A religious celebration in honor of the Virgin Mary has been made a national holiday by the Lebanese government in a move that has been widely received by Christians and Muslims in the country.
The celebration is being held today, March 25, in honor of the Feast of the Annunciation, which in Orthodox Christian traditions is the day when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus.
Government offices, schools and banks will be closed, and the Lebanese government is also encouraging private businesses to close as well.
In the square in front of Lebanon's National Museum a statue entitled "Together around Mary, Our Lady" will be erected with the virgin surrounded by a crescent moon, the symbol of Islam.
The Maronite Catholic Council of Bishops praised the government's decision to honor the holiday, saying it "helps in bringing hearts together."
"It is a unique event which deserves praise," the bishops said. "It shows the face of Lebanon (as) 'the message' and the place and honor occupied by the Virgin Mary in Christianity and Islam."
Sheik Mohammed Nokkari, a professor at St. Joseph University in Beirut, has also shown enthusiastic support for the holiday.
"I felt something in my heart telling me that Mary is the one who is going to unite us," he told Catholic News Service (CNS).
"God gave us Eve, as the mother of humanity," he said. "He also gave us another mother, a tender and uniting mother who is our Mother Mary."
While Islam disputes Jesus' divine nature, the religion maintains that he was born of Mary who was still a virgin.
The Feast of the Annunciation is one of twelve Great Feasts held in the Orthodox traditions that include eight celebrations in honor of Christ and four in honor of Mary.
Feasts in honor of Mary, whom Orthodox Christians refer to as Theotokos ("God-bearer" in Greek), include celebrations marking her birth, death, the annunciation, and her presentation at the Jewish Holy Temple, where Orthodox teachings say Mary lived and served until she was wed to Joseph.