Traces N.4, April 2000Presence, Only Presence
Pope John Paul II's recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land filled the pages of newspapers and television services all over the world. The event's importance was stressed and commented on in many ways.
However, there was one fact that struck everyone, as the Jewish writer David Grossman (a non-believer) noted when, speaking of himself, he admitted that all his skepticism and indifference-due to political and religious considerations regarding this visit-were brought into question the moment he saw the Pope get off the plane.
Millions of people heard the words of Pope John Paul II and followed his actions in the places most significant for the Covenant between God and His people and in those carrying the memory of the event of Jesus Christ.
Above and far beyond all other considerations regarding the political and religious consequences of this trip, we were all struck by the Pope's presence.
The way in which the successor of Peter lived his pilgrimage made an impression, as an exceptional presence always does. The tension to affirm Christ's victory over death and evil described his actions; no fragility is contrary to such a tension. That man concentrated upon himself the eyes of those who were there to observe the scene. It was not a question of good stage management, nor of personal charm, but of an evidence before the eyes of reason and before the needs of the heart. His presence recalled the Great Presence that made that piece of land unique for the history of mankind.
"Time has value," he said in the place of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, because "here the Eternal entered history and stays with us for ever." His presence recalled the Presence that, alone, corresponds to the need to build and the need of the eternal that dwell in the human heart and reason.
In carrying out the gesture of his personal pilgrimage, the Pope showed once again the nature of the Church's experience: "A newly-born child, defenseless and totally dependent on Mary's and Joseph's care, entrusted to their love, is the entire wealth of the world. He is our all!"
No strategy and no concern for pleasing the dominant mentality can take the place of the truth of a presence: this is the method with which the Christian event communicates itself and lasts in history, in the holy places just as in the ordinary places of day-to-day life.
The servant of the servants of God has pointed this out once again, with certainty.