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NAZARETH – On Friday and Saturday, March 24-25, 2017, the city of Nazareth celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, in the presence of Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, and thousands of faithful from Israel, Palestine and pilgrims from around the world.

The festivities began in the afternoon of Friday, March 24 as the  Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate was welcomed by the various parish councils of Nazareth and the surrounding towns  at St. Anthony pastoral center.  After this time of fraternal exchange, the parish of Nazareth presented  the best welcome reception  for the  Archbishop and his delegation, which by tradition, escorted by the Scouts and band, and a crowd of nearly 600 faithful, Archbishop Pizzaballa and Bishop Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar in Israel, accompanied by the priests of the parishes of the region, walked in procession to the Basilica of the Annunciation.

In the courtyard, the Archbishop was received by Father Bruno Varriano, ofm, Guardian of the Basilica of the Annunciation.  Archbishop Pizzaballa  then led the procession of the faithful to the Grotto of the Annunciation, the humble cave where the Virgin received the announcement of the angel Gabriel. After a short but warm exchange of greetings, all went to the Upper Basilica for the celebration of solemn Vespers.

The following day, Saturday, March 25, the Apostolic Administrator accompanied by Bishop Marcuzzo and the parish council made an official visit to Mr. Ali Sallam, the Mayor of Nazareth.  It was a courtesy visit and an opportunity to address the various projects of the city of Nazareth, particularly those, which are currently underway that will facilitate and offer better hospitality to pilgrims.

The Solemn Mass of the Solemnity of the Annunciation was celebrated in the Upper Basilica. Bishop Marcuzzo welcomed “an exceptional participation of the faithful this year”.  Nearly 2,000 people came to sing and pray to the Virgin and attend the solemn Mass. “They came from all countries, from Bethlehem, from Jerusalem, from Taybeh, from Ramallah … The fact that the feast falls on a Saturday this year, a day of rest for everyone, is a happy coincidence,” the Vicar in Nazareth joyfully expressed.

Archbishop Pizzaballa in his homily said, “the life of God in us… the work of the Holy Spirit in everyone’s heart, to which we are called to abandon ourselves to Him without any resistance…  Mary of Nazareth teaches us through her humble obedience, from this small and fragile grotto that we still venerate, that our freedom is not acquired, but is given to us and is born from the ability of our heart to know how to say “yes” with love, giving over our life with faith to persons that we love, in family, in the Church, in life.”

After the Mass, the four Gospels of the Annunciation, including that of Saint John referring to the incarnation of the “Word of God,” were proclaimed around the Oculum, the opening from the Upper Basilica that offers the view of the Grotto of the Annunciation located in the lower part of the sanctuary.

At the end of the ceremony, the Franciscans welcomed the celebrants and a number of the faithful for a fraternal agape. Archbishop  Pizzaballa then went to the Oasis of the Emmanuel community on the shore of Lake Tiberias for the celebration of Vespers.

From Sunday to Tuesday following the celebrations in Nazareth, the Apostolic Administrator  visited the parishes and met with the priests individually, continuing his visits to the different areas of the Diocese which began in the previous  months.

From our correspondent in Nazareth
Photos: ©Mike Shehadeh

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