WYD 2005: Mexican-Lebanese youths in Cologne and in search of their roots

Before the big meeting in Germany, the youths have been invited to visit their country of origin to discover the message inherent in cohabitation between Muslims and Christians.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Around 6,000 Lebanese youths are headed for the World Youth Day in Cologne. Among them are 25 young Mexicans of Lebanese-Maronite origin. Their participation in the grand meeting in Germany is part of a wider program entitled "A return to our roots" which features moments of prayer, silence, activities and an encounter with Lebanese culture. The entire programme, including the pilgrimage to Cologne, is unfolding in the company of several Maronite bishops: Mgr Bechara Rahi, Bishop of Byblos; Mgr Mansour Hobeika of Zahle; Mgr Paul Matar, Archbishop of Beirut; Mgr George Iskandar, President of the Episcopal Commission for the Laity; Mgr Georges Kowaiter, Greco-Melchite Archbishop of Saida and Deir El Kamar and other leaders of the Christian community in Lebanon.

The programme "Return to our roots" is an initiative aimed at enhancing a sense of belonging to Lebanese and Maronite tradition among emigrants and young Catholic generations.

Antonio Andari, who runs the public relations office of the Maronite League, highlighted: "This is the fourth time that the Maronites undertake to welcome American youths of Lebanese origin and to enable them to have a holiday in Lebanon before attending the WYD… the same already happened when the meetings of Manila, Rome, Paris and Cologne took place."

Andari noted that the "happy outcome of the initiative is also down to co-operation between the Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and the President of the Maronite League, Michel Eddé, who considers [links with] the diaspora of Lebanese people as a priority. To prepare the programme, the Maronite League started making contacts "starting from the Christmas period, sending message to Maronite bishops in Latin America."

Mgr Georges Abi Younes, Maronite Bishop of Mexico, sent Mexican youths to send some time in their country of origin before going to Cologne.

Mexican Lebanese keep the memory of their country of origin live through oral tradition. They tell new generations the story of their ancestors who fled Lebanon at the beginning of last century by boarding a ship headed for America.

Jacqueline Kassis, 20 years, said: "Mexicans of Lebanese origin left their land at the beginning of the twentieth century without any guarantees about their future, and today they have made it to key posts in the political life and industry of the country."

Maria Semaan, 17 years, said youths managed to "preserve the dress and traditions of their ancestors" and she emphasised that she is going to Cologne "to meet Benedict XVI and other young pilgrims with the desire of seeing a more just and tolerant world".

Joseph Geha, another prospective participant of the Cologne meeting, said this is "the first time he takes part in the WYD". And he drew attention to his desire to take to youths of the world "the religious, cultural and spiritual values of Lebanon", of cohabitation and dialogue among Christians and Muslims: that which Pope John Paul II had defined as "the message of Lebanon" for the world.