An Update on Lebanon
When I put pen to paper ten days or so ago, writing my column for Catholic New York, I mentioned that I was on my way to Lebanon, and would report to you upon my return. Here goes . . .
There we went, the three of us – – Bishop William Murphy, retired Bishop of Rockville Centre; the Archbishop of Vancouver, Canada, Most Reverend Michael Miller, and me – – as members of the board of The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, (CNEWA), a nine decade old acclaimed but behind–the scenes initiative of the Church to offer support to the fragile, small Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, centered mostly in the Mideast, but alive as well in Central and Eastern Europe, India, and Ethiopia (with members who have left their country of origin flourishing as well around the world.)
Lebanon is a particularly radiant example of a country, in the otherwise dark landscape of the Mideast, where there is a religious diversity, amity, peace, and a large Christian population. The Catholic population of Lebanon belongs to one of four ancient rites: Maronite, Melkite, Syrian, and Armenian. There are also about 120,000 Latin Rite Catholics, mostly foreign workers, such as from the Philippines.
As luminous as is the Christian presence in Lebanon (and our Catholic people work closely with their orthodox brethren), challenges there are (Where are there not?). Lebanon’s political situation, while hailed for its balance, sensitivity to the freedom and role of the Christian and Moslem populations, and relative peace and stability, is delicate.
For one, just think of the neighborhood! Sandwiched between Syria and Israel, with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia close, one does tend to worry how constant turmoil will affect beloved Lebanon.
Two, Lebanon has absorbed at least a million refugees from Syria and Iraq, mostly Moslems but also Christians, who arrive scared, homeless, lost, and poor. They fear they will not be able ever to go home. Lebanon’s own strained economy and fragile political balance are stretched by their heroic care for them.
Clear in the ancient Christian belief of Lebanese Christians, is the act of faith, “Jesus Christ, the same: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”
Yesterday: Lebanon’s Christians rejoice in their deep roots, back to the apostles, seven centuries prior to Islam, with liturgies and traditions from those earliest decades of the Church. That embedded faith has been tested by persecution, invasion, and oppression, and has come forth the stronger.
Today: The Church in Lebanon is far from a museum. It is vibrant and effective now! We visited seminaries, churches, and schools, clinics, care centers, and refugee centers, all lovingly ministered by a Church truly a “light to the world” today. Our daily readings at Mass during our visit came from the Acts of the Apostles. It was clear to us that the prayer, worship, community, education, healing, and charity that characterized the Church in this very region in the years of the apostles is alive and well in the apostolic churches of Lebanon.
Tomorrow: Yes, the patriarchs, pastors, and lay leaders we met are anxious about tomorrow. But, as they observed, “We are used to anxiety!”
Towering over Beirut, way up in the mountains, is an illuminated cross, and a massive statue of the blessed mother of Jesus, venerated as Our Lady of Lebanon. When tempted to worry about tomorrow, a sister told us, she just looks up to that cross and that holy woman.
The Lebanese often quote Pope St. John Paul II: “Lebanon is, yes, a country, a nation. But, it is also a dream, a lesson, a message, a sign for all of us.”
We visitors just back certainly agree!
FEATURE: A Walk With Cardinal Dolan: Part II – Lebanon
I’d like to share with you my homily from this morning at Saint Joseph Church in Beirut.
We feel at home here in Lebanon, a country that has been so hospitable to people from all over the world. We see people from all over the Church universal and feel at home because we know we are members of a family that extends to every continent and every language.
Thanks for tuning in! I’m joined by Archbishop Michael Miller of Vancouver and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre. We’ve had a full day here in Lebanon, representing the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
This is really what we came to see: the good work that you, the Catholic people of good will in the United States, are doing for the people in need here in Lebanon. Thanks be to God for organizations like CNEWA, Catholic Relief Services, Aid to the Church in Need, and wonderful people like the Good Shepherd Sisters, who in the name of Jesus care for these suffering people. Never underestimate the wonderful zeal, love, and charity of our religious women. Thanks for your support, and for being with us on our journey to Lebanon.
Do we have a young Church or an old Church? That’s a question we pastors ask a lot. The answer here in Lebanon is a young, vibrant Church, with old, deep roots in a tradition that goes back to Jesus and His apostles. We love the past, we love the present, and we’re oriented towards the future as well, when Jesus will come again and, God willing, we will enjoy eternal life with Him in Heaven.
Thanks for keeping us company on our journey in Lebanon! We’re now in Zahlé, where we are visiting the Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Zahlé, the Most Reverend Archbishop Issam John Darwich. Faith and Charity. Prayer and Work. It’s all part of the magnificent Melkite tradition here in Lebanon, and part of ours as well!
It’s been another great day everybody! Thanks for checking in. We started the day at the Melkite Catholic Cathedral, then visited the magnificent School of Saint Rita. From there we went to a soup kitchen and a refugee camp. Once again I leave so grateful for the work that the Church does, and thank you for your support of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, so visible here in Lebanon.
Wednesday morning here in Beirut. Lebanon is an example to the whole world of how when different ethnic groups and different religions work together, there can be peace and stability. I would love for you to be able to see what we are seeing here… the freshness, the vigor, the youth, the vitality of the Christian faith that gives the refugees here hope, what the Church is doing to help, and the longing of these people.
Thank you for your interest and your attention. You’ve been good company, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this little pilgrimage to Lebanon as much as we have. You know what comes to mind? Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There’s a lot of suffering here, the tears of refugees and the memories of war. But there’s also hope, confidence, joy, and life! God bless Lebanon, God bless America, and God bless the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. See you back home!
Link to Cardinal’s Blog, where all the above entries and videos can be found: http://cardinaldolan.org/index.php/category/blog/