This is the idea of prayer, rather more than an idea, the experience around which, figures of different religious belonging exchanged their views in Lebanon, invited on the occasion of the presentation of the new book, promoted by the Fondazione Internazionale Oasis, chaired by card. Angelo Scola, containing a collection of catecheses by Benedict XVI translated into Arabic.
In a Beirut in a state of unrest the debate took place at the Saint Joseph University on the book, Rabbi, ‘allimnâ an nusallî (Lord, teach us to pray), in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio H.E. Msgr. Gabriele Caccia, the Maronite archbishop of Beirut, H.E. Msgr. Paul Matar, the Lebanese minister of agriculture, H.E. Hussein Hajj Hassan, the president of the Makassed Islamic University, prof. Hisham Nashabe, and father Gabriel Hachem, professor of theology at the Kaslik University.
Newly published in joint publication with the Librairie Pauliste of Jounieh-Marcianum Press of Venice, the small volume, intended as the previous one was (dedicated to the catecheses on Saint Paul) to promoting the knowledge of the pope’s teachings in the language of the Christians of the Middle East, was proposed at its very first launch as an instrument able to foster the meeting between Christians and Muslims starting from what is an absolutely essential value for both.
In his introduction, archbishop Matar situated the presentation of the volume by Benedict XVI in the framework of his visit to the Middle East, going over his teaching and the tireless commitment to demonstrating the reason for faith: ‘The Pope teaches us that prayer is a way to recognise the importance of the presence of God in everyday life. Life without the supreme reference is without sense, while the relationship with God elevates man’.
‘An Islamic saying says that we should not fear those who fear God. Since it is only when men have a direct intimate dialogue with God that they can open themselves to others in an authentic way – minister Hussein went on to stress, unhesitatingly repeating what a great opportunity it was for Lebanon to welcome a figure like the Pope who can encourage ‘the use of reason against any recourse to violence’ and who can bring an important message of peace.
These words were echoed by professor Nashabe who, quoting the pages written by Benedict XVI in detail, declared: ‘Prayer is not an action among others, as Saint Paul states, it is the action of God in us. This alone allows us to undertake a way of dialogue. Reading these pages I as a Muslim have been enriched: the experience of each one in this field can enlighten the other in turn. For this reason we need Christians in the Middle East’.
With his comments Nashabe showed, as those speaking before him had, his personal reaction before the catecheses and highlighted a topic that today seems decisive in the Middle East but also in the West: the awareness of the reciprocal importance of the Christians for the Muslims and vice versa. A crucial point confirmed also by the prayer vigil that took place two days before the Holy Father’s arrival: along the roads of the capital numerous Christians and Muslims filed past, gathering around the figure of Mary to pray for the success of the visit and for peace. If reciprocal knowledge is the first necessary condition to establish a true meeting, the Christian and Muslim speakers who accepted to bow together to the value of prayer starting from the teaching of the Pope, made a step forward and pointed to a new road to be undertaken: they expressed the measure in which one can enlighten the other as a foundation to build a good coexistence.
A road that in fact in Lebanon today still appears open, despite the contradictions and delicate equilibrium among the different communities. Even though the memory of the civil war is still fresh here, to the extent that those who fought in it find it difficult to speak to their own children about it, in the gesture of those who sat around the table at Saint Joseph’s a fragment of the intensity of the religious experience was gathered, the hope present in the Middle-Eastern complexity and an anticipation of the importance of the visit by Benedict XVI for these lands and beyond.