An altar server attends to the Divine Liturgy celebrated by Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai at St. Sharbel Maronite Church in Warren, Mich., May 13. The leader of the Maronite Catholic Church, whose home base is Lebanon, was in the Detroit area for a past oral visit. Michigan has an estimated 100,000 Maronites and has one of the largest Arab populations in the States. CNS photo/Jim West

Maronite patriarch urges Lebanese in US to help save Lebanon

By  Robert Delaney, Catholic News Service
  • May 18, 2012

SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich. - The spiritual leader of Maronite Catholics urged Lebanese in the Detroit area to play a role in the salvation of their homeland during his pastoral visit May 13.

Patriarch Bechara Rai said people of Lebanese origin or heritage in America should use their experience of the way people of various ethnicities, religions and political persuasions live peacefully together in the U.S. to help forge a new civil pact among the contending factions in Lebanon.

"You are living in the great country of the United States, and here the allegiance is not to the person, it is not to the party, it is to the country. It is from you the solution must come," Patriarch Rai told the more than 850 people who attended a banquet in his honor in Shelby Township.

He spoke in Arabic with Bishop Paul Sayah, vicar general of the Maronite Patriarchate, serving as translator.

The patriarch's remarks were made in the context of Lebanon's laws, which allow Lebanese to continue to vote in their home country's elections even after they settle in other countries. And he urged his audience to register their children in Lebanon, so that they can preserve their family's ties to the country -- including also being able to vote in elections.

Underscoring the importance of this participation by the Lebanese diaspora, he noted there are three times as many Lebanese outside Lebanon as inside it.

Speaking of the current situation in Lebanon, the patriarch said, "Now, each person, each party, has formed a Lebanon of their own. We will not accept that. We refuse that."

The Lebanese people must develop a new ethos that differentiates between "belonging and having allegiance to," Patriarch Rai continued. "You belong to a religion, you belong to a party, but you should have allegiance to the country."

Describing the current situation in Lebanon, he characterized it as "chaos." Government posts go unfilled because each faction wants it for its own person; 20 percent of the population is now below the United Nations' poverty line; the national debt is $57 billion in a country where annual gross domestic product is $27 billion.

"Because of this, the Lebanese population is getting poorer and poorer. If we keep going the way we are going, the national debt will grow by $3 billion a year. I wonder what will happen to our country five years from now," the patriarch said.

He also urged his audience to maintain their connection to their homeland by owning land or an apartment there, and encouraged them to invest in the country's economy.

Reflecting the patriarch's theme of unity among people of good will, both Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Francis R. Reiss and Imam Mohammad Mardini, president of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn, delivered invocations at the beginning of the banquet.

Among the other speakers, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron spoke of the "common witness" of Maronite and Latin Catholics over the more than 100 years since Lebanese immigrants began arriving in southeast Michigan.

Referring to Patriarch Rai's title as Maronite patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Archbishop Vigneron said, "In your presence here today, we have a link to the church in Antioch, the church of Peter, Paul and Barnabas."

Earlier that day, the archbishop and Patriarch Rai concelebrated the Divine Liturgy -- as Eastern Catholics call the Mass -- at St. Sharbel (Maronite) Church in Warren.

On May 14, the patriarch celebrated Divine Liturgy at St. Maron (Maronite) Church in Detroit. On May 15, Patriarch Rai celebrated the Benediction of the Blessed Mother for members of St. Rafka Mission, Livonia, then traveled to Flint to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Lebanon (Maronite) Church there.

The patriarch is on a pastoral visit to Maronite Catholics in Mexico, Canada and the United States. He serves as the head of the Maronite Church, one of the largest Eastern-rite communities of the Catholic Church.

The Maronites trace their origins to St. Maron, a Syrian hermit of the late fourth and early fifth centuries. Although there was a period of some centuries during which there was no contact between the Vatican and the Maronite Church, isolated in the mountains of Lebanon, the Maronites never considered themselves out of communion with the pope.

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