Lebanon as an Example of Coexistence

Interview With Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir of Lebanon

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ROME, APRIL 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Even in an era threatened by Muslim terrorism, coexistence between Muslims and Christians is possible, says the Maronite-rite Catholic patriarch.

Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, leader of the largest Christian community in Lebanon, believes that his country can be an example of coexistence between various religious communities.

In this interview with ZENIT, given before the decision was made by the College of Cardinals not to grant any more interviews to the media, the Maronite patriarch said that there are signs of hope for peace in the Middle East. Cardinal Sfeir, 84, is too old to participate in the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope.

Q: Are you optimistic about Lebanon’s future?

Cardinal Sfeir: Of course, providence works. Everyone thought that Christians and Muslims could not speak the same language, and not only have we shown that we can speak the same language, but also that we can live in harmony.

Q: What did John Paul II do for Lebanon?

Cardinal Sfeir: He was elected Pope in 1978 when Lebanon was at the height of war. He immediately wrote a letter to all episcopates worldwide so that they would be aware of the situation in Lebanon, and he continued to pay attention to our small country, intervening every time the situation deteriorated.

His heart was in Lebanon. Karol Wojtyla said that Lebanon was like Poland, crushed between two powers: Poland between Germany and Russia, Lebanon between Israel and Syria.

We always had the certainty that the Holy Father knew the situation in Lebanon better than the Lebanese themselves.

His work was providential. With his death we have lost an ardent defender of Lebanon’s cause.

Q: What is the situation of the Christian community?

Cardinal Sfeir: There are 18 Catholic communities in Lebanon. The Maronite Church is the largest, but many have left the country; they have gone to the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico and other nations. The emigration began during the war and continues still today.

They have left for at least two reasons. First, there is no work, and those leaving are people with degrees. Second, the political climate is depressing and oppressive.

The presence of Christians in Lebanon is very important. This is a place in the Middle East, near Jerusalem, where Christians can find the possibility to practice their faith freely.

Q: What are the most important problems the Church and the world are facing?

Cardinal Sfeir: In the past century the greatest threats were the Nazi and Communist regimes. Today the greatest problem that must be faced is Muslim terrorism.

Muslim terrorism is fueled by injustice and poverty. To combat terrorism, injustice must be overcome and poverty eradicated.

Q: What can the Catholic Church do?

Cardinal Sfeir: The Church is already doing much. Above all, she must convince other countries and international institutions to undertake the path of justice and peace, reinforcing and spreading Christian values.

Very important is the defense of the family, threatened by ideologies that favor its division and homosexuality.

Q: Rome is full of faithful who have come to say their last farewell to John Paul II. What do you feel?

Cardinal Sfeir: Such a manifestation of affection had not been seen, with so many young people who have come from so many countries around the world to St. Peter’s Basilica. Pilgrims stood in line for hours to render homage to the Pope.

This means that people have listened with attention to his teaching and words, and that he was very appreciated for his denunciation of violence and injustice.

Q: What can be done to help the Lebanon?

Cardinal Sfeir: The Holy Father did a lot for Lebanon and we must continue in his same line, namely, to work so that the country will return to being what it was before the war.

As John Paul II said on several occasions, more than a country, Lebanon is a message of freedom and an example of coexistence, both for the West as well as the East.

In this context, Europe and the world can do much so that Lebanon will return to be an example of coexistence between Christians and Muslims. We need to learn to coexist with diverse cultures and peoples.

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