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FR. ANDRE said 11/11/2013 1:01:40 AM :
What is changing in how faith is being shared among Christians in the Middle East? What are the challenges of sharing and spreading Christianity in the Middle East and in Lebanon?

Faith in the Middle East always has been shared through heritage.

Even though heritage varies from country to country, there is an overall significant common heritage that unites Christians in the Middle East that gives them common infinity, which is their liturgical and ecclesiastical living aspects.

In the last 50 years, however, there have been more obvious occasions and direct reasons that connected Christians from both ecclesiastical families, Catholic and Orthodox, to unite, speak, reconcile, and open up to one another. One of the honest occasions and direct reasons started with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in Vatican City where both Orthodox and Catholics from the Middle East either participated (Catholic churches) or were there as observers (Orthodox churches). More so, during the council major and unique documents of common interest to Catholics and Orthodox were promulgated — in a special way, the document about the Eastern churches and another document about the common path and mutual destiny that connects the monotheistic religions called: Nostrae Aetate.

The writing of such documents readdressed the universal identity of the Catholic Church in its both parts — Eastern and Western. It also gave a new push to the ecumenical movement to unite again the Catholic and Orthodox.
During that same time, the Middle East had a privileged day, when on December 5, 1965, at the closing session of Vatican II, only one Blessed was celebrated as a sign of true unity of the Church, and as a concrete example that stands against materialism, communism and atheism. That was Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, a Lebanese Maronite Monk, who was declared Blessed on that day by Pope Paul VI.

Such a liturgical event was unique because it was the first time in the recent history of the East, a Blessed was declared by the Holy Father, according to the new canonical rules and procedures of the Holy Church.
Then the chaplet of saints continued on from Lebanon in a special way — in less than 50 years, three saints (Sharbel, Sister Rafka El Rayes, and Nimatullah Hardini), and five Blessed were declared (The Three Massabki Brothers, Blessed Father Jacob Haddad, and Blessed Estephan Nehme). Most of them were from Lebanon, except for the three Massabki brothers, who were martyrs in Damascus, Syria, during the 1860 Massacres that took place against Christians in Syria and Lebanon.

More so, on the ecclesiastical level, ecumenical meetings and official prelates gatherings started taking place from the early 1990s till the last meeting amongst the Assemblies of Middle Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchs in Lebanon three weeks ago.
Also, in the last hundred years, the Vatican, of course, has given special attention to the Christians in the Middle East, from the time of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) till today. We recall in a special way the establishment of the first Catholic International Shrine in the East. The shrine was erected under Maronite Patriarch Elias Hoyek, whose case of sainthood is in its final stages to declare him a Blessed. The shrine was built in the town of Harissa, Jounieh, on Mount Lebanon overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The shrine was consecrated to the name of Our Lady of Lebanon under the title of the Immaculate Conception to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the declaration of the Immaculate Conception Dogma (1854-1904).

After this, in 1954, under Pope Pius XII, the Vicar of the Holy Father at the time, Fr. Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII now Blessed and soon to be declared a saint on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014, with Blessed Pope John-Paul II, visited Lebanon and consecrated the entire East and Lebanon to the heart of Our Lady, Queen of Lebanon, for the sake of peace in the East. In 1997, Pope John-Paul II, visited Lebanon for 33 hours on May 10, and signed the concluding Apostolic Letter, “New Hope For Lebanon,” in which he defended the Christians presence in the Middle East as he assured Vatican support to all Christians in Lebanon when he declared, “Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message of peace and conviviality to all the religions in the Middle East.”

The Maronite Church, which always has been a leading entity in protecting all Christians in the East and the leading Church in dialogue with Muslims and Jews for the sake of protecting Christians in the Middle East, under Patriarch Nasrallah Peter, Cardinal Sfeir, led a Maronite Synod from 2003-2005 that concluded with five major documents. These documents addressed the identity of the Maronite Church, its relationship and common heritage, both ecclesiastical and cultural with all other churches in the Middle East, especially the churches of Antioch. The documents also addressed the role of the Maronite Church in bringing together Muslims and Jews to a dialogue of peace and to elaborate on the common faith of Abraham rather than on the anthropological and political fights. The documents also explained in depth the relationship of the Maronite Church to the Arabic world and countries in the Middle East and to the Muslim nations.
Such a synod, connected for the first time, all the children of the Maronite Church back with their patriarch, and it gave a new universal dimension to the Eastern Church as it recognized and gave a major role to its faithful children, who are living in the West or outside the patriarchal territories, such as in Europe, the Americas and other Western nations.

Such a synod gave way to Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, to announce a special Assembly to be convoked in the Vatican from Oct. 10-24, 2010. This Assembly concluded with the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Lebanon on Sept 14, 2012, where he signed the most important document on the churches of the Middle East: Ecclesia In Medio Oriente. This document addressed the forced immigration and persecution that Christians are suffering from North Africa, especially Egypt, to the Holy Land, to Syria, Lebanon and to Iraq and Iran. The document remains today the point of reference for the Vatican to support and plead in favor of the Christian existence in the Middle East as true owners and sharers of the land, as real agents of peace and conviviality among fighting Muslims and Jews, and as promoters of justice, democracy, and true economic prosperity and good future with fair distribution to all.

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