By. Fr. Saba Shofany
In a letter addressed to his clergy on the occasion of his twenty-fifth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Munich wrote about Nazareth
The New Testament did not begin in the Temple, nor on the Holy Mountain, but rather in the simple dwelling of the Virgin Mary, in the house of the worker, in one of those forgotten places of “pagan Galilee,” from where nobody expected any good to come. It is only from there that the Church could make a new start and be healed. The Church could never present the true answer to the revolt of our century against wealth and power, unless from within its deepest self. Nazareth was indeed a living reality.
The future Benedict XVI affirmed that Nazareth is a living reality. Located fourteen miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, with its population of 80,000, is today the largest Arab city in Israel—thus earning the nickname of “Arab Capital of Israel.” The majority of its citizens are Arab citizens of Israel. Approximately 40% are Christians and 60% are Muslim.
While its roots date back to 9000 BC, Nazareth began as a small Jewish village about 2,000 years ago. “Nazareth” means “sprout” or “shoot” and is the name of a flower in Galilee.
Although Nazareth is never mentioned in the Old Testament, it plays a central role in the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke refers to it as the home of Joseph and Mary (2:39), where the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah (1:26-28) and as the place where Jesus grew up (4:16).
The evangelist Matthew describes how Jesus’ first public preaching took place in the synagogue of Nazareth (13:54). As evidence that a prophet is not accepted among his own people, the people of Nazareth were offended by Jesus’ preaching, to the point of wanting to throw him over a precipice (Lk 4:29) and to expel him from the region (Mk 6:1-6). Because of this rejection, Jesus was unable to perform many miracles in his hometown (Mt 13:58) and made another nearby village, Capernaum, his home (Mt 4:12-13).
After the Resurrection, the fame of this tiny village spread throughout the Roman Empire and has been a destination for Christian pilgrims for centuries. In the fourth century, a Church of the Annunciation was built over the House of Mary. This small structure was replaced by a succession of churches, the last being a modern structure dedicated in 1969.
Nazareth today is a city with a fascinating history, a touch of modern culture and a beautiful market filled with Middle Eastern charm. With its thirty churches and monasteries as well as mosques and synagogues, it is a center for ecumenism and for interfaithdialogue among Christian, Muslims and Jews.
In modern times, the monk, Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), seeking to follow the footsteps of Jesus, lived with the Poor Clare Sisters in Nazareth. He wrote
I am settled at Nazareth. . . . The good God has found me a place here, as perfect as could be. It is what I was looking for: poverty, solitude, abjection, very menial work, complete obscurity, a near perfect imitation of how our Lord Jesus lived in this same Nazareth. . . . I have embraced here the humble and obscure existence of God, the workman of Nazareth.
To understand the Incarnation, we must follow the example of Foucauld and look to Nazareth to understand poverty, solitude, abjection, menial work and obscurity.
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