Lebanon remembers its "friend" John Paul II
by Youssef Hourany
Pope John Paul II'a post-synod apostolic exhortation and his 1997 trip, which brought together Muslims and Christians, are evoked in many religious ceremonies and public statements throughout the country of cedars. Pictures of the late Pope and his successor are handed out in Maronite schools.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Pope John Paul Ii is being remembered on the first anniversary of his death as a friend of Lebanon who spoke 300 times in favour of the country, convened a synod dedicated to it and made an historic trip to it. The late Pontiff, who described Lebanon as a "message", said that a Christian presence there "was a necessary condition for the presence of Christians throughout the Middle East".

During Sunday mass, Maronite Patriarch, Card Nasrallah Sfeir, said that "the Pope's testimony must be kept alive in every heart". He urged all groups in society to continue their efforts in favour of a national dialogue and follow the path laid down by John Paul, which is "necessary to find social peace and face the crisis that is overwhelming the country".

Like Fr Abbot Seman Abou Abdou, who remembered the late Pope in his homily during mass at the Lwaize convent with the members of the Maronite Mariamite order, the anniversary was remembered in dioceses, parishes and religious congregations throughout the country.

Abbot Seman stressed the importance of John Paul II's love and action in favour of Lebanon, his 300 public statements during Lebanon's darkest hours in its recent history, his post-Synod apostolic exhortation "New Hope for Lebanon", and his 1997 apostolic visit.

In a well-appreciated gesture, the schools run by the order handed out pictures of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and held prayers in memory of the late Pontiff and for his beatification. Numerous activities were organised in order to reawaken spiritual awareness amongst pupils, their teachers and families.

In a meeting with the press, Mgr Paul Matar, Maronite archbishop of Beirut, spoke about the efforts made by the Pope and the Holy See to see the Lebanese model succeed. Archbishop Matar, who organised the 1997 visit, spoke about the different stops the Holy Father made in the course of his trip. He highlighted the meeting the Pope had with Lebanese youth in Harisa, and his apostolic exhortation which could be the country's constitution.

He stressed how significant it was to meet the Pope during the great open air mass in downtown Beirut with participants from all of Lebanon's religions and regions.

John Paul II can be considered "Beirut's first builder", Archbishop Matar said as he remembered the enthusiasm shown by Muslims as they and their religious leaders came to Beirut to greet the Pontiff.

Saoud al-Mawla, who was an observer at the special synod of Lebanese bishops in 1994, told AsiaNews that John Paul II "was the prophet of the century who exhorted men and women in our society to examine their conscience and loyalty to their history and role in the Middle East".

Mgr Bechara Rahi, Maronite archbishop of Jbeil, who coordinated the special assembly of the synod of bishops for Lebanon, said that "it was urgent to rediscover the meaning of the post-synod apostolic exhortation", stressing the wealth of teachings in John Paul II's legacy, a Pope who preached, wrote, visited, beatified but especially prayed.

Everyone should discover, Archbishop Rahi said, the mystic in the late Pope, a man of prayer and suffering, committed to inter-faith and ecumenical dialogue, a fighter for life and the family, a man who appreciated the rich religious heritage in the Middle East and the Arab world as best exemplified by his apostolic trips to different Arab countries such as Morocco, the Holy Land, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia.

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