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Wednesday 20 September 2000

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the love of the Holy Spirit be with all of you gathered here for this National Assembly for the Catholic Church in India. Through this meeting you celebrate the culmination on a national level of the various diocesan and regional programmes formed over three years ago for the Great Jubilee of the Birth of Jesus Christ - Yesu Krist Jayanti 2000.

As a sign of our common faith and as a recognition of our fellowship in the Church Universal, I gladly accepted the invitation to participate in this event extended to me by the Chairman of the National Committee for the Great Jubilee 2000, Bishop Gali Bali of Guntur, as well as the personal invitation extended to me by the late Archbishop Alan de Lastic, the then-President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

This morning, I bring with me the personal greetings of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who sends to you his special Apostolic Blessing which I will impart on this Assembly at the close of today's Eucharistic celebration.

I also greet with all my heart all of you, the Bishops, priests, Religious and laity gathered here with us today. May the peace of the Lord be with you always!

1. Jesus Christ "The same, yesterday, today and always"

At the very core of our celebrations is Jesus Christ, who "is the same yesterday, today and always" [Heb. 13:8]. We all are aware of the meaning of various jubilee celebrations: we think of 25, 50 and even 75 years (the so-called silver, golden and platinum jubilees). But the Jubilee which the Church celebrates this year throughout the world is very special. It is special not only because of the two millennia we observe, but above all it is unique because of the Person at the centre of the specific event which we commemorate.

This Person is Jesus Christ, considered by many as a teacher of wisdom, a spiritual guide, a Good Samaritan, a liberator and healer, the compassionate friend of the poor [cf. EA 20]. As we read in the Scriptures, there were many prophets throughout history "but here there is one greater than a prophet"; there were many as wise as Solomon, "but you have a greater than Solomon here" [cf. Mt 12:41-42, Lk 11:29-32].

Yes, here we have Jesus Christ "the Son of the living God" [Mt. 16:16], as God revealed Him, and as the Apostle Peter gave witness. Here we have one who gave signs, performed miracles, one who raised Lazarus from the dead after being in the tomb for four days, and who, with a heart pierced by a lance, rose from the dead after three days. Here we have the Son of God who two thousand years ago became man and assumed our human nature: "And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us" [Jn 1:14].

And so here is an event which is not only exceptional but also unique in all of human history: the account of his incarnation and birth! This is the true sensational news for all time, the true Good News - evangelion - which must be proclaimed to every living being, to all men and women of every age. This man rose from the dead and remains alive as the God-Man, as our Emmanuel, our God with us; his incarnation remains a permanent state, for "He is the same yesterday, today and always" [Heb 13:8].

And as we celebrate and commemorate an individual and an event which do not have any equal in all of human history, we also recognize that Jesus Christ has a special relationship with each person who comes into the world. He is the "one who died for all" [2 Cor 5:14], and "who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and by the power of the Holy Spirit was born of the Virgin Mary and became man" [Nicene Creed]. He, "the only Son, ever at the Father's side" [Jn 1:18] is "the beloved Son, through whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins... It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross" [Col 1:13-14, 19-20].

Because of this uniqueness of Christ, he has a significance and relationship which is universal for all men of every age and time, for which, while it is part of history, it is also the core and the end of the same history: "I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" [Rev. 22:13; cf. RM 6 and GS 2]. And the Scriptures underline that "[God] wants all men to be saved and come to the truth. And the truth is this: God is one. One also is the mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all" [1 Tim 2:4-6]. For this reason, this Jubilee is truly great and has significance for all people.

2. Jesus Christ - the Hope for a New Society

You have chosen as the theme for the Opening Mass of this Assembly "Jesus Christ: The Foundation of our hope in a new Society". I applaud the choice of this theme because it underlines that Jesus Christ is truly the foundation of our hope. This is also witnessed in the Gospel of today's Mass.

As we have heard in today's Gospel, the crowds follow Jesus even into remote and desolate areas, and he never tires of distributing the spiritual food of the Word concerning the Kingdom of God. However, at the same time, he cures their sick, and, with great compassion, he takes care of their bodily hunger, multiplying the five loaves and two fish.

On one side "through the working of the Spirit, there already exists in individuals and in peoples an expectation, even if an unconscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death" [RM 45]. On the other side, Jesus Christ knows well that which is in the very heart of every person [cf. Jn 4:39], and he is moved by the sight of the crowds and of people who suffer and who long for true integral human development. Jesus nourishes both their spiritual and their bodily hungers. As our Holy Father has taught, "The Church does not have technical solutions to offer for the problem of underdevelopment as such, but offers her first contribution to the solution of the urgent problem of development when she proclaims the truth about Christ, about herself and about man, applying this truth to a concrete situation" [Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41 and RM 58]. Thus "through the Gospel message, the Church offers a force for liberation which promotes development precisely because it leads to conversion of heart and of ways of thinking, fosters the recognition of each person's dignity, encourages solidarity, commitment and service of one's neighbour, and gives everyone a place in God's plan, which is the building of his Kingdom of peace and justice, beginning already in this life. This is the Biblical perspective of the 'new heavens and a new earth' which has been the stimulus and goal for mankind's advancement in history" [RM 59].

And this commitment of service finds its inspiration in the promise foreseen in the prophecy of Isaiah in today's first reading, the prophecy of the great Messianic feast prepared for all people on God's holy mountain. It is the promise foretold by the Apostle Paul, in our second reading of that great hope to which we are heirs as "children of God". It is the same hope ratified each time we gather around the Eucharistic table of the Lord, eating his Body, and drinking his Blood, and proclaiming the death of the Lord Jesus until he comes again!

My dear brothers and sisters of India, we have the courage to believe, and because of our faith, we dare to hope, and the foundation of our hope is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. We believe in Jesus Christ, "the Incarnate Son of God, who is the way, the truth, and the life, the full revelation of divine truth" [Dominus Iesus, 5], source of life for the world.

Yes, we truly believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, can bring with his message a great light and immense hope for renewing Society. May the conviction of this profound faith and hope inspire this National Assembly as you joyfully make your pilgrim way into the Third Millennium, recalling that your only joy "is that which comes from sharing with the multitude of Asia's peoples the immense gift which [you yourself] have received - the love of Jesus the Saviour" [EA, n. 50].