From Mount Tabor we made our way to Nazareth to visit the homes of Mary and of Joseph. In the first century, Nazareth was a tiny village of just 25 caves (not houses), which suggests Nathaniel’s question to be a reasonable one: “Can anything good came out of Nazareth” (John 1:46)? Though Nazareth had perhaps 250 inhabitants 2,000 years ago, today it is home to some 90,000 people, 38% of whom are Christian – the highest percentage in all of Israel.
As we entered the Church of the Annunciation built above the cave-home where the Archangel Gabriel said to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus,” we heard the local Catholics singing the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic, a clear witness to the universality of the Church (Luke 1:30).
Within the church, you can descend a set of stairs to look into the cave in which Mary once made her home:
Notice the inscription on the altar:
|The word was made flesh here.|
Tears welled up in my eyes as I walked through the church towards the grotto, so palpable was the sense of the holy in this place, so great was the reality of God's love for us. It was a powerful moment that I cannot adequately express with words, nor one that I will ever forget.
After spending a few moments in prayer at the grotto, we went to the upper church to look around and to see the local Christians as they celebrated Sunday Mass. I was shocked to see so many men and young people present and wished that we would see the same in the United States of America.
From Mary's house, we made our way to the cave in which Joseph lived, just about a minute's walk. Here is a panoramic photo taken of the Church of St. Joseph (built his cave) on the left and the Church of the Anunciation (built over Mary's cave) on the right:
It isn't very far at all, and it was in Joseph's cave that the Holy Family lived for thirty years. It was a special grace to be at the home of the Holy Family as we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family.
As I thought about the Christians who remain in the Holy Land despite the difficult conditions under which they live, I asked myself why they stayed. Remembering what I felt at the grotto, I knew very well why they remain: Here they feel clearly the presence of God and here they maintain the memory that in this very place the Word of God began man. Remember to pray for the Christians of the Holy Land today, and every day.