How It Felt As A Lebanese Muslim To Hear Pope Francis’ Christmas Message To Lebanon

In his message to the city and the world on Christmas Day in St. Peter’s Square of the Vatican City, Pope Francis called out on Lebanese officials to find a way out of the crisis in Lebanon, which he described as “a country of harmonious coexistence.”

The head of the World Catholic Church asked the nations to spread “unconditional” love that does not actually cost anything, yet is so rewarding.

“Christmas reminds us that God loves all human beings, even the bad ones,” and that “His love is unconditional and without return.”

“We change, the church changes, and history changes when we stop our desire to change others and start with changing ourselves.”

Pope Francis’ message was nothing less than a call for peace, harmony, and love among the nations. The kind of peace and harmony that Lebanon needs the most during these days. The kind of message I needed to hear.

Our whole lives, we heard adults encourage us to love one another, yet take a step back if we encountered someone from the other religion.

It inflicted unconscious fear within us, and it made us extra cautious if we spent time with some from different religious backgrounds. Or so I thought.

I realized that religions never divided us. They only made us love each other more. Our religions talk about love and peace so much that as Lebanese, we always try to be extra nice and welcoming to people from other religions.

We make sure they are warmly introduced to our religious cultures, and we listen to theirs with the utmost respect.

Our relationship with different religions may be complex, but respect does exist. As Lebanese, we coexist harmoniously in neighborhoods and cities that are only separated by a street or two and united by a rakwet ahwe (a coffee pot) and a Fayrouz song.

We may not agree with how our neighbor practices his/her prayers to God, but we will never give ourselves the right to overstep somebody’s freedom of practice.

If a Lebanese Christian passes by a mosque, he/she will turn down the volume of the music he/she is listening to. And if a Lebanese Muslim enters a church, he/she will light a candle and stand in silence as a way of respect.

As a Muslim, I can say that I have been more than accepted in Christian homes and among Christian friends. I enjoy listening to their stories of Jesus and beliefs, and they enjoy my own stories of Islam and the maamoul I offer during Eid.

To say that I am always greatly touched by a verse from the Bible is an understatement. In the same context, my Christian friends quote sayings by Prophet Mohammad and Imam Ali.

I am not denying that some companies and organizations choose employees according to religions or sects. I am just speaking of the relationships we have as Lebanese people with each other.

“Harmonious coexistence,” as the Pope named it, is the statement that describes us best.

We might not agree with how each one of us lives but we coexist harmoniously. When a fellow Christian gets offended, Muslims will defend him/her as viciously as Christians would. And if a Muslim fellow falls into a crisis, Christians will be the first to offer help.

Even though the fear of one another still exists within us, we know that we need each other for Lebanon to survive and to thrive.

We love each other because we are diverse, and because we are Lebanon and Lebanon is us. A land of hope, triumph, beauty, and endless sacrifice. 

We hope and we pray in different ways, every day, for a Lebanon that the Lebanese so well deserve, and vice versa. We take great pride in our mosques and churches being so close to each other.

We cried seeing the Lebanese Revolution unite the people in Ain Rimmeneh and Chiah, and in Ashrafieh and Khandaq, and in the public squares across Lebanon.

In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays for all believers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

“May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

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Lebanese Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussain Fadlallah once said: “Jesus is the human of God, the human of life, and the human of love.”

We may be divided by opinions and perspectives, but our religions and beliefs always unite us. 

The diversity of our religions and sects is not THE problem of Lebanon. We have been living together for close to two thousand years, sharing the bread and salt of our land, building Lebanon together, enduring its problems together, surviving its crises together, and enjoying together the blessings of our homeland.

That is our coexistence, a harmonious one.

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