Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Maronite Church has decided to commemorate officially the 50th anniversary of the beatification of Saint Charbel by Pope Paul VI (1965) by holding a novena of prayers and various events between 18 and 25 July.
Maronite Patriarch al-Rahi recently described the saint’s beatification as a prophetic deed intended to focus the world's attention on the importance of the Eastern Church, perhaps in anticipation of the dramatic hours it would later experience.
Indeed, the fate of this part of the world was partly sealed by 1965 because the minds behind the Caliphate and Islamism were already at work. The devastation of the Lord's vineyard that we see today was announced through prophetic messages and supernatural events that the patriarchs of the East failed to see at the time or openly mocked.
Events associated with the 50th anniversary will be held in Bekaa Kafra (Bsharri), Saint Charbel’s birthplace. They will include discussions, processions, the launch of a small business making local products, the procession of Saint Charbel’s relics in Bsharri, his mother’s native village, a ceremony attended by the Apostolic Nuncio, and a patriarchal Mass.
These events are intended to breathe new life into the Maronite Church, as well as restore its identity and courage under fire, in light of everything that is happening in the Middle East.
What challenges does the Maronite Church face today? In the past two years, some wise Maronites like Father Michel Awit, the veteran head of protocol at the patriarchal seat in Bkerké; Father Boulos Naaman, former Superior General of the Lebanese Maronite Order; and Patriarchal Vicar Samir Mazloum have tried each to answer that question.
All three have written some short pieces about the Maronite Church, its identity and its mission for the core matter is short. In their writings, they have made some recommendations, confiding their loving thoughts and issuing priestly warnings.
Basically, all their recommendations come together and be summarised by John Paul II's words: "Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul" (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 62, from Excerpts of Inri pdf edition).
"The first Maronite elite was educated at the school in Hawqa, in the heart of the mountain (Mount Lebanon),” Fr Naaman said. Its members “were raised in the school of asceticism, sobriety of life and love of God,” he added. “From the small seed planted by Saint Maron, who found refuge in Lebanon, a homeland for men was born, not only for Christians but for everyone, for this man was the message of Christianity."
"Unfortunately,” Fr Naaman went on to say, “we turned into a nation of interested, opportunistic people. We have gone backward, to a time before Emir Bashir, scattered in branches (joubab) and communities. From farmers linked to the great feudal lords, we had managed to bring all communities under one national roof, Lebanon. At present, because of our selfishness, inwardness, love of power and money, these communities have scattered."
Of course, external causes have played a role in this process of dissolution, the former superior of the Lebanese Maronite Order said. However, history has summoned a new elite. Either our vocation will disappear, or Providence will entrust it to another people. I do not want to be pessimistic, but I know that Providence will find those who will complete the course of this story. For the history of humanisation of this part of the world will not stop with us."
Spirit of exploitation
For Fr Naaman, "the Church, both priests and monks, universities, and schools are now animated by a spirit of exploitation. People are tired, exhausted. External factors are obvious, but it is high time we realise that we have something inside that we are neglecting. We must go to the people, and stop lecturing it. One of the main qualities of a leader is his capacity to listen."
For the abbot, like Pope Francis, in the life of the Church it is necessary to identify and fight clericalism, careerism and love of money. "In schools and universities, we need more mercy, teaching by example, more models,” he said. “We need to limit gain whilst reinvesting. We must give to the people what comes from the people."
Obviously, Fr Naaman is really concerned by the danger that the Maronite Church, as God's people, might lose its spiritual identity and the role it performed through in history as a nation builder. For him, the great danger facing Lebanon, its civilisational challenge, is not the physical disappearance of the Church that saw the birth of a giant of holiness like Saint Charbel, but rather its spiritual demise. The political rivalries that has prevented the election of a president for more than a year – traditionally a Maronite - is one of the symptoms.
By chance, in the convent library, I came across a book by Father Michel Hayek on "Father Charbel." Published by La Colombe, the old edition is now out of print. Since it was by Michel Hayeck, I borrowed it. What could be said about St Charbel had been said many times. However, what Hayeck had to say delighted me.
Describing Annaya in the 1950s, he mentioned "American Buicks driven by ascetic tourists seeking a place for a spiritual weekend" and people "coming together as joyful insurance companies".
"He took himself away from his family and village without any fuss or farewell ceremony,” it said in reference to Charbel Makhlouf’s entry to the convent.
Let us make sure that the honours we render him today are not tainted. We may be a people of ascetics, but let us not become managers of asceticism, nor turn our monasteries into supermarkets. Why did Michel Hayeck and Youakim Mubarak go to live in Paris? Did they feel stifled in Lebanon?