ALL EYES OF THE CHURCH FOCUS ON NAZARETH:
POPE CELEBRATES MASS AT THE BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION

March 25 (EWTNews)  As the Pope traveled in the popemobile through the streets of Nazareth, he was welcomed by thousands who crowded the streets cheering, waving flags, and throwing rose petals. Just as those lining the streets were excited to see him, the Pope must have been just as excited to be in Nazareth today.

In fact, The Solemnity of the Annunciation, which is the Feast Day the Church celebrates today, was the reason for choosing the dates of the Holy Father’s pilgrimage to Nazareth. As the Pope expressed in his homily, "on this day, 25th March in the year 2000, the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Year of the Great Jubilee, the eyes of the whole Church turn to Nazareth. I have longed to come back to the town of Jesus. We are gathered to celebrate the great mystery accomplished here two thousand years ago. The Evangelist Luke situates the event clearly in time and place: ‘In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph... The virgin's name was Mary’ (1:26-27)."

 Upon entering the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Holy Father was welcomed by Br. Giacomo Bini ofm, the Minister General of the Franciscan Community. The Pope was then taken to the Grotto of the Annunciation, the house where Mary lived and where the Angel Gabriel appeared. It was here where Mary said "fiat". Entering inside the grotto he kissed the altar set up there and under which dominate the words "Hic Verbum Caro Factum Est" (Here the Word was made flesh). His Holiness then knelt down in personal prayer and then offered to Our Lady a gold rose as a sign of his love and devotion to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God who here accepted her mission to give to the world the Savior and the Son of God.

Afterwards, the Pope went upstairs to join the 2,000 people gathered to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation. This Mass was chosen as the location for the major address of the Pope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land because of the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh. It is a very important moment for all of salvation history. The Holy Father explained in his homily, "The divine plan is gradually revealed in the Old Testament, particularly in the words of the Prophet Isaiah: ‘The Lord himself will give you a sign. It is this: the virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a child whom she will call Emmanuel’ (7:14). Emmanuel—God with us. In these words, the unique event that was to take place in Nazareth in the fullness of time is foretold, and it is this event that we are celebrating here with intense joy and happiness."

As the opening procession began, a long applause welcomed His Holiness, an applause which went on even during the opening hymn where the phrases "John Paul II we love you echoed all around". Mass started by His Holiness greeting people with "the Lord be with you" in Arabic. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, introduced the liturgy. The Latin Patriarch is also native of Nazareth. The city of Nazareth, in the words of the Patriarch, asks for a blessing and peace to overcome the conflicts and confrontations between Christians and Moslems and in the name of all those who live here he welcomed all.

The Pope began his homily, "In order to in order to understand what took place in Nazareth two thousand years ago, we must return to the Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. It tells us, in obedience to the Father's will, the Eternal Word comes among us to offer the sacrifice that surpasses all the sacrifices offered under the former Covenant. His is the eternal and perfect sacrifice which redeems the world."

The footsteps of Christ that the Pope’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land has followed, began with Abraham and brings us today to Nazareth. With this,   the Pope compares Abraham and Mary, "both of whom receive a wonderful promise from God. Abraham was to be the father of a son, from whom there would come a great nation. Mary is to be the Mother of a Son who would be the Messiah, the Anointed One. For both Abraham and Mary, the divine promise comes as something completely unexpected. God disrupts the daily course of their lives, overturning its settled rhythms and conventional expectations. For both Abraham and Mary, the promise seems impossible. Like Abraham, Mary is asked to say yes to something that has never happened before. Like Abraham, Mary must walk through darkness, in which she must simply trust the One who called her Mary asks not whether the promise is possible, but only how it will be fulfilled. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when finally she utters her fiat: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me" (Lk 1:38). With these words, Mary shows herself the true daughter of Abraham, and she becomes the Mother of Christ and Mother of all believers."

So, today, the Pope added, "What do we, pilgrims on our way into the Third Christian Millennium, ask of the Mother of God? I pray, first, for a great renewal of faith in all the children of the Church. I ask the Holy Family to inspire all Christians to defend the family against present-day threats to its nature, its stability and its mission. I ask Mary to help the Church everywhere to preach the "good news" to the poor, as he did (cf. Lk 4:18). In Nazareth where Jesus began his public ministry, I ask her to teach us the way of humble and joyful obedience to the Gospel in the service of our brothers and sisters, without preferences and without prejudices."

The Pope concluded his homily praying, "To the Holy Family I entrust the efforts of Christians and of all people of good will to defend life and to promote respect for the dignity of every human being. To Mary, the Theotokos, the great Mother of God, I consecrate the families of the Holy Land, the families of the world."

At the end of the Eucharist, after the closing prayer His Holiness prayed the Angelus with the Assembly present. The Pope then handed to representatives of the local Church the acts of the Diocesan Synod which was celebrated last year. The final blessing followed. Then, while the choir sung and the assembly applauded His Holiness was greeted by the authorities of the other Christian Churches present in Nazareth while the local community presented His Holiness with gifts.

After Mass, the Holy Father left Nazareth and headed for Jerusalem. In the afternoon, the Holy Father will greet the Consul General of the Apostolic delegation in Jerusalem followed by a private visit to the Basilica of the Garden of Gethsemane. The day will conclude with an ecumenical encounter in the Throne Room of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.