Dear People,
We are about to celebrate the greatest Christmas of our lifetime. May it also be, for everyone, the happiest. This Christmas, we thank God for the coming, 2000 years ago, of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world. For 2000 years he has inspired countless millions of people, and influenced, more than anyone else, the course of history. The calculation of the passing years begins with the year of his coming into the world. It is very pleasing that so many people are accepting the Church’s invitation to rejoice and to celebrate. There is a lot to celebrate. We have a lot to be grateful for. We celebrate, not just what has been done in the name of Jesus, we celebrate Jesus himself. We celebrate the One who came from God to reveal to us the truth and to show the Father’s love for us.

To mark this special occasion Pope John Paul II has announced the Great Jubilee. This coming year will be a holy year. It will begin in every parish with the solemn lighting of the special Jubilee Candle at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. That lighting will take place with a candle brought from Bethlehem on the occasion of the recent Diocesan Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The little light of Bethlehem reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. He offers us light to see God’s loving plan for all of us. He gives us strength to return that love and so become what he has created us to be.

On New Year’s Eve the sun will set for the last time this century. It will be a thoughtful time, tinged with some sorrow, rich in memories and hope for the future. Thoughts will inevitably turn to other endings, to our own frailty and mortality. My hope is that the light of the millennium candle in the home will remind us that for Christians, endings are never final, life changes but does not cease. The Risen Lord proves that God and love last forever. Let His light shine brightly in our hearts and have us know that He is God among us.

In a special way the joy of the Jubilee is that of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is probably easier to forgive than to accept that we need forgiveness and to ask for reconciliation. Forgiveness is, of course, a great grace, but in the love of God there is something more. Reconciliation opens the door to deep joy and freedom. It repairs damaged relationships and restores friendships. I hope that the Sacrament of Reconciliation will, this year, play an important part in preparing for the coming of Jesus.

Many celebrations will be organised for the year 2000 in the Archdiocese. The Jubilee is not a series of functions to be held. It is an experience to be lived. It is an inward journey to be travelled. That journey moves us away from whatever is contrary to God’s law. It enables us to accept Christ fully, live our faith in him and receive his abundant mercy.

I invite you all to pray fervently to the Lord for a gracefilled celebration of the forthcoming Jubilee. I ask, both priests and people, to open their hearts to the promptings of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will not fail to arouse enthusiasm and lead us all to celebrate the Jubilee with renewed faith and joyful hope.

The recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land ended with Mass on Mount Carmel in the Star of the Sea Basilica on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Two thousand years ago Mary of Nazareth offered to the world the Word made flesh. May she now be the star that leads us towards her Son, who is the true light that enlightens everyone.