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By Jesús Colina

NAZARETH, Israel (Zenit) - The construction of the Mary of Nazareth International Center is part of an evangelization project to publicize the mystery of the Mother of God through technology, explains the project's director.

In this interview with us, Olivier Bonnassies speaks about the scope of the project that aims to spread knowledge and love of Mary worldwide through associate centers.

Q: What is the Mary of Nazareth project?

Bonnassies: On Mar. 25, 2007, feast of the Annunciation, the first stone of the Mary of Nazareth International Center was laid in Nazareth.

The [then] Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, accompanied by bishops of all the traditional Christian churches in the Holy Land, presided over this moving ceremony, during which the apostolic nuncio transmitted Benedict XVI's blessing.

"Never before had the Christian churches of the Holy Land, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant, joined in this way to support a project. It is a small miracle!" said Bishop Marcuzzo of Nazareth, sent as a delegate by the episcopal conference of the Holy Land to support the project.

And, he added: "This initiative makes me very happy; it will be useful for the Church in the Holy Land, for pilgrims and also for the universal Church, because it will motivate us in a very practical way to address the great mystery of the Incarnation, and Mary's sublime place in the heart of the Christian community!"

Work is under way to actualize the center, which will offer pilgrims, tourists and the inhabitants of the Holy Land a unique place, with several modules, not only to discover Mary but also the principles of the Christian faith. They will [be completed] in just over a year; the inauguration is foreseen in 2010.

Q: What is the project's objective?

Bonnassies: The production of the Nazareth Center is the first stage of a great project of evangelization that seeks to help the public discover the grandeur of the mystery of the Mother of God, as well as all the beauty, truth and profundity of the Christian faith, using above all the different means of communication.

In the spirit of St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, we wish to make the Virgin Mary known and to promote love of [her] so that, through her, Jesus is better known and loved. "Jesus Christ came to the world through the Most Holy Virgin Mary and also through her, he must reign in the world," the saint said in his "Treatise of True Devotion."

In a second phase, the Mary of Nazareth project will unfold in the whole world, through the creation of associate Marian Centers, which will use the contents elaborated by the Nazareth Center.

Three are already planned, in Lebanon, Brazil and Poland, with increasing local funding for the multiplication of multimedia productions distributed in these Marian Centers, for traditional means of communication, and the display of Web pages referring to the Virgin Mary and the whole of Christian faith in association with other movements.

Q: Have you been successful already in funding the whole project?

Bonnassies: Unfortunately, not yet. The whole project will cost €9.5 million [$12 million]; we have already obtained €6.5 million [$8.2 million], but €3 million [$3.8 million] are still lacking to be able to finish the work in the five buildings we have purchased and to finance the production of the first series of multimedia contents of great quality, which is already under way.

Q: Do you think that this project answers a current need?

Bonnassies: Yes, because this world needs to rediscover Mary.

We find ourselves today in a paradoxical situation: Most people do not know the principles of the Christian faith, but the world has a great thirst for truth. It has lost its compass and doesn't know where to find it.

Christians, who really have something to say, magnificent treasures to transmit, showing to what degree their faith is well founded, true, strong and beautiful, must seek all means to make themselves heard by the great public.

The Mary of Nazareth project was born from the need to be furnished with new and adapted means to make known and to love in a renewed way the woman who leads to Christ.

Q: What are the strengths you count on for the future?

Bonnassies: There are several, thank God. The first strong point is that the cornerstone of this project was laid in Nazareth, just in front of the basilica of the Annunciation, where everything began, in the holy place of the Incarnation, where the Eternal entered into time and where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived a hidden life for 30 years.

The fact that this project begins in Nazareth is an opportunity and a privilege -- because half a million pilgrims come here every year -- to then spread to the whole world. The local Churches ardently desired such an initiative after their synod of the year 2000, which defined the great priority as the "pastoral care of the Holy Places."

John Paul II and Benedict XVI repeatedly pleaded that everything possible should be done to help Christians of the Holy Land. This project of peace, which has been well received by all the Christian communities, and also the Muslims and the local Jews, will also create jobs and relations with numerous countries, and give all our brothers of the Holy Land new reasons to stay, in keeping with their vocation.

This great project of reunion around Mary, is supported by three patriarchs, nine cardinals, the bishops of the major Marian shrines -- Loreto, Lourdes, Guadalupe, Czestokowa, Aparecida, etc. -- many [famous] personalities, 25,000 donors, 2,000 men of prayer and 50,000 subscribers who receive our free information bulletin, "Minute with Mary," every day on the Internet.

The Mary of Nazareth project will increasingly unfold in a logic of openness and association with all Christian movements and producers that share the same goals and the same desire of evangelization through the media.

Q: What is a Marian center associated with Mary of Nazareth?

Bonnassies: An associate Marian center is a very simple concept: It is a place where the public can come to discover the Virgin Mary -- in a new and intense way -- and the whole of the Christian faith, through multimedia productions that, if possible, will be constantly renewed.

Q: Where will associate Marian centers will be built in the future?

Bonnassies: The projects will always be implemented at the request of the local bishop, with the commitment of a religious community, for daily care.

The places will be found practically in the numerous existing shrines, large or small, or in other suitable places: Above all there will be a need for the faith to be proclaimed in a strong, modern and attractive way, to touch in a new way people whom the Church has not succeeded in reaching.

In addition to the structures of important dimensions of the associate Marian centers, which receive thousands or millions of faithful, it will also be possible to present all or part of audiovisuals of evangelization developed by Marian centers in special halls, made available either by the shrines or already existing places of evangelization.

Q: How and who will manage these Marian centers -- associated with the International Marian Center of Nazareth -- which you will multiply in the world?

Bonnassies: The associate Marian centers created in the future will always be managed and financed locally by those who take charge of them. It could be communities, congregations or movements encouraged and supported by their bishops.

The Marian center will function as a "franchise," which means that we will make available to them free of charge all the audiovisual productions developed in the framework of our project. By way of exchange, the centers will give back 9% of their earnings generated by [entrance fees] to the center and by these activities -- fees, shop, restaurant, etc.

It should be specified that this project, which responds to a classic commercial structure, is not geared to profit. All the directors of the Mary of Nazareth association have always been volunteers, and will continue to be so in the future. The earnings that our association will receive -- which we hope will be ever greater as the number of associate Marian centers increases -- will only be used for two ends: to constantly produce new multimedia contents of great quality at the service of the Gospel and to support the Marian centers that are in difficulty, especially in countries where evangelization is more difficult.

These simple principles could allow many to join this selfless project, totally at the service of evangelization, and find the means for its development.

Q: How many people do you hope to reach?

Bonnassies: At present we are working on a "model Marian center," which would cost some €2 million and could receive 150,000 people a year. We believe that this type of center might find a financial solution in all developed areas that could equal several million people. We hope that there will be dozens of centers of this type in the coming years, which all together would be visited by several million people a year.

If we succeed in this, if this helps numerous people in the world to discover Mary, and through her and with her, Jesus our Savior, and if associated sites on the Internet also have a great audience, this would be fantastic.

This will also change many things, because it will mean that we have created an important network of Christian distribution which does not exist at present, and which will benefit everyone.

Because all Christian producers who so wish will be able to contemplate the possibility of developing projects of greater breadth, given that they will have the possibility to find more easily a larger public and hence be able to obtain greater cost-effectiveness. The multiplication of Marian centers might also be a fantastic opportunity that leads to the discovery of the beauty, profundity and truth of the Christian faith.

Q: Are you seeking associates at present for all this?

Bonnassies: It is a project that, evidently, is difficult to construct, and all people of good will are welcome.

Those who have the possibility of foreseeing the creation of a Marian center associated to that of Nazareth in their country or region, can begin to reflect on it, in connection with their bishop.

This project will be carried out in association with all those who love the Virgin Mary and who long for the Holy Land, for the unity of Christians and for the evangelization of the world.

In past centuries, our [forefathers] built cathedrals; at the start of this third millennium, we hope to build Marian centers that will radiate the faith to today's world!

It is a privilege and a profound joy to participate in such a project. All of us volunteers and benefactors live it as such. The past years have demonstrated that Providence wills it.

Thousands of human beings in the world are waiting for the Gospel. The participation of all those who feel called to this project is truly necessary.

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