Photos by: Laurice Haddad
It was a major celebration this last Sunday of October in the marian sanctuary at Der Rafat, where the Catholic population of the Holy Land solemnly honors the Queen of Palestine.
The sanctuary is about 35 kilometers east of Jerusalem, about midway between the Holy City and Tel Aviv, near Beit Shemesh in the Soreq Valley. It was built in 1927 at the initiative of His Beatitude the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Luigi Barlassina, who instituted the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Palestine. In 1933, the feast day was approved by the Holy See, which invited the faithful to beg the Virgin Mary for special protection for her native Land. This year, then, the sanctuary celebrated 80 years since its foundation.
The church and the associated buildings intended for a convent, an orphanage and a school were conceived by the Benedictine architect Maruizio Gisler. Sitting on a pedestal is a six-meter tall bronze statue. The Blessed Virgin is represented with her hand extended to bless the land. At her feet is the inscription “Reginae Palestinae”, the Queen of Palestine.
Inside the church, the walls and the entire ceiling have been decorated with the first words of the Ave Maria. A multitude of cherubs bear ribbons on which are written, in 280 languages, the words of the celestial messenger’s greeting.
For the celebration at Der Rafat of the patronal feast of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Christians of the entire region assembled at the sanctuary, coming from the Upper Galilee, from Jaffa and Jericho, from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, both of which are neighbors. For the occasion, the Israeli military authorities granted the Bethlehem parishioners 800 permits to cross the wall of separation.
In his homily, the cardinal evoked Mary’s role in Christian life and her special predilection for the peoples who today live in the Holy Land. He concluded with an exhortation for confident, faith-filled prayer to ask the Virgin to support every act of reconciliation and sincere dialogue, indispensable first fruits to obtain, thanks to her maternal intercession, the gift of peace that was announced at the birth of Jesus, her son, Our Lord.
The solemn feast concluded with a beautiful, long procession around the sanctuary that bore witness to a true religious and popular holiday.
Today in the Der Rafat complex, managed by the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, whose mother house is in Vicenza in Italy, there is a spiritual retreat center and a house for pilgrims who wish to flee the noise of the town and immerse themselves in an atmosphere of peace and the silence of nature.