Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel. Photos by Joanne Rae Ramirez
The ‘yes’ that changed the world
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2019 - 12:00am

NAZARETH — It was in this hilly city where orange trees line cobblestoned roads, and houses stand on limestone terraces, that the “yes” that changed the world was uttered over 2,000 years ago. It was a soft yes that has been written in stone through two millennia.

Without that “yes,” the story of the world and the history of civilization would have been monumentally different.

There are over two billion Christians in the world today. Their fundamental belief is anchored on Jesus Christ, who was born to a teenaged virgin mother in Nazareth who said “yes” despite her fears.

“Iba sana ang kwento,” said Fr. Dave Concepcion of Catholic Travel Inc., who led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Jordan and Turkey that began in this city.

The grotto where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.

It was apt that we began our journey in Nazareth, for truly, this is where Christianity began.

“She could have said ‘no’ but she did not,” said the Catholic priest to our group of 49 Filipino pilgrims during Mass at the awesome Basilica of the Annunciation here. “Did she fully understand what was said (by the Angel Gabriel)? I do not think so. But Mary saw the bigger picture.”

In life, he continued, one must not be myopic. And after seeing the bigger picture, one must pray for the grace of understanding. Mary saw the bigger picture, he said, then she understood. And she made a decision.

“It was a yes that made a difference,” stressed Father Dave.

An artwork donated by the Filipino people is displayed at the Basilica of the Annunciation.

And what a difference. According to the Scripture, after Mary said “Yes,” “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Nine months later, Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is their Savior, was born.

Father Dave, who is the president of Catholic Travel Inc., likened it to the presence of each of us listening intently to his homily.

“If your mother said no to bringing a soul to this world, you would not have been here.”

He said Mary is “the Lady who listened.”

*  *  *

The Basilica of the Annunciation is the focal point of Nazareth, where Jesus spent his childhood. The present church is the fifth to be built on the spot where the Angel Gabriel is believed to have appeared before Mary to announce the birth of Jesus. Remains of the first church were discovered during excavations in 1955.

At Mount Precipice, Nazareth are (front row, from left) Arlene Santamaria, Gina Garcia, Jean Villanueva, Aly Placino and the author; (back row) Nancy and Romy Limuaco with Fr. Dave Concepcion.

The grotto, where the Angel Gabriel is believed to have appeared to Mary, was carved out of the white rock of the hill and is considered the holiest spot in the church.

Opposite the Church of the Annunciation is the Church of St. Joseph, built over the cave that served as the carpentry workshop of Joseph. It is also believed that the cave was the home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

*  *  *

Near Nazareth is Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding. According to the Bible, the wine ran out in a wedding party where Mary was a guest, and she asked her son for, well, help.

Lo and behold! Six huge stone jars were filled with water and Jesus turned it into wine.

At the renewal of vows of married couples in Cana.

“Wine is a symbol of joy and to run out of it in a wedding was a curse,” said Father Dave.

And Father Dave said that sometimes, there is a lack in our lives because we fail to ask God to refill our lives with grace just like He replenished the jars that had run out of wine.

In Cana, all 17 married couples in our group, including friends Mike and Jane Tan, Tony and Carie Villena, Romy and Nancy Limuaco and Ferdie and Tonette Castillo, renewed their wedding vows in a touching ceremony within the Mass. As they did so, one of our fellow pilgrims Adele Joaquin played the flute to the tune of Panunumpa.

A wine jar from the Wedding at Cana.

The women, like Mary, said “Yes” again when they renewed their vows and I’m sure that unlike Mary during the Annunciation, they already knew what they were getting into — and loving it.

Being part of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land gives a depth even to the sightseeing. You witness, not just see, the significance of all the photogenic sites — you are retracing the life of Jesus Christ, in the very land He walked on.

Mike and Jane Tan with Fr. Dave Concepcion.

(For inquiries, please call Catholic Travel Inc. at 523-2523 or 0918-9110748)

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

JESUS CHRIST NAZARETH PILGRIMAGE
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