The pouring rain did not curb the enthusiasm of the more than fifty Latvian pilgrims present in the Basilica of the Annunciation (Nazareth), on Tuesday 29th November, for the installation and blessing of the mosaic icon of the Virgin Mary of Aglona (Latvia). The President of the Republic of Latvia, Mr Eglis Levits and his wife, Mrs Andra Levite, attended the ceremony, accompanied by a diplomatic delegation headed by the ambassador of Latvia to Israel, Mr. Adrejs Groza and his wife, Mrs Sandra Groza. They were welcomed by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton and the Guardian Father of the Basilica of the Annunciation, Fr. Wojciech Bołoz.
The icon of Our Lady of Aglona
As is known, the external complex of the Basilica of the Annunciation is bordered by a series of panels showing national representations of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Over time, almost all the countries in the world have donated a traditional image of the Virgin Mary to this place; it is a particular national tribute recalling the devotion that all peoples universally have for the Mother of the Lord. On 29th November 2022, the contribution from Latvia also joined this long collection, through the installation of the mosaic panel showing Our Lady of Aglona, from the Latvian town that is home to the largest Marian shrine in the country. It is a mosaic made in Jericho, a faithful copy of the original from the Latvian Basilica of Aglona, in the eastern part of the country. The mosaic was made thanks to the donations by the Latvian faithful and promoted by the lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre (OESSH) of Latvia, with Mr Janis Smelters, magistral delegate of the Latvian OESSH, present.
The welcome from the Custos Fr. Francesco Patton to the Latvian President Egils Levits
Having arrived at the Galilee shrine in the early afternoon, the Latvian President, Egils Levits, was warmly welcomed by the Father Custos, Fr. Patton, who first of all accompanied him to visit the lower basilica, then the upper one and outside, where the blessing of the Latvian Marian icon took place. At the altar of the Annunciation in the lower basilica, Fr. Francesco told the President and his wife how, in this very place, the story of salvation took place through Mary’s “Yes” (Luke 1, 26),and described the evolution of the site from the historical and architectonic points of view. In the upper Basilica, before the blessing of the icon, all those present gathered for the greetings and usual speeches.
The first to take the floor was the President of the Latvian Conference of Bishops, Mons. Viktor Stulpins: "It is truly a great joy that today, in Nazareth, in the Basilica of the Annunciation, the whole of Latvia is represented, especially at such an important historical time for our country, i.e. the ceremony of inauguration and consecration of the mosaic of the Shrine of Our Lady of Aglona". The Latvian prelate then stressed the historic bond which unites Latvia with the Virgin Mary: "More than 800 years ago, Pope Innocent III proclaimed Livonia, which is also the territory of present-day Latvia, the land of Mary, dedicating it to the intercession of the Mother of God, and I am convinced and I believe that Mary, as she was present in the life of Christ in his most difficult moments, has been and is present in our land and in our country like a silent, invisible but caring mother. We are therefore grateful and trust in her for the future. Just as she consecrated herself wholly to God and as the Pope consecrated our country to Her 800 years ago, we will do the same again today, after the blessing of the mosaic, to let her take care of us and to strive to always follow her example of virtue." It was then the turn of the President who in aheartfelt speech said he was delighted to take the opportunity to inaugurate and consecrate a symbol of national worship such as Our Lady of Aglona in this holy place.
The moment of blessing the icon
The mosaic was then blessed, near the north-eastern perimeter wall of the Basilica and in the presence of a large group of pilgrims and authorities, including the deputy mayor of Nazareth, Mr. Mohammad Awaissi, and the former ambassador of Latvia to the Holy See, Mrs Veronika Erte. After the unveiling of the icon, President Levits, the episcopal vicar for the diocese of Riga, Mons. Andris Kravalis and the chairman of the conference of bishops, Mons, Viktor Stulpins, took the floor, the last-named blessing the icon.
The day came to an end with the visit to the Marian icons of all the nations present in the external perimeter of the shrine and with a group photo in the upper basilica.
Filippo De Grazia