06/15/2015, 00.00
LEBANON – MIDDLE EAST
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For Patriarch Rahi, the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a consolation for the Christians of Lebanon and the Middle East

by Fady Noun
At the shrine of Harissa, the Cardinal re-consecrated the country to the Virgin Mary. Thousands of believers packed the basilica to pray before the statue of Fatima. In his homily, the cardinal cited war and violence as causing the region’s suffering. He also criticised political leaders for failing to elect a president.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Yesterday, in an overflowing basilica in Harissa, Maronite Patriarch Card Bechara al-Rahi spoke about the suffering and grievances of the entire Middle East in front of the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Fatima during a ceremony that commemorated the second anniversary of Lebanon’s dedication to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, on 13 June 2013.

The patriarch and the crowd of faithful reiterated the act of consecration "of Lebanon and all the Middle East" at the end of Mass in a journey of faith that considers prayer a key agent in history. Why not? Those who believe in history revealed through the light of faith also view it as way of apprehending supernatural reality.

Certainly, local media were especially aware of the almost frontal attack Cardinal Rai carried out in his homily, after the Gospel reading, against parliamentary blocs responsible in his opinion of perpetuating the vacancy of the presidential office.

"No one has the right to deprive Lebanon of a president for over a year," thundered the patriarch. Those who want to understand will understand. However, the regional component of his homily was not subordinate to the local level.

The commemoration ceremony was held in a nave built for 5,000 people, but brimming with meditative faces and open hands. Greek-Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III and many bishops stood alongside the head of the Church, who also spoke in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio Gabriele Caccia. However, government officials were noticeable for their absence, unlike two years ago, when then President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam sat in the first row.

The patriarch began by saying, "We entrust to (the Saviour’s) Providence the peoples and countries of the Middle East, devastated by conflicts, divisions and wars; oppressed by all the powers of terror and by mercenaries alas financially, militarily and politically backed by Eastern and Western states”.

After mentioning the acts of consecration already celebrated by the Holy See – to the Sacred Heart (in 1899 by Pope Leo XIII), to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (in 1942 by Pope Pius XII and 21 June 1981 by Jean-Paul II), the patriarch spoke of  act of consecration made two years ago.

"We renew today,” he said, “the consecration of ourselves and our homeland, Lebanon, as well as the countries of the Middle East to the Virgin Mary, to her Immaculate Heart filled with tenderness and love for men, brethren of her Son, in accordance with the recommendation of the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East (2010).

The patriarch then mentioned some of the words heard by the children at Fatima. "You will draw peace upon your country,” and “Say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and the end of the war." In view of this, he went on to say, "Today, we also consecrate again our holy land of the East where the mystery of God and his plan of Salvation manifested themselves."

He then cited first Iraq, Abraham’s homeland, then Egypt, Palestine and the Holy Land, Jerusalem, Antioch, the "starting point of all evangelical missions", Lebanon and Cana, where Jesus performed his first public miracle, Damascus of Syria, where Saint Paul converted and which gave the Church popes "and where Saint Maron lived."

"All these re-consecrated lands are where Christians lived for more than six centuries before the Muslims," ​​ the patriarch added somewhat abruptly; lands where they have tried for 1400 years to build with Muslims "a shared civilisation that would be a model of life for all societies, where religions and cultures can coexist, against countervailing international attempts that hit our regions," he added.

As he turned from the region to Lebanon, the patriarch expressed his outrage over "brothers killing each other (in the East), children of the same religious faith," that is between Sunnis and Shias, and focused his remarks on Lebanon, expressing "deep sorrow for the recent massacre of Druze brothers in the village of Qalb Loze (Syria)." The head of the Maronite Church offered his condolences to Sheikh Akl Druze, expressing hope that this painful episode will be treated "with wisdom and moderation, to avoid going from bad to worse."

Finally, the patriarch turned to domestic issues, to the one closest to his heart, namely the Presidency of the Republic. After noting that "the areas of human cooperation with God" include the political sphere, the prelate directly addressing MPs and political blocs involved in public affairs, saying that "No one has the right to deprive Lebanon of a president for more than a year, knowing that this vacancy disrupts the legislature, obstructs and prevents government appointments in the administration. No one has the right to throw a whole country and a people into a situation of anarchy, poverty and distress. Those with power do not have the right to treat the motherland, its destiny and its institutions according to their mood and interests."

"To you Our Lady of Lebanon and Our Lady of Fatima, we raise our prayers in this act of consecration, confident that you can share our emotions and feel what makes us suffer in Lebanon and the Middle East, especially in Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, due to fighting between good and evil, between light and darkness [. . .]. With your maternal heart, listen to the cries of suffering from the victims of war, violence and terrorism, the cries of those who are tortured, driven from their homes, thrown on the roads of exodus. May our appeal today go straight to your Heart, and intercede for us with your Divine Son, you who can speak to His Sacred Heart.”

The Pilgrim Virgin of Our Lady of Fatima will be transported from Ain Trez, summer seat of the Greek-Catholic Patriarchate, before moving to the Deir Charfe Syriac Catholic monastery, and finally to Bzommar, the seat of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate.

On Tuesday, a "farewell Mass" will be celebrated at St George Maronite Cathedral in downtown Beirut, a ceremony that promises to draw a particularly large crowd if one is to believe the organisers.

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