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Thursday, May 14, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 14 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 8.30 a.m. today the Pope travelled by helicopter to Nazareth, town of the Annunciation and of the Holy Family, which is located some 110 kilometres from Jerusalem. Having landed, the Holy Father continued his journey by car to the Mount of the Precipice where he celebrated Mass to mark the closure of Year of the Family, an initiative organised by the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.

Benedict XVI was welcomed by the mayors of Nazareth and of Nazareth Illit, by Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin patriarchal vicar for Israel, and by Archbishop Paul Nabil El-Sayah of Haifa and the Holy Land of the Maronites. The Holy Father saluted the faithful from his popemobile as he toured the site, a natural amphitheatre located near a wood dedicated to Pope John XXIII. Having then received greetings from Archbishop Elias Chacour, Greek Melkite ordinary for Galilee, he presided at Mass. Among those attending the ceremony was Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel.

In his homily, the Holy Father affirmed that, following the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, "we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family, which in God's plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God's gift of new life.

"How much the men and women of our time need to re-appropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilisation of love", he added.

"In the family each person, whether the smallest child or the oldest relative, is valued for himself or herself, and not seen simply as a means to some other end. Here we begin to glimpse something of the essential role of the family as the first building block of a well-ordered and welcoming society. We also come to appreciate, within the wider community, the duty of the State to support families in their mission of education, to protect the institution of the family and its inherent rights, and to ensure that all families can live and flourish in conditions of dignity".

"In the town of the Annunciation", the Holy Father proceeded, "our thoughts naturally turn to Mary, 'full of grace'. ... Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents. Whether as mothers in families, as a vital presence in the workforce and the institutions of society, or in the particular vocation of following our Lord by the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, women have an indispensable role in creating that 'human ecology' which our world, and this land, so urgently needs: a milieu in which children learn to love and to cherish others, to be honest and respectful to all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness".

He also noted how from St. Joseph's "strong and fatherly example" Jesus "learned the virtues of a manly piety, fidelity to one's word, integrity and hard work. In the carpenter of Nazareth he saw how authority placed at the service of love is infinitely more fruitful than the power which seeks to dominate. How much our world needs the example, guidance and quiet strength of men like Joseph!"

Benedict XVI told the children present "to let the example of Jesus guide you, not only in showing respect for your parents, but also helping them to discover more fully the love which gives our lives their deepest meaning. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, it was Jesus who taught Mary and Joseph something of the greatness of the love of God".

He then called on everyone to reaffirm their commitment "to be a leaven of respect and love in the world around us. This Mount of the Precipice reminds us ... that our Lord's message was at times a source of contradiction and conflict with His hearers. Sadly, as the world knows, Nazareth has experienced tensions in recent years which have harmed relations between its Christian and Muslim communities. I urge people of goodwill in both communities to repair the damage that has been done, and in fidelity to our common belief in one God, the Father of the human family, to work to build bridges and find the way to a peaceful coexistence. Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men's souls before it kills their bodies!"

Benedict XVI concluded his homily by expressing his "gratitude and praise for all those who strive to bring God's love to the children of this town, and to educate new generations in the ways of peace. I think in a special way of the local Churches, particularly in their schools and charitable institutions, to break down walls and to be a seedbed of encounter, dialogue, reconciliation and solidarity".

Finally, he encouraged educators "to persevere in bearing witness to the Gospel, to be confident in the triumph of goodness and truth, and to trust that God will give growth to every initiative which aims at the extension of His Kingdom of holiness, solidarity, justice and peace".

At the conclusion of Mass, Benedict XVI blessed the cornerstones of various new buildings, including an international centre for the family, a memorial park dedicated to John Paul II and the Pope Benedict XVI University.

At the end of the ceremony, the Pope travelled to the Franciscan convent in Nazareth where he had lunch with local ordinaries and the Franciscan community. After lunch, he held a private meeting in the convent with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of the State of Israel, before travelling to the Shrine of the Annunciation, also in Nazareth.


VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 6 p.m. today at the presidential palace in Bethlehem, the Holy Father made a courtesy visit to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority. He also met with a group of residents from Gaza and the West Bank.

Having described his time in the Palestinian Territories as "a most memorable day", the Pope thanked President Abbas for his hospitality and "for the great kindness you have shown me".

Referring then to the separation wall, the Pope said that "although walls can easily be built, we all know that they do not last forever. They can be taken down. First, though, it is necessary to remove the walls that we build around our hearts, the barriers that we set up against our neighbours.

"That is why", he added, "in my parting words, I want to make a renewed plea for openness and generosity of spirit, for an end to intolerance and exclusion. ... There are always grounds to hope that [conflict] can be resolved, that the patient and persevering efforts of those who work for peace and reconciliation will bear fruit in the end. My earnest wish for you, the people of Palestine, is that this will happen soon, and that you will at last be able to enjoy the peace, freedom and stability that have eluded you for so long".

Benedict XVI gave assurances that he will continue "to take every opportunity to urge those involved in peace negotiations to work towards a just solution that respects the legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike. As an important step in this direction, the Holy See looks forward to establishing shortly, in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority, the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission that was envisioned in the Basic Agreement, signed in the Vatican on 15 February 2000".


VATICAN CITY, 13 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 3.15 p.m. today, the Pope visited the Basilica and the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The present situation of co-ownership and administration of the Basilica of the Nativity by Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Latin Catholics dates back to the Status Quo, an 1862 Ottoman decree which regulates religious life at the Holy Sepulchre and at Bethlehem.

The Greeks own the basilica, except for the north part of the transept which belongs to the Armenians. The Grotto of the Nativity belongs to the Franciscans and is divided into two parts: the Altar of the Nativity, of the Greeks, and the Altar of the Manger in the Grotto of the Magi, of the Latins. Next to the basilica the Franciscans built the church of St. Catherine where the Roman rite is celebrated.

On both sides of the Greek choir in the basilica are the two entrances to the Grotto of the Nativity which is rectangular and measures 12 meters in length and 3 meters in both width and height. The bronze doors and marble portals date from the era of the crusades. The apse covers the Altar of the Nativity, under which there is a marble slab with a silver star and the Latin inscription: "Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est" (Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary). To the right of the Altar of the Nativity is the Grotto of the Magi where Catholic Masses are celebrated.

Having completed his visit, Benedict XVI moved on to the Caritas Baby Hospital, a children's hospital founded in 1952 and supported by the "Kinderhilfe Bethlehem" Association, established by Fr. Ernst Schnydrig who died in 1978. The hospital enjoys the support of the German and Swiss episcopal conferences.

Before greeting the medical and administrative staff, and the Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters of Padua who help care for the patients, the Pope visited the chapel and the maternity ward.

Addressing some words to the young patients and their families, he said: "The Pope is with you! Today he is with you in person, but he spiritually accompanies you each and every day in his thoughts and prayers, asking the Almighty to watch over you with His tender care.

"Fr. Schnydrig described this place as 'one of the smaller bridges built for peace'. Now, having grown from fourteen cots to eighty beds, and caring for the needs of thousands of children each year, this bridge is no longer small! It brings together people of different origins, languages and religions, in the name of the Reign of God, the Kingdom of Peace. I heartily encourage you to persevere in your mission of showing charity to all the sick, the poor and the weak".

Today being the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the Holy Father concluded by invoking the Virgin Mary in these terms: "May love triumph over hatred, solidarity over division, and peace over every form of violence!" And he concluded: "We ask your Son Jesus to bless these children and all children who suffer throughout the world".


VATICAN CITY, 14 MAY 2009 (VIS) - Following his private meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, at the Franciscan convent in Nazareth, at 4.20 p.m. today the Pope travelled to the auditorium of the Basilica of the Annunciation, where he met with religious leaders of Galilee.

The ceremony began with some words of greeting from Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin patriarchal vicar for Israel. The Holy Father then spoke to greet the leaders of the communities present, among them Christians, Muslims Jews, Druze, and other religious figures.

After first highlighting how "the world is a gift of God" and that it "has been willed by God and bespeaks His glorious splendour", Benedict XVI indicated that "at the heart of all religious traditions is the conviction that peace itself is a gift from God, yet it cannot be achieved without human endeavour".

"We cannot do whatever we please with the world", he said, "rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe and pattern our actions after the divine goodness that pervades the created realm".

Referring then to different religious traditions, the Pope noted how they "have a powerful potential to promote a culture of peace, especially through teaching and preaching the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity. By moulding the hearts of the young, we mould the future of humanity itself. Christians readily join Jews, Muslims, Druze, and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world".

Noting also that the religious leaders "accept cheerfully and with a greeting of peace the many pilgrims who flock to Galilee", he encouraged them "to continue exercising mutual respect as you work to ease tensions concerning places of worship, thus assuring a serene environment for prayer and reflection here and throughout Galilee.

"Representing different religious traditions, you share a desire to contribute to the betterment of society, and thus testify to the religious and spiritual values that help sustain public life", he added in conclusion. "I assure you that the Catholic Church is committed to join in this noble undertaking".

The Holy Father's address over, a Jewish representative invited the participants in the ceremony to join him in singing an invocation to God for peace. The Pope and the other religious leaders present arose and sang the hymn with their hands joined.

At the end of the meeting, the Holy Father went to the Grotto of the Annunciation which is located in the lower church of the shrine in Nazareth.

The grotto-house of the Holy Family was incorporated into the crypt below the major altar of the Franciscan church built in 1730. The church was subsequently made a parish, enlarged in 1877, then demolished in 1959 to make way for a new church. The present basilica was visited by Paul VI in 1964 and dedicated in 1969.

The upper portion of the main facade houses the statue of Christ the Redeemer, below which are depicted the scene of the Annunciation and the four Evangelists. The southern facade is dedicated to Mary as an adolescent. Inside the building are two churches, placed one above the other, with a central opening through which the grotto-house of the Holy Family may be seen. The lower church houses the grotto and the seventeenth century Franciscan altar with the inscription "Verbum caro hic factum est" (here the Word was made flesh). The upper church is dedicated to the exaltation of the Virgin, Mother of God made man. The dome is 55 meters high. The floor that unites the two churches is made of multi-coloured marble and depicts, in eight inlaid illustrations, the Church's Magisterium regarding Mary: Mother of God; Assumption into heaven; Virginity; Immaculate Conception; universal mediation; perfect sanctity; regal dignity and spiritual maternity.
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