Nazareth: the parish reaction to Covid
Since August 2019 Father Marwan has been the parish priest of Nazareth. After managing the Terra Santa Schools and the House of the Child in Bethlehem for many years, he now continues his mission in Galilee, in the Israeli city with the highest number of Christians. “Nazareth is a very large parish – abuna Marwan tells us – the faithful actively participate both in religious services and in activities for families and children run by the church. An involvement and participation that would please any parish priest, but which during the global pandemic can become a cause for concern. However, Father Marwan has not lost heart and since the emergency began he has found alternative ways, thanks to the wise use of technology, to stay close to his faithful and not leave them alone.
Nazareth is one of the most “modern” parishes in this sense. The Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest basilica in the Holy Land, “was equipped with a very well designed camera system but was used only a few times for live broadcasts. We had a Ferrari, but we were using it as a small car – Father Marwan jokes – During the first lockdown, at the beginning of March, we decided to broadcast the celebrations online every day”. The parish has a Facebook page that updates the faithful on all the events of the Church and publishes live broadcasts with the contribution of the Christian Media Center. “We have never stopped – continues Abuna – we have made meetings on zoom, live on Facebook. The online catechism continued, the parish bulletin was distributed in digital format”. Through a web page, social media and an application for booking masses, the faithful continued to participate in the activities of the church. The parish of Nazareth is composed of 8000 souls, 8000 Latin-rite Catholic Christians. During the weekend Holy Masses are attended by many faithful, about 700 people and the numbers can triple during feasts, baptisms and weddings.
In these days, with the arrival of the second wave of the epidemic in Israel, the parish priest was once again forced to close the churches. According to the law, there can be no more than 20 people besides the priest during rites. For this reason Father Marwan once again suspended the celebrations during the weekend and continued with the online transmissions: “It is a painful choice, but necessary for the health of my faithful. Pandemics, like wars, are exceptional situations in which liturgical, spiritual and catechetical life undergo changes. But in this emergency we must act intelligently, exploit our capacities. Even if it is not possible to fully fill the liturgical need or receive the Eucharist every Sunday, the spiritual part and prayer must not fail. This is what we bring to people with the live broadcast: prayer and hope”.
The Facebook page of the parish serves to collect the many prayers that are addressed to Our Lady: “Najwan is a very good girl. She manages the Social Media pages, she collects all the prayer requests that are sent to us. During the celebrations we pray for all those who ask us for help,” continues Father Marwan. “Devotion to Mary is very strong in Nazareth, but many people look for her in Fatima, in Lourdes and sometimes they don’t remember that two thousand years ago, before all the other places where she appeared, Our Lady lived here,” says the parish priest who tries to keep this constant link with the Grotto where Mary received the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel.
The Holy Grotto, which the Pro Terra Sancta Association helped to restore, remains the greatest mystery, the reason why prayers in this place are so much invoked, the reason why even from the United States and Lebanon, where there are Christian communities that speak Arabic very closely linked to the cult of Mary, thousands of people connect to attend the Rosary and Holy Mass. Father Marwan is entrusted to Mary for this new challenge.