Maronite Church Land Forcibly Taken By Mayor of Lassa, Jbeil to be Given to Shia Mosque

The tensions in the Jbeil town of Lassa continue to surface. After an episode involving Hezbollah communication and whatnot, it has transpired that the town’s mayor, Issam Al Meqdad, started taking 5000 sqm of land owned by the Maronite Church to give them to the nearby Mosque, considering the land as belonging to the Shia “Waqf” of the town.

When the Patriarchal envoy to the region, Chamoun Aoun, found out, he contacted the Maronite Church in Jounieh and notified policemen who rushed to the town but couldn’t do anything. MP Michel Aoun was notified of what was happening. He found the affair very peculiar and notified Jbeil’s MP Simon Abi Ramia to pursue the matter further.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Lassa, with whom the policemen couldn’t do anything, still firmly believes that the land is not for the Maronite Church – even though they legally own it – but for the Mosque.

Now one cannot but wonder, what more do some entities in Lebanon need to do to prove ownership of a land? Is it not enough that they have the deed? Is it not enough that they paid for it? Is it not enough that it has been there and for years and years?

5000 sqm may sound like not much for many people but this is not the first time this happens and by the looks of it, it won’t be the last. This land was not bought or sold. In order for the Maronite Church to sell land, it needs authorization from the Vatican who most probably wouldn’t approve such a transaction. This land is being simply stolen – there’s no other word for it.

And the sadder part is we can’t do anything about this but watch. At least that’s what we did when land was being taken in the same way in other locations in Lebanon.

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Dear Patriarch Raï, Enough… from a Lebanese Maronite.

I won’t lie and tell you I wasn’t happy when Beshara Al Raï was elected as the successor Maronite Patriarch to Nasrallah Sfeir, a man I believe is truly one of the greatest Lebanon has ever had.

Nasrallah Sfeir was berated, ridiculed, attacked, mocked and bashed for having very staunch views regarding the political situation of the region, his congregation and country. He never wavered. He was never afraid of speaking his mind, regardless of the repercussions. With Nasrallah Sfeir, I, as a Maronite, was proud of my Church. I was proud of the liberty walk the Maronite Church was pioneering across Lebanon.

It was the Maronite Church that called for Syrian troops withdrawal in 2000. It was the Maronite Church that was the staunchest anti-Syrian entity in the country when every single politician inside Lebanon was busy playing house with Bashar Assad’s men. It was the Maronite Church that ignited the first spark for the Cedar Revolution in 2005. And it was all because of one man: Nasrallah Sfeir.

Many Aounists do not like Sfeir. They’re the ones who ridicule, attack, mock and berate him, calling him senile, demented, etc…. And one of the main reasons I cannot take Aounists seriously is because when Sfeir supported their electoral campaign in 2005, whilst their leader Michel Aoun had not gone the deep bend yet, they loved Sfeir. He was one of the main reasons they got high number of votes in crucial Christian areas. But when Michel Aoun changed his views and started making love to Hezbollah, Sfeir remained firm. Aounists flipped with their leader and Sfeir became their focus of hatred. Excuse me for not taking you seriously.

But I digress. This is not a post to speak about the qualities of Nasrallah Sfeir. This is a post to talk about the shortcomings of his successor: Beshara Al Raï.

This will not be a post of me bashing the Maronite Patriarch. I try not to be a hypocrite and as such, I will try to avoid falling to hypocrisy over here. I hated when the Aounists cursed Sfeir and I’d hate myself for cursing Raï.

But Mr. Raï, you really need to be careful about what you say.

First, you support the oppressive regime in Syria, a regime that you personally fought against while it was ruling you in Lebanon. You adopted the mentality that many Christians in Lebanon and the region have: protection comes through an alliance of minorities. Well, I think this is simply cowardly. Have you forgotten Mr. Raï what that Syrian regime did in Lebanon in the years that it ruled the country? In case you forgot, here’s an extensive reminder. Have you forgotten the people that lost their lives at the hand of that regime? Have you forgotten the Maronite priests who were murdered or kidnapped by that regime? How can you fathom asking your congregation to accept allying themselves with the killer who tore at their souls for over fifteen years? Being afraid is not the solution Mr. Raï. Assuming responsibility, fighting for human rights and democracy is. 

Second, you support Hezbollah’s arms. I understand your motto for your patriarchal campaign was “love and partnership.” The notion of partnership, Mr. Raï, invokes equality. And there’s no way that an armed militia, terrorizing those that do not support it, is in a partnership with the rest of the country. And there’s no way supporting its arms and giving it extra Christian-support can be a sign of seeking partnership. It’s also hard for me to believe someone like you, who actively championed against these weapons before you became patriarch, can so easily change his mind. It’s not a switch of a button Mr. Patriarch.

Third, calling for love and partnership does not warrant you asking Christian convents and churches not to hire any non-Christian foreign workers, soon after the murder of Myriam Achkar. Her murder, Mr. Raï, was not sectarian. It was a sick, twisted man killing an innocent woman. If your message had been for churches and convents not to hire any foreign workers, it would have been greatly more understandable. Even if you had asked them to hire only Christian Lebanese, it would have been somewhat understandable. But not at the moment. Sometimes saying things just because the situation is still boiling, just to score a few points, is not the best strategy for someone in your position. As the head of the Maronite Church, your job at times like these is to get people to cool down, not fuel their hatred. Perhaps in a month or two you could have issued a private decree to Maronite convents with this particular order. Just not today. Besides, what’s the fault of the many Lebanese Muslim families already employed at convents and churches? Is their fault someone they share a sect with turned out to be a raging psychopath? Why are they the ones who have to assume responsibility for something they didn’t do?

I’m pretty sure Mr. Raï that if the tables had been turned and a Maronite had killed someone named Fatme Achkar and the Shiite/Sunni clergy asked their mosques to fear Christians the way you are asking now, you would have been throwing a fit.

Ever since you became patriarch, Mr Raï, the amount of paranoia and fear among Maronites has been exponentially increasing. It’s not us against our fellow countrymen. It’s all of us together against the foreign entities that want to mess with our country. It’s not Maronite VS Sunnis, it’s not Maronite VS Shiites. It’s Maronites and Shiites and Sunnis together to build a country. I understand the fear of having land owned by Christian be spread around. Perhaps asking Christians not to sell their land now is understandable – at least until this tricky phase the region is going through subsides. But in a country where economical woes are spreading, why don’t you help these Christians keep their land, Mr. Raï? Doesn’t the Maronite church have enough money? Can’t it hire those Lebanese in need to work in the many, many, many hectares it owns?

I’m proud of my heritage as a Lebanese Maronite and the sacrifices my Church has gone through over the years to build the country I live in. It saddens me, however, to see the person representing my church go to this extent against the natural current that has helped build this church. It saddens me to see the Maronite Church losing its sense of nationalism and its sense of patriotism.

Some might say it’s not my place to write this. At the end of the day, I did not vote for Mr. Raï nor could I have voted for him. So unlike a politician whom you can hold accountable, the Maronite Patriarch is someone out of your reach somehow because his time as patriarch only ends with him resigning or passing away. I do not wish any of those on Mr. Raï. What I hope to accomplish is perhaps, by having a voice of his congregation voice concern, I wouldn’t seem like an “outsider” intruding. It would be like a group within a big family debating. And when the faults the patriarch is committing are all across the news, a harmless blog post doesn’t seem such a disgrace, I guess. At the end of the day, I feel obliged as a Maronite to express my concerns about anyone who says they represent me, whether they truly do or not.

Christmas is coming up soon. Perhaps Mr. Raï you should consider this time of prayer to look at all that you’ve done in your first few months in the patriarchal office. Hopefully your gift to us will be a back to basis.

Between Brad and Bkerke…

February 9th, St. Maroun’s day, the founder of the Maronite Church.

On this day, we are observing two totally different scenes.
One in Bkerke, Lebanon and one in Brad, Syria.

In Bkerke, the Maronite Patriach, held Mass to celebrate the day. Notable politicians attended.
In Brad, a Lebanese Maronite political leader took his family and supporters to celebrate the day.

The difference in meaning between both celebrations is anything but subtle…

Do not be fooled by the apparent religious cover of the celebration in Brad… it is all political.
Brad might have been an important Maronite location in the past but the present value of this site is what matters: there is nothing currently Maronite about it except its history. If Maronites had felt it suitable to stay in Brad, I’m positive Brad would have been a Maronite beacon today. But this is not the case. What is left in Brad is a few ruins to commemorate the days when Maronites were actually there.

On the other hand, Bkerke is the seat of Maronitisim of the whole Levant region – it is the reference. It is the place where people should celebrate St. Maroun’s day. It is where all Lebanese citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations, come to share the celebration with the Patriarch.
Look at it this way, what would be the value of Rome and the Vatican if they weren’t the current location and base of the Holy See?

This political leader probably thinks he’s making a good deed by visiting Syria to celebrate this day. He probably believes that showing that not all Maronites consider the Patriarch and Bkerke their reference, to further solidify the idea that the diversity in Lebanon, even within certain sects, is a good thing, only working to the enriching of society. I believe this is the best case scenario explanation of his motive.
It would have been good if this precise leader wasn’t so adamant about fighting for Christian – and precisely Maronite – rights.
A simple common sense question I believe I am entitled to ask: do you believe, Mr. politician, that showing a divided front to the world is a good way to fight for your rights? What rights are we supposed to fight for if we can’t even agree where we want to celebrate our founder’s day? What gives us the right to even fight for our rights if we can’t even agree on a proper reference for us in our country?
The reality is: he wants to show that a sizable fragment of Maronites actually consider him their reference.

What is even more ironic is the hypocrisy this leader has shown throughout his dealings with Bkerke and yet his followers seem to forget about it.
2005: The patriarch and Bkerke side with him… the patriarch does not receive any bashing
2005 onwards: This politician shifts sides.
2005 onwards: The Patriarch and Bkerke became critical of him and he, along with his followers, began bashing the patriarch.

This leader is preaching to his followers in Brad. But what about those followers? I know some of them. Some of them are from my hometown, I even share blood with some. And I’ve heard them say on way too many occasions that “our patriarch isn’t worth Hassan Nasrallah’s shoe”. This is how low these people think of their patriarch, their true reference. What does that say of them?
And why do they think so low of the patriarch? Because their political leader is at odds with how the Patriarch views the right direction for our country to be… You see, the simple chronological sequence I illustrated earlier only goes to show that the Patriarch and Bkerke are firm in their convictions. They have not changed. It is those who have changed and cannot tolerate criticism that have been the most sensitive and therefore, the most brutal towards Bkerke.

There are many more differences between Brad and Bkerke than a few hundred kilometers… the difference between Brad and Bkerke is that of ideology.

The only thing this political leader is accomplishing is distancing himself from the Maronite Church. If only he had the common sense to see that this Church he is trying to ignore is a 1600 year old institute that has overcome many, many bigger hurdles than the one he thinks he’s setting up.
If only he had the common sense to see that, at least on St. Maroun’s day, he should at least attend Mass at Bkerke and show the world that at least on the day of their founding, Maronites are united in their cause to stay in the country that made them and in the country that they have made.