“There has been much expectation and joy over this visit of Benedict XVI,” say Arlette Samma, Lebanese, and Giorgio Antoniazzi, Italian, who are co-directors of the Focolare Movement in Lebanon. The Movement has been present in this land since 1969. Arlette and Giorgio were interviewed while attending a meeting for regional delegates of the Focolare Movement in Rocca di Papa, Italy.
“The entire population is celebrating. The Muslims welcomed the news of the Pope’s visit and made clear their joy through their religious leaders. They see this this visit as a blessing especially during this delicate situation in the region,” Arlette explained. “The Middle East that has welcomed the Pope is no longer that of October 2010 when the Synod for the Middle East took place. Several political, social, popular and economic shocks have since rocked the nation and brought some nations in the region to their knees.”
What is the awaited message?
“It was broadly outlined in the recommendations made by the Synod but will certainly have new words, a new light,” continues Giorgio. “The heart of it all is the minority presence of Christians and the relationship with Islam, the question of religious freedom, freedom to worship, dialogue, peace which is needed more than ever now but continues to be threatened. And given that the title of the Synod was Communion and Witness, it makes one think that this is the challenge for the local Churches on the vigil of the Synod on Evangelization.”
How has the population been preparing for this visit?
“On 2 September there was a march for peace with Christians and Muslims, which we also attended. The march flowed into Reconciliation Square in Beirut. There were prayers and novenas in the Catholic diocese and parishes; the streets are wallpapered with photos of the Pope and with welcoming slogans for the man of peace. It has become a moment of hope for the people of the Middle East.”
At the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, Benedict XVI met with the President of the Republic and with civil and Christian and Muslim religious authorities, and with young people at the Maronite Patriarchate. On Sunday morning he will celebrate the Holy Mass in the centre of Beirut.
The Focolare Movement is present in every region of the country and Christians of different Eastern Churches and also many Muslims belong to it. How will you be involved during the Pope’s visit? “We’re inserted into the parishes and together with everyone else we will assist at the various events. We sent a present to the Pope along with our gratitude for his visit to our lands, assuring of our constant prayers for every step at every step of his journey, with the hope that it brings abundant graces of peace and hope to our people that has been so sorely tried. We also assured him of our faithful commitment to bring unity and brotherhood,” recalls Arlette. “There was a focolarino representing the Movement at the document signing on 14 September,” Giorgio explains, “and around a hundred youths were involved in helping out and attending the evening for young people on the 15th of September.” Arlette concluded: “This is undoubtedly an important moment for the unity of the Church and for the countries of the Middle East.”