By Father Louis Wehbe, O.C.S.O.
Latroun Monastery, The Holy Land


  1. The earliest Maronite contact with the Holy Land can be traced back to Saint Maroun's own time, when two ascetic women of the Saint's disciples, Marana and Kyra, "eager one day to contemplate the places hallowed by Christ's salvational sufferings, ran to Æolia (Jerusalem) without having eaten for the whole trip, but once in the Holy City and their devotions made, they had some food then fasted the whole way back, which is no less than twenty days' walk," wrote Theodoret of Cyr (Migne 1982: 1418, 1431).
  2. There are no documents to prove the somewhat stable existence of Maronites in the Holy Land before the Crusades. We cannot rely on the so-called Omar Decree of 638 which mentions the Maronites, because the text of the decree (which is mentioned by the Greek-Hellenic Gregory) was written in 1625, a thousand years after the Decree was issued. (Golubovich 1923: 109-110; Sayegh 1971: 22-23) The Maronite colonies were founded in many cities in the Holy Land. Some were able to develop and flourish to a certain degree and to remain; others were weakened and completely disappeared due to political events.


The Maronite Church of Kfar Bar'am before its destruction
Photo courtesy of the Author


  1. When King Godefrey had sent the news of Jerusalem's fall, Maronites representing Patriarch Joseph el-Gergessi joined the king's ambassadors (Arce 1973: 261).
  2. Thousands of Maronites joined the Order of the Knights of Saint John in Jerusalem, Acre and Cyprus. In the hierarchy that the Frankish authorities established in the Holy Land, "Maronites came immediately after the Franks and before the Jacobites, Armenians, Greeks, Nestorians and Abyssinians. Moreover, they were admitted into the Frankish middle class and shared the civil and juridical privileges offered to the Latin middle class" (Ristelhueber 1925: 58).
  3. In 1179, after the end of the schism caused by the double papal election of Alexander III and Victor IV, the Latin Patriarch of Antioch, Amaury of Limoges, received the obedience of the Oriental Franks toward Alexander. The Maronites of Jerusalem took the same oath of allegiance (Daou 1977: 171).
  4. In 1310, when the Knights of Saint John conquered Rhodes, an armed force of Maronites accompanied them from Jerusalem (Daou 1977: 171; Douaihi 1890:126).
  5. Towards 1320, Armenian historian Aitoun noted that, in Jerusalem, Maronites formed one of the most important Christian colonies (Aref 1951: 149-150).


  1. Since the fourteenth century, the history of the Maronites in the Holy Land has been intimately related with the Franciscan presence in that land. It was, on the whole, a very close collaboration, based on mutual respect and confidence.
  2. This is obvious in the relations expressed by the different pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. For instance, Ludolf De Sudheim, pilgrim from 1336 until 1341, notes having assisted to many consecrations of Maronite bishops performed by Latin archbishops (De Sudheim 1851: 37 and 102; Arce, 1973: 150). Maronites were somewhat assimilated with the Franks; they used to celebrate in their churches, on their altars and with their vestments (Arce 1973: 260).
  3. It seems that the first Maronite contacts with the Sons of Saint Francis were established in 1246 when Innocent IV sent Lorenzo da Orte to visit the Maronites and the other Orientals (Anaissi 1911: 9).
  4. With the founding of the Minor Friars in Jerusalem in 1333, their relation with the Maronites of the Holy Land became permanent. During the big feasts of Christmas and Easter, when many Maronites flocked to Jerusalem, the Sons of Saint Francis used to welcome them with much charity, facilitating their stay in Jerusalem and Bethlehem (Arce 1973:185). The Maronites, sure of their trust, took part in all acts of worship in the various sanctuaries of the Franciscans. The Guardian of the Hill of Zion baptized their newborn and, when any of them died in Jerusalem, they were buried in the cemetery of the monks, because "they were genuine and loyal Christians" (sunt veri et fideles christiani), noted the Hungarian Franciscan Gabriel of Pécsvàrad (Arce 1973: 185).
  5. Maronite historians never fail to speak highly of the generosity of the sovereigns of Naples toward the Maronite people of the Holy Land (Lammens 1899: 68-104; Arce 1973: 261). In fact, the two Christian princes, Robert (Count of Anjou) and Count of Anjou of Provence (d.1343) and his wife Sanche, didn't forget the Maronite people while they were overflowing the Franciscans of Zion Hill with their generous gifts. When Sanche bought the Church of the Resurrection, the Virgin's Tomb, the Olive Mount and the Sanctuary of Bethlehem from Mâlek el-Nâsser Mohammad, the Sultan of Egypt, she gave the Maronites the Grotto of the Cross and four alters in other sanctuaries in the Holy City. She also added a pontifical confirmation of all their privileges. The Maronites, for their part, met in Jerusalem and declared they would stay united to communion with the Roman See (Douaihi 1890: 441; Massad 1863: 157; Daou 1977: 169-171; Aref 1951: 148).
  6. The collaboration between the Franciscans of the Holy Land and the Maronites began in the first half of the fifteenth century, when Syria and Palestine were under the rule of the Mameluke Sultans of Egypt and the Burgies dynasty. These relations grew more intense and regular with time (Arce 1973: 151). Some Maronites worked as interpreters and lived with the Franciscans in the Monastery of Zion Hill; others had an active role in all celebrations held in the different sanctuaries of the Franciscans. In 1682, for example, two Maronite interpreters from Mount Lebanon, Michel and Gabriel, were employed in the Franciscan monastery of Nazareth (Arce 1973: 301).
  7. In 1438, Maronites from Jerusalem and its vicinity sent Eugene IV a letter which was read at the Florence Synod. The Pope answered them on June 7, 1439 through a letter entrusted to Friar Albert of Sarteano, in which he let them know he was very pleased to notice a connection between many Oriental Churches and the See of Peter (Arabic version of this Pontifical letter in Douaihi 1890: 393-395 and an edited text in Debs 1978: 172-173; French version in Moubarac 1984: 491-492).
  8. Among the Franciscans of the Holy Land who had served the Maronites in the fifteenth century, we must first mention Fleming Friar Gryphon (Grifon van Kortrijk, 1400-1475) (Lammens 1899: 68-104). He arrived to Jerusalem in 1443 and was sent in 1450 to work with the Maronites of Lebanon until he died in 1475. Then there is the Spaniard Fransisco Sagarra of Barcelona, during the same era (Arce 1973: 191); Alessandro Ariosto, apostolic commissioner from 1475 until 1481 (Arce 1973: 238-245); and Francisco Suriano (1145-c.1530), who was Guardian of Zion Hill from 1493 until 1495 and from 1512 until 1514. As for his companion, Francesco of Potenza, he returned after his mission with two Maronite ambassadors carrying documents accrediting them as representatives of the Patriarch of Antioch, of the muqaddam and of all the clergy and the Maronite people. These two ambassadors were Khouri Youssef and Friar Elias (Arce 1973: 253).
  9. Owing to Friar Gryphon, three young Maronites became Franciscans and professed in the monastery of Zion Hill: Hanna (John), Gibrael (Gabriel) and Francis. They were the first Maronites to be sent to study in the West - in Venice at first, then in Rome. Later on, Hanna became bishop of Aqoura and died in 1494 during Francesco Suriano's mandate in Zion Hill. Gibrael Ibn al-Qila'i (1450-1516) died as bishop of Nicosia in Cyprus. Francis remained a monk. Francesco Suriano had them under his authority in Zion Hill. In his writings in 1514, he paid them a moving tribute (Arce 1973: 233).
  10. The conquest of Jerusalem by Salim I on February 2, 1516 opened an era of difficulties for the Franciscans of the Holy Land, but the Maronites maintained their presence and their close collaboration with them. Thus, four Maronites worked as dragomans for the monks (Hobeika 1945: 72).
  11. Besides the rights and privileges the faithful Maronites had, especially on Zion Hill, they owned the Church of Saint George el-Khader. (Douaihi 1890: 493; Chebli 1970: 127-135). In 1548, the Maronite dragoman of Zion Hill, Ya'coub bin Hanna el-Ehdeni (known as Ibn el-Kassar), bought an estate in the Christian neighborhood, near Saint-George Church in a place called "Rahbeh" (Chebli 1970: 128-129).
  12. In April 1550, Sultan Soleiman II ordered by decree the immediate expulsion of the Franciscans of Zion Hill. Early in 1551, the Franciscans were expelled. They withdrew temporarily to a small lodging called "the Four" and stayed there for eight years until they were transferred to the Old City of Jerusalem in 1559, to the old monastery of the Georgians, which was then called the Holy Savior Monastery (Briand 1973: 93). They were thus living near Ibn el-Kassar's house (Chebli 1970: 129; Khoury 1959: 245 and 267; Douaihi 1890: 463).
  13. In 1561, when a person fell in the well of Saint George's Maronite Church, Maronite clerics took fright and ran away. The Copts, seizing the opportunity, paid the claimed tribute and took possession of the church. Maronite Patriarch Moussa al-Akkari (1524-1567) was so roused that he equipped himself with money and decrees (dated 1564) from Sultan Soleiman and the Governor of Damascus to the Cadi of Jerusalem and went to the Holy City to retrieve his rights. Guardian Father Boniface of Raguse (d. 1584) talked him out of it and promised to give the Maronite clergy total freedom to celebrate mass for the Maronite faithful in the Holy Savior Church. He even added that if one day the Franciscans were to be evicted again, the Holy Savior Church would stay in the hands of the Maronites. The Patriarch was convinced and, with the money, bought a big house for his congregation. Saint George's Church was forever lost for the Maronites (Douaihi 1890: 463, Debs 1978: 183-187; Chebli 1970: 129). Then, Patriarch Moussa discussed with the Guardian Father the possibility of sending Franciscans to Lebanon to teach the sacred sciences (Dagher 1957: 46).
  14. In November 1581, when the Jesuit Father Eliano, pontifical envoy to Lebanon, visited the Maronites of Jerusalem, he noticed they were small in number.
  15. Youhannah Ibn el-Kassar in 1598 bought the Ibn el-Azzi house near Saint George's Church, in front of Khan el-Aqbat, thus extending the estate purchased in 1548 by his father, dragoman Ibn el-Kassar. This building was later referred to in administrative papers as "Harat al-Mawarinah" (the Maronite Neighborhood) (Chebli 1970: 129).
  16. In Patriarch Jean Makhlouf's time (1608-1633), two priests from Ehden (in north Lebanon), Elias ibn el-Haj Hanna Sarassira and Youhanna bin Issa, carrying a letter from the Patriarch, collected funds; and in 1622, for 500 piastres, Father Elias and his cousin Father Antonios bin Ibrahim bought from the three sons of Hanna ibn el-Kassar the building called Dar el-Azzi, located in the Christian neighborhood of Jerusalem. This building contained seven apartments, five out of which were first-floor apartments. (Chebli 1970: 128). Later on, Father Elias, who had become bishop, came to Jerusalem and bought a court from a Syriac (Ibn al-Rahibah) for 120 piastres. He restored it and decided that every year an offertory should be made to the Holy Sepulcher on the property of this pious foundation. This took place in 1647 (Chebli 1970: 128-129).
  17. Besides the Maronites who lived permanently in the Holy Land, others would come in large numbers on important celebrations. Their presence attracted the attention of pilgrims. Boniface of Raguse, Guardian of Zion Hill, wrote that during the solemn ceremony of Palm Sunday, "all the prelates of Mount Lebanon, namely the Patriarch of Antioch who lived in the same Mount Lebanon, in the monastery of Saint Mary of Qannoubin, the Archbishop called Moutran [in Arabic] and the various Bishops, monks, priests and deacons gathered with the Christians of other nations to praise the Lord, each in his own language" (Ragusinus 1875: 28-29).
  18. There was a striking affinity between the Maronites and the Sons of Poverello. Father Theophil Nola even wrote to Clement X on March 3, 1673: "We know no other nation that is like the Maronite one, our sister in faith, sharing our allegiance and assisting us in our work."


The Maronite Church of Kfar Bar'am after its destruction
Photo courtesy of the Author


  1. Certain authors deny that the Maronites had possessed a place in the Holy Sepulcher or that they had inhabited Jerusalem in a stable manner. In his book on his voyage to the Holy Land in 1621, Deshaye, ambassador of Louis XIII, "counts the Maronite Nation among the communities that had oratories in the Saint sepulcher" (Moubarac 1984: 257). Patriarch Etienne Douaihi celebrated two ordinations in the Grotto of the Cross: that of Daoud bin-Bechara al-Qoudsi on July 10, 1696 and that of Maronite Jerosolymitan Thomas of Hasroun on March 18, 1700. When he returned, he offered the Maronite priests of Jerusalem a chalice, a paten and a corporal (Chebli 1970: 38 and 130). Father Thomas of Hasroun stayed in Jerusalem in the service of his co-religionists.
  1. The total confidence, respect and comprehension which characterized the relations between the Franciscans and Maronites of the Holy Land had some ups and downs, especially during the second half of the seventeenth century, due to the Latinization campaign carried out by some Franciscan officials, such as Fathers Baldassare, Caldera and Francesco da Santo Flora, against the Maronites of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Acre, etc. They prohibited the Maronites from practicing their own ecclesiastical customs (the use of incense, abstaining from eating meat on Wednesdays, and so on), demanded that they promise obedience to the Guardian Father, except for their Patriarch. On April 6, 1687, they received from the Cadi of Jerusalem an order authorizing Christians of any rite to change their confession to the Catholic rite that they liked without any reservations. (Douaihi 1890: 459-460; Chebli 1970: 131-132). Armed with this authorization, the Franciscans offered to administer the sacraments of the Church gratis. They also promised to procure lucrative employment for the Maronites and the Greeks who wish to follow the Latin Rite, such as posts as interpreters in the consulates (Moubarac 1984: 256).
  2. It all ended for the better in late March 1700, when Guardian Father Stefano da Napoli (appointed in 1699) agreed to Patriarch Douaihi's terms - namely, that Maronites everywhere be responsible to their Patriarch of Antioch, and that the Maronite community of Jerusalem may have two priests in the service, may celebrate the Mass using incense in all Franciscan churches and may keep its customs regarding fasting and feasts. Moreover the Franciscans committed themselves to receiving well any Maronite pilgrim visiting the Holy Places in the future (this commitment is still in force). On his part, Patriarch Douaihi handed over to the Guardian Father the power exempting Maronite faithfuls from certain impediments on marriage. The agreement was signed on March 13, 1700.
  3. Under the same Patriarch Douaihi, Father Bonaventure, a Maronite from Jerusalem, erected a church in Nazareth in 1771 for the faithful of his community. A long time before that, however, it had been noticed that the number of Maronites in the Holy Land was decreasing, mostly because they had been moving to the Latin rite - a phenomenon that would continue until our time.
  4. The International Eucharistic Congress, held in Jerusalem in 1893, was the long awaited opportunity for the unfortunate Maronite community of the Holy City to badger the Maronite delegation at the Congress with their requests. The delegation was composed of fifteen persons, including five prestigious bishops: Elias Howayek (future Patriarch), Joseph Debs (Beirut), Estephan Aouad (Tripoli), Youhanna Mourad (Baalbek) and Nehmtallah Silouan. Their pleas were heard. Two years later, Monsignor Howayek returned to Jerusalem and, for 64,000 francs, bought an old German hospital with its lands, which had belonged to the German Consul van Tischendorf, and converted it into a chapel. On May 5, 1895, he inaugurated with a pontifical mass (Harfouche 1934: 215-217).
  5. To meet expenses, Patriarch Jean Hajj addressed a pastoral letter to the clergy and all the Maronite people, in which he said: "This house is located in the Holy City proper. It is situated on Mount Zion. It overlooks from one side the Church of the Resurrection and from the other the Porte of El-Khalil. It encompasses many apartments of a recommendable grandeur, one of which was converted into a chapel and the others designated for the use of the pilgrims of the nation. We have named it the Maronite Patriarchal Vicariate of the Holy Land, and we have entrusted its care and the administration of the Maronites who depend upon it to one of our priests. As for the expenses, (the house) cost us…and we are counting on the donations of lay people and the regulars of the nation to meet them. We have already paid the sum of 4,000 francs from our own funds; each of our brothers, the archbishops, had also paid 2,000 francs. Moreover, we will ask for contributions from monasteries and other religious establishments and these will be set in various sums, according to their respective conditions…. Considering the situation, we saw it necessary to call upon your generosity and your noble spirit and pray that you will aid us…." (Baslm Bulletin, No. 68, October 1895: 81-84; Moubarac II 1984: 263-265).
  6. Monsignor Howayek returned on May 13, 1895 to Lebanon, where in 1899 he was placed in charge of the Patriarchal See until 1931. In Jerusalem, the small remaining portion of Maronites gathered around the Patriarchal Vicariate.
  7. Here is the titular list of the Maronite Patriarchal Vicariate of Jerusalem since its founding in 1895:
    1. Youssef Mouallem, 1895-1896. He went to America.
    2. Estephan Hobeish, 1896-1897.
    3. Boulos Aweiss, 1897-1898.
    4. Khairalla Estephan, 1898-1901.
    5. Youssef Mouallem, 1901-1911. For the second time.
    6. Gerges Doumit, 1911-1928. After his resignation, he became a monk.
    7. Boulos Aweiss, 1929-1934. For the second time. He died during his homily and is buried on Zion Hill.
    8. Boulos Eid, 1934-1938.
    9. Youssef Ghanem, 1939-1941. On April 12, 1939, he was appointed by a Patriarchal Decree as temporary Vicar. On September 8, 1939, a letter from the Patriarch removed him from his office because of the serious problems he had caused. The Vicariate remained without an actual titular until 1950 and the Maronite community of Jerusalem was abandoned. Between September 23, 1940 and June 4, 1950, therefore, only one christening took place; this occurred on November 25, 1945 and was performed by a delegate priest. This task was nominally assumed by a priest from Jaffa or Haifa (Boulos Meouchi or Francis Moubarac).
    10. Boulos Meouchi, 1941-1945. The monk responsible for the monastery of Jaffa. On September 25, 1941, a Patriarchal Decree appointed him president of the Court of First Instance in Jaffa.
    11. Francis Moubarac, 1945-1949.
    12. Elias Ziade, 1949-1975. The number of faithful right before the war of 1948 was 800, after which it dropped to about 60. On July 11, 1949, Elias Ziade was appointed Vicar in Jersualem by Patriarchal decree. On August 11, another decree extended this office to Transjordan. Father Ziade stayed in charge until his death on April 23, 1975.
    13. Also in 1949, Mr. Michel Edde was appointed as the first "Moukhtar" of the community. On June 15, 1958, the Jordanian Government officially recognized the Maronite Church. On May 15, 1964, Patriarch Meouchi placed Monsignor Elias Ziade in charge as parish priest of the Maronites in Jordan. A welfare society run by eight members was established and, on July 28, 1964, the society was recognized by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior Affairs.
    14. Augustin Harfouche, 1975-1996.


  1. The serious events that never ceased to affect Jerusalem did not spare the Maronites. The restoration of the dilapidated Vicariate buildings was undertaken and carried in no time through the efforts of Monsignor Augustin Harfouche. A monk from the Maronite Lebanese Order, who was responsible for the monastery of Jaffa (since August 19, 1974) and was the Episcopal Vicar for Israel, Monsignor Harfouche was also appointed Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem by Patriarchal Decree No. 59/75 issued on May 12, 1975. In 1976, he undertook the restoration of the Vicariate buildings, which were in a deplorable condition. He evacuated their 20 occupiers and restored them into guest quarters for pilgrims, which was called the Mar Maroun Residence. Another section of the buildings was saved for the


Archbishop Paul Sayah after his ordination as Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land
Photo courtesy of the Author

Vicariate (since called the exarchate) and contained a multi-propose room for meetings. In 1981, Father Harfouche brought nuns from Lebanon to provide services. The new buildings were inaugurated on February 26, 1978. The Monsignor's preoccupations were not limited to Jerusalem. On February 12, 1981, he bought a house in Bethlehem, in Wadi Ma'ali (170 meters away from the Nativity Church), for 40,000 dinars and transformed it into the Mar Sharbel Residence, to be used for worship and receiving pilgrims.

  1. In 1996, a new chapter in the history of the Vicariate of Jerusalem began when Monsignor Paul Sayah, recently appointed Maronite Archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land, received his orders as Patriarchal Vicar.
  2. The Maronite faithful of Jerusalem who hadn't followed the Latin rite numbered 45 families in all. In 1950, the Patriarchal Vicar's authority was extended over Jordan. In 1974, the number of Maronite families reached 75 in Amman and Zarka.
  3. The number of Maronites in Jordan increased because of the war in Lebanon. No statistics have yet been compiled, but their number is estimated at 145 families (of which about 110 in Amman and 15 in Zarka), approximately 1,000 faithful. The late King Hussein had offered 4,000 square meters of land for the building of a Maronite church and a parish justify.
  4. The Maronite Patriarch, His Beatitude Nasrallah Peter Sfeir, consecrated the first stone of this church in October 1998.


  1. The presence of Maronites in the Holy Land was not limited to Jerusalem's holy places. Maronites living in what comprises the present State of Israel were responsible to the diocese of Tyre. The limits of this diocese were not altered since they were set by the Holy See on February 26, 1906. The papal brief specified that in the southern part, the diocese stretches to the Palestinian border separating it from Saudi Arabia; in the east, it is limited by the Jordan River, from La Houle to the Dead Sea; and in the west, by the Mediterranean Sea near Sidon. A new chapter began in 1996, as we will see later.

      A. Jaffa

  1. The Maronites seemed to have first appeared in Jaffa 1099, accompanying the arrival of the Crusaders from Lebanon (Azar manuscript). Their lasting stability began under the Ottomans towards 1559, but only as individuals, then later in an organized manner during the late eighteenth century, with the arrival of many Lebanese families (from Bkassine, Saida, Gebail, Bekfaya and other towns). But when it came to religious needs, they talked to Latin priests, since they had neither a church nor a monastery of their own. This would last until 1855, when two monks from the Maronite Lebanese Order - Father Abdel Ahad Matta and Father Libaos Karam - founded a monastery and a church in the old town of Jaffa near the harbor. In 1895, thanks to Mrs. Berna's generosity, Father Antonios Shbeir Ghostaoui built a church and a new monastery on an area of 1,600 square meters, which is still the spiritual justify of the community. Later on, between 1901 and 1920, the church was demolished and replaced by a bigger and nicer one, the first stone of which was laid during a big ceremony on February 28, 1904 (Baslm, July 1904: 489-491). The church is still standing today. The Maronite Lebanese Order also owns an estate at Jaffa administered by a monk delegated for this purpose. The Maronite community in the city prospered and by the beginning of the twentieth century consisted of some 600 people, which increased to 800 by 1948 (for example, the families of Tyan, Barakat, Hajj, Akiki, Maadi, Hannouche, Jebji and others). Many had important positions in the administration. After the war of 1948, however, most of them emigrated either to Lebanon or abroad. Some sixty of them are currently left there.
  2. The list of monks responsible for the Maronites in Jaffa were: Fathers Abdel Ahad Matta and Libaos Karam (1855-1875); F. Marcos Roufael (1875-1895); F. Antonios Shbeir (1895-1901); F. Boulos Abboud (1901-1920); F. Moubarac Tabet (1920-1923); F. Boutros Francis Ghanem (1923-1930); F. Moubarac Abou Sleiman (1930-1933); F. Maroun Abi Karam (1933-1938); F. Francis Ghanem (1938); F. Boulos Meouchi (1938-1942), who also for some time held the title of Jerusalem's Patriarchal Vicar; F. Athanasios Matar (1942-1945); F. Youhanna Eid (1945-1947); F. Abdel Ahad Chahine (1947-1957); F. Yaacoub Raad (1957-1974); F. Augustin Harfouche (1974-1996); F. Elias Andari (1996-1998); and F. Jean Maroun Moughames (1998-present) (Akiki 1988: 47-55).

      B. Nazareth

  1. Among the Catholics currently living in Nazareth (a city which, in addition to Acre, gives its name to titular Maronite bishops, the last one being bishop Boulos Aouad), the Maronites are the earliest. In fact, at the end of the thirteenth century, when the Christians evacuated Nazareth, the city became inhabited by Moslems only. Most of the Christians now living in Nazareth come from Lebanon (Maronites and Latins) and Hauram (Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics) (Assad 1924: 205). The Franciscans settled there in 1620 and in 1630, profiting from the government of Fakhreddin Ma'an, they sent for a Maronite colony from Lebanon to second them in their work. The Patriarch sent them Benyamine al-Hednani (from Ehden), who was an old student of the Maronite College of Rome. A married priest and the father of three sons (Gabriel, Michel and Luis), he became dragoman for the Franciscans. All his family joined him and settled in Nazareth, thus forming the first Latin knot in that city (Assad 1924: 45 and 176). It should be noted that all the Latins of the Orient were converts from the Oriental Churches. The Superior of the Franciscans, Father Guardiano obtained a decree from the Pasha of Acre putting the Christians of the city of Jerusalem under his jurisdiction. Imitating the politics of their confreres of Jerusalem, the Franciscans elsewhere used the same influence to increase the number of their faithful. (Moubarac, 1984: 258) In 1698, the Maronite Patriarch sent a bishop to collect tithes; the community refused to pay and appealed to Rome through a letter on May 1, 1698 (text in Assad 1924: 255-256). Due to this disagreement between the Patriarch's messenger and the Maronites of Nazareth, the latter declared themselves Latin. This is how the city's Latin community came to be.
  2. In 1768, due to a disagreement between dragoman Youssef Geries Shamma and the Franciscans who wouldn't allow a Maronite priest to celebrate Mass in the monastery church, Shamma and some faithful decided to return to Maronite jurisdiction. One of them went to Lebanon in 1769 and got the approval of Patriarch Youssef Estephan to appoint a priest as their leader, whose name was Luis, from Qaïtouleh. On their way back, the priest and the lay emissary, passing by Acre, received from the city's effendi, Cheikh Zaher al-Omar, a decree dated 1770 that allowed the Maronites of Nazareth to have a priest for their community. In this decree, Cheikh Zaher said: "We give our dear Maronite Christians of Nazareth the authority to bring a priest of their own confession, who will reside with them and build them a church; who will take care of their religious duties so that their situation may become as stable as possible. We have written this text as a document in their hands, and the priest who will settle down with them will find nothing but kindness from our side." A church dedicated to Saint Anthony was built and inaugurated in 1774 and was honored by a papal bull in 1786 and by another one in 1868 (Mansour 1924: 62-63 and 176).
  3. In 1853, the Maronites of Nazareth numbered 220. Today, they constitute 1,050. (Rorberts and Peña 1984: 216-222). In the past years, the Maronite parish choir has won many Israeli prizes for its religious chants.

      C. HAIFA

  1. Haifa has the largest Maronite parish, with about 2,400 faithful. The first baptism of a Maronite in Haifa, listed in the register of the Carmes Fathers, took place in 1840 (Harfouche 1907: 823). The brothers Ibrahim and Salim Nasrallah Khoury built the church, which is dedicated to Saint Louis Roi. Construction began on December 11, 1883 and the foundations were laid on January 12, 1884. The Melchite, Raji al-Qashqoush from Haifa, was entrusted to carry out the work. Work was interrupted on August 24, 1885, but was resumed in August 1887 and the church was completed in November 1889. On February 21, 1890, the archbishop of Tyre and Saida, Monsignor Pierre Boustani, came forward with the first titular of the parish, Father Boulos ben Antoun Kassab, a Lebanese from Zouk Mikael. On Sunday, February 23, during a pontifical Eucharistic liturgy, the Archbishop undertook the consecration of the church, in the presence of many Christians; and the altar and the baptistery were consecrated on the afternoon of the following Thursday, February 27, 1890 (Maronite archives of Haifa). At the time of the pastoral visit of Monsignor Choukrallah Khoury on July 8, 1906, the Maronite faithful numbered 700. (Harfouche 1907: 823)

      D. Akka

  1. The city had many different names: Ptolemaïs (third century B.C.), Acre, Acco or Saint John of Acre. It was a titular Episcopal see. Thus, Gabriel Aouad (born in 1700) was consecrated titular bishop of Akka on April 2, 1724. (Sfeir 1994: 43) The Maronites of Akka came from Lebanon and settled in this city towards the end of the seventeenth century. Among their pastors, from 174l until 1753, was the future Patriarch Michael Fadel from 1741 until 1753. He took this charge after he was ordained, when he was barely 21 years old. There, he spread his zeal for the benefit of the Maronite community and built a church under the patronage of the Holy Family early in 1750, probably with the help of French benefactors, as implied by a tombstone inscription: HIC JACENT OSSA J-B. LAFORCADE. Under Saint Anthony's altar of the old church, an epitaph in Arabic was found concerning a certain Antoun who died from the pest in 1732 at the age of 22. The bishop of Tyre, Choukrallah Khoury made a pastoral visit of 12 days in June 1906 and stayed at the residence of the eminent Ibrahim Nasrallah Khoury. The bishop realized that many Maronites had already emigrated to America. (Harfouche Al-Machriq 1907: 822) Later, the number of Maronites rose to 185; but today only 108 remain after the settling of 80 people a few years ago in a village near Maker.

      E. Jish

  1. Jish, or Goush Halav, is a village near the Lebanese border. Its Maronites form a parish of 1,400 faithful, enlarged by the flock of Maronite refugees from Kfar Bar'am. The Saint Theresa Maronite sisters maintain a kindergarten there, and a parish church dedicated to Our Lady has just been finished.

      F. Isfiya

  1. This village on Mount Carmel has a small parish of 159 faithful, whose presence goes back to the beginning of this century. Nevertheless, in consulting the Franciscans archives, we found a report sent in 1666 to the congregation by Father Francesco M. Polizzi, custodian of the Holy Land, in which he speaks of this place (without naming it) whose population was entirely Maronite deprived of all sacraments for the past five years following the escape of their pastor. "I dispatched a priest sojourning at Santa Casa of Nazareth. The priest, who was familiar with the Arabic language, administered the sacraments and baptized 62 persons. I assigned a priest from Nazareth to visit the village every Saturday to celebrate Mass on Sunday and to instruct the population in the faith. He continues to do so" (Bagatti 1971: 109-110). This devout priest was Placido da Varallo who lived in the Holy Land from 1636 till the end of his life. He died of the pest epidemic in Jerusalem at the age of 77 on July 19, 1670. Polizzi did not mention the name of the said village, but Father Bagatti identified it without hesitation as Isfiya.
  2. According to a 1922 statistic, there were only 7 Maronites in Isfiya, while there were 106 Melchites, 6 Latins, 6 Orthodox and 590 Druze (Bagatti 1971: 110). In 1971, Monsignor Joseph Khoury, archbishop of Tyre, laid the first stone of the parish church, the construction of which was carried thanks to the persistent efforts of Father Salim Soussan. The solemn inauguration took place on July 23, 1989 and the church was dedicated to Saint Sharbel. Isfiya, which had been a part of the parish of Haifa, was on that day raised to an actual parish and, ever since, has had its first appointed parish priest, Father Naji Yaacoub.

      G. Kfar Bar'am

  1. It would not be right not to mention the Maronite village of Kfar Bar'am (or Birim or Ber'em). The village is situated at three kilometers from the Israeli-Lebanese border. When the bishop of Tyre, His Lordship Choukrallah Khoury made a pastoral visit to this village on October 8, 1906, he realized that its inhabitants "were pious people, leading a simple life, receptive to what's right, welcoming with extreme avidity and piety the preaching that we give them." At the time, the Maronites inhabiting the village had come from different parts of Lebanon: the Khoury family from Hadath Jubbi settled there 200 years ago; the Soussans from Kleyat Marjeyoun; the Maroun Turquiens from Rmeich; the Hanna Moussas from Aqtanit ; the Sarrou family from Ser'el and Qaitouleh; the Diabs from Bethlehem ; and others from an unknown origin. (Harfouche 1907: 1034; Moubarac, Pentalogie II /1 1984: 253)
  2. Right before its painful disappearance, Kfar Bar'am had 1,050 inhabitants (according to the census made on November 7, 1948). On November 29, 1948, the Israeli army entered Kfar Bar'am and met the population gathered in the church. Two days later the army ordered the population to move five kilometers away toward the Lebanese border, promising to let them in again within two weeks, when the military exercises on the border were over. The inhabitants believed the promises and waited; they are still waiting. On September 16, 1953, the village was dynamited. The refugees scattered to Jish, Haifa and Akka (where 30 of them were from Kfar Bar'am) (Soussan 1986: 69; Ryan 1974: 66).
  3. Many have written about the tragedy of Kfar Bar'am tragedy (see bibliography), but the Maronite parish priest, Father Youssef Soussan, wrote the most complete narration, with photocopies of original documents. It is called My Ttestimony: Bar'amite Chronical 1948-1968, published in 1986, 320 pages.
  4. The same fate struck the Maronite village of Mansoura, whose inhabitants are currently scattered in Fassouta, Eilaboun and other villages and are following the Melchite rite.


  1. Monsignor Paul Sayah, archbishop of Haifa and the Holy Land, and the Patriarchal Exarch for Jerusalem and Palestine since June 8, 1996, brought new life and energy to the Maronite presence in Christ's country. This date, in fact, marked a turning point in the history of the Maronite presence in the Holy Land. Before that day, the Maronites of the Holy Land were subject to the Maronite archbishop of Tyre and the rarity of the latter's visits, mostly due to the political problems in the region, had negative and often serious consequences over the church. Since the forming of the Maronite Archdiocese See in Haifa and the Holy Land and since the titular had been residing in its diocese, the Maronite church in the nation where Jesus was born now seemed to be destined for a real renaissance. The character of the titular, who is a very educated man with a rich ecumenical experience, had much to do with it.
  2. Let us not forget to mention the role of the Maronite Lebanese Order, which has been in Jaffa for over a century and to whose parish it had ministered. On October 1, 1982, this Order bought a building in Bethlehem, 170 meters from the Nativity Grotto, and turned it into a pilgrims' inn, a sewing room and a chapel. In Jaffa, on a plot of land that also belongs to the same Maronite Lebanese Order, 50 apartments were built to facilitate the lodging of families.
  3. The Maronite Sisters of Saint Theresa of the Christ Child (Sainte Thérèse de l'Enfant Jésus), who have been in the Holy Land since 1981, practice their activities at the See of the Patriarchal Vicariate in Jerusalem, in particular, and in the parish of Jish.
  4. A chart indicating the physical and active presence of the Maronites in Christ's country would not be complete nor accurate if we did not mention the remarkable, though not publically announced, contributions that the Maronite Church continued to make to the Latin Catholic community, ever since the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1847. The solidarity with the Universal Church reveals the Catholic aspect of the Maronite community and its remarkable adaptability, which is one of its traditional characteristics. (In June 2000, three Maronite bishops are, respectively, apostolic nuncio in Slovenia, apostolic nuncio in Greece and Latin apostolic vicar in Beirut).
  5. We must remember the humble role played by Joseph Kablan Dahdah who, since the founding of the Latin seminar of Jerusalem in 1853, had taught the Arabic language there for 36 years. We should also remember all the priests of Maronite origin who kept helping the Latin Patriarchate as parish priests: Father Joseph Aqel, a Maronite priest who contributed to the establishment of the Latin parish of 'Ader (a village 7 kilometers northeast of Kerak); his Maronite successor, Father Sim'an Boutros (between 1925-1935), Fathers Joseph Daher (1940) and Arsenios Ghostawi (1940) (Jerusalem, Diocesan Bulletin XLV III, 1981: 201), Father Choukri Srour, (1883-1953) who served the Latin patriarchate from 1919 as priest in Smakieh, Beisan, Hosn, Beit Sahour, Bourka and Gaza until his death on September 9, 1953 and who left behind the reputation of a "new Vincent de Paul", having published a catechism, a prayer book and a gymnastic manual (Jerusalem, Diocesan Bulletin XLV III, 1981: 188-191); Father Boulos in Taybeh (1879); Father Ghanimeh (between 1898 and 1907); and Father Alfred Atiyeh, priest of Gifna, who died in 1989 and is the composer of the widespread music of the Paternoster in Arabic.There are also many who are currently responsible for important Latin parishes. The Maronite Church also contributed by supplying Latin religious institutions with male and female vocations, among them: Father Doumet, a Maronite priest who became Dominican, who was a teacher of Arabic in the Biblical School in Father Lagrange's time (Lagrange, 1956); and the native congregation of the Rosary Sisters, founded by Father Youssef Tannous Yammine, a distant descendant of the Lebanese Maronite Yammine who came from Ehden to Nazareth in 1630 (Chomali 1992: 15).
  6. On the dawn of the third millenium, the Maronite presence in the Holy Land is as follows: According to the Annuario Pontificio 2000 (pages 5-6 and 296), there are three Maronite jurisdictions in the Holy Land: the Archbishopric of Haifa and Holy Land; the Vicarage or Patriarchal Exarchate of Jerusalem and Palestine; and the Vicarage or Exarchate of Jordan. Monsignor Paul Sayah is currently titular of these three Sees.
  7. The parishes are distributed as follows: Ain Kynia (Saint George's Church); Acre and Maker: (Rosary Church); Haifa (Saint Louis Roi Church); Isfiya (Saint Charbel Church); Jaffa (Saint Anthony Church); Jish (two churches: Our Lady and Saint Maroun); Nazareth (Annunciation Church); Jerusalem (Saint Maroun Church); Bethlehem (Saint Charbel Church); and Amman (Saint Charbel Church).
  8. Monsignor Sayah is assisted by five native diocesan priests and two temporary resident Lebanese monks. Three young people are being prepared for priesthood. Maronite Sisters of Saint Theresa are present in Jerusalem, Jish and Haifa, The Maronite Lebanese Order owns estates in Jaffa and Bethlehem and have one or two monks there.
  9. Where are the Maronites of the Holy Land currently distributed? The residential diocese of Haifa has six parishes ministered by five diocesan priests, two monks, nine nuns and four young persons preparing for priesthood. This diocese has approximately 7,060 faithful. In the Exarchy of Jerusalem, the number of faithful is estimated to be 45 families, which is about 135 faithful, including 4 families in Bethlehem, 7 in Beth Jala, 2 in Beth Sahour in Ramallah and a few people in Abou Dis, Beit Hanina, Sha'fat and Ar-Ram.
  10. The Excarchy of Jordan has 145 families (about 1,000 faithful), including 15 in Zarka. These last few years have launched a new era in favor of the Maronites of the Holy Land. A recent event that could be qualified as historical for the Catholic Church in the Holy Land accounts for this. It was the founding on June 8, 1996 of the Maronite Archbishopric of Haifa and the Holy Land, whose official Latin name Ptolemaindensis Maronitarum in Terra Sancta. Before then, that archbishopric territory had been under the jurisdiction of the Maronite archbishop of Tyre, who used to appoint an Episcopal Vicar living in Haifa or Jaffa. The new situation has not introduced any alterations to the Patriarchal Exarchate of Jerusalem, whose jurisdiction extends to Jerusalem, the self-governing Palestinian territories and Jordan. It was clear that the previous situation, partly due to the insecurity caused by the endemic war in the country, made the pastoral administration of the bishop of Tyre toward his faithful in the Holy Land quite difficult. He was unable to ensure his personal presence with his faithful when circumstances required it. Obviously, it was impossible to keep the canonical situation of the diocese as it was when it was founded by the papal brief on February 26, 1906.
  11. Much later on, perhaps not too much later, the Synod of the Maronite Church and the Holy See realized that it was necessary to have a pastor residing close to his flocks. Hence, the founding of the Maronite Archbishopric of Haifa and the Holy Land in June 1996, with Monsignor Paul Sayah, a well-known personality in the ecumenical circle, as its first titular. On October 5 of the same year, a patriarchal decree appointed the same prelate as Patriarchal Exarch for Jerusalem, Palestine and Jordan. In Amman, the Bishop has been working on reuniting the Maronite faithful. He is currently building them a church under the patronage of Saint Sharbel on land offered by Hussein, the late King of Jordan.
  12. This improvement of the Maronite Church situation in the Holy Land has already borne fruit in the immediate sense. Monsignor Sayah and his priests, all at their prime, inserted the Maronite community's role into that of the whole Church of the Holy Land. Therefore, they played a remarkable part when the Synod of the Catholic Church was held in February 2000 in the Holy Land. Though conscious of the spiritual and cultural specificity of their church, the Maronite authorities in the Holy Land avoid any kind of withdrawal or ghetto-like attitude, and the Bishop's long ecumenical experience has had very much to do with this. The Bishop, meanwhile, does not neglect the material aspect of his job. He undertook restorations on the buildings of the Vicarage of Jerusalem by adding another floor to them.
  13. The future of the Maronite Church in the Holy Land, however, is nevertheless uncertain and is bound to that of the rest of Christians. Its future is under the mercy of the very unstable situation in the region. The Christian presence will have to push its way through, applying a good measure of flexibility and adaptability in coping with the political and economic problems, as well as the challenges resulting from the recrudescence of fundamentalist movements.

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