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Pope Preaches on the Mount

March 24, 2000

KORAZIM, Israel (AP) _ Pope John Paul II’s blessings on the Mount of Beatitudes, harking back 2,000 years and wafting off over the Sea of Galilee, sent a huge crowd of fellow pilgrims into religious reverie.

``We feel like Christ is here again, in the leader of our church, and the whole world can see,″ Sister Rosemary of Jordan exulted Friday as she stood in a drizzle, her sensible black shoes stuck firmly to chocolate-brown mud.

Life has changed in this bleakly beautiful northern corner of the Holy Land, where Jesus told the multitudes that the good were blessed, peacemakers would be rewarded and the meek would inherit the earth.

Down below, amid a spreading rash of multistory beach hotels and schlock souvenir shops, an Israeli developer nearly built a 150-yard-long crescent-shaped submerged platform so tourists can walk on water. The project, first approved, was abandoned.

Up above the sacred mount, Korazim is now merely the ruins of a biblical-era Jewish town which Christ criticized for its lack of godliness.

But the 79-year-old pontiff brought a fresh breath of Christian faith, his voice rising clear and firm above perhaps 100,000 people who packed an open plain and the surrounding hillsides.

``Now, at the dawn of the third millennium, it is your turn to go out into the world to preach the message,″ he said in a Mass aimed at young people.

John Paul began his two-stage Jubilee pilgrimage late in February at Mount Sinai, where, the Bible says, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The Mount of Beatitudes, the pope said, was the second great landmark on the road to Christianity.

Flags and banners from scores of nations swirled above the crowd, most of whom had been up since not long after midnight. Israeli organizers, scrupulous about security, sealed roads early. Crowds walked from buses parked far away.

Eldy Andrade’s group of 170 young people from Cochabamba, Bolivia, dozed until the pontiff’s appearance snapped them awake. They came directly from Ben Gurion Airport after a three-day calvary.

``We haven’t slept in three days,″ said Andrade, a travel agent. Their flight from Bolivia to Rome was grounded for repairs. They found a new charter to Madrid but then had to book another ride to their charter in Rome.

``Of course, it was worth it,″ she said. ``We love the pope. We saw him in Rome in 1995 and Paris in 1996. The youth today are growing more spiritual. They are hungry, and they need faith.″

John Paul took pains to encourage the young, who might be facing hard times in a complex, modern world. ``Blessed are you who seem to be losers,″ he said, ``for you are the true winners.″

The 13 sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, lucked into the papal visit. Sister Maria Faustina Showalter said they made a Jubilee year pilgrimage, as the Holy Father asked, and happened to coincide with him.

``Imagine, to be at the Mount of Beatitudes, with the vicar of Christ and the multitudes,″ she said. ``I have to keep pinching myself.″

Local residents were less involved.

Adi Tiecher, a 19-year-old Israeli student, scrambled to fill snack bar orders at a pilgrims’ campsite on the Sea of Galilee. Asked her opinion of the imminent papal visit, she looked up in amazement. ``He’s coming?″ she replied. ``Here?″

Many young people brought guitars, drums and picnics. As the hours dragged on from first light until the Mass began at 11 a.m., the vast field was pocked with unrolled garbage bags, flat cardboard boxes and food wrappers.

As each security helicopter circled overhead, the crowd waved flags, like a cargo cult trying to lure it to the ground. Ecstatic pandemonium broke out when John Paul finally rode up a center aisle in his popemobile.

He said Mass in a high-backed chair under a peaked canvas roof, like a Bedouin tent. After communion, and his departure, groups sang and danced in the sloppy mud.

Not everyone had pure religion in mind. Many at the crowd’s edged flirted, joked or yelled into cell phones. Vendors sold juices and cakes, despite an appeal for no eating or smoking. The mood was part Woodstock and part World Cup.

Several youths painted their hair in yellow and white, as if they were supporters of a Vatican soccer team.

Under a huge Brazilian flag, landscaper Mario Luiz Silva wore a towering foam rubber top hat in the green and yellow. ``I have come a long way to praise God,″ he said. ``Religion is very important to our lives.″

Asked if he would still be here if, say, Brazil was playing Italy somewhere else in a World Cup final, he grinned and shook his head in a vigorous no.

``That would be a much bigger party,″ Silva said.

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