Thefts of Relics

Romanian Confesses to Role In a Religious Artifact Ring

By Mitchell Martin International Herald Tribune

NEWARK, New Jersey - A Romanian citizen living in the United States admitted in court this week that he was part of a ring that had stolen religious artifacts from France and that he was trying to sell them in the United States, federal officials said.

Faith Hochberg, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said that Sebastian Zegrean, a 23-year-old security guard who lives in Reading, Pennsylvania, had tried to smuggle a reliquary that is said to contain a bone fragment of Saint Maxellendis, a 7th-century French martyr, along with two other artifacts into the United States for sale.

The three artifacts have an appraised value of about $130,000, she said.

Ms. Hochberg quoted Mr. Zegrean as saying that an accomplice, a Romanian, was being held in France in connection with the investigation of the theft of the relics, which were found to be missing in December 1996 from the Saint Martin Church in Le Cateau, near Lille.

John Varrone, a Customs Service official, said Mr. Zegrean had traveled to France where he shipped the artifacts by Federal Express to his Pennsylvania address.

Shipping documents described them as $275 worth of Christmas gifts, candleholders and frames, which are the kind of goods that customs inspectors scrutinize for potential art smuggling. The artifacts had been listed with Interpol, Mr. Varrone said.

Ms. Hochberg said that Mr. Zegrean had obtained the goods ''on consignment,'' intending to sell them on the ''market in stolen art and relics.'' She refused to provide details of how he planned to dispose of them but she did say he was cooperating with investigators.

Mr. Varrone said that ''gangs out of Eastern Europe'' were contributing to a growing wave of thefts of religious art works.

Mr. Zegrean, who surrendered after being contacted by customs officials, is to be sentenced in July. He faces a maximum of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the U.S. charge of making a false customs declaration, Ms. Hochberg said.

She added the artifacts were to be returned to France, which considers them part of its patrimony.




$25 million worth of museum property stolen in Ukraine over the past five years.

By Oleksandr Ivashchenko

Most former Soviet republics have of late become a bonanza for antiquities hunters. Interpol reports point to over 40 organized criminal groups operating in Western European countries alone, basically made up of immigrants from the CIS, specializing in locating, buying, and stealing antiquities.

There are 525 state-owned museums and subsidiaries, plus 6,000 publicly controlled ones in Ukraine. Their stocks number more than 10,000,000 historical and cultural valuables. Enough to loot and spare. Last year was marked by 23 burglaries aimed at museum antiquities (private collections being the target in 20 cases), 206 thefts, including 83 churches and other places of worship, and 112 private collections.

A special commission to combat theft of cultural valuables, organized by the Russian Interior Ministry, held a conference in Vladimir at the end of February this year. Among those present were law enforcement officers from Russia, Orthodox clergy, and Interior officials from Belarus, Latvia, and Ukraine.

One of the conference participants, Lieutenant Colonel Vasyl Zaichenko, Deputy Head of the Grave Property Crimes Division, Chief Criminal Investigation Directorate of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, agreed to share his views on the problem with The Day.

He cited statistics which convincingly show that the number of such crimes registered in Ukraine is lower than in Russia by an order of magnitude (in 1996: 3,119 in Russia and 238 in Ukraine; in 1997: 2,944 and 231, respectively).

The Art Museum of Chernihiv was burglarized in June 1997. The malefactors overpowered the guard and turned off the burglar alarm system, getting away with 11 canvases by well-known artists worth over $3.5 million. Obviously well planned and rehearsed, this crime is still an open case. No pictures found.

According to Mr. Zaichenko, such crimes are becoming more organized, perpetrated by groups specializing in stealing antiquities and taking them out of Ukraine. They are well disguised, modern equipped, and staffed with experts. Part of the loot ends up in private collections, of course (primarily those owned by nouveaux riches of all shades who don't give a damn about where the stuff comes from). The rest, usually the most precious things, are smuggled out of the country, to other former Soviet republics, and further on overseas. More often than not this means that the stolen property will never be recovered.

Last November, the police apprehended a group of criminals in Manchester trying to sell two pictures at œ1.5 million that turned out to have been stolen from the State Art Museum of Poltava in March that same year. Among those arrested was Oleh Antoniuk, a Ukrainian citizen, an ex-commando officer with combat experience accumulated in the former USSR's hot spots. The British police further discovered that he had operated in contact with the Russian-UK Godfather, Sergei Prostik. The pictures were returned to Ukraine. Only two. What about the rest?

On April 29, 1997, two unidentified criminals used a smoke grenade in raiding Lviv's art gallery, getting away with three canvases, of which two were by Mateiko. Two gallery workers, Shelest and Volchak, who tried to resist the burglars, were shot. The city's Arsenal armory museum was robbed the previous year. An unarmed militiaman standing guard could do nothing against six armed robbers. The museum lost six diamond-studded swords. That same year the Olesky Castle was burglarized (the criminals placed an 8-meter tree trunk against the wall, climbed it, got into the premises, and returned with 15 precious canvases).

Often, law enforcement authorities find themselves helpless trying to locate stolen property, and even if finding some the true malefactors remain evasive and illusive.

Why? There are many reasons. Mr. Zaichenko mentioned the lack of coordination and cooperation among law enforcement agencies in the CIS countries For example, such cooperation is inadequate in Ukraine — between the militia and the customs authorities. What makes the situation worse is the absence of a unified database that could quickly produce information on stolen museum property. He said that keeping a single register of historic and cultural valuables owned by the state, public, and religious organizations, jointly with the Ministry of Culture and leaders of all religious communities, would build a heavy obstacle in the way of antiquities hunters. And cataloguing private collections would be very instrumental, too. The problem of protecting cultural valuables is so complex that the law enforcement agencies are unable to solve it unaided. Does this mean that foreign collectors will continue to benefit from stolen national relics?



Police Seize Stolen Holy Relics

Holy relics stolen from various churches in the North Shoa Zone of Oromia were seized by the police, says a report from the zonal police office.

Among the holy articles seized were the holy slab of Zigamel Mariam of the Debre Libanos Monastery, the silver and bronze crosses of Mere Giorgis and Kasim Selassie churches, zonal police crime prevention and investigation section head Captain Nigussie Tessema said.

Individuals who looted the Debre Tsige Mariam and Kasim Selassie churches were sentenced to six month imprisonment by the Debre Libanos woreda court, he added.

As preventive measures against such occurrences of looting, there is a plan to register priceless holy relics now under the custody of individuals. In addition, Captain Nigussie said education and training will be given to the clergy and the people at large on how to tackle and trace stolen church articles.





When we hear of vandalism in cemeteries these days, many people are horrified. They assume that today’s young people have lost all respect for our cultural and religious traditions. However, vandalism of all sorts, and of cemeteries and burial sites in particular, has been around for thousands of years. After all, why did the pharaohs of ancient Egypt have to take so many precautions to prevent people from breaking into their pyramids? And even with those efforts, they still could not stop tomb robbers from taking almost everything. But not all vandalism is done in malice. Burial sites are destroyed or defaced for other reasons, some quite acceptable within certain societies. Following are the main categories of vandalism and other damage to cemeteries, which have been recorded through history:

Deliberate, Malicious Damage

1. Personal Spite. It is believed that personal grudges against some of the pharaohs may have been a motive for defacing some pyramids. Rulers who came after sometimes erased all references to the former ruler.

2. Racial Hatred. This certainly was the motive for the destruction of the tombstones of many Japanese Canadians on Canada’s West Coast during World War II.

3. Morbid Curiosity. Some people break into tombs just to see what’s there or for the thrill of it.

4. Ritual Desecration. Cemeteries generally (and some tombstones in particular) can be subjects of desecration during satanic or other cult practices. This could include breaking crosses and painting cult symbols on monuments.

5. Death Denial. Some psychologists think that teenagers deface tombstones because they don’t want to believe that they will die some day.

6. Bodysnatching. Bodysnatchers were people who would break into tombs, steal the bodies and sell them to anatomy students and medical colleges. They did this in Britain until 1832 when the law changed so it was no longer illegal to obtain bodies for medical studies.

7. Plunder of Riches. Due to the ages-old practice of placing precious objects with the dead, theft of grave goods has been a problem for a long time. Grave robbers usually caused damage when they entered the tombs.

Deliberate, But Not Malicious Damage

8. Utilitarian Purposes. A large trade in bones and mummies for medicines and ingredients in artists’ pigments caused many tombs to be broken open in the past. Over the years, many tombs have been dismantled for their building materials.

9. Veneration. Relics of saints or famous people have long been in demand. They have often been obtained either by theft or by deliberate destruction of burial sites.

10. Scientific Investigation. Archaeologists frequently disturb burial sites to obtain scientific data from them.

11. Need for Space. In some cultures (e.g., in parts of Europe), bones are routinely removed from graves and put into ossuaries. An ossuary is a place to store bones. It may be part of a church, a separate building or a catacomb. This is usually done in areas where a cemetery is full, and there is no land for a new cemetery. This way, the same graves can be re-used.

12. Superstition. In some cultures, tombs are entered to stop hauntings. The head is severed from the body of the person believed to be doing the haunting. If a person is believed to be a vampire, a stake is driven through the heart.

13. Cultural Duty. Many Chinese believe strongly in being buried with their ancestors. Chinese who came to Canada and died here would be buried for seven years. Their bones would then be dug up and shipped back to their home village in China for final burial. This practice stopped in the 1930s with the conflicts in China. Some cemeteries from which these bodies were removed still have depressions where the coffins had been buried.

14. Safety. When monuments become unsafe, cemetery authorities may remove and even throw away dangerous pieces.

15. Ease of Maintenance. To make maintaining cemeteries easier for the grounds crews, some cemetery authorities have removed grave fences, railings, monuments and curbings.

16. Glorification. Dismantling and rebuilding a person’s grave to provide more recognition have destroyed some tombs. One example is the grave of Karl Marx whose original burial place at Highgate Cemetery was removed and his remains reinterred under a new, larger tombstone.

17. Improper Conservation. Harsh chemicals, cleaning methods such as scrubbing with wire brushes, and poor repair work can create lasting damage and unsightly marks on monuments.

18. Gravestone Rubbings. When done incorrectly, rubbing techniques may leave ink or crayon on monuments. In some cases, the pressure of pushing against a stone can cause problems.

19. Laying Monuments in the Ground. This is done to reduce the risks of vandalism, or make maintenance easier. However, it can lead to increased wear on the stone surface, increased moisture rising through the stone, and problems from poor drainage, especially in freezing conditions.

20. Embedding Monuments in Walls. This is done to reduce the risk of vandalism or make maintenance easier. It prevents people from viewing all sides of a monument and can lead to other conservation problems.

Other Damage

21. Partying. Because of their remote and dark locations, some cemeteries attract drinking or drug parties that may result in damage to tombstones.

22. Neglect. Tall grass, falling tree limbs or heaving roots can damage tombs.

23. Poor Quality Materials. Some monuments simply disintegrate on their own because they are made of soft materials such as sandstone. While not exactly a type of vandalism, poor quality materials are often linked to vandalism.

24. Accident. Not all damage in cemeteries is caused on purpose by people. Straying animals, wind storms, and even careless people can knock over stones without meaning to.

25. Improper Maintenance. Monuments can be damaged by being run into by power lawn mowers and sometimes by powerful weed trimmers.



Relics in the news



Bishop Ramon Argüelles Reiterates Opposition to Capital Punishment


    St. Teresa of Lisieux's relics made a dramatic visit to death row in Muntinlupa, Philippines, this morning. The visit was the brainchild of Bishop Ramon Argüelles, chairman of the National Jubilee Committee. Thirty-three men sentenced to death for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking and rape were thus able to celebrate the Jubilee reconciliation. Early this morning, a small aircraft circled over the maximum security compound of the penitentiary showering rose petals over the inmates, many of whom were puzzled by the event. A few minutes later, one of the main gates of the compound opened and a white truck carrying the Saint's reliquary entered, accompanied by Bishop Argüelles, Auxiliary Bishop Jesse Mercado of Manila, and dozens of Theresa's devotees.

    The relics were taken to the chapel, where the Bishops and 4 priests concelebrated Mass. During the homily, Bishop Argüelles, the Philippine Military Ordinary, referred to the time St. Teresa of the Child Jesus prayed for the conversion of a death-row convict and her prayers were answered. Referring to the Jubilee tradition of pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem, Bishop Arguelles said: "St. Teresa has come on pilgrimage to you"; the congregation responded with warm applause.

At the end of the Mass, the authorities wanted the motorcade to leave immediately, but Bishop Arguelles insisted the relics be taken to death row, especially the cells of 33 men scheduled to be executed in the very near future. Although the reliquary was too large to pass through the main door, the Bishop had it placed in front of the door and began to pray the Rosary, as the 33 condemned men took turns to pray quietly near the reliquary, touching it gently with their hands, their heads bowed in humility.

    "We never expected this," stated Benjamin Ramos, who is charged with murder. "We were told that the relics were coming, but we were not told that St. Teresa and the Bishop would visit us personally." Prison Chaplain Fr. Silvio Borres, S.J., said "It was a very touching event in the lives of those on death row; penitentiaries need visits of saints!" The reliquary was then taken to the medium security compound, where some 4,000 men are housed. As it entered, the inmates smothered it with flowers. In a brief speech, Bishop Argüelles asserted: "We are for the abolition of capital punishment."





Statements in Jesuit Magazine "Civilta Cattolica"



    Scientific research carried out in a sarcophagus in the Basilica of St. Justina in Padua, Italy, appear to confirm the traditionally held belief that the relics kept in this Church are those of St. Luke the Evangelist. The data of confirmation has been published by the prestigious Jesuit magazine, "Civilta Cattolica," in anticipation of the results that will be officially communicated during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The acknowledgement of St. Luke's alleged relics was made in September, 1998 --436 years after they were placed in St. Justina's Basilica. The research was carried out by a commission headed by the anatomy pathologist Vito Terribile Wiel Marin, professor of Anatomy and Histology at the University of Padua. Having removed the 1400-kilo marble slab that covered the sarcophagus, a lead box weighing 600-800 kilos was found. This box, which measures 190 centimeters in length, by 40 cm in width and 50 cm in depth, was resting on a wooden board and had two red wax seals.

    Fr. Daniele Libanori wrote that inside the box, a skeleton was found that was missing the cranium, the right ulna (elbow) and the right astragalus (ankle bone). According to the study, the bones are those of a man who died in old age, presumably between 70 and 85 years old, and measuring 1.63 meters in stature. This data alone already confirms what is known about the evangelist in Christian tradition. His advanced aged is confirmed by the study that revealed he was suffering from acute, diffused osteoporosis, grave arthrosis of the spinal cord, especially in the lumbar region, and pulmonary emphysema, evidenced in the curvature of the ribs. The bones were arranged with great care, reflecting the esteem in which the person was held and the cult's antiquity. Vessels were also found in the sarcophagus containing coins, four parchments and lead weights that give evidence of the authenticity of the relic.




Her Relics Go to Russia, Siberia and Kazakstan



    The most important missionary of modern times has just finished a genuine tour of the former Soviet Union. The relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, who died at 24 years-old and whom John Paul II declared a doctor of the universal Church, traveled by bus through Russia, Siberia and Kazakstan, covering 30,000 kilometers and stopping at 60 important parishes. Simultaneously, ten small reliquaries, along with a beautiful Byzantine icon of Therese, painted by archimandrite Zenon, visited very distant places, like Astrakhan and Magadan, as well as many small communities, hospitals, prisons, orphanages and sick persons. The mission was possible thanks to the cooperation of the local Churches. Prior to the relics' arrival, all the parishes organized preparatory retreats and translated some of Therese's manuscripts. Cassettes of songs written by the saint, as well as prayer books, were produced in Russian. At present, her "Autobiographical Manuscripts" are being distributed in Russia, Siberia and Kazakstan, becoming the summer's best-seller. "The diocese of Eastern Siberia, the largest in the world -- covering 10 million square kilometers, has only 24 priests and religious -- the same (number) as Monaco," the French Catholic organizers of the mission explained. Therese of Lisieux continues to be one of the most important missionaries of our century, as many Popes have described her.







    A relic of St. Francis Xavier, which was kept in the Church of Jesus in Rome, has arrived in Japan. The relic was transported to Japan for the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the arrival of the Spanish missionary in that country, on August 15, 1549, in the city of Kagoshima. The Japanese Catholics will continue to celebrate this anniversary with numerous activities until October 11.




John Paul II's Letter for 1,200 Years of Aachen Cathedral




     John Paul II referred to the ties that unite the Catholic community spread over the world with the Church of Rome and the Holy City of Jerusalem, in a letter to commemorate 1,200 years since the construction of Aachen Cathedral, an event which was celebrated last Saturday and Sunday in this historic German locality.

    The Pope's special envoy to the celebration was Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congre- gation for the Clergy. The Holy Father addressed the letter to Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff of Aachen. John Paul II pointed out that the Cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin, was built at the request of Charlemagne. That same year, 800, the emporer was crowned in Rome by Pope Leo III in the Vatican Basilica. This historical event reflects the closeness that existed between that local Church and the diocese of Rome. But Aachen Cathedral has yet "another link" that carries it "with heart and mind" to the Holy City. These are 4 precious relics that Jerusalem gave to Charlemagne and that recall "with profound reverence events in the history of salvation." The 4 relics are fragments of the newborn Jesus' diapers, the cloth Jesus wore around his waist on the cross, the dress Mary wore on Christmas Eve, and the cloth of John the Baptist's beheading.

    "In general, Christians in the modern age do not pay with their life to profess the faith. However, witnessing does pay the price of some nights of insomnia and of innumerable drops of perspiration in a social ambience in which frequently Christ has become a stranger. Precisely at a time in which God is left in silence very often, strength and courage are necessary to become guarantors of the inalienable dignity of all men because of the love of God, who sent his own Son so that they could have life, and have it in abundance," the Holy Father says in his letter. John Paul II recalled that "orthodoxy of teaching must be reflected in coherence of life" and expressed the hope that the anniversary of the 1,200 years of Aachen Cathedral "will remind all Christians that they are committed to be living stones in God's building."





Conclusion of 3rd International Congress on "The Face of Faces"




    Modern man's thirst for God is reflected in the new interest awakened by Christ's face. The research being carried out at present in this connection by different scientific disciplines could lead, and in fact does lead, many to begin an impassioned search to discover who Jesus of Nazareth really was. This is the conclusion of the 3rd International Congress on "Christ: The Face of Faces," which was held from October 30-31 at the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome. 

    The essence of the meeting was well summarized by Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers. "The vicissitudes that characterize the end of this second millennium of the Christian era make manifest with ever greater realism the need to recover the values of love, in its expression of forgiveness, conversion, mercy, and around these, the unity of the human species. The Face of Christ is an incarnation of these values, it is an intense call to live it and a source of energy capable of encouraging these."

    An Inter-Disciplinary Attraction "The studies made on the subject of Christ's Face demonstrate that this argument unites theologians and experts of the most varied disciplines. If a man does not contemplate this Face, and walks in front of Christ without recognizing him, the mission of the Church is not accomplished," Vladimir Fedorov said. Fedorov is director of the St. Petersburg Institute of Missiology and Ecumenism. Referring to the 70 years of the Communist, atheist regime, Fedorov recalled Dostoevski's affirmation: "Perhaps the Russian people's only love is Christ," and he emphasized "although, at the level of atheistic Indoctrination, Christ was ignored and combated, nevertheless, it was impossible to uproot his image from literature, art and all the creative expressions of Russian culture." Challenge for Theology Heinrich Pfeiffer, Professor of the History of Christian Art at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said that "the pictures of the Holy Shroud of Turin and of Veronica's Veil that are kept in the Italian locality of Manoppello are an enormous challenge for the whole of Western theology," because with these two relics "God has not only left us his Word in Sacred Scripture but also his image."

    Because of this, "the theology of the Incarnation must be based on this fact, as it does on the contents of the Gospels. We have two archeological vestiges that give authentic evidence of the Passion and Resurrection. These images are a divine testimony of the corporal Passion and Resurrection of Christ and are an initial demonstration of glory. The theological implications are avenues which will only be able to be followed with the cooperation of many branches of science. This new science could develop a fertile dialogue with theology, which in turn would become more concrete." Revelation of the Father's Face Thomas Spidlik, Professor Emeritus of Eastern Christian Spirituality, emphasized that "Jesus, the Son, reveals the face of the Father. On one hand, the principle of the Old Testament according to which no man has seen God, continues to be valid; on the other hand, the Face of God the Father appears there where we find Christ. From this stems the patristic thesis according to which the Face of Christ appears in the Church. As Spouse of Christ, the Church reveals the Father's face that is also reflected in each one of the faithful." Thus, Spidlik concluded, "just as in children one sees paternal traits, so also in Christians one must find similarities with the Heavenly Father: they must be saints, merciful, humble."

    All this was summarized by Bishop Ambrogio Spreafico, Rector of the Pontifical Urbanian University who believed that these considerations are already implicit in the exegesis of the expression "I seek your Face, Lord," and he said that "to meet him personally, he must be sought. God himself invites us to begin seeking. It is He who says: 'Seek my Face.' The search begins a movement, opens man to a meeting, frees him from the snares of death, because the search is prayer." The Aspiration of All Men Italian Poet Mario Luzi concluded the Congress, by explaining that to contemplate the Face of Christ is the aspiration of man at all times. The Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, liberates one from all anthropomorphism in the representation of God, "but it is not right to choose one of the faces that has been given to Jesus by the hands and imagination of artists and select it as the supreme identification." Referring to the face of the Holy Shroud of Turin, for example, Luzi explained that "it does not correspond to the interior iconography that he had conceived of Jesus Christ ... Undoubtedly it is a face that Christ took, when making his own the indescribable anguish and suffering of man. 

It is a face of suffering, not that of glory and that its why it was vertiginously assimilated with our face."





Cardinal Tomko Encourages America to Produce 50% of Missionaries




    Hundreds of children from the city of Parana, in Argentina, added color and joy to the inaugural celebrations of the 6th (Latin American Missionary Congress and 1st American Missionary Congress that opened yesterday. More than 30,000 people attended, filling to capacity the stadium of the "Patronato" Club of the city. Identified with the colors of the continent, and taking as their theme the Congress' logo, the children performed a gymnastic number accompanied by songs, and waved handkerchiefs and flags of the different countries to the applause of the crowd.

    Minutes earlier, six Cardinals arrived on the playing field, as well as 103 American Bishops led by John Paul II's special envoy, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. The Bishops were received with rounds of applause to the tune "Welcome, welcome to the one who comes in the name of the Lord." The Slovakian Cardinal imparted the apostolic blessing. Next to him was Archbishop Estanislao Karlic of Parana, president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference; his Auxiliary Bishop Juan Puiggari; and the Emeritus Archbishop of Cordoba, Cardinal Raul Primatesta.

    The colorful celebration was viewed by visitors from all over America and representatives from Africa and Asia, who honored the passing statue of Our Lady of Lujan, patron of Argentina. The inauguration Mass of the 6th Latin American Missionary Congress and 1st American Missionary Congress was preceded by a pro-  cession with the Matara Cross, brought especially from Santiago del Estero; and the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and St. Roque Gonzalez, which have been on pilgrimage since July 9 in all the dioceses of the country, in order to prepare spiritually for these days, which will end next Sunday.

    Before the Mass, Archbishop Karlic read a letter in which John Paul II announced that Cardinal Tomko would be the Papal Legate for the COMLA 6 -- CAM 1, and invited all those present to "live in hope a more effective Christian life." "You must be actors in this missionary undertaking that begins today," the local Archbishop emphasized. During the homily, Cardinal Tomko appealed for missionary unity in America and pointed out the virtues of the "Continent of Hope," which must produce 50% of the Church's missionaries. "With Christ, leave your land, America," he said over and over, repeating the Congress' motto. The different moments of the ceremony were accompanied by the music of the "Misa Criolla," directed by Bishop Jesus Gabriel Segade, with the participation of a local choir, formed especially for the occasion.




700-Year-Old Shrine on the Old Silk Road in Inner Mongolia




    Archeologists have uncovered a 700-year-old church site on the old Silk Road, which they believe to be the earliest Roman Catholic Church in Asia. The Church is located in the town of Abinsm, Inner Mongolia, which means "place with many temples" in the Mongol Language. The remaining walls of the church are some 16 feet tall. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the church consisted of a 1,000 square foot main hall with two rostrums measuring 12 to 15 feet high at one end.

    The body of the church is filled with shattered white tiles similar to those used in ancient Rome. Chinese archeologists had been hesitant to label the church as Catholic until the discovery of a white stone lion, which does not resemble Chinese art so much as the lions found in front of Italian Catholic churches. In the rear of the church is what appears to be a library, which archeologists expect will contain many relics. The Chinese government has allocated $18,000 to preserve the old church for study. Japanese archeologist Namio Egami told Xinhua that the church is the earliest evidence to date of the introduction of European religions in the far East. He stated that the first Synod in Abinsm was held during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), with an attendence of 3,000 faithful.

    Abinsm was discovered over 70 years ago by an international expedition led by Chinese archeologist Huang Wenbi. It was identified as the residence of the chieftains of the Wanggu tribe, which helped Genghis Khan unify Mongolia. The town was an important post on the Silk Road during the Yuan Dynasty, but declined in importance due to wars. Nestorian gravestones had been previously found in Abinsm, such as that of Koligis, a chieftain of the Wanggu. However, this discovery is the first evidence of Catholics in the region. Chen Gaohua, a Yuan Dynasty scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences noted the importance of this discovery in Inner Mongolia. It was known that the Church had sent representatives to China during the Yuan period, but their activities were previously only recorded in Beijing and the Fujian province.





Revelations Surrounding Valencia's Sacred Chalice




    Salvador Antuñano Alea, professor of Ethics and Sacred Scripture at the Francisco de Vitoria University Center in Madrid, has just published a book on the relic believed to be the chalice used by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper, and at present kept in the Valencia Cathedral. The title of the book is, "The Mystery of the Holy Grail: Tradition and Legend of the Sacred Chalice." "If Indiana Jones had visited Valencia, he would have paid no attention to old medieval legends, and he would have saved himself all the dangers of 'The Last Crusade,' " Antuñano humorously affirms in the book's opening line. Over the length of 220 pages, the author reviews the tradition that envelops the Sacred Chalice, including archaeological research on its use in the Last Supper, its use by the first Popes of Christianity, it relocation to Spain, medieval legends, its stay in the Monastery of St. John of la Peña, and its first entry into documented history at the end of the 14th century.

    The author finally brings together the negative publicity and damages it has been subjected to since then, as well as its use by John Paul II during a Mass celebrated in Valencia in November, 1992. According to tradition, the Grail was the chalice from which Jesus and his disciples drank during the Last Supper. It is a proper cup, to which a gold structure with two handles has been added. The piece is 17 centimeters high. The cup is semispherical, about 3.5 inches in diameter and made of dark red agate. Archaeological studies reveal the work was done in a Palestinian or Egyptian workshop between the 4th century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.


At the Dawn of Christianity


    This cup, connected with the first Eucharist, could not have been forgotten after the Redeemer's death, all the more so since the disciples met several times afterwards in the Cenacle. This is the explanation for the Sacred Chalice's appearance in Rome. According to tradition, it was brought from Jerusalem by St. Peter. Two and a half centuries passed, with clear indications that the chalice was used by the early Pontiffs to celebrate Mass. According to Antuñano, "What most impresses the researcher is the Roman liturgical canon of the first Popes. At the moment of consecration, they literally said: 'take this glorious chalice,' referring strictly to 'this' [one]." (Here Antuñano is referring to the official Latin text, "hunc praeclarum calicem." The current U.S. English translation is simply, "the cup.") History records that during the persecution of Emperor Valerian, shortly before his death at the hands of the Romans, Pope Sixtus II gave relics, treasures and money to his deacon Lawrence, a native of Huesca, Spain, who was also martyred, but not before sending the Eucharistic Chalice to his native city, accompanied by a letter.This was in the year 258 or, according to some authors, 261. The cup remained in Huesca until the Moslem invasion. Bishop Audeberto of Huesca left his city with the Sacred Chalice in 713, and took refuge in the Mount Pano caves, where the hermit John of Atares lived. Later, the monastery of St. John of la Peña was founded and developed here. It was from here that a nucleus of determined men left to undertake the re-conquest of Spain from the Moslems. This struggle had epic proportions, which were not ignored by literary creativity.

    According to historians of literature, this was the origin or source of the famous poems of Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, about the hero Percival (Parzival). Eschenbach's epic later inspired Wagner's opera, "Parsifal." In all these poems there is a marvelous Cup, which is called "Graal" or "Grail" and whose link with the Sacred Chalice is easy to understand. The presence of the Sacred Chalice in St. John of la Peña is attested by a document dated December 14, 1134. On September 26, 1399, the Chalice went to Zaragoza for safekeeping, at the request of the King of Aragon, Martin the Human. In the text of offer, which is kept in Barcelona, there is evidence that the Sacred Chalice was sent from Rome with a letter of St. Lawrence. During the reign of Alfonso the Magnanimous, the relic was moved to Valencia. Since March 18, 1437, it has been kept in the Cathedral of that city, according to a document which refers to it as "the Chalice in which Jesus Christ consecrated the blood on the Thursday of the Supper."


The Most Dramatic and Sublime Story of Humanity


    "The Sacred Chalice is not known sufficiently either within or outside of Spain," Antuñano, a Mexican living in Spain, states; he believes its "value is not in scientific rigor fully attested, even if archaeology itself has no objections to its authenticity, but in the symbolism of the Lord's Supper. It is valuable because it is a sign and figure of the institution of the Eucharist, and this is much greater than any historical vestige." The author states that when "the mystery of the Grail is revealed, one realizes it is in no way an esoteric enigma; what it encloses is the most dramatic, romantic and sublime story humanity has ever known: the story of the Word made Man and Eucharist."

The book, edited by EDICEP and published in Spanish, has a prologue by Archbishop Agustin Garcia Gasco of Valencia, who highly recommends the reading of the book because "it highlights the value and meaning of the Holy Grail, which acquires its relevance in the Eucharist."








    This morning, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Steering Committee for the Great Jubilee of 2000, presented the fficial guides for the Holy Year at a press conference in the Vatican Press Office. "The purpose of these two books is to help meditate on the profound reason that motivates the Catholic Church to celebrate the Jubilee," the Cardinal said. The two pocket-size books, one entitled "Pilgrims at Prayer" and the other "Pilgrims in Rome," are each about 250 pages long. They will prove invaluable because they give an idea of the spiritual, historical and artistic wealth of Rome, the Eternal City. "Pilgrims in Rome" gives concise information on the history, events, and spiritual significance of the seven major Basilicas, where relics and artifacts of the Catholic Church are kept from earliest times. In addition, there is information on the martyrs' shrines, the catacombs, the historical churches, the saints' churches, and the churches of different Catholic communities present in Rome. Mention is also made of the Baptist, Lutheran, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Jewish and Islamic places of worship.

    "It is hoped that the two resources will anchor the Roman celebrations on the faith of the Apostles. Thanks to the well illustrated pages, the pilgrim will move through history and the evolution of the centuries feeling very much a contemporary of Christ and a citizen of today's world," the Cardinal said. Bishop Crescenzio Sepe, secretary of the Jubilee Committee, emphasized that "we are aware that there is no lack of usual guides in Rome. But for the Holy Year, works are necessary that specifically address the religious and spiritual dimension of the Eternal City's Basilicas and monuments in view of the Jubilee event. This was the reason the Central Committee created a special commission to write a text to fulfill this need."

    "Pilgrims in Rome' focuses... on the reason Rome is called the 'Eternal City,' by highlighting its religious and spiritual history. What is singular about the guide is that it covers the historical and religious aspects in a balanced, organic and complementary synthesis. 'Pilgrims at Prayer' is especially useful for the pilgrim's prayer. This book gives outlines for meditation and reflection that, in synthesis, offer ... readings on the great themes of the Jubilee and make easier the understanding of the central message of each holy place," the Bishop explained. Bishop Francesco Gioia, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, said that the preparation of the two guides began on December 20, 1996 and, thanks to the contribution of some 70 experts in various fields, and after five phases of work with corresponding meetings, a final version was defined in 1998. On July 20 of that year, the Holy See signed a contract with the Arnoldo Mondadori Publishing House, the largest in Italy, which also published the Holy Father's book, "Crossing The Threshold of Hope." "Both guides combine historical and artistic information with the itinerary of prayer,"

    Bishop Gioia explained. It is a "virtual journey" the pilgrim makes over the history and religiosity of the churches in Rome. To make it all easier, there are 282 illustrations with topographical plans and chronological diagrams. In the prayer guide there are 142 pictures, which are a commentaries in themselves of the texts for meditation and prayer. Professor Gian Arturo Ferrri, Mondadori's director general, clarified that there are two editions of the guides: one is a hardback, priced at $25, and a cheaper paperback edition at $5.50, which will be reduced to $4.40 for institutions, groups, parishes and other organisms connected with the Catholic Church. The price of the cheaper edition is not according to economic criteria but, rather, was suggested by the Steering Committee as a condition for maximum distribution. Mondadori expects to sell 100,000 copies of the hardback in Italy, and 600,000 of the cheaper edition. The books will be available in bookstores beginning in September. In the autumn, editions in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Polish, Chinese and Japanese will also be available.




John Paul II Welcomes Prime Minister of Macedonia




    The traditional audience John Paul II granted a Macedonian delegation which had arrived in Rome for the feast of Ss.Cyril and Methodius (according to the Julian calendar), gave the Pontiff the opportunity to renew his call for an end to hostilities in Yugoslavia. The Macedonian delegation was headed by the prime minister; there were a number of personalities in his entourage, all of whom came to the Eternal City to venerate the relics of one of the saintly brothers, apostles to the Slavs, which are kept in the Roman basilica of Saint Clement.

    In his words to the delegation, the Holy Father referred to "the terrible crisis which day after day is bringing untold suffering, death and destruction to the Balkans, leaving hundreds of thousands of human beings mourning the loss of their family members, their property and their basic human rights." Over the past three weeks, the Albanians from Kosovo who have crossed the border are equal to 10% of the Macedonian population. When greeting the prime minister, the Pope referred to the grave humanitarian emergency his country is undergoing and praised the commitment of Macedonians to this humanitarian drama in spite of the terrible difficulties.

    The Macedonian ambassador to the Holy See said that his country does not have the means to cope with the massive health problems, schooling and food supply, and stressed that Macedonia is not receiving the necessary help from the international community. In reply, the Holy Father said: "In expressing to you and your fellow citizens my own and the Church's appreciation of all that you are doing, I again appeal with all my heart to those responsible to bring an end to the violence and to engage in an open and sincere dialogue aimed at creating a just and lasting basis for agreement and peace."

    By way of conclusion, the Holy Father said: "My earnest prayer is that through the intercession of the two holy Brothers the entire region will rediscover the brotherly communion of all its peoples, so that when the present violence and distrust have been overcome it may be for the rest of Europe and the world a clear example of just and peaceful coexistence in mutual respect and liberty."




Offers Saint Thérèse of Lisieux as Best Example




    As Bishop of Rome, John Paul II left the Vatican this morning to visit the parish of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. On the first day of spring, characterized in Rome by clear skies and brisk temperatures, his words were directed especially to the young who live in the neighborhood, which also includes a high percentage of elderly.

    He took as his example this French girl who died at only 24, after consecrating her brief existence to the Lord. In 1997, her wisdom won her the title Doctor of the Church, conferred by the Pope. "Saint Thérèse reminds us of the enthusiasm and generosity of youth. Her constant trust in the loving mercy of God made her youth joyful and luminous."

    This was, in fact, the advice the Pontiff wished to give the boys and girls who were listening to him. "I hope you will reach the simplicity of heart and the sanctity of 'young' Thérèse to be able to understand her confidence in Providence." John Paul II gave Saint Thérèse as an example to all the youth who will come to Rome on pilgrimage in the year 2000, as the saint did in 1887. "In fact, among her relics in this church is the veil she wore at the pontifical audience with Pope Leo XIII when she asked for, and was granted, permission to enter the Carmel when she was only fifteen years old."

    Thérèse was very "enthusiastic to discover Rome, 'sanctuary city' which gathers innumerable testimonies of sanctity and love of Christ. Thérèse knew how to express and synthesize in her mystical experience the very heart of the message of the next Jubilee: the announcement of God the Father's mercy and the invitation to have total confidence in Him."

    The Pope's meeting with this parish began at 8:50 a.m.; it was marked by a spirit of trust. He was received by children who, in this neighborhood of very expensive homes, are not numerous. In the parish, there is a total of about thirty. He was welcomed by Agnese, a happy eight-year old Roman who made the Pope smile when she said he was "'simpatico' (friendly), strong and courageous like Jesus." The Pope reminded his listeners that it was the beginning of spring, but he clarified later that for him spring occurs every time he is with children, "because they are the spring of society, the country, the Church, and the parish."

    In this spirit, he interpreted the Sunday liturgy, with two weeks left until Easter, the "spring of life." "In a society, where there are signs of death, and where there is a great need for hope in life, Christians have the mission to proclaim Christ, man's 'resurrection and life.' Faced with the symptoms of an overwhelming 'culture of death,' Jesus' great revelation must resonate throughout the world: 'I am the resurrection and the life.' " The parish of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus was the 284th visited by John Paul II in his twenty years as Bishop of Rome.




John Paul II Will Relive Traditional Imposition of Ashes




    Tomorrow John Paul II will preside over the Ash Wednesday ceremony, in the first prayer meeting which will be repeated every day in Rome during Lent. It will begin a period of reliving all the moving stages of this intense liturgical moment using traditional forms of prayer and penance. The daily meetings will take place in different churches of the Eternal City where martyrs' relics are preserved. The first will be held at the Basilica of Saint Sabina, in the heart of the Aventine, with a liturgical celebration in which the Pope will participate.

    John Paul II will preside over the liturgy of the word and he will give the homily. After the final blessing, he will impose the ashes. As in previous years, the Mass itself will be celebrated by Slovak Cardinal Jozef Tomko, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Titular of the Church of Saint Sabina.


The Ashes 


    Since the 4th century, the Church prepares for Easter by forty days of austerity, similar to Christ's, Elias' and Moses' forty days in the desert. The imposition of ashes is a custom practiced in the Church since its beginning. In Jewish tradition, sprinkling the head with ashes was a sign of repentance and of desire for conversion. Ashes are a symbol of man's frailty and the brevity of life. In the early days of Christianity, ashes were imposed especially on public sinners. Since the 8th century, ashes have been imposed on all the faithful on Ash Wednesday. Then, as now, these ashes are obtained from burnt palms, blessed on the last Palm Sunday. The ashes are placed on the forehead, in the form of a cross, while these words from the first book of the Bible are repeated: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return," or from Saint Mark's Gospel: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

Lent: "a singular time of charity"


    In his message for Lent John Paul II describes this period as a "time of singular charity, which is expressed in corporal and spiritual works of mercy." The Pontiff refers "above all to those excluded from the daily banquet of consumption." "There are many 'Lazaruses' knocking at the doors of society; they are all those who do not have a share in the material advantages resulting from progress. There are situations of permanent misery which must shake the Christian's conscience and call his attention to the urgent need to face these, both on a personal as well as a community level." The Pope's appeal goes even further. "Not only does each person have the opportunity to show compassion by inviting the poor to share in his wellbeing, but international institutions, national governments and centers controlling the world economy must also be responsible for articulating audacious projects for a more just distribution of the earth's goods, both in the realm of individual countries as well as in that of relations among peoples."




From Celebration of Spring to the Marketplace




    Last year, on the feast of Saint Valentine, "Sweethearts' Day," Italians spent half a million dollars on flowers alone. According to the Consumers' Union, the business of the heart, not including flowers or plants, is worth more than $1 billion, spent on chocolates, jewelry, valuable gifts and other things. The market has migrated to Internet as well. In the United States, the Saint Valentine's market on the Net alone went beyond $311 million in 1998, and this year it reached $563 million. But, what is really celebrated on February 14? In Medieval England and France, popular belief associated Saint Valentine's, in the middle of the shortest month of the year, with the arrival of spring, manifested in the early arrival of birds. In these two countries, the first flowers begin to bloom, announcing the most romantic season of the year, when all of nature seems to awaken to new life.

    This is the reason why the day was dedicated to lovers, to couples engaged to be married. It was the time to send love letters and gifts to the beloved. French and English literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries makes reference to this custom. Countries of Anglo-Saxon heritage, such as the U.S., celebrate it as a cultural tradition, whereas in the Latin countries, it is celebrated simply by way of imitation or because of the influence of the media and advertising. But virtually no one knows who Saint Valentine really was. In fact, the coincidence of the saint's feast in the middle of February, led to the feast's "christening," to its being given Christian meaning. But there is nothing to make one relate the Christian saint with spring love. In fact, there is not just one Saint Valentine, but three. All were martyrs. Two of them, who are mentioned in the Acts of the Martyrs, died in the persecutions against the first Christians, in the second half of the 3rd century, and they are buried in two different places on the via Flaminia in Rome. It is believed that one of them was a priest and the other a bishop, born in Interamna, the present city of Terni, where there is a basilica named after him. The Flaminia Gate of Rome, at present known as the People's Gate, at one time was called Saint Valentine's Gate. The name seems to have been taken from a small church in the vicinity. Of these two Saints Valentine, there is some documentation, but of little historical value. Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered martyrdom in Africa along with a good many companions, not much is known either. Several places in Europe -- a parish in Madrid, a Carmelite convent in Dublin, and a Benedictine convent in Glasgow,Scotland -- all claim to have relics of a martyr called Valentine.




Community of Religious to Be Beatified by Holy Father




    "All the faithful are aware and feel happy. Our diocesan weekly, 'Word of Life,' has published several articles and information on the religious. The secular press has also highlighted the event," Fr. Yaroslaw Hrynaszkiewicz, director of the Grodno diocesan weekly newspaper, said to the Vatican agency "Fides." Fr. Hrynaszkiewicz was commenting on the local community's preparations for the beatification of Maria Stella Adelaide Mardosiewicz and her 10 companions, Polish nuns martyred in Nowogrodek.

    Fr. Hrynaszkiewicz, together with Bishop Aleksander Kaszkiewicz of Grodno and his Auxiliary Bishop Antoni Dziemianko are accompanying a procession of over 150 Belorusians who will attend the nuns' beatification ceremony in St. Peter's on Sunday, March 5. Bishop Kaszkiewicz wrote a message to the diocesan community for the occasion, which was read in all the parishes, in which he said: "The beatification of the 11 religious of the Institute of the Holy Family of Nazareth is, for the reborn Church in Belarus, a providential event that strengthens the faith... The martyrs will be a model of a life of sacrifice and intrepid Christian edification. They will be patrons of Christian teaching, models of the work of reconciliation among the divided and fraternal Churches of the world."

    During the years of the Second World War, the religious of the Congregation of the Sacred Family of Nazareth of Nowogrodek, on the eastern border of Poland (today's Belorus), first lived through the Soviet and then the Nazi occupation. On August 1, 1943, the Nazis shot Sister Maria Stella Adelaide Mardosiewicz and 10 companions. Only Sister Maria Malgorzata Banas escaped. She looked after the mortal remains of her companions in the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord in Nowogrodek, where their relics are at present. The religious arrived in this locality in 1929, at the invitation of the Bishop, to look after the Church of the Transfiguration, known as the White Church, and dedicate themselves to the education of children. They were deeply involved with the local multiethnic community, helping families especially during the war. With the German occupation came the extermination of Jews and massive arrests of Poles. On July 18, 1943, 120 people were arrested and were going to be shot. The nuns offered their lives instead of those arrested, who were fathers of families, thus demonstrating their fidelity to the charism of their founder, who established the Congregation to serve the family.




Pope Bids Farewell to Egypt and Calls for Dialogue Among Believers




    Yesterday, John Paul II ended his trip to Egypt with a call to rediscover the force of the Ten Command- ments,  "the Law of life and freedom," which he gave at St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai. This was the second stage of John Paul II's longed for pilgrimage to the places of Revelation. The first was his "spiritual" journey to Iraq, held in the Vatican last Wednesday. Although brief, John Paul II's pilgrimage in Moses' footsteps was intense, experiencing, as he did, decisive moments to give impetus to the dialogue among believers of different religions and Christians of different confessions. The Pontiff went so far as to request an acceleration of the search for this objective.


Pilgrim in God's Footsteps


    John Paul II was able to touch the reddish stones that characterize this critical but rough place, a desert of granite mountains. As a "pilgrim in the footsteps of God," he went yesterday morning to the foot of the sacred mountain (known today as "Djebel Mousa," Moses' Mountain), to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine, a fortress of 40-foot thick walls towering to 5,000 feet in height. The Holy Father explained the meaning of his pilgrimage from the shade of a flowering almond tree during a celebration outside the Monastery, where he addressed some 500 Egyptian Catholics, including numerous members of the Neo-Catechumenal Way. "The Bishop of Rome is a pilgrim to Mount Sinai, drawn by this holy mountain that rises like a soaring monument to what God revealed here. Here he revealed his name! Here he gave his Law, the Ten Command-  ments of the Covenant!"

    A few years ago, John Paul II dreamt of participating in this place in a significant meeting among believers of the monotheist religions: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. This was not possible. Furthermore, the community of Greek monks of the Monastery was initially opposed to the papal visit. However, in this open air sanctuary, consecrated to faith in the one God, the Holy Father did not give up on the idea of re-proposing dialogue, when speaking of the "wind that still blows from Sinai today; a wind that "carries an insistent invitation to dialogue between the followers of the great monotheistic religions in their service of the human family. It suggests that in God we can find the point of our encounter. 


The Liberating Force of the Ten Commandments


    The "pilgrim in the footsteps of God," went to Sinai to contemplate the secret of human liberty. According to John Paul II, the tables of the Law given to Moses "are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but, before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. Today, as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as always, they are the only future of the human family. They save man from the destructive force of egoism, hatred, and falsehood. They point out all the false gods that draw him into slavery: the love of self to the exclusion of God, the greed for power and pleasure that overturns the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbor."

    The Holy Father experienced the greatest emotion when visiting the Church of the Transfiguration of the most ancient Christian monastery in the world, erected by Justinian in 527, in the place that preserves the roots of the "burning bush" that God used to speak to Moses and reveal his name: "I am Who am." The pilgrim Pope removed his shoes, as God ordered his prophet, knelt down and kissed this holy ground. He also kissed the relics of St. Catherine of Alexandria, martyred in 307, to whom the Monastery is dedicated. Here he carried out an ancient ritual, placing his ring on the finger of the skeleton, touching the ring to the skull, and putting it back on. He also venerated Christ Pantocrator, the most ancient icon of the Redeemer (6th century), whose face was copied from the Myron, a lost image of Christ's face on a cloth, which many believe to be today's Shroud of Turin, which at the time was in the Greek city of Odessa.

    After these moments of intense spiritual experience, the Pope visited the Monastery's library, housing 6,000 works, including 3,500 manuscripts, outstanding among which is the "Codex Syriacus," the Syrian text of the Gospels that dates from the 4th century, and fragments of the "Codex Sinaiticus" (the rest of whose passages are in the British Museum). The visit was guided by Archbishop and Abbot Damianos. This community of 23 monks, which initially had opposed the papal visit because of the anti-Catholic feelings common among Greek Orthodox, in the end were affectionate hosts. Outside the Monastery, the Abbot addressed a long welcome to the Pope. However, neither he nor his monks prayed with their guests."There is still no full ecclesial communion, that is why we cannot pray together," he explained to reporters.

    At the very moment the muezzin (Muslim prayer caller) was calling for evening prayer, John Paul II was leaving Cairo, the city of a thousand minarets, where he arrived after his visit in the Sinai Peninsula. The farewell ceremony at the airport was simple. Normally Egyptian protocol makes no provision for the President's attendance, but Hosni Mubarak wanted to say good-bye to the Holy Father personally. Also at the airport was the Grand Imam Mohammed Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar University, alongside the Egyptian head of government, and the entire Catholic hierarchy.





Will Promote Dialogue Between Orthodox and Muslims in Egypt




    The Pope's trip to Egypt from February 24-26 will be brief but intense. This will the first visit of a Roman Pontiff to this country. There, he will be greeted by high government officials and Islamic leaders, as well as leaders of the different Christian Churches. The Holy Father's primary objective is to fulfill his long awaited dream of going on pilgrimage to the places of Revelation, which he will began "spiritually" today and will continue later in the week when he goes to Mount Sinai, where Moses heard God's voice, where he saw the burning bush, and where the Creator revealed his name: "I am who am." The memory of these events has been carefully preserved at St. Katharine's Monastery in Sinai, attested by 16 centuries of pilgrimages, represented by a fortress of prayer and stone erected at Mount Sinai's base in 330.

    John Paul II will arrive at St. Katharine's on Saturday, February 26, on the last stage of his journey to Egypt. At present there are 25 monks living in the Monastery, which is open to visitors for 2 hours every day. One of the places of recollection, not readily accessible to the public, is the Basilica of the Transfiguration. The mosaic of the apse is hidden by a veritable forest of lamps suspended from the ceiling. The walls are covered with icons, some lost in the distance and thus failing to be appreciated. But a bit of patience will enable the visitor to capture the spirit of this singular Church. Built in the 6th century, it features a chapel dedicated to the burning bush, fulfilling one of St. Helen's dreams in 330, on a site ideally suited for a monastic community. The monks' decision to welcome the Pope has stirred some controversy in the Greek Orthodox Church to which they belong. But they are able to go ahead with their plans, thanks to the historic autonomy this Sinai community enjoys. Thus, this will be the Holy Father's first meeting with the ancient Greek Church.

    The Pontiff will be received by Bishop Damianos, Superior of the Monastery. He will be taken to see the well from which Jethro's daughters drew water. In that place Moses defended them, and was rewarded by receiving one of them as his wife. The liturgy of the Word will take place in a grove called the "Garden of Olives." According to tradition, the burning bush was here, which told Moses to take off his sandals. The relics of the martyr Katharine are also kept here. She was a woman from Alexandria tortured for her faith at the beginning of the 4th century, at the time of emperor Maxentius. John Paul II will pray in St. Katharine's Monastery, and will later make a brief visit to the Monastery's famous library, considered the third best collection of ancient manuscripts, after the Vatican and the Escorial in Spain. This will be followed by an open air prayer service presided by the Pontiff. Hundreds of youths will arrive from Cairo in buses and gather in the Garden of Olives in front of the Monastery for the service.

    The Holy Father's pilgrimage to Egypt will begin on February 24. He will arrive in Cairo at 2 p.m., and be greeted at the international airport by president Hosni Mubarak and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Stephanos II Ghattas. At 6 p.m. he will arrive n the heart of Cairo, at Amba Roueiss, the residence of Shenouda III, the highest authority of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, known as the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Preaching of St. Mark. He will visit the mortal remains of St.Mark, first Bishop of Alexandria. Formerly, the Evangelist's remains were conserved in Venice, Italy, but they were given to the Coptic Orthodox Church by Pope Paul VI. Immediately afterwards, John Paul II will visit Imam Sayed Tantawi of Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority of the Islamic world. The visit will take place in the Imam's new headquarters, near the University mosque of Al Azhar, in front of the City of the Dead.

    After the marathon of meetings, the Pope will retire to the Apostolic Nunciature, in the residential zone of Zamelek, on the Island of Guezira. The Holy Father's second day in Egypt will begin in the early morning with a Mass for the Catholic community in Cairo's indoor stadium. The Mass, which originally was to be celebrated in the Coptic Catholic Cathedral, was moved to the stadium because the Cathedral only has room for 2,000 persons. The stadium has a capacity for 20,000, but for security reasons, only 15,000 will be able to attend. The Pope will later dine in the Nunciature with Egyptian Patriarchs and Bishops. At 5:30 p.m. an ecumenical meeting will be held in the Coptic Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame of Egypt, inaugurated last Christmas. Among others, the celebration will include leaders of all the Christian denominations in the country. Given the restricted number of places in the Church, many Christians will have to remain outside, but it is hoped that Egyptian television, which generally ignores Christian events, will broadcast this historic event live. Following the Pope's visit to St. Kath- arine's Monastery, his principal engagement on February 26, he will return to Cairo to board his plane at 6 p.m. to return to Rome.







The Skull of Saint John the Baptist

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. II

Chapter XXI.-Discovery of the Honored Head of the Forerunner of Our Lord, and the Events About It.

About this time the head of John the Baptist, which Herodias had asked of Herod the tetrarch, was removed to Constantinople. It is said that it was discovered by some monks of the Macedonian heresy, who originally dwelt at Constantinople, and afterwards fixed their abode in Cilicia. Mardonius, the first eunuch of the palace, made known this discovery at court, during the preceding reign; and Valens commanded that the relic should be removed to Constantinople.

The officers appointed to carry it thither, placed it in a public chariot, and proceeded with it as far as Pantichium, a district in the territory of Chalcedon. Here the mules of the chariot suddenly stopped; and neither the application of the lash, nor the threats of the hostlers, could induce them to advance further. So extra- ordinary an event was considered by all, and even by the emperor himself, to be of God; and the holy head was therefore deposited at Cosilaos, a village in the neighborhood, which belonged to Mardonius. Soon after, the Emperor Theodosius, impelled by an impulse from God, or from the prophet, repaired to the village.

He determined upon removing the remains of the Baptist, and it is said met with no opposition, except from a holy virgin, Matrona, who had been the servant and guardian of the relic. He laid aside all authority and force, and after many entreaties, extorted a reluctant consent from her to remove the head; for she bore in mind what had occurred at the period when Valens commanded its removal. The emperor placed it, with the box in which it was encased, in his purple robe, and conveyed it to a place called Hebdomos, in the suburbs of Constantinople, where he erected a spacious and magnificent temple.

The woman who had been appointed to the charge of the relic could not be persuaded by the emperor to renounce her religious sentiments, although he had recourse to entreaty and promises; for she was, it appears, of the Macedonian heresy. A presbyter of the same tendency, named Vincent, who also took charge of the coffin of the prophet, and performed the sacerdotal functions over it, followed the religious opinions of the emperor, and entered into communion with the Catholic Church. He had taken an oath, as the Macedonians affirm, never to swerve from their doctrines; but he afterwards openly declared that, if the Baptist would follow the emperor, he also would enter into communion with him and be separated. He was a Persian, and had left his country in company with a relative named Addas, during the reign of Constantius, in order to avoid the persecution which the Christians were then suffering in Persia.

On his arrival in the Roman territories, he was placed in the ranks of the clergy, and advanced to the office of presbyter. Addas married and rendered great service to the Church. He left a son named Auxentius, who was noted for his very faithful piety, his zeal for his friends, the moderation of his life, his love of letters, and the greatness of his attainments in pagan and ecclesiastical literature. He was modest and retiring in deportment, although admitted to familiarity with the emperor and the courtiers, and possessed of a very illustrious appointment.

His memory is still revered by the monks and zealous men, who were all acquainted with him. The woman who had been entrusted with the relic remained during the rest of her life at Cosilaos. She was greatly distinguished by her piety and wisdom, and instructed many holy virgins; and I have been assured that many still survive who reflect the honorable character which was the result of training under Matrona.



The Discovery of the True Cross of DNJC

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. II

Chapter I.-The Discovery of the Life-Bringing Cross and of the Holy Nails.

When the business at Nicaea had been transacted as above related, the priests returned home. The emperor rejoiced exceedingly at the restoration of unity of opinion in the Catholic Church, and desirous of expressing in behalf of himself, his children, and the empire, the gratitude towards God which the unanimity of the bishops inspired, he directed that a house of prayer should be erected to God at Jerusalem near the place called Calvary.

At the same time his mother Helena repaired to the city for the purpose of offering up prayer, and of visiting the sacred places. Her zeal for Christianity made her anxious to find the wood which had formed the adorable cross. But it was no easy matter to discover either this relic or the Lord's sepulchre; for the Pagans, who in former times had persecuted the Church, and who, at the first promulgation of Christianity, had had recourse to every artifice to exterminate it, had concealed that spot under much heaped up earth, and elevated what before was quite depressed, as it looks now, and the more effectually to conceal them, had enclosed the entire place of the resurrection and Mount Calvary within a wall, and had, moreover, ornamented the whole locality, and paved it with stone. They also erected a temple to Aphrodite, and set up a little image, so that those who repaired thither to worship Christ would appear to bow the knee to Aphrodite, and that thus the true cause of offering worship in that place would, in course of time, be forgotten; and that as Christians would not dare fearlessly to frequent the place or to point it out to others, the temple and statue would come to be regarded as exclusively appertaining to the Pagans.

At length, however, the place was discovered, and the fraud about it so zealously maintained was detected; some say that the facts were first disclosed by a Hebrew who dwelt in the East, and who derived his information from some documents which had come to him by paternal inheritance; but it seems more accordant with truth to suppose that God revealed the fact by means of signs and dreams; for I do not think that human information is requisite when God thinks it best to make manifest the same. When by command of the emperor the place was excavated deeply, the cave whence our Lord arose from the dead was discovered; and at no great distance, three crosses were found and another separate piece of wood, on which were inscribed in white letters in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin, the following words: "Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews." These words, as the sacred book of the gospels relates, were placed by command of Pilate, governor of Judaea, over the head of Christ.

There yet, however, remained a difficulty in distinguishing the Divine cross from the others; for the inscription had been wrenched from it and thrown aside, and the cross itself had been cast aside with the others, without any distinction, when the bodies of the crucified were taken down. For according to history, the soldiers found Jesus dead upon the cross, and they took him down, and gave him up to be buried; while, in order to accelerate the death of the two thieves, who were crucified on either hand, they broke their legs, and then took down the crosses, and flung them out of the way. It was no concern of theirs to deposit the crosses in their first order; for it was growing late, and as the men were dead, they did not think it worth while to remain to attend to the crosses.

A more Divine information than could be furnished by man was therefore necessary in order to distinguish the Divine cross from the others, and this revelation was given in the following manner: There was a certain lady of rank in Jerusalem who was afflicted with a most grievous and incurable disease; Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, accompanied by the mother of the emperor and her attendants, repaired to her bedside. After engaging in prayer, Macarius signified by signs to the spectators that the Divine cross would be the one which, on being brought in contact with the invalid, should remove the disease. He approached her in turn with each of the crosses; but when two of the crosses were laid on her, it seemed but folly and mockery to her for she was at the gates of death. When, however, the third cross was in like manner brought to her, she suddenly opened her eyes, regained her strength, and immediately sprang from her bed, well. It is said that a dead person was, in the same way, restored to life.

The venerated wool having been thus identified, the greater portion of it was deposited in a silver case, in which it is still preserved in Jerusalem: but the empress sent part of it to her son Constantine, together with the nails by which the body of Christ had been fastened. Of these, it is related, the emperor had a head-piece and bit made for his horse, according to the prophecy of Zechariah, who referred to this period when he said, "that which shall be upon the bit of the horse shall be holy to the Lord Almighty." These things, indeed, were formerly known to the sacred prophets, and predicted by them, and at length, when it seemed to God that they should be manifested, were confirmed by wonderful works. Nor does this appear so marvelous when it is remembered that, even among the Pagans, it was confessed that the Sibyl had predicted that thus it should be,-`"Oh most blessed tree, on which our Lord was hung."'

Our most zealous adversaries cannot deny the truth of this fact, and it is hence evident that a pre-manifestation was made of the wood of the cross, and of the adoration (sebaj) it received. The above incidents we have related precisely as they were delivered to us by men of great accuracy, by whom the information was derived by succession from father to son; and others have recorded the same events in writing for the benefit of posterity.

 Christians of the East and the West united in the veneration of martyrs

From the very early times, Christians of the East, like those of the West, realised the importance of witness given in suffering violent death for love of Christ by their brothers and sisters apparently silenced by their persecutors, but in actual fact victorious, mysteriously sustained by the Holy Spirit and therefore examples along our earthly journey illuminated by eschatological hope. They sought to collect the bodies or remains to give them a worthy burial and to commemorate them in that place, especially on the day of birth, no longer calculated by the earthly birth, but by their entry into heaven through martyrdom. As soon as the peace of Constantine permitted, houses of worship and even basilicas were built over the venerated tombs, which became places of pilgrimage. The diffusion of detailed information on the last days of the martyrs, and also the distribution of small relics, spread their veneration even to distant lands. This is an indication of the fundamental unity of the Church of Christ in the first millennium, despite the diversity of some liturgical and social traditions. And let us hope that the martyrs, old and new, will help Christians to re-establish unity among themselves. 

Devotion to the martyrs must be preserved

Already for some of the preceding affirmations we have gone beyond the period prior to the Constantinian peace. It will not be surprising to see that the tombs of the martyrs are adorned with decoration which distinguishes them from those of the other dead, the customary use of lamps near the tombs doubled on the day of the anniversary and the inscriptions on the tombs replaced with other more commendatory ones. Among inscriptions of this kind, most famous are those of Pope Damasus for their artistic value and for the testimony of living historical memory which they hand down and orientate. Over some of the tombs basilicas are built, to serve as places of prayer and memorial, permitting the anniversary celebrations to assume a solemn character. The tombs of the martyrs become places of pilgrimage (Cf Paolinus Nolanus, Carmen 26 vv. 387-388; Prudentius, Peristephan. Hymn XI, vv. 195-210).

An ulterior development of devotion to the martyrs in the Roman liturgy will take place when this is extended to "cenotaphs" or votive tombs not containing the martyr's body or to "relics", either objects held in contact with the bodies or the tombs of the martyrs, or actual parts of the mortal remains. The mentality arising from the Roman law offered considerable initial resistance against dismemberment and even only the transfer of the martyrs' remains. Although discovery and transfer of the relics of the saints are noted by the end of the IV century in Rome, nevertheless, the general phenomena is later (Cf St Gregory the Great in a negative answer to the Empress Constantina). But since many graves of the martyrs were outside the city, it was not long, in Rome and elsewhere, before Christians began in the 7th century to transfer the bodies of the martyrs within the city to save them from neglect and possible looting. This was accentuated after the first invasions of the Longobards and the Saracens.

Although starting from the 4th century, not all the spreading of devotion to relics, the construction of "memoriae", the custom of celebrating anniversaries was immune from falsification and abuse which the bishops reproved and corrected (Cf for the relics and also for wrestling at fraternal agapes, the works of Saint Augustine), the fervour of initiatives testifies clearly a great desire on the part of the Christians to render honour to the martyrs. In the time of Saint Augustine, next to the "Martyria" or "Memoryae" of the local martyrs of Christian Africa, "Martyria" or "Memoriae" for "reliquiae" from other Churches were built. These "martyria" also became places of veneration richly decorated and widely frequented. What we know of Africa, from the writings of Augustine, also took place, although in different forms, in almost all the Churches in Italy, Spain and Gaul.

By the end of the 4th century, the Roman calendar was almost complete. Later, the different local Churches will share their calendars and this leads to ulterior extension. Not long after, the various calendars were combined to compile "martyrologies", lists of names and brief details of a certain number of martyrs belonging to different local Churches, whose anniversary occurred on the same day. Standing out among these is that of Saint Jerome, which is at the basis of all those which followed and were diffused in the ambit of the Roman liturgy, used in the Divine Office, as well as in private reading.

Comparing the Philo calendar, St Jerome's Martyrology and the calendars of the Church of Rome of the 11th century, we see that the first records only the martyrs of Rome, indicating the place where the anniversary was celebrated, and this is true generally also of St Jerome's Martyrology. Documentation on the devotion to martyrs in Rome, as it appears in Roman calendars and early Capitulars, from the late Middle Ages to the 13th century, continues to testify that in Rome only authentic Roman feasts were admitted and that normally every Church celebrated the feasts of its own martyrs. In the time of Pope Adrian I, the indication of the place began to be omitted, also because most of the celebrations took place in the Vatican Basilica. But the Ordo Romanus of Canon Benedict of the 12th century informs us that the Pope still went regularly to the "stationes" on the relative "martyria" and this is why their memory has come down to us.

In the 4th and still in the 5-6th centuries, the celebration of anniversaries at the tombs of the martyrs was diffused and the faithful organized "vigiliae", called also "pannuchis" because they passed the night in prayer. There was a growing custom, which at times was even authorised, (Cf Council of Hippo 393, c 5; Council Carthage 397 c. 36b) to listen to hagiographic readings relative to the martyr and his or her martyrdom. From these readings will then be born a hagiographic literature, that of the "Passiones" which was to serve as a basis for liturgical celebration, but, straying into the field of imagination, of legend, at times this distorted the meaning and focused on the amazing, the incredible, rather than historical truth.

In these celebrations, and outside them, the invocation of the martyrs spreads throughout the Churches. Saint Ambrose will exhort his people to address their prayers to the martyrs that they may intercede for the forgiveness of sins. Saint Augustine reveals to us that although the invocation of the martyrs was a consolidated fact in the Christian communities of the 4th century, the liturgical expression of devotion to them was still very discreet.

Very early on the memory of martyrs became part of the great Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman liturgy and the Roman Canon bears witness to this tradition. The bond between the blood of the martyrs and the Eucharist is seen also from traditions regarding the altar which, from the early times, was to contain relics of martyrs carried in solemn procession for the consecration-dedication of a new church. However the custom later became hidden, with the use of portable altars and holy stones to be inserted into altars, and was extended also to the relics of other saints, considered martyrs in spirit, although they did not have, as with Saint Martin, occasion of martyrdom.

The earliest eulogistic texts used in the memories of martyrs that we have today, date to the Verona Sacramentary which contains formulas of Mass for the celebration of the "dies natalis" of true martyrs. In the early sacramentaries each martyr is celebrated with a proper formula. With the sacramentaries called Gelasian of the 8th century we begin to find Commons for martyrs, as well as Commons for other categories of saints. These Commons of martyrs develop further until they are fixed as found in the Saint Pius V reform, and in their later revision.  



 The ceremonial closing of the door.


- The Pope processes into the Basilica through the Holy Door and presides at Vespers in the Basilica.

- He then sends the Cardinal Legates charged with closing the Doors of the other Basilicas.

- A procession follows, first to the relics and then to the Holy Door, accompanied by the singing of appropriate hymns.

- The relics of the Veronica and the Lance are publicly shown and venerated.

- The Pope is the last to leave by the Holy Door.

- He then blesses the stones and the bricks.

- With the trowel he applies cement to the threshold of the Holy Door and sets in place three bricks and a few gold and silver coins.

- Other bricks are added and then the masons, outside and inside the Basilica, finish the work of closing the Door while the choir chants the hymn Caelestis Urbs Ierusalem.

- The Pope says the prayer Deus qui in omni loco and ascends to the Loggia of the Basilica where he solemnly imparts the Apostolic Blessing.



Homily at the Liturgy Commemorating the Millennium of the Martyrdom of St. Adalbert (3 June 1997); L'Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 11 June 1997, pp. 1, 4.

1. Veni, Creator Spiritus! Today we are at the tomb of St Adalbert in Gniezno. We are thus at the centre of the Millennium of Adalbert. A month ago I began this journey in honour of St Adalbert in Prague and in Libice, in the Diocese of Hradec Králové, whence he came. And today we are in Gniezno, at the place it can be said where he ended his earthly pilgrimage. I give thanks to the Triune God that at the end of this Millennium I have been granted the opportunity to pray once again before the relics of St Adalbert, which are one of our greatest national treasures.

We are here to follow the spiritual journey of St Adalbert, which in a sense begins in the Upper Room. Today's liturgy leads us precisely to the Upper Room, to which the Apostles returned from the Mount of Olives after Christ's Ascension into heaven. For 40 days after the Resurrection he appeared to them and spoke to them about the kingdom of heaven. He told them not to leave Jerusalem but to await the promise of the Father: "which, he said, "you heard from me. John baptized with water, but before many days ... you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth'" (Acts 1: 4, 8).

The Apostles thus receive the missionary mandate. By virtue of the words of the risen Lord they must go into all the world to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28: 14-20). But for now they return to the Upper Room and remain in prayer, awaiting the fulfilment of the promise. On the 10th day, the feast of Pentecost, Christ sent them the Holy Spirit, who transformed their hearts. They were made strong and ready to assume the missionary mandate. And so they began the work of evangelisation.

The Church continues this work. The successors of the Apostles continue to go forth into all the world to make disciples of all nations. Towards the end of the first millennium, there first set foot on Polish soil the sons of various nations which had already become Christian, especially the nations bordering Poland. Among them a central place belongs to St Adalbert, who came to Poland from neighbouring and closely-related Bohemia. He was at the origin, in a certain sense, of the Church's second beginning in the lands of the Piasts. The baptism of the nation in 966, at the time of Mieszko I, was confirmed by the blood of the martyr. And not only this: with him Poland became part of the family of European countries. Before the relics of St Adalbert, the Emperor Otto III and Boleslaw the Brave met in the presence of a legate of the Pope. This meeting was of great historical significance the Congress of Gniezno. Obviously it had political significance, but ecclesial significance as well. At the tomb of St Adalbert, the first Polish metropolitan see was announced by Pope Silvester II: Gniezno, to which the episcopal sees of Kraków, Wroclaw and Kolobrzeg were joined.

2. The seed which dies bears much fruit (cf. Jn 12: 24). These words of the Gospel of John, spoken one day by Christ to the Apostles, are singularly applicable to Adalbert. By his death, he bore the supreme witness. "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12: 25). St Adalbert also bore witness to the apostolic service. For Christ says: "If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honour him" (Jn 12: 26). Adalbert followed Christ. He made a long journey which took him from his native Libice to Prague, and from Prague to Rome. Then, after facing resistance from his fellow countrymen in Prague, he left as a missionary for the Pannonian Plain and from there, through the Moravian Gate to Gniezno and the Baltic. His mission in a sense was the crowning point of the evangelisation of the lands of the Piasts. And this was precisely because Adalbert bore witness to Christ by undergoing a martyr's death. Boleslaw the Brave ransomed the body of the martyr and had it brought here, to Gniezno.

In him the words of Christ were fulfilled. Above love of earthly life Adalbert had placed love of the Son of God. He followed Christ as a faithful and generous servant, bearing witness to him at the cost of his own life. And the Father honoured him indeed. The People of God surrounded him on earth with the veneration reserved to a saint, in the conviction that a martyr of Christ in heaven is surrounded with glory by the Father.

"The grain of wheat which dies, bears much fruit" (cf. Jn 12: 24). How literally were these words fulfilled in the life and death of St Adalbert! His death by martyrdom, mingled with the blood of other Polish martyrs, is at the foundation of the Polish Church and the Polish State itself in the lands of the Piasts. The shedding of the blood of Adalbert continues to bear ever fresh spiritual fruit. All Poland, from its origins as a State and throughout the centuries that followed, has continued to draw upon it. The Congress of Gniezno opened to Poland the path of unity with the whole family of the states of Europe. On the threshold of the second millennium the Polish nation acquired the right to take part, on a par with other nations, in the formation of a new face of Europe. St Adalbert is thus a great patron of our continent, then in the process of unification in the name of Christ. Both by his life and his death, the holy martyr laid the foundations of Europe's identity and unity. Many times have I walked in these historic footsteps, at the time of the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland, coming from Kraków to Gniezno with the relics of St Stanislaus, and I thank divine Providence that today I am able to make this journey once more.





 The millennium of Saint Adalbert

3. The millennium of St Adalbert, martyred in the year 997, was the second reason for my visit. He came from Bohemia and belonged to the princely Slavník family. Born in Libice in the territory of the present day Diocese of Hradec Králové, he became Bishop of Prague at a young age. At the end of last April, we solemnly celebrated Adalbert's millennium in the Czech Republic, with the participation of many Bishops from countries linked with this saint's life and work. St Adalbert came to Poland towards the end of his life, invited by King Boleslaw the Brave. He accepted the invitation to evangelize the pagan peoples who lived in the regions of the Baltic Sea. There he met his death, and after martyrdom his body was ransomed by King Boleslaw the Brave and taken to Gniezno which then became the centre of devotion to St Adalbert. An important meeting, not only religious but also political, took place near the relics of the holy martyr in the year 1000. Emperor Otto III and the Papal Legate both went to Gniezno for the occasion. Their meeting with King Boleslaw the Brave is known as the Gniezno Meeting, and it was precisely then, in Gniezno, that the first metropolitan see was established in what was then Poland. From the political standpoint, the Gniezno Meeting was an important event because it marked Poland's entry, under the Piasts, into a united Europe. At the recent commemoration of the millennium of St Adalbert's death, we were once again linked with that historic event and with its particular importance for our continent. The Presidents of the countries connected with the tradition of St Adalbert came to Gniezno to remember him: from the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary. Once again I thank the Lord and all those who worked hard to arrange this important event.



J. Francis Stafford President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity

3) Models of faith.

The life and spirituality of St Theresa of Lisieux attracted many pilgrims. The applause that greeted her proclamation as Doctor of the Church emphasized the unanimous participation in the event. The relics of St Theresa are venerated in the Church of Notre-Dame des Victoires. Many pilgrims flocked there, gathering closely around the reliquary, they touched it and listened with devotion to Theresa's poems put to music.

The procession with the reliquary and the Crown of Thorns, which recalled the devotion of St Louis IX, was also an important moment in this day. The beatification of Frédéric Ozanam was followed with interest by the young people. His death, at a relatively young age, made it easier for them to identify with his holy life and his ministry.




 111. The saints have been traditionally honored in the Church and their authentic relics and images held in veneration. For the feasts of the saints proclaim the wonderful works of Christ in His servants, and display to the faithful fitting examples for their imitation.


The Altar

The Holy Sacrifice as an Offering in Honor of the Saints.

    The Mass is also offered up in honor of the Saints, as is shown in the Sanctoral Cycle. This implies an open recognition of the fact that it is to the Holy Eucharist as a Sacrifice and as a Sacrament that the Saints owe the graces granted to them in such abundance by God; indeed, we honor the Saints by thus glorifying the work of the Almighty in them. It is also an act of homage paid to them when we unite them with our Lord in remem- brance at the Altar, as is done on the anniversary of their death and from day to day in the Canon of the Mass. As members of the mystical body of Christ it is only right that they should be associated with the sacrifice of their Head, as by their sufferings and frequently by their death they have mingled their blood together with that of the Divine Victim. Here we find the explanation of the practice of the Church of letting in relics of Saints, and especially of Martyrs, in the altar-stone at the very spot where the Sacred Host is to be placed. "It is the whole redeemed city," says St. Augustine "that is to say the congregation and company of the Saints, that is the universal sacrifice, and that is offered to, God by the High Priest Who offered up Himself for us in His passion."

The Mass   

     We can pay no greater honor to the Saints than by offering to God in their name the Blood of Jesus as an act of adoration of the Supreme Being and by way of thanksgiving to Him, through Christ, for the many blessings He poured upon them. The Saints, eager as they are to glorify the Most Holy Trinity, are grateful to us for doing so to their intention, as it adds to their happiness. The efficacy of their past merits and present prayers is greatly increased when offered to God in close association with the merits and prayers of Jesus, the Universal Mediator. And this is what takes place especially on their feast days, when Mass is celebrated in their honor. "Inasmuch as so many are pleading for us", the Collect for the Feast of All Saints asks God "to confer upon us, through Jesus Christ, the fullness of His mercy for which we long." Also God is more ready to accept the offering of the Blood of Jesus when made, so to speak, through the intermediacy of His Saints.
    It's interesting to see how the practice of the veneration of relics has slowly been phased out. In The Daily Missal with Vespers for Sunday & Feasts by Dom Gaspar Lefebre, O.S.B., of the Abbey of St. Andre (1934), you'll find on November 5th the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Relics. Here are some excerpts from the introduction and the Mass.
    After having solemnized on All Saint's Day the feast of the holy souls who have entered heaven, the Church honors on this day the holy relics of their bodies which will remain on earth until the glorious resurrection, a pledge of which we venerate in their ashes. Just as a supernatural virtue issued from the sacred Humanity of Jesus and healed those who approached Him (Gospel) so too the saints who enjoy God in heaven (Gradual, Communion) may by their relics, (bones) (Introit), ashes, clothes, or other objects used by them "work wonders on earth", says the Collect,"exorcise devils, heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, cleanse lepers, drive away temptations and bestow on all the excellent gifts which come from the Father of light."
COLLECT. - Do Thou, O Lord, increase our faith in the Resurrection, Thou that workest wonders in the relics of Thy saints: and make us partakers of that immortal glory, a pledge of which we venerate in their ashes. Through our Lord.
SECRET. - We implore Thy clemency, O Lord, that by the interceding merits of Thy saints whose relics we venerate, this sacrifice which we offer may be an expiation of our sins. Through our Lord.
POSTCOMMUNION. - Multiply upon us Thy mercy, we beseech Thee, O Lord, through the Sacraments which we have received: that even as with a pious devotion we rejoice in the solemnity of the saints whose relics we venerate, so also by Thy bountiful goodness we may enjoy their everlasting fellowship. Through our Lord. In The Daily Missal of the Mystical Body printed in 1960 there is no reference made to the Feast of the Holy Relics on Nov. 5th, but there is a prayer for The Consecration of an Altar that mentions relics.
PRAYER. - O God, you have built an eternal dwelling place for yourself in the army of your saints. May this mansion grow stronger in heaven, so that we may always be aided by the merits of those blessed whose relics we here enshrine in love and reverence. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and rules with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. In one vision that Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich had, she noticed the relics from the altars of rebuilt churches where mixed and scattered. She said, "the great blessings diffused around by relics I saw withdrawn when they are treated with neglect." Sister Anne believed that God willed that these relics should be scattered that they might fall under the supernaturally enlightened eyes of her who knows so well their value.

The Altar    

In Canon VII of the Council of Nicea II, in 787 A.D., they addressed the fact that, "churches consecrated without any deposit of the relics of the Saints, the defect should be made good."
    "We decree therefore that relics shall be placed with the accustomed service in as many of the sacred temples as have been consecrated without the relics of the Martyrs. And if any bishop from this time forward is found consecrating a temple without holy relics, he shall be deposed, as a transgressor of the ecclesiastical traditions."
    Once again, a very powerful dogmatic teaching. No Christian is at liberty to refuse assent to any dogma which the Church proposes. To do so involves nothing less than shipwreck of faith, and no Catholic can accept the Protestant distinction between "fundamental and non-fundamental articles of faith." It is a matter of fundamental importance to accept the whole of the Church's teaching. True, a Catholic is not bound to know explicitly and in detail all the definitions of the Church - but, if he knowingly and wilfully contradicts or doubts the truth of any one among them, he ceases to be a Catholic.
    Prior to the 5th century altars where for the most part portable altars, St. Gregory the Great PP. D., (540-604) made it possible to celebrate Mass over the body of St. Peter. St. Gregory of Tours (540-594) recorded a passage of deacon Agiulf regarding the practices of devotion he witnessed at the tomb of St. Peter.
    "St. Peter . . . is buried in the temple formerly called Vaticanum, which has four lines of columns, wonderful to see, ninety-six in number. It also has four in altar, making one hundred in all, not counting those which carry the canopy over the tomb. The tomb is placed sub altar and is set carefully apart. But who so wishes to pray, for him the doors (cancelli) that give access to the place are unbolted, and he enters the precinct over the tomb, and a small window (fenestella) is opened, and placing his head within he asks for whatever he requires; nor is there any delay in granting his request, provided that his prayer is just. And if he wishes to carry away a holy token, a piece of cloth weighed in a scale is hung within; and then, watching and fasting, he makes urgent prayer that the Apostle's virtue further his request. And if his faith prevail, when the cloth is raised from the tomb, wonderful to tell, it is so imbued with holy virtue that it weighs far more than it did before; and then he knows that he has received, along with this sign of grace, a favorable answer to his prayer . . ."
    In St. Peter's, as early as the fifth century the altar and the relic began an ever closer relationship within the frame work of basilica. Prior to that the object of veneration was contained in a portable reliquary, it was placed beneath the altar; and, as we can witness form St. Peter's Basilica, where the holy relic was itself a fixture, it was the altar that was moved. In the 5th and 6th centuries we can find an ever-increasing emphasis on the relationship between altar and relic, an association which had a profound effect on the development of western European architecture. With the construction of the altar of the Confessio we have the first clear within St.Peter's of the multiplication of secondary altars that accompanied the increasing fragmentation and dispersal of holy relics throughout the Christian world. The ancient tradition of keeping the relics of martyrs and other saints under a fixed altar is to be preserved according to the norms given in the liturgical books.
    "This paragraph is notably different from its corresponding paragraph in the 1917 Code. The former legislation spoke of a small space (sepulchre) cut into the altar or altar stone which contained the (usually very small) relics of saints (CIC 1198, 4). The General Instruction of 1970 speaks of maintaining the practice of enclosing in the altar or of placing under the altar the relics of saints." In the rite of Dedication there is no longer any mention of enclosing the relics in the altar. The present Code repeats the legislation found in the rite of Dedication and states that the relics are to be placed under the fixed altar. Furthermore, the rite states that "the relics intended for deposition should be of such a size that they can be recognized as parts of human bodies. Hence excessively small relics of one or more saints must not be deposited." The entire dignity of an altar consists in this: the altar is the table of the Lord. It is not then, the bodies of the martyrs that render the altar glorious; it is the altar that renders the burial place of the martyrs glorious. However, as a mark of respect for the bodies of the martyrs and other saints, and as a sign that the sacrifice of the members has its source in the sacrifice of the Head, it is fitting that altars should be constructed over their tombs, or their relics placed beneath altars, so that "the triumphant victims may occupy the place where Christ is victim: He, however, who suffered for all, upon the altar; they, who have been redeemed by his sufferings, beneath the altar." This arrangement would seem to recall in a certain manner the spiritual vision of the apostle John in the Book of Revelation.1 "I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who had been killed on account of the word of God, for witnessing to it." Although all the saints are rightly called Christ's witnesses, the witness of blood has a special significance, which is given complete and perfect expression by depositing only martyrs' relics beneath the altar."
    A very important symbolic altar furnishing of the Byzantine Rite, whether Catholic or Orthodox, is the antimension, a rectangular piece of linen or silk about 18" square. It has relics of the saints sewn into it and it is consecrated by a Byzantine rite Bishop during a long ceremony during which he anoints the relics and the antimension with the holy oil called Sacred Chrism (Holy Myron). The antimension was developed during the Iconoclastic and Moslem persecutions of the VII and IX centuries in the East as an easily-carried and hidden portable altar to replace the unwieldy and breakable pieces of stone or wood used as portable altars up until that time. The word antimension is derived from a combination of the Greek prefix anti, meaning           "instead of " and the Latin word mensa, taken over into the Greek and signifying "table", especially "altar table". Antimension, therefore means "something used instead of the (fixed) altar".
This is an extraction from the ICHRusa handbook, "Relics - The Forgotten Sacramental".