By H. E. Bishop Boutros Gemayel
This article on the Apostolic Exhortation is based on one of a series of lectures given at the Institute of Pontifical Theology at the Holy Spirit University, Kaslik, Lebanon, in Spring 1998. It discusses the position of the Pope's Exhortation in regard to the Catholic Lebanese Churches in the Diaspora, i.e. abroad, and it deals particularly with the situation of the Maronite Churches abroad. Consequently, this article recommends practical interventions on the Maronite Patriarchal level to strengthen the ties between the Maronite Churches in the motherland, Lebanon, and those in the Diaspora.
The call to convene a Synod for Lebanon was made by His Holiness Pope John Paul II on June 12, 1991. It was the first time that a synod was called for one country rather then for a region. This shows the Holy Fatherís high regard for the Christians of Lebanon and Lebanon itself, as part of the Holy and Sacred Christian Land. At the end of the Synod, His Holiness presented his insights in a document entitled "The Apostolic Exhortation: A New Hope for Lebanon". The document was signed in Harrissa, Lebanon, during the Holy Fatherís visit in May 1997.
The Apostolic Exhortation (hereafter: the Exhortation) called upon the Catholic Churches of Lebanon to begin a process of internal revival and reform to testify to Christ's love. It also asked these Churches to adapt to a newly defined political reality in order to adjust to the present Arab environment. The Exhortation calls for wider cooperation between clergy and lay people in harmony with the objective of service and Christian witness.
The Exhortation is a document of peace, renewal, unity and conviviality. As Mohammed Beydoun, a Parliamentarian said, it is "a liberal text open to democracy in all its aspects: active democratic participation in social and political life, taking into account economic equality as the basis for a gradual ascent to achieve social justice. The Exhortation pulls each of us more away from the times of war and urges us toward peace. Furthermore, the Exhortation highlighted the need for meaningful participation by the young in laying the foundations for a new political life that will cement peace and uphold democratic principles and values" (Beydoun 1997).
The Exhortation dealt with all aspects of the Catholic Church. It covered relations with the various Churches and with the Muslims; it dealt with the Arab milieu and the future of Lebanon as a country with a "mission", a country unique in its pluralism.
As we will see later in this article, the Exhortation did consider the Catholic Lebanese Diaspora very briefly in one paragraph in Chapter IV entitled the Communion (AE 1997: 127-143).
Eastern Catholics living in the Diaspora or the lands of emigration number in the millions. There are reportedly over seven million Maronites alone living in Brazil, the United States of America, South America, Canada, Africa, Europe and Australia. The Eastern Catholics are shepherded by their own bishops and clergy. Outside Lebanon, the Maronites have twenty bishoprics located in Canada, the United States of America, Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Europe, Cyprus, Syria, Egypt and the Holy Land.
These originally hundreds of emigrants of the various Eastern Catholic Churches were principally from Lebanon followed by lesser numbers from Syria. Here the question is asked: Why didn't the Exhortation take into consideration this vast world comprising all the Eastern Catholic Churches?
Why was no consideration given to the relationship between the communicants of those Catholic Churches and their ancient, ancestral Mother Churches in the Middle East? We believe that the following are two of the most apparent reasons why the Exhortation overlooked this concern.
The first reason has to do with the scope of the Synod itself. By virtue of its being called the Synod for Lebanon, its scope was limited. It did not intend to go beyond the geographic or territorial boundaries of Lebanon because the Lebanese Churches, including the Maronite Church, are all Patriarchal Churches that wield only liturgical authority over their own churches outside Lebanon. Hence in the view of the leaders of the Synod, the non-liturgical matters are only of concern to the Patriarchal Churches within but not beyond the confines of their Lebanese territory (Code of Canons 1991: 67-69). This view may be correct according to that aforementioned Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches which does in fact limit the non-liturgical authority of the Patriarch and the synod of bishops of the Patriarchal Church to the territorial boundaries, i.e. "those regions in which the rite proper to the same Church is observed" (Code of Canons 1991: 67 Can. 146-§1).
However, this view is still imprecise. According to the thinking (the concept) of the Oriental Patriarchates, the Patriarchal Church is one in its geographical and territorial area as well as in the Diaspora [i.e. both within and beyond Lebanon]. The synod of bishops which is formed by bishops from inside and outside the territorial area, elects the Patriarch and the synod of bishops, formulates the laws, and manages the affairs of the church with the Patriarch. One father, the Patriarch, guides the Patriarchal Church in the territorial area and abroad. Therefore, any decision taken by the Patriarchal Church and the synod of bishops greatly affects and influences the affairs of that Church within and outside of its territory.
The second reason why the Diaspora was not given sufficient consideration lies with those responsible for organizing the Synod for Lebanon. They did not agree to have the bishops of the Lebanese Diaspora take part in the Synod. The subject of the Synod -- by geography and membership -- was limited exclusively to the Church of Lebanon. The rationale may have been to entrust only the Churches of Lebanon with the apostolic responsibility when the political and social situations in Lebanon are so unfavorable. It may also have been to concentrate on the role of these Churches in Lebanon [but not beyond].
It is fair to say that His Holiness the Holy Father wished for as few diaspora bishops as possible to participate in the meetings, which convened in Rome to present to the Synod for Lebanon. I personally was honored to participate as the Maronite Bishop of Cyprus. I shared in the discussions and interventions regarding the issues of the Churches in the Diaspora. Along with other concerned persons, I had tried to include the issues of the Churches of the Diaspora in the heart of the Exhortation and to devise clear, firm rules and laws to organize the relations between the Churches in Lebanon and their extended churches in the Diaspora.
The result was Article 83 in the final document of the Exhortation, which though it identified the problem and gave brief views regarding a few points, fell short of addressing this very important matter.
The Apostolic Exhortation's Position Regarding the Lebanese Catholic Churches in the Diaspora
The Exhortation gave very little attention to the Lebanese Catholic
Churches in the Diaspora. Article 83 is the only article of the Exhortation
that mentioned the Diaspora. Article 83 is herein translated from French,
the original language of the Synod and the Exhortation.
It reads in English as follows:
This Article does not give justice to the position and role of the Lebanese Catholic Churches of the Diaspora, especially when the number of their parishioners, churches and dioceses outnumber those in Lebanon.
Principles and Practical Suggestions
Faced with this reality what can we conclude and suggest? After studying
the various aspects of this matter, we admit the importance of the relationship
between the Churches in Lebanon and their extended churches in the Diaspora.
The Churches in Lebanon and in the Diaspora need each other for many reasons
and the following are some of them:
This is an ongoing phenomenon as the socio-political situation
continues to deteriorate and emigration steadily rises. Relations between
the two wings of the Church should be regulated to keep the Churches in
Lebanon strong and firm as they face political, social, financial and religious
In this century of audio-visual media and the Internet, is it still difficult to link the Churches of Lebanon and those of the Diaspora? The world today is a small village, everyone is able to know it and to move within it. It is going to become even smaller as the technology progresses. It is important to know how to benefit from these advances and thereby strengthen, regulate and manage the relations between the Churches of Lebanon and their extended ones abroad.
We have thought of the following possible interventions to guide this
relationship. We present them here with the hope that they will be a working
paper for discussion and then become the basis for a plan to be implemented
as the third millennium dawns.
It is necessary to work together within the diversity of the church and the pluralism of the world, especially the pluralism of Lebanon. Besides moving forward determinedly, we are called to make decisions, organize ourselves and target the issues at hand with modern understanding, methods and techniques.
Most of our people abroad are spiritually and emotionally linked to
Lebanon and some others are even more intimately linked to it. These believers
must be considered active partners in their church and in its future. When
we create more regulations and procedures which discourage their active
participation and membership in our Church, we lose them to the world and
to other religious trends that answer their needs and their concerns. We
have the responsibility to create a vision and devise a clear plan for
all the Patriarchal Churches so that within Lebanon and abroad they communicate
on the same level, cooperate without misunderstanding, work in support
of each other in proclaiming Christ, Our Savior, and prepare for a new
John Paul II, Pope, Exhortation Apostolique Post-Synodale: Une Espérance Nouvelle pour le Liban, Centre Catholique d'Information, Liban, 1997.
Mohammed Beydoun, National Unity and the Apostolic Exhortation, Lebanon Daily Star, May 12, 1998.
Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Latin - English Edition), Canon Law Society of America, Washington, D.C., 1991.
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