10/15/2018, 20.16
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The voice of Lebanon and the peripheries at the Synod on Young People

by Fady Noun

In the digital era, Lebanon has gone from being a crossroads to an antenna. Its cultural and religious mix make it a conductor par excellence, sensitive to cultural and social trends. The Synod is a school to elaborate a universal language capable of overcoming geographical and generational boundaries. The poor and needy are an inexhaustible treasure of the Church.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A large delegation representing the Lebanese Church is taking part in the Synod of Bishops dedicated to young people, which is currently underway from 3 to 28 October in the Vatican.

The group includes the Maronite Patriarch, Bechara al-Rahi; two Maronite bishops, Fouad Naffah (Lebanon) and Elias Zeidane (Los Angeles); and two priests from Lebanon, Toufic Abu Hadir, coordinator of the Patriarchal Youth Ministry in Bkerke, and Jules Boutros, of the university pastoral outreach of the Syriac-Catholic Church.

The Synod of bishops is an advisory body created by Pope Paul VI in the wake of the Second Vatican Council to help the Pontiff to govern the Church. Some 257 bishops from all over the world, including all the patriarchs of the Eastern Churches, are present in this assembly, which was prepared by two years of consultations with hundreds of young people.

Through questionnaires and meetings, the consultation led to a working document (Instrumentum laboris) to steer Synod meetings, marked by alternating general assemblies (congregations) and small working groups (minor circles). The latter must lead, according to a proven methodology from synthesis to synthesis, to the elaboration of a series of recommendations, the final message and, eventually, an apostolic exhortation on the theme of young people and the discernment of vocations.

What can an assembly of older bishops say to young people? The question sums up in itself the paradox of an eternally young Church. Like the truth, she is perpetually invited to transmit to new generations the sacred bond she received, the person of Christ and the treasures that accompany him. Beyond the broad variety of life conditions, young Christians from all continents are involved in the Synod, especially the young people of the Middle East, because of the privileged place occupied by Lebanon in the Arab world and the tragic developments of the last decade.

From Lebanon as a message to Lebanon as an antenna

It is customary to say that Lebanon is a crossroads. However, in the digital age, Lebanon is more of an antenna that captures all the frequencies. Indeed, Lebanon’s head is part of the West, but its body is in the third world, with typical problems of the third world like failed politics, a heavy-handed oligarchy, corruption, poor public services, etc. Despite this split personality, the country’s cultural and religious mix and its multilingualism mean that the Lebanese are a cultural link par excellence, a conductor that is sensitive to all sorts of cultural and social trends. The Synod compared young people to a seismograph. This goes well with our young people.

Can we ask ourselves if the Synod is for us? Of course. Even if it deals with issues that are totally foreign to us. Our problems are not those of the West, nor of Asia, where the Middle East is usually catalogued. With us, for example, the number of vocations is not a problem; aggressive secularism is limited to a few Westernized elites; bishops are not shot in their cathedrals. But for us and for all, the Synod is a great language school where the Church is learning, right now, according to the wishes of Francis, to talk about the peripheries, a language that goes everywhere, crosses every border, involves every generation, transcends money and skin colour.

The peripheries that Francis speaks about are not a place but situation of alert and heeding, a disposition to follow Christ on the path of the 21st century, which are quite different from those of Palestine, two thousand years ago. What is more, to follow him one must know him.

Conversely, some truths are timeless. Everyone knows the proverb: "The habit does not make the monk”. But few know it in its entirety: "The habit does not make the monk; the heart does.”  We owe this sentence to Saint Bridget of Sweden, which speaks to something fundamental in the Church: authenticity, the opposite of hypocrisy. This is what young people aspire to in every age and place. This is the language that the Church, by speaking and listening to young people, can learn and relearn. What they – and the less young – reject is a hypocritical church, a clerical Church, a Church that says one thing and does something else. Such a Church is reduced to a soulless institution, and there are many examples of this. Inspired by one of the Pope’s favourite issues, this is one of the lines of meditation of the Synodal reflection.

Distorted images of the Church

The distorted image that some media have of the Church is that of a great repressive machine; a great trap where predators take young seminarians into their beds. In our country, the propagated cliché is that of a big machine that possesses the most beautiful land, the most beautiful heights and the sweetest plains of Lebanon, and bleeds poor families trying to get their children into her schools, universities or hospitals. Of course, things are much more nuanced than this, but there is also a grain of truth in this picture.

One of the most beautiful books of history, the Acts of the Apostles, says that after hearing about Paul and discovering that the Gospel he preached was no different from his, Peter, that steadfast rock on which Jesus built his Church, gave him the embrace of communion and reminded him to "remember the poor". This is the Church’s inexhaustible treasure: the poor, empty bellies, but also those who are hungry for justice, those who are hungry for love; the dying attacked by rodents who needed Mother Teresa to pick them up in the streets; those who, before our eyes (and those of the Pope), are dying on the peripheries of the truth.

The Synod can be an unforgettable moment, a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Muslim observers, invited to the Synod on Lebanon in 1997, can bear witness to this without hesitation. The experience of Jesus is in community, notes the Synod; and it is one of the bases of vocation. It flourishes, whether at the level of the family or in the Church, within the community, a "place of forgiveness and celebration," according to the beautiful expression of Jean Vanier.

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