October 2006 Print



The Maronite Church, essentially located in Lebanon, warrants a detailed study of its lively history, for it is the only one of the Eastern Rite Churches that has only Catholics. Perfectly in communion with Rome and unashamed to proclaim it, the Maronite Church is, in a Near East where religious variants are numerous, the very  model of the unity that should prevail among all those who claim membership in the Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. The tragedy that Lebanon has been enduring for the last 30 years might embitter us, but it does not alter the fact that the Maronite model of a Christianity both Eastern and Roman is not a utopia or an accident of history. The undeniable fruits of this dynamism,this culture, and the holiness it has produced are the proof.


The early history of the Maronite Church is somewhat obscure. In the beginning was a Syrian hermit named Maro (d. circa 410) around whom a flourishing monastery developed–Beit Marun, in the north of Syria, in the vicinity of a place called Apamea, on the banks of the Orontes river. During the 5th and 6th centuries, the monks of Beit Marun were, in the Antiochian Syrian Church, what later came to be called Melchites. The monastery was one of the main centers of defense of orthodoxy against the great heresy of the time, Monophysitism (which teaches that there is only one nature in Christ, namely, the divine, and thus that He was not fully man): it was thus that 350 monks of Beit Marun were massacred in 517 by the Monophysites.

Things became more complicated during the next century when the country was overwhelmed by the Arab Moslem conquest. The patriarchal see of Antioch remained vacant for many years; moreover, new theological disputes developed. And when the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (610-41), threatened simultaneously by the Persians and the Arabs, tried to establish peace by imposing a doctrinal compromise–a measure which strikes us as exorbitant, but the likes of which occurred throughout Byzantine history–the monks of Beit Marun followed him, as did most of his subjects, into the Monothelite heresy (which teaches that there is but one will in Christ). After many vicissitudes, in 680 the Third Ecumenical Council of Constantinople rejected this compromise as heretical, but some, undoubtedly of good faith because of their isolation (they probably did not learn of the council until many years or even centuries later), kept the doctrine of Heraclius: these were the monks of Beit Marun and the Christian populations in their vicinity-in other words, the Maronites, as they were to be called afterwards. At the beginning of the 8th century, the monks had the monastery's superior, already a bishop, proclaimed patriarch of Antioch during a vacancy of the patriarchal see, and from then on the Maronites constituted a separate ecclesiastic community completely distinct and isolated for four centuries; heretical in the eyes of other Syrian Christians but conserving the ancient Antiochian liturgy which the Melchites were to abandon subsequently.

Because of the scarcity of perfectly incontestable primary sources, the question of whether the Maronites were formally heretical is still debated; most of their own historians affirm on the contrary the "uninterrupted orthodoxy" of the Maronites, emphasizing–which is entirely just–that they always had the sentiment of belonging to the universal Church and of upholding doctrinal orthodoxy. In any case, they never desired to be separated from the Roman Church, and they proved it at the beginning of the 11th century. Before, necessarily isolated, the Maronites forged their identity (and that of Lebanon) and survived in spite of the Moslem occupation by taking refuge in impregnable mountain strongholds or by emigration (principally to Cyprus, where they constituted an important community until the Turkish invasion of the 16th century).


The Crusades and the End of Isolation

At the time of the Crusades, as soon as the "Franks" arrived in the Near East to deliver the Holy Land, the Maronites cooperated fully with the newcomers, in whom they saw not intruders but allies and co-religionist, an attitude they were never to abandon. The Crusades marked the end of the Maronites' isolation, and they became and have remained the juncture of Romanitas and openness to the Western world. Not that they suffered no mishaps: at the beginning they were considered heretics (for the reasons developed earlier) and under Frankish tutelage they experienced some reticence, and even dissidence, which sporadically recurred until the 14th century, but the will to unite the Christian forces and to be in communion with the Roman pontiff was stronger: once the Latins arrived, the Maronite patriarch acknowledged the authority of the pope, a gesture that his successor renewed a century later by participating in person in the Lateran Council of 1215. But already by this time the situation of the Latin kingdoms in Palestine had become precarious. And when these were finally expelled in 1291 (the date marking the fall of St. John Acre), Moslem repression unfurled upon all the native Christians. The Maronites took refuge once again in the mountains, but did not question their union with Rome. At the Council of Florence (1439) the links with Rome were even tightened: the pope sent the pallium to the Maronite patriarch, and he installed an Apostolic commissioner in Lebanon. Moreover, Maronite students began taking the road to Italy, the fruition of the developments of previous centuries.

The end of the Middle Ages was the period in which the persecution conducted by the Mamelukes especially affected the Maronites, who pertinaciously adhered to Rome; a Maronite patriarch was massacred in 1367 together with his monks. It was from this period that, for centuries, the patriarch found himself forced to retire with his followers and some of his bishops to the famous deep valley of the Qadisha, where they took shelter in monastic dwellings carved out of the rock and lived humbly by cultivating the earth.

The Modern Epoch: A Golden Age for the Maronite Church

In the 16th century, the Latins regained a toe hold in the Near East, where Lebanon was to be one of their principal bases. The political situation became less grim, for, until the 1830s, the power of the Ottomans was remote and the Lebanese emirs (the Ma'anide and Chihabide dynasties) accommodated the Maronites, who were united and enjoyed the prestige of their patriarch, the uncontested leader, both civil and religious, of their nation. On the whole, the emirs were benevolent towards the Christians, whom they willingly chose as advisers; and even more: towards the end of this period, at least one or two of the Chihabide emirs embraced the Catholic Faith: incidental conversions, perhaps, but which shed light on the privileged position of Lebanon. The Maronites were able to leave the mountains and to spread towards the south, and their progress in every respect (demographic, economic, educational, etc.) is incontestable.

The entente that developed between the Maronite Church and the Holy See was a decisive factor in the cultural flourishing that characterized this period of Lebanese history. In 1854, the Maronite College had been founded at Rome, which henceforth trained the elites of the Lebanese Church, and in Lebanon schools developed during the next century. Add to this the economic and cultural ties to France, and it is no longer astonishing to find the Lebanese at the origin of the Arabic cultural renaissance (for while conserving the Catholic Faith, the Lebanese had become Arabic speakers). A Christian elite came to the fore. Indeed, the same phenomenon is a constant in countries subject to Islam: the Christians are the principal engines for the conservation and advancement of culture; this was true at the beginning of the Middle Ages, when literate Christians of the Near East preserved the intellectual heritage of Greek antiquity; it was also true for Lebanon during the modern era.

The "Catholic" vocation of the Maronite Church was so solid that it was never again doubted–which notably distinguishes it from most of the other Oriental Catholic Churches, which only developed after the 18th century. A few controversies were able to stir up the Maronite community, for instance, pontifical interventions in canonical matters, or the fake mystic Hindiyya of Aleppo affair which engrossed the chroniclers for some time; though without there being the least hint of rupture with the Holy See. This unfailing adherence to the Roman Church was reinforced by studies at Rome for most of the Maronite Church clergy. In fact, the Maronite prelates were the first to approve a certain standardization in the liturgical domain progressively obtained by Rome. The Maronite Rite, while remaining quite eastern, imitated Roman ceremonies: Communion under one species for the faithful; use of unleavened bread for the Eucharist, liturgical ornaments, and the Latin corporal, etc. The Ritual of the Sacraments was revised in order to bring it into greater conformity with Roman doctrine, and, lastly, in 1606 the Maronites adopted the Gregorian calendar. All these reforms seemed at the time to be indispensable for the Maronites' attachment to the Holy See to be absolutely unquestionable. Also, in the domain of discipline, the Maronite Church had solid structures, but it accepted a less distant Roman tutelage; moreover, the monasteries–very numerous but for a long time with somewhat anarchic constitutions–were structured in a manner certainly not very oriental but definitely beneficent, which grounded them in their role as spiritual guides. Also, one cannot fail to mention the special personages who were the flower of Lebanese culture, all of whom but the last did their studies at the Maronite College at Rome, of whom we list only some. Among them were two patriarchs: George Amira (author, among other things, of a Syriac grammar printed at Rome in 1596), and especially Stephen Douwaihi (a scholar of the first rank, the foremost and irreplaceable historian of the Maronite Church, a great liturgist, and a very zealous priest before becoming patriarch from 1670-1704). Let us also mention Abraham Al-Hakeli, called Ecchellensis (d. 1664), professor of Arabic and Syriac at Pisa, Rome, and Paris (at the College of France).

We must also list the most famous Lebanese scholars: the Assemanis, a dynasty of learned men who left a monumental work on Syriac Christianity: Joseph Simon (1687-1768), who divided his time between Rome, where he put to good use his knowledge of some 20 languages, and the East, whence he brought forth a harvest of manuscripts and where he exercised the functions of legate (with which title in 1736 he presided over the Synod of Mount Lebanon, a decisive step, though very laboriously applied, of the reorganization of the Maronite Church). His Bibliotheca Orientalis is a mine of information about the Syriac Churches; he was prefect of the Vatican Library, where he was succeeded by his nephew Stephen Evodius (1711-82), who, after a fine career as missionary and pontifical legate, pursued the scientific work of his uncle. Another nephew, Joseph Louis (1710-82) limited himself to teaching Syriac and liturgy at Rome, and publishing several works on liturgy and history.

A last name deserves to be pulled from oblivion to demonstrate the richness of the Lebanese intellectual revival in the modern period: the Archbishop of Aleppo, Germano Farhat (1670-1732), whose career is remarkable in more than one aspect. Remarkably gifted, he benefited from a very complete formation at Aleppo, his native town. Aspiring to the religious life, he went to Mount Lebanon with a few companions to found, with the blessing of the Patriarch Stephen Douwaihi mentioned above, not only a monastery but a religious order (which was something new for the Eastern Church): the Lebanese Antonines. He was Superior General for several terms, all the while devoting himself to literary and scientific study. Moreover, being renowned for his exceptional talents as an administrator, in 1725 he was named (Maronite) archbishop of Aleppo, where his zeal did wonders. After seven years of fruitful pastoral endeavors and literary works (it was due to him that the library at Aleppo acquired its international reputation), Germanos Farhat died, unanimously praised. But if his name is singled out in our article and in the history of the East, it is especially because he is inseparable from the renaissance of Arabic literature, of which he was the incontestable instigator. The Arabic language was then despised and abandoned by the Moslems themselves, to the benefit of Turkish. Germanos, a distinguished Arabizer from his youth, made its study more accessible by composing the first modern Arabic grammar, which is still in use today; he gave it letters of nobility by the elegance of his style, in particular in his poetic works; finally, while Arabic seemed irremediably linked to Islam and to the Koran, he Christianized it, so to speak, by using it in his writings, from which the entire Eastern Christendom benefited, especially Egypt, where Christian writers who brought about the literary revival of the 19th century acknowledge their debt towards the Maronite Archbishop of Aleppo.

The 19th Century: The Difficult Emergence of an Autonomous Lebanon

We have spoken about the 18th century as a "golden age" for the Maronites, and the trials endured by the Catholics of Lebanon during the two following centuries allow it to be considered as such in retrospect. Nevertheless, one must not exaggerate the categorization: even in the time of the benevolent Lebanese emirs (18th and beginning of the 19th centuries), dhimmitude (the status of Christians in the Holy Land) remained a heavy yoke, and latent persecution was easily revived. One could easily recite atrocities perpetrated during the 17th and 18th centuries. There were, certainly, some mitigations obtained by the officious but accepted interventions of the representatives of the French king, but in the 19th century the situation became worse, and violent persecutions began again as before: armed intervention by Western forces was required for the Catholics of Lebanon to obtain their freedom, an intervention that was beneficial at the outset but which was fraught with consequences for the future.

The fragile equilibrium between the diverse communities was reversed: the more and more flagrant superiority of the Catholics (by their numbers as well as by their economic and social success) inspired rancor in their Moslem neighbors. Moreover, in 1831, the emir of Egypt, Mehmet Ali, had conquered Syria and the Lebanon, imposing Westernizing reforms which, among other things, completely emancipated the Catholics. The new status was shortlived, for British diplomacy forced the withdrawal of Egypt in 1840. The immediate and extremely grave consequence of these events was the shattering of the old tactical alliance between the Maronites and the Druses (a local dissident Islamic group). The two indigenous Lebanese communities had long made a common front against the distant Turkish power, but everything changed when the Druses began to fear the Maronite supremacy and diplomatic maneuvers pitted the two groups against each other (France, faithful to her tradition, protected the Maronites, but England, in order to counter her action, supported the Druses, which were a useful pawn on the diplomatic chessboard of the Near East).

Thus it was that in 1841, and then on a grand scale in 1860, the Druse aristocracy unleashed horrible massacres of Catholics with the active support of the Turkish authorities (360 villages, 560 churches, and 50 convents were destroyed, with 20,000 victims in just a few weeks). Among the victims of the massacres in 1860, a group of martyrs from Damascus were beatified in 1926: eight Frenchmen and three Maronites, the Massabki brothers, notable and fervent Catholics and their friends, who had taken refuge in the convent at the time of the massacre. They are the first Maronites to have been elevated to the honors of the altar by Rome. The carnage came to an end thanks to the military intervention of France under Napoleon III. The Maronites, justifiably traumatized by the 1860 massacres, emigrated; as for those who remained, they placed their hope more than ever in the protection of Europe and in the exclusion of Moslems from holding positions of authority in the government; in fact, this was undoubtedly the only way to prevent, in the near and middle term, a renewal of the atrocities.

The Maronite Church with the patriarch at its head was more than ever one of the major entities of Lebanese society. Let us go back a little: in 1842, the Turkish power, in order to better control the region, had suppressed the Lebanese emirate; the patriarch became de facto the only representative of the Maronite community and the whole of the Lebanese population to the Sultan. After 1860, he retained this role, with the quasi official backing of France. For all Lebanese, the patriarch was the effective defender, guaranteeing the security of the Catholics and the autonomy of the country; an effective defender, because relying unabashedly upon France, which remained concerned (even under the anticlerical Third Republic) to maintain its positions in the Near East.

For a century, the Maronite patriarch enjoyed an almost uncontested prestige which enabled him to speak loud and clear to Rome on behalf of maintaining the distinctive attributes of his community (vis-à-vis a policy of the apostolic delegates or the Holy See in favor of uniformity), and also and especially to make known the political and religious interests of the Lebanese. This privileged role reached its apogee in the circumstances that ushered in the Lebanese nation after the trial of World War I. Let us note once again, in our panorama of Lebanon in the 19th century, that its cultural progress in the context of the Middle East remained incontestable: schools and colleges, often in the orbit of monasteries, were founded in number; and the city of Beirut had the look of an intellectual capital, with the Jesuits' College of St. Joseph (a future francophone university) and its rival, the Protestant American university.

But before beginning the recent history of Lebanon (from 1914 to the present, even though politics was going to interfere in the religious domain), we cannot leave the 19th century without evoking the memory of those who were the soul and flower of Maronite Christianity: the monks, and among them the surprising figure of St. Charbel.

Monastic communities of men of the ancient type, organized in two and then three congregations after the 18th century, flourished at every epoch in Lebanon; they were never purely contemplative (although they had hermitages to allow advanced souls to practise a stricter asceticism). Throughout Lebanese history, the monks have been close to the population by exercising apostolic activities and also by contributing to the defense of the Catholic identity in the country in spite of persecutions.

By some of his canonizations, Pope John Paul II drew attention to several beautiful figures of the Lebanese Church: Sr. Rafqa (Rebecca) Rayès (1832-1914), a Maronite nun, canonized in June 2001; Fr. Nihmatullah al Hardini (1818-85), canonized in May 2004, monk and ascetic, artisan of the spiritual renewal of the Lebanese Maronite Order, master of St. Charbel; and lastly, St. Charbel, who merits a longer presentation [see book advertised on adjacent page–Ed.].

Charbel Makhlouf (1828-98), monk of the Lebanese Maronite Order, a model of obedience and humility, a hermit during the last 23 years of his life, was struck by apoplexy while celebrating the Mass and died in agony eight days later. Renowned during his lifetime for his powers as a miracle worker, he became famous especially after his death by the prodigy of the perfect preservation of his body, which moreover, for a hundred years, inexplicably exuded a bloody sweat. His convent of St. Maro of Annaya (on Mount Lebanon) is the object of a heavily attended pilgrimage and is the theater of numerous miracles. St. Charbel, besides being venerated by the population as a whole, is the first saint of the Near East to have been canonized by the Sovereign Pontiff of Rome (Pope Paul VI, in 1977). The Maronites rightly consider him to be one of the greatest of their great men, on a par with their founder, St. Maro.

From World War I to the War of Lebanon: A Fragile but Prosperous Catholic Ship of State

At the beginning of the 20th century, the privileged situation of the Lebanese Catholics was a fragile exception in the Near East. Following the military intervention of the French in 1860, the peace and prosperity of the Catholic communities and of the entire country was without obstacle, whether in the domain of agriculture (development of orchards and silkworms in particular) or culture. The reduced size of autonomous Lebanon was not sufficient to support all of its inhabitants. During this epoch of accelerated demographic growth, the second wave of massive Maronite emigration took place, with most of them headed to new lands, the Americas and Australia in particular.

The Catholics who stayed were resolved to obtain greater autonomy; in Lebanon as throughout the Near East, nationalist sentiment was developing: did they not need to be completely emancipated from the remote, archaic Turkish power, and even, as far as Lebanon was concerned, from stifling Western protection?

All this explains why the events of the First World War had very serious repercussions in the Levant. Lebanon, for the time being deprived of its protectors and agitated by separatist ideas, endured an extremely severe occupation at the hands of the Turks, who were in the war alongside the Germans. The country emerged badly scathed (at least 150,000 victims, about a third of the population), but with its moral prestige intact. The Maronite Church had been the soul of the Lebanese people's resistance: one counts many martyrs (at least in the broad sense) in her ranks during this epoch.

After the global conflict, how would the region be organized? There was a period of incertitude, over which we shall not stop: local rivalries, a plan supported by Britain and the Arab nationalists for a greater Syria comprising Syria and Lebanon, and so on. Finally, the demands of the majority of Lebanese Catholics were satisfied, thanks to the blunders of the Iraqi Prince Faisal, who had proclaimed himself king of the entire country and was defeated by the troops of General Gouraud; and, we might add, by the personal intervention of the Maronite patriarch Elius Hoyek at the Paris Peace Conference, which contributed much to a decision favorable to the Catholics.

An independent Lebanese State with an enlarged territory and with a strong Catholic character saw the light of day. It presented a very comfortable position in the short term for the Catholic population, but many uncertainties remained: the support of France had proven to be indispensable to obtain this result, and then regions of Moslem majority had been integrated into the young State without consulting the inhabitants; finally, Lebanon under French mandate was supposed to be a modern State (with equality of all before the law), but in practice, account was taken of the religious affiliation of the inhabitants–an indispensable measure to ensure that the country, in conformity with the desires of its founders, remain a haven of peace for the Catholics of the country. All of this was going to create rancors, which did not fail to become manifest once the French mandate expired. The situation was indeed aggravated by the continuous growth of fervent Arab nationalism throughout the 20th century.

The War of Lebanon and Its Consequences

Behind a brilliant façade, significant political and social tensions were in play in Lebanon. Events were precipitated by the massive installation of Palestinian refugees (already numerous after 1948 at the time of the creation of the State of Israel, but especially after the expulsion of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Jordan in 1970). The clashes degenerated into civil war, and the country became a battlefield for its neighbors: Israel for one, and the Arab countries supporting the Palestinians on the other. In the first rank on the Arab side was Syria, whose expansionist intentions vis-à-vis Lebanon were not a secret to anyone.

We will not analyze the war years (1975-90), years of civil war and war between foreign armies (Israeli, Syrian, and Palestinian) which clashed on Lebanese soil. These 15 years ruined the country in every respect, and practically put an end to the independence of the one State of the Near East where Catholics enjoyed civil liberties. Beyond military and political events of a disconcerting complexity and confusion, it is certain that the great losers in the war were the Lebanese Catholics (two thirds of whom are Maronites): hundreds of thousands of them were driven from their homes and congregated in the Catholic zone on the coast or else chose exile; hundreds of villages and places of Catholic worship were destroyed; by the thousands, Catholics were victims of massacres the atrocity of which did not fail to match those of 1860. More serious, perhaps, at the end of the war the Catholics of Lebanon were profoundly demoralized, not only by these trials, but by the internal divisions which finally wracked the Catholic military forces.

To shorten the account, it will suffice to say that during the war, the Christians changed their alliances, but their hopes were always disappointed. The Europeans never wanted to intervene on the ground in their behalf. Why this failure? Among other reasons, because neither the secularized States nor modernizing churchmen wanted to intervene on behalf of a community judged old-fashioned and denigrated by the leftist intelligentsia. The Israelis sometimes pretended to support the Lebanese Catholics against the Moslem masses of the country, but with many hidden motives, gaining a foothold in the country in 1982 and installing themselves permanently in southern Lebanon, supported moreover by local Christian militias, who undoubtedly did not have much choice.

But it was the Syrians who profited most from the situation: Beirut called for their help in 1976 against the encumbering presence of the PLO, and thereafter the Syrian forces threw their weight around, militarily occupying part of the country and adding fuel to the fire. When the country was drained of blood, Syria arrived at its ends with the 1989 Taef Accord. Lebanon was essentially vassalized by Syria, despite the repugnance of the majority of the Lebanese (not only the Catholics). The inter-Christian war of 1989-90 allowed the Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to pose as an arbiter; since then, the Lebanese leaders have been pro-Syrian, the Syrian army occupied the country until April 2005, and the danger of a Moslem-style society being imposed remains constant.

Outlook for Lebanon and the Catholic Maronites

In such a deplorable situation–the nation subjugated and the Faith threatened–what can be the situation of the Maronite Church? Let us try to see things clearly by presenting the present head of the principal Lebanese confession. The elected patriarch of the Maronites in 1986, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, like his predecessor, has no popular appeal. He seems like a man of compromise (and he owes his election to this). In fact, he has always preached conciliation and reconciliation (for, let us not deceive ourselves, in a civil war, no party is completely innocent: the Lebanese civil war is no exception).

A moderate man by temperament, Patriarch Sfeir has pursued the politics of his predecessors, claiming to be a partisan of a multiconfessional Lebanon and not of a Catholic stronghold. He has never ceased to maintain contact with the different Moslem factions, which bear him some respect; and he has always defended the Palestinian cause, in spite of the difficulties for Lebanon which have resulted because of it. In 1989, General Aoun launched a campaign of Catholic reconquest; Patriarch Sfeir's reserve with regard to this courageous but ill-fated policy (for lack of Western backing) earned him a marked but short-lived disaffection. For the divisions and the rapid collapse of hopes of military victory left on the Catholic side only one credible figure: Patriarch Sfeir, for he is the only one not discredited by party quarrels or humbled by defeat.

Has he renounced the defense of Catholic Lebanon? It would be unjust to assert this: firstly, Patriarch Sfeir is well aware that his taking too combative a stance would risk bringing dire consequences for all the Catholics of the Near East. And then, his courageous resistance to the exactions and threats of the Syrians and his denunciation of the unjust occupation of the country prove that he has not betrayed the cause nor renounced a political role. This political engagement, in the noble sense of the term, was formerly the rule for the prelates of the Levant. Western analysts contest this practice as outmoded and even harmful ever since Vatican II. All things considered, it seems that in Lebanon the traditional conception remains very prudent: for all the Lebanese and for all the Catholics of the Orient, Patriarch Sfeir has an uncontested authority and influence; should he not, therefore, exercise his providential role as spokesman of his country and defender of Catholics in the Near East as on the international scene?

This role is indeed difficult to exercise, for the Roman authorities themselves do not incline in this direction because of their desire to foster Islamo-Christian dialogue. But Patriarch Sfeir knows how to resist when the interest and the honor of his country are at stake; thus he categorically refused to accompany John Paul II to Israel in May 2000 and to Syria in January 2001: "I will not betray my flock! This visit would be considered as a disavowal," he stated on the latter occasion.

A few signs of hope have appeared nonetheless, at least on the political level: in January 2001, the Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon, and in April 2005, under international pressure, the Syrians also rather unexpectedly withdrew from the country. Better still, the reconciliation talks led by Patriarch Sfeir, let us emphasize, were concluded in July 2001 between the Druses and the Maronites: the latter agreed to forget the still recent massacres (1983) which weighed heavily on the two communities, which suggests that the Lebanese as a whole reject Syrian domination and that they are capable of living in peace without being under foreign oversight. The foreign occupation that was the principal cause of Lebanon's decline seems to have ended. Might not the return from exile of General Aoun foretell the renaissance of an independent Catholic Lebanon?
On the geopolitical scene, it seems that the supranational powers are careful to favor the Israeli State and thus to weaken its Arab neighbors. Syria is the first to be targeted, which accidentally lends some hope to the partisans of an independent Lebanon. Following the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, which seems to have been a monumental blunder perpetrated by Syria, all the Lebanese momentarily united against Syria (with the notable exception of the Shiites), and the two Christian leaders who were rivals at the end of the civil war, Michael Aoun and Samir Geagea, agreed to be reconciled.

Will this be enough for Lebanon to retain its character, unique in the Near East, of a country where Catholics are numerous and are fully citizens? In fact, it has been at least ten years since Christians have become a minority (about 40%, with 45-50% Moslems). To reverse the demographic process, it would be necessary for Lebanese Catholics of the diaspora to have the courage to return in great numbers to the country; such a return is not inconceivable given the visceral attachment the Maronite people has for the land which has forged its identity over the course of centuries. It would also be necessary, at the very least, that the political and religious authorities not equivocate about the Christian identity of the country, something which seems unlikely in the postconciliar era in which we live. The advance of the Islamic peril could open the eyes of most of the Christian leadership, including Aoun (who has gone astray on this subject for a long time), to the danger and to the impasse constituted by taking the France of 1789 and the very secular Rights of Man as reference points. The weight of the Moslem population and the rise of Islamism forbid an optimistic outlook.


At the end of our study, how does the Maronite Church appear today? Beyond the political difficulties of the country, the Maronites continue to constitute the soul of the Lebanese nation, at once fully Oriental and turned towards the West, rooted in a land where Catholics, who are so maltreated in neighboring countries, can flourish. The hierarchy of the Maronite Church are on the whole uncontested; most of the bishops have compelled the admiration of all by their courage during the civil war. Another plus is that the formation of the Maronite clergy remains of a high quality, especially that given at the University of the Holy Ghost at Kaslik run by the Lebanese Maronite Order. Vocations are very numerous; the monks in particular are especially zealous in their ministry and in their defense of their Catholic and Lebanese identity. The secular clergy are very dignified in our Latin eyes (the celibate secular priests are in the majority; that is the choice that was made by the most famous of them in France, Fr. Mansour Labaki).

It is appropriate to give some information on the liturgy and the "ecclesial mentality" of the Maronites. In liturgical matters, we note that from 1946, a credible process of restoration of the Maronite Rite (in the sense of fidelity to the Antiochian tradition) began. The Maronite liturgy underwent a reform at the beginning of the 1990s, a relatively light reform: they contented themselves with composing new anaphores (Eucharistic Canons) and translating the liturgy into the vernacular, that is to say into Arabic (or into the language of the country of the diaspora), while conserving passages–the Canon in particular–in the traditional liturgical language: Syriac. Another point to mention, and this one is indeed disquieting, is that for the last 20 years, the Maronites have been more and more open to new religious ideas: ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and Charismatic-style piety. Moreover, the tendency to adopt the lifestyles of the West is manifest in the Lebanese Catholics as a whole, who thus distinguish themselves from their Moslem fellow citizens, who are tempted by fundamentalism. It is an unfortunate evolution that risks annihilating the strong Catholic identity that the Maronites had been able to preserve through the 1970s and beyond.

Nevertheless, the Maronite Church still possesses an undeniable vitality and remains the mainstay of the nation with its patriarch, who prevails over all, even if the divisions between Christian factions are to be found in the ranks of the clergy. Can a Lebanon in which Catholics enjoy freedom of faith and action continue to exist in the 21st century, while the support of the Western Christians continues to be lacking? One may well doubt it: the temptation remains very strong for the elites to emigrate. For a long time now the majority of Maronite Catholics have been living in the diaspora (in France, the Americas, Africa, Australia, etc.); it is true, though, that the majority retain a very strong consciousness of their identity.

In the homeland, the Lebanese Catholics are divided into two groups. First, there are those who want to guarantee their freedom by partitioning the country (which is already very small); this is the goal of the "militant" Maronites. But could a miniature Lebanon, even supported from afar by the diaspora, be viable? The other group wants to preserve a united but multiconfessional Lebanon that could assure its role as "a witness of Christ in a Middle East dominated by Islam," in the words of Patriarch Sfeir; such is the hope entertained by the bishops, a hope that may seem illusory and that postconciliar ecumenical deviations can only further skew.

The goal of our study has been mainly to provide an historical sketch; as it reaches the most recent events, it leaves us unable to reach any sure conclusions. We wish, certainly, that God, the only true master of the events, will allow the Lebanese nation to subsist on its historical territory. But for this wish to come to pass, it will undoubtedly be necessary that in the West both civilian and religious leaders mobilize to guarantee the continued existence of the advanced bastion of civilization that a Catholic Lebanon represents.

Translated exclusively by Angelus Press from Sel de la Terre, No.57, Summer 2006, pp.146-61. Fr. Damian-Marie is a member of a French community of priests founded in 1970 to continue the work begun by the Orthodox convert Archbishop Vladimir Ghika for the return of the separated Churches to true unity with the Roman Catholic Church.


St. CharbelSt. Charbel Makhlouf of Lebanon: One of the Greatest Saints of Our Time
St. Charbel (1828-98), a Maronite Rite Roman Catholic religious, priest and hermit of Bekaa-Kafra, Lebanon, is considered by many to be the masculine counterpart of the Little Flower of Lisieux. He led a hidden life of profound virtue, humble labor and ardent fervor for the Holy Eucharist. He left home at the age of 23 to follow the examples of two uncles by entering the monastic life of the Lebanese Maronite Order (a religious order WITHIN the Catholic Maronite Rite that includes most Catholics in Lebanon). He was devoted to the Holy Rosary and to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which he said daily at 11:00 A.M. Why so late? Because he knelt before the Blessed Sacrament from midnight the night before! His obedience went so far as to obey the lay laborers at the monastery. His fasting and penances were severe. His only contact with the outside world was at the request of his superiors.

The stories of his heroic virtues are fascinating especially since they take place in a land that Catholics are not much accustomed to thinking of as Catholic–Lebanon. It is even more interesting as he was a miracle worker in life and in death–the miracles were practically non-stop.

Fr. Charbel suffered a stroke on December 16, 1898, during the Offertory of the Liturgy, the high point of his day. He was reciting the prayer of the Holy Liturgy of the Maronite Rite: "Father of Truth, behold Your Son, a sacrifice pleasing to You. Accept this offering of Him who died for me..." As he fell to the floor, he kept his hands safely clasped around the Holy Eucharist. His companion, Fr. Makarios Al-Mishmeshani the Hermit, and some other monks helped him to his cell, where he continued to repeat that prayer until his death on Christmas Eve, 1898.

From April 22-August 14, 1950, exactly 350 miracles were recorded at his tomb...20 of the cured were Moslems. Many more were recorded as his body remained intact for over 75 years. After his death and exuded a liquid that healed a great number of sick people and converted many others, including Moslems. His casket rotted; he did not.
Sanctity is the ultimate solution to war. While the Middle East and specifically St. Charbel's Lebanon is being blown up, let us all invoke him as we earnestly pray for peace and the conversion of non-believers...intentions dear to the heart of St. Charbel. 96pp, softover, STK# 8198 $4.95

Urgent Appeal to the Catholic Faithful to come to the Aid of Catholics in South Lebanon

Fr. Patrick Laroche, the priest in charge of the SSPX's apostolate in Lebanon, is making an urgent appeal to the generosity of the faithful to come to the aid of the Catholics of southern Lebanon, who after a month of war have lost everything.

These families were obliged to leave everything and flee in order to escape the bombing. On their return they discovered their fields in ruin, their homes and businesses destroyed, family members killed, and the survivors without even the most basic necessities like food and water.

The Association of St. Cyril of Alexandria (ASCA) proposes to collect your donations (a receipt for tax purposes will be provided) and to transfer them through Fr. Laroche to these sorely-tried populations. Thank you for your generosity.

Americans may send donations for the Lebanese to the U.S. District office, which will forward all donations collected to the Lebanese mission. Make your check payable to The Society of Saint Pius X, and note in the memorandum line "for Lebanese relief."

Society of Saint Pius X
2918 Tracy Avenue
Kansas City, MO 64109
Attention: Mr. Tim Eaton

To send a donation directly, enclose a note specifying that it is for "Action Lebanon 2006," and mail it to:

Association St. Cyril of Alexandria (ASCA)
c/o Mr. Michel Strainer
6, rue Valentine Hauy
75015 Paris

For those wishing to make a wire transfer to the account of the Association St. Cyril of Alexandria:

Bank Account Association St. Cyril of Alexandria: C.I.C.
IBAN: FR 76 3006 6109 0800 0101 4520 174
Bank code: 30066
Agency code: 10908
Account number: 00010145201 74

For more information, please contact:

The ASCA: michel.blanchet8@wanadoo.fr
SSPX France-Lebanon: france-liban@laportelatine.org

To write to Fr. Patrick Laroche:

Rev. Fr. Patrick Laroche
Aid to Lebanon
Priesterminar Herz Jesu
D–84069 Zaitzkofen