SIDON/TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Catholics from the northern Akkar region to the southern city of Tyre carried the olive branch of peace by hand and word Sunday morning, as many of the country’s Christians celebrated Palm Sunday.
“Despite the difficult conditions that the city of Tripoli faces, we have to keep on celebrating our religious festivals in order to express our deep belief in our Lord Jesus,” said Maronite Archbishop of Tripoli George Abu Joudeh.
“The history of this city proves that Christians and Muslims lived in complete harmony when they didn’t allow foreigners to interfere among them. But unfortunately those foreigners have entered our city and have caused these difficult days that we live now.”
A call for love emanated from Lebanon’s most embattled cities – from the northern city of Tripoli, where fatal clashes reignited last week, to the southern coastal city of Sidon, where coexistence has given way in recent months to a rise in political and sectarian tension.
Children carried the symbols of peace through their local streets, dressed in their new Sunday best in the town of Zghorta, hands clasped with their disabled peers through the narrow alleys of Geitawi in Beirut, and olive and palm branches guiding their way through the southern city of Tyre.
This was the first Palm Sunday of the year, celebrated by the country’s Catholic and Protestant communities, which include Maronites, Greek Melkites, Armenian Catholics and Evangelicals. Orthodox Christians will celebrate theirs on April 28.
Many sermons called for congregants to put their faith not in political forces but in teachings of their religion.
“We seek salvation not in our senior political officials, but we seek salvation through allegiance to our faith, our morals and values and our Lord Jesus,” Abu Joudeh said. “Peace is coming if we trust our Lord Jesus.”
A similar message was heard in the villages around Akkar – Andaqit, Shadra, Munjez, Deir Janin, Halba and Minyara – the northern region that borders Syria and whose border towns have been the target of violence spilling over from Syria.
In the mountain town of Bsharri, south of Akkar, Archbishop Maroun alAmar told congregants at Our Lady of Bazoun Church of the need to live in the real spirit of compassion and peace. Amar asked them to prepare for Easter by purifying their souls and returning to the teachings of Jesus.
After Amar’s sermon, Bsharri conducted its Palm Sunday procession, and young men from the village re-enacted the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem.
In Sidon, Archbishop Elias Nassar used his sermon to call on politicians to act responsibly.
“We pray to God so that he can inspire political officials to take their national responsibility seriously, and so that they can care for the peace of the Lebanese people and stay away from civil strife,” Nassar said.
He urged coexistence, calling for everyone to enter dialogue and agree on national principles that secure equality and justice.
At the Mar Nicholas church, Greek Malachite Archbishop Elie Haddad decried reports that tension thrives in Sidon. Haddad met with citizens from Sidon and its surrounding districts, and relayed to his congregants their united hope for peace.
“I pray with you today so that God would enlighten our officials, so they can get out of the impasse of forming the new government,” he said. “I call on you to pray for Lebanon because the government alone cannot give us peace. Along with our prayers, we need the wisdom and common sense to know how to keep away the ghost of war and violence from our country.”