“I’m happy to intervene on behalf of young Maronites present in Lebanon, in the Middle East and in the five Continents, who give heartfelt thanks to the Holy Father Francis for having called this Synod on Young People,” said Monsignor Toufic Bou Hadir during the daily press briefing of the Synod in the Vatican, on Wednesday, October 24, 2018.
In the wake of the Synod, he announced a gathering of Christian young people of the Middle East in Beirut in March of 2019, with the Taize Community. He stressed the need to help Christian young people not to leave the East. He launched an appeal on behalf of young people.
Monsignor Toufic Bou Hadir is director of YOUCAT of the Arabic Foundation (Maronite Church) and coordinator of the Patriarchal Office for the Pastoral Ministry of Young People (Lebanon).
He recalled the stages of the Synod’s preparation on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” (October 3-28, 2018): ”Our young people have accompanied the different stages that preceded the Synod. Their most recent initiative was a Pre-Synod, which took place last August, where young Maronites of the whole world and representatives of Christian and Muslim communities of Lebanon met. A final report summarized their ideas and those of thousands of young people, who took part through the social networks. This report reflects their aspiration to be perceived in the particularity of their Middle Eastern context, and to play an active role in the renewed life of the Church.”
Young people, these prophets
The young people need to feel their sufferings recognized at the heart of the Synod, stressed Monsignor Bou Hadir. “Young Christians hope that the whole Church is conscious of their particular sufferings and that she perceive their presence in the East in the continuity of the love of Christ, which radiated in the whole world. These young people address the universal Church today: Don’t forget the Middle East where we are rooted: the land of our ancestors, watered by the blood of martyrs . . . “
For the director of the Pastoral Ministry of Young People, the latter are the champions of dialogue: “In this Middle East, where social customs are shared between Christians and Muslims, our young people present themselves as agents of dialogue between the civilizations and as builders of bridges and of peace with their fellow citizens.”
For him, Saint John Paul II’s words apply especially to young people: “The cultural and religious mixing that marks the Lebanon and its multiple languages make of Lebanon a carrier of culture par excellence: “Lebanon is more than a country; it’s a message of freedom and an example of pluralism for the East as well as for the West,” said Saint John Paul II, and the young people of Lebanon are the bearers, the carriers of this message. Despite the difficulties, they are called to hold on and to hold on well because Jesus said: “I will not leave you alone.”
Monsignor Bou Hadir sees prophets in young people going against the current: “Our young prophets” pray that the Lord hear their prayer so that the suffering of the Eastern Churches and of the Middle East, and the vicious circle of violence and terrorism may end.”
Young People Must Not Desert the East
Christians are indispensable for the face of the Middle East. “Our young people are believers and they are perseverant,” said the Maronite Bishop. “They attach themselves to Jesus as to a rock of salvation despite all the obstacles and challenges. They are convinced that God calls them to remain rooted in their lands. Our Patriarch, Cardinal Rai, affirmed that the Christian presence is an absolute necessity for the Middle East (. . . ) The cultural base of the whole of the Middle East is a Christian base; moreover, it’s the cradle of Christianity. We don’t have the right to abandon it. Young people must not desert the East,” he stressed.
Hence the appeal to aid the return. “The young people of Lebanon address a “cry”, an appeal, to the Western countries to help the migrants and refugees that Lebanon receives (and that are about two million people — the equivalent of the Lebanese population). It’s not enough to help them survive where they are but it’s necessary to create the political, economic and security conditions that foster their return to their countries, to their land in Iraq, in Syria and in Palestine.”
Monsignor Bou Hadir mentioned young people’s trust in their Pastors. “For a long time, well before this Synod, I began to listen to young people. They have many expectations; above all, they expect Pastors that are close to them, that are true witnesses. Everyone knows the proverb: “The habit doesn’t make the monk.” But one doesn’t know what follows: “The habit doesn’t make the monk, but the heart.” This proverb reflects a fundamental reality in the Church and in a Christian’s living: authenticity and coherence between what is “said” and what is “lived!” That is what young people of all times and all countries aspire to.”
He also made himself the echo of young people’s desire to be protagonists in the Church. “Young people also claim an active role in the life of the Church and participation in the taking of decisions and of putting them into practice. They want the Church to be increasingly a place where closeness and transparency reign, a place of dialogue and of innovative initiatives,” he continued.
Vigilance and Listening
And this innovation is found in the peripheries. “Young people want an attractive Church and ready to move to go out to encounter all people. At the school of Pope Francis, the Church of Lebanon and the Eastern Churches are invited to go to the “peripheries,” to <implement> the paradox of an eternally young Church invited to transmit to new generations the sacred deposit that she has received, the Good News of Jesus Christ. The periphery of which Pope Francis speaks isn’t an area; it’s a state of vigilance and listening, a disposition to follow Christ on the roads of the 21st century. This Synod has been the occasion to remind our young people that they are the bearers and transmitters of the Good News, the agents of the New Evangelization,” he stressed.
Monsignor Bou Hadir announced an event in the wake of the Synod. First of all, the publication of the YOUCAT collection in Arabic: the Catechism (Youcat), the social teaching (Docat), which the Pope offered young people taking part in the Synod, the young people’s Bible and Youcat4kids, which the Pope offered during the Meeting of Families in Dublin last August.
And the second is the First International Ecumenical Meeting of Young People, which will be held in Beirut from March 22-26, 2019, under the guidance of the Council of Churches in the Middle East and the Taize Community.
On March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, a holiday in Lebanon, a special day will be dedicated, for Christians and Muslims, to experience young people as “pioneers of inter-religious dialogue.”
Monsignor Bou Hadir wished to support young people’s hope. “”I would like to address a word of hope to all young people of the world, notably those of Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and all the other countries of the East: Jesus is the cornerstone on which a new world will be built and you are the builders, the builders of a world of hope. In this world full of inequalities and prejudices, and where everything goes wrong, be constant; be without fear. Be the witnesses of justice and courage: Christ counts on you. Young people of the Middle East, God is calling you. He entrusts a mission to you: don’t be afraid and have confidence in Him. You are missionaries in your contexts, the bearers, and carriers of a message of love that Jesus does not cease to proclaim to us,” he concluded.