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  • » 02/26/2014, 00.00

    LEBANON

    Francis and Benedict XVI "united in Prayer" for Christians and Muslims in Lebanon

    Fady Noun

    The Pope Emeritus told Patriarch al-Rahi that he prays every day for the country that gave him "unforgettable moments." Today, major figures in Christian circles and among the elite are dejected for having "worked for nothing," bitter that they "were wrong to stay." Others believe that Islam will not allow them full religious freedom.

    Beirut (AsiaNews) - Lebanon is part of the "daily prayer" of Benedict XVI, the latter told Patriarch al-Rahi on Sunday, this according to a report from the patriarchal see in Bkerke.

    The patriarch was told about it in confidence during the first Mass celebrated in St Peter in the presence of newly appointed cardinals. The Pope Emeritus and the Maronite Patriarch were not seated very far from one another, the report said.

    Benedict XVI's extraordinary loyalty through prayer to Lebanon has its roots in his pastoral visit to Lebanon, from 14 to 16 September 2012. It was the pope's last pastoral visit before his incisive and farsighted decision to resign.

    The meeting with spiritual leaders and officials in Baabda, and especially the meeting with young people in Bkerke, were "unforgettable moments" for Benedict XVI, this according to people close to him.

    The Lebanese model of coexistence shone in all its glory before the Holy Father and the infectious enthusiasm of youth conquered him.

    Back then, the pope came to Lebanon to plead for peace and an end to the Syrian conflict. He also warned against "religious fundamentalism," which he described as a "deadly" threat following protests that broke out against an Islamophobic film.

    In his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, which he signed shortly after his arrival, Benedict XVI said that fundamentalism "afflicts all religious communities, and denies their long-standing tradition of coexistence" in countries like Lebanon.

    These words are of crucial importance today, a few weeks before a new apostolic journey that will bring this time Pope Francis to the Holy Land and Jordan (24 May 2014 ), in the footsteps of Benedict XVI and before him, John Paul II.

    Fundamentalism, i.e. the manipulation of religion for political purposes, is behind the suicide bombings in Shia areas. Insidiously, this fundamentalism, which is the spiritual exclusion of others, is wreaking havoc everywhere. One only needs to look at the newspapers or overhear conversations: Lebanon has sunk into melancholy, despair and exclusion.

    In Christian circles, and among the elite, major figures are dejected for having "worked for nothing" and bitterly admit they "were wrong to stay." Based on their experience, others do not believe that Islam would give them full religious freedom. What is more, religious clientelism has harmed the bureaucracy. Somehow, the political rot has done its work.

    Until someone "preserves the achievements of Christians", some segments of the population have been certainly turned off by their homeland. Ten months of governmental crisis squashed all their hopes.

    Pope Francis will travel to Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the nuncio said. It is unclear yesterday whether his remarks were intentional. In answer to a question, Mgr Gabriele Caccia said that Lebanon "is not yet" on the Pope's travel plans for this May. Does this mean that it might be? Let us hope so. Words of comfort from one of today's highest moral authorities would not hurt the Lebanese who now doubt their vocation.

    It can never be said enough: in a very nice and beautiful way, Lebanon is a cultural masterpiece created by the Maronites and the other communities that joined them to set up Lebanon in 1920. However, the pluralistic masterpiece is not cast in stone, but remains a work in progress.

    Today Lebanon is in danger and it would be a shame that a century after its creation, Christians and Muslims gave it up in a moment of despair or lose faith in its sustainability.

    Lebanon's Christians, said beautifully Imam Mohammad Mehdi Chamseddine, "are the responsibility of Muslims." He was referring here to their security and freedom. The other way round is also true. Muslims in Lebanon and the Arab world are now the responsibility of Christians, spiritual speaking that is.

    Today more than ever, Christians, whether in Lebanon or in any other part of the Arab world, are and must remain - spiritually but with the political consequences of this responsibility in mind - the agents of a broad mediation, which we may call love. This is the essence of their faith.

    Beyond the literal nature of all religions, where this essence is felt, it is in Christianity that it is offered in the clearest way. Christians must unswervingly hold onto it, helping their respective countries and the torn Arab world that is entrusted to them.

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