06/12/2024, 18.22
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Amid winds of war in Lebanon, the secretary for Eastern Churches is ordained

by Fady Noun

Israeli planes killed a Hezbollah commander and three fighters overnight. The Shia group responded firing scores of rockets towards the Golan and Tiberias. Meanwhile, in an ecumenical ceremony held in Bkerké, Fr Michel Jalakh became bishop; he is the first Maronite to hold the post of secretary general of the Dicastery of Oriental Churches, an important role in the Vatican. Despite being at loggerheads with Patriarch al-Rahi, Hezbollah praises the new Lebanese prelate.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Maronite Church is holding its annual Synod (10-15 June), while southern Lebanon continues to witness a dangerous escalation between Hezbollah and Israel with an intense exchange of rockets overnight during which a commander of pro-Iranian Shia group was killed.

Taleb Abdallah, better known as Abu Taleb, a Hezbollah field commander was killed in an Israeli airstrike late yesterday evening along with three other fighters near the village of Jouya. He was buried this afternoon.

Hezbollah’s response was not long in coming with a barrage of rockets fired from southern Lebanon towards the Golan Heights and, for the first time, the Tiberias area.

The climate of growing confrontation triggered by Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza risks turning into an all-out war even in the north against "the Party of God”.

With eyes fixed on the winds of war blowing in the region, the Maronite Church raised Father Michel Jalakh, 58, secretary general of the Dicastery of Oriental Churches, to the post of titular Maronite Archbishop of Nisibis (Turkey). A monk of the Antonine Maronite Order (OAM), he has occupied this position since 15 February 2023.

The ceremony, led by Patriarch Butros al-Rahi, was held at the Patriarchal See in Bkerké, in the presence of Cardinal Claudio Gugerotti, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches.

The ordination of Bishop Jalakh was necessary "to allow him to address his interlocutors as equals and to pronounce himself impartially on matters of eligibility for ecclesiastical office," said an informed source who requested anonymity.

Ecumenical ceremony

The ceremony. was held in the presence of various patriarchs – Melkite Catholic Youssef Absi, Syriac Catholic Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Armenian Catholic Raphael Bedros XXI, Syriac Orthodox Ignatius Aphram II, as well as Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon Bishop Paolo Borgia and Bishop Chahan Sargasyan representing Catholicos Aram I. It took on a deliberately ecumenical tone since the fate of Eastern Christians now depends on their unity of action beyond their specific Catholic or Orthodox denominations.

In his homily, the Patriarch spoke about the new archbishop's services. “Pope Francis chose you to assist him in his apostolic service because of your faith in Christ and your love for him.”

He went on to say: "You will undoubtedly live up to his expectations, with your monastic and priestly virtues and the knowledge you have acquired during your many years in Rome as a student, specialist and accredited member of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches for five years, and then as Secretary General of the Council of Churches of the Middle East (CCME) for five years, and finally as Rector of the Antonine University.”

A first

Observers note that this is the first time that a Lebanese and a Maronite holds this position since the creation of this department in 1917.

For many observers, Bishop Jalakh’s appointment is fitting, and could prepare him for higher office, given the experiences he accumulated over the years both at home, as well as through his ecumenical and interfaith activity.

Expressing his thanks, Archbishop Jalakh said that he carries all causes in his heart, starting with "the cause of my homeland, Lebanon", without forgetting the people enduring the horrors of war, from Ukraine to Gaza.

Speaking about Lebanon and the decay of its political institutions, at this point in its history, the new bishop said: “What we Lebanese lack to rebuild this unique nation – with its human solidarity, its spiritual solidity that embraces its various identities, and is distinguished by its social constitution based on the family and its values – is a little asceticism, humility, and self-sacrifice.”

For the aforementioned source, “These last observations are addressed to the Churches, more than to the political class.”

Sources close to Cardinal Claudio Gugerotti, an Italian specialist in Oriental Languages and Liturgies and former nuncio to Georgia and Armenia, said that he “carries Lebanon in his heart" and views Lebanon as "the cornerstone of the Christian presence in the East."

Praised by Hezbollah

Archbishop Michel Jalakh’s appointment has also had an impact on Hezbollah, with an editorial published in the Al-Akhbar daily newspaper, known to be close to the pro-Iranian Shia movement.

“Before reaching the age of 60, Mgr Jalakh achieved what no other Lebanese or Maronite had ever achieved. This allows him to act as a man who wants nothing for himself, with the independence that this guarantees him, because he owes his appointment to none other than Pope Francis and his friend (Cardinal) Gugerotti, which does not bind him to any network of interests, allowing him to accomplish a lot for the Christian communities of the region, if he reconciles his vision with the capacities of the Vatican.”

This beautiful tribute is tarnished unfortunately by a political reading of this ordination, seen as a jab, in the present and the future, against the action of the current patriarch, who has been regularly targeted by the paper.

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