by Youssef Hourany, Pope John Paul II

In a well-appreciated gesture, the schools run by the order handed out pictures of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and held prayers in memory of the late Pontiff and for his beatification. Numerous activities were organised in order to reawaken spiritual awareness amongst pupils, their teachers and families.

In a meeting with the press, Mgr Paul Matar, Maronite archbishop of Beirut, spoke about the efforts made by the Pope and the Holy See to see the Lebanese model succeed. Archbishop Matar, who organised the 1997 visit, spoke about the different stops the Holy Father made in the course of his trip. He highlighted the meeting the Pope had with Lebanese youth in Harisa, and his apostolic exhortation which could be the country’s constitution.

He stressed how significant it was to meet the Pope during the great open air mass in downtown Beirut with participants from all of Lebanon’s religions and regions.

John Paul II can be considered “Beirut’s first builder”, Archbishop Matar said as he remembered the enthusiasm shown by Muslims as they and their religious leaders came to Beirut to greet the Pontiff.

Saoud al-Mawla, who was an observer at the special synod of Lebanese bishops in 1994, told AsiaNews that John Paul II “was the prophet of the century who exhorted men and women in our society to examine their conscience and loyalty to their history and role in the Middle East”.

Mgr Bechara Rahi, Maronite archbishop of Jbeil, who coordinated the special assembly of the synod of bishops for Lebanon, said that “it was urgent to rediscover the meaning of the post-synod apostolic exhortation”, stressing the wealth of teachings in John Paul II’s legacy, a Pope who preached, wrote, visited, beatified but especially prayed.

Everyone should discover, Archbishop Rahi said, the mystic in the late Pope, a man of prayer and suffering, committed to inter-faith and ecumenical dialogue, a fighter for life and the family, a man who appreciated the rich religious heritage in the Middle East and the Arab world as best exemplified by his apostolic trips to different Arab countries such as Morocco, the Holy Land, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia.