Lebanese celebrate canonising "tolerant" priest
DEER KFIFAN, Lebanon, May 16 (Reuters) - Thousands of devout Lebanese Christians marched to a rocky north Lebanese village on Sunday to celebrate the canonisation of a 19th century Maronite priest renowned at home and abroad for preaching tolerance. Holding photographs of Nimatullah al-Hardini and chanting prayers, more than 6,000 Lebanese walked through Deer Kfifan to a hilltop church where the priest lived until his death in 1858. "Lebanon is a country of saints, the Lord is showing us his love for us through his saints," said Teres Harfoosh as she kissed a photograph of Hardini and called on him to cure her blind daughter. Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud headed a delegation to the Vatican to attend the canonisation ceremony in which Pope John Paul created six new saints on Sunday, including Hardini.
"I hope that the new saint intercedes with God so that his compatriots might continue along the path of peace and fraternity," the ageing pontiff told Lahoud at the Vatican. Most Lebanese televisions broadcasted the event live.
Hardini, who became the third canonised saint from Lebanon, earned fame for his advocacy of indiscrimination between Muslims, Druze and Christians in a country whose past was rocked by sectarian strife. "In his mission he made no distinction between Muslims, Druses or Christians," Father Paolo Azzi, the man who promoted Hardini's case for sainthood, told Vatican Radio. More than 5,000 chairs placed in the church yard a stone's throw from Hardini's glass-covered tomb were filled with people from all over Lebanon celebrating Hardini's canonisation.
Hardini was born in Hardine, in northern Lebanon, in 1808. At age 20 he entered as a seminarian in the Monastery of St. Anthony in Qozhaya north Lebanon and chose the name Nimatullah, which means "grace of God." Nimatullah, who was ordained a priest in Kfifan on Christmas Day in 1833, while Lebanon was under the rule of the Ottoman empire, lived the contemplative dimension of his vocation in daily life through love of his religious brothers and of culture, the biography issued by the Holy See says.
Hardini's case of beatification was presented in Rome in 1926, together with that of the Lebanese monk Charbel -- canonised in 1977 -- and Rafqa, a Lebanese Maronite nun canonised in 2001. Nimatullah was beatified on May 10, 1998.
Sunday's ceremony raised to 483 the number of saints created by Pope John Paul during his 25-year papacy. He has also beatified more than 1,330 people, putting them in the waiting room for eventual elevation to the sainthood.