The Jubilee Celebration
The Jubilee celebraton recognizes 2000 as a jubilee year in the Biblical tradition. Jubilee occurred every 50th year in Israel. The slaves were freed and debts were forgiven.
Jubilees celebrate and commemorate the passage of 50 years. For the Israelites the year of Jubilee was a time of joy, a year of sweeping forgiveness for all. Leviticus 25:10 states: "Thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year…and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee." Every seventh year, like every seventh day, was a Sabbath and set aside for rest and worship, but the year which followed seven complete cycles of seven years was kept as a year of special observance. The text of Leviticus (25:8-55) states that the fiftieth year was intended for Jubilee. It was then that every household should welcome back its absent members, land be restored to former owners, slaves be set free and debts be forgiven. These concepts form the basis of the Christian Jubilee. Jubilee in Christendom focuses on repentance and forgiveness.
The word jubilee is probably derived from the Hebrew word "jobel", meaning "ram's horn". The term became intertwined with the Latin "jubilo": to shout. It is a celebration and recognition of God's forgiveness. There are a number of Christian-Jewish events being planned with millennial themes that are a reflection of this jubilee spirit of collaboration.
In the sixth century a monk by the name of Dionysius Exiguus created the terminology "BC" and "AD" centered on the birth of Christ. In this chronology the year 1 AD immediately followed the year 1 BC and there was no year 0. Many believe that the second millennium will not be complete until the end of the year 2000. According to this thinking, it follows that January 1, 2000 does not mark the beginning of the next millennium. For Christians the celebration is not just of a new millennium, but a celebration of 2000 years of Christ's presence in human history. Celebrating Christ's birth in the Year 2000 coincides with the celebration of the Jubilee. A time to meditate on Jesus' Incarnation and the gift of Redemption. The pope has asked the Church to celebrate the gift of salvation and he is calling the Church to seek unity among all Christians and to use this year as a unique opportunity for reconciliation and healing. Talks with an ecumenical focus are in full swing between all denominations. Many differences seem beyond reconciling but at least they are talking. The Church enters into the new millennium with an awareness and an apology for its past errors. When God created the earth, He gave it to everyone. Therefore, the riches of creation should be considered the commonwealth of all people. Those who claim ownership of goods are really only God's stewards on Earth. God is recognized as owner of all. The virtues of faith, hope and love are also stressed in Jubilee. The Jubilee celebration should strengthen Christians in their faith, provide hope in eternal life, and rekindle love, which can be lived out in service to others, the weak and the poor. In the Catholic Church the year began with the opening of the Holy Year Door at St. Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve, 1999. There is an International Eucharistic Congress in June 2000 and a World Youth Day in August. There are also plans for a World Family Meeting in October, as well as special celebrations around Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas. Additionally, there are plans for "jubilee days" to be celebrated each month during which Catholics will be reminded to pray for and celebrate certain groups of people such as youth, the sick and the poor. Every Roman Catholic diocese is encouraged to plan its own celebrations. Encuentro 2000 is one event being planned by American bishops nationally, a gathering in the summer of 2000 to celebrate the faith and the diversity of the Catholic Church in the United States.
Church officials in many countries are planning millennium/Jubilee events reflecting their own customs and traditions. Many African countries are focusing their celebrations on catechism and evangelization, as well as looking to the jubilee of the year 2000 as a time of peace that can stop the continuing spiral of violence and tribal tensions. In Latin America, jubilee celebrations are focusing on promoting life and human dignity. These countries are planning to celebrate the millennium by seeking ways to promote justice and peace. In Australia, Church officials have asked the Olympic organizers to allow for an expression of Christianity during the Year 2000, when the international community will focus on Australia as it hosts this years games. Canadian churches are lobbying for cancellation of third world debt and facing up to their responsibility regarding treatment of native Canadians in residential schools. Virtually every Christian church is planning celebrations, programs, events, and worship services tto mark this event.
Reconciliation also means reconciliation between faith groups. The ecumenical movement has been continuing steadily over the past few decades. Dialogues between the various churches at all levels are all making progress. Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, encourages this movement and invited divided Christians to discuss the papacy, which is one of the more difficult barriers to full unity.
Here in the United States, the Catholic Church has included a strong ecumenical component in planning events to mark the millennium, and this same trend is seen in other churches as well. On the international level, the Holy See and the World Council of Churches are working together on this question, and there are representatives from other churches involved in the work of the Vatican's Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.
In Jubilee 2000, the church is addressing many issues: How can the celebration be used to affect the problems of sexism and racism? Will the Jubilee provide a practical message about our environment? What about the economic disparity between first world and third world nations? Can Jubilee celebrations lead to improvements in society? Jubilee is an opportunity to examine our relationships with one another. Many people are captive of old stereotypes and prejudices. Slavery is no longer a problem in the Western world, but people are still enslaved in other parts of the globe.
Restoring equality among the children of Israel is at the heart of jubilee, and yet seldom, if ever, has the disparity between rich and poor nations been wider. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: "Rich nations have a grave moral responsibility toward those which are unable to ensure the means of their development by themselves or have been prevented from doing so by tragic historical events".
Arrangements to reduce or forgive foreign debt, enact fair trade policies, and for a more realistic foreign aid policy are areas for concerned Christians to act on behalf of the poor of the world.
The "year of the Lord's favor" was a time to "bring good news to the poor" and "let the oppressed go free" (Isaiah 61), to restore freedom and justice among all people. In the tradition of the jubilee, debt forgiveness was an act of justice intended to relieve the burdens of the weak and give them an opportunity for a fresh start.
Pope John Paul II applies this tradition to modern times in Tertio Millennio Adveniente. "In the spirit of the book of Leviticus (25:8-12), Christians will have to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world. Proposing the jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought, among other things, to reducing substantially, if not canceling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations."
"Let the land keep a Sabbath for the Lord" (Leviticus 25:2). Every seven years, farmland was allowed to "rest" or lie fallow. Whatever grew on the land was available to the poor during that year. As we enter the 21st century, Christians are reminded of the need to care for the earth and its land and water. Pope John Paul II has said that the "ecological crisis is a moral issue..." and our "duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of our faith." The "haves" cannot continue to consume the earth's resources at the expense of the poor and future generations. The jubilee also means that our response to the poor should also be our response to God's creation. It must be treated with respect and cared for.