04/26/2014, 00.00
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Two pope Saints: for many Lebanese John Paul II should be their "second patron saint"

by Fady Noun
Thousands are in Rome for the canonization, with President Sleiman and Patriarch Rai. Memory of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Land of Ceders still alive in people’s hearts.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Several thousand Lebanese have come to Rome to attend the canonization of Pope John XXIII and John Paul II. With them, the President of the Republic Michel Sleiman and Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai.

The Lebanese feel particularly close to John Paul II, after his visit to the country in 1997. Nor should it be forgotten that the Patriarch Bechara Rai was the coordinator of the Special Synod for Lebanon, celebrated in 1995, and, therefore, was able to work with the team of the Polish pope and become quite close to him.

Most of the faithful who came to Rome are young people and pensioners, but some married couples have also made the trip, despite the high cost of travel and the expected crowds.

Tony Sacre, a business manager, and his wife Amal travelled from Amchit (Jbeil): they were engaged when John Paul II came to Lebanon in 1997 and were married later that year.  They now have four children, who accompany them on pilgrimage. They have fond memories of the visit and the open-air mass in front of the sea, which drew together half of the Christians in Lebanon. Tony says he is in Rome with his wife in the spirit of Lebanese hospitality: they are returning the visit to John Paul II.

This is also the case of Hanna, who works at the Casino of Lebanon, who is in Rome with his wife Liliane and his son Jean -Marc. They too were married shortly after visit of 1997.

The two couples and their children are part of a group of about forty pilgrims who have come for the canonization. Like them, many dozens of other groups, walk the streets of Rome and visit the surrounding shrines ahead of Sunday's great event.

Carmen Zogheib , president of the Arab Women's Movement, and member of the Office for pastoral care of women in Bkerke, is very excited. She has been this way since last night when she prayed before the tomb of John Paul II, placed near the entrance of the Vatican Basilica. Last night she was unable to sleep and this morning she is still immersed in a state of grace. She is convinced John Paul II is "a Lebanese saint, like Charbel and Rafka" she says. She, like many other pilgrims think that Lebanon should choose him as a "Second patron Saint" after the Virgin.

Like Carmen, one of her friends, Maguy Bassil, said she was moved to tears. "I've never cried so much", she confides, while continuing the Novena of Divine Mercy, which began Friday. "I'm here first of all to give thanks - she says - and then to ask. My list is long".

Father Robert Daccache, who leads the group, had promised he would be at the canonization ceremony since John Paul II was beatified. He lhas always loved John Paul II.  He is the director of the Saint-Jean Aqaïbé school (Kesrouan) and was present, May 10, 1997 at the prayer vigil for young Lebanese held in Harissa, during which the Pope signed his apostolic exhortation "A Hope for Lebanon".

Fr. Daccache willingly identifies himself as one of the so-called "John Paul II generation" ; the fruit of prayer for a "new Pentecost " elevated by Pope John XXIII when he opened the Second Vatican Council in 1962. The flourishing of many prayer groups and new Christian communities, after the Council had been perceived as an answer to that prayer. John Paul II reaped the benefits of these in the form of World Youth Day, which was launched in the early 90s.

The Maronite Patriarchal Synod of 2005 had warned against allowing the Spirit that dwells in those movements "to go out", given that some Maronite clergy had expressed suspicions in their regards.


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