00 5/15/2009 12:20 AM


Following his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, held at the Franciscan convent where the Holy Father earlier lunchd with the bishops of Galilee and the Franciscan custodians of the holy sites in Nazaerth, Benedict XVI proceed to the Basilica of the Annunciation for the rest of his Nazareth program.

The Basilica of the Annunciation, inaugurated in 1969, is the largest Catholic shrine in the Middle East,and is built over what is believed to have been the site of Mary's home in pre-Christian Nazareth where the Angel Gabriel came to tell her she had been chosen by God to be the mother of his Son.

Archeological evidence proves the presence of early churches built on the site to honor the Annunciation. What is now seen at the Grotto on the lower level of the Basilica includes some pillars from a third-century Church next to a stone-lined natural cave. The altar bears the inscription, "Hic verbum caro factum est". (Here, the Word was made flesh." [Anyone who has been there knows the unutterable thrill one feels to read those words on the site.]

A private visit to the Grotto was the Holy Father's first appointment here, but the layout of the Cathedral, whose interior was built to have the Grotto in the center, provides a wide circular opening on the floor of the Upper Church that looks right down into the chapel below, and the chapel itself has ample side galleries. So, unlike the Holy Father's visit to the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem [ yesterday (Wednesday), there are plenty of photographs of this event.