02/10/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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Maronites celebrate founder with mind set on national reconciliation

by Youssef Hourani
Cardinal Sfeir urges people to follow a path of spirituality, tolerance and forgiveness. Mass is celebrated in Beirut church damaged by Islamic fundamentalists.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The ancient Maronite credo of "Loyalty to God, loyalty to man and loyalty to the Pope" echoed yesterday during the celebrations for the Feast Day of Saint Maron (345-420 AD), a monk who lived in Syria and who attracted followers who, beginning in the 7th century, came to be known as Maronites.

The Maronite Patriarch, Nassrallah Cardinal Sfeir, made a strong appeal during mass in Bkerke, telling "all Maronites to start a fresh journey on the path of true spirituality based on reconciliation, tolerance and mutual forgiveness."

Referring to last week's incidents that caused material damages and spiritual harm in various Maronite places of worship and convents in Beirut, Patriarch Sfeir said that those in charge of public security must guarantee maximum protection and exert extreme vigilance to prevent any new civil war that might undermine Lebanon's mission, which is, as Pope John Paul II put it, to be a "message country" to the world.

Mgr Paul Matar, Maronite archbishop of Beirut, celebrated mass in St Maron Church (damaged last week during demonstrations by Islamic fundamentalists). Among those attending the ceremony were Lebanese President Émile Lahoud, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, numerous national political leaders and foreign ambassadors.

In his homily "Lebanon shall be protected only if Christians and Muslims love each other", Archbishop Matar criticised those who would break one of the fundamental values on which Lebanon is built, namely Muslim-Christian co-existence.

"The God, our Lord," he said, "has spared the Lebanese new sorrow and suffering. They have shown themselves to be aware of the dangers [that loom over them] and have gone beyond the direct damage because Christians believe and shall continue to believe that saving our country's character is necessary."

In Syria, Mgr Anis-Youssef Abi Aad, Maronite archbishop of Aleppo, led the mass in the Maronite cathedral of the country's second largest city in front of government representatives and Muslim and Christian religious leaders.

Speaking about the history of the Maronites, "worshippers of freedom", he bemoaned the fate of Christians in the Middle East, who are forced by political problems and economic circumstances to leave the land of their forebears.

The archbishop called on Maronites in the Arab world to be a reflection of their true historical mission, which is to serve as a Church that bridges the gap between Christianity and Islam.

Mgr Boutros Gemayel, Maronite archbishop of Cyprus, spoke in Nicosia's St Maron's Basilica about the "tragedy" of the Maronites living on the Turkish side of the island. He called on the Free World to launch a campaign on their behalf.

The Feast Day of St Maron is celebrated by the ten million Maronites living in Lebanon and in the diaspora.

The Maronites have their own clergy headed by a Patriarch. The Maronite Church is closely linked by ties of fealty to the Apostolic See and it is the only Eastern Catholic Church that does not have an Orthodox counterpart.

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