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.

The Maronite Church and Lebanon’s New Patriarch

The Maronite Church has spoken and has chosen Beshara Al Raai as the successor to Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, as the patriarch.

I will not enumerate the many qualities this man has. I’m sure the Bishops that chose him have chosen well. I just hope that he is at least half as good as his predecessor, Nasrallah Sfeir, who was as great as greatness could be.

I hope this new patriarch stands by what he believes in and does not waver, even when things get tough, like his predecessor. He will be submitted to great pressure. Many are going to want to see him fail and on a few occasions, he will make mistakes. I hope he perseveres through all the hardships because we, as Maronites and Lebanese, deserve to have “the Good Shepherd” in these dark times. I hope that he continues in the legacy of the Maronite Church, as a rock on which Lebanon was – and will forever be – built.

Tribute To One Of The Greats: Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir

In a few days, the Maronite Church and Lebanon will end an important chapter of their history. No other man in current Lebanon has left a more durable print on the ink of Lebanese history than Patriach Sfeir, whose resignation from head of the Maronite Church was met with grateful sadness from many and jubilation from a few.

I will not enumerate the many achievements of this man – for those achievements are imprinted in every free Lebanese’s mind. Patriarch Sfeir has fought for Lebanon and continued the legacy of the Maronite Church’s continuous struggle to make Lebanon a suitable home for every Lebanese, not only Maronites.

Patriarch Sfeir has been beaten down – literally and figuratively – during his twenty five year run as head of the Maronite Church. And yet, he did not let down. Regardless of the many insults and blows he was dealt, he persevered. The betterment of the nation was superior to his own well-being. He handled it with wisdom and serenity.

He was a leading voice against social and political injustice in Lebanon, of which his people suffered immensely. He played a great role in keeping together what was left of his country when everyone wanted a piece of that country. It is because of this man and the institute that stands behind him that we can say that today, regardless of how weak it might be, we have a country to our name.

He was a voice of reason when reason was not appreciated. He was firm in his stances when firmness meant a pertinent life threat. He had a futuristic vision of a future that many saw was bleak. And in many occasions, his vision turned out to be true.

I, as a Maronite, am proud to say that this man has represented me for the past twenty five years. Regardless of whatever mistakes he might have made, and we all make mistakes.

He may have left his Patriarchal seat, but Patriarch Sfeir will forever be seated in our hearts and minds. They say that the glory of Lebanon is given to the Patriarch – whoever he may be. But Patriarch Sfeir has given Lebanon and Maronites glory beyond glory…