Year of Faith Celebrated in Nazareth

In the Holy Land, the Year of Faith closed on Sunday, November 17th, in Nazareth with a festive, ecumenical Eucharistic celebration with Mgr. Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, presiding.

In the early morning large numbers of Saint Saviour parishioners, Franciscan friars, seminarians, religious sisters, volunteers and friends of the Custody of the Holy Land met in order to travel together to Nazareth. Two hours later the busses arrived at Mount Precipice, where a natural amphitheater had been arranged on the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit there in 2009. Here, on this fitting site for large assemblies, the Catholic churches of the Holy Land—Latin, Melchite, Maronite, Syriac, and Armenian—assembled their faithful for an International Day of Faith.

The Year of Faith was inaugurated by Benedict XVI on 11 October 2012 in Rome to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

In this festive spirit over 6500 people from the Holy Land and elsewhere gathered together on this sunny Sunday. Indian and Philippine immigrant workers, as well as Eritrean refugees were present. Belula, wearing a shama, the traditional white cotton toga-like garment, affirms: “We came to demonstrate our faith; with our brothers we are free to pray in safety and security. The believer is never alone.” The local community feels honored and not a little proud of the work they did to prepare for the closing event. Impeccable sound system, splendid chorus and singing, resplendent procession and liturgy… there were plenty of reasons for the crowd’s enthusiasm as the seminarians of the Latin Patriarchate encouraged them to clap their hands and join in the singing.

At eleven o’clock Mgr. Fouad Twal made his entrance. The ceremony, which took place in several languages, then began with a few words from Pope Francis: “The roots of our faith are where you stand today, on the place where Mary said ‘Yes’.” This “yes” was echoed by the Maronite Archbishop Moussa al-Hage in his words of welcome: “The beauty of faith, of faith with the joy of this ‘yes’, is the signature of Christians.” Mgr. Fouad Twal dedicated most of his homily to considering what faith is: not a simple idea, but a virtue and a decision to receive God as a sign of belonging. Following the examples of Mary, Abraham, and Christ, His Beatitude reminded the faithful to testify to their faith through everyday charity and love. He invited them also to examine their consciences and their undertakings in the light of the famous parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30): “Which group are we, are you, part of? Are you in the group that multiplies its talents or the one that wastes them? […] Jesus should not be surprised by our lack of faith. Is your faith kept in a weak and fragile clay vessel?”

The patriarch then emphasized the close relationship between faith and peace, and recalled how much the Christians of the Holy Land have prayed during this Year of Faith for their brothers in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq. He explained it this way: “We must rise up to the Lord and only to him; only the Lord will bring peace to this land. The power of our prayers will overcome the power of violence. Lord, make us able to recognize you when we look at our neighbor.” A bit further on, he continued, “Today, the end of the Year of Faith, is not the end of our faith. Quite the contrary, we are called to strengthen our faith as we await the hour when the Lord can tell us: you are your Father’s joy.”

Living faith opens the heart to God’s grace. Today more than ever we recall the obligation to testify to a new life, a life transformed by God, that opens the way to encounter others. There were also encounters after the ceremony, as on this Day of Faith, visits and exchanges were offered in the Galilee. While the Saint Saviour parishioners visited the Nazareth sanctuary, the friars of the Custody visited one of their brothers, Fra Jack Karam in the Moujeidel friary, thereby also discovering a site that is little known to the public at large but, being neither a parish nor a school, is apt for ecumenical dialogue, becoming a precious meeting space. Fra Stéphane Milovitch, guardian of Saint Saviour, underlined “the importance for friars and seminarians to come to know the diversity and types of apostolate that comprise the Custody”.

The day ended at Jaffa of Nazareth, the home village of the apostles James and John. In 1641, the Franciscans founded Saint John parish, but today they retain only Saint John’s House. Here, in the small chapel that was built in 1886 on the heights of the village, the day ended with the celebration of Vespers.

The Nazareth celebrations may have anticipated by a week the closing events of the Year of Faith that will take place in the Vatican on November 24th, but the Christians of the Holy Land did not miss the opportunity to tell the Holy Father how much they desire to put on this new face of the modern Catholic Church envisaged by John XXIII.

Emilie Rey

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