Marking the occasion of the Annunciation Day at “Our Lady of Jamhour” School on Saturday evening, Prime Minister Saad el-Hariri delivered the following speech:

“I am pleased to join this evening the ‘Together around Mary, our Lady’ with these gracious faces gathered around love and goodness, in celebrating the seventh anniversary of our proclamation of this day as a national holiday.

The decision that my government took on February 18, 2010, is one of the most cherished decisions to my heart, not only for what Virgin Mary represents for both Christianity and Islam, that have combined to sanctify and honor her in the Bible and the Qur’an, but because it brings us together.

We in Lebanon will always remain faithful to what unites us in fraternity, openness and acceptance and respect for others.

This celebration has become rooted in our Lebanese traditions, to give our internal unity a sublime dimension that adds to the other consensual meanings of the Lebanese experience and what it offers across its borders. This was summarized by Pope John Paul II in 1989, when he said: Lebanon is more than a country. It is a message of freedom and a model of pluralism for the East as for the West.

In fact, I am personally proud that our initiative here in Lebanon to celebrate this day has been extended to a number of Arab and foreign countries and societies.

Dear guests, since the beginning, our Constitution of 1926 declared that ‘the freedom of belief is absolute and the state, by performing the duties of reverence to God Almighty, respects all religions and sects and guarantees the freedom of religious worship under its protection’.

In this declaration, Lebanon was a pioneer, as in all its public freedoms, to express in words, speech and actual experience that this small country, loyal to its Arab belonging, is still a living example of the human diversified societies despite all the crises it experienced.

The motto I chose for my government is ‘regaining confidence.’ This doesn’t only mean to restore the confidence in the state and its institutions, regain stability and bring Lebanon back to its Arab surrounding and in the world, but I also meant to restore the confidence in the values that Lebanon represents and which the world seems to need now.

I see in these caring faces present here what best expresses convergence, fraternity, tolerance, moderation and respect of the privacy of others. This confirms my choice of the slogan of my government.

If we are gathered here today around the best woman in the world, who is the greatest meeting point between Christianity and Islam, is it possible that we, as Lebanese, do not gather around Lebanon? And how can those who agree on Mary not agree on Lebanon?

A few days ago, a conference on “Freedom and citizenship: diversity and complementarity” was held at the Al-Azhar University, at the invitation of Al Azhar and the Council of Muslim Elders.

It resulted in Al-Azhar’s Declaration on citizenship and coexistence, which summarized the views of the participants, namely Muslim and Christian clerics, distinguished guests from the Islamic world, Vatican and the World Council of Churches, with a remarkable Lebanese presence made up of religious dignitaries and intellectuals who talked about the Lebanese experience. The declaration said that the state and the political entity are not based on religion but on the social and political contract between the citizens of the same nation and condemned the acts that contradict the principle of citizenship and these are the practices that are not recognized by the Islamic law.

It called for a renewed partnership between Arab citizens, Muslims and Christians based on understanding, mutual recognition, citizenship and freedom, speaking of one ship facing common dangers. Here, let me tell you an anecdote that will put us all at ease. When I first met His Holiness Pope of the Copts Tawadros II, he said jokingly: “We in Egypt have become like you, we are talking about coexistence.”

In recent years some Arab countries were hit by all kinds of wars and, the practice of criminality and terrorism in the name of religion by a misguided minority that targets the values of Islam and the human values.

Where do we stand from these transformations in our Arab world and the world, and we have been targeted by a number of terrorist attacks here in Lebanon, in which innocent civilians and martyrs of the Lebanese Army, the Internal Security Forces and other services fell. We also still have men who are dear to us detained by terrorists and we cannot forget their cause and sacrifices.

We are fully aware of the means to protect Lebanon at all military, security, political and diplomatic levels.

Today we are committed, with President Michel Aoun, within the government, and with the other pillars of the state and the leaders of society to avoid any division.

Today we have a great cause, which is to protect Lebanon from the storms surrounding it at these historic and decisive moments where the international and regional interests jostle each other over the checkers of war and destruction.

We protect ourselves first by our unity, by giving priority to harmony and dialogue, which are the basis of our system and our life.

We protect ourselves by the model of moderation that we represent and that we must preserve. We are the people of moderation. The people of communication, prudence and noble compromises. We are the heirs of generations of intellectual, literary and scientific giving that offer an honest image of the gifts of united societies that do not stop giving in the climate of freedom.

Tyranny silences voices and ideas. It is a setback, and today we are in the era of global openness, where the world is a global village, and development competes with renewed technologies every day.

The Arab brothers are at the forefront of those who recognize the model embodied by Lebanon and the Lebanese, in terms of vitality, openness and creativity. They want Lebanon to remain this humanitarian oasis before being an intellectual one; a meeting point; a source of open minds and hearts.

My father used always to say that what unites the Lebanese is much broader than what divides them.

He would have been so pleased to see this wonderful scene and this vivid picture of the Lebanon he wanted, loved and for which he martyred, of the coexistence that he always mentioned in every stance, statement of ministerial statement.

I personally was raised in this tolerant atmosphere. I am confident of the desire of the Lebanese to live together, united in spite of the differences, attached to their pacts in spite of the current storms, and always looking at the future they deserve.

My wish is that we always remain together, united around the most holy woman in the world, the mother of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that we always remain united for Lebanon. Long live Lebanon.”

Source: National News Agency