Year of Faith officially opens in Deir Rafat
It is on the feast of the Virgin Mary that the Year of Faith in the Holy Land was officially opened during a celebration in the sanctuary of Deir Rafat. The solemn Mass was celebrated by the Catholic Ordinaries of the Latin and Eastern Rites with about 70 priests. More than 2,000 faithful and devotees were present including Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. It was a significant ecclesial event.
” May the Virgin Mary shine as a star on the way of the new evangelization.” The Pope in concluding his homily on October 11 for the opening of the Year of Faith (October 2012 – November 2013), placed the Church under the protection of the Virgin Mary. This “spiritual pilgrimage” which is the Year of Faith invites all Catholics around the world to deepen their faith. Without a doubt, this inner momentum must also inspire a new evangelization and the just concluded Synod.
All Catholic rites together
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land decided to officially open the Year of Faith on Sunday October 28 at Deir Rafat. Neither the date nor the place is the result of chance. Indeed, it is on the occasion of the celebration of the Diocese of the Holy Land that Christians have joined the path that the Universal Church is called to follow in the next twelve months. Every year, on the Sunday following October 25, Christians in the Holy Land celebrate the feast of its patroness, Our Lady, Queen of Palestine in Deir Rafat. The sanctuary is located halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It was built in 1927 to seek the protection of the Virgin Mary for her homeland. And who else but the Virgin Mary of Nazareth can better lead the faithful of the Holy Land to live this Year of Faith!
The day was a great celebration and a powerful moment of ecclesial communion. Families, children, priests and seminarians, men and women religious, and volunteers in the Holy Land, 2,000 strong gathered and prayed together. Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah presided over the Mass since Patriarch Fouad Twal was still in Rome for the conclusion of the Synod for the New Evangelization. Representatives of all the Catholic rites: Latin, Melkite, Maronite, Armenian, Chaldean and Syriac Catholic concelebrated at the Mass. It was a strong sign of unity and faith lived side-by-side.
Gift and a journey of hope
This witness of unity is essential in the Holy Land where the challenges are many. The risk of communities in the Middle East is to display faith only under the criterion of a social identity. Bishops hope that faith is lived in a relationship of love, trust and loyalty to God. To do this, the diocese has prepared homilies, catechetical program and initiatives dedicated to reading the Bible as a family, and encouragement to reception of the sacraments. The Church renews its invitation for the faithful to participate in the Mass and inter-ritual celebrations, to pay more attention to Catechism, initiatives for pilgrimages and prayer in the Holy Places.
In his homily, Bishop Maroun Lahham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan, said that “Mary has been the most illustrious woman of this land,“ given the most beautiful attribute “full of grace.” “For this , says the Bishop, the Virgin Mary did not ask for anything. God’s gifts are free and are not related to our merits.” Mary responded with a “yes,” “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy Word, Lord” and by her “thank you” as expressed in her Magnificat.” In the same way, the Bishop continued, we Christians of the Holy Land are called to welcome this Year of Faith gratefully and without reservation. Because we live here, we must be the first to witness to our faith and our hope.” Citing the Post-Synodal Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, the Pastors of the Catholic Churches of the Diocese in their Pastoral Letter for the Year of Faith reminded everyone that “the example of the first community in Jerusalem can serve as a model for renewing the present Christian community…”
“The Year of Faith, as stated in the Pastoral Letter which was distributed during the celebration, takes on a special character, “the geography of the history of faith that stood(…) the great cloud of witnesses to faith who populate the Sacred Scriptures sprang up from this very land. (…) This Mother Church of Jerusalem, custodian of the faith of the Apostles, is our Church and continues to provide models of faith even until today: Blessed Maryam Bawardi, Blessed Marie-Alphonsine, Venerable Samaan Sruji.” These difficult times in the Middle East make it even more obvious that faith is not a matter of effort, but the free gift of the Lord . A journey of hope.
The solemn Mass was followed by a beautiful traditional procession with the icon and statue of the Virgin. Popular devotion, prayers, songs to Mary, sacrament of reconciliation, and blessings were part of the day’s celebration…an opportunity for God’s people who live in the Holy Land to express their love for the Virgin Mary, a privileged daughter of this Holy Land.
For the full program of events planned for the Year of Faith, please visit the website http://www.annusfidei.va/content/novaevangelizatio/en.html