October 20, 2011
Monsignor Kozar, Members and staff of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), members of the religious and secular press, distinguished guests.
I am grateful to be invited by Archbishop Dolan to the headquarters of CNEWA, an association dedicated to charitable outreach among Catholic and Orthodox communities of the East. I am grateful to the Archbishop for the fine work that he and his collaborators do. It makes a tremendous difference in the lives of so many in lands where being Christian is sometimes difficult. I thank all who work for CNEWA and all who donate through their sacrificial gifts; your efforts are reaching those in need.
This afternoon, I will have the joy to be welcomed in an Ecumenical gathering of Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Christian leaders. Christians share a common faith in the Crucified Lord, a respect for human rights and dignity and an appreciation of the enduring value of Christian marriage. I am also grateful for the religious and secular press that have gathered here today to allow the world to know what this religious man from a far off land called Lebanon has to say.
1. I ask the world community to commit itself to implementing the UN Resolutions concerning Lebanon in a direct way, such as 1701 which requires Israel to withdraw from the village Ghajjar, the Shebaa Farms and the Hills of Kfar Shuba, and to refrain from violating Lebanese sovereignty. Likewise, in an indirect way such as Resolution 194 which guarantees the half a million Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon the right of return.
2. In Lebanon Christians and Muslims made of conviviality a “National Pact.” They incorporated it into the Introduction of the Constitution where it is stated “there is not legitimacy for any authority that contradicts the conviviality.” That “National Pact” was turned into a formula securing equal participation in government and civil service for Muslims and Christians. Thanks to this “National Pact” Lebanon became a secular country that separates religion from state and is governed on the basis of a consensual parliamentary democracy guaranteeing civil liberties and basic human rights, in particular freedom of opinion, speech, religion and conscience, where dialogue and consensus prevail. This is what motivated Blessed John Paul II to say that Lebanon is “more than a country; it is a message of cooperation to both East and West, and an example of dialogue between Christians and Muslims.” That constitutes a sign of hope for the peoples of the region, over and above the leading role played by Christians in the Arab Renaissance both culturally and economically. Moreover, the Church in Lebanon is considered a guarantee for the Christian presence for that part of the world.
3. The so called “Arab Spring” sweeping the Middle East holds much promise yet we must remain vigilant. The Church abhors the use of violence to meet any goal. Violence can never be justified. We want to see a Middle East renewed in its respect of human rights and dignity, especially for her minorities. We want to see people electing democratic governments and holding them accountable. It is important to point out the role the Christians played in upholding democratic principles, freedoms and human rights in the Middle East. This is why a Christian presence there should be safeguarded and the role of Christians strengthened.
I want to thank all at CNEWA who have made this visit so special and so fruitful.
The Maronites have always in history been bridge builders. I hope that this visit has built yet another bridge for the good of the United States of America and for Lebanon.
(Reprinted with permission.)