Maronite spring in France: Card al-Rahi highlights the Christian presence in the West
Several projects are planned, including the reopening of a church on the outskirts of the French capital and the restoration of an abbey near Lourdes. In his meeting with Macron, the prelate discussed current political issues, ranging from the Syrian refugee crisis to the preservation of the Christian presence in the Middle East.
Paris (AsiaNews) – Under the impulse of love and truth, the official three-day visit to France of the Maronite Patriarch, Card Beshara al-Rahi, represented a real "spring" for French Christians.
This renewed vitality in pastoral care and evangelisation in an increasingly secularised West was marked by the reopening of a long disused church and the start of new cultural and social projects.
Amid the official events, including the first face to face meeting with French President Emmanuel Marcon, and the visit to the Maronite communities, the cardinal inaugurated some of the most important projects that will animate the future of the local Maronite Church.
This included the reopening of the Church of the Most Holy Saviour in Issy-les-Moulineaux, on the outskirts of Paris, and the establishment of a Maronite community near Lourdes.
After years of neglect, the church of the Most Holy Saviour is now used once a week for Mass and is at the centre of a broader initiative aimed at setting up a trilingual school under the direction of the College of Our Lady of Jamhour (Beirut).
This reflects the image of civilisations encounter envisaged by John Paul II in his encyclical "Orientale lumen", which stressed the meeting between the Churches of the East and the West. The two are distant for historical reasons but are driven more than ever to join forces against the growing challenges of secularism and fundamentalism in the Middle East and the world.
The second project involves the renovation of an old abbey, the Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre, about 15 minutes from Lourdes. The historic building will serve as a home for spiritual retreats and a reception centre for pilgrims to Lourdes or Santiago del Compostela.
The venue will boost the Maronite presence in the Pyrenees region and host religious educational seminars. Local agricultural products will also be grown inside it.
In addition to its religious aspect, the patriarch’s visit to France had a political component, which took the form of meetings between Al-Rahi and French officials, including President Macron.
The prelate spent an hour with the French leader focusing on four main issues: the three international conferences on Lebanon promoted by France (CEDRE), Syrian refugees in Lebanon and the disastrous and no longer sustainable consequences for the country, the Lebanese model of coexistence between religions and cultures, and the need to preserve the Christian presence in Lebanon and the region.
In particular, Patriarch al-Rahi insisted on the need for "an immediate return" of Syrian refugees "to the safe areas of their country".
Lebanon, he warns, "will not be able to endure the presence on its territory of 1.5 million Syrians (in a country of 4 million people), to which must be added the Palestinian refugees" who have lived in Lebanon for so long.
For this reason, the support of France and all the member states of the European Union is increasingly important to overcome the crisis.
Finally, the patriarch reminded Israel that "peace is built with peace" and that Lebanon "has already paid enough" for a policy based on violence.