05/15/2018, 16.41
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I, a Christian from Lebanon, where forgiveness can overcome confessional violence

by Dario Salvi

Joseph Nohra, 59, has experienced on his own flesh the wounds of war, but he did not leave, choosing instead to bear witness to the need for mercy and reconciliation. The Christian presence in the Middle East is "fundamental". A new seminary in two buildings destroyed by war is a "sign of God's grace".

Milan (AsiaNews) – For Joseph Nohra, a Lebanese Maronite Christian, "Mercy, reconciliation and forgiveness" are the bases on which to build coexistence, not only between Christians and Muslims, but also among all the ethnic groups, races and confessions that live in Lebanon and the Middle East.

Tensions, quarrels, and misunderstandings "also occur among us Christians", but what allows us to "reconcile and continue to live together is the experience of forgiveness". For Joseph, this comes from first-hand experience of violence and war. In fact, "My home is not far from the Church of St Michael, where conflict began and ended. I too was wounded by a bullet, but I made it."

AsiaNews met with him in Milan (Italy) at the conference ‘Marhaba - God is love’ held in early May, an event organised by the Ambrosiana San Marco Foundation. About 50 priests, students and lay people associated with the Redemptoris Mater Seminary of Lebanon, inspired by the Neocatechumenal Way founded by Kiko Argűello, attended the symposium.

As St John Paul II used to say, Lebanon is a “mission of peace and coexistence" and "I too have experienced hatred and wounds, both physical and psychological. However, later I felt the need to deal with them, starting with the church and parish where I was hit. I told myself that this is the place where I want to live the faith and carry out the mission of witness to the Muslims who hit me.”

Joseph is 59 years old, from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, where he lives with his wife Barbara and their three children. A member of the Maronite Church, the largest Christian community in the country, he is responsible for the Neocatechumenals in Shiah Parish. He is a member of the pastoral economic council and president of the neighbourhood merchants' association. He is one of the proponents of the transfer of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary to a new location in Shiah, along the line between the city’s Christian and the Muslim quarters, which divided former enemies.

"The Christian presence in the Middle East is fundamental,” he says. “I am a Christian, I come from a Christian family that wants to live in peace and security in their own country. Participating in parish life and activities gives a profound meaning to my life," he explains.

"Lebanon, like the other countries of the Middle East, does not need only politics but also people of faith who have experienced the value of reconciliation and forgiveness."

"Because of the war I wanted to leave. But I wanted to hear and believe the word of God, to experience His presence and the strength that comes from belonging to the Church – a faith strengthened thanks to the encounter with the Neocatechumenals and the experience of the journey.”

“Through our actions we want to be an example and bear witness to our Muslim brothers. We want to show that from a place of death, a seed can be born to bear fruit in the work of evangelisation." Today the thought of fleeing, of fear, is behind even if difficulties have certainly not gone away.

"Here in Milan I feel like a fish out of water, because I am far from Lebanon, from my land, from the Middle East.” In fact, “Every time I leave its borders I am afraid. This is why I never leave it for tourism but only if I am asked by a mission of witness. Of course, in Lebanon as in other parts of the Middle East some Christian families are afraid of staying. My fear, however, is precisely that of leaving my land."

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