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Feast of the Annunciation

Becomes National Holiday in Lebanon

(Remnant News Watch April 20, 2010)


by Mark Alessio


(Posted 04/20/10 The feast of the Annunciation, March 25, has been recognized in Lebanon as a “national holiday, and one of its most vigorous promoters is a Muslim,” reports Doreen Abi Raad of the Catholic News Service (Mar. 24, 2010):

Sheik Mohammed Nokkari, who teaches in the faculty of law and at the Institute of Islamic-Christian Studies at St. Joseph University in Beirut, told Catholic News Service Mary is "the best woman ever, here (on earth) and in eternity. She's above all women."

"God gave us Eve, as the mother of humanity," said Sheik Nokkari, a lecturer on the subject of Muslim-Christian dialogue. "He also gave us another mother, a tender and uniting mother who is our Mother Mary." Nokkari has helped to organize an annual meeting of Muslims and Christians on the feast of the Annunciation at the College of Our Lady of Jamhour, an outside of Beirut. In 2009, some one-thousand participants attended the gathering, which explored the theme, “Together Around Our Lady Mary."

When, last year, Nokkari and others petitioned the Lebanese government to declare March 25th a national holiday, the grand mufti of Dar el-Fatwa (Lebanon's highest Sunni Muslim religious authority) forbade him from participating in the Jamhour meeting. As a result, Nokkari published the speech he had intended to deliver at Jamhour in a newspaper and resigned his post as Director General of Dar el-Fatwa.

The official decision to make the Feast of the Annunciation a national holiday was announced during a February 20th meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Lebanon's prime minister, Saad Hariri. Shiek Nokkari remarked, “The first feeling I had was to offer this victory to Our Lady 'Sitna Mariam' (as she is known by Muslims), and I asked the organizers and all who participated in this not to take any credit, but to offer it to Our Lady. ... Our Lady gave us this day. It is not us who is giving it to her."

The Maronite Catholic Council of Bishops praised the government's decision, saying it "helps in bringing hearts together." Sheik Nokkari expressed his hope that the celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation as a national holiday would spread to other nations. 

Comment: St. Matthew tells us that, when the Centurion told Jesus, “only say the word, and my servant shall be healed,” Our Lord “marveled, and said to them that followed Him, Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel.” And today, in Lebanon, we find a Muslim putting himself on the line for the glory and honor of the Blessed Virgin. In order to put that in perspective, just try to imagine a contemporary Catholic bishop petitioning Congress to declare a Marian feast as a national holiday.

“Separation of Church and State!” the parrots would scream if that ever happened. Sure, “Martin Luther King Day” can be a national holiday in America, even though King was a Protestant minister. In fact, we honor various people – a Protestant “reverend,” presidents, war veterans, Columbus, etc. – with national holidays. It is interesting, though, that a nation so proud of its riches and bounty has never honored the Divine in such a manner. In fact, many people who would sing “America! America!/ God shed His grace on thee,/And crown thy good with brotherhood/From sea to shining sea!” would also sue the government if a Catholic icon became the subject of a national holiday.

One might argue that Thanksgiving is a day set aside for God. In Abraham’s Lincoln “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (Oct. 3, 1853), there are mentions of “the ever watchful providence of Almighty God,” “the gracious gifts of the Most High God” and “our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Many people, particularly those conservative talking heads who will grasp at any straw (and conveniently ignore the rabid anti-Catholicism of some of our Founding Fathers), deem this something wonderful, seeing in it an example of our nation’s allegedly “Christian” roots. A discerning Catholic, on the other hand, knows that praise to a generic God is NO praise at all:

He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names: That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: And that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:8-11)

It remains a sad fact that America, a land which has truly been blessed in so many respects, was spiritually tainted at its very conception by the secular humanistic ideals of the Enlightenment, the idea that Man, and Man alone, could engineer the perfect society via “enlightened” (and vehemently anti-clerical) revolutions. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Jay, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson – all these early American heroes wrote disparagingly and contemptuously of the Catholic Faith. Is it a surprise, then, that the only “god” allowed in the American public square is that generic, impotent one to which lip service has been paid since the American Revolution?

Much honor is paid to the Statue of Liberty, which was originally called “Liberty Enlightening the World.” She wears a stola, a garment worn by women in ancient Rome (note the pre-Christian element). Her crown recalls that of the pagan Sun-god, Apollo. She holds, in her left arm, a tablet bearing the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence (not the Ten Commandments or any reference to the Gospels). The famous poem by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, engraved on a bronze plaque inside the statue, even gives her a title: “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame/Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name/Mother of Exiles.”

As the son of immigrants, I would not begrudge anyone the thrill of floating past “Lady Liberty,” while pausing to consider the waves of immigrants who have viewed her with awe and gratitude as they entered New York Harbor. However, as a piece of a puzzle, as an indication of our nation’s utilitarian view of religion since its inception, we cannot ignore the fact that the keeper of the “imprisoned lightning” is, at bottom, a mere fabrication. The “mighty woman with a torch” could have been the “Woman clothed with the Sun.” The “Mother of Exiles” could have been the “Mother of God.” That she is not is nothing to celebrate. This is even more disgraceful when we recall that, on May 13, 1846, the bishops of the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore adopted this decree: “With enthusiastic acclaim and with unanimous approval and consent, the Fathers [of the Council] have chosen the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, as the Patroness of the United States of America.”

In the end, it is a sobering thought. In America, the “land of the free,” Catholic iconography is outlawed in the public sphere. In the parliamentary democracy of Lebanon, wherein the top three governmental positions must be held by (1) a Maronite Christian (President), (2) a Sunni Muslim (Prime Minister), and (3) a Shi’a Muslim (Speaker of the Parliament), the Feast of the Annunciation has become a national holiday – via the dedication of a Muslim sheik to that end.

Leaving politics aside, what is wrong with this picture?


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