VATICAN CITY, JUN 4, 2003 (VIS) - At the start of the catechesis of this week's general audience in St. Peter's Square, in the presence of 20,000 faithful, the Holy Father said he "wished to pay tribute to Pope John XXIII who died 40 years ago and whom I myself had the joy of proclaiming Blessed."
He recalled the evening of June 3, 1963, when thousands of faithful had come to St. Peter's Square to pray for Pope John and "to be as close as possible to their beloved father and pastor who, after a long and painful illness, was leaving this earth. At 7 p.m., in the square, the pro-vicar of Rome, Cardinal Luigi Traglia began Mass while (the Pope) from his bed which had become an altar, consummated his spiritual sacrifice, the sacrifice of his entire life." He underscored that "the end of mass coincided with the death of the good Pope."
"This bed is an altar," the Holy Father quoted from John XXIII's writings, "the altar needs a victim: Here I am, ready. I offer my life for the Church, the continuation of the Ecumenical Council, peace in the world, the unity of Christians."
John Paul II said that, even as he was dying, his predecessor "was looking towards the future and the longings of the People of God and the world. With emotion, he affirmed that the secret of his priesthood was in the Crucifix, always kept with great care opposite his bed. ... His priestly ministry was entirely dedicated to making known and loved 'what has the greatest value in life: blessed Jesus Christ, His holy Church, His Gospel."
He then remarked that "on April 11, less than two months before his death, John XXIII published the most celebrated document of his magisterium; the Encyclical 'Pacem in terris', which I have had many occasions this year to recall. The entire life of this unforgettable pontiff was a testimony to peace," and this encyclical was "almost a public and universal last will and testament."
"Every believer," wrote Pope John XXIII, "must be a spark of light, a center of love, a living yeast of the masses." The Holy Father added, in concluding, that "to be a spark of light we must live in permanent contact with God. My venerated predecessor, who left a mark in history, reminds men of the third millennium that the secret of peace and joy lies in deep and constant communion with God."
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