Christian Land Ownership in Lebanon in Continuous Decrease

After the proclamation of independence of Lebanon, 8130 square km of land belonged to the Lebanese Christians. Today, however, Lebanese Christians have about 4 thousand km of land. These figures provided by Talal al-Doueihy, head of the Movement "Lebanese Land-Our Land Movement" are eloquent, with regards to some remarks reported by the The Daily Star newspaper. The drastic decrease in landed properties belonging to Christians in the Country of the Cedars has various causes, and is also connected with the strong emmigration tendencies that characterize the Christian portion of the Lebanese population. 

The christian area of Debbieh which has been recently the center of polemics
after several large land sales to non christians

Many Christians wishing to emigrate, sell their land to Muslims buyers before leaving. In addition, during the years of the government of Rafiq Hariri - Prime Minister from 1992 to 1998 and then from 2000 to 2004, who was killed in a bloody suicide bombing on February 14, 2005 - the law regarding the sale of land which guaranteed the right of first refusal to owners of adjacent lands was canceled. The Hariri government wanted in this way to encourage investments in Lebanon from the Arab Gulf countries. The result is that almost all of the lands sold during those years increased from Christian owners to Muslim owners.

Several legislative proposals have been presented in parliament to try to block the erosion of the land ownership of Christians in Lebanon. The one presented by the MPs Sami Gemayel and Ibrahim Kanaan aims to regulate the ownership of land property in Lebanese territory by foreign buyers. While that prepared by the Parliamentary Joseph Maalouf aims to curb the change of ownership of plots of land above 3 thousand square meters, and to limit the room for maneuver of intermediaries in the sale of land.

Secret Conversions to Christianity in Lebanon

According to a local bishop, numerous conversions of Muslims to Christianity occur every year in Lebanon but the true number is unknown because of the risk of social stigma and persecution. “Most of them try to go outside from Lebanon, to Europe or America or Canada or Australia to live there, because it’s not possible to be converted and to stay here,” a Catholic bishop in Lebanon said in a phone interview.

Qadisha Valley or "The Valley of the Saints" in Northern Lebanon

“It’s very, very hard to know how many are baptized, because everything will be a secret.” Given the delicacy of conversion in Lebanon – a Middle Eastern country with a slight Muslim majority – the bishop spoke on condition of anonymity. While the region is lauded for its comparative plurality as Muslims generally coexist well with the Christian population, some hostility can be present toward those who convert from Islam. 

“I have heard many stories about the conversion of Muslims,” he said, in both the Maronite and Melkite communities – the two largest Catholic groups in the country. The bishop cited one Melkite priest who baptized 75 Muslims last year. “Most of them left Muslim areas to stay in the Christian area,” he said, and many are trying to emigrate.

One young woman from Baalbek was converted, he recounted, and her family “accused the priest of having used sorcery to make her convert to Christianity.” “The priest was then abducted and kidnapped by the family. A deal was done after that between the diocese and the tribe of the family, that the family would bring the daughter back home, without torturing her.” Her family has since converted as well, he explained, “but in a secret way.”

If converts from Islam are not able to leave Lebanon, he said, they often move to areas of Lebanon with larger concentrations of Christians: “other people left the Beqaa valley to stay in Beirut, or in Jounieh, in the Christian country.”

Those converting to Christianity in Lebanon are by and large Lebanese themselves, the bishop explained, saying, “I know only one Syrian.” This Syrian convert is from Aleppo, and was in Beirut studying sharia to become a sheikh.

The man “was baptized in Lebanon and now he’s married, but he cannot register his marriage in Syria. He’s in big trouble now because he cannot go to Syria, and he cannot register his marriage in Lebanon either. We are trying now to see if he can go outside of Lebanon, to Europe or somewhere else, to live there with his family.”

Lebanon, according to the U.S. state department, has no procedures for civil marriage; all marriages performed there are performed by religious officials. “Everything is a secret,” the bishop said. “It’s not easy to speak publicly about … conversion to Christianity.”

Lebanon, where it is not easy to speak publicly about Christian conversion, “is better than other Arabic countries. But we still have a problem,” he said. 

The Lebanese constitution provides for freedom of religion, and members of parliament and cabinet officials are all apportioned among Muslims and Christians. National identity cards generally include the bearer’s religion, though this is not required by law.

“It’s easy for a convert to register with the state as a Christian,” the bishop said. “In other countries it’s not possible. I know for example in Egypt there are many conversions, but they still are registered as a Muslim, not Christian.”

Even though the Lebanese government provides for religious freedom, societal discrimination against converts is widespread. The bishop reported that families of converts often “never accept” their relative’s Christian faith, and the convert “is persecuted by his family and his tribe, by his village.”

While the country has long been able to live in the tension between its religious groups – an estimated 54 percent Muslim, 41 percent Christian – the large influx of Syrian refugees in the wake of the neighboring country’s civil war has strained the status quo.

The Lebanese government estimates that more than 1 million Syrian refugees are living in the country. In 2011, at the start of Syria’s civil war, Lebanon’s population was estimated at a little over 4 million.

Now that nearly 20 percent of Lebanese residents are Syrian refugees, inter-religious relations are stressed. On Feb. 3, a suicide bomber wounded several in a district of Beirut largely home to Christians and Druze.

The bishop said that his diocese is assisting both Christian and Muslim refugees.

“When we receive Muslims, we help them without trying to convert them, because when we give material help, we don’t like to play this game.”

Pope Francis' Sunday Homily and Angelus Message on February 02, 2014

On Sunday, February 2nd, Pope Francis celebrated the 18th World Day for Consecrated Life highlighting the fact that at the center of Consecrated Life there is always Jesus. During his Homily at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the Pope recalled the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple which commemorates when Jesus and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the Temple forty days after his birth.

Below is the translation of the Pope's Homily: 

The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple is also known as the Feast of the Encounter: the encounter between Jesus and his people. The liturgy tells of when Mary and Joseph brought their child to the Temple in Jerusalem; it is when the first encounter between Jesus and his people took place. This day is also called the Feast of Encounter because on it the New Testament, represented by the Baby Jesus, encountered the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna.

He points out it was also a meeting between the young and the elderly: the young were Mary and Joseph with their infant, and the elders were Simeon and Anna, two characters who always attended the Temple.

We observe what the evangelist Luke tells us of them, as he describes them. He says four times that Our Lady and St Joseph wanted to do what was required by the law of the Lord (cf. Luke 2, One perceives that Jesus' parents have the joy of observing the precepts of God, the joy of walking according to the law of the Lord! They are two newlyweds, they have just had their baby, and they are motivated by the desire to do what is prescribed. This is not an external fact; it is not just to feel right, no! It ' a strong desire, a deep desire, full of joy. That’s what the Psalm says: "I rejoice in following your statutes…. Your law is my delight (119, 14.77).

And what does St. Luke says of the elderly? He underlines, more than once, that they were guided by the Holy Spirit. He says Simeon was a righteous and devout man, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and that "the Holy Spirit was upon him" (2:25). He says that "the Holy Spirit had announced "that before dying he would see the Christ, the Messiah (v. 26); and finally he went to the Temple “moved by the Spirit “(v. 27). He says Anna was a “prophet” (v. 36), She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying" (v. 37). In short, these two elders are full of life! They are full of life because they are animated by the Holy Spirit, obedient to his action, sensitive to his calls...

And thus, this is the encounter between the Holy Family and the two representatives of the holy people of God. Jesus is at the center. It is He who moves everything, who attracts all of them to the Temple, the house of his Father.

It is a meeting between young people who are full of joy in observing the Law of the Lord, and the elderly who are filled with joy for the action of the Holy Spirit. It is a unique encounter between observance and prophecy, where young people are the observers and the elderly are prophetic! In fact, if we think carefully, the desire to keep the Law is animated by the Spirit and the prophecy moves forward in the path traced by the Law. Who, more than Mary, is full of the Holy Spirit? Who better is docile than she to its action?

Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the light of this Gospel scene, let us look to consecrated life as an encounter with Christ: it is He who comes to us, led by Mary and Joseph, and we go towards Him guided by the Holy Spirit. But the center is Him. He moves everything, He draws us to the Temple, to the Church, where we can meet Him, recognize Him, welcome Him, embrace Him.

Jesus comes to us in the Church through the foundational charism of an Institute: it is nice to think of our vocation in this way! Our encounter with Christ took its shape in the Church through the charism of one of its witnesses. This always amazes us and makes us give thanks.

And in the consecrated life we live the encounter between the young and the old, between observation and prophecy. Let’s not see these as two opposing realities! Let us rather allow the Holy Spirit to animate both of them, and a sign of this is joy: the joy of observing, of walking within a rule of life; the joy of being led by the Spirit, never unyielding, never closed, always open to voice of God that speaks, that opens, that leads us and invites us to go towards the horizon.

It's good for the elderly to communicate their wisdom to the young; and is good for the young people to gather this wealth of experience and wisdom, and to carry it forward, not so as to store it in a museum, but to bring it forward addressing the challenges of life, to carry it forward for the sake of respective religious orders and of the whole Church.

May the grace of this mystery, the mystery of the Encounter, enlighten us and comfort us in our journey. Amen.

After the Mass, and before the Sunday recitation of the Angelus, the Pope said: “What would happen” – the Pope said – “if there were no nuns? No nuns in hospitals, in missions, in charitable institutions, in schools… Can you even imagine a Church without nuns…? No it is unthinkable!... they are a gift, the leaven that carries the message of Christ”. “These women – he said – are great!” 

And to those gathered in the Square Pope Francis said that consecrated persons in different sectors are “the leaven of a more just and fraternal society”. He said that “Consecrated Life is a gift of God to the Church and to His people”.

The Pope said that the Church and the world needs the witness of religious and consecrated lay people to the love and the mercy of God, and he asked for prayers so that many young people may say “yes” to God who calls them “to consecrate their lives to Him and to be of service to their brothers and sisters”. 

Pope Francis recalled that the year 2015 will be dedicated to Consecrated Life and asked for prayers for this initiative. After the recitation of the Angelus Prayer, Pope Francis reminded those present that in Italy “The Day for Life” is celebrated today with the theme “Generating the Future”. He sent his greetings and encouragement to those committed to the defense of life from its conception to its natural end.

Holy Gospel on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in Temple

Letter to the Romans 9:30-33, 10:1-4. 
What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling-stone, as it is written, ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to
Saint Luke 2:22-35. 
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’ Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s  Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’