2012
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Feast of the "Righteous Man”: Celebration of the Feast of Saint Joseph in Nazareth

Nazareth, Basilica of Saint Joseph, 18 March, 2012

On this Sunday evening that begins the Feast of Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, patron of the universal Church and foster father of Jesus, the town of Nazareth in the Galilee was the scene of the solemn festival that opens this important occasion. It is here that the Church of Saint Joseph stands just a short distance from the Basilica of the Annunciation, in which is found the grotto that recalls with the words “Verbum caro hic factum est” at the base of the altar, the site of the angel’s announcement to Mary that opened the incarnation of the Word of God in her womb. The sanctuary dedicated to the holy husband of the Virgin is also called “the Church of the Nutrition” because Jesus grew and was raised to adulthood here, learning his father’s trade. It is certain that the place in which it stands was a residence in ancient times – during construction of the present basilica, grottos, cisterns, part of the original house, and a mosaic bath with steps that probably served as a ritual bath and as a baptistery during the Judeo-Christian period were uncovered. In the 17th century, Father Francesco Quaresmi made reference to a place that “the locals call the home and workshop of Joseph… where at one time there was a beautiful church dedicated to Saint Joseph”. The first edifice, probably built during the Byzantine era, was destroyed during the twelfth century and a Crusader church was built on its ruins. The site was acquired by the Franciscans in 1754 and, between 1911 and 1914 Brother Wendelin Hinterkeuser had the present three-level basilica built over the ruins of the earlier churches. Consecrated in 1914, the sanctuary recalls Joseph’s calling to become a participant in the God’s plan of redemption for the world, and to be a witness and guardian of the life of the Holy Family.

It was here that at 5:00 p.m. the Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, was the principal concelebrant of the solemn Mass of the Vigil of the Feast of Saint Joseph. Slightly before the beginning of the celebration, the Custos was received in the square in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation by a festive crowd of the faithful and pilgrims, as well as local Scout groups. Completing the vesting rite at the entrance to the church dedicated to the saint, Brother Pizzaballa joined the procession at the high altar to celebrate Mass in Latin and Arabic, with Brother Riccardo Bustos, guardian of the Basilica of the Annunciation of the Basilica of Saint Joseph in Nazareth, and Brother Amjad Sabbara, pastor of the Nazareth parish, at his sides. Attending the solemn ceremony were Franciscan friars from the Nazareth community, together with many other Franciscans from other regions of the Galilee and Jerusalem. The levels of the church were completely filled with numerous male and female religious of the various congregations of the Holy Land, many Christians from the local community, and many pilgrims from different places. The celebration, animated by the Nazareth choir, followed the Holy Mass composed in honor of Saint Joseph by Brother Armando, Custody organist and director of the Magnificat, the Franciscan music school in Jerusalem.
At the beginning of the celebration, Brother Pizzaballa performed a brief devotional act, descending into the crypt of the Basilica, a place venerated by pilgrims from all over the world. Here stands the bath used in ancient times as a baptistery, its mosaic reproducing symbols of baptism with water, into which descend seven steps, representing the seven heavens and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but that also symbolizes the redemptive death of Jesus, from which new life can arise. Also in the mosaic, the black stone represents Christ, the cornerstone of human life.

From the altar, the Custos addressed a few words of greeting in English to all the participants who had come to celebrate the vigil of this important feast in the town of Mary and Joseph. “Joseph,” underlined Brother Pizzaballa, “had his own plans, but God called on him to change his plans and called him to accept a new mission and become the earthly father of Jesus. And Joseph responsibly accepted this task, in silence and obedience to God’s will. This is ‘the school’ of the Holy Family of Nazareth.”

The figure of Saint Joseph as an example was also central to the homily, given in Arabic by Brother Amjad Sabbara. Inspired by the gospel passage proposed by the liturgy (Mt. 1:16, 18-21, 24a) that recounts God’s calling of Joseph in a dream and Joseph’s willingness to “do what the angel of the Lord had told him to do”, Brother Amjad showed how in the gospel, Joseph is presented with only one sole title, that of “a righteous man”. Like Jesus, the Son of God, who could be brought up by a family of Nazareth and who certainly learned many things from this righteous man, so we too are called to humbly follow the model of the Holy Family. And when in the Our Father, the words “your will be done” are said, it cannot be denied that Saint Joseph truly lived this prayer completely, putting his life at the disposal of God’s plan. Man’s vocation, in fact, is not to an ordinary, mediocre existence, but to live the calling of God, to listen to His Word, to know Him, and to live in communion with Him. For this reason, those who are seeking peace in their hearts should put themselves at the school of Saint Joseph, a “righteous man” who knew how to live to the utmost the commandments of God and to recognize the signs of the times. Brother Amjad then invoked the intercession of Saint Joseph, that on this special day he would grant his protection over families and remain a living model for all fathers, thereby helping families to experience the peace and communion that reigned in the Family of Nazareth. At the end, the pastor presented, in the name of the Custody, condolences to the Coptic Church of the Holy Land, whose Patriarch had been called to the house of the Father the previous night.

At the end of the Holy Mass, the traditional procession took place, in which the Custos, followed by hundreds of the faithful, solemnly carried the icon of Saint Joseph from the Sanctuary dedicated to him that recalls the place where he lived and worked, to the Basilica of the Annunciation, deposing it in the grotto in the lower part of the church where Mary’s house stood for a time: a familiar route that certainly united the two holy spouses two million years ago. In the grotto, the passage from the Gospel of Saint Luke that narrates the announcement made to the Virgin of Nazareth by the Archangel Gabriel (Lk 1:26-31) was read. Kneeling before the grotto, the Custos was able to address a prayer in the name of the entire Church, calling on the intercession of Saint Joseph and of his Immaculate Spouse and offering up a special prayer for the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, called to protect the Holy Places where the mysteries of the Redemption were completed and to serve the Church, the Sanctuaries, local Christians, and pilgrims from the entire world. Finally, Brother Pizzaballa, the icon in his hands, imparted the solemn benediction to the large community that assisted at the suggestive ceremony. The traditional kissing of the icon followed.

Saint Joseph: a precious figure for all Christianity. A devotion spread throughout the world, whose roots are in Nazareth, where the first Christians conserved the memory of the Holy Family and its simplicity and holy life. A profound devotion, whose first official consecration was by the Franciscans. In 1399, during the General Chapter of the Order in Assisi, it was decided that every year the celebration of the Feast of Saint Joseph would be fixed for March 19th, a decision that was later confirmed by Pope Sixtus V, also a member of the Franciscan family. It was Pope John Paul II who, on the 15th of August, 1989, directed the apostolic exhortation Redemptoris Custos to the Christian community, looking particularly at the figure and mission of Saint Joseph. A simple but courageous man, who knew how to make his home and his family a true school of the Gospel, protecting and penetrating the deepest sense of the presence of Jesus in the world, and offering the first humble foundation of the universal Church, of which he is still today the protector and patron.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Miroslaw Jadlosz

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