Subject: CNS: Pope prays for East Timor as pilgrims wish pontiff 'Happy Birthday'

Pope prays for East Timor as pilgrims wish pontiff 'Happy Birthday'

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II's May 15 general audience featured an exchange of best wishes: for the pope, a few days before his 82nd birthday, and from the pope to the people of East Timor, a few days before their independence.

Vatican officials introducing the various groups present at the audience spoke on behalf of the 13,000 people in St. Peter's Square in offering prayers and best wishes to the pope in anticipation of his May 18 birthday.

Then sari-clad members of the Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy Choir of Mumbai, India, sang, "Happy Birthday, your holiness."

Pope John Paul responded to the birthday greetings by thanking everyone for their prayers.

"I rely also on your spiritual support in order to continue faithfully in the ministry the Lord has entrusted to me," he said.

Speaking in English to a group of East Timorese pilgrims, the pope said, "As your nation prepares to celebrate its independence next Monday (May 20), I pray that the many sacrifices of recent years will now inspire the building of a society of justice and solidarity."

The people of East Timor voted in 1999 to proclaim independence from Indonesia, whose 25-year rule was often brutal and marked by violent conflicts with pro-independence forces.

With the help of the United Nations, a transitional government has led the country for two-and-a-half years.

Pope John Paul prayed that God would bless the people of East Timor with "true freedom and lasting peace."

In his main audience talk, Pope John Paul spoke about the Canticle of Habakkuk and its description of the power with which God comes to judge and to save his people.

The Old Testament passage describes God approaching his creatures surrounded by great light, which "enlightens and warms" humanity.

"God is like that," the pope said, "far off and yet near, elusive and yet close to us, in fact, ready to be with us and in us."

Pope John Paul said much of Christian art and architecture, especially the churches and icons of Eastern Christianity, communicates the same reality in which a mysterious light surrounds the believer, emphasizing both God's yearning for intimacy with his people, but also a reality which is far beyond their understanding.

God's coming brings judgment and clemency, the pope said.

The certainty of God's strength and mercy allows the believer to say, along with Habakkuk, "God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as a deer's and enables me to climb the heights."

"When the Lord is near," the pope said, "one no longer fears nightmares and obstacles, but continues with a light step and with joy even on the steep paths of life."


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