Laura Sheahen, Regional Information Officer for Catholic Relief Services/Middle East, is in the Holy Land this week for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. Catholic Relief Services is a Caritas member based in the USA.
If earlier parts of Pope Benedict’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land had edges of tension, Thursday’s Mass in Nazareth was relatively short on controversy. Thirty thousand people strong, it had the feel of World Youth Days: the gasp as the popemobile enters, the waving banners, the cheers of “Long live the pope!” Teenagers spent the night or arrived hours early at an amphitheater on Mount Precipice, overlooking the city where Jesus was a teenager too. Some of the children and teens had painted their faces gold and white, the Vatican colors; many wore T-shirts made for the day. The adults sat sedately; the young people moved restlessly, adjusting their papal-insignia scarves, leaning expectantly for a glimpse of the pope, or hoisting their flags higher.
In the crowd were Palestinian Christians of all ages and denominations—an announcer welcomed “Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants”—along with a hefty share of foreign pilgrims: the flags of Italy, England, Lebanon, Spain, and many other countries flew. Reflecting on St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Pope Benedict drew on a theme every nationality could relate to: the family. Growing up in Nazareth, Jesus taught his parents and Mary and Joseph taught Jesus, Benedict said. In the same way, children today “have a role to play in the growth of holiness of their parents.” In a crowd of young people on the mountaintop, visuals backing up Benedict’s words were all around me.