Lebanese Christians and Muslims are celebrating today, 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation, an official national holiday sanctioned by the Government of Lebanon. All public buildings, schools, banks and university are closed. The government has also encouraged private businesses to do the same.
The Feast Day of the Annunciation commemorates the moment when the Archangel Gabriel revealed to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus, the Saviour.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri extended his warmest greetings to the nation, saying that it was the responsibility of clergymen to make this day a spiritual and national occasion for all Lebanese.
Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who has a deep devotion to Mary, was to be in Lebanon for the holiday.
On 18 February, the government made 25 March a national Christian-Muslim Day, something that has never occurred before in the history of Christian-Muslim relations. The decision was confirmed two days later during a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Prime Minister Hariri in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
Dar-al-Fatwa Secretary General Sheikh Mohammed Nokkari, one of the main promoters of the joint festivity, said he hopes that such a holiday would spread to other parts of the world, adding that it was fitting that it should begin in Lebanon, which the late Pope John Paul II had described as "a message of pluralism for the East and the West."
For the Muslim clergyman, Mary is “the best woman ever, here (on earth) and in eternity” for “she's above all women”, a symbol of unity between the two faiths.
The Council of Maronite Bishops praised the government's decision, saying it "helps in bringing hearts together”.
For the bishops, the celebration “is a unique event which deserves praise” for “it shows the face of Lebanon (as) 'the message'” as well as “the place and honour occupied by the Virgin Mary in Christianity and Islam.”
Hafid Ouardiri, former spokesman for the Geneva mosque and director of the Entre-Connaissance Foundation in the Swiss city, an organisation involved in inter-faith dialogue, noted that Lebanon was “a multi-confessional country with 19 religious communities,” evidence of a tangible “dialogue of faiths.”
For Joseph A. Kechichian, a commentator for Dubai-based GulfNews, the very creation of a joint Muslim-Christian is “an unprecedented event in contemporary history,” going “beyond the symbolic political gesture” because it “opens a new page in the country's history”.