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.
PV-ISRAEL/MASS/NAZARETH VIS 20090514 (980)