TOGETHER AROUND OUR LADY MARY INITIATIVE THROUGH THE EYES OF NAGY -KHOURY: A WARRIOR OF UNITY.
Who is Nagy -Khoury?
First, he is the one who defends the cause of a civilization of love. He bieves in the power of good over evil. Nagy -Khoury is the Secretary General of the Alumni Association of Notre Dame de Jamhour and the President of the Federation of Alumni Associations of Catholic Schools in Lebanon. Furthermore, he is the Secretary General and the man behind the interrigious “Together Around Our Lady Mary” initiative of March 25. Thanks to his continuous efforts and struggles with a rigiously diverse committee, on Feb. 18, 2010 - a date forever engraved in everyone’s memory - the Cabinet declared March 25th the Day of the Annunciation, as an Islamic-Christian National Holiday; thus becoming the first joint formal holiday in the history of these two rigions. As Nagy -Khoury states: “Bravo Mary!”
Why can’t we pray together?
Nagy el-Khoury’s program for March 25 (“Eid al-Bichara” or “Annunciation”) is building bridges between Christian and Muslim communities in Lebanon by bringing them together to sing and pray. Here, in his own words, he describes his journey, a journey that is definitely more than a simple event… it’s the concretization of a prophecy. “A dream came true, and a premiere in history,” as described by Nagy el-Khoury himself.
Nagy el-Khoury begins his storytelling:
“It began 37 years ago in 1979, when I restarted social cultural activities in Jamhour (Alumni association, Sports Club, College Magazine, professional orientation and other social and cultural activities). We decided to expand our horizons. My first fellow conspirator was Father Robert Clement. Together we developed the Muslim-Christian dialogue, which had deteriorated with the war. Our first tactic was to get students from Louise Wegmann [school], since they would be similar to Jamhour students, with the only difference being religion. We made them sit on a square table and held a therapeutic session where each of them had to say all of their preconceived notions about each other. This gathering had an excellent outcome. Then we started working on each of these findings.
“My interest for dialogue goes back to my roots, I guess. I’m from Jezzine, a region surrounded from the north by Druze, from the south by Shiites, and from the west by Sunnis.”
March 25, the beginning
“It all started when I used to attend conferences debating Muslim-Christian dialogue,” he states. “Unfortunately, these sessions were nothing but ‘dialoguists.’ They used to represent one closed circle, discussing only one side of the argument. In July 2006, we left a particularly unsuccessful conference, and I hit Sheikh Mohammad Nokkari [Lebanon’s Sunni religious authority at the time] on the shoulder and asked him: ‘Why can’t we pray together?’ That was the real starting point of everything.”
“Representatives from all religious parties were involved in this project in order to make it a common mission for all people, with no exception or religious differentiation or other differentiation of any kind. From the Shiites’ side, Ibrahim Shamseddine was part of the committee, and also Jesuit Christian Father Fadel Sidarouss, representing the Christians,” he added.
More than a dream... a prophecy
“Since 2000, I had a recurrent dream. I visualized a big circus tent with many stands, with people from all religions praying together in their respective outfits, and me in the middle, wearing jeans and a colored T-shirt. Prayers were reaching the skies, as if emanating and going up through a funnel out the top of the tent. I had the same dream each three or four months, and every year, for six or seven years… Later on, I knew it was more than a dream. It was a kind of vision, as if Virgin Mary was telling me to take action. And so I did,’ reveals Nagy el-Khoury.
“Both the Christian and Muslim religions cherish her. We found references to the same iconic mother of Jesus in both the Bible and the Quran. Thus, we met with Jamhour’s committee and ended up choosing Annunciation Day as a common celebration for both religions. After conferring with the corresponding experts from each confession, we organized the first March 25 as a gathering for Muslims and Christians to pray together and express their love for Virgin Mary. March 25, 2007, was when the first event took place.”
“We’re currently working on proclaiming March 25 an international day for dialogue between religions and cultures. It has already been adopted in Nazareth, Malta, Poland and France. What we are doing is contagious,” Khoury reveals.
Nagy El-Khoury’s message
“Today, conflicts are not among religions. There is only one conflict, and it is the power of good against evil. I would say the power of good is 95 percent and the power of evil is 5 percent. Each person should ask oneself, what have I done for the sake of the civilization, love and peace? Men are divided into three categories, destroyer, observant or constructor - It’s time people wake up and take charge of their responsibilities.
Besides, Pope John Paul II had stated: ‘Lebanon is more than a country, it’s a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for the Oriental as well as for the Occidental part of the world.’ Emanating from Lebanon, the “Together Around Our Lady Mary” exploit created a new culture that defied wars and differences and reaffirmed that Lebanon is definitely a message that goes beyond the borders of this small, yet blessed country and spreads out a note of peace to the world.”
Awards and honors
Poland honored Nagy el-Khoury with the Sergio Viera de Mello Prize, for being one of the people in the world who works very hard for the Muslim-Christian dialogue. In 2005, the pope honored him with the medal of the “Chevalier de l’Ordre de Saint Gregoire, Le Grand.”
The list of prominent invitees throughout the years from the ceremony starting date till the national day celebration:
2007- Sheikh Khaled al-Jundi, from Al-Azhar University Cairo (Egypt), an important reference in Sunni Islam.
2008- Sayyed Mohammed Hassan al-Amine, prominent figure in Shiite groups.
2009- Late Mgr Salim Ghazal, former president of the Episcopal Commission for Christian-Muslim dialogue, and Cheikh Amr Khaled, one of the most important preachers in the Islamic world, who was based in London.
2010- Lech Walesa, former president of Poland, founder of the Solidarnosc Union, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and testified to the importance of the Holy Virgin.
2011- The T.R.P. Adolfo Nicolás, s.j., superior general of the Society of Jesus.
2012- His Eminence Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rai, Maronite patriarch of Antioch and all the East.
2013- Sayyed Ali Fadlallah, son of Sayed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, one of the most important references of Shiite Islam and current president of the Association of Mabarrat.
2014- Father Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who just gave the committee the support of the Vatican.
2015- His Eminence Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, primate of the Gauls, accompanied by Mr. Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, who both testified friendship between people.
2016- It will probably be the Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic Sheikh Abdel.
The day after the event, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati was flicking through channels on the TV. He saw a sheikh praying in a church - it was Sheikh Khaled al-Jundi who came especially from Saudi Arabia to participate in the event. He called the rector of the school and told him: “This is the Lebanon we want.”
In 2008, the committee requested this day to be considered as an official Muslim-Christian gathering. Two years later, the Cabinet agreed, but without making it an official holiday. In 2010, the people involved witnessed this dream come true after then Prime Minister Saad Hariri facilitated it.