Lebanon: A Message for East and West

Interview With Director of Pontifical Mission Society

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BEIRUT, Lebanon, FEB. 21, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The future of peace in the Middle East hinges on creating a society in which Jews, Muslims and Christians co-exist peacefully. 

Lebanon carries particular promise in this effort, and yet it has suffered wave after wave of terror and war played out within its borders, often the consequence of foreign interference.

In this interview given to the television program «Where God Weeps» of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, Father Paul Karam considers the unique situation of Lebanon and why there is reason for optimism.

Father Karam is a Lebanese native who is now the national director of the Pontifical Mission Society in his country.

While studying law and political science at the university in Lebanon, he felt the call of God and «made this wonderful adventure in order to be a priest.» 

He later studied youth ministry and catechesis at the Salesian University in Rome, with a scholarship sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need.

Q: Father, I’d like to talk a little bit about the situation in your country presently. You, having grown up in Lebanon, have seen violence sweep and sweep across the country again and again. Why is it that Lebanon seems to be enduring this repeated violence that strikes the country?

Father Karam: Maybe it’s the same question that I could also ask. All the Lebanese people are asking why: Why Lebanon has to sacrifice? Why Lebanon must always pay for the debt of others? This is a good question and I do not have the answer. … Personally, I grew up during the [civil] war in Lebanon. I remember, when I was young, hiding in another room in the house because shells were falling near us. One of my relatives, my grandfather, was killed by a bomb during the war. There were blocks in some regions that had land mines and we had to walk around these mines because you could see these land mines that were all over the place. This was a very difficult period and we can not forget it, but, of course, this has not discouraged us. No. It has given us more and more courage and we look forward to the future despite the difficulties and hardships during those moments.

Q: Are the Lebanese people bitter or angry about the political events that are outside their control?

Father Karam: Many of them felt hurt but not really angry, but the same question surfaces: Why Lebanon? Why are other countries at peace, and have stability in their peoples’ lives, but for us Lebanese no? This affects especially the youth who then emigrate; they go away and the richness [youth] give to the Church and the richness of the Church diminishes.

Q: Why is the political landscape seemingly just played on Lebanese territory?

Father Karam: We have to go back historically to understand the situation in Lebanon. You know that Lebanon is a small country, only 10,450 square kilometers. The importance of the country is its geographical location: the Mediterranean, to the south you have Palestine and Israel and the biggest border is with Syria and on the north is Turkey. Lebanon is also a country where there are 18 [religious] confessions: like Maronite, Melkite, Greek-Orthodox, Greek-Catholic, Armenia, Druze, Sunni, Shiite … They are all recognized by the constitutions. This is the meaning of confession. They all live for many years together.

Q: Father Paul, the political stability of Lebanon has been shaken in the past through a number of assassinations, particularly of Christian leaders. How, in your opinion, will the political stability in Lebanon resist this attack and how resistant and how long will this good will be maintained?

Father Karam: Of course the Church firmly condemns these assassinations and especially for us Christians it’s a great sadness because a large number of these assassinations are toward Christian leaders and we ask, why only Christian leaders and why is this occurring only in the predominantly Christian areas. I do not have an answer. I think that this is part of the entire political problem. I also think that this is to pressure the Christians into submission; as you know historically it was the Christians who enabled Lebanon to become a democratic country, especially the Maronite Christians, and the Muslims are very aware of this reality because a Christian is a man of liberty, of freedom, respect of sovereignty. 

Perhaps, I can’t say of course because I’m not a political man, some people are very jealous of the fact that Lebanon — a small country — is democratic, and wish to inflict terror and death upon the people, [forcing them] into submission. The Christians and the Lebanese people in general will not kneel down into submission; this is not even a question. Lebanon is a peaceful country. The Lebanese people are full of hope and are peaceful and would like to have this peace like any other country. 

I think the message and the words of Pope John Paul II during the special synod for Lebanon were prophetic words when he said Lebanon is more than a country and is a message for the East and for the West. That is why you do not have this reality among the countries that are around us or even in the West or the East. The other countries have a democratic regime but you do not have the existence of the confessions like Lebanon.

Q: Do Christians play a bridge or act like “glue” in a society where, for example, the Sunni and Shiite might not communicate with each other but as a consequence of the fact that the Christians are present, a relationship can be established?

Father Karam: They [Christians] are if you like this bridge because it is very common in Lebanon to find places where Christians and Muslims live together. It’s a rarity to find a region where a Sunni, a Shiite or Druze lives together. A Christian because he is open minded, gets into a dialogue and loves life and that is why the Lebanese people are full of life and energy; you destroy their houses and tomorrow, even after the destruction you will find them doing reconstruction especially among the Lebanese Christians. 

All the Lebanese all over the world must not lose hope and must hope for a new Lebanon where everybody can live together. This is Lebanon, it not just a question of living in this region or another region but rather a question of our [Christian Lebanese and the Lebanese people in general] presence and the significance or our presence here. The other reason is biblical; Lebanon is mentioned in the Bible more than 70 times, and this is, I think, our mission to be there [Lebanon] even among the Muslims. We [Lebanese Christians] have a mission to reveal the love of God and to bring about a dialogue among all people and, of course, to say we like to have a peaceful country, let us live in peace.

Q: So you are optimistic?

Father Karam: I’m very optimistic despite all the difficulties we are facing. I’m very optimistic and I believe in my country and I appeal to all the Lebanese who will hear us or are listening to us: They have a mission; they have to be united and make an appeal and perhaps pressure the international community to resolve the Lebanese problem and resolve the other problems of the region but not at the cost of Lebanon. We can not forever bear the cost of the conflict in the region. The Arab conflict, the Palestinian-Arab conflict, and the Palestinian-Israel conflict can not be borne by Lebanon. 

Let us live in peace; we have a mission to do, and I think it will be a good example for the entire region. In the past, as mentioned, they used to say that Lebanon is the “Switzerland of the Orient”; it’s true so we must have peace, our own sovereignty, dignity, and have a country as a good example for others. 

Lebanon can not just be for Christians or just for Muslims. No! Lebanon will always live with these two wings; one wing for the Christians, the other for Muslims and with these t
wo wings you can fly, you can never fly with just one wing. It is our [Lebanese abroad and those in Lebanon] responsibility therefore to be united; never let anybody interfere with our internal problems and, of course, believe that together we can have a miracle and be a true testimony for the entire region.

* * *

This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,» a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. 

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On the Net:

For more information: www.WhereGodWeeps.org

The entire interview from which this text was adapted: www.wheregodweeps.org/lebanon-s-christian-example

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