Thousands of Indian migrants and other pilgrims in the Holy Land celebrated a special Marian feast day with displays of prayer, devotion and unity.   On the Sept. 13 feast of the Nativity of Mary — called “Monti Fest” — more than 2500 Indian Catholic migrants and pilgrims joined in a procession from St. Peter’s Church to St. Anthony’s Church in Jaffa. Mary is the protector and patroness of the Indian Chaplaincy in the Holy Land, and many the Indian migrant workers there have a special devotion to her. The procession was led by Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, accompanied by his vicars Bishop Gicianto Boulos Marcuzzo and Fr. David Neuhaus S.J. “The migrant community was touched by the patriarch’s tangible presence and his fatherly concerns in his message that bolstered the spirit,” Fr. Tojy Jose, O.F.M., head of the Indian chaplaincy, told CNA Sept. 20. Fr. Jose, organizer of the annual Marian feast, explained that “with Pope Francis calling for a special Synod on Family, the chaplaincy (this year) drew its meditations on family themes.” Noting the migrant community’s vibrancy of faith and integration in fellowship with the local Christian communities in the Holy Land, Patriarch Twal observed, “Their presence is a treasure for the Church, a testament to the local Christians often too busy with politics.” Thousands walked in a colorful procession, praying the rosary and singing in their native language hymns of praise to Blessed Virgin Mary. “They are very loyal to their faith and traditions,” Patriarch Twal remarked, also acknowledging the challenges faced by the migrants and their trust in prayer. “Though they are strangers in this land who face insecurity and injustice, they have found a refuge, a shelter and a place to come together in the Church.” At the conclusion of the procession, a solemn Mass in the Konkani language was held at the Terra Santa School ground with the blessing of newly harvested grains and special prayers for peace in the Middle East and for the suffering Christians in Iraq and Syria. Celebrant Fr. Santosh Rodrigues in his homily stressed the important role of Mary in making her children a “holy family.” Many modern families face unhappiness and brokenness, Fr. Rodrigues observed, and “materialism and modernism is troubling many of our families.” But in the midst of this, “Mary invites each one of us to live a God-fearing family life.”  “Unless we bring back God in to our family, we will not be able to live a happy family life…like Mary we need to serve in the family and perform our responsibilities in the best way possible.” Underlining the virtue of patience practiced by Mary despite the difficulties that she faced, Fr. Rodrigues encouraged the faithful to “learn and practice the values in our family to make our holy family just like the Holy Family of Nazareth.” Fr. Jose noted that since the Sept. 8 feast of the Nativity of Mary fell this year on a Monday — a working day for the migrant laborers in Israel — it was observed locally on the Saturday within its octave, Sept. 13, so that more Indians could spiritually participate. He pointed out that there are more than 2500 Konkani-speaking migrant workers from Goa, Mangalore, and Karwar, as well as other native speakers from various other parts of India. Fr. Jose also explained that most of the migrant workers are based in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Tel-Aviv. The Holy Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, feast days and particularly their spirituality of popular piety unite them in faith and help them to become a family away from home. Participants agreed, noting the special importance of the Marian feast day in particular. “I always look forward to celebrating this feast because it is a time we all come together as one family…it binds our unity and fellowship in our community and an opportunity to witness our Christian faith and mission in the Holy Land,” migrant worker Michael Olivera told CNA. “The celebration of this feast in the Holy Land brings nostalgia of my people and friends at home, and though I miss my family very much, this celebration gives me the feeling of being united in prayer with my family in India,” participant Charlotte Crasta added. Processions were also held this year in Jerusalem in the morning, and hundreds gathered afterwards for Holy Mass in Saint Savior’s Church in the Old City. In the evening, a festive Mass was held in St. Joseph’s Latin Church in Haifa.