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December 20, 1999


The following is the text of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's Christmas message which was mailed to approximately 434,000 registered households in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:

Christmas 1999
With this Christmas message, I extend to you and to each of your family members my blessings for a sacred and joyful celebration of the Birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Church's observance of Christmas is a festive celebration of the intimate presence of God with His People. God's love for us has been revealed in many ways throughout the ages. However, the ultimate revelation of God's love for us entered our world as a newborn child in Bethlehem. Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, the Word made Flesh, is the definitive revelation of God and His love. God's profound love caused Jesus to become one of us, to live among us and to redeem us through His death and resurrection. At Christmas, we celebrate this revelation of Christ, giving glory to God in the Highest and thanking Him for His nearness to us.

This Christmas is a particularly significant celebration. At Midnight Mass, we will open wide the Holy Door in our churches as a sign of the beginning of the Jubilee Year 2000, a Holy Year which will prepare the entire Church for passage into the Third Millennium of Christianity in 2001. This Holy Year will be a time of many graces and blessings as we meditate on God's relationship with us and the long history of the Church in light of the new millennium and our unique role in the Church's universal mission of salvation.

In reflecting on the history of the Church, we are painfully aware of the division which exists among Christians. We continue to pray and work for the unity of the Church as we seek to heal the wounds which have kept us apart through the centuries. On New Year's Eve, December 31, 1999, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, I shall host an Ecumenical Prayer Service with the leaders and representatives of other Christian denominations. I invite all the faithful to join me at this prayer service as we pray for unity, justice and peace in our world, among Christians and among all people.

The Church, founded by Jesus Christ, is a living gospel which stands as a witness of hope, reconciliation and healing to the world. The Church, entrusted with the task of preaching Christ, unites believers more intimately with God through the Sacraments. In order to fulfill this mission, the Church constantly listens to the Holy Spirit calling us to conversion, reconciliation, growth and renewal in holiness.

The renewal of the Church in Philadelphia has been my highest pastoral priority. Shortly after my arrival, I invited all of the faithful (priests, religious and laity) to work together to revitalize the witness of the Church throughout every area of the Archdiocese. The establishment of the vicariate system enabled me to be present to the faithful as well as to address various concerns through the presence of my Regional Vicars. The development of Parish Pastoral Councils provided for consultation with the lay faithful in support of the work of the pastor, as requested in the documents of Vatican Council II. Through consultation, Parish Mission Statements, the formulation of Parish Self Studies and Pastoral Plans were developed, giving each parish new vitality by becoming more aware of present pastoral needs and formulating a plan to fulfill them.

Consultation and collaboration among parishes unfolded through Cluster Pastoral Planning. This initiative brought pastors and representatives from parishes in a particular geographic area to discern prayerfully and to work together by consensus to make their parishes more vibrant through the sharing of time, talent, ideas and resources. The fruits of such planning, sometimes challenging and always demanding, are now being realized as the implementation of these plans unfold. I again express my deep gratitude to all who have given so much expertise and talent to these endeavors. This journey, undertaken in faith, holds great hope and promise for all.

Consultation, pastoral planning and collaboration all have developed in the context of our nine year plan for spiritual renewal, Catholic Faith and Life 2000. This spiritual renewal, under the leadership of our priests, has supported and strengthened the local Church and has given a new vision and understanding to all the faithful. Because of these efforts, the lay faithful have recognized more clearly that the Church is a living reality which permeates every aspect of their lives. The laity have come to realize that they are an essential part of the Church and that they have much to contribute toward the work of the Church. The renewal of our Archdiocese, a developing and visible reality, has prepared us to approach the Third Millennium of Christianity with new vision and new vibrancy for fulfilling the Church's mission.

This Jubilee Year 2000 will find us preparing most intensely for passage into the new Millennium. Our Renewal Theme, "Celebrate Jesus Christ: Son of God, Son of Mary," summarizes our belief in the mystery of the Incarnation. Pope John Paul II calls us to devote this year to a deeper appreciation of the Holy Eucharist, which unites us as the one body of Christ. You have already received a full packet of information which outlines the many Archdiocesan and parish events planned. I pray that you will participate as fully as possible, especially by deepening your love for Christ in the Eucharist.

These years of prayer, preparation and planning, along with the events of the Year 2000 have been designed to reawaken within us a desire to be active in the mission of Christ within the Church. As we look to the beginning of the Third Millennium, it is my prayer that each of you will accept Christ's invitation to follow Him through involvement in every aspect of the life of the parish, the Archdiocese and the Church universal.

I exhort you to assist in the work of the new evangelization by reaching out and sharing your Catholic faith with your brothers and sisters. As Archbishop, I extend a welcome to those who are returning to the practice of the Faith. With love and affection, I invite those who have not yet returned, to come home to Christ. Together, in the Third Christian Millennium, we shall ensure a vibrant, living witness to Jesus Christ, who is "the same yesterday, today and forever."

Wishing you the abundant blessings of the Newborn Christ and invoking the intercession of His Holy Mother, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Archbishop of Philadelphia

Cathy Rossi

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