Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 24, 2003
An introduction to Lebanon's Maronite Catholics
By FR. ESPER ANTOUN
Special to the WCR
The annual World Day of Prayer, held on March 7, this year was developed by the women of Lebanon, a nation hard hit by war in recent decades, but also home to the Maronite rite of Catholics.
Until the seventh century the Middle East and North Africa had been Christian. Most countries spoke a different language and had been the products of various civilizations.
In the seventh century, Islam came to the Middle East from Saudi Arabia. Since the 17th century Middle East Christians have endured persecution.
Lebanon, Syria and Mesopotamia (now Iraq) spoke Assyrian. Persia, now Iran, spoke Farsi, the language of Cyrus the Great. Arabic was a language spoken only by tribesmen on an isolated desert peninsula.
Lebanon is a small country that has had to struggle under the yoke of many countries trying to control its destiny.
In 1948, the state of Israel came into being. War was declared the next day. Many Palestinians left Israel and came to live in Lebanon, the Gaza strip and other areas of the Middle East.
This migration upset a delicate Lebanese ethnic and religious balance between Christians and Muslims in the only Middle East country where Christians were a significant part of the population. Political custom and the 1943 constitution called for a sharing of the offices of government and state between various Christian and Muslim groups.
An ever-growing Muslim population pressed for more influence. Many called for an Islamic form of government and repeal of any law or suggestion that Muslims continue to fall under the governance of any secular or non-Islamic authority.
Civil war between various religious sects started in 1974. In 1976 Syria invaded Lebanon and Syrian troops continue, to this day, to occupy most of the country. In 1978 Syrian troops laid siege to the Christian part of Beirut for 100 days. In 1982 Israel, in response to Palestinian aggression invaded south Lebanon. Israeli troops went nearly to Beirut and continued to occupy the area until 2001.
We speak Arabic, the language of our country and our region. Traditionally the rites of our Church were in Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. Today our rites are in both Aramaic and Arabic. This has caused many in the West to confuse us as Muslims. We are in communion with the bishop of Rome. Muslims consider us as westerners in what they perceive as their country.
The Maronite Church of Lebanon is a Church in communion with the pope. We are an important part of the history and mosaic of Lebanon. We value education and our members are well represented in the professions. Prominent members of our community have included 20th century philosopher Gibran Kalil Gibran and pioneer heart surgeon Dr. Michael deBakey.
We are not asking for anything; we just want peace in our country We thank you so much for this year's World Day of Prayer.
(Father Esper Antoun is pastor of the Maronite Catholic Community in Edmonton.)