Biblical contestants of Galilee meet Pope Francis
ROME – The promise was kept and the dream fulfilled: the winners of the biblical contest, prepared and executed by the Latin Annunciation Family Club of Nazareth, participated in a pilgrimage to Rome to attend the public Wednesday audience of Pope Francis on April 9, 2014, to meet him, talk to him and receive his blessing.
The winners of the first four categories are Amal Abu Hatoum (Jaffa of Nazareth), Amaal Alam (Jish), Touma Hashem (Nazareth), and Hanna Moallem (Nazareth). The group of 33 pilgrims included the contest organizers and, among others, Nabil Totry and Bassam Shahtut, family members of the winners, including Bishop Boutros Muallem (uncle of the young Hanna) and Fr. Hashem Saeed (young father Touma), and other friends. Mazzawi Voyages technically organized the pilgrimage, led by guide, David Azariah an Iraqi Jew, professionally well prepared. The pilgrimage began on Sunday April 6 and ended Friday, April 11. The highlight was, of course, the day at the Vatican when they participated in the Papal audience.
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, who for months coordinated the audience with the Pope, celebrated Mass for the group on the tomb of St. Peter under the Basilica, and spoke about “the importance and beauty of apostolic succession and the mission of the Pope for the unity and growth of the Church.” He then accompanied the pilgrims to the meeting place with Pope Francis. For the occasion, the group was joined by Fr. Elie Kurzum, scj, Fr. Sleiman Shoubash, priests of the Latin Patriarchate, and some Palestinian youths studying in Rome, among others, Joseph Sakran, Ruba Srur, Nasser Salfity, Yussef Rashid and others. All wore a distinctive scarf, carried a flag with the Cross of the Holy Land and a large placard with a warm greeting to the Pope, and ended with the filial wish “Hoping for your visit in Nazareth.”
The Holy Land pilgrims entered St. Peter’s Square completely in awe and emotional at the sight of 80,000 faithful, singing and praying, who literally filled up the place. The pilgrims took their places in seats reserved for them in the separate raised platform near the Pope. Ten people – the winners, the organizing representatives and a person with a disability – had the joy of being accommodated in the front row close to the Pope. All were overwhelmed with the joy of greeting or seeing Pope Francis up close and personal, and hearing him speak.
The theme chosen for the Pope’s catechesis centered on the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” and developed at length the gift of wisdom. He sent greetings to different groups, and special mention was reserved for “Biblical Leaders, organizers and winners of the Bible Quiz, and the pilgrims from the Holy Land.” At this time a large applause sounded from our group, in a great and joyful bustle of flags, singing a brief and resounding Arabic chorus. The Pope expressly said: “I extend a warm welcome to the Arabic pilgrims, particularly those who come from the Middle East, especially the Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Israel, Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, accompanied by a group of biblical team leaders. The Holy Spirit teaches us and gives us the wisdom and truth of Christ. Invoke Him more often, to guide us on the path of true disciples of Jesus. God bless you.”
The Pope finished his catechesis, and went personally to greet various groups. As usual, the sick and disabled are the first to be visited and blessed. Pope Francis then passed to the Holy Land pilgrims who were in the front row of their section. They were able to greet him, receive his blessing, and give him a meaningful gift – a beautiful icon of the Annunciation – while also delivering some letters. And Bishops Marcuzzo and Moallem made the Pope a brief presentation of the group, especially the four winners, and asked his blessing on some pious objects – beads, wedding rings, rings, chains – made by the faithful.
The passage of the Pope in front of the special groups lasted well over an hour and a half, while the Square slowly emptied. Our pilgrims remained in place until the last minute, praying, singing, and cheering joyfully “Papa Francesco!” and expressing wishes with a spontaneous rhyme like: “Holy peace, Pope Francis.” When the Pope left the place, our pilgrims still wished him once more, brandishing posters of the next pilgrimage: “Goodbye Holiness! Soon in the Holy Land – Amman, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Nazareth too.”
Our pilgrims returned to Nazareth, grateful to God for the beauty of their pilgrimage, happy and excited to have met the Pope, and able to renew their commitment to the Church of Peter. Also ready to start a new biblical vitalizing of the Community of the Holy Land and, why not, a new contest that brought such good fruit.
(Text from our correspondent in Rome. J.S. Photos and l’Osservatore Romano)