I did a spot for At Home with Jim and Joy for today’s show that featured the feast of the Annunciation and a special story of how this is celebrated in the Middle East where the populace is, of course, predominantly Muslim. I’d like to share that with you now.

For Christians, Mary is the Mother of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For Muslims, Mary is a much-revered figure as the Mother of the prophet Jesus. In September 1995 I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the UN conference on Women in Beijing. On September 8, a member of the Iran delegation came to our office with a beautiful picture of Mary, saying their delegation wanted to celebrate her birthday that day and this was their gift to us!

Years later, specifically on February 18, 2010, I was in Lebanon on my way to Iraq when the government made March 25 a national Christian-Muslim Day, something that had never occurred before in the history of Christian-Muslim relations. The decision was confirmed two days later during a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Prime Minister Hariri in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. That day I was in the offices of a Catholic newspaper in Beirut where people were scurrying to get this announcement in the press! The first joint celebration occurred a month later on March 25 as an official national holiday sanctioned by the government of Lebanon. All public buildings, schools, banks and university were closed and the government encouraged private businesses to do the same.

Last year, 2018 in Amman, Jordan, for the first time Christians and Muslims held an inter-religious celebration to mark the Annunciation. Patriarchal vicar Bishop William Shomali said the celebration was part of the “theological, religious, spiritual dialogue” that accompanies everyday life in Jordan. “We want to show the common points between Christians and Muslims on the Annunciation, in which even Muslims believe.”


If ever I could have bilocated, today would have been the day and Loreto, Italy, the place. I am in Chicago for some days for work, appointments and interviews but I would have loved to be next to the Pope, or at least in the crowd of faithful who greeted him today in Loreto at the Shrine of the Holy House. Loreto is one of my absolute favorite shrines in all of Italy.

The last time I was there was on November 14, 2017 with the pilgrimage women of WINE, Women In the New Evangelization. I posted a column a day later. Unfortunately the story appears but the photos do not as wordpress only saves photos for a few days. I don’t have access to them in Chicago as they are on my external hard drive in Rome. Here’s the story of this very special home (if you can add Loreto to your Italian travels, do so!): https://joansrome.wordpress.com/2017/11/15/loreto-hic-verbum-caro-factum-est-here-the-word-was-made-flesh/

Loreto had to be extra special today for another reason. After Pope Francis recited the Angelus, all the church bells in Loreto and throughout the Marche region where Loreto is located rang simultaneously! How glorious that had to have been!


By Devin Watkins (vaticannews)

Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto on Monday, to mark the Feast of the Annunciation.

Tradition holds that the Virgin Mary lived within the relocated walls housed in the Sanctuary, and there received the Angel’s message of the Annunciation.

Following Mass, the Holy Father spoke to the 10,000-strong crowd of the faithful gathered in the square in front of the Basilica.

Pope Francis said the Sanctuary is “a privileged place to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God,” since it is “the house of Mary.”

Many pilgrims, he said, come from around the world to the “oasis of silence and piety” to draw strength and hope, calling the Holy House of Loreto a home for the young, families, and the sick.

Home for the young

Pope Francis said it is a home for young people, because the Virgin Mary “continues to speak to new generations, accompanying each one in the search for his or her vocation.”

It was for that reason, the Pope said, that he had chosen to sign his post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on young people in Loreto. The document is entitled “Christus vivit – Christ lives”, and is the culmination of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment that was held in October 2018.

“In the event of the Annunciation the dynamic of the vocation appears, expressed in the three moments that marked the Synod: 1) listening to the Word-project of God; 2) discernment; 3) decision,” he said.

Home for families
Pope Francis said the House of Mary in Loreto is also a home for the family.

“In the delicate situation of today’s world,” he said, “the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman assumes an essential importance and mission.”

He invited Catholics to rediscover the plan traced out by God for the family and to reaffirm its central role in society.

Within those walls, the Pope said, Mary lived out the many facets that characterize family relationships, “as a daughter, fiancée, and mother,” saying that her experience shows that the Church must care for families and young people in tandem and not separately.

Home for the sick
Finally, Pope Francis said the Holy House of Loreto is a home for the sick.

“Here are welcomed those who suffer in body and spirit, and our Mother brings to all the mercy of the Lord from generation to generation.”

The Holy Father said illness wounds the family, but that the family must welcome the sick person by loving, supporting, encouraging, and caring for them.

And the Pope sent his thoughts and prayers to people around the world who suffer from various illnesses and maladies. “Your suffering can become a decisive collaboration for the coming of the Kingdom of God,” he said.

Pope Francis closed his visit to the Basilica of the Holy House of Loreto with the Angelus prayer, asking all to pray for young people, families, and the sick.


By John Waters (vaticannews)

On the Feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis signed his Apostolic Exhortation for the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.

“Christus vivit – Christ lives” is a letter to the world’s young people that represents the fruit of the October Synod. The Vatican will release the full text in the near future.

The Basilica of the Holy House in Loreto contains the walls of what tradition holds to be the house in which the Virgin Mary lived when the Angel Gabriel announced that she was to give birth to Jesus.

During his visit to Loreto, Pope Francis spoke about the Exhortation and explained that there are 3 sections to the document, which mirror 3 phases of the Synod process. To explain this further, he outlined this process whilst referencing the story of the Annunciation.

“The first moment, that of listening, is manifested by the words of the angel: ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.’ It is always God who takes the initiative in calling people to follow Him”, said the Pope.

He went on to explain that young people need to find moments of quiet and stillness to listen to God’s call and that God’s voice will not be heard amongst noise and agitation.

Instead, quiet and stillness will help young people discover that “His plan for our personal and social life is not perceived by remaining on the surface, but by descending to a deeper level, where moral and spiritual forces act. It is there that Mary invites young people to come down and tune in to God’s action.”

Then comes the phase of discernment, which is “expressed in Mary’s words: ‘How will this happen?’ Mary does not doubt; her question is not a lack of faith; on the contrary, she expresses her own desire to discover God’s ‘surprises’. In her there is attention to grasping all the demands of God’s plan for her life, to knowing it in its facets, to make one’s collaboration more responsible and complete.”

Pope Francis said this is the proper attitude with which to follow God’s call in our lives, since this attitude allows people to discover not only what God’s plan is for their lives, but also how God’s grace will help them to develop the skills and abilities needed to live out his call for them.

“Decision is the third step that characterizes every Christian vocation, and it is made explicit by Mary’s response to the angel: ‘Let it be done to me according to your word.’ Her ‘yes’ to God’s plan of salvation, implemented by means of the Incarnation, is the handing over to Him of her whole life. It is the ‘yes’ of full trust and total openness to God’s will,” said the Pope.

He highlighted the Virgin Mary as the model Christian disciple and suggested that today’s young people try to imitate her example as they search for God’s plan for their lives.

The Pope pointed out that Mary had lived a multitude of family relationships.

She was a daughter, a fiancée, a bride and a mother, so all young people, no matter what their role in life and calling from God, can find an example and inspiration in her.


I visited the Holy Land for the first time with a small pilgrimage group from Rome’s Santa Susanna community, along with faculty from Marymount International School. We numbered 30 people, including two priests, Fr. Tom Holahan and Fr. Phil DeRea. As I was thinking today of tomorrow’s feast of the Annunciation, I remembered our visit to Nazareth and the Basilica of the Annunciation and though I would repost that story.

My only apology is for the size of the photos. It took me a long time to find then originals and much longer to try and re-size them – to absolutely no avail! I tried to create a carousel of the few photos I found in an attempt to re-size them. That seems to have been an exercise in futility!


LUKE 1, 26-38

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.”

Nazareth, is, of course, a town we know from the Gospel, from songs, from our childhood. Nazareth, a hill town in Galilee, city of the Annunciation, of Jesus’ childhood, of Joseph’s carpenter shop. The town where Jesus played with boys his own age, where he helped St. Joseph make tables and chairs and where his mother drew water from the only well in town and thus knew most of the women. A town of 63,000 overlooking the Jezreel Valley, Nazareth is one of the oldest sites in the Holy Land and today is the largest Arab town in Israel. It was not considered much of a town in Jesus’ time and in fact, Nathaniel of nearby Cana said, in John 1,47: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Annunciation Basilica by night – our first view of this shrine

By day –

Modern Nazareth is not the bucolic setting one imagines from Christmas cards but a busy fairly modern town, though part of it, called Nazareth Village, offers a re-creation of what Nazareth would have been like at the time of the Holy Family. Our time in the Holy Land was principally dedicated to exploring the churches and places of our pilgrimage, not the cities and towns and villages, so I cannot say we got to know this Galilean hill town. However, I will, towards the end of this travelblogue©, fill these pages with pictures of people and places and foods and dress and local customs so you can get another idea of the country.

Though we had been staying in a Nazareth hotel, we had not yet visited the basilica of the Annunciation. We saw it by night on Monday as we returned from the Sea of Galilee region and our visit to Mount Tabor. However, Tuesday morning, before our departure for the Jordan Valley, Jericho and Jerusalem, we visited this church and the adjacent Church of St. Joseph’s Carpentry where Father’s Tom and Phil celebrated Mass. I’ll take you to St. Joseph’s tomorrow as I just have too many photos of each site to short change either one.

We were ushered into a courtyard where we saw the beautiful facade of this church, with the words, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” We walked under a portico, partly as protection from the rain, and partly to see some of the dozens of plaques featuring Madonna and Child and donated by churches or by the episcopal conferences of various countries around the world.

The basilica itself is almost an architectural oddity inside with its various levels and the remnants of the many churches – Byzantine and Crusader era – previously constructed over the original grotto area, and then destroyed over the centuries. Some of the pavement from earlier constructions is still visible and amazingly well preserved, considering the vicissitudes of history. In fact, in the sunken area we find the apse of a fifth century Byzantine church that had been built around the grotto of the Annunciation. On the north wall (though I do not have photos) are the remains of a 12th century Crusader church and some restored Byzantine mosaics.

The church is, of course, built over the site where the Angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to Mary to announce that she would become the mother of the Savior. The Basilica of the Annunciation was commissioned by Franciscans and consecrated in 1969. It seems that the architect, Giovanni Muzio, was asked to build a church that was “modern, multinational and mysterious.” For many the “mysterious” part is the architecture itself, as you will see from a few photos.

The greatest mystery was, of course, divine – the divine motherhood of Mary, announced to this humble teenager from this insignificant hill town by an angel of the Lord in a small, almost forlorn cave.

This site of the Annunciation was one of the most moving experiences of the trip. As we entered the church, the contrast between the bright facade and the dark interior was almost jolting. Is this truly such an important, revered site? Inside it seemed so somber, so dimly lit, with just one luminous area drawing your attention.

Drawn by that light, we walked to the middle of the church where we saw a low, sunken area with an altar, surrounded on three sides by stone seats, where another pilgrimage group was celebrating Mass.

And there, behind the altar, behind a gate, was the grotto of the Annunciation, the actual place where Mary, our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, “Theotokos”, the Mother of God, received the announcement: “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

This was a moment that was moving beyond telling. As I touched the grate that separated me from the cave and the small altar inside, I felt closer to Mary here than in any other place we would visit. Mary has become my Mother in many new ways ever since I lost my earthly mother. And I felt the presence of both of them, side by side, right here. This was a simple home, a simple dwelling, a simple but unique woman, whose one word – “Fiat” – “thy will be done” – changed her world and the history of mankind.

I thought then, and I repeat it here: To be this humble, this willing to listen to and obey the word of God, without question, without guile, with just simple faith! What a lesson for all of us!

I lingered a bit near the grotto but we did not have much time for personal prayer as Fathers Tom and Phil were about to celebrate Mass in the nearby Church of St. Joseph. So many groups ask to celebrate Mass at important pilgrimage sites that it becomes very important to maintain a timely schedule.

As we left this simple and yet complex basilica and the simple yet uniquely historical area of the grotto, I knew with certainty I would return one day.



An alert reader noted the mistake in the March 25 schedule for papal liturgical ceremonies that was posted yesterday by the Holy See Press Office and that I reposted on this column: March 25 is actually the FEAST OF THE ANNUNCIATION.

That correction is being made on my March 3 blog.