VATICAN CITY, 14 MAY 2009 (VIS) – Following his private meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, at the Franciscan convent in Nazareth, at 4.20 p.m. today the Pope travelled to the auditorium of the Basilica of the Annunciation, where he met with religious leaders of Galilee.
The ceremony began with some words of greeting from Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, Latin patriarchal vicar for Israel. The Holy Father then spoke to greet the leaders of the communities present, among them Christians, Muslims Jews, Druze, and other religious figures.
After first highlighting how “the world is a gift of God” and that it “has been willed by God and bespeaks His glorious splendour”, Benedict XVI indicated that “at the heart of all religious traditions is the conviction that peace itself is a gift from God, yet it cannot be achieved without human endeavour”.
“We cannot do whatever we please with the world”, he said, “rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe and pattern our actions after the divine goodness that pervades the created realm”.
Referring then to different religious traditions, the Pope noted how they “have a powerful potential to promote a culture of peace, especially through teaching and preaching the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity. By moulding the hearts of the young, we mould the future of humanity itself. Christians readily join Jews, Muslims, Druze, and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world”.
Noting also that the religious leaders “accept cheerfully and with a greeting of peace the many pilgrims who flock to Galilee”, he encouraged them “to continue exercising mutual respect as you work to ease tensions concerning places of worship, thus assuring a serene environment for prayer and reflection here and throughout Galilee.
“Representing different religious traditions, you share a desire to contribute to the betterment of society, and thus testify to the religious and spiritual values that help sustain public life”, he added in conclusion. “I assure you that the Catholic Church is committed to join in this noble undertaking”.
The Holy Father’s address over, a Jewish representative invited the participants in the ceremony to join him in singing an invocation to God for peace. The Pope and the other religious leaders present arose and sang the hymn with their hands joined.
At the end of the meeting, the Holy Father went to the Grotto of the Annunciation which is located in the lower church of the shrine in Nazareth.
The grotto-house of the Holy Family was incorporated into the crypt below the major altar of the Franciscan church built in 1730. The church was subsequently made a parish, enlarged in 1877, then demolished in 1959 to make way for a new church. The present basilica was visited by Paul VI in 1964 and dedicated in 1969.
The upper portion of the main facade houses the statue of Christ the Redeemer, below which are depicted the scene of the Annunciation and the four Evangelists. The southern facade is dedicated to Mary as an adolescent. Inside the building are two churches, placed one above the other, with a central opening through which the grotto-house of the Holy Family may be seen. The lower church houses the grotto and the seventeenth century Franciscan altar with the inscription “Verbum caro hic factum est” (here the Word was made flesh). The upper church is dedicated to the exaltation of the Virgin, Mother of God made man. The dome is 55 meters high. The floor that unites the two churches is made of multi-coloured marble and depicts, in eight inlaid illustrations, the Church’s Magisterium regarding Mary: Mother of God; Assumption into heaven; Virginity; Immaculate Conception; universal mediation; perfect sanctity; regal dignity and spiritual maternity. (657)
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