(AsiaNews) - Following Benedict XVI's amazing visit to Lebanon, the
first thing that struck me was how many Muslims participated in celebrating his
presence. Not all the Muslims were there, but Shiites in particular wanted to
express their support. The Sunni Grand Mufti was a little more discreet, but in
general the welcome of the Muslims was positive. Moreover the joy of the
Christian people was unstoppable. And the crowd was made up mostly of young
Benedict XVI and the Muslims
The Pope had a very open and friendly attitude towards the Muslims: there was
no criticism or correction on his part. In stead he chose to propose a positive
way forward, a way of working together. In the Apostolic Exhortation he talks
about two new features in the Middle East:
secularism and fundamentalism. With regards the latter, we all now think almost
automatically of Islamic fundamentalism. Instead he said it was a danger, that
"touches all communities" and one we must fight together. He defines
it very well: people who reject the other, who destroys those who are not like
them, etc ...
One journalist here commented that it seemed to him that the Pope had changed
his view of Islam when compared to the Regensburg address. But in my opinion,
he has not changed at all. What has changed is the style of his argument and
our understanding of it.
This Apostolic exhortation
is a highly constructive way forward. Speaking to the Christians he proposes a
way to work together to build their city and society together with others. The
work of Christians is based on what is common to human nature, not something
dictated directly by God or present in a holy book. Basically this is the same
issue at the heart of the Regensburg Address: the call to live according to
reason, avoiding fundamentalist violence, which uses God against reason, and
secular violence, which uses reason against God
Someone said that the Pope gave no political solutions and as a result was far
from concrete. I say that the Pope's choice was perfect, stressing universally
accepted fundamental principles including the spiritual dimension of man,
because politics is our task, according to the conditions and situations in
which we find ourselves.
By suggesting principles and values shared by all those who seek the good, he
allows us to reflect on the paths to be followed to realize his vision.
For example, it struck me that in the excellent address in Baabda, he cited the
word "human dignity" five times, emphasizing issues such as
"reconciliation" and "forgiveness." This is important for
the Middle East. Consider the situation in Syria: it is
currently in dead lock, moving neither forward nor back. Both sides are trying
to win this war resulting in a climbing death toll and growing cruelty.
Even if the war were to end, serious wounds would remain: a relative killed, violence
and destruction. If we do not learn to forgive, recognizing the harm and the
injury done, to be reconciled, it is impossible to think about the future. If
you do not engages a dialogue for the beginnings of a new Syria, prepared by forgiveness and
will be destroyed without finding any path of hope.
The Arab media
have given much space to the Pope's visit and his message. An-Nahar, the most
widely read Arab newspaper in Lebanon,
September 15 last, dedicated a special supplement of eight pages to the pontiff.
With the contribution of Catholics, Orthodox and also Muslims. The first page,
titled "Enough about dhimmi," recalls the history of how non-Muslims
were treated in the past (exclusion from society; protection fee, etc. ..). On
the second page, an Orthodox priest takes up this theme claiming full
citizenship for Christians and not "dhimmitude". The third page is a
Muslim Egyptian starting from the experience of the Arab Spring, remember that since
the beginning of the twentieth century, Christians and Muslims have
collaborated in society, fighting together against the British colonizers. And
then there are other pieces by Muslims and Christians who support the pope's
speech, terming it a "spiritual vision that goes beyond the political
debate." Positive comments on the Pope's visit continues till this day.
Lebanon as a model
Will Benedict XVI's proposal have an effective impact? I think so. The pontiff
has not only stated values, he also presented Lebanon
as a model for the Middle East. Speaking of
the plurality of Lebanon
- many Christian denominations and many Islamic ramifications - he made the
defense of plurality as a source of wealth for a nation.
Of course, he also mentioned the possibility that the multiplicity can lead to
division and conflict. But he especially stressed that Lebanon has managed to create a
unity based on diversity and non-uniformity. The Pope opposed the
fundamentalist project - according to which everyone should conform to a
particular style of life and dress (beard, veil and etc. ..), strictly
practiced fasting, that would apply Sharia law in full - instead proposing the
Lebanese reality, that is not perfect, but in many respects is successful.
Lebanon, recognizing the existence of 18
communities, affirms the existence of diversity, but at the same time affirms
that they are one people. This perspective is very positive for the region.
Apart from some areas of the Middle East where
Christians can be found, the majority of the countries have a Muslim
population. But all attempts to unify these countries under one banner,
including Islamic ones, have failed: the project to rebuild the caliphate,
abolished in 1924 by Kemal Atatürk, was never realized, the union between some
Arab countries (the United Arab Republic in 1958, with Egypt, Syria,
never went through.
Our people and
our leaders are always tempted to say that if we want to have a strong society,
we must all be of one homogenous mind. Instead, the model of Lebanon presents
unity and multiplicity together.
Lebanon's path, is an
effective one because it has developed an element present in the Ottoman Empire, recognizing the community and binding it
to the State through the head of that community (this is the millet, an Arabic word pronounced in Turkish,
which means "confessions "and more precisely, a" legally
protected religious community "). After the fall of the Ottoman
Empire, the French tried to recover this respect for the community.
In addition, Lebanon has
always been a land of refuge for many communities: Maronites, Druze, Shia, etc.
.... And that is why for centuries the Lebanese are used to dealing and coexisting
with religions, languages and communities. The constitution created in 1923
with the French influence gathers all of these communities under the "Most
High God". Article 50 states that the President of the Republic, before
taking up his duties, must take an oath of allegiance saying: "I swear to
God Most High, to observe the Constitution and laws of the People of Lebanon,
to maintain the independence of Lebanon
and its 'territorial integrity. " The formula is important: it is neither
the loving God of the Christians, or the merciful God of the Muslims.
This has created
a diversified reality, which respects religion in a "healthy"
secularism. Of course, there is also the risk that the community will become a
ghetto and that each remains closed in on itself, but in the end, this style
Lebanese seems really good and I believe it can offer itself as a model for the
Moreover, Lebanon is
considered a developed and happy country throughout the Middle
East. This is even more amazing when you think that it has so many
communities that live within its borders. But the groups have put the unity
among them as a condition, with a discreet reference to God, who is above all.
I am convinced that the Pope touched on a key point: unity enriched by
diversity, not unity stifled by uniformity.
The pope also
suggested that Lebanon could
be a model not only for the Middle East, but
also for the world. We must not forget that even now in the West there are many
communities of different religions and cultures, which requires a rethink in
coexistence. For this reason the Pope -
in the Apostolic exhortation - critiques
secularized secularism, instead emphasizing a "healthy secularism"
(see note 29).
"A healthy secularity - he says - ... frees
religion from the encumbrance of politics, and allows politics to be enriched
by the contribution of religion, while maintaining the necessary distance,
clear distinction and indispensable collaboration between the two spheres. No
society can develop in a healthy way without embodying a spirit of mutual
respect between politics and religion, avoiding the constant temptation either
to merge the two or to set them at odds. "