NAZARETH, MAY 14, 2009 ( Reiterating the message of solidarity and hope he has delivered throughout his apostolic visit to the Holy Land communities, Benedict XVI is encouraging Nazareth Christians to persevere in their homeland.

Today in the Shrine of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Pope celebrated vespers with the bishops, priests, religious and ecclesial movements of Galilee, and encouraged them to withstand the Christian exodus that is depleting the communities.

He acknowledged that "Christians form a minority of the population" in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

"Perhaps at times you feel that your voice counts for little," the Pontiff noted.

The Holy Land Catholic Communications Center reported last year that Christians represented 2% of the total population in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Although this number is higher in Nazareth, which currently has a 30% Christian population, the number has changed significantly since 1946, when Christians comprised 60% of the city's inhabitants, stated Amnon Ramon of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

The Holy Father noted the reality that many Christians have emigrated "in the hope of finding greater security and better prospects elsewhere."

He encouraged the remaining Christians to draw strength from the example of Mary "who led a hidden life in Nazareth, with little by way of worldly wealth or influence."

Benedict XVI urged them, "Have the confidence to be faithful to Christ and to remain here in the land that he sanctified with his own presence!"

"It is essential," he affirmed, "that you should be united among yourselves, so that the Church in the Holy Land can be clearly recognized as a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race."


The Vespers celebration was today's last public event of the Pope's day in Nazareth, which also included an outdoor Mass on the Mount of Precipice, a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an interreligious meeting in the shrine's auditorium.

The shrine houses a grotto, which was originally part of Mary's home, where the Angel Gabriel appeared to ask her to become the mother of Jesus. The Pontiff prayed in front of the altar where a stone inscription reads, "Verbum caro hic carnum est" [And the Word was made flesh here].

"It is profoundly moving for me" to be present in the place where the Word of God was incarnated, he said.

"The wonder of the Incarnation continues to challenge us to open up our understanding to the limitless possibilities of God's transforming power, of his love for us, his desire to be united with us," the Holy Father affirmed.

"The attention of all the choirs of angels was riveted on this spot," he said, waiting for Mary's consent that would "launch a new and definitive chapter in world history."

Reflecting on this, Benedict XVI stated, gives us hope "that God will continue to reach into our history, to act with creative power so as to achieve goals which by human reckoning seem impossible."

In invites all of us, he added, to "welcome the Word of God into our hearts, enabling us to respond to him in love and to reach out in love towards one another."

After the event, the Holy Father left the shrine and returned to Jerusalem, where he will conclude his Holy Land visit Friday.

--- --- ---

On ZENIT's Web page:

Full text: