VATICAN CITY—After years of spiritual and logistical preparation, the Vatican is about to raise the curtain on the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and its packed, 380-day calendar of religious events.
Pope John Paul II, the main architect of the Holy Year activities, will open the bronze Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve, signaling the start of celebrations for Jesus' 2,000th birthday.
When the clock reaches midnight on New Year's Eve, the Pope plans to deliver a special blessing to the world to mark the entrance into the third millennium of Christianity. Earlier that evening he will have celebrated an evening Mass and sung the Te Deum, the great hymn of thanksgiving.
But as the millennium parties around the globe are dying down, the Holy Year festivities will just be getting started.
The Pope is scheduled to preside at 70 public liturgical celebrations, and the Vatican will host more than 100 separate gatherings of professional and pastoral groups throughout the year 2000, turning the Jubilee spotlight on groups like politicians, migrants, journalists, artists, farmers, children, elderly and others. The Pope will formally close the Jubilee Jan. 6, 2001, the feast of the Epiphany.
The Holy Year is expected to bring more than 25 million visitors to Rome, crowding the city's streets and sidewalks and contributing to a local economic boom.
While the media has focused on new construction and crowd projections, the Vatican has been quietly leading a spiritual warm-up program for the Jubilee, emphasizing penitence, charity and a return to the sacraments. As the Pope said when he outlined Holy Year plans five years ago, one of the Jubilee's main goals is to strengthen people's faith in a time of spiritual uncertainty.
The Pope has encouraged individual acts of charity as well as global steps toward economic justice, including foreign debt relief. Likewise, he has touted the Jubilee Year as the perfect moment for individual examinations of conscience and a Church-wide reflection on Christians' shortcomings through the centuries.
Picking up on a trend, the Vatican has promoted renewed interest in pilgrimages for the Jubilee Year. It has also expanded the practice of special Holy Year indulgences, saying that remission of temporal punishment for sins can be gained by going to confession and Communion, and then performing such simple acts as visiting the sick or abstaining a day from smoking.
In Rome, the traditional pilgrimages to the major basilicas of St. Peter's, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul's Outside the Walls will be made by millions, including the Pope, who plans to personally open the holy doors in each of the Churches by Jan. 18.
The start of the Jubilee Year coincides with a busy Christmas season in which the Holy Father will make 13 public appearances between Dec. 12 and Jan. 10.
The ceremonial highlights of the Holy Year illustrate the main Jubilee themes:
On Jan. 18, the Pope inaugurates the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in an ecumenical service at St. Paul's Outside the Walls, where he is expected to amplify his appeal for a new push toward unity during the Holy Year.
Ecumenical and interfaith cooperation are the focus of later events, too. On Aug. 5 the Pope leads a prayer vigil with Orthodox representatives, and Oct. 3 is a special day for Christian-Jewish dialogue.
A study conference on the Second Vatican Council Feb. 25-27 will draw dozens of experts to discuss Church renewal over the last 35 years. The Pope has said the best way to mark the new millennium is to apply the teachings of Vatican II, individually and Church-wide.
On March 12, the first Sunday of Lent, the Pope presides over a “Day of Forgiveness,” when Christians are called upon to confess personal and historical faults. Because of its implications for the institutional Church, this event has been the most controversial on the Jubilee calendar.
Vatican officials have said the Pope will issue a “mea culpa” statement with particular reference to Christian treatment of Jews and to the Crusades, which were the topics of two pre-Jubilee study conferences at the Vatican.
On May 7, the Pope leads another ecumenical celebration at Rome's Colosseum commemorating the “witnesses to the faith” in the 20th century, particularly those Christians martyred in wars or under political repression.
The June 18-25 International Eucharistic Congress in Rome will give the Pope a chance to develop his message on the importance of the Eucharist and to urge nonpracticing Catholics to return to the sacraments.
Like other Holy Year events, it will also feature a special Vatican charity initiative: a collection to fund a health clinic near Rome's train station for immigrants, Gypsies and the poor.
On July 9, in one of the more unusual Holy Year celebrations, the Pope is expected to visit a Rome prison and celebrate Mass to mark the “Jubilee for Inmates.”
World Youth Day celebrations Aug. 15-20 could bring a million young people to a Rome park area for a papal Mass, a prayer vigil and other activities.
Several canonizations and beatifications are foreseen during the Jubilee Year, including a possible Sept. 3 beatification of two Popes: John XXIII and Pius IX.
The “Jubilee for Families” Oct. 14-15 will bring representative families from all over the world to the Vatican. To underline his concern for the state of marriage in the world, the Pope will preside over the sacrament of matrimony for several young couples.