A history of the Maronite Church and its North American faithful.
- In the last two decades of the 19th century, Maronite Catholics had already established themselves on
- both coasts of the United States – indeed, throughout the country. Although some had come from Syria
- and other parts of the Middle East, most Maronites had arrived from Lebanon.
Several factors had influenced their decision to emigrate to the New World. Lebanon in the late 19th century was ruled by pashas appointed by the Ottoman sultan. While some pashas were moderate, the repressive policies of others led to political, economic and religious tensions.
Although deeply attached to their native land, the Maronites had little reason to remain there. Between 1900 and 1914, one-fourth of Lebanon’s population, about 100,000 people, most of them Christian, had emigrated, first to Egypt and later to all parts of the globe. Significant numbers left for Argentina, Australia, Canada, Central America and various parts of the African continent, especially South Africa. The largest number of Lebanese Christians settled in the U.S. and Brazil.
The Maronites, by far the largest Lebanese Christian community, trace their spiritual lineage to St. Maron, a Syrian hermit of the fourth century noted for his spiritual wisdom and his gift of healing. After his death, St. Maron’s followers established a monastery known as “Beit Maron,” the house of Maron. As a result, the faithful who gathered around the monastery became known as Maronites. Their ethos stressed asceticism, community life and communal prayer, as it does today.
The monks of the Monastery of Maron were staunch defenders of the Catholic faith, suffering persecution and martyrdom for their defense of the orthodox Christilogical doctrines declared by the Church Fathers in the fifth and sixth centuries. In the Maronite calendar, 31 July commemorates the massacre of 350 Maronite monks by those Christians who disagreed with these doctrines.
The Muslim invasions of the seventh century forced many Maronites to flee to Mount Lebanon, which provided protection. It was at this time that the Maronite Patriarchate of Antioch was formed.
Life for the Maronites was austere. Following the teachings of the Gospel and as a witness to their faith, clergy and laity lived a life of asceticism and prayer. The patriarchs and bishops lived in cave monasteries; many hermits and contemplatives arose among the people. Near the cedars of Lebanon is a valley known as the Valley of the Saints, which is marked with hundreds of caves where hermits once lived. A modem successor to this tradition, St. Sharbel, was canonized in 1977.
Liturgically, the Maronite tradition is diverse. Maronites are the heirs of the rich Syriac patrimony of the Church of Antioch, as exemplified by St. Ephrem. The arrival of Crusaders in the 11th century, and the arrival of Latin (Roman) Catholic missionaries beginning in the 15th century, have also influenced the development of the Maronite Church.
Maronite liturgical practices underwent a number of latinizations, such as the adoption of Latin vestments and sacramentals. In recent decades, however, considerable reforms have been achieved. The Maronite liturgy once again reflects in its purity the worship of the ancient Church of Antioch.
The first Maronite immigrants to the U.S. accepted whatever work they could find. Some worked in factories that produced textiles in New England, steel in Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Youngstown and Cleveland and Automobiles in Detroit. As a result, Maronite communities sprang up in these areas. Some Lebanese immigrants became peddlers in cities, towns and mining camps. Others opened dry goods stores and groceries. A few quickly became wealthy.
Along with the immigrants came Maronite clergy from Lebanon and the Middle East. Some arrived from Lebanon with their relatives or fellow villagers. Of these, some served for a short time only and then returned. Others, however, were sent as missionaries or came on their own to stay.
Maronite priests were already active in New York City and Boston in 1890 and 1891. The Maronites of Boston had established a permanent church by 1898. The Maronites of Philadelphia were visited by Maronite clergy in 1892 and had a definite parish by 1901. There was already a priest celebrating the liturgy in St. Louis in 1898. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Lebanon in Brooklyn traces its origins as an established parish back to 1902.
The period from 1890 to the beginning of World War I saw a significant growth of the American Maronite population and the establishment of a number of permanent parishes. Maronites had settled in various parts of New England, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio and were established as far south as Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. In the Middle West they stretched from Wheeling to St. Louis and from Detroit to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Maronites were already to be found in California and Oregon. By the beginning of World War I, there were at least 22 permanent Maronite parishes in the U.S. Ten years later, the Maronite presence had grown to 37 churches and 46 priests.
Maronite parishes originated in various ways, with no one pattern predominating. Often it was through the leadership of Maronite clergy. In some areas the laity formed clubs to raise money to purchase a building. In others, Latin bishops offered help. Nor was there a set pattern of building. Often private homes were bought and remodeled into churches. The second floor became the rectory. In other places, Latin Catholic or Protestant churches were bought and converted.
Grade schools were established in Buffalo, St. Louis, Wilkes-Barre, Detroit and later in Waterville, Me., and Olean, N.Y. Parishes also provided facilities to teach the new immigrants English and organizations were formed to help those in need.
Strict quotas imposed by the U.S. government in the 1920s sharply reduced the number of Maronite immigrants, stabilizing the American Maronite community. They sought to preserve their identity in various ways, principally through parish life and worship. The liturgy at this time was celebrated entirely in Syriac and Arabic.
In addition to parish associations and social events, Maronites sought social connections through regional celebrations, sometimes on the occasion of a holy day such as the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. Many young Maronites met their future spouses at these mahrajans. Maronites also associated themselves with organizations such as the Midwest and Southern Federation of Lebanese and Syrian Clubs, which held annual conventions that were well attended.
At these local, regional and national events, Middle Eastern culture was preserved. Food, music, dance, even poetry and drama, were featured prominently.
In the 1950s groups among the Maronite clergy and laity sought to establish a Maronite seminary in the U.S. Through their efforts and the assistance of the Archbishop of Washington, Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary was established in Washington, D.C., in 1961. Washington was chosen because of the proximity of the Catholic University of America, which offers pontifical degrees and has a Department of Semitics and Oriental Languages.
In its 35 years of existence, the Maronite seminary has produced 57 priests. As the only diocesan Maronite seminary outside of Lebanon, it has provided an indigenous clergy, as well as clergy who came from Lebanon as seminarians to be trained for service in the U.S. The Maronite seminary has become a center of research and publication in the fields of Maronite history, liturgy, theology and spirituality.
In 1964 the Maronite laity formed the National Association of Maronites, later reconstituted as the National Apostolate of Maronites. Its purposes were to unite the Maronite laity of the U.S. through conventions and other activities, to offer financial and moral support to the seminary and to work for a Maronite bishop in the U.S. The organization continues to grow and remains a unique vehicle for uniting the laity.
Through the efforts of the clergy and laity of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, a national shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Lebanon and modeled on the famous shrine in Harissa, Lebanon, was established in 1965 in North Jackson, Ohio, near Youngstown. It quickly became a place of pilgrimage for Maronites and other Catholics from the Northeast.
In 1966, Pope Paul VI established the Maronite Apostolic Exarchate for the United States and appointed Bishop Francis Zayek as Exarch, with the exarchal see in Detroit. At the time of the exarchate’s establishment there were 43 Maronite parishes. In 1971 the exarchate was raised to the rank of eparchy and seven years later, in 1978, the see was transferred to Brooklyn. The bishop was honored by Pope John Paul II with the personal rank of archbishop in 1982.
The presence and leadership of Archbishop Zayek had a great impact on the Maronite communities of the U.S. He forged new links between clergy and laity. There was an increase in priestly vocations. Ten new parishes and nine missions were established. New church buildings and halls replaced many of the older ones throughout the country.
To solidify Maronite identity and to respond to the needs of American Maronites, a vast program of liturgical reform and translation was inaugurated. The past three decades have seen the publication in English of a Maronite Lectionary, a Book of Anaphoras (Eucharistic prayers) and several editions of the books of the Divine Liturgy, Ritual and Divine Office. Liturgical music was also reissued in English translations.
Catechetical texts based on the Maronite tradition have been published for all 12 grades. A diocesan newspaper, The Challenge began publishing in 1978 and was succeeded by a monthly journal, The Maronite Voice, in 1994. In 1996, the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles began publishing a journal, Maronites Today. Under diocesan sponsorship, books in Maronite liturgy and Eastern canon law have also been produced.
Special programs have been developed for Maronite youth and national youth retreats have been very successful over the last few years. Religious orders and religious communities of men and women have been established. The Order of St. Sharbel, an association of committed laity, was organized to provide financial assistance for the seminary and for retired clergy.
On 1 March 1994, as a sign of the progress of the Maronite Church in the U.S., Pope John Paul II established a second Maronite diocese. The new Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles incorporates all the territory west of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Bishop John Chedid, who had been Auxiliary Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron since 1980, was named Eparch of the new jurisdiction. The new eparchy comprises 24 parishes and nine missions; the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, 33 parishes and five missions.
It is difficult to estimate the number of Maronites living in the U.S. Maronites live in every state, most in areas where there are no Maronite parishes. An informal census taken in 1961 estimated the number to be 200,000.
With Archbishop Zayek reaching retirement age, the Pope, after consultation with the Patriarchal Synod, has appointed Chorbishop Hector Y. Doueihi as the second Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron. Bishop Doueihi, the former Rector of the cathedral, had been responsible for much of the liturgical renewal of recent years.
The Maronites have prospered in the U.S. The original immigrants worked hard to see that their children and grandchildren received the best education available; as a result, prominent Maronites are to be found in all aspects of American life, whether political, professional, commercial or industrial.
The Maronite parishes of today are composed of many different people. There are remnants of the older generations who identify with the tradition of their youth, either in the U.S. or in the Middle East. There are second- and third-generation American Maronites who identify with the American culture but take pride in their Lebanese or Middle Eastern ancestry. Perhaps most unexpected was the large influx of immigrants who emigrated to the U.S. and to other countries since the fighting began in Lebanon in 1976. These new immigrants are a significant presence in a number of parishes, having brought with them contemporary Maronite and Lebanese culture.
Also significant in Maronite parishes today is the large number of Maronites who are not of Lebanese or Middle Eastern origin. Of these, most have become Maronite through marriage. Many are dedicated and active Maronite parishioners. In recent years, a significant number of American Catholics have associated themselves with the Maronite Church because of their attraction to the Maronite liturgy and tradition.
As the Maronite Church looks to its future in the U.S., it is faced with many challenges. It seeks to preserve its identity and its tradition, while trying to resonate with what is good and worthy within our contemporary culture. It strives to share its patrimony and religious insights with other Catholics, Eastern and Latin. As a church with apostolic origins, it is called to preach the Gospel of Christ in whatever place or culture it finds itself and it continues to answer that call.
The development of the Maronite community coincided with the great debates that rocked the early church in the eastern Mediterranean. And as the church, particularly in the East, became intricately linked to the imperial Byzantine state, the positions assumed by competing parties took on political overtones. The early Maronites were Hellenized Semites, natives of Byzantine Syria who spoke Greek and Syriac yet identified with the Greek-speaking populace of Constantinople and Antioch.
Where were the monks of Beit Maron in this political, social and theological upheaval? Little evidence remains. What has survived has triggered more than a century of debate among historians, particularly in Maronite circles. The general consensus, however, concludes that the Beit Maron community, as loyal subjects of the Byzantine emperor, accepted the decrees of the ecumenical councils called by the emperors to bring unity to church and commonwealth. Whether or not they implemented them among the local Syriac-speaking Christian community, forming the nucleus of the Maronite Church as claimed, is not clear.
The Arab Muslim annexation of Syria in the mid-seventh century altered the position of the followers of St. Maron. With contacts with Constantinople severed, Antioch in Muslim hands, and its ecclesial situation in disarray, the monks of Beit Maron elected one of their own as patriarch of Antioch. Tradition has it this first patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, St. John Maron, was elected in 685.
Exposed by the fluidity and uncertainty of the environment, bands of Maronites began to seek refuge in the northern reaches of Mount Lebanon, where they established autonomous communities and formed alliances among themselves while pledging fealty to the patriarch. There, they tenaciously defended their autonomy, repeatedly attacking Arab positions and harassing Byzantine scouts eager to retake the area.
Ironically, the Maronites flourished despite the destruction of Beit Maron in the ninth century and the relocation of the Maronite patriarchate to a monastery near the coastal town of Batroun.
Saint Maron did not found a church or a monastic order, nor did he leave any theological or philosophical works. He was mainly devoted to Christ in a unique way, tutoring a lot of disciples: monks, worshipers and nuns... He established in one way or another, a spiritual monastic-hermitic school that is still thriving today, depicted by Theodoret as “the philosophy of an open-air life.”
We do not know exactly when Maron died. While the tradition states that he died in 410, all what we know about his death is that it had occurred before the appointment of Theodoret as Bishop of Cyrrhus in 423.
In 451, during the Council of Chalcedon, the church was divided into many local churches due to dogmatic, semantic and political conflicts. The Syriac church was divided into two branches: the anti-Chalcedonian branch (Jacobites) and the Chalcedonian one.
In 452, influenced by Theodoret and following the order of the Byzantine Emperor Marcian (450-457), the disciples of Saint Maron built a monastery on the Orontes River and named it after their patron. This monastery quickly became the stronghold of the Orthodox-Catholic doctrine according to the Chalcedonian dogmatic definition, in the Syria Secunda region (Hama – Homs). Even though the historical sources do not specify where the monastery was located on the Orontes River, one thing is sure: this monastery was not only a “house of prayer and work, but also a fortress of faith and the foundation of a message” as Abbot Boulos Naaman stated.
There is no doubt that the real Maronitism stemmed from the Monastery of Saint Maron. It was a spiritual monastic movement that boldly stamped its way of life and influenced its historical course.
In 517, following the ambush that led to the death of about 350 monks supporting the Council of Chalcedon, the superior of the Saint Maron monastery, along with other superiors in Syria Secunda, wrote a letter asking the Pope Hormisdas (514-523) for help.
Hence, the monastery of Saint Maron prospered and became the cornerstone of a series of monasteries that burgeoned in Syria Secunda. The community gathered around these monasteries was known as the Beit Maroun .
This new community soon expanded in different cities of Roman Syria, preaching the Chalcedonian faith. It also reached many places in Mount-Lebanon, where Ibrahim of Cyrrhus, one of the disciples of Maron, had previously converted many pagans to Christianity in the valley of the Adonis River, which was later named after him: Nahr Ibrahim.
Afterwards, when the patriarchal See of Antioch became vacant due to the Arab-Muslim conquest, the Maronite community led by the Monastery of Saint Maron, took the initiative in the late seventh or early eighth century to elect John Maron as the Patriarch of Antioch.
The community of Beit Maroun endured difficult historical circumstances, due to the religious, political and dogmatic oppression of the Arab-Muslim conqueror on the one hand, and their anti-Chalcedonian environment on the other. Also, in the middle of the political persecution by the Byzantines, this community was deprived of the bare means of subsistence and was denied religious and political freedom, as well as spiritual and material stability. After the destruction of the monastery of Saint Maron, the Maronites decided to distance themselves from the conflict between the great powers at that time -the Byzantines and the Arabs-. In order to preserve their freedom and their religious, cultural and political identity, they took the most difficult decision to move from fertile and cultivable plains and join their fellow-believers in the arid, rocky and barren regions of Mount-Lebanon.
The emigrants took the old route, following the flow of the Orontes River and reached its source in Hermel (Lebanon). From there, they reached Mount-Lebanon, from both sides -Jebbet-Bshareh and Jebbet al-Mnaitra- where they basically settled, and where they moved their patriarchal residence to the monastery of Saint George in Yanouh (Byblos).
The newcomers faced many challenges throughout their settlement in Mount-Lebanon, however, their biggest and most daring one was not their subsistence throughout all empires; it was rather their survival in a rough wild nature. If nature could speak, it would recount what went on between this community and the land. At first, it was a relation of enmity that turned later on into a friendship, and then into a love story and a unique way of life, tying the fate of the Maronites to their new land. No one can deeply understand the history of the Maronites, unless they read the stories about olives, vines, trails and rocks. Every piece of land from the villages has a long story and has descendants inheriting it and passing it on. In brief, the land has always been the Maronite genealogical family tree. (Father Michel Hayek)
During the reign of the Crusaders (1095-1291), the Maronites seized the opportunity to get out of their isolation, cooperated with the Franks, witnessed a religious freedom and renewed their relationship with the Church of Rome.
However, with the defeat of the Franks in the late thirteenth century, the Maronites endured difficult circumstances under the rule of the Ayyubids and later the Mamluks (1291-1516), who started persecuting all those who collaborated and sympathized with the Crusaders, among which were the Maronites.
Many military campaigns, razed to the ground (destroyed and swept completely away) the “Maronite land”, namely the region of Ehden and Jebbet-Bsharreh in 1268 and in 1283, when Patriarch Daniel from Hadshit, leader of the resistance was captured and executed. The campaign on Kesserwan in 1305 eradicated all Maronites; it was so intense that no tree was left standing.
As a result of these campaigns, a lot of Maronites fled to the island of Cyprus, where there are several Maronite villages up until today. The successive Mamluks campaigns against the Maronites, who were left without refuge or shelter, were exhausting. The Maronites’ fate had almost reached a dead end. Their number decreased in the cities and they were no longer well prepared. The Maronites who survived, stayed in Jebbet-Bsharreh, Zawya, Batroun, Jebbet al-Mnaitra and its surroundings. They suffered from poverty and misery, in addition to the exacerbating calamities of nature, deprivation and alienation from the outside world and axes of economic exchange. Their cultural heritage faded and the successive crises made them an easy prey for everyone.
In 1367, the Mamluks captured the Maronite Patriarch Gabriel of Hjoula and burned him alive on the outskirts of Tripoli. In 1440, following the Mamluks campaign against the residence of the Maronite Patriarchs in Ilige (Byblos), Patriarch John from Jaj (1404-1445) moved to Wadi Qannoubine and lived at the Monastery of Our Lady, which became the residence of the Maronite Patriarchs until the nineteenth century. From Qannoubine, the Maronite Patriarchs resisted, survived and prayed for their people to maintain their religious and political freedom. As Patriarch Sfeir said: “this is the freedom, without which, we have no life.”
Despite all persecutions, the Maronites remained, during all the Mamluk era, united under the leadership of their patriarchs and their local chiefs Muqaddamin.
- IV -
During the Ottoman rule (1516-1918), the Maronites faced new challenges. On the political, demographical and economic level, their stability was keenly linked to their relation with local governors. For instance, the oppression of the Seyfa and Hamadeh, governors in the north and the districts of Batroun and Jbeil, forced many Maronites to leave these regions. Conversely, the Assafites, governors of Kesserwan and then, the Maanis and Chehabis, governors of the Chouf, encouraged those who fled the North to settle in the regions of Kesserwan, Metn, Chouf and Jezzine. The case of Fakhreddine II (1585 – 1635) is worth mentioning: With the help of the Maronites, he established good ties with the western Christians, asking for their support in order to gain independence.
On the educational level, the Maronites were the first in the Levant to open up to the western cultures, owing to their relations with the Popes. In fact, in 1584, (the) Pope Gregory XIII, established the Maronite College in Rome, where many young Maronites pursued their studies. Some of them returned to Mount Lebanon and held many ecclesiastical positions, while others stayed in Europe and excelled in the “Republic of Letters”; they played the role of mediators between eastern and western cultures, translating books from Arabic into Latin and vice-versa, establishing oriental collections in western libraries and teaching oriental languages. These facts granted the Maronites their reputation, depicted by the saying: “Erudite like a Maronite”.
In a related context, the monastery of Saint Anthony (Mar Antonios) in Kozhaya saw the first printing press in the eastern part of the Ottoman Sultanate, where the Book of Psalms was printed in 1610 in Syriac and Garshuni letters. The Lebanese Maronite Order reintroduced this printing press in 1805, but its activity was limited to printing liturgical books, which the monks needed for their daily prayers, such as the missal and other service books.
- V -
The reform of the monastic life took place in the late seventeenth century onwards: four young Maronite men from Aleppo: Gabriel Hawwa, Abdullah Qaraali, Youssef al-Betn and Germanus Farhat, were received by Patriarch Estefan el-Doueihy (1670 – 1704) who gave them the monastic habit in Qannoubine on 10/11/1695. This date marked the official beginning of the monastic reform in the Maronite history. The new congregation was divided into two branches in 1770: The Lebanese Maronite Order (the Baladites) and the Aleppian Maronite Order which was called in 1969 the Mariamite Maronite Order.
In 1700, Bishop Gabriel of Blouza founded the Antonine Maronite Order at the monastery of Saint Isaiah (Mar Chaaya) in Broumana, Metn. In parallel, the religious life for women was organized at the convents of Saint John (Mar Youhanna) in Hrash and then in Saint Elijah (Mar Elias) in Ras near Jeita. Later on, many other convents flourished inside and outside of Mount-Lebanon.
In the eighteenth century, the Maronite community experienced a significant demographic and geographic expansion from Mount Lebanon to the north of Chouf, Jezzine, and the region of Sidon... At the end of this century, there was a transformation in the highest ruling authority in the emirate when the Emir Youssef Chehab, was baptized as Maronite and became the first Christian governor to rule Mount Lebanon, under Ottomans.
The “Lebanese Synod”, held at the monastery of Our Lady of Louaize in Kesserwan, in September 1736, laid the foundations for modern Maronite Canon Law and had a major impact on the course of the Maronite history. Among this Synod’s decisions, was the establishing of the geographical limits of eparchies and the nomination of episcopal sees. The Synod also enforced compulsory education for youth.
During the eighteenth century, the catholic missionaries established several schools in Mount Lebanon. After the Lebanese Synod, the Maronites were more involved in inaugurating schools in the villages, one of which was the college of “Ayn Warqa” founded in 1789 in Ghosta, which soon became an important pillar in the modern higher educational system.
- VII -
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the political situation in Mount Lebanon experienced many major transformations. The interference of the Ottoman governor of Acre, Jazzar Pasha (1777-1804) in the internal Lebanese politics, the fluctuation of the politics of Emir Bashir II (1788 – 1840), the conquest of the Egyptians (1831-1840), all destabilized the relations between Mount-Lebanon components, especially Maronites and Druze and led to several religious clashes between 1840 and 1845. The heterogeneous political system, called Qaim Maqamiyatayn, did not succeed in solving the problems and resulted in many peasants’ revolts, namely in 1858 against feudalism and ended with the 1860 massacres, resulting in the death of more than 12000 Maronites in Mount-Lebanon and Damascus.
Then came to light, the Mutasarrifate system in 1861, undertaken by the European powers in agreement with the Ottomans. This system appointed for the first time a Christian Catholic but non-Lebanese governor to rule Mount-Lebanon. This system ensured stability until World War I.
The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the flourishing of higher education in Beirut, especially with the foundation of the American and Jesuit universities that received the Maronite elites, who were later on involved in political, economic and intellectual life. This era witnessed the flourishing of journals, periodicals and printing presses in all regions.
In fact, the Maronites participated in the Arab enlightenment movement which led to the rise of Arabic language and literature. This movement led to re-establishing Arab nationalism to counter the Ottoman’s Turkification movement.
The Christians, namely the Maronites, adhering to Arab Nationalism associations adopted what the French Revolution called for: freedom, justice, and equality, as they were deeply influenced by the philosophers of Europe’s Age of Enlightenment.
In this same Era, the region saw the growth of sericulture and silk craftsmanship. This has ensured economic autonomy in Mount Lebanon and enriched commercial exchanges. Thus, Mount-Lebanon’s reputation for sericulture grew, reaching the other side of the Mediterranean, namely Marseille and Lyon. This sericulture and silk industry was a real social revolution in this region. It is also important to mention that the exportation of silk from Beirut’s port to Marseille, laid the foundations for maritime transport agencies in Lebanon.
After the 1860 massacres, many Christians, including Maronites, fled to Egypt. However, Antonios Bachaalany, a Maronite from Salima (Baabda district) was the first emigrant to the New World, where he reached the United States in 1854 and died there two years later.
In fact, the emigration increased as a result of the reduction of the mountain’s lands and depriving it of sea ports and agricultural plains, which together gave the Lebanese youth a reason to migrate, in addition to the dream of wealth in transatlantic countries. Soon, a torrent of people who dreamt of starting a life in the new world, were fast to leave their misery. (Dr. Abdullah Mallah)
Later on, the emigration reached Africa, Australia, Canada, and Europe.
- VIII –
World War I (1914 – 1918) brought with it scourge, injustice, famine, and darkness. At the end of WWI and despite the misery it was experiencing, Mount Lebanon welcomed tens of thousands of oppressed immigrants from neighboring regions, such as the Armenian and Syriac people, who had fled the massacres and genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire against them.
The state of Greater Lebanon was declared in early September 1920 under the French mandate. The constitution of 1926 gave all citizens equal rights and the freedom of faith and expression. Maronites Elites played a vital role in all these changes that led them to assume the presidency of the Republic of Lebanon, the only country in the Levant to elect a Christian Maronite president.
After the independence of Lebanon in 1943, the Lebanese regime, which was the outcome of the National Pact of 1943, enjoyed political stability and economic growth, especially during the presidency of Camille Chamoun (1952 – 1958) and Fouad Chehab (1958-1964). Despite its faults, “political Maronitisim” has offered an advanced and modern liberal, pluralistic, and democratic political experience in this small part of the Levant.
With the signing of the Cairo Agreement in 1969 and after it, the eruption of the civil war in Beirut in 1975—followed by the collapse of the state and the division of the Lebanese army, Christian parties took up arms in an attempt to protect themselves, their existence and survival.
The Taif agreement in 1989 put an end to the civil war, but subjugated Lebanon to Syrian occupation. This situation lasted till 2005, the year that witnessed the assassination of PM Rafic Hariri, followed by the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2006. The situation is still politically unstable but all the Lebanese components, including the Maronites, are still trying their best to find the way forward for a better future for Lebanon.
On the ecclesiastical level, between 2003 and 2006, the Maronite Church experienced an exceptional event: The Maronite Patriarchal Synod, which was the largest Maronite synod since 1736 in terms of participation, topics and decisions. One of the most influential decisions taken by this Synod, (is) was to revitalize the relations between the Maronite communities and institutions abroad. This led (the) Patriarch Sfeir to establish (in 2006), under his auspices, the Maronite Foundation in the World in 2006. This foundation aims to urge Lebanese communities to stay connected to their Lebanese and ecclesiastical heritage and roots, and to seek the reclamation of the Lebanese nationality. As a result, the Parliament of Lebanon approved in 2016 a law that allows immigrants of Lebanese origin to reclaim their Lebanese citizenship.
Father Jad Kossaify