Saint Marun’s feast on February 9 was celebrated this year in the shadow of a regional crisis which is more than complex, and whose worst effects are manifested in the tragic Syrian scene and in the shattering of the Lebanese national reality whose inertia is more destructive than the side-effects of bombardments.
At a moment when optimism seems lost, the Maronite Patriarch, His Beatitude Mar Bechara Boutros El-Rahi, gives a glimmer of hope with a “National Memorandum” intended to solicit the population to forge ahead. It is a courageous and purposeful initiative that swims decidely against the present current in force, often marked by pessimism, violence and the wish to flee.
Monsignor Eid, Procurator of the Maronite Patriarchate to the Holy See, spoke with ZENIT to reflect not only on the “National Memorandum,” but also the challenges, the prospects, the possibilities and the task of Maronites in the Middle East and in the world.
Monsignor Eid has also been rector of the Maronite College in Rome since 2012. He is the former Archbishop of Maronites in Cairo from 2006, and before then General Superior of the Maronite Mariamita Order from 1999 to 2005.
ZENIT: Modern Lebanon, known in history as the “State of Great Lebanon” was born of the efforts of Patriarch Elias El-Huwaik. Patriarch El-Rahi recalls this at the beginning of the “National Memorandum” which came out this week on the occasion of the feast of Saint Marun. Has this Maronite role reached, perhaps, its decline?
Monsignor Eid: The contribution of Patriarch Elias El-Huwaik was the crowning of so many efforts made by the Maronites and their brothers of the nation to attain independence.
All was born from the idea of gathering the children of the nation around a clear concept: “The independence of Lebanon and its political neutrality.”
Today we see that the Lebanese have turned to drag Lebanon in the meanders of internal regional struggles depriving it of its independence and neutrality and the result is this: a dangerous vertical split that strikes the country.
The Maronite Patriarch reminded the Maronites that their forbearers and fathers contributed to unify the Lebanese around the idea of the “independence of the poli.” Today we are again before the same problem … and the responsibility falls above all on the shoulders of Maronite politicians because they have been unable to unify all the fractions of society around the idea of true independence and of a strong and just nation. Instead of unifying, they have separated between themselves.
I believe that the role of Maronites has not declined yet … Instead, they have a greater responsibility to contribute to unify the Lebanese to offer the region a Lebanon that is “a paradigm for its cultural plurality,” which respects man and his fundamental rights.
Only the Lebanese system was, and will remain the best model to govern in the time of the Jahiliyya (ignorance)to which the Jihadists are dragging us. Patriarch El-Rahi invites Maronites not to squander the great legacy of their fathers and to be up to the stature of their responsibility.
ZENIT: The original lands of the Maronites – Syria and Lebanon – have become similar lands of exile where the desire to flee is not halted by the attachment to the land, but by the difficulty to find possibilities for emigration. How can Saint Marun’s message speak to the profound and legitimate aspirations of the people?
Monsignor Eid: There is no doubt that the bloody Syrian situation and the continuous turbulence in Lebanon drive so many Maronites to emigrate. However, I believe that in time this situation will not be so acute and ferocious. And when the children of Syria – and not foreign Jihadists -- govern their nations, the situations will improve.
The Maronites are children of hope, they are risurrezioni sit! This land is the land of their sacred history. They have lived their mission here in all its aspects. Will they give up the great civilization that they built with their Muslim brothers? I don’t think so! However, I also know that their presence in this land has the flavor of martyrdom and blood.
ZENIT: The Patriarch reminds us in the “National Memorandum,” that what the Lebanese did during the period of the formation of the Republic was a sublime constitutional and political experience. What is missing to return to live at those heights?
Monsignor Eid: It’s true, what was realized was a sublime work. I look at the Lebanese situation today and I compare it with that preceding 1975 and I see a total collapse, or at least a coming close to the edge. The Maronite politicians now are “annexes” to the parties and the decisive dominations: they are “annexes” of the choices of others and not of the needs of independence and the rebirth of their country.
What we are lacking is that Maronite politicians and all of Lebanon return to true liberty and to the values of the founding Fathers and to their dedication, because a free and independent nation is more important than seats, than party interests and private privileges.
ZENIT: In the fourth part of the Memorandum, the Patriarch offers practical ways for the national rebirth to which you refer. Of these 11 ways, in your opinion which ones are fundamental and a priority to allow the Lebanese phoenix to rise from its ashes?
Monsignor Eid: I think they are the following:
1. Commitment to peaceful coexistence among the different factions, otherwise to opt for solutions of “civil separation” to a “velvet revolution” as happened, for instance, in the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.
2. Absolute commitment to a strong and just nation. A commitment that puts an end to the marginalization of Christians, provides for the rights of all, cuts short institutional corruption, frees from sectarianism and political feudalism, and bans “obligatory” armament under whatever slogan, limiting it to the legitimate instance of the army and of the forces of order.
3. Reaffirmation of the neutrality of Lebanon in regional and global
ZENIT: Your Excellency, has the long Syrian war perhaps demolished the hopes of the Special Synod on the Middle East? How could such a unique ecclesial effort, together with the Apostolic Exhortation it has already generated, guide our steps in this crucial moment?
Monsignor Eid: All wars sow destruction, not only at the material but also at the civil, human and spiritual level. Does not British historian Arnold J. Toynbee say, perhaps, that “wars are the tombs of civilization”?
Yes, the Syrian war and its ill-fated effects in Lebanon are an obstacle to the implementation of the Synod’s guidelines. However, more urgent still, first and after, is to listen to the voice of reason and to the appeal for reconciliation and collaboration between the communities. Also necessary is the witness of Eastern Christians and their fidelity to their lands, to their culture and to their faith … in a word, peaceful coexistence is an imperative!
ZENIT: What advice do you offer Maronites who live in the diaspora to preserve their tradition and to contribute to the rebirth of the area of the Levant?
Monsignor Eid: Fidelity to their spiritual and cultural traditions. I invite them to live their civilization, a civilization of pluralism and encounter wherever they are. I invite them not to carry with them, in the nations where they are living, their “political idols,” because the latter, with their obstinacy and their egoism lead the nation to “the edge of the precipice,” as Patriarch El-Rahid has reminded us.
[Translation by ZENIT]