Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï speaks at the CCCB plenary Sept. 24. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Canadians must help Syrian refugees who want to return home, says Maronite Patriarch

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  • September 26, 2018

CORNWALL, Ont. – Western nations must support Syrian refugees in Lebanon who want to return home, Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï told Canada’s Catholic bishops.

Lebanon, a country of four million people, has received two million refugees since the Syrian civil war broke out seven years ago, said Raï of Lebanon, the Maronite Catholic Patriarch. He was speaking Sept. 24 to the annual gathering of more than 80 eparchs and bishops from across Canada.

“What country can take half of its population from abroad?” Raï asked, warning the refugee influx has created an economic crisis in line with that caused by Lebanon’s past civil war.

Raï said the international community is not encouraging the refugees to return home for political reasons, because it would seem to give credibility to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, he said. 

The refugees believe that if they go home they will no longer receive aid, he said. Yet, they will need help to rebuild their houses. Furthermore, he said, there are fears the refugees will be punished.

Raï said the huge influx of refugees means Lebanon risks losing its own identity and culture. 

“Each country has its own identity and must keep it. Otherwise we’re facing two wars; one that destroys peoples’ land; another that destroys their identity,” he said.

While Lebanon could not close its doors to refugees and displaced persons, the country should not be punished for receiving them, he said.

Many refugees are not Christians, but Sunni Muslims, and 60 per cent live below the poverty line, he said. They are fertile ground for recruitment into Islamist extremist groups like ISIS.

Raï asked for the support of Catholics in Canada to persuade the international community to end the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen that he said are “imposed” by major powers who are using a fight between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region to advance their own economic and political interests. These wars are supported by mercenaries from European countries, he added.

The Russians support Iran and the Shiites; the United States supports the Saudis and the Sunnis, he said.

The wars in Iraq and Syria are uprooting Christians from their countries of origin, where they have existed for 2,000 years, Raï said. These people have been the guardians of the roots of Christianity.

Raï also raised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the impact of uprooting Palestinian Muslims and Christians from their lands of origin. 

Christians are victims of all those wars, the cardinal said, adding that those who stay live in poverty and feel like foreigners in their own country of origin. 

The Christian culture was colouring all of these areas 600 years before Islam was born, the cardinal told the plenary, and Christians are relying on the solidarity of the universal Church and of Canada.

Raï also urged the Canadian Catholic bishops to educate their priests about the liturgical, cultural and theological heritage of Maronite Catholics. If young Maronite Catholics come for baptism or marriage to Latin Rite Churches, he asked that the priests send them to local Maronite churches and if one is not available to nevertheless register them with the Maronite Church.

By preserving the liturgical, spiritual and cultural heritage of Maronite Christians who have a Syrian-Antiochan identity forged in the Arab and Muslim world, we contribute to enriching the patrimony of the Church in Canada, he said. 

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