NAZARETH, DEC. 6, 2010 (Zenit.org).- An international colloquium dedicated to Nazareth could be the first step toward officially declaring the city as patrimony of humanity, says the mayor of that locale.
Ramiz Jaraisy, that city’s mayor, said this after the Nov. 21-24 colloquium on “Nazareth: Archeology, History, and Cultural Patrimony,” reported the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The initiative was organized by the Mary of Nazareth Association, the International Mary of Nazareth Center and the Nazareth Cultural and Tourism Association, with the support of the Israeli Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the French Cultural Center of Nazareth and the Italian Cultural Center of Haifa.
Among the authorities attending this research session were the ambassador of France to Israel, Christophe Bigot, and the patriarchal vicar for Israel, Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo.
In statements to ZENIT, Omar Massalah, Muslim secretary of the Mediterranean Peace Forum and author of the proposal that UNESCO declare Nazareth patrimony of humanity, explained that this “would be the best way to protect the city, to avoid transformation and modernization putting an end to Nazareth’s soul.”
“Nazareth is a unique city,” he affirmed. “It’s necessary that Nazareth should become again a city that illumines the world.”
Massalah said, “The preparation of the dossier for UNESCO of Nazareth’s candidature is a technical aspect being carried out in collaboration with the municipality of the city and the national Israeli commission concerned.”
He expressed his intention to speak with the Arab countries “to support the petition, as it is not an initiative with a political connotation, but a cultural issue.”
Massalah explained, “For the Mediterranean Peace Forum, with headquarters in Paris, which has organized its first session in Lecce, Italy, and is planning another in Brindisi, the objective is to promote a culture of peace and dialogue, particularly among believers, and more concretely, between Catholics and Muslims, as both have many values in common.”
He noted that the Virgin Mary, “who is venerated by Muslims, could play a role of rapprochement.”
“The Qur’an says that the Virgin Mary is the woman with the most virtues,” Massalah said. “Muslims have great respect and veneration for her. I believe the Virgin is hope, peace, love and tenderness. It is necessary that she give out the values she represents.”
“With our forum, instead of putting the accent on elements that separate us we stress the elements that unite us,” he added.
In the opening address of the colloquium, Bishop Marcuzzo said that the richness and variety of the biblical, spiritual, cultural and historical dimensions of the city have only been explored by a very reduced number of its inhabitants, researchers and pilgrims.
He added that Nazareth, with its prehistoric archeology and its modern European constructions, the first Judeo-Christian church and the crusades up to the Ottoman period, also represents for the Church a source and origin, as the place of the Incarnation.
Though Nazareth is known by the whole world and has great symbolic content, its immense patrimony continues to be a buried treasure.
The prelate reflected the enthusiasm of all the participants given Nazareth’s richness, of which he said people must become aware.
More than 20 participants — Christians, Jews and Muslims — gave interventions at the colloquium.
Among them was Franciscan Father Eugenio Alliata, archeologist of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem; Pierre Perrier, specialist in Eastern oral traditions in the Gospel; and Renzo Ravagnan, professor of the Veneto Institute for Cultural Goods, which has restored many places of Nazareth, including the Grotto of the Annunciation.
The experts presented the spatial and historical dimensions of Nazareth. They also addressed the present state and future plan of the archeological excavations, a plan for tourism, historical and artistic studies on the present basilica and the old church, the unknown pages of the 20th century history, the still mysterious origin of the name Nazareth and its numerous derivatives.
The meeting also included a visit guided by Sharif Safadi to some of the local treasures, among them the 1st century Tomb of the Righteous, the facades and interiors of the great traditional Ottoman mansions, and Mary’s Fountain (emblem of the city).
The tour ended in a house, discovered last year near the International Mary of Nazareth Center, which dated back to Jesus’ time. On behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the director of the excavations, Yardenna Alexandre, said that the house can be dated without a doubt to the 1st century.
The Mary of Nazareth French association, which promoted the colloquium, gave an evaluation of the present state of historical and archeological knowledge on Nazareth, now that the building of the International Mary of Nazareth Center is finishing. It is scheduled to be opened on March 25.
The purpose of this center, built near the basilica of the Annunciation, is to help others discover and love Nazareth, as well as its rich eternal message, above all regarding Mary of Nazareth, in the very place of the Annunciation and the Incarnation.
The center’s management, reception and biblical and spiritual formation will be entrusted to the Chemin Neuf Community.
Deacon Marc Hodara of this community, coordinator of this project for years, recalled with gratitude the support received from the Churches of the Holy Land and the help of the important families of Nazareth. He also expressed gratitude toward Bishop Marcuzzo, who has supported the project from the beginning with great constancy and openness.
Chemin Neuf Community, whose charism is to work for unity and reconciliation, highlighted the spirit of concord and good will of all the participants in the colloquium.
The mayor of Nazareth closed the colloquium by expressing the hope that a book will be published of all the addresses given.
He also announced the municipal plan to give a $10,000 annual grant to a researcher who will write a doctorate on Nazareth.
The colloquium’s organizers stressed the success of the meeting and expressed the hope to have another session next year.
Bishop Marcuzzo said that “we began with the desire for a unitary knowledge on Nazareth and we have discovered the unity of Nazareth.”
[With the contribution of Jesús Colina]