|Celebrating Year of Faith|
Atop mountain overlooking Nazareth, Catholics celebrate Year of Faith
Catholic News Service photo
Foreign workers from the Philipines pray during the International Day of Faith Mass on Mount Precipice in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth Nov. 17. The Mass celebrated the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI i n October 2012.
Catholic News ServiceNAZARETH, Israel — Using Abraham from the Old Testament and Mary from the New Testament as role models, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal extolled the power of faith in a special Mass marking the conclusion of the Year of Faith.
"We must hold on to our faith and accept things from God even though they may be (problematic) in the eyes of other people," he told some 7,000 local Catholics and international pilgrims gathered on Mount Precipice, overlooking the city of Nazareth, Nov. 17.
The patriarch said he was confident that the prayers and fasting for Syria called for by Pope Francis in September had contributed to the defeat of those advocating the option of war in that conflict. Though Christians in the Middle East have been a part of the great suffering of the region, they must remain strong, never losing faith, he said.
"The Year of Faith may be ending, but I hope our faith will not end," he said.
Pope Benedict inaugurated the Year of Faith in October 2012. Pope Francis will close the year Nov. 24.
For some, the Israeli Mass also served as a Mass of thanksgiving. A group of migrant workers from the Philippines prayed for their families and friends who were hit by the Nov. 8 typhoon, and refugees from Eritrea expressed thanks for having been delivered from the hardships in their homeland as well as those faced while crossing the Sinai Desert.
"We thank the Lord for saving our families in the Philippines and are praying for all those suffering, that they, too, will remain strong in their faith," said Janet Cataquiz, 49, who works as a caregiver in Jerusalem.
"We have gotten closer to our faith through all of the things that we have been through," said 27-year-old Abel Raki, who was among 18 Eritreans at the Mass. "God has done a lot of things for us since we have walked through the Sinai Desert. Our faith is more than before. We don't lose our faith."
Ranim Owe, 23, traveled from Jordan. She said her faith gave her courage to continue and excel in her life.
"It is important to have faith and hope in our life, especially in our countries where there are many wars," she said.
In a papal message read by the papal nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Pope Francis reminded people that their faith found its origins in the very land where they were now celebrating Mass.
"Before we can understand our own personal faith and need for Christ, we must go to the place and time where Jesus himself walked, where he took on human form and where he experienced joys and suffering, the blessings and difficulties of human life and love," Pope Francis said in his message. "And it was there that he gave to us the gift of his passion, death and resurrection and the assurance of eternal life."
The pope expressed his appreciation to the Christians of the Holy Land for their "faithful stewardship" of the sacred sites and for their continuing witness to the "proclamation of the Gospel."
"I assure you of my prayers and gratitude to God for your deep faith and for your perseverance. I encourage you to be witnesses always of God's peace and joy," he said in his message.
Addressing the pilgrims, he said he hoped that experiencing the sacred sites would be "an occasion of encountering Jesus Christ and deepening your love for him and his church."
"Though the Year of Faith is drawing to a close, I pray your desire to know Jesus may grow and your love for him deepen," he said.
Danuta Szczerba, 67, of Poland, said she had come to the Holy Land for two months and was at the Mass to "pray for peace and unity for all people."
Kenyan Matthew Njogu, 64, said seeing Christians from all over the world convinced him that the church is universal.
Bus shuttles from Nazareth brought worshippers up Mount Precipice to the outdoor Mass, held at the amphitheater where Pope Benedict celebrated Mass during his 2009 pilgrimage.
Some buses carrying Arab Catholics were detained at checkpoints, said Wadie Abunassar, chairman of media relations for the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land.
Sana Hannah, 45, of Nablus, West Bank, said buses from her city were detained close to two hours because there were several unattended minors with no identification papers traveling with the group. The children eventually were sent back to Nablus with one of the nuns in the group, she said.
"We are happy (to be here), but tired," she said. "We have always wanted to be in Nazareth. All of (these troubles) and we are still (in this land). It is the land of Jesus. Our faith is Jesus."
Shaden Sakran, an 18-year-old Catholic from the nearby village of Reineh, said she came to the Mass with her Scout group to pray for her family and friends and to feel part of a larger community.
But Claude Ibrahim, 41, a Maronite Catholic originally from South Lebanon and now living in the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, said he enjoyed seeing so many Christians coming together to celebrate a Catholic ceremony.
"It is nice to feel you are not alone," he said.
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