The March before the Feast
Abstract: The week-long Franciscan march to Mt. Tabor has come to an end. In communion with many cities throughout the world, nearly 200 children have been walking through Galilee in an event organized for young people by the Franciscan friars of the Holy Land.
The day is starting early at the Terra Sancta school in Nazareth. At 4 am the boys are already up, preparing the backpack, while a few try to steal a few more moments of sleep. Before sunrise, the last stage of the Franciscan march begins. This tradition, kept alive by the monks of the Holy Land, has brought nearly 200 children to Mount Tabor, a few days before the feast of the Transfiguration.
Nazareth is still sleeping when the boys start to walk. The line snakes its way among the deserted streets of the city, in silence and prayer, and also in communion with many other cities of the world, who support this form of pilgrimage every year.
One catches a glimpse of the goal when the first light of the morning illuminates lower Galilee: the reflective mood gives way to an enthusiasm that is quiet, but full of life. The boys begin to sing hymns for the feast and, after leaving the city, they seem to recover all the energy spent during these strenuous days.
“We get close to God and enter into a deeper relationship with him. There are only seven days, but they remain throughout all the year.”
“I need to stay close to God and join this march, to know what God requires from me.”
Common prayer, the moments shared along the way, the impromptu dances that break out during the stops, all go to make the Franciscan march one of the most welcome events in all the year, for the young people of the Holy Land. It is also a way of becoming more responsible in living one’s Christian vocation, here, where everything began.
“We always hold this march so as to give the youngsters a sense of responsibility, because young people around the world have lost the sense of responsibility for their lives. Here they take the backpack and sleeping bag, and escape from the internet and all those things that deceive the lives of youngsters these days. We give them the responsibility to be more Christian, more trusting in the Lord.
It’s close to noon on the last day of July and the boys are finishing the final stretch of road leading to the Basilica of Transfiguration. In front of the Gate, they joke among themselves for the last time. When all have arrived, they form a group and sing songs that enliven their way up to the Basilica. Then there is a solemn silence while they stoop to kiss the ground, and after a welcome from the Guardian, they all enter the church. After the effort and joy of these days, the true feast is now experienced in a silence full of emotion, in the presence of Christ, who was transfigured on this very mountain.