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Lebanese turn to faith to break political stalemate

The statue of Portugal's Our Lady Fatima will visit several regions in Lebanon in a convoy of Christian leaders, many of whom believe that the tour will help Lebanon elect a president.
A statue of the Holy Virgin Mary of Fatima is carried during a candlelight vigil at the Fatima holy shrine in central Portugal  May 12, 2014. Thousands of pilgrims are on their way to the Fatima Shrine to attend the 97th anniversary celebrations of the first appearance of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in 1917.  REUTERS/Rafael Marchante (PORTUGAL - Tags: ANNIVERSARY SOCIETY RELIGION) - RTR3OV1C

FATIMA, Portugal — Christians in Lebanon seem to have lost hope in politics and politicians and decided to resort to religion for solace, as the Catholic churches in Lebanon have taken steps to consecrate their country to the "immaculate heart of Our Lady Fatima."

The statue will be brought all the way from Portugal to roam the regions of Lebanon and visit four Catholic patriarchates amid various political and religious expectations.

Al-Monitor accompanied the church convoy, which traveled from Beirut to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, on June 10 to receive the statue and take it to Beirut for a five-day tour in the country, June 12-16. The convoy consisted of Syriac Catholic Bishop Antoine Beylouni as head and the secretary-general of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in the East, Father Khalil Alwan, as well as other clerics and officials.

The convoy members asserted to Al-Monitor the national character of this step, noting that the Lebanese government decided in February 2010 to declare the Annunciation an official holiday for Christians and Muslims alike, as an entire surah and several verses of the Quran are dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Although most of the convoy members do not consider the visit a move of desperation, forsaking politics and resorting to religion for salvation from the current crisis, Beylouni and Alwan, among other participating clerics, wouldn’t stop talking about the significance of seeking help from "Our Lady Fatima" specifically, rather than other famous Virgin Mary shrines across the world. They explained in detail the historical meaning of this shrine.

They said that the first appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fatima happened in 1917 during World War I, and they described how she had predicted to three children the situation in communist Russia at the time and how the consecration of Russia for the Virgin Mary would re-ingrain Christianity in the country.

The political dimensions and significance of the statue's purported capacities do not end there. The leaders of the Lebanese church convoy shared their belief that Portugal’s 1938 consecration of "Lady Fatima" protected the country from the tragedies of World War II, and how Lady Fatima saved late Pope John Paul II from death when Mehmet Ali Agca attempted to assassinate him on her commemoration day on May 13, 1981. John Paul II himself reiterated this belief several times.

The convoy also narrated how the pope decided to devote Russia and the world to Lady Fatima in March 1984. According to them, this is what paved the way for the fall of communism in Moscow a few years later.

A Syrian delegation member who declined to reveal his identity told Al-Monitor, “Less than two years ago, when the nuclear weapon crisis broke out in Syria and the world thought that we were on the verge of a third world war, it was Pope Francis’ step that prevented slipping into that abyss.” According to the church official, Pope Francis publicly asked for a day of prayer to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary to end the war and violence in Syria.

Alwan told Al-Monitor that the request to move the statue to Lebanon was submitted by four Catholic patriarchates in Lebanon: Maronites, Roman Catholics, Syriac Catholics and Armenian Catholics.

The statue will visit these four patriarchates during its tour, but the trip won’t consist of only liturgical ritual. Beylouni added that the Maronite Patriarchate will dedicate Lebanon to the heart of the Virgin Mary, just like the Portuguese did in 1938. The Armenian Catholic Patriarchate will perform a prayer for Christians in Syria and ask for the intercession of the Virgin Mary to protect Syria, and the Syriac Catholic Patriarchate will pray for Iraq and its Christians. The remaining stops will be dispersed all over the Lebanese territories and offer opportunities for the Virgin Mary to bless all believers.

Father Salim Readi and Brother Emmanuel, members of the convoy who actively participated in organizing the event, revealed to Al-Monitor the national concerns that prompted the visit. They believe that the presence of the statue in Lebanon and the consecration of the country to her will soon resolve the stalemate in Lebanon.

It might even lead to the election of a president. The convoy members said that the scheduled tour was initially prepared for this purpose. Even the organizers tried to include a stop for the statue at the empty presidential palace, but the government officials would not allow it. The organizers shifted their vision to another presidential objective and decided to place the statue in front of the Lebanese parliament on June 14 to bless it, so that the parliamentarians would elect a new president quickly.

Another member of the convoy said more realistically, “In the end, Christians in Lebanon and the region have undergone tough times and might face scarier and more dangerous phases. In such cases, faith is helpful. Our Lady of Fatima might not have miraculous solutions, but it is enough for Christians and the Lebanese people to feel that she protects them. This will grant them the ability to be stronger in facing the crises or at least in bearing them, until better circumstances or more efficient solutions arise.”

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