The head of the Maronite Church and Patriarch of Antioch and All of the East, His Beatitude Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, will make his first-ever pastoral visit to the United Kingdom from 7- 14 January 2023, to meet Christian church leaders and members of his church based here.
At a time of unprecedented political and economic turmoil in Lebanon, and no President appointed, Cardinal al-Rahi, as head of the largest Christian denomination in the country, has become its leading voice, speaking up especially for the 80 per cent of the population that has been pushed into poverty, as well as expressing his concerns for the survival of Christianity in the Middle East.
These issues and the concerns of members of the Maronite Church, both in Lebanon and across the globe, will be among the topics Cardinal al-Rahi will address during his talks with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster; the Rt Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury; Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, Patron of Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East; the Most Revd Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham; the Maronite parish in London; Church leaders in the Midlands; British Government ministers; British parliamentarians; and representatives of the British and foreign diplomatic corps.
The Maronite Church, whose origins date back to the early 4th century, is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome as a sui iuris particular church. Maronites number approximately 4 million in the world, of which roughly a quarter live in Lebanon, where they constitute up to 30% of the national population, and three-quarters live outside the Middle East, mostly in Canada, Australia, USA, UK, France, Argentina and Brazil.
As head of the largest religious group in Lebanon, His Beatitude Cardinal Al-Rahi is shepherd to his people, as well as a prophetic and resonant moral voice to the nation, within the context of the distinct political system of confessionalism which has been balancing power between Christians, Muslims and Druzes since the setting up of the Republic of Lebanon in 1943. The Patriarch faces the challenging task of guiding and comforting his nation at a time of unprecedented political turmoil in Lebanon, when paralysis of government and economic crisis have pushed most of the population below the poverty line and undermined the fabric of society.
The Patriarch’s visit to the UK will include pastoral, ecclesial, ecumenical and patriarchal engagements.
Lebanon’s vocation is as a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different religions and confessions meet, where different communities live together, putting the common good before their individual interests. Let us neither desist nor tire of accompanying the Lebanese people in this plea, imploring heaven for that peace which men and women find so difficult to build on earth. (Pope Francis)
The Christian presence in Lebanon has been a vital source of stability to the country and the wider region, sustaining a culture of plurality and tolerance. The Eastern Churches in Lebanon still have the capacity to promote the same ethos and culture, as well as to discharge goodwill and benevolence. They should be encouraged and supported in their mission by foreign governments and the wider Universal Church. A weakening of the Christian presence in Lebanon due to emigration risks destroying the internal equilibrium and the reality of Lebanon itself, as well as jeopardising the Christian presence in the wider region. It is imperative that the country maintains its unique identity and social fabric, not least to ensure a pluralistic, tolerant and diversified Lebanon in which the Christian community can make its proper contribution to that country and the wider region, and not be reduced to a minority in need of protection. (Report on Lebanon by Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East – March 2022)
Biography of Patriarch and Maronite history: facecharity.org/eastern-churches/syro-maronite-church