Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Mgr Georges Bacouni, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Tyre is on visit to Rome. He has led his diocese since 22 June 2005. Its territory includes the city of Tyre, and is divided into 9 parishes. While the Church prepares for the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East, the bishop answers some questions on current issues related to his diocese.
What is the general situation of Christians in Lebanon?
Christians are facing major challenges and various problems due to the many changes that affect not only Lebanon, but the entire Middle East. Particularly from the point of view of Catholics, we are faced with a decline in the number of believers, a time of crisis that creates negative consequences on the process of integration for Christians in a land they feel increasingly distant and in which their presence is diminishing over time. What is even more surprising, compared to the last century, is the reduction of the Christian presence within the political institutions in social sectors, in education, as well as within the ranks of the military.
What issues are preventing or slowing the process of integration?
Christians – who in my diocese are 10% - are finding it increasingly difficult to integrate, unlike the Muslims who already from the demographic point of view are the majority population in southern Lebanon. The problem of integration is that we find ourselves situated in a hotbed of unrest, something that produces a climate of widespread fear among the local population. We are also seeing a general weakening of religion, so that the faithful are increasingly reluctant to decide on marriage, and as a result on having children, thus reducing the growth rates. Unlike their Muslim counterparts who opt for polygamy, so as to increase their numbers.
What is your opinion regarding this climate of distrust?
This strong distrust has also expanded towards the ecclesiastical world, taking away from the original message of love, faith and Christian hope. The biggest challenge for Catholics faced with these issues rests within the efficacy of action that comes from the ability to rely on personal credibility, through the concreteness and consistency of commitment that harmonizes well with the choices and the gospel message of Christ.
On the issue of the emigration of Christians, what are the remedies?
I do not want to be pessimistic, it is a social problem which we are trying to remedy through proper funding. In particular, the Catholic Church in Tyre strives to help the faithful through the creation and donation of homes, but despite this, distrust is so strong that after a few years Christians leave their homes in search of a better life and prefer to move to the capital Beirut, where they can enjoy better organized structures, such as for those for education. Many students flock to the city for this very reason. This increases the prosperity gap between the south of Lebanon (mainly inhabited by Shi'ite Muslims) and the most developed areas like Beirut which is mainly composed of Druze, Sunni and Shiite Muslims and a Christian minority .. The religious geography of the capital.
What kind of relationship is there with the majority Muslim population?
Among Christians, Druze, Sunnis, Shiites, at least in southern Lebanon and in the diocese of Tyre, we have good neighbourly relations both between the representatives of religion and among the population. For example, during the liturgical feasts is customary to exchange greetings among the religious leaders of Muslims and Christians. I think the conflicts that are created are of a political-economic nature and relate to the highest levels of power, so the Catholic Church alone can do little in this area. Conversely, even if Christians, Druze, Shiites, Sunnis live neighbours, everyone live looks out for themselves. At the same time there are both Muslim extremists who consider Christians as "crusaders" or cases of Christians who do bear proper witness before the Muslims.
How are the preparations for the upcoming Synod of the Middle East? What are the expectations and hopes?
After 15 years, when the Special Assembly of Bishops for Lebanon was held in 1995, convened by Pope John Paul II in Rome, we are preparing to host the next meeting to be held in the Vatican, October 10-24 's later this year, on "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: communion and witness. 'The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul' (Acts 4, 32).
The Diocese of Tyre is ready to respond to questions posed by the document prepared by the Special Assembly for the Middle East, the text of the Lineamenta, with the intent to illustrate the local situation of the diocese. The hope of the Bishop is that the dialogue at the base of the Synod will be the starting point for joint and concrete action of all forces, religious, economic, political towards the Middle Eastern context that is our common patrimony. Just as the faith in order to a living faith must be accompanied and supported by action”.