SIDON, Lebanon: Christians from various sects gathered Sunday across Lebanon to celebrate Palm Sunday mass – this year with a political flavor, as priests marked less than two months to go until the country’s parliamentary elections. Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem one week before his resurrection, and marks the last week of Lent.
The faithful from a number of Sidon’s Christian communities worshipped in the city’s St. Nicholas Greek Catholic Church Sunday, as church patriarch Bishop Elie Haddad urged Christians to “reach out to one another and live in peace.”
Following the Mass, families and children robed in white gathered outside, carrying candles and palm fronds. Also included in Sunday’s service were messages in anticipation of the upcoming parliamentary elections set for May 6 – the first such race to be held in nine years, on which some hopes for political change have been pinned.
“We pray for all the candidates in all the regions so that we can have someone in Parliament who understands that public affairs are more important than private affairs,” Bishop Haddad told worshippers at the Sidon Mass.
Haddad also prayed that “those who display these qualities represent us in Parliament.”
“Peace begins with our [electoral] choices,” he added.
The bishop’s comments come as the parliamentary race picks up across Lebanon, with various political blocs announcing their electoral lists ahead of a Monday deadline. Sunday saw the presentation of electoral lists from a Hezbollah-Amal coalition, Future Movement and the Tawhid Party, as other candidates began to withdraw from the race.
A crop of newcomers are also taking part in the historic election, forming new political alliances – as evidenced, for instance, by one independent list in Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Amal-dominated south – that some candidates hope could upend longstanding political dynamics.
A new proportional voting system means the new alliances could have a fighting chance.
Priests in Tripoli, Zahle, Nabatieh and elsewhere across Lebanon Sunday preached messages of peace ahead of the vote, the state-run National News Agency reported.
In Sidon’s St. Elias Church, Bishop Maroun al-Ammar expressed his own hope Sunday that worshippers would elect candidates who might allow Lebanese to “live in safety and peace, and express their faith.”
“We must have a clear vision in everything we do,” he said, “especially in the upcoming elections.”