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Melto D’Moronoyo: St John Paul II’s love for Lebanon shines on

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Pope John Paul II blesses a baby in the Sistine Chapel on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in 2002. Photo: CNS/Catholic Press Photo

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of Saint John Paul II, whose profound impact on the Catholic Church and the world is felt to this day.

His nearly three-decade-long papacy was marked by an unwavering commitment to faith, peace, and the dignity of every human being.

Amidst the turbulent waters of global conflicts and discord, Pope John Paul II’s message on the importance of peace continues to resonate, reminding us that the pursuit of peace is vital, even when it appears elusive.

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This is an excerpt of the homily of Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay on the occasion of the Feast of St John Paul II, at a Maronite Church dedicated to the memory of this beloved pope and saint.

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St John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Poland, was a man of deep conviction, with an unwavering commitment to faith, peace, and the dignity of every human being.

His papacy was marked by several defining characteristics that have left an indelible mark on the Catholic Church and the world. His ability to connect with people from all walks of life, transcending geographical, cultural, and religious boundaries, is one of the hallmarks of his legacy.

St John Paul II’s tireless advocacy for peace and social justice serves as another significant aspect of his enduring impact. He spoke out against violence, conflict, and injustice, becoming a powerful voice for global harmony. His pivotal role in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, especially in his native Poland, showcased the potential of peaceful resistance and solidarity.

In addition to his advocacy for peace, St John Paul II possessed a unique ability to bring people together through interfaith dialogue and cooperation. He sought unity among Christians and extended his hand in friendship to leaders of other religions, fostering better relations between faiths.

His commitment to the sanctity of life and the protection of human rights, regardless of age, stage, or circumstance, was unwavering. He spoke out against war, the death penalty, abortion, and euthanasia, emphasising the intrinsic value of every person and the critical significance of a culture of life.

St John Paul II’s passion for the youth was also evident in his advocacy for their potential to shape the future. He initiated World Youth Day, gatherings that continue to inspire and empower young people worldwide, fostering a sense of community, faith, and hope.

However, one of the most unique aspects of St John Paul II’s legacy was his deep affection for Lebanon. From the outset of his pontificate in 1978, he displayed a love for Lebanon and its people.

Gilberte Doummar, a member of the Focolari movement, who for many years was Lebanon’s representative on the Pontifical Council for the Laity gives additional insight into Pope John Paul II’s love for Lebanon.

In 1984, during the first assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, she thanked the pope for what he was doing for Lebanon, to which he responded, “Yes, Lebanon is at the centre of my concerns and prayers.”

It is told that when in October 1978, after his election, he went out to greet the crowds in Saint Peter’s Square, he saw one banner raised that said, “Holy Father, Save Lebanon!” just before it quickly disappeared. Like an arrow, that message struck his heart.

A remarkable testament to this was the Special Synod for Lebanon held in 1995, culminating in the issuance of the Apostolic Exhortation, “A New Hope for Lebanon.”
Notably, Lebanon is the only country to have received a full synod from the Catholic Church.

His relationship with our homeland was further exemplified in a papal letter he wrote to the Catholic bishops in 1989, emphasising that “Lebanon is more than a country; it is a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for East and West.”

This message served as a model for defining Lebanon’s identity as a symbol of unity amidst diversity.

This legacy of St John Paul II’s love for Lebanon continues to influence the papacy today.
Pope Francis has repeatedly highlighted the enduring importance of Lebanon as an “oasis of fraternity.”

In his message on 1 July 2021, he recognised Lebanon’s unique role in the region, even as it faces numerous challenges. The resilience of the Lebanese, bolstered by international support and divine guidance, offer hope for the future.

Our celebration of the feast day of St John Paul II, in a Maronite Church dedicated to his memory, serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of this great pope.

As we seek intercession for peace in Gaza and Lebanon, let us also remember the importance of peace in our own lives and in the world around us.

May we continue to carry forward the message of St John Paul II and may his prayers for a world filled with peace be heard by the Almighty.

May St John Paul II intercede for us, and may his legacy of faith, peace, and the dignity of every human being continue to inspire us in our journey of faith. Amen.

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