Beirut (AsiaNews) – Today at 5 pm, the archbishop of Lyon, Card Philippe Barbarin, together with the rector of the Mosque of Lyon, Kamel Kabtane, will take part in an interfaith ceremony in the chapel of Notre Dame de Jamhour, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. In 2010, the Lebanese government declared the day a joint Muslim-Christian national holiday.
Card Barbarin is a big supporter of the Christian presence in the Middle East. In recent months, he travelled twice to Erbil (Iraq) to offer his help to Christians from Mosul and Qaraqosh, who fled the violence of the Islamic State. He is also very involved in dialogue with Muslims.
"In Lyon we have a rich tradition of interreligious dialogue,” he said in an interview in today’s L'Orient-Le Jour. “When you [Lebanese] established this feast [the Annunciation] in Lebanon, for us it was a marvel. It is just what it takes, we thought.”
“I live right next to the Basilica of Fuorvière, a shrine that is very similar to Our Lady of Lebanon [in Harissa], and I often see Muslims who come to present their new-borns to the virgin Mary.
“Not long ago, a family that was there recognised me and asked me to bless their child. Well, I did not make the sign of the cross on the forehead, but I put my hand on that little body and asked God to show His mercy for life."
In the interview, Card Barbarin said that some people see the Marian feast as an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to meet.
On Saturday, Sheikh Mohammed Nokkari, one of the promoters of the celebration, spoke in the Basilica of Longpont (Essonne). Nokkari is a professor of law at the Islamic-Christian Institute at St Joseph University in Beirut.
Hundreds of Muslims and Christians came to the gathering in Longpont, eager to "go beyond the clash of civilisations and indifference towards the brotherhood of hearts."
In his speech, Nokkari noted that "love for a chosen and pure religious personality, a sweet, tender and affectionate mother, can only strengthen the mutual respect we have for each other and the will to live together in peace and love with one another.”
He explained that "the bond of love and veneration for the holy and pure Virgin who unites us" does not carry any threat to the beliefs of Muslims or Christians . . . . It does not invent a new religion, nor a new doctrine, or different rites".
Such a meeting, he said, "creates a new cultural phenomenon beyond the frontiers of Islam and Christianity . . . . It shows that it is possible to achieve conviviality and a good understanding among all components of society, despite religious differences."