HOMILY OF H.G. ARCHBISHOP PETAR RAJIC
AT THE EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION
Feast of the Visitation of the B.V.M.
Zeph 3:14-18; 1Pt 2:1-6.9-10; Lk 1:39-56
Blessing of the First Stones of the Our Lady of Arabia Cathedral
The Blessed Virgin Mary has been venerated in Bahrain for many years. In fact, here as in all the parishes of the Gulf, a statue of Mary the Mother of God adorns all our churches and in most of them, if not all, there also exists a grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, that confirms the great devotion that our faithful have always shown towards Mary the Mother of Jesus.
The B.V.M. in Arabia. Though this Marian devotion has always been very strong, with the official proclamation of Mary as Our Lady of Arabia and Patroness of the Gulf in January of 2011, the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary has become more personal and closer to us. This was indeed an historical event for the Church in this region of the world. With this declaration, Mary has entered into the region of the Arabian Peninsula we now call our temporary home. Though we do not know for certain if Mary during her life on Earth ever travelled through Arabia, we believe that with her proclamation as Our Lady of Arabia, she is now certainly spiritually present here in our churches and family homes, but most of all in the hearts of all the faithful who make recourse to her in their prayers. It is truly comforting to know, that the BVM is that much closer to us as our spiritual Mother and model of faith and charity.
God in our midst. Our celebration today is one of thanksgiving to the Lord for his many gifts and one of them is certainly the plot of land given to the Catholic Church in Bahrain towards building a new Cathedral, dedicated to the B.V.M. Our Lady of Arabia.
This is therefore a day for spiritual happiness and we can paraphrase the prophecy of Zephaniah of the first reading by saying ĎShout for joy, O daughter of the Church! Sing joyfully, O faithful of Bahrain and the Gulf! Be glad and exult with all your heartÖ Fear notÖ be not discouraged! The Lord, your God is in your midst, a mighty saviour; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.í
Living Stones. On this day, two stones of the new Cathedral will be blessed by your local Bishop Camillo Ballin and we will all share in this important moment. One is a stone of dedication with a solemn inscription describing the event taking place today. The other is a stone sent from Rome that originally was one of the bricks of the Holy Door of St. Peterís Basilica in the Vatican. In receiving this stone from the Holy Father and the site of the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, we are giving praise to Christ the Lord, who established his Church upon the rock of Peterís faith in him as the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16). Peter as the leader of the Apostles invites all the faithful to share in his faith in Christ with the words Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God. This stone also expresses our union with the Successor of St. Peter, the Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ. The Apostle Peter exhorts us to become like living stonesÖ built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. The blessing of these stones today is indeed an occasion to be aware of our common vocation to come to Christ, the living stone, and to place him as the solid base, the firm foundation of our lives. He is the one who through his divine mercy provides us with forgiveness, light, wisdom, strength for our journey, meaning to our existence, happiness and peace. He thereby makes us into living stones, spiritual beings who live according to the Spirit of the Lord, a holy priesthood of people baptised and consecrated to God in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, so that our lives may become a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The Visitation. It is most fitting therefore, that the blessing of these first stones occur on this feast-day of the Visitation, at the conclusion of this month dedicated to Mary. The BVM upon receiving the news that she would conceive Godís only begotten Son through the power of the Holy Spirit, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who in her advanced years conceived a Son, who was to become John the Baptist, the Precursor of the Messiah.
In the gospel, Mary is declared blessed three times by her cousin Elizabeth, who upon hearing Maryís greeting cried out in a loud voice: Blessed are you among women. Indeed, amongst all the women who have ever lived on Earth, those living today and those yet to be born, Mary of Nazareth was chosen to become the Mother of the promised Messiah, Godís only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. This special privilege was given to her by God, who also prepared her for her future role, by preserving her from all stain of original and every other sin. The blessedness of Mary is a result of Godís free gift of grace which was bestowed upon her.
Elizabeth then continues to bless Mary with the words Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Mary is considered blessed because of her Son Jesus, who she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and thanks to her faith in God. She is blessed because she gave birth to Godís only Son and thereby became the mother of eternal Word of God, who through her took upon human flesh and became a man. The birth of her Son Jesus is the greatest blessing God has bestowed on mankind, for Christ himself is the Fatherís greatest gift to the world.
Elizabeth blesses Mary a third time with the words Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. Mary is proclaimed blessed not only for being the chosen Mother of God, or for conceiving and giving birth to the promised Messiah, but also for believing in God and accepting his will with trust. Mary thereby became a disciple of God and keeper of his word, as well as a model for all believers of all times throughout the world.
From Maryís example we can understand that blessedness comes from faith, trusting in Godís revealed word, accepting his will as it is manifested in our lives and humbly following him in the small and routine events of our daily living. St. Ambrose once wrote: You too, my people, are blessed, you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes Ė that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes his works.
Some questions now naturally come forward for each of us: do I consider my life a blessing or a burden? Do I feel blessed by God or somehow cursed by the hardships of life? Do I consider my faith a blessing and live by it or is my religion a weekly routine and heavy load I carry? Can I look around me and thank God for the people he has sent into my life and consider them a blessing for me? Finally, am I in any way a blessing for others? If not, how can I become a blessing for those that I share my life with?
Blessedness is possible. It is not only reserved for the saints, but also for us sinners who strive towards holiness through the action and assistance of Godís grace. There exists a blessed state of being that is reserved for those who believe in God, who not only profess with their mouths that they are believers but who live according to his commandments and teachings. Blessedness can be a part of our lives, when we accept Godís will for us, in whatever way it may be revealed to us, even through hardships and sacrifices, all the while trusting that God will help us along our way. We too are blessed when we start blessing one another and consider our spouses, children, family, relatives, friends and communities a blessing for us. May all of us strive to be that way in all our relations with others, so that each of us can become a blessing for others, the way Jesus became a blessing for Mary his mother and all of mankind.
This is a reminder to us of Maryís triple blessedness and that we too are called to the blessedness of life that God offers to all who place their faith and trust in him. For those who believe in the Lord and remain faithful to him to the very end, just like Mary, shall receive the crown of eternal life!
This joyful and historical event is yet another concrete sign of the pastoral care of the Holy Father and the Church for the spiritual well-being of the Catholic faithful who live in this part of the world. Now that the BVM is our Patroness, let us pray to her daily for all the needs of the Church in the Arabian Peninsula, and throughout the world, especially for peace and unity. May we Catholics, along with all the various Christian communities present in the region, continue to gather here and grow in holiness of life in order to become his living stones and thereby give praise and glory to Christ the Lord and his Mother Mary, by the example of our lives.
ADDRESS OF H.L. BISHOP CAMILLO BALLIN, MCCJ
AT THE EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION
Your Grace, Reverend Fathers and Sisters, my dear people,
It is with joy so great and beyond imagination that we are here this evening for this momentous event, the blessing of the first stone of the Cathedral of our Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Arabia.
Filled with this joy, we mark the initial step in the path towards the realization of a dream to have another church in Bahrain. With fervent hope and heart-held prayers, we have nurtured this dream through all the years. And the more we did when seemingly insurmountable problems came in the way towards its realization.
But God, in His wonderful and infinite mercy, has heard our prayers and given us not only a church but the Cathedral of our Vicariate. As such, the Cathedral is not only a church, like the others, but the very symbol of the unity of all the Parishes of the Vicariate. As such, it is the center of the spiritual life of all the faithful entrusted to this local Bishop, the main church in all of Northern Arabia: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
And, in His time, God has waited before answering us. In doing so, surely, He has a plan which we do not know and perhaps, in its magnitude, we cannot fathom. But, what we know now is that, He has answered our prayers, by giving us not only a church but a Cathedral. That is what matters for us today. Hence, today and forever we have to sing with all our voice: "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth" (Ps 34:2).
In the midst of our songs of joy, we have to remember that the Cathedral will be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia. And it is important that the blessing of the first stone be today, the 31st of May, the Feast of Our Lady of the Visitation, to whom this small church in Awali is dedicated.
This small church, even after the building of the Cathedral, will continue her mission to gather small groups of our faithful in some days of the week, for it will remain the church of Our Lady of the Visitation. As such, in Bahrain, we shall have two churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
And it is but fitting and proper that we do so, for had it not been for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, we would not be here this evening, to bless the first stone of her Cathedral. It is the Virgin Mary who has opened and still opens the heart of many people who, through their personal offerings, continue to participate in the building of the Cathedral.
Today, in our joy, we have to all the more rejoice that the Virgin Mary is our Mother and the Mother of the Church, and that she rejoices as we invoke her as Our Lady of Arabia.
Invoking the Virgin Mary as such is not a recent practice. In fact, the original statue of Our Lady of Arabia was blessed by Pope Pius XII in the Vatican on the 17th of December 1949 and brought to the town of Ahmadi in Kuwait, where it has remained until now. According to many witnesses in Ahmadi, Our Lady of Arabia has performed in that town many miraculous signs and manifestations of her powerful intercessions.
For these reasons, it was deemed worthy to reserve a special Feast for Her honor and under the name, Our Lady of Arabia, which the Holy See has accepted. In addition to granting the permission of celebrating the Feast was the proclamation of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Arabia, which has since been observed on the second Sunday of the Ordinary Time, normally towards the middle part of January.
For the initial observance, a Mass with the theme "The Virgin Mary Missionary in the Gulf," was composed and later approved by the Holy See. On the 14th of January 2011, the Cardinal of the Congregation of the Divine Cult proclaimed in Ahmadi, Our Lady of Arabia Patroness of the whole Gulf, a proclamation covering both the Vicariates of Northern and Southern Arabia. The same proclamation was solemnly repeated in the then Cathedral of Kuwait on the 16th of January 2011.
Since that time, parishes and halls of our Vicariate have started to be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia, and since that time, many things have started to change gradually and our faithful have started to have, especially in some places, a little better possibility to practice their faith. So, now, in observance of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Arabia, we have a special Mass in her honor, and soon the Cathedral in her name, where an exact replica of the original statue in Kuwait will be installed in a lateral chapel of the Cathedral!
My dear people, in the immense joy that fills us at this moment, I invite you to remain faithful to your devotion to Our Lady of Arabia, who will always give you a special protection and will reward you for your generosity in the building of her Cathedral.
Dear brothers and sisters, it is also with joy that I summarize the history of the intervention of God for our Church, and in doing so, make you understand all the more how much God loves us. On the 15th of May 2011, His Majesty the King, Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa, king of Bahrain, during a private audience given to Bishop Paul Hinder and me, promised clearly to give us a land for a new church and for the residence of the Bishop. I would like to draw your attention to the date of the concession of the land - the 11th of February 2013, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes! With this, you can see that the Virgin Mary is following our Church and its aspirations with a continuous maternal love!
Today, with the same joy, we would like to express our warmest thanks and gratitude to His Majesty the King, Sheikh Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, whose generosity, openness, and great vision, has led us towards this momentous occasion, the blessing of this stone. Personally, never will I forget the extraordinary kindness and gentleness with which he has always received me, and in reciprocation, never must we forget the attention and care that he has always accorded our Catholic Church.
Likewise, we must never forget his very profound respect for His Holiness Pope Benedict the XVI whom he has met, and His Holiness Pope Francis whom he met on the 19th of May of this year. In both occasions, his Majesty has been so generous in his invitation for them to visit the kingdom of Bahrain!
It is for all these reasons that every Sunday Mass, with grateful hearts, we pray for His Majesty the king, the Prime Minister, the Crown Prince and all the people of Bahrain whom we want to pray today in a special way so that God may bless and enfold them, and all those who have lived in this beloved country.
With joy, I would like to offer a special thanks to Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka for the care she has shown for our project. In the same way, I extend my particular thanks to His Excellency, the Minister of Follow-Up, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Ateyatallah Al Khalifa, who has worked very generously and constantly paid great attention to our needs.
All those particularly mentioned have, to a great extent, brought us to where we are today, particularly to this stone that we are about to bless.
This stone has come, all the way, from the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican. It is a sign that the central church of our Vicariate, the Cathedral, wants to remain in a faithful communion with the Pope. Our unity with the Pope of Rome is a fundamental characteristic of the Catholic Church. Jesus said to Peter: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). And this evening, we want to renew our obedience to and our love for the Holy Father, the Pope of Rome.
Dear brothers and sisters, this stone is the symbol of the cornerstone of the Catholic Church who is Jesus Christ. Saint Peter says in his first letter: "Come to him [Jesus] a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (2:4-5).
As we bless this material stone, let us not forget that we are the most precious stones of our Cathedral because we are the temples of God, as Jesus said: "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (Jn 14:23).
Through the intercession of Our Lady of Arabia, "The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace" (Nb 6-24-26).
PRAYER FOR THE BLESSING
OF THE FIRST STONE
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Before proceeding with the blessing of the first stone of the Cathedral of the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Arabia, let us pause for a moment of silent prayer in order to thank the Lord for this great gift of being able to build our Cathedral here in Bahrain, the center of our Apostolic Vicariate. We want to thank the Lord and all those who have contributed and those who are contributing, so that the Lord's plan can be realized. Let us remember all our collaborators, benefactors and all the faithful who are united with us in generous, humble and constant charity. Let us pray in silence.
Lord, Holy Father,
we bless you, we praise you and thank you.
In the Old Covenant You willed that your temple be built with stone blocks
(cf. Ezra 5:8 ) and that it be called a house of prayer (cf. Is 56:7).
The infidelity of your people did not stop your plan of salvation
but you have always shown mercy, forgiveness and love.
At the time of the New Covenant, you sent your Son, Jesus Christ,
the living stone and cornerstone, chosen and precious, so that whoever believes in him shall never remain disappointed (cf. Is 28:16; 1 Peter 2:4.6).
Now, Holy Father, look down on us gathered here who thank you for this great gift of a new Temple to the glory of your name.
May this first stone always rest in our hearts as a sign of your great paternal goodness towards this country and these your children.
May everyone who comes here always find comfort, serenity and peace.
May this stone, a gift of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, be a sign of our deep communion with the entire Church, through our loving obedience to the Holy Father the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, who presides in charity over all the Churches throughout the world (cf. St. Irenaeus).
We ask that you bless (+) this stone and this commemorative stone inscription, and all of us, so that we may become living stones that bear witness to your great love for all men and women of all nations and of all times.
May your blessing give us the strength to resist evil, to remain faithful to you and to your Church.
Hear and accept the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Arabia, to whom this Cathedral will be dedicated and may the Virgin Mary be the star that guides and accompanies us every day of our lives.
We thank you, Holy Father, and we present our prayer to you through Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, the beloved (cf. Mt 3:17), who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for forever and ever.
INSCRIPTION ON THE CORNERSTONE
TO THE GREATER GLORY OF GOD, ON 31 MAY 2014, DURING THE PONTIFICATE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS AND THE REIGN OF HIS MAJESTY HAMAD BIN ISA AL KHALIFA, KING OF BAHRAIN, IN THE PRESENCE OF THE APOSTOLIC NUNCIO HIS GRACE ARCHBISHOP PETAR RAJIC AND THE CATHOLIC FAITHFUL OF BAHRAIN, THE MOST REVEREND BISHOP CAMILLO BALLIN MCCJ, APOSTOLIC VICAR OF NORTHERN ARABIA, BLESSED THIS FIRST STONE OF THE CATHEDRAL DEDICATED TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, OUR LADY OF ARABIA.
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