HAIFA – On Sunday, May 5, 2019, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate, led the traditional procession of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel in Haifa, where the faithful celebrated its centenary.
The first procession was held on April 27, 1919, Divine Mercy Sunday, and was organized to bring back solemnly the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel to the sanctuary of Stella Maris, the statue that in 1914, at the beginning of the First World War, had been transferred to the parish church in the city. Although linked to the end of the Great War and to the desire to thank the Lord and the Virgin for the return of peace, this event did not cease to exist at the end of the conflict; the procession, in fact, continued to perpetuate itself also in the following years until it became the most important in the Holy Land after that of Palm Sunday in Jerusalem.
During its hundred years of history, the procession also experienced critical moments especially in the years 1948-49. In 1948, the year of the proclamation of the State of Israel, the procession – which traditionally takes place on the third Sunday after Easter – fell on April 18, less than a month before the proclamation of the State and the beginning of hostilities that led to the first Israeli-Arab war. The following year, given the very low numbers of Christians, almost all of whom fled or were expelled from Haifa after the war of 1948, the few faithful who stayed were afraid of organizing the procession due to their small numbers and the fear of repercussions. It was the then new Israeli mayor of Haifa who favored the procession by guaranteeing public order and thus preserving tradition. One can therefore believe that the Virgin, in some way, has always providentially watched over her faithful and the continuation of her procession.
Today, after a hundred years, that same statue is led, or more precisely “pulled” by the faithful from the Latin parish of Saint Joseph of Haifa, from valley to mountain, near the sanctuary of Stella Maris, on top of Mount Carmel. The journey, over five kilometers long, is covered by a very long procession opened by the scouts and closed by the faithful who accompany the statue of the Virgin.
H.E. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa led the procession – which was was organized by the parish priest of Haifa, Father Abdo Abdo – with Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, Apostolic Nuncio in Israel and Cyprus and Apostolic Delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, Fr. Hanna Kildani, Patriarchal Vicar for Israel. The Greek prelates and the Maronite priests of Haifa also accompanied the Latin ones.
Furthermore, due to the extraordinary anniversary of the centenary, Fr. Saverio Cannistrà OCD, the Superior General of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, also took part in the procession.
This year the procession was particularly special and solemn because of the centenary and saw a rich and enthusiastic participation. Many were the numbers of Christians in Haifa, a city whose Christian community lives intensely the devotion to Mary. The faithful from Galilee, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bir Zeit, Taybeh and from many other Arab-Christian realities in the Holy Land also flocked to Carmel.
During the procession, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel was placed on a cart carrying children dressed as cherubs; the cart is pulled by ropes by a group of faithful and devout believers, supported by prayer and chants to Mary throughout the journey. The faithful, during the procession, threw flowers and candy inside the cart as a sign of devotion.
Among the various interventions of the bishops to the crowd, we note that of Bishop Marcuzzo who mentioned the situation in Gaza and, in the name of the Virgin Mary, implored the ceasefire between Palestinians and Israelis.
Finally, the procession ended with the solemn blessing of Archbishop Pizzaballa.