At the conclusion of the Year of Faith in the Holy Land
by Oliver Maksan, for ACN International
adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
ACN Montreal, November 21, 2013 – On Sunday morning a radiant sky looked down on the crowd of thousands who had gathered for the conclusion of the Year of Faith in Nazareth. In mid- November the Middle Eastern sun still has no trouble reaching 25 degrees. The visitors were using sunglasses and wearing hats to protect themselves. Here on the slope of the mountain where, according to the Gospel, the inhabitants of Nazareth intended to hurl Jesus into the depths, Pope Benedict XVI had already celebrated Holy Mass in 2009.
The Year of Faith celebrated by the World Catholic Church was instituted on his initiative. The Church in the Holy Land set the year off at Deir Rafat, the shrine of Our Lady of Palestine, and wished to bring it to a close in Nazareth, where Mary received the angel’s message and where the Son of God spent most of his earthly life.
“I can hardly believe I’m here. It means so much to me. After all, it’s not easy for us to come to Israel.” Like Sami (54) from Jenin in the West Bank, a considerable number of the faithful had come to Israel from the Palestinian territories and from Jordan. Not all those who had wanted to were granted an entry permit for Israel, however.
Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, the auxiliary Bishop resident in Nazareth and head of the Latin Patriarchate for Israel, expressed his sorrow at this when speaking with the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN): “The Israeli authorities promised us they would be generous when dealing with the visa applications. It’s not always clear to us why some are rejected. But I’m happy that so many of the faithful managed to make it. We even have pilgrims from Iraq here. They have been in Jordan as refugees for the past two years, but even so they are here as witnesses from Mesopotamia, where our Father Abraham began his journey of faith. I think it’s a wonderful sign at the end of the Year of Faith.”
The Israeli police later counted more than 7,000 faithful. Most came from Israel and the adjacent countries. About 1,000 travelled from afar from such places as Japan, Italy, Brazil and Poland. Some even came from Nigeria. “We wanted quite definitely to celebrate the end of this important year with the local church in the Holy Land,” explained a priest who had come with a group.
“We are all Catholics”
There were a striking number of faithful from the Philippines. Most of them were volunteers who had come with their priests to nurse the old and the sick. Following the disastrous typhoon which had descended in Phillipines causing thousands of fatalities, their country was very much the focus of attention. “It is moving to see how much sympathy we are receiving from all sides. It does us good to be part of the community of faith. After all, we are all Catholics wherever we come from. I therefore wanted desperately to attend this Holy Mass,” was how Maria, who lives in Tel Aviv, saw it.
The Mass was celebrated by dozens of priests, abbots and bishops together with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal. And it was not only clerics of the Roman rite who were present, but also Melkites, Maronites and Syrian Catholic clerics: the Middle East in all its Catholic abundance.
To mark the occasion Pope Francis sent a specific message to the faithful gathered for the occasion. The Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, Archbishop Giuseppe Lanzarotto, read it out before the Holy Mass commenced. “The history of our faith,” the Pope said, “starts precisely at the place where you are now celebrating. Before we can understand our own personal history of faith and our need for God’s mercy, we must first turn to the place and time where and when Jesus walked among us. For it was here that the Lord Jesus assumed our human nature and revealed God to us.” Pope Francis also expressed his great admiration for the Christians of the Holy Land, their loyal service to the Holy Places and their unwavering witness to the Gospel.
The faithful were not only connected with the Pope through his words. An icon depicting Jesus and Peter stood in the chancel throughout the Mass. This Sunday it is to be presented to the Holy Father at the conclusion of the Year of Faith in Rome.