the world. It has been preparing for this great event for a long time, first through the Synod and then with the City Mission. The devout participation of the city and of the whole Diocese testifies that Rome is aware of the mission of universal concern and of exemplarity in faith and love which God's Providence has entrusted to it. Rome knows well that this service is rooted in the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul and has always found new sustenance in the witness of the multitude of martyrs and saints who have marked the history of our Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, the Holy Year, which begins today, calls us too to continue on this road. It invites us to respond joyfully and generously to the call to holiness, to be increasingly a sign of hope in today's society, on its way to the third millennium.


4. During the Holy Year there will be many occasions for believers to deepen this religious commitment, which is closely connected with the Jubilee programme.


First of all, the diocesan Jubilee, which will take place on 28 May in St Peter's Square.

Another event, entrusted in a particular way to the Diocese of Rome, is the International Eucharistic Congress, which will be held, please God, from 18 to 25 June.


5. The third significant event is the 15th World Youth Day.


With young people and families. My thoughts turn to the World Meeting of Families which will be held on 14 and 15 October 2000.


Thus so many important events await us! Let us entrust them all to the motherly intercession of Mary, Health of the Roman People. May she accompany us and guide our steps so that this year will be a time of extraordinary spiritual grace and social renewal.


6. Church of Rome, today the Lord comes to visit you to open before you this year of grace and mercy! In crossing the threshold of the Holy Door in humble pilgrimage, may you receive his gifts of forgiveness and love. May you grow in faith and in missionary zeal: this is the principal legacy of the Apostles Peter and Paul. How many times during your 2,000 year-old history have you experienced the marvels of the coming of Christ, who made you mother in the faith and a beacon of civilization for many peoples! May the Great Jubilee, with which you are preparing to begin the new millennium, strengthen you, Rome, in the joy of faithfully following your Lord, and give you an ever ardent desire to proclaim his Gospel. This is your particular contribution to building an era of justice, peace and holiness. Amen!



Christmas, 24 December 2002



1. "Dum medium silentium teneret omnia..."– "While earth was rapt in silence and night only half through its course, your almighty Word, O Lord, came down from his royal throne" (Antiphon to the Magnificat, 26 December).


On this Holy Night the ancient promise is fulfilled: the time of waiting has ended and the Virgin gives birth to the Messiah.


Jesus is born for a humanity searching for freedom and peace; he is born for everyone burdened by sin, in need of salvation, and yearning for hope.


On this night God answers the ceaseless cry of the peoples: Come, Lord, save us! His eternal Word of love has taken on our mortal flesh. "Your Word, O Lord, came down from his royal throne". The Word has entered into time: Emmanuel, God-with-us, is born.


In cathedrals and great basilicas, as well as in the smallest and remotest churches throughout the world, Christians joyfully lift up their song: "Today is born our Saviour" (Responsorial Psalm).


2. Mary "gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger" (Luke 2:7).


This is the icon of Christmas: a tiny new-born child, whom the hands of a woman wrap in poor cloths and lay in a manger.


Who could imagine that this little human being is the "Son of the Most High" (Luke 1:32)? Only she, his Mother, knows the truth and guards its mystery.


On this night we too can "join" in her gaze and so recognize in this Child the human face of God. We too – the men and women of the third millennium – are able to encounter Christ and to gaze upon him through the eyes of Mary.


Christmas night thus becomes a school of faith and of life.


3. In tonight's second reading, the Apostle Paul helps us to understand the Christ-event which we celebrate on this radiant night. He writes: "The grace of God has appeared, offering salvation to all men" (Titus 2:11).


The "grace of God" appearing in Jesus is God's merciful love, which dominates the entire history of salvation and guides it to its definitive fulfilment. The self-revelation of God who "humbled himself to come among us as a man" (Preface of Advent, I) is the anticipation, here on earth, of his glorious "appearing" at the end of time (cf. Titus 2:13).


But there is more. The historical event which we are experiencing in mystery is the "way" given to us as a means of encountering the glorious Christ. By his Incarnation Jesus teaches us, as the Apostle observes, "to reject godless ways and worldly desires, and live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age as we await our blessed hope" (Titus 2:12-13).  


O Birth of the Lord, you have inspired Saints of every age! I think, among others, of Saint Bernard and his spiritual ecstasy before the touching scene of the Crib. I think of Saint Francis of Assisi, the inspired creator of the first live depiction of the mystery of Christmas night. I think of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, who by her "little way" suggested anew to the proud modern mind the true spirit of Christmas.


4. "You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).

The Child laid in a lowly manger: this is God's sign. The centuries and the millennia pass, but the sign remains, and it remains valid for us too – the men and women of the third millennium. It is a sign of hope for the whole human family; a sign of peace for those suffering from conflicts of every kind; a sign of freedom for the poor and oppressed; a sign of mercy for those caught up in the vicious circle of sin; a sign of love and consolation for those who feel lonely and abandoned.
A small and fragile sign, a humble and quiet sign, but one filled with the power of God who out of love became man.


5. Lord Jesus, together with the shepherds
we draw near to your Crib.
We contemplate you, wrapped in swaddling cloths
and lying in the manger.

O Babe of Bethlehem,
we adore you in silence with Mary,
your ever-Virgin Mother.
To you be glory and praise for ever,
Divine Saviour of the World! Amen.







Vatican Basilica
Saturday, 24 December 2005



"The Lord said to me: You are my son; this day I have begotten you". With these words of the second Psalm, the Church begins the Vigil Mass of Christmas, at which we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ our Redeemer in a stable in Bethlehem. This Psalm was once a part of the coronation rite of the kings of Judah. The People of Israel, in virtue of its election, considered itself in a special way a son of God, adopted by God. Just as the king was the personification of the people, his enthronement was experienced as a solemn act of adoption by God, whereby the King was in some way taken up into the very mystery of God. At Bethlehem night, these words, which were really more an expression of hope than a present reality, took on new and unexpected meaning. The Child lying in the manger is truly God’s Son. God is not eternal solitude but rather a circle of love and mutual self-giving. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


But there is more: in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself, God from God, became man. To him the Father says: "You are my son". God’s everlasting "today" has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God’s eternal today. God is so great that he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenceless child, so that we can love him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendour and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas: "You are my son, this day I have begotten you". God has become one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him. As a sign, he chose the Child lying in the manger: this is how God is. This is how we come to know him. And on every child shines something of the splendour of that "today", of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield – it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.


Let us listen to a second phrase from the liturgy of this holy Night, one taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Upon the people who walked in darkness a great light has shone" (Isaiah 9:1). The word "light" pervades the entire liturgy of tonight’s Mass. It is found again in the passage drawn from Saint Paul’s letter to Titus: "The grace of God has appeared" (2:11). The expression "has appeared", in the original Greek says the same thing that was expressed in Hebrew by the words "a light has shone": this "apparition" – this "epiphany" – is the breaking of God’s light upon a world full of darkness and unsolved problems. The Gospel then relates that the glory of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and "shone around them" (Luke 2:9). Wherever God’s glory appears, light spreads throughout the world. Saint John tells us that "God is light and in him is no darkness" (1 John 1:5). The light is a source of life.







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