Archbishop of the Maronite Church in Cyprus

By H. E. Bishop Boutros Gemayel
Bishop of the Maronite Church in Cyprus

This article on the Apostolic Exhortation is based on one of a series of lectures given at the Institute of Pontifical Theology at the Holy Spirit University, Kaslik, Lebanon, in Spring 1998. It discusses the position of the Pope's Exhortation in regard to the Catholic Lebanese Churches in the Diaspora, i.e. abroad, and it deals particularly with the situation of the Maronite Churches abroad. Consequently, this article recommends practical interventions on the Maronite Patriarchal level to strengthen the ties between the Maronite Churches in the motherland, Lebanon, and those in the Diaspora.


The call to convene a Synod for Lebanon was made by His Holiness Pope John Paul II on June 12, 1991. It was the first time that a synod was called for one country rather then for a region. This shows the Holy Fatherís high regard for the Christians of Lebanon and Lebanon itself, as part of the Holy and Sacred Christian Land. At the end of the Synod, His Holiness presented his insights in a document entitled "The Apostolic Exhortation: A New Hope for Lebanon". The document was signed in Harrissa, Lebanon, during the Holy Fatherís visit in May 1997.

The Apostolic Exhortation (hereafter: the Exhortation) called upon the Catholic Churches of Lebanon to begin a process of internal revival and reform to testify to Christ's love. It also asked these Churches to adapt to a newly defined political reality in order to adjust to the present Arab environment. The Exhortation calls for wider cooperation between clergy and lay people in harmony with the objective of service and Christian witness.

The Exhortation is a document of peace, renewal, unity and conviviality. As Mohammed Beydoun, a Parliamentarian said, it is "a liberal text open to democracy in all its aspects: active democratic participation in social and political life, taking into account economic equality as the basis for a gradual ascent to achieve social justice. The Exhortation pulls each of us more away from the times of war and urges us toward peace. Furthermore, the Exhortation highlighted the need for meaningful participation by the young in laying the foundations for a new political life that will cement peace and uphold democratic principles and values" (Beydoun 1997).

The Exhortation dealt with all aspects of the Catholic Church. It covered relations with the various Churches and with the Muslims; it dealt with the Arab milieu and the future of Lebanon as a country with a "mission", a country unique in its pluralism.

As we will see later in this article, the Exhortation did consider the Catholic Lebanese Diaspora very briefly in one paragraph in Chapter IV entitled the Communion (AE 1997: 127-143).


Eastern Catholics living in the Diaspora or the lands of emigration number in the millions. There are reportedly over seven million Maronites alone living in Brazil, the United States of America, South America, Canada, Africa, Europe and Australia. The Eastern Catholics are shepherded by their own bishops and clergy. Outside Lebanon, the Maronites have twenty bishoprics located in Canada, the United States of America, Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Europe, Cyprus, Syria, Egypt and the Holy Land.

These originally hundreds of emigrants of the various Eastern Catholic Churches were principally from Lebanon followed by lesser numbers from Syria. Here the question is asked: Why didn't the Exhortation take into consideration this vast world comprising all the Eastern Catholic Churches?

Why was no consideration given to the relationship between the communicants of those Catholic Churches and their ancient, ancestral Mother Churches in the Middle East? We believe that the following are two of the most apparent reasons why the Exhortation overlooked this concern.

The first reason has to do with the scope of the Synod itself. By virtue of its being called the Synod for Lebanon, its scope was limited. It did not intend to go beyond the geographic or territorial boundaries of Lebanon because the Lebanese Churches, including the Maronite Church, are all Patriarchal Churches that wield only liturgical authority over their own churches outside Lebanon. Hence in the view of the leaders of the Synod, the non-liturgical matters are only of concern to the Patriarchal Churches within but not beyond the confines of their Lebanese territory (Code of Canons 1991: 67-69). This view may be correct according to that aforementioned Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches which does in fact limit the non-liturgical authority of the Patriarch and the synod of bishops of the Patriarchal Church to the territorial boundaries, i.e. "those regions in which the rite proper to the same Church is observed" (Code of Canons 1991: 67 Can. 146-§1).

However, this view is still imprecise. According to the thinking (the concept) of the Oriental Patriarchates, the Patriarchal Church is one in its geographical and territorial area as well as in the Diaspora [i.e. both within and beyond Lebanon]. The synod of bishops which is formed by bishops from inside and outside the territorial area, elects the Patriarch and the synod of bishops, formulates the laws, and manages the affairs of the church with the Patriarch. One father, the Patriarch, guides the Patriarchal Church in the territorial area and abroad. Therefore, any decision taken by the Patriarchal Church and the synod of bishops greatly affects and influences the affairs of that Church within and outside of its territory.

The second reason why the Diaspora was not given sufficient consideration lies with those responsible for organizing the Synod for Lebanon. They did not agree to have the bishops of the Lebanese Diaspora take part in the Synod. The subject of the Synod -- by geography and membership -- was limited exclusively to the Church of Lebanon. The rationale may have been to entrust only the Churches of Lebanon with the apostolic responsibility when the political and social situations in Lebanon are so unfavorable. It may also have been to concentrate on the role of these Churches in Lebanon [but not beyond].

It is fair to say that His Holiness the Holy Father wished for as few diaspora bishops as possible to participate in the meetings, which convened in Rome to present to the Synod for Lebanon. I personally was honored to participate as the Maronite Bishop of Cyprus. I shared in the discussions and interventions regarding the issues of the Churches in the Diaspora. Along with other concerned persons, I had tried to include the issues of the Churches of the Diaspora in the heart of the Exhortation and to devise clear, firm rules and laws to organize the relations between the Churches in Lebanon and their extended churches in the Diaspora.

The result was Article 83 in the final document of the Exhortation, which though it identified the problem and gave brief views regarding a few points, fell short of addressing this very important matter.

The Apostolic Exhortation's Position Regarding the Lebanese Catholic Churches in the Diaspora

The Exhortation gave very little attention to the Lebanese Catholic Churches in the Diaspora. Article 83 is the only article of the Exhortation that mentioned the Diaspora. Article 83 is herein translated from French, the original language of the Synod and the Exhortation.

[Avec les communautés catholiques de la diaspora: Un appel urgent a été lancé par plusieurs intervenants pour maintenir et intensifier les relations entre les communautés catholiques de la diaspora et les différents patriarcats au Liban. En effet, une communauté locale ne peut pas vivre coupée de son centre d'unité sans courir le risque de s'ériger dans une totale indépendance. Ce renouveau des relations comporte des devoirs de part et d'autre. Ainsi, chaque patriarcat prendra soin de fournir à ses fidèles répandus à travers le monde l'assistance spirituelle et morale dont ils sont besoin, en envoyant des prêtres, des diacres, des religieux et des religieuses, qui auront soin de travailler en liaison avec les autres Eglises locales, en particulier avec celle de rite latin; dans le même temps, les évêques seront attentifs à ce que les futurs prêtres, formés dans la diaspora, puissent découvrir concrètement le patrimoine et la culture de leur Eglise patriarcale d'origine. Ces relations se concrétiseront aussi par un partage matériel et spirituel permanent, afin de soutenir le Corps ecclésial tout entier]. French version

It reads in English as follows:

"An urgent appeal was launched by many (intervening parties) sponsoring claims to maintain and intensify the relationships between the [Lebanese] Catholic communities of the Diaspora and the diverse Patriarchates in Lebanon. In fact, a local community cannot live cut off from its center of unity without running the risk of establishing total independence. This renewal of relations imposes duties upon each party involved. Thus, each Patriarchate takes responsibility to furnish to its constituencies in the Diaspora around the world the spiritual and moral assistance that they need by sending priests, deacons, monks and nuns who will work in liaison with the other local churches, in particular those of the Latin rite. At the same time, the bishops should make certain that future priests trained in the Diaspora are able to learn first hand the heritage and culture of their Patriarchal churches of origin. These relations also will become real when there is a permanent exchange --spiritual and temporal-- in order to sustain the whole body of the [Christís] church." (AE 1997: 136, Art. 83).

This Article does not give justice to the position and role of the Lebanese Catholic Churches of the Diaspora, especially when the number of their parishioners, churches and dioceses outnumber those in Lebanon.

Principles and Practical Suggestions


Faced with this reality what can we conclude and suggest? After studying the various aspects of this matter, we admit the importance of the relationship between the Churches in Lebanon and their extended churches in the Diaspora. The Churches in Lebanon and in the Diaspora need each other for many reasons and the following are some of them:

1. The political situation in the Orient forces the Christians to emigrate by the thousands. They then form communities abroad which become stronger and become involved in the political and social structure of their respective new countries. When the Churches of Lebanon weaken, they must find strength and support outside. They must find spiritual, political, social and financial support so that they do not wither and die. In fact, the various Catholic Oriental Churches have become more numerous abroad than those in Lebanon. 

 This is an ongoing phenomenon as the socio-political situation continues to deteriorate and emigration steadily rises. Relations between the two wings of the Church should be regulated to keep the Churches in Lebanon strong and firm as they face political, social, financial and religious dangers.

2. The Church abroad needs the Church of Lebanon just as the son needs his parentsí home and his country and heritage so that he will not lose his identity. From where, then, does the Church draw its trust and spiritual heritage? The Churches of the Diaspora must stay tightly linked to the Mother Church in Lebanon in order to draw upon the latterís particular spirituality and be faithful to its spiritual heritage. This would prevent our people abroad from becoming influenced by foreign, western [or non-Eastern] spirituality that is convenient in such an environment but which will gradually detach them from their heritage. If this happens, our churches abroad will be like museums with parishioners unable to celebrate the liturgy and holy days. This would be a loss for the Church in Lebanon and abroad. 

Practical Suggestions

In this century of audio-visual media and the Internet, is it still difficult to link the Churches of Lebanon and those of the Diaspora? The world today is a small village, everyone is able to know it and to move within it. It is going to become even smaller as the technology progresses. It is important to know how to benefit from these advances and thereby strengthen, regulate and manage the relations between the Churches of Lebanon and their extended ones abroad.

We have thought of the following possible interventions to guide this relationship. We present them here with the hope that they will be a working paper for discussion and then become the basis for a plan to be implemented as the third millennium dawns.

 1. Create a special directorate for the Churches abroad. This directorate should be linked to the respective Eastern Patriarchate which will care for and communicate with its constituencies abroad. It should be led by a bishop having the responsibilities of a "Minister of Foreign and Repatriation Affairs", assisted by a special working group. The mission of this directorate should be to link the Mother Church and its churches abroad. It should have its own program, center or headquarters, modern media, and budget. Then the directorate will be able to supervise and manage the relations, coordinate meetings between the two wings of the church, and conduct regular visits abroad. This directorate will need a data bank and disseminate information abroad every day to the dioceses and the overseas churches. The directorate will have other offices in the main decision-making cities of the world, like Rome, Paris, and Washington, where information and reports are exchanged with the directorate. 

 2. The directorate should be linked directly to the centers and then to all the dioceses throughout the world. Each otherís needs would be quickly addressed. 

 3. The churches in Lebanon and abroad should finance the directorate. 

 4. This directorate should disseminate a regular newsletter which reports on all the important events and issues of concern to the Patriarchal Church. This newsletter will be translated into the main languages spoken by our people abroad and distributed in all our churches. 

 5. This directorate should organize events in Lebanon, in the form of religious pilgrimages, where the emigrant youth can learn about their heritage and history and can participate in spiritual and cultural gatherings. 

 6. The Holy Valley of Qannoubine should become the spiritual center of the Maronite people and their place of pilgrimage. 

 7. Bishops of the Diaspora must train priests, deacons and lay persons with in-depth knowledge and commitment to their religious rite, spiritual heritage and history. They will become leaders able to produce positive results. Therefore, each new priest should spend at least two years in Lebanon in an ecclesiastical, liturgical, cultural and historical program in preparation for service to his community abroad. 

 8. Religious orders of men and women, which have resources and missions abroad, must send to their facilities well trained, energetic people with good religious formation. All members of religious orders who are sent abroad to serve our people must receive training in the pertinent languages and cultures. All of them must be well experienced in the life of the church. 

 9. Bishops who are blessed with many priests, brothers and nuns should consider sending them abroad as missionaries for five to ten years. Those priests [and religious] should consider themselves true missionaries to their brothers and sisters who are eager to hear the Good News in their own rite. These missionaries should be provided all their living necessities. 

 10. The seminaries and the schools of theology should organize courses and lectures about the situation and needs of the Church abroad. In all this, the Holy Spirit will inspire those who serve our people abroad. 

 11. Priests, monks and nuns are not the only missionaries in our Church. Many of our lay people are active and effective in spiritual and social work. These members of the laity can strengthen the ties between the two wings of the Church by volunteering to help the missions abroad or by opening information and parish centers. 


It is necessary to work together within the diversity of the church and the pluralism of the world, especially the pluralism of Lebanon. Besides moving forward determinedly, we are called to make decisions, organize ourselves and target the issues at hand with modern understanding, methods and techniques. 

Most of our people abroad are spiritually and emotionally linked to Lebanon and some others are even more intimately linked to it. These believers must be considered active partners in their church and in its future. When we create more regulations and procedures which discourage their active participation and membership in our Church, we lose them to the world and to other religious trends that answer their needs and their concerns. We have the responsibility to create a vision and devise a clear plan for all the Patriarchal Churches so that within Lebanon and abroad they communicate on the same level, cooperate without misunderstanding, work in support of each other in proclaiming Christ, Our Savior, and prepare for a new Epiphany.


John Paul II, Pope, Exhortation Apostolique Post-Synodale: Une Espérance Nouvelle pour le Liban, Centre Catholique d'Information, Liban, 1997.

Mohammed Beydoun, National Unity and the Apostolic Exhortation, Lebanon Daily Star, May 12, 1998.

Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Latin - English Edition), Canon Law Society of America, Washington, D.C., 1991.

| Back to Issue | Copyright | Next |