03/07/2004, 00.00
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Pope says "forgiveness and reconciliation" needed in Africa, Holy Land, Iraq

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Today, at the noon-time Angelus prayer, the pope made his first public appearance after dedicating himself to a week-long Lenten retreat inside the Vatican. Immediately following the Marian prayer, John Paul II turned his thoughts to people suffering in Africa, the Middle East -particularly in the Holy Land and Iraq. 

In recent days, terrorism has hit the Shiite community hard in Karbala and Baghdad. The pope said: "These are our brothers and sisters who are suffering due to unacceptable acts of violence and terrorism (committed against them), which only worsen the lives of these dear people."

In order to defeat terrorism, the pontiff asked all to pray and "embark on the road to forgiveness and reconciliation."

His words prior to the Angelus, instead, were devoted to the 25th anniversary of the papal encyclical, Redemptor hominis, the first of John Paul II's pontificate. In his encyclical the pope expresses guidelines for the Church's mission in the third millennium.

Below are John Paul II's words and appeal for peace: (translation by AsiaNews) 

"At that time Jesus took Peter, John and James with himself and went on a mountain to pray." (Luke 9,28). Thus, begins the Gospel reading on Christ's Transfiguration, which characterizes this second Sunday of Lent. Luke, the Evangelist, stresses that Jesus underwent transfiguration "while praying" on a high mountain and immersed in intimate and profound conversation with God, His Father. A dazzling light then radiated from Jesus' body, as an early sign of His glory and Resurrection.    

Each year, in Lenten preparation for Easter, faithful are urged to follow Christ through the mystery of prayer, as a source of light and strength during times of trial. To pray, in effect, means immersing ourselves in God's spirit while humbling aligning our will with His. It is with this confident surrender to God's will that our interior is filled with a light, transfiguring ourselves and making us a witness to Christ's Resurrection.

But this cannot come about if we don't listen to Christ and obediently follow him all the way to his passion and death on the Cross. It is to Him that we must turn to, "because only in Him, the Son of God, there is salvation." 

This is what I wanted to urge the entire world to do at the start of Lent 25 years ago in my encyclical Redemptor hominis (cf no. 7). If man wants to wholly understand himself, as I wrote, he must draw close to Christ, enter (in communion) with him, "take possession of" and assimilate the complete reality of His resurrection (cf. no. 10). How true is this reality even today!  

May the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, help us restart our lives together with Christ in order build a world on a truly human scale."  

(What follows are the words of the pope's appeal for peace.)

"During our week of Spiritual Excercises in the Vatican I didn't forget about the painful situation existing in certain countries of Africa, the Middle East and especially the Holy Land and Iraq. These are our brothers and sisters who are suffering due to unacceptable acts of violence and terrorism (committed against them), which only worsen the lives of these dear people. While I pray for these people and invite them to pray, too, I would like to ask once again everyone to embark on the road to forgiveness and reconciliation."  

(At the end, after greeting pilgrims gathering below in St. Peter's Square, the pope confirmed his appointment to meet with European university students.)

"Next Saturday, at 5:45 pm a Marian vigil will take place at Paul VI Hall during the Second Congress for European University Students, which has as its theme this year -Christ, Hope for Europe. My dear young students, I hope many of you will be there. We entrust the journey of all Europeans in Mary, Sedes Sapientiae (Seat of Wisdom). May everyone enjoy a blessed Sunday."
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