This year, Lebanese Christians and Muslims were enot be able to meet in squares and churches to venerate the Virgin Mary together on the Marian solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, proclaimed since 2010 as a national holiday in the Country of Cedars. The provisions issued by political and religious institutions to curb the coronavirus pandemic entail the cancellation of any event involving gatherings of people. For this reason, an initiative spontaneously took shape to celebrate the Virgin Mary in the conditions of restriction and isolation in which the Lebanese population finds itself living at the time of the pandemic: Christians and Muslims, each in their own home, were able to recite together a prayer to the Virgin throughout the country through social networks by the Aydan Foundation, the well-known association that promotes dialogue and religious pluralism inaugurated in 2007 by the priest Fadi Daou. “On the occasion of the feast of the Annunciation, and given the health restrictions” reads the message released by Aydan “let us all recite the Islamic-Christian prayer dedicated to the Virgin from the balconies, with candles lit at 7 pm”.
It is a prayer composed specifically for the 2020 Annunciation Day, which sees the whole world afflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. The prayer invokes God the Lord of Creation and of humanity, who “chose the Virgin Mary” and “preferred her among all the women of the world”, sending the angel “who brought her the announcement that we today celebrate together, Christians and Muslims”. The prayer implores God “almighty and merciful”, who loves “all the people” and gave everyone “the gift of life” to save us “from the risk of this pandemic” and to help everyone find in the Virgin “a model for our lives, to be followed in order to nourish sharing in times of tribulation, relying on her providence so as not to “give in to fear or one’s own presumption”. In the text of the prayer, God is also invoked as “He who helps” (one of the hundred names of God present in the Koran), imploring him to help the sick, doctors and health operators who treat the victims of the pandemic.
In Lebanon, today’s Marian solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord has been proclaimed a National Day since 2010. In recent years there have been many initiatives in which Christians and Muslims share together, on the occasion of this feast, acts of veneration towards the Virgin Mary. Sunni Sheikh Mohamad Nokkari, who teaches in the faculty of law in Beirut, Dubai, and Strasbourg, wanted to further national reconciliation and inter-communal friendship, by raising the profile of the Virgin Mary, who is a point of reference for both Christians and Muslims (see Fides 25/3/2019). The choice of date to have Christians and Muslims celebrate Mary fell on the feast of the Annunciation, also because the Annunciation of the Angel to Mary is narrated both in the Gospel and in the Koran. Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran 34 times (while Mary’s name appears in the Gospels 19 times).
The first Islamic-Christian celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation was hosted in the Lebanese sanctuary of Our Lady of Jamhour, in 2007.
Political leaders were impressed by the initiative, and in 2010 Prime Minister Saad Hariri, proclaimed March 25 a national holiday, the day on which the Annunciation is celebrated.