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The Maronite Catholic Church

On September 7, 1989, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter on the Situation in Lebanon to all the bishops of the Catholic Church. In the text he warned that “without doubt, the disappearance of Lebanon would be one of the world’s greatest sorrows,” and said that saving Lebanon is “one of the most urgent and most noble tasks that the contemporary world must take upon itself.” The civil war ended in 1990, but much of the country was left in ruins. The Pope later called for a Special Assembly for Lebanon of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in Vatican City from November 26 to December 14, 1995. It recommended that the various Catholic churches in Lebanon work together more effectively, develop closer ecumenical relations with other churches not in full communion with Rome, and foster a spirit cooperation and mutual respect with Lebanese of other religions. Pope John Paul II visited Lebanon, in May 1997.

In view of the new situation in Lebanon, a three-year Maronite Patriarchal Assembly began in June 2003. The first session was attended by 433 people, including the patriarch, the bishops, other prominent clergy and 255 laymen. The goals of the Assembly were to rediscover the Maronite heritage and traditions, to consolidate Maronite identity, to promote the renewal of ecclesial life, and to confirm the unity of the Maronite Church both within Lebanon and abroad. The results of the Assembly were gathered into an 853-page book that was presented at the Assembly's conclusion on June 11, 2006.

The Maronite Patriarchs have resided at Bkerke, about 25 miles from Beirut, since 1790. Today there are ten dioceses in Lebanon with over 800 parishes, and seven other jurisdictions in the Middle East. No national census has been taken in Lebanon since 1932. But it is clear that over the past sixty years, there has been a steady decline in the number of Christians as compared to Muslims, mostly through emigration of large numbers of Maronites. Christians now make up about one third of the total population of four million. Official Vatican statistics indicate that there were 1, 413,652 Maronites in Lebanon at the end of 2006.

There is a Maronite Patriarchal Seminary at Ghazir and a diocesan seminary at Karm Sadde, near Tripoli. Advanced theological education is provided at the University of the Holy Spirit at Kaslik. A Maronite College was founded in Rome in 1584. The college moved to a new building in 1893, but was closed during the Second World War. It did not reopen until February 2000.

The Maronite liturgy is of West Syrian origin, but it has been influenced by the East Syrian and Latin traditions. The Eucharist is essentially a variation of the Syriac liturgy of St. James. Originally celebrated in Syriac, the liturgy has been for the most part in Arabic since the Arab invasions.

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Tags: Civil War