Following the World Day of Prayer service in Bourj Hammoud, Fr. Krikor drops me off to visit Martyrs’ Square, the heart of the city. This is the site of the massive rallies for which Lebanon is becoming rather famous, like the one on St. Valentine’s Day marking the first anniversary of Rafic Hariri’s assassination. There’s a “National Dialogue” underway at Place de l’étoile — not far from Martyrs’ Square, and the Lebanese army was on hand to insure security while the leaders of the country’s many factions meet to haggle over many of the country’s thornier issues (changing the occupant of the presidential palace and settling the matter of the armed Palestinian and Hezboullah militia, to name but two).
This is my second visit to Martyrs’ Square, but this time I know enough to look for Rafic Hariri’s tomb. A large tent covers the gravesite, located on the grounds beside the huge Hariri mosque. The tomb has become a major site of pilgrimage for Lebanese who hope for a fulfillment of the Hariri vision, a harmonious future for the country.
Rafic Hariri left his mark on Lebanon in many ways; he privately financed the construction of the new international airport, now named in his honour, as well as a major highway from Beirut to the south of Lebanon, running through his home town of Sidon. Hariri also built two great mosques, one at Sidon and the one beside his tomb on Martyrs’ Square. It is pictured here seen to the right of its neighbour, the Maronite Cathedral of St. George. The skyline pictured here seems very much to represent the vision Hariri professed for his country – a future built on new partnerships between Moslem and Christian neighbours.
Following my visit to the tomb, I strolled through the Solidere, an historic neighbourhood that moves away from the centre of the city towards the east. The streets are lined with restaurants in older buildings, many still showing the scars of the civil war. Overhead a banner reminds passers-by of a more recent martyr for the cause of the new Lebaon, Gibran Tuéni — the popular journalist slaughtered in a car bomb blast in December.
The weather has definitely shifted gear with more sunshine and warmer temps. Spring planting is underway and fresh flowers are beginning to appear.