Heeding Pope Francis’s call, the Lebanese Church organised a meeting for peace at the Marian shrine of Harissa. Card al-Rahi stressed the value of reconciliation. For Sunni leader, "terrorism in the name of Islam” is “a sign of the end times". Shia dignitary slammed politicians for holding the country "hostage". Courage is needed to ask for forgiveness for one’s mistakes.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – The representatives of all of Lebanon’s faith communities gathered on Tuesday for an interfaith prayer for peace at Marian shrine in Harissa, north of Beirut, centred "Around Mary and with Mary," words chosen by Bishop Chukrallah Nabil Hage, president of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon (ACPBL).
The group met in response to a call made by Pope Francis, who asked that all the dioceses in the world hold prayer ceremonies, at the same time as the one in Assisi, the city of Saint Francis, which brought together prominent figures of faith and culture.
"I invite parishes, church associations and individual believers around the world to live that day as a day of prayer for peace. Today, more than ever, we need peace, in this war that is all over the world. Let us pray for peace!” the pontiff said in Sunday’s Angelus. The faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square welcomed the pope’s plea with enthusiasm and a round of applause.
In Lebanon, this last-minute appeal initially took the local Peace and Justice Commission by surprise. However, its members bravely accepted the challenge and organised the ceremony in a record time, at the foot of the statue of the Virgin at the entrance of the shrine in Harissa.
This choice was significant because of the place the Virgin Mary hold in Lebanon where 25 March (Feast of the Annunciation for Christians) is a shared Muslim-Christian national holiday. Muslims too love Our Lady, unreservedly, seeing in her an element of strength and communion between Islam and Christianity.
All Lebanese communities were present at this beautiful ceremony lasting from the orange colour of the sunset to the first stars of the night. Short speeches and invocations for peace were interspersed with hymns to the Virgin, recitations of poems and Byzantine hymns.
An Islamic choir surprised everyone by singing a hymn to the Virgin taken from the Maronite popular repertoire. A minute of silence was observed for the countless victims of terrorism and the wars in Lebanon and the Middle East.
Fr Ivan Santus, secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature, read a message from the pope at the end of the celebration.
Lastly, religious leaders recited a common plea for peace, which they then joyfully signed.
Naturally, dignitaries and religious leaders centred their address on the armed conflict raging in the Middle East, religious intolerance and bloodshed in the name of God and Lebanon’ vacant presidency.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, who was the first to speak, focused on the latter at the end of his speech, reminding lawmakers of their sacred duty. He noted that "Reconciliation is the highest manifestation of peace," and must be applied to personal relationships, family life, social and political relations and finally to national life.
Sheikh Mohammad Nokkari spoke next. A former director general of Dar el-fatwa and a leading Sunni figure, he delivered a scathing critique characterised by eschatological hints. He mentioned an “era of the end” that coincides with a time of " discord and war." In a passionate voice, the Sunni cleric slammed terrorism practiced in the name of Islam, a "sign of the times" which, for him, is a testament to the coming of the Day of Judgment, a view that he tempered by stressing the common value that both Christianity and Islam share, namely "hope." "If we told you that the judgment is near, poke a plant," he said, citing the prophet.
Jaafari Mufti Ahmad Abdel Amir Kabalan was the third speaker. He started by saying that he was ashamed “that others have preceded me in calling for peace". The Shia cleric lamented the fact that the Lebanese "are still hostages of politicians," whilst hundreds of thousands have already paid with their lives the cynical great game in the region.
Just as ardently, the representative of the Alawite community Dayeh Sheikh Mohammed, described as "satanic", the nets of discord sown by terrorism under the guise of Islam. "These people have neither homeland nor identity,” he said, adding that “their vocation is to shed blood and destroy civilisation." Speaking about Lebanon, he called for the election of a president and the defense of coexistence.
Eloquence of Armenian churches
When it was their turn, the representatives of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic Churches spoke eloquently, the first about peace, the second about personal and collective contrition.
Fr Hossip Mardirossian noted that the Gospel began with the Angels’ song of peace for the birth of Christ, and ends with the peace that Christ gives to his apostles as he gets ready to take his leave from them.
For his part, Fr Georges Yeghayan employed a word rarely used in times of lamentations, like today’s, namely courage. The latter requires that we assume responsibility for our mistakes, following the path laid by the Old Testament when the people, when in misery, humiliated themselves before God and implored for mercy.
Father Ivan Santus, secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature, spoke last. Inspired by Pope Francis, he summed up his thoughts, saying, “Peace is a gift, a homemade gift on which we must work, every day, in the little everyday things. Great manifestoes of peace or major international meetings are not enough if we do make peace in the small things.”