Esterno Basilica Nazareth

Nazareth: interview with Fr. Wojciech Bołoz, OFM

Veronica Brocca24 March 2023

Preserving and valuing the profound meaning of the mystery of the Incarnation: interview with Fr. Wojciech Bołoz, OFM, Guardian and Rector of the Basilica of the Annunciation and Shrine of the Holy Family in Nazareth

Nazareth is preparing itself to live the feast of the Annunciation in a context of apprehension. Considered an example of peaceful coexistence between different faiths, not very clear dynamics have “polluted” this climate of fraternity following the explosion of gunshots from unknown people against a school and a convent of Franciscan sisters in Nazareth last March 16.

The city of Nazareth is one of the main pilgrimage destinations of thousands of faithful, this is the place where Jesus spent his childhood and adolescence tomorrow here will be celebrated the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.

Today we want to tell you about this important solemnity together with Fr. Wojciech Bołoz, OFM, Guardian and Rector of the Basilica of the Annunciation and Shrine of the Holy Family in Nazareth.

We ask him to tell us what it means for him to carry out this task, how the celebrations will take place and the importance of seeing so many local and international people together here in Nazareth.

Nazareth Basilica Interior
Interior of the Basilica

Friar Wojciech Bołoz, tell us what it means for you to be the Guardian and Rector of the place where it all began. How long have the Friars Minor been present in Nazareth and what are the responsibilities they face?

Last August I was entrusted by the Custody of the Holy Land with the task of Guardian and Rector of the Basilica of the Annunciation and Shrine of the Holy Family in Nazareth.

Although I already had the privilege of serving in this place several years ago, this is a new and more complex experience. But I always try to fulfill the mission of the Custody in the Holy Land, that is, “the protection and worship of the Holy Places, assistance to pilgrims and the increase of apostolic works”. The Holy Church in the person of Pope Clement VI, already in the year 1343, entrusts to the Friars Minor the care of the Holy Places, places of our redemption, here, on this land of the Middle East, very troubled and suffering, but so loved by St. Francis and later by the Friars Minor.

In a particular and stable way the friars settled in Nazareth in the year 1620. From this moment they can fulfill the mandate of the Church to guard the Grotto of the Annunciation and take the spiritual care of the faithful of Nazareth.

This task persists over time and takes root in the hearts of the friars to this day. Especially here in Nazareth we Friars Minor have the privilege of learning from the example of Saint Joseph, Guardian of Mary and Jesus, what it means to be a guardian.

He teaches us that first of all we must increase our faith and trust in divine providence, listening to the word of God that speaks to us through the Holy Places, simple, common places, but overflowing with the divine presence.

Stained glass Nazareth 1
Stained glass windows inside the Basilica of the Annunciation
Stained glass Nazareth 2
Stained glass Nazareth 3

In particular, Nazareth, where the Incarnation of the Logos, the eternal Word of God, takes place, the place of intimate union between the divine nature and human nature, in the person of Jesus Christ, does not represent only rocks and stones, but is the Gospel.

For this reason, I think, we can call the Friars Minor, not only the Custodians of the Holy Places, but Custodians of the Fifth Gospel. Although this term Fifth Gospel was conceived recently, in the seventies of the last century, it has been perceived and lived by the friars over the centuries.

Even today, our Franciscan community, taking into account the whole history and message of this place, tries to follow the recommendation of St. Paul in the letter to Timothy: “O Timothy, keep the deposit; avoid the profane gossip and objections of so-called science, professing which some have deviated from the faith.” 1Tim 6.20-21. Let us seek, in the first place, to listen to and appreciate the profound meaning of the mystery of the Incarnation, which is a pillar of the deposit of faith, even if we may not be able to understand this mystery fully, but we can, however, deepen its meaning daily. And secondly, to transmit it with our example of life, with welcoming pilgrims and pastoral care of the faithful.

Entrance to the Basilica of the Annunciation
Entrance to the Basilica of the Annunciation
Nazareth Altar
Altar of the Annunciation

Speaking of pilgrims, tomorrow the Catholic Church will celebrate the Annunciation of the Lord. Many faithful and pilgrims participate in this important feast every year. What is planned and how can we live this day fully and authentically?

Next Saturday, March 25, we will have a special opportunity to carry out our task of proclaiming the Gospel of the Incarnation.

On this day the whole Catholic Church will celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation, but only in Nazareth can we say that “Verbum hic caro factum est”, the Word became flesh here, in this place, and we are witnesses and custodians of this “deposit” that we have already received from the primitive community of Christians of Nazareth., transmitted to other generations and to the thousands of pilgrims who visited and prayed in the Grotto of the Annunciation.

This year we Friars and the local community of the faithful have the grace to participate without any limitation in the celebrations of the festivities.

This joy is further increased by the great flow of pilgrims of whom many want to join in the official celebrations.

As an expression of the universality of the Church and of the Catholic faith, the celebrations will preside over His Beatitude, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

The celebration begins already on March 24, in the afternoon, with the procession through the streets of the city, together with the faithful of the parish, the group of Scouts, pilgrims and other citizens and visitors.

At the entrance of the Basilica the Patriarch will be welcomed by the Franciscan Friars, and while the hymn Te Deum laudamus will be sung, His Beatitude Pizzaballa will enter the Basilica and the Grotto of the Annunciation, where the liturgy of Vespers will be prayed.

In the evening we will recite the Vigil, which highlights the events we celebrate, the word of God in the Gospel and the body of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

The culmination of the celebration falls on the following day, 25 March, with the Pontifical Holy Mass presided over by His Beatitude the Patriarch.

All these celebrations focus primarily on the relationship of the Christian community with the living word that is the incarnate Jesus in this city, in this Grotto, in a concrete time of history. As then, today too it is present and expressed in the festive joy of individuals, of the local Christian community and in the celebration of one faith of the universal Church. The Church is one, holy, catholic and is alive.

Exterior of the Basilica
Exterior of the Basilica
Dome of the Basilica
Dome of the Basilica

The Church will therefore return to being full of faithful after two years of pandemic. What does it mean for you to welcome and meet so many new people?

This feast with thousands of participants shows that the Church is a living body, present in the world. The Holy Spirit and God’s grace brought good news: God is with us, only He saves us.

We invite everyone to participate in this particular event, those who have the grace to participate personally, but also those who are far from this place, who can join us in prayer through the media.

This will be possible thanks to the Christian Media Center , which will report and broadcast the celebrations of Nazareth in an audiovisual way. For example, through CTS website, YouTube, Facebook and various TV around the world. We hope that the words of the Archangel Gabriel addressed to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God” Lk 1:30 will accompany us in our lives. We must not be afraid because “nothing is impossible with God.” Let us entrust ourselves to his mercy.

Happy Holiday!