In the midst of both anti-Muslim and anti-Christian sentiments making their way through the media after the recent events in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt, Pope Benedict XVI offers hope for peace and unity, speaking to Catholics, Muslims, and visitors from Syria in his address to the youth in Lebanon this weekend.
To the young Catholics he said (my emphasis):
The Year of Faith, which is about to begin, will be a time to rediscover the treasure of the faith which you received at Baptism. You can grow in knowledge and understanding of this treasure by studying the Catechism, so that your faith can be both living and lived. You will then become witnesses to others of the love of Christ. In him, all men and women are our brothers and sisters. The universal brotherhood which he inaugurated on the cross lights up in a resplendent and challenging way the revolution of love. Love one another as I have loved you ( Jn 13:35). This is the legacy of Jesus and the sign of the Christian. This is the true revolution of love!
Christ asks you, then, to do as he did: to be completely open to others, even if they belong to a different cultural, religious or national group. Making space for them, respecting them, being good to them, making them ever more rich in humanity and firm in the peace of the Lord. . . . Experiencing together moments of friendship and joy enables us to resist the onset of division, which must always be rejected! Brotherhood is a foretaste of heaven!
He encouraged them to read the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente , which he signed on September 14th, saying, “This letter is also addressed to you, dear young people, as it is to the entire People of God. Read it carefully and meditate upon it so as to put it into practice.” He continued, encouraging the young to take responsibility for the future of their country:
I am aware of the difficulties which you face daily on account of instability and lack of security, your difficulties in finding employment and your sense of being alone and on the margins. In a constantly changing world you are faced with many serious challenges. But not even unemployment and uncertainty should lead you to taste the bitter sweetness of emigration, which involves an uprooting and a separation for the sake of an uncertain future. You are meant to be protagonists of your countrys future and to take your place in society and in the Church.
The pope directly addressed the Muslims present:
I should like now to greet the young Muslims who are with us this evening. I thank you for your presence, which is so important. Together with the young Christians, you are the future of this fine country and of the Middle East in general. Seek to build it up together! And when you are older, continue to live in unity and harmony with Christians. For the beauty of Lebanon is found in this fine symbiosis. It is vital that the Middle East in general, looking at you, should understand that Muslims and Christians, Islam and Christianity, can live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person, so as to build together a free and humane society.
And the Syrians:
I understand, too, that present among us there are some young people from Syria. I want to say how much I admire your courage. Tell your families and friends back home that the Pope has not forgotten you. Tell those around you that the Pope is saddened by your sufferings and your griefs. He does not forget Syria in his prayers and concerns , he does not forget those in the Middle East who are suffering. It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war.
And, perhaps most significantly, after addressing each of these distinct groups of young people he invoked the name of “Mary, the Mother of the Lord, our Lady of Lebanon. From the heights of Mount Harissa she protects and accompanies you with a mothers love.”
Why most significantly? Because while discussion of Mary is what divides Catholics and Protestants, it is she who unites Catholics and Muslims—so much so that on February 18, 2010, the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) became, “an official national holiday sanctioned by the Government of Lebanon. All public buildings, schools, banks and university are closed. The government has also encouraged private businesses to do the same.”
This ” national Christian-Muslim Day ” is “something that has never occurred before in the history of Christian-Muslim relations. The decision was confirmed two days later during a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Prime Minister Hariri in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican . . . . Dar-al-Fatwa Secretary General Sheikh Mohammed Nokkari, one of the main promoters of the joint festivity, said he hopes that such a holiday would spread to other parts of the world, adding that it was fitting that it should begin in Lebanon, which the late Pope John Paul II had described as “a message of pluralism for the East and the West.”