Lebanese Outside Lebanon Also Eager for Papal Visit

Chaplain of the Maronites in Rome on What the Pope Will Bring to His Homeland

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By Robert Cheaib

ROME, SEPT. 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The Lebanese population living outside their country is much greater than that residing in Lebanon. The majority of migrants are Maronite Catholics trying to maintain, with no little difficulty, their roots.

The Diocese of Rome hosts a Maronite church dedicated to the patron saint of the only Eastern Church that has no schisms but that is wholly Catholic and proud of her fidelity to the Successor of Peter. In this interview, ZENIT talks to Monsignor Antoine Gebran, chaplain of this mission.

Monsignor Gebran was born at Hasroun in Lebanon on Sept. 22, 1970. He studied at the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. In 2002 he received a doctorate in Eastern Ecclesiastic Sciences from the Pontifical Oriental Institute of Rome. In 2010 he was elevated to the office of Corepiscopo; after which he was appointed Procurator General of the Maronite Patriarchate at the Holy See; Rector of the church of Saint Marun and Rector of the Pontifical Maronite College of Rome. On November 1, 2010, Cardinal Agostino Vallini raised the church of Saint Marun to a Mission for the care of souls, and he appointed Monsignor Gebran chaplain of migrants residing in the Diocese of Rome.

ZENIT: It is the second time in the history of Lebanon that a Pope visits Lebanon. The memories of John Paul II’s visit are still alive in the minds of the Lebanese. What is the importance of Benedict XVI’s visit at the level of the Christian presence in Lebanon, knowing that in the last decades the Christians – divided and diminished in number – have lost so much political and moral power in the country?

Monsignor Gebran: It is the second apostolic visit that takes place, but in reality, it’s the third time a Pope passes through Lebanon. Pope Paul VI wished to make a stopover in Beirut  on December 2, 1964, while on his way to Bombay, and in this brief stay Pope Montini said: “And We are unable to forget, in particular, all that the faith of the Lebanese Christian populations represent for the Church, expressed in the harmonious diversity of Rites, in the abundance and variety  of religious and monastic communities, in the multiple activities of an apostolic, educational, cultural and charitable order.” The harmony among the diversities, mentioned by the Pope, is fundamental, and is the pivot on which the whole Lebanese society turns. This harmony is the hope that the Holy Father Benedict XVI brings in this apostolic trip. However, this harmony must remain even if the proportional levels among the diversities are no longer the same as before. Lebanon must be an example for the whole Middle Eastern world, and I dare to say, for the whole world, where increasingly, especially in Western States, a strong mixture of cultures and religions is being created. There must be a balance of coexistence that guarantees the peace and stability of the country.

ZENIT: In a climate where the “Arab Spring” is showing signs of being rather “wintry” what concrete signs of resurgence can Benedict XVI’s visit bring? Do you share the hope of the Maronite bishops who in their last communique express the hope that this visit will be “a real Spring for Christians and for religion?

Monsignor Gebran: Spring, as an intermediate season, has periods of cold and heat; hence, it doesn’t have a stable and secure climate. As happens traditionally in all apostolic visits, the Holy Father never engages in concrete gestures of resurgence. The Successor of Peter speaks, meets and transmits his thought in a symbolic way. The Holy Father certainly desires ardently not a mere Spring, but a total renewal for Middle Eastern society, renewal that will have to follow the path of dialogue and mutual respect.

ZENIT: You visited Lebanon and the Maronite patriarch at Bkerke in the summer and were able to experience personally the atmosphere of preparations for the Pope’s visit. What are the activities being carried out by the Church in general, and the Maronite in particular, in preparation for Benedict XVI’s visit?

Monsignor Gebran: The whole of Lebanon is preparing to receive the Holy Father. In particular, the Maronite Church has been carrying out for months an intense media campaign to inform public opinion, in the sense that Lebanon must be informed and aware of what is happening and why he is coming to Lebanon. The Holy Father’s visit is certainly a joy, but it must be perceived primarily at the spiritual level: the faithful are preparing themselves with a novena of prayer, understanding that the Pope is coming for them, as their pastor, to be with them, to listen to them, speak to them, to defend them and to protect them, following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd.

ZENIT: As Maronites who live abroad  and as Maronite parish in Rome, in what way do you feel involved in the visit? And what do you hope for the diaspora of Lebanese Christians, so that they won’t feel cut off?

Monsignor Gebran: Let’s not forget that the Maronites of the diaspora are primarily Lebanese, and as such, although far away, feel an almost visceral attachment to their native land. From a certain point of view, this visit is seen with melancholy. The Pope is going to their home and they cannot be there to receive him and welcome him. On the other hand, they feel proud that the Pope is going to Lebanon and loves their country. In particular, our Maronite community in Rome, being established in the Pope’s diocese, feels itself a bridge, a crossing point between Lebanon and the Pope. I think that no emigrant will feel cut off from Lebanon. 

[Translation by ZENIT]
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