Remarks of the Patriarch upon his arrival at St. Louis Airport
February 13, 2001
I am very happy to visit, for the second time, the United States of America, and particularly Saint Louis City, twelve years after my first visit to this great Country. This time a number of their Excellencies the Maronite Eparchs have come with me to participate in the celebration of elevating to the episcopate an American born priest of Lebanese origin, the Reverent Monsignor Robert Shaheen who has been the pastor of Saint Raymond Maronite Parish in Saint Louis, for about a third of a century. This is the main objective of this visit.
The second objective is to visit some Maronite parishes in many States in this Country. There are more than seventy parishes in two eparchies: Saint Maroun Eparchy of Brooklyn and Our Lady of Lebanon Eparchy of Los Angeles. His Excellency Eparch Stephan Hector Doueihy is in charge of the first one since he succeeded His Excellency Archbishop Francis Zayek, who still lives in the United States following his resignation. His Excellency Eparch John Chedid who also resigned, was in charge of the second Eparchy and will be succeeded by the new Eparch Shaheen. The number of Maronites in the United States increases year after year.
I would like to thank all those who have prepared and organized this visit, according to a specific schedule, as I thank you all, for coming to the airport to greet us.
As for the third objective, important for Lebanon where I come from, it is to let the American People know about the Lebanese cause and to congratulate them on having elected a new President, Mr. George W. Bush, who declared that he will work at consolidating the spiritual values and the democratic system Lebanon is longing for, while, for a quarter fo a century, it has been deprived, from making its own free decision and its right to sovereignty and genuine independence. This situation has reflected itself negatively on the Lebanese economy. It led many Lebanese, specially young people from among university holders of high degrees, to emigrate because of the lack of jobs for them in Lebanon. It is well known that the United States exerts in international affairs, especially in the Middle East region, a great influence on all the events taking place there over which it has a say and a position. We hope that the United States will help Lebanon get out of this stifling crisis he is enduring. Lebanon is indeed a country that believes in democracy and is distinguished by his Christian-Muslim coexistence. He also has close ties with the United States; the best proof of that is the presence of the Lebanese Community who has been living in this country for over a century, enjoying the same rights and performing the same duties as the natives. I would like to take this opportunity to thank in advance those we shall meet, religious and civil officials, imploring God to grant them and the great American People further success in strengthening human values, mainly freedom, democracy, and respect of human rights, in the world.
Press Conference at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in St. Louis, MO
February 14, 2001
His Beatitude Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
I thank you for welcoming me and my brother bishops who have come from Lebanon. The important ecclesial event which we have come to celebrate is the consecration of the Reverend Monsignor Robert Shaheen to the order of bishops. This event is undoubtedly joyful, for all of us.
We are very pleased that our Maronite Church is growing, progressing, and spreading throughout the world. We now have eparchies in Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Canada and two in the United States. The Maronite Church is concerned with being ever present to her faithful children wherever they may be. This presence enriches Her as well as them, allowing them to preserve their faith and their traditions in all parts of the world.
But, I should not conceal from you a question which could be a cause of great anxiety: is this expansion taking place at the expense of a diminished Christian presence in the East in general, and in Lebanon in particular? In the past, the East was entirely Christian. The Eastern Fathers enriched the Church with their writings and their deep spirituality, from Ephrem and Chrysostom, to Basil and John Damascene, and many others. Now, the Christian presence there is shrinking little by little, even in the Holy Land. It is known that Lebanon has been, until today, the refuge of Christians, who found there a climate of freedom and democracy which allowed them to practice their faith according to their conscience.
In Lebanon today there are 19 religious communities; among them 7 Catholic – Maronite, Melkite, Armenean, Latin, Chaldean, Coptic, and Syrian; 5 Orthodox – Greek, Armenean, Syrian, Assyrian, and Coptic; various Protestant communities; and the other six are Muslim – Sunni, Shi’ite, Druze, Alaweet, Ishmaelites and Bahai. If this bleeding of Christians from the East, especially from Lebanon, continues, the land where Christ was born, lived, redeemed humanity on the cross, died and rose from the dead will be without Christians and authentic Christian witness. Can this promote peace in the world and would this not be a cause of anxiety for Christians and non-Christians alike? This question seems to have no answer. The answer lies with God alone. We pray that the will of God be done among us in the hope that Christians will preserve their faith, in the East and throughout the world.
A series of questions from the press followed.
The Ordination of Bishop Robert Shaheen at Saint Louis Cathedral, U.S.A
February 15, 2001
“Go first and be reconciled with your brother” (Matthew 5:24).
1 – I am happy to come to the U.S.A. for the second time twelve years after my first visit to this parish.
I am pleased to come with some of my venerable brother Maronite Bishops and priests, to raise our brother, the eparch elect Robert Shaheen, pastor of the Maronite parish in this city, to the Episcopate.At the very beginning, we deem it our duty to address our brotherly thanks, to His Excellency our venerable brother Bishop Justin Regali, Archbishop of this diocese, for opening for us his cathedral to hold this solemn ceremony.
2 – We are honored to see around us their Eminencies and Excellencies the Bishops and the priests, who responded to the invitation to attend this ceremony, out of their esteem for the new Maronite eparch, born on this generous land where he lived. He was the first Maronite priest to graduate from the Maronite Seminary of Washington and is the first American born Maronite Eparch. He has spent about one third of a century at the service of Saint Louis Maronite parish. By calling him to the Episcopal rank God has fulfilled a wish dear to many of his brothers, Maronite priests of the U.S.A., who, I still remember, had asked me with some anxiety, on my first visit to you: Won’t there be Bishops among us born in the U.S.A.? We replied: “nothing will be impossible for God” (Mt 1:37)!The wish has been fulfilled and the way is open.
3 – We indeed thank His Excellency Archbishop Francis Zayek, the first Maronite Eparch of U.S.A. who set up the Maronite eparchy, some fourty years ago, and has spared no efforts for it. He is happy today to see his efforts, which had brought forth, six years ago, a new eparchy that has been run by our brother, most venerable eparch John Chedid. He is being succeeded by the new Eparch who was followed up, since his early youth, by His Excellency Archbishop Zayek who developed towards him a solid friendship. It was, actually, the same friendship he developed towards eparch Chedid who worked accordingly with his instructions since the creation of the new eparchy.
4 – We are used, in our Maronite ritual of episcopal ordination, to read the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. As it is, as we think, familiar to all the faithful, we preferred to read today’s gospel which tells about the love of the neighbour and brotherly reconciliation, without which God would no accept our offerings. God’s condition to accept our offerings is to be reconciled with our neighbor and love him.
Love is the alpha and the omega of the Christian religion.We come from a land that craves for love and reconciliation. It is a land that was visited by Christ who blessed it, as He blessed the Holy Land where hatred keeps growing everyday and people are fallen dead everyday. The Gospel mentioned Tyre and Sidon, two ancient Lebanese cities, where excavations showed the existence of churches dating from the second and third centuries A.D.
5 – But this land is till enduring armed struggle which has bequeathed its inhabitants suppression, suffering and displacement.The inhabitants of South Lebanon are, still today, suffering terrible hardships because of this struggle. Families, there, are divided, men responsible for them are either in prison or fugitives staying in a strange land, against their will.For this, we totally realize the meaning of Christ’s words: “go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift”: that is why we need your prayers so as God grants us, in the Middle East, a just, total, and long lasting peace that is the true peace built up on respect of life and human rights, the peace of Christ which the world cannot give, as He said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 15-17).
6 – We do not hide from you that which worries us and should worry you, is the effect of this hard struggle on the inhabitants: they are leaving their Middle Eastern countries, most of them Christians, to come to the West.Such continuous long lasting emigration will have its great negative effect over the Christian situation in the region. Is it logical that the land where Christ was born, lived, died on the cross rose from the dead to redeem all the people, and is, consequently, the land that witnessed the birth of Christianity and the descent of the Holy Spirit over the disciples, remain without Christians? What to say about Jerusalem, the city of peace, where now is taking place the most awful struggle?
7 – It is right that we, the faithful of the Oriental churches, be happy for having eparchies, parishes and new eparchs, born here.However, it worries us, and, I say it again, should worry you as well, to witness this continuous draining out which is emptying the region from its Christian inhabitants. But we believe that there is a Divine providence looking after all people, as Lord Jesus said: “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things besides.Do no worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil”, With you, we seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness and wait for His will to be done one us. It is not in vain do we say: “your will be done on earth as in heaven” (Mt 7:26-33-34; 6:10).
Finally, we congratulate His Excellency, the new eparch, all his relatives, Maronite parishioners of Saint Louis, his friends, clergy and laity, and especially, their Excellencies the Maronite eparchs; Francis Zayek, John Chedid, and Stephan Hector Doueihy. We ask the High Priest and Good Shepher, Jesus Christ, to grant him success for the benefit of his eparchy. May God Almighty enable him to shepherd it with wisdom, prudence and fear of God.
Sermon at Saint Raymond Maronite Church in Saint Louis
10:30 Mass February 16, 2001
“And if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Mt 5:20)
Yesterday we elevated your new Bishop, Robert Shaheen, who served your parish for almost a third of a century, to the episcopacy. We are delighted to conratulate you on this occasion.Bishop Chedid, Bishop Doueihi, and their predecessor Archbishop Zayek, all the bishops who accompanied me from Lebanon and from other countries, join me in congratulating you on this historical event, which exemplifies the vitality of our Maronite Church.
It is our duty to express our sincere thanks to the Sovereign Pontiff, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, who by confirming this election by the Maronite Synod of Bishops, has given us the opportunity to come and celebrate this ordination in the United States.
I renew our thanks to His Excellency Archbishop Rigali of St. Louis who opened the doors of his beautiful cathedral, which is adorned with rare mosaics that lead one to reverence.
We also thank His Excellency the Papal Nuncio, Gabriel Montalvo, who took part in yesterday’s ordination, and all the bishops and clergy who created an unforgettable ecclesial impact on this celebration.
As we meditate together on today’s reading of the Gospel, according to our Maronite Rite, we ask the Lord to prevent us from being led astray by the world’s scandals, which shake the faith of believers in their religious, moral, and national values.
Jesus clearly stressed this warning against scandals in the world saying “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members that to have your whole body go into Gehenna” (Mt 5:30).
Jesus added, wishing to reinforce this idea in the minds of the listeners, that a hand should be cut off if it causes one to fall into sin. Jesus also spoke of divorce and adultery. The beginning of the text which was just proclaimed spoke of sin of thought and of lust. As Jesus said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. (Mt 5:28).
Was Jesus very harsh when He made this statement? We see the world taken by the sin of lust, divorce, loose morals, and doing what is shameful. As the Apostle Paul said: “… it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret” (Eph 5:12). Jesus Christ, who knows what lies in the heart of men, wanted to eradicate evil from its roots, which is born in thought and later manifested in deed. He said “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.These are what defile a person…” (Mt 15:19-20).
Those who know how to control their senses, which are the eyes of the soul, are able to protect themselves from falling into temptation and sin.
This is what you know and what you have received fully from the Gospel, which is the foundation of Christian faith. Those who follow the Gospels and apply them to their daily lives, should not fear anyone, nor evil nor temptation. He who controls his heart has control of all his deeds, and he who overcomes his own desires, conquers the world and all its temptations and attractions.
Before we say farewell, like the Apostle Paul said to the Ephesians, “But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again” (Acts 20:25), I reiterate my thanks and I commend you to God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Maron, Saint Raymond, and to your new bishop asking God to watch over you always with His Holy Spirit and paternal blessings.
Press Conference Peoria
Saturday, February 17, 2001
I come to you from Saint Louis, where I celebrated with my brother Maronite Bishops the ordination of your new eparchial bishop, Robert Shaheen. Present were the papal nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo and the Archbishop of Saint Louis, His Excellency Justin Rigali. I express my special thanks to Archbishop Rigali, who, in a fraternal spirit, opened to us the doors of his beautiful basilica cathedral. Also present were a good number of bishops and priests who, for the first time, attended the ceremony of a Maronite ordination to the episcopacy.
I am happy to be in Peoria. I have heard so much for so long about Peoria and the activity of its inhabitants, especially those of Lebanese descent. I would like to congratulate the Maronite parish on all it has accomplished and is accomplishing. They have built a beautiful church and a parish center, under the patronage of Saint Sharbel, a Lebanese saint, whose canonization was proclaimed in the second half of the last century. It also has built housing facilities, with the aid of the government, thanks to His Honor, Congressman Ray LaHood, who made available to Fr. Fauzi Elia, your parish priest, the financial aid necessary to complete this project.And I would like also to thank Senator George Shaded for his assistance.
According to the schedule, we will spend today and tomorrow in this city, becoming acquainted with the situation of the Maronite parish here and with that of the Lebanese community, encouraging them to keep their faith in God, their good traditions and genuine values which are, in fact, the values which enabled the Lebanese, both in Lebanon and oversees, to build up for themselves a good position.
I salute the religious authorities, namely, His Excellency Bishop John Meyer, who has been so kind as to come and welcome us. I also salute the local civil authorities, who have taken the necessary measures to facilitate our stay in the beautiful city of Peoria. I ask God to bless Peoria with continued development and to bless its citizens with continued cooperation and solidarity, working toward good, love, and peace.
February 21, 2001
Detroit is the word that I have heard repeatedly for so long since my childhood. Detroit welcomed a number of the first Lebanese who settled in the United States, and among them some relatives with whom I corresponded since I was a student in school.I met at that time the Maronite parish priest in Detroit, Msgr. Michael Abdoo who, I was told, left the old Church and replaced it with a new one in another place where the Maronites used to gather together. He was from Hassroun whose inhabitants emigrated to here and there overseas.
Later on, I came to Detroit for a visit, and you held for me a great fracious reception which I could not forget.The late Chorbishop Joseph Feghali used to serve, helped by his assistants, one of your two Churches, St. Maron Church, where we celebrated the Divine Liturgy. This time, we had to be fair, we celebrated the Divine Liturgy at St. Sharbel’s Church. At any rate, it would have been difficult not to do it, as you built it between my two visits and it came out to be a beautiful Church with all the facilities pertaining to it. I congratulate you with your pastor and Bishop John Chedid on a wonderful accomplishment.Besides, I cannot but salute the other parishes joining Detroit and Flint in this reception. This reminds me in a way of St. Ignatius of Antioch, whom, on his way to Rome, joined another parish to the place he was passing by, in order to meet him, welcome him, and receive his blessing.
I have been giving all those details to let you know that the Maronite parish in Detroit, as well as the other Maronite parishes in the area and those in Detroit of the Eastern Churches and the Lebanese who are living in Detroit, no matter what are their religious denominations or social status are dear to me. So, I believe that it is their affection which brought them here this evening, giving me the opportunity to see them and know that they are well, and to hear me telling them that we are bringing to them the greetings of their Lebanese brothers and sisters, actually those of all of the Lebanese, who are looking up to them with hope and love. I also know that you live together in sincere cooperation which helps you to occupy a high respectable position, as a Lebanese Community eager to preserve its genuine Lebanese traditions, and values
Among these values are those values of democracy, freedom, and respect of human rights cherished by the American people.So are the values of an independent, sovereign Lebanon which is the maker of its own free decision. No wonder if the Holy Father Pope John Paul II has called Lebanon more than a country, a message and an example of dialogue and conviviality for the East as well as for the West. So, while I appeal to you to be loyal citizens to this hospitable land which opened her arms and welcomed you, I remind you not forget to be faithful to the land of your ancestors which gave you those values I was mentioning and for which you chose to come and live here. I don’t want you to be only sentimental but realistic as well, in that sense that you can do with the American Administration to have Lebanon recover its full independence, sovereignty and free decision. I know, you know that the United States of American can play a key role in that respect. Follow the directions of your Church and you will be safe in your action.
Thus, I thank you for the great reception you are having for me and for my brother Maronite Bishops accompanying me, I congratulate you on your new Eparchial Bishop, Robert Shaheen, who I know he will see to your spiritual needs as the Good Shepherd, and I know also that you will abide by his directives towards your common good
I reiterate my thanks to you all and ask God to be pleased with you and bestow upon you His divine graces.
Los Angeles – February 24, 2001
It is my pleasure to meet you in this great metropolis, and I thank you for this warm reception that gathered you all together. Some of you probably came from neighboring states. Among you, are those who chose to live in this region of the United States. Others, finding it difficult to continue to live in Lebanon, had to come and settle where they are today. The Lebanese emigration did not start yesterday. In fact, most of the Lebanese communities have existed for over a century, in such places as Australia, Latin America, United States, and Canada. The emigration has many merits although it has its negative aspects as well.
The merits are the following: it opened to the Lebanese an opportunity to adjust wherever they settled, to establish bonds of fraternity with the people with whom they lived. They were able, after three or four generations, to become true citizens of the country where they live with regard to love of the Country, customs, traditions, language, and social relationships. Yet, most of them preserved that which they brought with them from their first country, Lebanon, such as their faith in God, attachment to the religious, moral, civic and human values, willingness to work hard, and to confront the difficult, with an iron will and determination. This enabled some of them to achieve high positions, such as congressmen, senator, governors, even President, as well as authors, merchants, and business people. Nonetheless, there are among them those who did not have good fortune, they accepted whatever God gave them.
In addition, there is the assistance emigrants can provide to their relatives in Lebanon. Without the assistance they provided during the years of war that ravaged Lebanon, were it little, the Lebanese would not have been able to overcome this difficult period.
On the other hand, the emigration has negative aspects. It uproots the people from their country, families, culture and traditions. It keeps them away from their relatives and beloved ones – sometimes it breaks their hearts. Their country of origin is deprived of their dedication and commitment to building their country. That is what is happening in Lebanon today. It has been emptied day after day, from its young, creative, and productive members, who are led to live far away. Consequently, the less educated, less experienced and less faithful to the country have taken their place. This is painful, indeed.
We are today an information age; the whole world is connected. People and countries have become one, as if the whole world has become one city. There is a major effort to coordinate between countries for the mutual benefit of their citizens. This is what we wish for Lebanon and her neighbors, provided she preserves her distinctive identity, specificity, free democratic system, human values such as liberty, justice and respect for human rights. We have to work at keeping Lebanon’s bright face so that her citizens will be ready to accept all sacrifices.
That is what you know and strive for. The Church, in the person of her leaders among you, from His Excellency John Chedid, to his successor, Bishop Robert Shaheen, to His Eminence, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, and all bishops and priests are at your service. Listen to their directives and implement them, and you will certainly be at ease. This is what I ask of God, through the intercession of Our Lady of Lebanon, to realize for you. May you be pleasing to Him. Let your conscience be at ease, and may you be faithful to your second country, the United States of America, without forgetting your first country, Lebanon.
LOS ANGELES, FEB. 25, 2001
I salute you in the name of God, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the name of Lebanon, the country that you came from at various times and in various numbers. Here you are, gathered this afternoon, to honor us by your presence. I thank my brother, His Excellency John Chedid, for his gracious welcome to me, and my companions; it is indeed an expression of warm welcome. Rest assured that, even though you are far from our sight, you still are in our thoughts, and in the mind of Lebanon, your country of origin. You are close to our heart and Lebanon’s heart.
You know that the first objective of our visit was to ordain your new Bishop, His Excellency Robert Shaheen. This was done, thanks be to God, on February 15th in a dignified religious celebration. I am sure that you, the faithful people of this Eparchy, will surround him with the same love and esteem that you have bestowed upon his predecessor, His Excellency Bishop John Chedid, and that you will help him for your benefit and for the benefit of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles.
The second objective of my visit was to visit with you, and see your situation. I bring to you the greetings of your brothers and sisters in Lebanon, your country of origin, which is proud of you and longs for you. Of Lebanon’s news and situation you already know, and the media brings it to you on a daily basis. I with that the sad page of the war would have been forever turned by now. Unfortunately, there are incidents taking place particularly in the South, that still worry the citizens and cause much pain to them. We pray daily, along with you, that the whole region would enjoy a total just, comprehensive and lasting peace.
We do know of your love for your country of origin, Lebanon, which you were compelled to leave, you hope to return to her one day after she fully recovers her sovereignty, independence and free decision. These are the essential foundations for any country in order to exist, and there will be no growth, nor progress unless these foundations are secure.
I hope that the circumstances will allow you to visit Lebanon, even for a few days, to see first-hand her situation, and to decide whether you can go back and participate in the rebuilding and prosperity of Lebanon. It is known that one cannot stand still.
I need not recommend you to be faithful to your second country, the United States of America, which provided you with a happy and peaceful stay under the enforced laws, and expects from you, in return to contribute in its up building, as you are already doing.
Once again, I thank you for your gracious welcome, and I ask God to lead you to what benefits you and what is pleasing to Him.
Cana Sunday – Homily (John 2:1-12)
Los Angeles – February 25, 2001
“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5)
First of all, I owe thanks to His Eminence, Cardinal Roger Mahony, for his presence today with us in this Divine Liturgy. He has a special love and esteem for our Maronite Church, and from what I heard, does not spare praising and gratifying her, which encourages her faithful to adhere to their faith, traditions and the rich spiritual heritage. I hope that our new Eparchial Bishop, His Excellency, Bishop Roger Shaheen, will have from His Eminence the same understanding, support and sincere cooperation that His Excellence, our brother Bishop John Chedid had. Please accept, Your Eminence, our sincere thanks for the care and affection you show towards our Maronite Catholic people.
Likewise, we thank all those who have come today, both civic dignitaries and faithful, to join us in this Divine Liturgy, and to pray with us for peace in Lebanon, in the Middle East, and in the whole world. The liturgical time we are entering today is called by St. Paul a “Time of Favor,” that is, the time in which God accepts prayers: “In an acceptable time, I heard you, and on the day of salvation, I helped you.” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
This Sunday is called “Entrance into Lent”, in our Maronite rite, which prescribes the reading of the Gospel of “The wedding at Cana”, which talks about the first miracle of the Lord by which Jesus changed the water into wine at the request of His mother, the Blessed Virgin, who wanted to have the hosts avoid the embarrassment of having no more wine. She requested Him to help them. He accepted, but as if He were compelled to do it, for He said to His mother, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” This shows the position of the Virgin Mary in Jesus’ life, and the tactful manner she expressed in her request, saying, “they have no wine.” She did not add anything to her words, knowing that her Son would understand what she meant. This is an indication that she was confident that He cannot but answer her request. This is also a clear sign of Mary’s intercessory influence on her Son, and explains the attachment of our Church and her children to the Virgin Mary, and how they are used to honor her and run to her for protection in times of hardship and trials.
Mary’s trust in her Son moved her to tell the waiters: “Do whatever He tells you.” She did not drop her request when He told her “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” This was Jesus’ first miracle and “he showed his glory to his disciples who began to believe in Him.”
“Do whatever He tells you,” this is the Virgin Mary’s advice to believers in her Son. Faith is not comprised of words, but rather deeds. That is why the Apostle James said in his epistle: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat well’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:14-16)
The season of Lent, which we usher in today, is a season of cooperation, aid, almsgiving, a season of reconciliation and forgiveness. It is true that the Church, having compassion for her children, particularly the poor who cannot afford the food they want or need for their health, dispenses from the obligation of fasting, but she asks at the same time to do instead the corporal works of mercy, to attend to those who need help and assistance, to be compassionate towards the needy, to perform other acts of charity which alleviate the burden of those who are suffering.
The Prophet Isaiah says: “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: that a man bow his head like a reed, and be in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free from the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on you own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the lord shall be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:5-8)
I trust that this is how you understand the meaning of Lent and fasting, and that you abide by it so that God may grant you more strength, success and blessings.
While I thank you for welcoming me along with my brother Maronite bishops, I ask God at the beginning of this blissful Season of Lent to strengthen your faith in God, and grant you health and success in all your undertakings, and I pray that He may be pleased with you, and that He may shower you with His blessings.
Miami, FL February 27, 2001
I welcome you all at this press conference and express my thanks for you interest in the pastoral visit I have started two weeks ago.
The main objective of my visit was to ordain and enthrone as an Eparchial Maronite Bishop for the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, the Chorbishop Robert Shaheen, Pastor of St. Raymond Parish of St. Raymond Parish in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the first American born Maronite priest to be ordained as a Maronite Bishop.
The ordination of our Maronite Bishops takes place usually in Lebanon. This time, however, at the request of the new Bishop, I came to ordain him in the USA, and overseas, as we are one Church. So does it strengthen the bonds of friendship between Lebanon and the USA.
You may know that the Lebanese people cherish the same values of democracy, sovereignty, free decision and respect for human rights, our American brothers cherish. As well as they do, we also desire a just and lasting peace with our neighbors, and we have been longing for that peace, for twenty five years, now, without reaching it yet.
So, we would like to ask the noble American people to continue to support Lebanon in her efforts to rebuild herself politically, socially, and even economically. While I thank the USA for their untiring efforts to work for peace in the Middle East and Lebanon, I express my hope to see these efforts continued and intensified. Thank You!
Blessing of the Church Hall
Jacksonville, FL. February 28, 2001
This is the first time I have visited your region and your city, where the number of your families has increased so much so that you have decided to build a new church for yourselves. You were so kind as to invite me to bless the hall on which you new church will be built and it is my pleasure to do so, along with your Eparchial Bishop, by brother Stephen Hector Doueihi and their Excellencies, the Maronite Bishops accompanying me from Lebanon.
I am truly delighted to do this for the second time in the United States: the first time was in North Jackson Ohio, where five days ago, I blessed the foundation stone of the physical therapy center for the Congregation of the Antonine Sisters. This time I rejoice in the blessing of your church hall, which is serving at the present time for your church functions. I hope circumstances will help you to build as soon as possible. It will be a place where you can meet with God and with one another as brothers and sisters in a spirit of cooperation and love.
The building of churches is a pious deed for the Church. The faithful feel that they are united before God, whom they have come to worship and ask for the strength to pursue the daily struggle to fight evil.
I do know that you are adamant in practicing your precious Maronite Rite, which, in reality, is your spiritual identity and your spiritual treasure. It is the most valuable treasure left to you by your forefathers, which you have to transmit to your children and grandchildren.
In fact, what stops the faithful, especially the youth, from being led astray by the evils of today, is their attachment to religious principles. These principles forbid the addiction to drugs and alcohol, order self-respect, and raise the spirit above worldly desires. They do also preserve the holiness of the family. As a matter of fact, is not the deterioration of society due to being away from religion and the fear of God?
While I bless you efforts in building for yourselves a new church, I ask God to grant you success in the accomplishment of this religious project and I renew my thanks for your warm welcome and gracious and generous hospitality.
Dinner Banquet Address
Miami, FL. March 2, 2001
I wish to thank you for the gracious welcome you have provided me and my venerable brothers, their Excellencies the Maronite Bishops accompanying me.
I congratulate you on the great effort you deployed towards the building of your church, which has resulted as you wished in a beautiful building, dignified, providing an atmosphere to inspire prayers and faith. This beautiful project has been accomplished through the dynamism of our beloved son, Fr. Michael Thomas, whom we first met twelve years ago at the airport in Minneapolis, then several times in Rome and Lebanon. Here we meet him again today and rejoice to know that you cooperate with him for you common good. You know well that when one member of the family is called to the order of priesthood it is a special grace from God. In Lebanon, through the grace of God, we are having many vocations to the priesthood.However, we are still in need for priests as we have started to send some of them to our faithful in Africa and as a result we start to find it difficult to send to the United States as many priests as we did in the past.
I hope that you continue to rally around your church, your venerable Bishop, the Most Reverend Stephen HectorDoueihi, and your parish priests so you may feel that you are one family-the Maronite family of South Florida.
Solidarity is required among the Maronites, in particular, the Lebanese people in general, whether they live in Lebanon or elsewhere in the world. The Lebanese cause is our responsibility before it is anybody else’s. We must defend it particularly before the officials of the United States, which through her influence extends throughout the world. What is also required is to establish peace in the Middle East region and consequently Lebanon, so Lebanon may keep her democratic system, coexistence between Muslims and Christians, human values, complete sovereignty and total independence, and freedom for the decision process. Moreover, it is necessary to preserve the openness to the East and West, the close relations to her neighbors and friendship with other nations, specifically the United States of America which welcomed you; all the dearest of her sons and daughters. I wish you to visit you country of origin, Lebanon, and be as faithful to her as you are to your second country-the United States.
Finally, let me renew my profound gratitude, my appreciation, and my love, as well as my best wishes to all of you for continued good health and prosperity.
Homily – (Matthew 7, 13-27)
Feast of St. John Maron Miami, FL. March 2, 2001
“Enter through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13)”
I am happy that the schedule of my Pastoral Visit has led me to you on the Feast of St. John Maron we are celebrating today. I have heard so much about you, your activity, and the efforts you deployed towards having a parish as well as a church with the facilities pertaining to it for you various parisch functions. You adopted St. Maron to be the Patron of your church, asking, thus, his intercession, showing your pride to be his Maronite sons and daughters and asserting your Eastern Maronite identity, which has its essence, history, patrimony, canonical structure, as well as the Patriarch and Bishops. I ask you to pray for me to be for you and your Maronite brothers and sisters, wherever the may be in the world, the “Father and Head” as described in canon law.
The Maronite Church as it is mentioned in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches constitutes with the Latin Church, the Church of Christ which is one, universal, holy, and apostolic.
The first Maronite Patriarch fulfilled that role and his successors tried to follow his example and path in shepherding the little flock whose care was entrusted to them.
The Maronites have lived since the beginning a situation of anxiety and uneasiness. In the first centuries of Christianity, the Christians in the East followed the Patriarch of Constantinople. When the wars broke out and the Islamic invasion came, the Eastern Christians were cut off from their Patriarch and were not able to contact him. As this situation lasted for some time, the monks of Saint Maron who were living in their big monastery decided to elect for themselves a Patriarch who would direct their spiritual affairs. So, they elected John Maron who was renowned for his sermons and writings and was opposed to the sects and heresies spread at that time and had to do with the humanity and divinity of Christ, His divine and human will and those subsequent theological opinions. This is why he is painted with his pontifical vestments, with his pastoral staff in hand, miter on his head, and under his feet and open book and serpent extending its tongue licking the book. This is a symbol that he was crushing the head of the serpent which symbolizes the heresies spread in his day causing doubt in the Christian doctrine of faith.
Tradition tells us that he traveled form Syria to Lebanon and that he was in Lebanon first where he went to Syria to be enthroned as Patriarch and then resided in the village of Kfarhay, where the See of the Bishop bears his name. Patriarch Doueihi, in his book about the Maronites, mentioned him and his relationship with the Holy See and the Christian West in general.
St. John Maron has implemented the above-mentioned teaching of Christ by entering through the narrow gate, that is, the gate of asceticism restraining rebellious instincts holding firmly to the sound Christian doctrines and thus preventing his faithful from following the heresies of his time. Yet, he was not safe from criticism and opposition by those who were spreading the heresies. However, despite all this, St. John Maron left us with a precious spiritual heritage, which we must preserve. So did his Patriarchal successor with this rich heritage by following in his path in order to protect their people from heresies and present to them the sound doctrine of faith.
The teaching of Christ applies to every faithful who wants to closely follow Christ who himself entered through the narrow gate by suffering from the difficulties the people suffered from in this world. He lived poor and died poor on the cross but made us rich by His poverty as the apostle Paul state. Following Christ in His poverty immunes from falling into perdition and from following false prophets who come in the habits of sheep while they are in reality devouring wolves.How many are such wolves in our days leading astray from the true path! The true disciples are not satisfied with saying “Lord, Lord” without accomplishing His will so they build their houses on sand instead of rock.
Let us then build our houses on the rock as St. John Maron did listening to God’s teaching and acting accordingly in all sectors of life. This is the way to happiness in this world and the world to come.
I renew my thanks to you for welcoming us and ask God to reward you for us by granting you more solidarity among you and more love one for another. May He, through the intercession of St. John Maron be pleased with you and bestow upon you His blessing.
Richmond – St. Anthony Church- Homily
Sunday, March 4, 2001 Sunday of the Leper
“Go and show yourself to the priest”. (Mark 1:44)
The miracle of the healing of the man with leprosy, which our Maronite Calendar celebrates on the first Sunday following the Entrance into Lent, provides the faithful with many lessons taught simultaneously by Christ and the leper. The two lessons taught by Christ are mercy and obedience to the Law, and the two lessons from the leper are unshakeable faith and deep gratitude to the One who healed.
Today we hear of a man stricken with leprosy. You may know that leprosy is a dreadful disease that consumes the flesh leaving its host a living skeleton waiting to die. This man knew that the Lord Jesus was traveling around the region of Galilee and he made the extreme effort to go out to find him. When he saw him, he threw himself down on his knees begging and pleading, saying that if you will it you can cure me. He said nothing more, because he knew that, not by words but through faith, petitions are accepted. He believed that Christ could grant him whatever he asked. This is the lesson of faith and trust in God.
Th Evangelist Mark says: “And Jesus had pity on him and stretched forth his hand and cured him.” The simplicity of the request was met by the simplicity of the answer. Jesus had mercy on him, and mercy is an expression of love. The trust and faith of the leper were met by Christ’s compassion, mercy and love. Mercy is of Christ’s nature, who says: “The healthy have no need of a physician, the sick do.”
Or simply stated, “I did not come for the righteous, but for sinners.” (Mark 2:17). This is the lesson of mercy and love. This is the second lesson.
The third lesson that Christ gave to the leper is the lesson of obedience. After he cured him, He told him: “Go and show yourself to the priest.” And “he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it”, as he said.(Matthew 5:16). Indeed, Jesus was not rebelling against the law, but was overcome with (holy) anger, because they had emptied the law of its essence, where it had become a matter of personal pride, and not for sanctification of self or neighbor.
Today, let us take an example, The Pharisees fasted outwardly and superficially, their fast was not to bring themselves closer to God, and if they gave alms, it was to draw self-praise rather than to help the needy and the poor. Emptying the law of its authentic meaning is a grave error. This is what prompted Jesus to lash out at hypocrisy and appearance of reverence while the intentions were not pure. Wasn’t he the one who said about the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead bones.” (Matthew 23:27)
The fourth and final lesson is that one which the leper gave us himself: the duty to give thanks to Christ who healed him. The Lord told him: “Don’t tell anyone”, but he spread the news and disobeyed Jesus’ request. This disobedience does not indicate rebellion, but to the contrary, it shows the gratitude that the leper showed to Christ, so he announced whatever good was done for him. Here too, the leper showed understanding to the spirit of the law and not its letter. The Apostle Paul says: “The letter of the law kills, but the spirit gives life.”(2 Cor. 3:6). He chose obedience to the essence of the law, which indicates alertness and intelligence.
Mercy and obedience on the part of Christ, trust and gratitude on the part of the leper, these are the four lessons we should focus on, and understand their true meaning, especially we are in time when the Church calls us to practice mercy toward the needy, obedience to God, and to live according to His commandments, to renew faith in Him, and trust in His divine mercy, and to thank Him in every circumstance, because He is a compassionate Father who sometimes disciplines to prompt renewal, and this also is an indication of His love.
Let us renew our faith in God and our trust in each other. Let us work together for the common good and the spiritual and civic values. Where loyalty becomes the guide in whatever we endeavor to do at all levels, especially in our family, society and country, whether the United States or Lebanon, your country of origin, which misses you and wishes to see you whenever circumstances permit.
May the Lord guide you and pour upon you His abundant blessings and graces through the intercession of our Blessed Mother and the patron saint of your church St. Anthony.
Dinner Banquet at the Omni Hotel
Richmond Virginia Sunday March 4, 2001
Our meeting this afternoon has a great meaning and I rejoice in being with all of you.
I would like at this time to thank your Eparchial Bishop, my brother, His Excellency Bishop Stephen Doueihi, for his invitation to visit his eparchy and your parish. So I also thank His Excellency, Bishop Walter Sullivan for his kindness and hospitality, and for being with us since we arrived in the beautiful city of Richmond. As for your beloved pastor, our son, Father George Sebaali, I need not mention his vitality and zeal, as well as all his undertakings in this parish, which makes it a center of attraction and media and communication. I am very pleased to see your close cooperation with him in all your parish activities, including this gracious and warm reception for which I thank all of you heartedly. May I mention here again Father Antoine Gemayel who used to come here to assist his nephew and assisting his parish, he was twenty-four hours away from taking the plane to you when he was returned to the Lord. May he rest in peace.
Also, as your parish is one of the oldest Maronite parishes in the United States, may the memory of all the pastors who served you through the years, especially Chorbishop Anthony Korkemaz and Msgr. Beshara Selwan, to whom we are greatly indebted. A special mention should be made of the vision of Msgr. Selwan, to whom you owe the building of this church and the facilities. He is the only one who was buried in your beloved parish.
All that shows that although you have been living for years under the sky of this great country, you still owe Lebanon the values and ideals your ancestors have transmitted to you. You took from your country of origin the deep-rooted doctrine of faith, the will power, overcoming the difficulties of life, the perseverance in work, the reliance on God.
So did you take from your second country, this hospitable land of the United States of America to which you are faithful, the love of promptitude, abiding by the laws, the sharpness, and the respect for human rights and ecology. What you took from both countries made it possible for you to be the good citizens that you are, and to hold the affairs of the family and society. You certainly are aware that the united and strong family is a very precious richness to human society. In the family, one finds rest after tiredness, tranquility instead of anxiety, and consolation after long struggle, and renews his strength and energy to pursue his daily work.
Last, not least, I should tell you that the land of your forefathers is still longing for you. I invite you to be very faithful American citizens, grateful to this hospitable land. However, do not forget the country of your origins which needs you and expects your support, namely with the American administration. Everybody knows the influence that the United States has around the world as the leading nation which defends human rights, including those of the minorities of the world. You are certainly aware of the role she plays in the Middle East peace process and the key role she can play in helping enforce peace in Lebanon and the Middle East. Lebanon is a small country, but as the Holy Father, John Paul II has said, “It is more than a country, a message and example of dialogue and conviviality for the East, as well as for the West.” Allow me to clarify, conviviality means the co-existence between Christians and Moslems, which makes the difference between Lebanon and other countries.
So you can be proud of being American citizens, but you can be proud also of having come from Lebanon. May God give you strength and encourage you to be faithful to both.
Blessing of the New Wing of the Seminary
Tuesday, 6 March 2001 Washington, D.C.
The great effort that our brother, His Excellency Archbishop Francis Zayek and his collaborators employed towards the Maronite Seminary since its foundation in Washington was a fruitful effort with the help of God.On February 15, we elevated to the rank of episcopacy the first American born priest to graduate from this Seminary, we mean His Excellency Bishop Robert Shaheen. Efforts continued, new priests graduated, thanks to Chorbishop Seely Beggiani and his assistants.He has been taking care of this school for many years, adding much merit to the Seminary.
That school was taken care of by the successor of Archbishop Zayek, His Excellency Bishop Stephen Hector Doueihi, who is making a full effort to improve its situation.He was helped by the generous benefactor, Mr. Anthony Abraham, in adding a new wing to this school to accommodate more seminarians.It is known that the formation of seminarians is the foundation for improvement in each diocese. In Christianity, priests are indispensable for they are the ones who distribute the sacraments to the faithful, and the ones who guide the faithful on the road to salvation, accompany them from cradle to grave, bless their weddings, baptize their children, listen to their confessions, confirm them in the faith and give them the viaticum which is the last companion to see the face of God.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to continue clergy formation, especially disciplining them to practice the spiritual exercises and clerical instructions, unceasing prayers, the manner of dealing with the faithful, even self- sacrifice for the sake of the lost sheep, at the example of Christ.The holy Cure d’Ars used to say:”Neglect the faithful in a parish for twenty years and they will worship the devil.” This illustrates the importance of the priest’s role in the parish, and consequently the importance of clerical formation that cannot be done any place other than the seminary.
As we congratulate our venerable brother, Most Reverend Stephen Hector Doueihi for the great concern he has toward the Maronite Seminary in Washington, and Chorbishop Beggiani, Rector of the Seminary, we thank Mr. Anthony Abraham for his generosity toward the Seminary, asking God, through the intercession of Our Lady and St. Maron to bless this institution, to grant her solid vocations to become zealous and pious priests in serving the souls in an excellent priestly life for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Dinner with Benefactors
Washington, D.C. Tuesday, March 6, 2001
I am happy to begin my pastoral visit to the Maronite parish in Washington, D.C., the capital of the Unites States of America, by this gathering of a group who are committed to the parish, her institutions, and her activities, and in particular to the Seminary, which is deeply indebted to Archbishop Francis M. Zayek, founder of the Maronite Eparchy in the United States. We have high expectations of the Seminary in graduating Maronite priests who join themselves at the same time to virtue and piety, combined with science and knowledge. In times past, Malachi said, “Instruction is to be sought from the mouth of the priest. (Malachi 2:7). However, knowledge alone, as St. Paul says, inflates with pride, “but love builds up”.(1 Cor 8:1)
Those who have been and are benefactors of the Seminary and the Parish know very well the financial responsibility of the Church in investing money on seminarians to get the proper Seminary education, science and knowledge, so that they may be on the required level of their apostolate . The parish priest cannot accomplish his pastoral mission if he does not have a reasonable level of virtue, prudence, philosophy and theology, and is able to grasp the doctrines of faith and transmit them soundly to the faithful, Otherwise, we can apply to him the lesson of Jesus, recorded by the Apostle Matthew, “if a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit”. (Mt 15:14)
I have learned that there are plans drawn and that ground will be broken to build a new Maronite Church in the capital city, in the traditional style of an Eastern Church. This is a very conducive project, but calls for big sacrifices which you are ready to accept out of your deep faith in God, attachment to your Maronite Church, your distinct spirituality, noble traditions and deep-rooted spiritual heritage. Each one of you is aware that when you do good to the house of God, it will not be wasted, and that nobody is more generous than God. He who gives money to the Church is giving a loan to God, which is like giving to the poor.
I thank you for your commitment to the needs of the Church in this country and your work under the guidance of His Excellency, our brother Bishop Stephen Hector Doueihi, Eparchial Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, your support to the dedicated rector of the Maronite Seminary, Msgr. Seely Beggiani and your cooperation with Msgr. Dominic Ashkar, the zealous pastor of your parish.And I ask God to reward each of you for what you have sacrificed in his name, and give you health, and prosperity.May He be pleased with you and bestow upon you his divine graces.
Liturgy for the Benefactors
Tuesday, March 6, 2001 Washington, D.C.
“Ask and it shall be given to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
It is my pleasure to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with my brother bishops accompanying me, especially His Excellency Stephen Hector Doueihi, Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn.We offer this Divine Liturgy for the intentions of the benefactors of this Eparchy. The Eparchy is a community of faithful united in the name of Christ under the leadership of the pastor and the shepherding of the Bishop who has the fullness of priesthood.
The duty of the minister of the Order of Priesthood, whether he is a priest, a bishop or a patriarch is to imitate the Lord Jesus in his three fold mission that of teaching, administering and sanctifying.
The first duty of the minister is that of teaching that which Jesus emphasized before his disciples saying: “Go to all nations and teach them to keep what I have taught you and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
The minister of the order is to administer the affairs of the church by organizing it at the spiritual, social and temporal levels in a way to sustain the parish and the Eparchy; and to equip them with offices and to establish charitable, social and particularly educational institutions.
The minister of the Holy Orders is to minister the sacraments to the faithful beginning with the sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Chrismation and Eucharist. Afterwards, comes the sacrament of Reconciliation with God and neighbor after falling into sin. The sacrament of the sick supports the faithful upon leaving this earth to face God with clear conscience and peace of mind. As for the sacraments of Priesthood and Marriage, Jesus Christ instituted them for the community of faithful.
In addition to the Priesthood of Service, there is what has been known as the universal priesthood for those who are baptized. They are consecrated by it to the service of God. The faithful are committed in their daily life feeling that they are living members of the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church. This commitment makes them to rally around the Church and help her to assume her responsibilities towards all the faithful first, and to those who are in need second.
I am pleased to know that you are already doing this in solidarity and cooperation proving that you are one in Christ and for the good of the Eparchy and the Parish.
I thank you for all the good you have been doing towards the Church institutions and I ask God to reward you hundredfold. May he bless you and shower upon you all His Divine Graces.
Luncheon at the U.S. Catholic Conference
Washington, D.C. Tuesday, March 6, 2001
I thank you for your invitation to this meeting at which we share ‘bread and salt’ as an illustration of our sharing the same faith, doctrine and Christian unity. This is what makes us feel at home and with our families, although we are thousands of miles away from our small country, Lebanon, which is in the region of the Middle East.I have no doubt that anyone among you who has visited that region and in particular, Lebanon, has felt that he is at home and among his family. The Catholic faith, indeed, makes us one and makes us struggle for man’s cause, rights and their respect, not matter one’s religious denomination.
I know that you are aware of the Lebanese cause and have already supported it in you statements. I take this opportunity to renew my sincerest thanks for your efforts. I have presented this cause in an appeal published with my brother Maronite bishops on September 20, 2000. We made it clear that we want to establish close relations with our neighbors, when a just and global peace will be enforced in the region. But until this peace is established, the first priority is that we want to run our own internal affairs ourselves, and not by anyone else.We ought to feel that we are responsible for ourselves, that we are independent and sovereign in our own country, and that we freely make our national decisions without having anyone else dictate them to us. In reality, the situation in which we are living makes us feel that we have lost our national dignity, and lead our Lebanese youth and brother and sisters to emigrate in great numbers. About one million have left Lebanon throughout the past ten years, and there are about 15 thousand of our youth with advanced degrees who are leaving monthly, going abroad to find work for themselves. If this continues, there will come a day when there will be no more Christian witness in the East, especially in Lebanon which has always been a refuge for Christians, thanks to the freedom it provided. The issue is not between the Christians and Moslems in Lebanon, since they live together peacefully, unless someone comes to fuel the conflict between them. It is rather the concern of all, especially the Christians of the world, who look to the Holy Land where Christ was born, lived and died and rose from the dead. Lebanon is part of this Holy Land, and everyone knows that Christ visited Tyre and Sidon where he performed some of His miracles.
I thank you for your understanding of the Lebanese cause and for the efforts you are making to defend it. I ask God to reward you for us and to be the supporter of any just cause in the world.
Washington Parish Banquet
Tuesday, March 6, 2001
Thank you for all accepting the invitation to attend this banquet. I am delighted to be with you and to see you gathered here tonight. Nothing could bring more joy to a father than to see and hear his children united in their love and support for their country of origin, Lebanon. Your concern about Lebanon’s stability and her prosperity that she once enjoyed is commendable. Our collective obligation is to join hands in helping her regain her unity and prosperity of yesteryears. I shall be remiss if I do not reassure you of how proud Lebanon is of you, her children abroad, and particularly in these United States. Rest assured that your country of origin did not and will not forget you. You on the other hand must not let her down at a time when every aspect of her nationhood is being challenged. Our love and your love for Lebanon need to be manifested in concrete actions to rebuild what has been, and continues to be destroyed.
Sovereignty is essential, independence is essential and the free will of the Lebanese to make their own decisions is essential. Without these basic foundations no country can claim nationhood and be what its citizens aspire it to be. The task ahead of us is great and so are Lebanon’s expectations of all her children, at home and abroad.
None of us can forget the harsh reality of what our country and her children have gone through in recent history.The loss of life, human suffering, the up rooting and scattering of countless citizens and the destruction of property can easily fill our minds with horrifying images. However, we must learn from past mistakes and look towards a better future. While these images might be difficult to forget we must set aside our differences and put our God-given talents and energy to give Lebanon back what it yearns for:Freedom, independence and full sovereignty over all of its territories. Whom other than you, her children, can Lebanon look for to heal her wounds, help her stand back on her own feet and hold her head high among the freedom loving nations on God’s earth.
Let me be clear, this is not a task for one group of Lebanese without the other. This is not about the benefit of one group to the detriment of the other. This is a task for all the Lebanese, at home and abroad and for the benefit of Lebanon and all her children, regardless of their political inclinations and confessional beliefs. We cannot make that future happen without cooperation and love for one another. We must forgive each other and engage in true and frank national reconciliation based on sound national principles. This is what our Sovereign Pontiff, Pope John Paul II has insisted upon in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which he addressed to us after the visit he made to Lebanon almost four years ago.
Let us count our blessings and let us renew our commitment to our homeland. Perhaps those of use residing outside Lebanon, might have a bigger role to play in the salvation of our beloved country, than those of us living at home.Your brothers and sisters there do not enjoy the same freedoms as you do. They don’t have the freedom to speak or act as you do. While this is a cause for shared sacrifices we must each carry out those tasks we are best positioned to fulfill. Lebanon is in need of the sacrifices and the efforts of all her children.
Where it has been difficult for the Lebanese at home to have the freedom or the chance to unite, nothing can stop you here from working for Lebanon’s sovereignty. Where your brothers and sisters are subjected to debilitating circumstances, beyond their control, preventing them from speaking with one voice, nothing here can prevent you from making their voices heard in calling for a free and independent Lebanon.
I firmly hope that you share my conviction that Lebanon, which was triumphant over calamities throughout her long and proud history, will rise again no matter how great the obstacles.It is better for Lebanon to be saved through the collective deeds of all her loyal children rather than to leave it up to one group without the other.
Lebanon has been likened to the mythical phoenix bird. No sooner that it is thought to be dead it rises from its ashes. Lebanon will rise again. In fact, thanks to the countless efforts of its children in this decision capital and because of their cooperation and unity of purpose, Lebanon has begun its journey towards recovery.
May God reward you and keep you in the best of health.