08/23/2023, 10.40
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Unity and fraternity: 'parallel' WYD for thousands of Lebanese and Syrians

by Fady Noun

At least 1,400 in Bzommar and over a thousand in Maarret-Saydnaya promoted an event to coincide with Pope Francis' days in Lisbon. A "sign of hope" and a "model of success" for the future of the Church in a changing Middle East. Failure to respond to the need for unity.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - At least 1,400 Lebanese youths and more than a thousand Syrian peers responded to an appeal from the central coordinating body of the respective Catholic Churches, setting up a series of meetings modeled after the World Youth Day (WYD) held in Lisbon.

The Lebanese meeting was held in the Armenian Catholic convent of Bzommar, seat of the patriarchate of the same name, in the heart of the Maronite country, while the young participants were hosted in some 13 convents in the region. In Maarret-Saydnaya, Syria, the meetings were held in the church of Mar Elias (St. Elijah), while accommodations were arranged in convents in the surrounding area.

The two meetings from August 3 to 6, the first of their kind in the two countries and coinciding with Pope Francis' days in Portugal, were exciting "signs of hope" for the young people who attended.

The appointments constitute a first response of the respective Churches to young people about their immense need for spirituality, humanity, and support on the economic and moral levels.

Supported on several fronts by L'Oeuvre d'Orient and Aid to the Church in Need (ACS), these two events were conceived and organized with those who, for economic reasons, could not book a ticket to Lisbon.

Msgr. Jules Boutros, coordinator of GGM Lebanon for the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon (Apecl), and director of youth ministry of the Syriac Catholic Church, said he was "amazed by the beauty of the Lebanese Church and the young people."

"There was immense gratitude, on their part in knowing that the Church is always close and doing its best" to respond to their needs, he added. "I come out with a heart filled with hope," was echoed by Fr. Ra'fat Abou Nasr, head of youth ministry of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, who coordinated the gathering in Maarret-Saydnaya (in Syria).

Both events were marked by genuine joy and a festive atmosphere. For one of the young participants, the fact that the Bzommar gathering was held in conjunction with the WYD in Lisbon made all the difference. "That," he admits, "is what motivated me to come.

Among those present at the gathering, a great feeling of gratitude was evident for the organizers and those who went out of their way, financially and materially, to make it possible.

Moreover, the schedules of the two gatherings were modeled on the Lisbon program: catechesis, Masses, workshops, Stations of the Cross, recreation, adoration, confessions, vigil and concluding Mass.

The presence of the apostolic nuncios to Lebanon and Syria, Msgr. Paolo Borgia and Card. Mario Zenari, and that of the patriarchs and bishops reinforced the perception of being at the center of the event.

Thirst for unity and fraternity

"We have seen young people thirsting for unity and fraternity in a country fragmented to the point of splitting due to political vicissitudes", says Msgr. Jules Boutros, the youngest Lebanese bishop at 40 years old.

The prelate is perfectly aware of the shortcomings of society and of the local Churches in helping young people to cope with the difficulties they encounter. The employment crisis is one of them.

The start of the new academic year in a country bankrupt due to bad governance and corruption is another element of concern, followed by the collapse of the national currency.

“For some - says the bishop - the question is existential: stay or go? What future awaits us here? What is the role of Christians in the East? Where will we find the resources needed to live a dignified life, to enroll in university, to pay for hospital insurance?”.

It should be recognized here that the response of the Catholic Church, in its various oriental forms, has not been brilliant.

Fr. Ra'fat insists: "We are one Church, not different Churches". And here it touches on one of the weaknesses of the Eastern Churches: their lack of coordination, their inability to work together. An incapacity that the gatherings of Bzommar and Saydnaya clearly deny. But these events remain the exception rather than the rule.

Archbishop Boutros sums up the situation soberly: “Our Churches must be closer to young people - he underlines - on a material and pastoral level. They have to join forces. We lack vision. I don't see enough in our community leaders!" From this point of view, it is widely believed that the Eastern Catholic Churches have not yet been able to respond adequately to the urgent need for unity, also claimed by young people, in a changing Middle East.

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