03/28/2017, 15.46
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Beirut: World Day of dialogue between religions and cultures

by Fady Noun

Lebanese political and religious leaders call for such a feast. The Islamic-Christian celebration can be a model for meeting and exchange. An international Marian centre dedicated to dialogue will be set up in the capital. A garden dedicated to Mary, a beloved figure revered by both monotheistic religions, will also be established.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri surprised everyone last Saturday at a ceremony in the chapel of the Collège Notre-Dame de Jamhour, when, in agreement with the Lebanese President, he announced that the Lebanese government would allocate some land in the capital to an international Marian centre for dialogue between religions and cultures, which had been requested by the organisers of the ‘Together around Mary, Our Lady’ Islamic-Christian meeting, Nagy el Khoury, a Maronite, and Sheikh Mohamed Nokkari, a Sunni.

The government said that it would also provide some land near the Museum for ‘Mary’s Gardens’, and issue a commemorative stamp for the feast of the Annunciation.

Organisers had pushed for this for a while, a demand reiterated during the ceremony in Jamhour, just outside Beirut, on the occasion of the joint national holiday of the Annunciation, which celebrates its sixth anniversary this year. The Minister for Presidential Affairs Pierre Raffoul, who was present at the ceremony, seized the initiative and immediately contacted President Aoun, who approved the request.

The prime minister’s presence itself gave the Annunciation ceremony in Jamhour a special character. Organised by the Jamhour Alumni association and 30 or so associations, congregations and movements behind ‘Together around Mary, Our Lady’, the meeting opens the way to a new Marian culture of concord and coexistence. According to essayist Saoud el-Maoula, this is "an adventure and a necessity".

In his welcoming address, Jamhour Alumni association secretary general Nagy el Khoury, who is co-secretary general of the ‘Together around Mary, Our Lady" Islamic-Christian meeting, noted that, starting from the Collège, "this adventure has spread to the four corners of the country, and has won over the world."

"For four years, 25 March has been the national holiday of the city of Nazareth (Palestine), and has spread to Jerusalem. It is now celebrated in Tunisia, Algeria, Malta, Poland, Belgium, Italy and France (Paris, Pontoise, Toulouse, Verdun, Longpont)." Now "Let us help each other make Lebanon the centre of dialogue in the world (. . .) and make 25 March an international day of dialogue between religions and cultures.”

Sheikh Mohammed Nokkari, co-secretary-general of the meeting and judge of the Beirut court, slammed the “band of criminals . . . who (deceptively) claim to rule in the name of Islam", making “both Christians and Muslims suffer. Islamic-Christian understanding is a response to such hatred," he explained.

Sheikh Nokkari also said that he hopes that "the government, supported by its embassies and representatives to the United Nations, will make 25 March a World Day for dialogue between Religions and Cultures."

For his part, Prime Minister Hariri told those present that the government’s decision on 18 February 2010 to established a shared feast is "one of the dearest to my heart, not only for what the Virgin Mary represents in Christianity and Islam but also because it brings us together."

"If today we have gathered around this most marvelous of women, a meeting point for our two religions, can we Lebanese gather around Lebanon?" he wondered.

"With the President of the Republic Michel Aoun and the other pillars of the state, our government is determined to avoid any division and keep the country safe and away from storms," Hariri said in concluding. “In such historic and decisive moments, only by remaining united and privileging understanding, dialogue and moderation can we protect ourselves."

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