Opinion & Features

Mary Kenny: Lebanese choirgirls united by Mary

Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, a shrine visited by both Muslims and Christians (CNS)

The most uplifting news I heard over the past week was that a choir of Lebanese young women – Christian and Muslim – are planning to sing together for the Feast of the Annunciation, on March 25 next year.

Since Mary is honoured both in the New Testament and the Koran, it is a common note that Lebanese girls can share. The hymns and choral music which they perform reach out towards both faith traditions. It is healing, it is ecumenical, and it is an affirmation of female value.

But then the Lebanon – for all its political problems (it hasn’t had a president for two years for reasons of internal political wrangling) – has managed to remain a beacon of inter-faith tolerance in the Middle East. As I remarked when I visited there last winter, schoolgirls from all faiths seem to pal around together harmoniously.

A visible element of young women’s inter-faith cameraderie is that they may wear whatever they please, when they’re having fun together. Some choose a light niqab and some don’t.

By contrast, the absurd decision by the mayor of Cannes to ban Muslim women from wearing their own choice of swimsuit – known as a “burkini” because it’s a full body cover-up – is a blatant example of intolerance, and indeed stupidity.

Once again, France’s rigid secularism laws are invoked – against liberty and against good community relations. A woman should be able to wear whatever kind of swimsuit she wants, and if that includes an emphatically modest one, that’s her own business.

What is banned in Cannes would be regarded as a matter of personal style in Beirut.

Should a judge swear? There was merriment last week when Judge Patricia Lynch gave as good as she got when the accused in the dock called her by the rude c-word.

Although some felt that My Lords and Ladies on the bench should not habitually descend to the same level of discourse as those charged with an Asbo for common abuse. Perhaps not. But the prevailing rule about court is that you should never irk or patronise the judge.

The old lawyers’ joke, which appeared first in that classic text, The Old Munster Circuit, tells of a judge who, in a petty case of pilfering, tells the defence lawyer: You will be aware of the guidelines – de minimus non curat lex.”

“Indeed,” replies the clever-clogs advocate, “in the hills of Connemara, where my client dwells, they speak of little else!”

Realising he is the object of sarcasm, the judge bangs his gavel and doubles the sentence. Never mess with the judge!

“Lex minimus”, meaning “the law is not concerned with trifles” was a fine principle. The trouble with the law today is that it often makes too much fuss over trifles: if a child calls another child a derogatory word in the playground, the offender can be arraigned for racist or homophobic abuse, instead of being sensibly corrected. Indeed, Judge Patricia is herself to be investigated for her “inappropriate” use of language.

Perhaps phrases like lex minimus should be aired more frequently in court – and leave aside the odd four-letter exchange of invective.

While weekly Mass attendance in Ireland is falling, pilgrimages still thrive. And none is more flourishing than the August Novena at Knock in Co Mayo, the site of the Marian apparition in 1879.

The Knock novena starts on the eve of the Assumption of August 15, and continues until August 22; and it attracts about 100,000 people. It’s a beautiful occasion: serene, peaceful and restorative.

There is a huge new mosaic unveiled this year at Knock Basilica, consisting of 1.5 million pieces, made by the artist PJ Lynch: it depicts the apparition scene at Knock as attested by 15 witnesses. There’s also a documentary film opening on August 26, Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village, shot by Aoife Kelleher, and said to be impressive.

I’m a great admirer of the late pastor of Knock, Monsignor James Horan, who was a source of so much energy – from the pilgrimage site to the new airport. He was that old-style model of parish priest who was both holy and practical, bringing the community together in a dynamic way. His legacy lives on.