This morning in the town where Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph, Pope Benedict XVI called upon Christians to learn from the virtues of the Holy Family and to heal divisions caused by tensions between Christians and Muslims.
The Holy Father was welcomed to Nazareth by Archbishop Elias Chacour, who told the Pope that the local church is “so encouraged” by his presence, and that they hope the late John Paul II will be canonized soon.
Pope Benedict noted that the local Church is celebrating the Year of the Family and prayed that the soon-to-be-built International Center for the Family will “promote strong family life in this region, offer support and assistance to families everywhere, and encourage them in their irreplaceable mission to society.”
Men and women of our time, the Pope said in his homily, need to follow the example of Joseph and Mary who, remained faithful for their whole lives, were “consecrated by the covenant of marriage” and were “accepting of God's gift of new life.”
“How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilization of love!” the Pope said.
Pope Benedict then reflected on the individual qualities of Mary, Jesus and Joseph.
“As we reflect on these realities here, in the town of the Annunciation, our thoughts naturally turn to Mary, 'full of grace,' the mother of the Holy Family and our Mother. Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents,” he said.
In particular, the Holy Father explained, “women have an indispensable role in creating that 'human ecology' which our world, and this land, so urgently needs: a milieu in which children learn to love and to cherish others, to be honest and respectful to all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.”
St. Joseph's “strong and fatherly example” provides men with a model of the virtues of “manly piety, fidelity to one’s word, integrity and hard work,” said Benedict. In the carpenter of Nazareth, Jesus saw how “authority placed at the service of love is infinitely more fruitful than the power which seeks to dominate.
“How much our world needs the example, guidance and quiet strength of men like Joseph!” exclaimed Pope Benedict.
Speaking to children, the Holy Father told them that they have a “special role to play in the growth of their parents in holiness” and pointed them to the example of the child Jesus.
“I urge you to reflect on this, and to let the example of Jesus guide you, not only in showing respect for your parents, but also helping them to discover more fully the love which gives our lives their deepest meaning. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, it was Jesus who taught Mary and Joseph something of the greatness of the love of God his heavenly Father, the ultimate source of all love, the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name,” the Pope said.
Given the previous problems between Christians and Muslims in Nazareth, the Pope encouraged Christians to reaffirm their “commitment to be a leaven of respect and love in the world” around them.
“Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men’s souls before it kills their bodies!” Benedict XVI pleaded, asking that both sides work to repair the damage done.
The Pope closed by invoking the intercession of Our Lady of the Annunciation so that people become open to God's word, which can “inspire courageous decisions” and “guide our feet into the path of peace!”