07/01/2010, 00.00
LEBANON
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Maronites have a new blessed, but suffer from divided political leaders

by Fady Noun
The beatification of Estephan Nehmé was a Catholic, hence universal ecclesial event, but also one with community-wide significance. Lebanon’s president and prime minister were present at the ceremony, but the absence of the speaker of the National Assembly as well as that of Aoun and Frangié startled many people. For Mgr Rahi, it is “indispensable” to cleanse the memory of the war.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Since 27 June, Lebanon has one more blessed, Estephan (Steven) Nehmé. The ceremony of beatification, which saw the participation of almost 60,000 people, was a Catholic, hence universal ecclesial event, but also one with community-wide significance. It was a Maronite event. The blessed was a monk from the Lebanese Maronite Order (LMO), the faithful who came were Maronite, almost all of the co-celebrants and many of the personalities present were Maronite, including President Michel Suleiman.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni, was there as well, standing beside the president; however, the speaker of the National Assembly did not show up, nor was he represented by anyone. In a country where community agreement is sacred, his absence was startling.

Two important Maronite political leaders were also absent, namely General Michel Aoun and Minister Sleiman Frangié, both of whom are in disagreement with the Maronite Patriarchate.

Their failure to attend reflects an unwholesome “dispersion” among Maronites, a situation that does not reflect so much existing political divisions, but rather “serious” cleavages left by the civil war. Certainly, divisions among political leaders, some of whom even refuse to talk to one another, weakens the role the Maronite community could play in getting the country back on its feet.

After the ceremony, when he answered a question on the issue, Mgr Béchara Rahi, Maronite archbishop of Jbeil, said he was convinced that it was “indispensable” to cleanse the memory of the war. He went on to say that politics, as the “art of the common good”, is a path towards holiness for the Church. Fr Joseph Moannès received a strong round of applause when he talked about the ceremony, telling politicians “if you want to change Lebanon, you should do more to give the country more saints.”

Celebrations went on throughout the day at the Convent of Saints Justinian and Cyprian in Kfifane, where the ceremony took place, which some participants reached on foot, walking during the night.

Mgr Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, read the decree of beatification issued by Benedict XVI. Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir read the homily and Fr Élias Khalifié, superior of the Maronite Order, expressed Lebanon’s “gratitude” for the promptness shown towards the beatification of Brother Estephan. He also announced two more beatifications, that of Patriarch Estephan Doueyhi, “great doctor of the Maronite Church,” and that of Fr Béchara Abou Mrad, a Greek-Catholic priest, whose tomb is located in the Saint Saviour Convent, near Saïda.

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