Christmas reflections from Amman theater to the closed Baabda Palace

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Christmas reflections from Amman theater to the closed Baabda Palace

By Fr. Rif'at Bader

The "Arena" theater in Amman was full of people who braved the rainy weather of a cold December evening to attend a concert by Majida Al-Roumi after a 14-year absence from Jordan theaters.

On that day, Majida shone like a bright star, and spoke for security and peace. She thanked Amman for hospitality and wished Jordan continued security and stability. She also called for peace in Palestine which was the concern of an audience estimated at about 5,000 people. She pledged the martyrs all over the countries of the Arab world "not let them down, and not to let their blood go in vain."

Majida came from Beirut, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Jubran Tweini. She did not address the Lebanese home affairs, but as I was listening to her I could feel her broken heart. It is Lebanon, the presidency post and the Christian affair. It is not merely a Lebanese affair, but rather an Arab, a humanitarian and a Christian affair. Christianity is Lebanon. Lebanon is the heart of the Eastern Christianity, and we view Lebanon as an orphaned state with no president, namely the only Arab country with a Christian head of state.

In May, on the eve preceding the Pope Francis' visit, the Lebanese ambassador to Jordan invited me for a lunch banquet. Present were Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rah, the Jordanian prime minister, and a number of religious and civic dignitaries. Sorrow was mapped out on the face of Patriarch Rahi.

In his address he said: "I am sad, because I speak without a head, as Lebanon is without a president." This sadness still being mapped out on the face of the patriarch until today, is an expression of a people's sorrow, concern, and fear for the unpredictable future. On the one hand, there are the challenges of terrorism, extremism and narrow-mindedness. on the other hand, there are impediments on the way of choosing a person who can sit in the chair of "service" (which is synonymous with the authority in the Christian terminology), namely the presidential palace in Baabda.

These two concerns affect the Maronites of Lebanon, as well as the components of the Lebanese nation which we always want to be united. They do not only affect Lebanon's Christians, but they also affect all Christians of the East, who do not view Christianity in Lebanon as merely a matter of declining numbers here and growing in the Diaspora, but view it as entity, influence and being of the heart of oriental Christianity that is exposed to the most vicious kinds of persecution and forced displacement, especially in Iraq and Syria.

Yes, it is the apparent increase in intolerance, narrow-mindedness and willingness to "cancel" the other, namely the elder brother of Islam in the East. We must be alert and cautious by not allowing this bright presence to dissipate, as King Abdullah II said in September, at the Clinton initiative summit: "Christian Arabs are the cornerstone of the past, present and future Arab history, and this is a source of pride to all of us".

On the advent of the Christian celebrations, it is necessary to notet that this Christian Arab presence will remain incomplete as long as there are obstacles impeding the installment of the only "Christian Arab president "in the Baabda Palace.

Back to Majida, who sang two years ago in the ''palace". Today, we find its doors closed with no Christmas carols. Why? Because the master of the house is no longer there. As poet Mahmoud Darwish says: "Homes fall silent after the departure of its residents." What would the situation look like if that very house were the president's palace? That is why the Christmas carols in Lebanon nowadays are depressing after the departure of a number of renowned artists. Despite the decorations, this depression will remain as long as the Lebanese body, according to the words of Patriarch Rai, remains with no head.

Among the carols Majida sang two years ago was: "Christ is born… Hallelujah" which is the Christmas proclamation launched 15 years ago by one of the people who had great faith and love in Lebanon, namely Robert Shakiban. He used at this time of the year to sit on his chair with his "cane" next to him to disseminate the message of Christmas saying: ''Happy New Year'. But these words are not enough to signify Christmas; so as it is said at Easter "Christ is risen… He definitely did," he launched the Christmas carol "Christ is born… Hallelujah".

Today Majida does not sing at the presidential palace, because its doors are closed, and its residents had already left... and the Christmas proclamation which Shakiban left behind after passing away remains an invaluable legacy along with his cane. He might be along with Wadi' Al-Safi, Sabah, Sa'id Aqil, and all the martyrs of Lebanon praying for their homeland, which proceeds ahead using a cane, but will not walk upright without a president.

Do accept a greeting from Jordan to Lebanon... and invitation to restore the joy to Christmas carols, and restore the Baabda Palace as its theater.

Open the doors of Baabda for Majida to sing the carol: "Christ is born… Hallelujah" so that the martyrs can rest in peace with Robert Shakiban, so that the Christian Arabs will feel relaxed with the return of the only president, who shares their religion, to open the gates of his palace in order to resume the march of diversity in this miserable East.

Thank you Majida for your performance at the "Arena" theatre. We will be happier when you return to Baabda to breathe life into Christmas and new year celebrations, in the palace, in the presence of its president...

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