With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the French High Commissioner for Lebanon Gabriel Puaux proclaimed martial law and dissolved parliament on September 9, 1939. Lebanon was controlled by the Vichy authorities after the fall of France in 1940. However, this regime was overthrown with the occupation of Lebanon by British and Free French forces in 1941. On November 26 of that year, General George Catroux proclaimed the sovereignty of Lebanon and the termination of the Mandate.
Elections were held in 1943 and Bishara Al-Khuri was elected President. Riyad al-Solh was chosen Prime-Minister. The new government sought to pass measures to establish its autonomy. In response, the French Delegate-General, Jean Helleu, suspended the constitution and arrested the President, Prime-Minister and Cabinet. They were placed in the castle of Rashayya, and martial law was declared. However, after nine days of riots and demonstrations, the French authorities gave in and restored the government. In 1945, Lebanon became a founding member of the United Nations. By December 31, 1946, all foreign troops had withdrawn from Lebanon.
With their constitution and with what became known as the National Pact, the Lebanese sought to have all the various religious groups adequately represented. This policy applied to the presidency, the cabinet, the parliament and the upper-level position in government. Lebanon is not a country where one can speak of a clear majority in its population, In reality, Lebanon is a nation of several minorities.
The political character of the Lebanese republic did not completely favor one group over another. While the Christians may have had some advantages in domestic affairs, Lebanon was considered an Arab country in foreign affairs. Economically, no religious group had the clear advantage. At the dawn of the conflict of 1975, there were many prosperous Sunni Moslems in Lebanon, and many poor Maronite Christians.
The Events Leading to the Conflict of 1975
The Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and the subsequent flood of Palestinian refugees into Lebanon had a tremendous impact on all facets of Lebanese life. The number of Palestinians living in Lebanon has exceeded 600,000. If one considers that the native Lebanese population consists of 3 million persons, the refugee population amounted to an increase of 20%. To compare this to the United States, it would be equivalent to the coming of 50 million refugees into our country in the space of a few years. Under United Nations supervision, the vast majority of Palestinian refugees have lived in poverty and in refugee camps for 40 years.
Another significant event for Lebanon was the civil war that broke out in Jordan from September 16-27, 1969 between the army loyal to King Hussein and the PLO and Fatah fighters. The Palestinians were defeated and sought refuge in Lebanon. While the sheer number of foreign refugees had been a threat to Lebanese social and economic stability, the coming into Lebanon of armed Palestinian fighters represented a danger to the existence of the Lebanese state itself.
Without respect for Lebanese sovereignty, the heavily armed PLO fighters were to be found on the streets of Lebanon and soon clashed with Lebanese security forces. In the agreement known as the Cairo Pact of November 3, 1969, the PLO was to respect Lebanese law outside the camps, but the Palestinians were given a free hand inside the camps.
With the Palestinians heavily armed within their camps, and with the Lebanese government seemingly under pressure from Arab countries not to weaken the Palestinians, many Lebanese began to arm themselves. Within a few years, a number of independent militias were formed, heavily armed and supported from within and outside the country. With the government and the Lebanese army neutralized, and with the militias unregulated, it was only a matter of time before armed conflicts would occur.
It is important to note that the Lebanon of 1975 was not a country of great political and economic injustice. It was not a garrison state where the party in power ruled with an iron hand and people lived in fear of the secret police. It was not a country dominated and run by Christians. Proof of this is that when the conflict finally did break out, the Maronite President could not act without the approval of the Moslem Prime-Minister and the Cabinet. The complaints of the poor Shiite Moslems in the south of Lebanon, which was one of the volatile issues in 1975, were directed not at the Christians but at what they perceived as an unresponsive government, made up of both Christians and Moslems.
The fact of the matter is that Lebanon of 1975 was one of the most free and democratic countries in the Middle East: a country where all religions had freedom of worship. Economic inequities were due partly to Lebanon's laissez-faire capitalism, and also to the entrenched feudal structure found in both Christian and Moslem areas. Had tiny Lebanon not been located in the midst of larger countries at war with each other, armed conflicts would probably not have occurred.
Foreign elements found it to their advantage to manipulate affairs in Lebanon. Factions within Lebanon believed it to their advantage to ally themselves with foreigners at the price of Lebanese sovereignty. Add to this, extremists on both ends of the political spectrum saw in the state of anarchy an opportunity to reshape radically the status of Lebanon.
While religion is a central factor in Lebanese life, and often becomes a cause of tension and even prejudice, the conflict in Lebanon was not a religious civil war. More Christians and Moslems died at the hands of their fellow religionists, than from the other side. The war in Lebanon was perpetuated by various elements seeking political and economic power.
The Conflict of 1975
Open conflicts began in 1975, and the Lebanese government and army found themselves unable to deal with the situation. Events reached a point in 1976, where the Lebanese Left and the Palestinians, with help from outsiders, were gaining the upper hand, and threatening to change the constitutional status of Lebanon. It was at this juncture that Syria, who had been a supporter of the Left, entered into Lebanon and tilted the balance in favor of the Christians. In a meeting held October 25-26, 1976, the Arab League organized a peace-keeping force for Lebanon of 30,000 soldiers, the majority of whom were Syrian.
In the following years, Lebanon went through a series of cease-fires followed by the resumption of hostilities. More and more people were being killed and wounded. Thousands were being displaced from their homes. On June 6, 1982, an estimated 60,000 Israeli troops invaded Lebanon. PLO leaders and troops were forced to leave Lebanon in August of that year. After undergoing a war of attrition, Israel found its presence in Lebanon to be counter-productive and began withdrawing its forces in September of 1983. However, Israeki troops still remain in the south of Lebanon.
On October 22 and 23, 1989, the Lebanese Parliament met in Ta'if in Saudi Arabia and approved a new constitutional structure which equalized the powers between the President, Prime-Minister, and the Cabinet, and called for an equal number of seats for the Christians and Moslems in Parliament.
The year 1990 witnessed the tragedy of Christian factions fighting and killing each other, and probably signifies the lowest point in recent Maronite history. By October of that year, hostilities in Lebanon came to an end.
The fifteen years of conflict had seen perhaps as many as 150,000 Lebanese killed, many more wounded and mutilated, and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes. What was once a significant Lebanese middle-class had become impoverished. Thousands of Lebanese had left the country.
Lebanon today finds the majority of its territory occupied by foreign forces, and the world community unwilling to pressure them to withdraw. Their presence makes it impossible for the Lebanese to govern themselves properly or to have confidence in their future. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the Lebanese spirit and character will prevail.
Patriarch Hoyek was succeeded by Archbishop Anthony Areeda of Tripoli in 1932. A graduate of the Sulpician Seminary in Paris, Patriarch Areeda reopened the patriarchal seminary of St. Maron in Ghazir in 1934, and gave its administration to the Jesuits. He also built a basilica in the summer residence of Dimane and commissioned the painter Saliba Doueihy to do the artwork.
According to Bishop Tayah in his book The Maronites, Patriarch Areeda was concerned for the Maronite communities established overseas, and attempted to take a census among these communities while a nation-wide census was being conducted in Lebanon.
At the death of Patriarch Areeda in 1955, the Vatican bypassed an election by the Maronite bishops and appointed the Archbishop of Tyre, Paul Meouchi, as Patriarch. Patriarch Meouchi was a strong figure and had a significant influence on the political life in Lebanon.
During his tenure, he and the Maronite bishops actively participated in the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council. In 1972 and 1973, Liturgical reforms of the Maronite Missal were inaugurated with the publication of the experimental texts both by the Vatican and by the Patriarchate .Aspects of Maronite History
1962 Patriarch Meouchi was the first Maronite Patriarch to visit the Maronites in the United States. On that occasion, he dedicated the Maronite Seminary in Washington, D.C. Upon the death of Patriarch Meouchi in 1975, Anthony Khoraiche, Archbishop of Saida, was elected to succeed him. Patriarch Khoraiche was confronted with the outbreak of hostilities in the country. A man of the land and of the people, he tried valiantly to restore harmony among all Lebanese. During his tenure, the Maronite Seminary of Ghazir was restored.
The one light during this sad period in Lebanon was the canonization of St. Sharbel Makhlouf at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on October 9, 1977. St. Sharbel was one of only a few persons from the Eastern Churches to be canonized by the Roman Church in modern times. What is significant about his saintly achievement is that in our contemporary world of constant activity and material achievement, he is a witness to the life of solitude, fasting and prayer. St Sharbel's canonization was followed by the beatification of Blessed Rafka el-Raiyiss on November 17, 1985. Her life was a witness to redemptive suffering in Christ.
Patriarch Khoraiche resigned his office in 1985 and was succeeded by Nasrallah Sfeir in April, 1986. Having been the Vicar for two previous patriarchs, Patriarch Sfeir was well experienced in the role of Bkerke in both the ecclesiastical and civil spheres. He became a strong voice for reason and sanity in the latter years of the Lebanese conflict. At the present time, he has become the conscience of the country, pointing to the injustices that exist in the social and political spheres, and speaking up for the poor and disenfranchised. In his writings and sermons he has been presenting an agenda of how Lebanon is to achieve a future based on freedom and human rights.
The works of liturgical reform bore fruit in 1992 with the publication of a new Maronite Missal. The Missal represents an attempt to return to the original form of the Antiochene Liturgy. Its Service of the Word is far more enriched than previous Missals, and it features six Anaphoras [Eucharistic Prayers]. At the present time, liturgical reform is continuing at an accelerated pace.
The World Synod of Bishops for Lebanon
In June, 1991 Pope John Paul II announced a special Synod of Bishops for Lebanon. The Synod met at the Vatican from November 25 to December 14, 1995. The purpose of the special Synod was to revitalize the Christian churches in Lebanon, to underline their importance as witnesses of the Christian Gospel in the Middle East and to advocate harmonious relations among all religions.
To show his concern for the people of Lebanon and to strengthen and console them as they recover from many years of suffering, Pope John Paul II visited Lebanon on May 9-10, 1997. He was welcomed enthusiastically by the whole nation.
His Holiness took the occasion of his visit to present his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation: A New Hope For Lebanon to the patriarchs, bishops, clergy, religious and all the faithful of Lebanon. In this Apostolic Exhortation, the Holy Father calls for renewal of the Church in its members, in its structures, and in its pastoral activity. He calls for communion among the Catholic churches in Lebanon and around the world. Dialogue with the Orthodox churches is encouraged. There is also a call for dialogue between Christians and Moslems, and for peace and reconciliation. The Exhortation ends with a discussion of the role of the Church in its service to society.
The Universal Expansion of the Maronite Church
Beginning with the last decade of the 19th century, Maronites began to emigrate from Lebanon and Syria. At first, they went to other countries in the Middle East. However, they soon began to travel to all parts of the world. The last thirty years have witnessed the formal establishment of many Maronite eparchies outside the Middle East. Eparchies are now found in Brazil, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, and the Maronite of Europe have an Apostolic Visitator. Thus, the Maronite Church is fulfilling the Gospel mandate to go forth and make disciples of all nations.
(Reprinted with permission.)