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While laying the foundations for an independent Lebanon, the formal sectarian division of power also sowed the seeds for the civil war (1975-1991) that nearly destroyed the republic.

Modern developments. The fortunes of the Maronite Church are often tied to those of Lebanon; to separate either of these symbiotic entities would do neither of them justice. But equally inaccurate is the suggestion that to be Maronite is to be Lebanese, or vice versa.Some 10 million Lebanese live elsewhere, in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania; as many as half are Maronites.

Like all immigrants, they left their homeland for opportunity or security. And while many Maronites in the West have retained ties to their ancestral land, providing financial, moral and political support, most have lost ties to their ancestral church, intermarrying and assimilating.

Nevertheless, the Maronite Church, particularly in the United States, flourishes. Two eparchies, one centered in Brooklyn and a second in Los Angeles, shepherd some 56,000 Maronites in more than 75 parishes. U.S. Maronite scholars have initiated a number of liturgical reforms, restoring for example the traditional Maronite eucharistic liturgy (Qorbono in Syriac). They have also preserved some of the Latin elements introduced by the West over the centuries.

The Maronite Church in the United States is strengthened by the steady arrival of Maronite immigrants from Lebanon, who continue to leave their homeland in search of better lives.

The Maronite bishops in Brooklyn and Los Angeles have launched a census to locate and identify these immigrants, as well as the tens of thousands of Maronites who, having lived in the country for a generation or two, are no longer formally associated with the church.

The glue that binds this worldwide church is the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Cardinal Nasrallah Peter Sfeir. Elected patriarch as Lebanon’s civil war entered its bloodiest stage, Patriarch Nasrallah’s tenure has been marked by his constant appeals for justice, peace, reason and, at times, even sanity.

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This is the fifth in a series of articles on the Eastern churches by Executive Editor Michael La Civita.

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Tags: Lebanon Church history Maronite Church