As I write this column, Pope John Paul II is celebrating the end of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 on the feast of the Epiphany. I must admit that I dont get very excited about celebrating events like this, and the constant reference to jubilee wore thin as the year progressed. Part of my hesitancy was because historically jubilee years were associated with indulgences and other practices that appear anachronistic today. One does not want to give a high profile to practices that our Reformation brothers and sisters find off-putting.
On the other hand, it is quite clear that I am in a minority24 million visitors came to Rome last year, 9 million more than the previous year. Catholics clearly like to celebrate both in big crowds and in intimate settings. During the jubilee year, despite failing health, John Paul continued to pull in the crowds who came to hear him and to pray with him. The World Youth Day celebration came as a shock to jaded journalists who couldnt believe that two million young people would come to Rome to celebrate with the pope. They lined up to go to confession, prayed with one another and gave forceful witness to the thirst for spirituality that is present in young people today.
John Pauls ability to transform ancient practices for contemporary Christians is remarkable, and he worked his magic on the jubilee year. He insisted that it not be a triumphalistic celebration, but rather one that thanked God for the gift of Jesus while recognizing that through the centuries Christians have not always responded to the gift of grace. He acknowledged that Galileo was badly treated by the church, that the crusades were an unholy war and that Christians have badly treated Jews through the centuries.
Reconciliation was a major theme. No one can forget the popes visit to Jerusalem, where he prayed at the Temple wall and asked forgiveness for Christian sins against the Jews. No pope has done more to foster reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. Catholics and Jews no longer see each other as enemies but as brothers and sisters. There will continue to be disagreements, but now they are more like family squabbles than pitched battles.
Alas, the pope was less successful in his quest for reconciliation with the Orthodox, who are still suspicious of Catholic intentions. The pope has tried, but many Orthodox are simply not ready for reconciliation.
The pope also insisted that justice be a major theme of the jubilee year. Reaching back to the ancient Jewish tradition of forgiving debts during a jubilee year, he called for the forgiveness of third world debts.
Cynics thought that this was a quixotic quest with no possibility of success. In fact, the jubilee debt forgiveness movement is one of the extraordinary successes of the jubilee year. Religious and humanitarian groups joined forces to lobby governments and banks around the world to forgive $100 billion, or one-third of the debts of countries that were so poor they could hardly pay the interest on their debts, let alone the principal. Even the U.S. Congressno bleeding-heart friend of the developing worldappropriated $435 million for the forgiveness. There is still crushing poverty in the developing world, but at least some of the burden has been lifted.
As we look back over the jubilee year, its achievements are striking, but it is still just a beginning. As Catholics we need to continue to celebrate, seek reconciliation and work for justice.
I am afraid that the U.S. Postal Service has not improved during the jubilee year; in fact it has gotten worse. We apologize if your copy of America arrives late, but once the magazine leaves the printer and enters the postal system, we lose control. Certain parts of the country are especially slowLos Angeles, New York and Detroit. Lateness is especially disconcerting to readers of The Word column. To make sure more readers have access to this column in a timely fashion, we are placing it on our Web site at: www.americapress.org.