With the ancient city of Pompeii as the backdrop, Pope John Paul II reminded all Christians today of the necessity to announce the Gospel in today’s world and of their obligation to be builders and witnesses of peace.
The pope made his long-awaited pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii today after some media speculation that his ill health would prevent him. He arrived by helicopter in the early morning and addressed the crowd after reciting the Rosary for world peace.
“Today, as in the times of the ancient city of Pompeii, it is necessary to announce Christ to a society that continues to distance itself from Christian values and even lose its memory [of its Christian roots],” he emphasized in his speech. With the backdrop of the ancient Pompeii, he said, the proposal of the Rosary acquires a symbolic value of a renewed impetus in proposing the Christian faith in our times.
“The Holy Virgin has allowed me to return to this sanctuary and honor her,” said the 83-year-old pontiff. “Today’s visit crowns the Year of the Rosary. I thank the Lord for the fruits of this year, which has resulted in a significant reawakening of this simple yet profound prayer, which goes to the heart of the Christian faith and appears very adequate before the challenges of the third millennium and the urgent needs of the new evangelization.”
“What is the Rosary? It is a compendium of the Gospel. It makes us return continually to the principle scenes in the life of Christ, almost as if to make us “breathe” his mystery,” he continued. “The rosary is a privileged path of contemplation. It is the path of Mary. Who, more than Mary knows Christ and loves him?”
The Rosary, said the pope, is a prayer for world peace and one that brings personal peace to those who say it. “We have meditated the mysteries of light, as if to project the light of Christ on the conflicts, tensions and dramas on the five continents,” he said. “At the same time, with the tranquil rhythm of the repetition of the Hail Mary, the Rosary calms our spirit and opens it up to the grace that saves.”
He concluded by reminding all Christians of their obligation to be artisans of peace. “The obligation of all Christians, in collaboration with all men of good will, is to be builders and witnesses of peace.”
Pope John Paul visited Pompeii for the first time in October 1989, one year after his election.
According to Vatican sources, the Holy Father began talking about a return to the Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary when he flew over Pompeii in a helicopter on his way to the island of Ischia in May 2002.
Despite increasing concerns about his health, the pontiff skipped only eight lines of his speech and looked alert and happy to be back at the Marian shrine after more than two decades.
Some 30,000 pilgrims packed the area, applauding and shouting "Long live the pope!"
The Holy father ended his visit by requesting the microphone to deliver some improvised words "pray for me here, now and always."