Beatification of Sr. Marie Alphonsine: the Nazareth Basilica was too small

In spite of the fact that two basilicas are superimposed upon one another, the Nazareth basilica was seen to be too small to welcome the crowd of faithful who had come from the whole of the Holy Land as well as from Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria to celebrate the beatification of Mother Marie Alphonsine, born in 1843 in Jerusalem as Danil Ghattas and the co-foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary, the only indigenous congregation of the Holy Land.
Two hours before the Mass began, the first faithful already took their seats; some one hundred Sisters of the Rosary, which is to say nearly one third of the congregation, had the first places.

Mother Marie Alphonsine is the second Palestinian to be beatified, but the first to be beatified here in the diocese [1]. For in 2005, the Congregation for the Cause of Saints announced that beatifications would take place during a Eucharistic celebration in the diocese that had promoted the cause of the new person to be beatified, and that the ceremony would be celebrated by a representative of the Holy Father. The aim of this decision was to underline the difference between beatification and canonization. When someone is beatified, the pope allows the members of the religious order to which he or she belonged and the faithful living where he or she lived to venerate that person, whereas a canonization means that a saint is to be venerated by the entire Catholic Church. Thus from now on, the diocese of Jerusalem and the whole Congregation of the Rosary can venerate Mother Marie Alphonsine.

But the diocese of Jerusalem is not exactly like the others, for if the beatification brought the diocese together in Nazareth, where the country’s largest church is located, that is also and above all the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary, who guided Blessed Sr. Marie Alphonsine throughout her life, said her first Fiat at the Annunciation. And Mother Marie Alphonsine also died in the odor of sanctity on the feast of the Annunciation in 1927, in Ein Karem.

After the example of contemplative life was given to the diocese through the life of Blessed Sr. Marie of Jesus Crucified, Mariam Bawardi, with Mother Marie Alphonsine, an example of apostolic life is given for contemplation and to be followed.

Mother Marie Alphonsine lived this apostolic life in such a spirit of service and of self-effacement that her own sisters only learned at her death that, upon the orders of the Blessed Virgin Mary who regularly appeared to her, she was the foundress of the congregation.

But this Sunday was not the time for self-effacement, either for Blessed Sr. Marie Alphonsine or for her congregation. Starting on the eve, the television channel Nursat Tele-Light dedicated its programs to the beatification. This Sunday, after the Liturgy of the Word, Msgr. Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, in the company of the Apostolic Nuncio, Msgr. Antonio Franco, and the Patriarch emeritus, His Beatitude Msgr. Michel Sabbah, proceeded to read the decree which proclaimed Mother Marie Alphonsine as blessed. After it had been translated into Arabic, a drape was raised that until then had covered a beautiful portrait of Blessed Sr. Marie Alphonsine. The crowd was seized by great emotion, which was mingled with applause and youyou’s.

His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal presided at the Mass together with Msgr. Salim Sayegh, the auxiliary bishop and patriarchal vicar for Jordan, Msgr. Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the auxiliary bishop and patriarchal vicar for Israel, Msgr. Kamal Bathish, Melkite bishops from the Holy Land, the Custos, some 120 priests, including some twenty Franciscans, in the presence of representatives of the Greek Orthodox and Coptic Churches. After the beatification decree had been read, the Patriarch went to the lectern to give the homily with a voice that was husky through emotion.

He greeted his brother bishops and the whole assembly and said: “We give thanks to God for this unique event in the history of the Church of Jerusalem, the mother of all the Churches. […] We hope that this day will mark a turning point in the history of our country and that this Holy Land will remain a breeding ground for saints and intercessors. […] A Church that is not concerned about men and women saints among its clergy, its lay people and its religious is a sterile mother. The most important thing is not to build and to construct great projects. What the Church needs most is the witness of saints.”

After the homily and the prayer of intercession, the assembly entered into the Eucharistic liturgy with the offertory procession. In addition to the hosts themselves, which were carried by members of Blessed Sr. Marie Alphonsine’s family and Sisters of the Rosary, the procession included two photographs of Mother Alphonsine and of Father Tanous, a rosary of course, but more surprisingly, a discipline – a penitential instrument – next to which was a Franciscan cord.

Aside from a few children, the majority of people present only realized at the end of the celebration that it had lasted 2½ hours. Its beauty and in particular the beauty of the songs that had been composed for the occasion with words of Blessed Sr. Marie Alphonsine and sung by choirs that had come from several parishes in the Holy Land as well as Lebanon, its recollection filled with joyful emotion, also its historical character all resulted in a magnificent celebration, and it took a long time for the crowd to disperse, as if people wanted to hold on to these moments of spiritual joy. This evening, it seemed like the diocese had changed somehow. It is no longer gathered together solely by the grace of living in the land where Jesus lived; what brings it together is also its ability to follow the Blessed Virgin Mary and the example of Mother Alphonsine, and thus to continue to live in the every-day reality the message of Christ and of the Gsopel, which is always the same and ever new, a message of love, of offering and of generosity.

Homily of the Patriarch

[1] The first to be beatified was Mariam Bawardi, Sr. Marie of Jesus Crucified, a Carmelite in Bethlehem, who was born in 1846 in Ibilline, Galilee; she was beatified in 1983 in Rome by John Paul II.