VATICAN CITY – The largest meeting of Catholic bishops since Vatican II concluded on Sunday, October 8, when Pope John Paul II – surrounded by 80 Cardinals and more than 1,500 Bishops – solemnly entrusted the world and the third millennium to the protection of the Virgin Mary in a moving ceremony, in front of the famous statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which had been brought to Rome specifically for this event. (See the text of this Act of Entrustment on the next page.)
In the statue's crown was the bullet that almost ended the Pope's life on May 13, 1981. The ring which Pope John Paul received at the start of his pontificate from Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski is now part of the Rosary which adorns the statue.
St. Peter's Square was a sea of people. The statue of Fatima was received with enthusiastic applause, brought in procession and followed by John Paul II. The Holy Father was visibly moved by the event.
During the homily at the concelebrated Mass, John Paul II described the scene of faith and prayer unfolding before him as a "great cenacle." He first addressed the bishops who were celebrating their special Jubilee. More than 1,500 Bishops had come to Rome for the Jubilee, making up the largest aggregation of Bishops since Vatican II, 35 years ago. All in all, those assembled in St. Peter's Square constituted more than one-third of the Catholic Bishops alive today.
"Given the relativism and subjectivism that contaminate so much of contemporary culture, Bishops are called to defend and promote the doctrinal unity of their faithful. Attentive to every situation where the faith is lost or ignored, they work with all their strength in favor of evangelization, preparing priests, religious and laity with this objective in mind," the Holy Father said.
The most awaited moment came at the end of the Mass, which Vatican Radio described as the "zenith" of the Holy Year. At noon, the pontiff pronounced the Act of Entrustment of all humanity to the Virgin Mary at the dawn of the third millennium. The Pope spoke on behalf of all the world's pastors when he asked Mary for her maternal protection, confidently imploring her intercession given the challenges the future holds.
Just before the Act of Entrustment, Pope John Paul concluded his homily with this prayer to Mary:
"Queen of Apostles, pray with us and for us, so that the Holy Spirit will descend in abundance upon the Church, and that she will shine throughout the world ever more united, holy, catholic and apostolic. Amen."
The day before, October 7, First Saturday of the month and feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Holy Father led the assembled 1,500 Bishops in praying the Rosary, again making their prayer before the Fatima statue. They were joined in St. Peter's Square by tens of thousands of priests, religious and lay faithful. The ceremony was linked via radio and television to sites throughout the world where the faithful from 150 countries also prayed the Rosary in churches, shrines, schools, stadiums, and parks.
Four families from as many continents led the first four decades of the Rosary. The fifth glorious mystery was led by Sister Lucia dos Santos, the only survivor of the three shepherd children to whom the Virgin appeared in Fatima in 1917, and the nuns from the monastery of Coimbra, Portugal, through a satellite link-up.
After the prayer, the Pope addressed the faithful gathered in the square:
"In particular, our prayer this evening takes place in the light of the 'message of Fatima', whose content helps us to reflect on the history of the 20th century... Jesus Christ, the Risen One, has sent us into the whole world to proclaim his Gospel of salvation, and in the course of 20 centuries the message has spread from Jerusalem to the five continents. This evening our prayer has spiritually united the human family around Mary, Regina Mundi.
"In the context of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, we wanted to express the Church's gratitude for the motherly care that Mary has always shown to her children on their pilgrimage through time. There is no century nor people in which she has not made her presence felt, bringing light, hope and comfort to the faithful, especially the lowly and the poor."
After Pope John Paul's remarks, three young shepherd children from Portugal presented a floral tribute to Our Lady of Fatima.
Message of Our Lady in Medjugorje, October 25, 2000:
"Dear children! Today I desire to open My motherly heart to you and to call you all to pray for My intentions. I desire to renew prayer with you and to call you to fast which I desire to offer to My Son Jesus for the coming of a new time – a time of spring. In this Jubilee year many hearts have opened to Me, and the Church is being renewed in the Spirit. I rejoice with you, and I thank God for this gift; and you, little children, I call to pray, pray, pray — until prayer becomes a joy for you. Thank you for having responded to My call."