Honorable Consul General and Mrs. Antoine Azzam;
Your Eminence Metropolitan Philip Saliba, Archbishop Chullikatt, my Brother Bishops Tanielian, Sayah, Mansour and Doueihi, Beloved Priests;
Your Excellency Ambassador Antoine Chedid and Ambassador Nawaf Salam;
Respected Ambassadors, Consul Generals, and Religious and Civic Dignitaries;
Fellow Lebanese and Friends of Lebanon;
It gives me great joy to meet all of you and to spend some time with you and the Consul General, his wife and respected staff, who have offered us their kind hospitality.
I bring you warm greetings from Lebanon, first and foremost from the President, Mr. Michel Sleiman, whom we visited before starting our visit to this great country of the United States of America.
I also bring you greetings from His Eminence, Cardinal Sfeir, and the Synod of Maronite Bishops in whose name I have come to visit you.
Lebanon, as you know, is somewhat unique in its constitution, where the various religious communities invented what has come to be known as the “National Pact,” a creative way of living and working together according to the Lebanese formula of equal representation in government. This was not done without difficulties admittedly, but it has achieved sufficient success for Blessed John Paul II to consider Lebanon “more than a country, a message of dialogue and conviviality among various religions”, and particularly Christianity and Islam, especially in a world where different religions seem to find it more and more difficult in so many places to live and work together.
Lebanon prides itself also in you, her sons and daughters, who have left in search of a better life. You emigrated to this great and noble country and have often distinguished yourselves with great success. We thank you for not forgetting your country of origin while being fully committed to the service and prosperity of the United States of America which you have made your own. We urge you to keep as many links as possible with Lebanon, to visit, invest there if you can, and give your children Lebanese citizenship.
Maronites living in Lebanon and those in the expansion are one family and the Patriarch wants to be a loving father equally for all. The importance that the Patriarchal Synod accorded to the countries of the expansion leaves no doubt about what I have just said. This is why I will, with time, visit our people everywhere.
When I was elected Patriarch I chose as my motto “Communion and Love”. I have been working, in cooperation with my brother bishops, to try to make this motto more and more a reality among our people. Communion means maintaining a living unity with God first, and then, by the same token, fostering brotherhood and cooperation among people through reconciliation and commitment to be at each other’s service.
We brought together the Maronite leaders first, encouraging them to air out their differences in order to reach greater understanding among themselves. I also visited various regions of Lebanon carrying the same message of “Communion and Love.” I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm, respect, and warmth I was met with everywhere, not only by Maronites, and other Christians, but also by various Muslim communities. The Lebanese spirit showed itself in its brightest form and how proud I felt to discover that the idea of Lebanon being a “Message” was still alive and well.
Lebanese history has laid upon the shoulders of the Maronite Patriarch some responsibilities that extend beyond spiritual care for his flock. Touring the country I felt that the Lebanese of today are keen on keeping that side of history fully alive and well.
The various Churches of the Middle East are deeply concerned about the situation in the region. We wish to see peace negotiations lead to the implementation of UN resolutions that guarantee independence and security for all.
We observe the new popular movements in the region with a sense of hope but also with some concern. We hope that what has come to be called the “Arab Spring” leads to more freedom, democracy, human rights, and prosperity for all.
The Church does not side with or against any government as such, but makes moral judgments on social, economic and political matters whenever the fundamental rights of people are concerned. The violence and suffering endured by innocent people are a source of deep concern for us.
Early next month I will travel to Baghdad to mark the first anniversary of the massacre at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Deliverance, where 58 innocent worshippers, along with two of their priests lost their lives, and scores of others were wounded. There also have been many other attacks where Christians seem to have been targeted and were afraid to leave their homes. One million Iraqi Christians out of a million and a half were compelled to leave the country. We equally deplore attacks on Muslim communities and their places of worship.
We pray for peace in the world and particularly in the Middle East, and we call upon all to work to make sure that the “Arab Spring” meets the hopes and dreams of so many in that region of the world.
Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers.” May we really commit ourselves to work for a peace that pleases God and builds up our countries. God bless the United States and God bless Lebanon.
(Reprinted with permission.)