The representatives of all of Lebanon’s faith communities gathered on Tuesday for an interfaith prayer for peace at Marian shrine in Harissa, north of Beirut, centred "Around Mary and with Mary," words chosen by Bishop Chukrallah Nabil Hage, president of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon (ACPBL).
The group met in response to a call made by Pope Francis, who asked
that all the dioceses in the world hold prayer ceremonies, at the same
time as the one in Assisi, the city of Saint Francis, which brought
together prominent figures of faith and culture.
"I invite parishes, church associations and individual believers
around the world to live that day as a day of prayer for peace. Today,
more than ever, we need peace, in this war that is all over the world.
Let us pray for peace!” the pontiff said in Sunday’s Angelus.
faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square welcomed the pope’s plea with
enthusiasm and a round of applause.
In Lebanon, this last-minute appeal initially took the local Peace
and Justice Commission by surprise. However, its members bravely
accepted the challenge and organised the ceremony in a record time, at
the foot of the statue of the Virgin at the entrance of the shrine in
This choice was significant because of the place the Virgin Mary hold
in Lebanon where 25 March (Feast of the Annunciation for Christians) is
a shared Muslim-Christian national holiday. Muslims too love Our Lady,
unreservedly, seeing in her an element of strength and communion between
Islam and Christianity.
All Lebanese communities were present at this beautiful ceremony
lasting from the orange colour of the sunset to the first stars of the
night. Short speeches and invocations for peace were interspersed with
hymns to the Virgin, recitations of poems and Byzantine hymns.
An Islamic choir surprised everyone by singing a hymn to the Virgin
taken from the Maronite popular repertoire. A minute of silence was
observed for the countless victims of terrorism and the wars in Lebanon
and the Middle East.
Fr Ivan Santus, secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature, read a message from the pope at the end of the celebration.
Lastly, religious leaders recited a common plea for peace, which they then joyfully signed.
Naturally, dignitaries and religious leaders centred their address on
the armed conflict raging in the Middle East, religious intolerance and
bloodshed in the name of God and Lebanon’ vacant presidency.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, who was the first to speak,
focused on the latter at the end of his speech, reminding lawmakers of
their sacred duty. He noted that "Reconciliation is the highest
manifestation of peace," and must be applied to personal relationships,
family life, social and political relations and finally to national
Sheikh Mohammad Nokkari spoke next. A former director general of Dar el-fatwa
and a leading Sunni figure, he delivered a scathing critique
characterised by eschatological hints. He mentioned an “era of the end”
that coincides with a time of " discord and war."
In a passionate voice,
the Sunni cleric slammed terrorism practiced in the name of Islam, a
"sign of the times" which, for him, is a testament to the coming of the
Day of Judgment, a view that he tempered by stressing the common value
that both Christianity and Islam share, namely "hope." "If we told you
that the judgment is near, poke a plant," he said, citing the prophet.
Jaafari Mufti Ahmad Abdel Amir Kabalan was the third speaker. He
started by saying that he was ashamed “that others have preceded me in
calling for peace".
The Shia cleric lamented the fact that the Lebanese
"are still hostages of politicians," whilst hundreds of thousands have
already paid with their lives the cynical great game in the region.
Just as ardently, the representative of the Alawite community Dayeh
Sheikh Mohammed, described as "satanic", the nets of discord sown by
terrorism under the guise of Islam.
"These people have neither homeland
nor identity,” he said, adding that “their vocation is to shed blood and
destroy civilisation." Speaking about Lebanon, he called for the
election of a president and the defense of coexistence.
Eloquence of Armenian churches
When it was their turn, the representatives of the Armenian Apostolic
and Catholic Churches spoke eloquently, the first about peace, the
second about personal and collective contrition.
Fr Hossip Mardirossian noted that the Gospel began with the Angels’
song of peace for the birth of Christ, and ends with the peace that
Christ gives to his apostles as he gets ready to take his leave from
For his part, Fr Georges Yeghayan employed a word rarely used in
times of lamentations, like today’s, namely courage. The latter requires
that we assume responsibility for our mistakes, following the path laid
by the Old Testament when the people, when in misery, humiliated
themselves before God and implored for mercy.
Father Ivan Santus, secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature, spoke
last. Inspired by Pope Francis, he summed up his thoughts, saying,
“Peace is a gift, a homemade gift on which we must work, every day, in
the little everyday things. Great manifestoes of peace or major
international meetings are not enough if we do make peace in the small