Beirut (AsiaNews) - After calling together the four main political leaders of the Maronite community, on June 2 Patriarch Béchara Raï chaired the extended Maronite assembly, which was attended by MPs and dignitaries drawn from all different political viewpoints.
The Patriarch tried to unite these "brothers and enemies" on non confrontational - but vital - matters that affect all Maronite Christians in Lebanon, beyond the differences that mark the political life of Lebanon and legitimate varying positions. He stressed his care not to mix religion and politics, and justified the Bkerke meeting by pointing to the exceptional situation that Lebanon and the Middle East are currently experiencing, in which the Church must play a catalytic role.
Yesterday two major dossiers were addressed. The massive sale of Christian property to non-Christians, and that of the Christian presence in public administration and services. The Center for Research and Documentation of the Maronite Church (Cmdr), chaired by Camille Zeidan and Labora association prepared two studies on the issues in question. Camille Zeidan has long been in charge of the Secretariat for Catholic schools. The Labora Association, chaired by Tony Khadra, an Antonine priest, is relatively new and aspires to the role of an employment agencies for Christians.
The sale of the property has been discussed several times in recent years in Lebanon and within the Church. It was also addressed during the Synod on the Middle East held in Rome in October 2010. The outlook drawn up at the meeting in Bkerke does not seem as disastrous as might have been expected: faced with the actual figures, widespread fears have been somewhat dissipated.
But the fact remains that large amounts of land were purchased by non-Christians during the past decades, particularly in the region of Jezzine in the south of the country, where one person alone has bought more than three million square meters. In a small country like Lebanon (10,452 km square) is a lot of land for one man.
It reminds us that during the 90s, Hezbollah were accused of land grabbing in the region of Jezzine with some Christians and Druze deputies claiming the Islamic party close to Iran wants to create a the Shiite majority area, demographically linking South Lebanon to Bekaa, another Shiite majority zone.
But the massive purchases of land are not limited to southern Lebanon, noted personalities gathered in Bkerke. The phenomenon also extends to the region of Koura and Zghorta, near the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon. These purchases also raise the concern of the population there, which fears a progressive colonization and expansion of Sunni Muslim presence in the predominantly Christian regions.
The Lebanese Constitution reaffirms the right of residence for every Lebanese citizen in any area of the territory. This happened as a reaction to the 1975-1990 and a plan that aimed to redistribute the Lebanese people in confessional cantons.
The concern of the Maronite patriarch and some Lebanese MPs, like Boutros Harb, is not linked to the fact that the Lebanese people may intermingle, but rather to the need for this to happen spontaneously and naturally. They are opposed to a community planning of places of residence along ideological or political lines. And this in the name and cause of the principles enunciated by the Constitution.
For example, in Beirut, Shiite-majority districts are beginning to press on other predominantly Christian areas. In some cases, political and military pressures were exerted on Christians to cede their property, and in other cases it was necessary to put pressure on Muslims who illegally occupied Christian properties to leave. This issue could become a source of community concerns.
In Mount Lebanon negotiations are ongoing for Hezbollah to return three million square meters of land occupied illegally, and belonging to the Maronite Patriarchate. Maronite MPs who attended the meeting, as well as mayors and community leaders across the country have been asked to be vigilant on this point, and to coordinate their actions in advance with the Patriarchate. Also discussed was, once again, the creation of a financial fund, under the supervision of the Maronite Patriarchate, designed to buy the properties offered for sale by Christians for one reason or another, and especially if the sale is motivated by need .
The second case concerned the Christian presence in public administration. Some campaigns aimed at encouraging Christians to enter public service, particularly in law enforcement, have been very fruitful. At the time of greatest Christian disaffection with the State there was a 15% presence in the administration. Now that presence stands at 24%. It is not a negative figure, for a community which represents about one third of the total population of Lebanon. Especially since the rules of Muslim-Christian equality, which is required in parliament and among senior officials does not apply in this area. It is true that there proposals for the Equality Act to be applied at all levels in administration, but there is little chance that the motion will be carried.
Some political parties have requested that the next Maronite assembly in Bkerke broaden to become a Christian assembly. No date has been set for the next meeting, to be prepared by a commission headed by a bishop.
In recent days, the Coptic Orthodox church, which is located near a barrack was bombed, and suffered extensive damage: doors knocked down, broken glass ... (see Fides 06/01/2011). "We had a meeting attended by all heads of various Christian denominations present in Tripoli, to express solidarity with our brother Coptic Orthodox for the damage to his church," says Mgr.Martinelli. "We are united to deplore the incident, but especially to pray, so violence calms down. We all ask ourselves a question: why is this happening? We were astonished by the failure of international diplomacy and, perhaps, by its prejudice that makes dialogue impossible with the leadership of Tripoli. "
The African Union mediation led by South African President Zuma has so far produced no results. According to Mgr. Martinelli "South Africa showed, however, a sign of good will and, apparently, something is moving. The problem is that no other diplomacy has supported this path. It seems to me that there is an underlying prejudice that undermines attempts to mediate and reach a truce. It strikes me that NATO has renewed the military operation in Libya for another 3 months without regard to any possibility of dialogue, as called for by the UN and the Holy Father", says the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli.
Mgr Martinelli says he is concerned because he finds it very difficult to communicate with the Catholic community in Cyrenaica, where attacks have been reported: "We are isolated from Benghazi and we cannot get in touch with different communities of Cyrenaica. Wanting to divide Libya means to create breeding ground for terrorist acts. " (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 06/04/2011)
Feast: June 5
Isolated missionary groups had penetrated central Germany in earlier times, but not until the eighth century was there a systematic effort to Christianize the vast pagan wilderness. To the English monk Boniface belongs the honor of opening up this region and creating a hierarchy under direct commission from the Holy See. Thirty-six years of missionary labor under difficult and dangerous conditions, ending at last in martyrdom, entitle this good and courageous man to the designation, "Apostle of Germany."
Boniface, or Winfrid, to give him his baptismal name, was born into a Christian family of noble rank, probably at Crediton in Devonshire, about the year 680. The reorganized English Church, still under the inspiration brought to it from Rome two generations earlier by Augustine of Canterbury, was full of fervor and vitality. Winfrid was a very small boy when he found himself listening to the conversation of some monks who were visiting his home. He resolved then to enter the Church, and this resolution never weakened. Winfrid's father had other plans for his clever son, but a serious illness altered his attitude, and he sent the boy to the neighboring abbey of Exeter to be educated. Some years later, Winfrid went to the abbey of Bursling, in the diocese of Winchester. After completing his studies there, he was appointed head of the school.
His teaching skill attracted many students, and for their use he wrote a grammar which is still extant. The pupils diligently took notes at his classes, and these were copied and circulated in other monasteries, where they were eagerly studied. At the age of thirty he was ordained priest, and now added preaching to teaching and administrative work.
Winfrid was assured of rapid advancement in the English Church, but God revealed to him that his work was to be in foreign lands, where need was greater. Northern Europe and most of Central Europe were still in pagan darkness. In Friesland, which then included modern Netherlands and lands to the east, the Northumbrian missionary Willibrord had long been striving to bring the Gospel to the people. It was to this region that Winfrid felt himself called. Having obtained the consent of his abbot, he and two companions set out in the spring of 716. Soon after landing at Doerstadt they learned that Duke Radbold of Friesland, an enemy of Christianity, was warring with Charles Martel, the Frankish duke, and that Willibrord had been obliged to retire to his monastery at Echternacht. Realizing that the time was inauspicious, the missionaries prudently returned to England in the autumn. Winfrid's monks at Bursling tried to keep him there, and wished to elect him abbot, but he was not to be turned from his purpose.
This first attempt had shown him that to be effective as a missionary he must have a direct commission from the Pope, so in 718, with commendatory letters from the bishop of Winchester, he presented himself in Rome before Gregory II. The Pope welcomed him warmly, kept him in Rome until spring of the following year, when traveling conditions were favorable, and then sent him forth with a general commission to preach the word of God to the heathen. At this time Winfrid's name was changed to Boniface (from the Latin,
Boniface had little difficulty in making himself understood as a preacher, since the dialects of the various Teutonic tribes closely resembled his native Anglo-Saxon. He won the interest of two powerful local chieftains, Dettic and Deorulf, who at some previous time had been baptized. For lack of instruction they had remained little better than pagans; now they became zealous Christians and influenced many others to be baptized. They also gave Boniface a grant of land on which he later founded the monastery of Amoeneburg. Boniface was able to report such remarkable gains that the Pope summoned him back to Rome to be ordained bishop.
In Rome on St. Andrew's Day, November 30, 722, Pope Gregory II consecrated him as regionary bishop with a general jurisdiction over "the races in the parts of Germany and east of the Rhine who live in error, in the shadow of death." The Pope also gave him a letter to the powerful Charles Martel, "The Hammer." When Boniface delivered it to the Frankish duke on his way back to Germany, he received the valuable gift of a sealed pledge of Frankish protection. Armed thus with authority from both the Church and the civil power, the prestige of Boniface was vastly enhanced. On his return to Hesse, he decided to try to root out the pagan superstitions which seriously affected the stability of his converts. On a day publicly announced, and in the midst of an awe-struck crowd, Boniface and one or two of his followers attacked with axes Thor's sacred oak. These German tribes, along with many other primitive peoples, were tree-worshipers. Thor, god of thunder, was one of the principal Teutonic deities, and this ancient oak, which stood on the summit of Mt. Gudenberg, was sacred to him. After a few blows, the huge tree crashed to earth, splitting into four parts. The terrified tribesmen, who had expected a punishment to fall instantly on the perpetrators of such an outrage, now saw that their god was powerless to protect even his own sanctuary.
To signalize the victory, Boniface built a chapel on the spot. From that time the work of evangelization in Hesse proceeded steadily.
Moving east into Thuringia, Boniface continued his crusade. He found a few undisciplined Celtic and Irish priests, who tended to be a hindrance; many of them held heretical beliefs and others lived immoral lives. Boniface restored order among them, although his chief aim was to win over the pagan tribes. At Ohrdruff, near Gotha, he established a second monastery, dedicated to St. Michael, as a missionary center. Everywhere the people were ready to listen, but there was a critical lack of teachers. Boniface appealed to the English monasteries and convents, and their response was so wholehearted that for several years bands of monks, schoolmasters, and nuns came over to place themselves under his direction. The two monasteries already built were enlarged and new ones founded. Among the new English missionaries were Lullus, who was to succeed Boniface at Mainz, Eoban, who was to share his martyrdom, Burchard, and Wigbert; the nuns included Thecla, Chunitrude, and Boniface's beautiful and learned young cousin, Lioba, later to become abbess of Bischofsheim and friend of Hildegarde, Charlemagne's wife.
Pope Gregory III sent Boniface the pallium in 731, appointing him archbishop and metropolitan of all Germany beyond the Rhine, with authority to found new bishoprics. A few years later Boniface made his third trip to Rome to confer about the churches he had founded, and at this time he was appointed apostolic legate. Stopping at Monte Cassino, he enlisted more missionaries. In his capacity as legate he traveled into Bavaria to organize the Church there into the four bishoprics of Regensburg, Freising, Salzburg, and Passau. From Bavaria he returned to his own field and founded new bishoprics at Erfurt for Thuringia, Buraburg for Hesse, Wurzburg for Franconia, and Eichstadt for the Nordgau. An English monk was placed at the head of each new diocese. In 741 the great Benedictine abbey at Fulda was founded in Prussia to serve as the fountainhead of German monastic culture. Its first abbot was Boniface's young Bavarian disciple, Sturm or Sturmio. In the early Middle Ages Fulda produced a host of scholars and teachers, and became known as the Monte Cassino of Germany.
While the evangelization of Germany was proceeding steadily, the Church in Gaul, under the Merovingian kings, was disintegrating. High ecclesiastical offices were either kept vacant, sold to the highest bidder, or bestowed on unworthy favorites. Pluralism, the holding by one man of many offices, each of which should demand his full time, was common. The great mass of the clergy was ignorant and undisciplined. No synod or church council had been held for eighty-four years. Charles Martel had been conquering and consolidating the regions of western Europe, and now regarded himself as an ally of the papacy and the chief champion of the Church, yet he had persistently plundered it to obtain funds for his wars and did nothing to help the work of reform. His death, however, in 74I, and the accession of his sons, Carloman and Pepin the Short, provided an opportunity which Boniface quickly seized. Carloman, the elder, was very devout and held Boniface in great veneration; Boniface had no trouble in persuading him to call a synod to deal with errors and abuses in the Church in Austrasia, Alemannia, and Thuringia.
The first assembly was followed by several others. Boniface presided over them all, and was able to carry through many important reforms. The vacant bishoprics and parishes were filled, discipline reestablished, and fresh vigor infused into the Frankish Church.
A heretic who had been creating much disturbance, one Adalbert of Neustria, was condemned by the synod of Soissons in 744. In 747 another general council of the Frankish clergy drew up a profession of faith and fidelity which was sent to Rome and laid upon the altar in the crypt of St. Peter's. After five years' labor Boniface had succeeded in restoring the Church of Gaul to its former greatness.
Now Boniface desired that Britain too should share in this reform movement. At his request and that of Pope Zacharias, the archbishop of Canterbury held a council at Clovesho, in 747, which adopted many of the resolutions passed in Gaul. This was also the year when Boniface was given a metropolitan see. Cologne was at first proposed as his cathedral city, but Mainz was finally chosen. Even when Cologne and other cities became archiepiscopal sees, Mainz retained the primacy. The Pope also made Boniface primate of Germany as well as apostolic legate for both Germany and Gaul.
Carloman now retired to a monastery, but his successor, Pepin, who brought all Gaul under his control, gave Boniface his support. "Without the patronage of the Frankish chiefs," Boniface wrote in a letter to England, "I cannot govern the people or exercise discipline over the clergy and monks, or check the practice of paganism." As apostolic legate, Boniface crowned Pepin at Soissons in 75I, thus giving papal sanction to the assumption of royal power by the father of Charlemagne. Boniface, beginning to feel the weight of his years, made Lullus his coadjutor. Yet even now, when he was past seventy, his missionary zeal burned ardently. He wished to spend his last years laboring among those first converts in Friesland, who, since Willibrord's death, were relapsing once more into paganism. Leaving all things in order for Lullus, who was to become his successor, he embarked with some fifty companions and sailed down the Rhine. At Utrecht the party was joined by Eoban, bishop of that diocese. They set to work reclaiming the relapsed Christians, and during the following months made fruitful contact with the hitherto untouched tribes to the northeast. Boniface arranged to hold a great confirmation service on Whitsun Eve on the plain of Dokkum, near the banks of the little river Borne.
While awaiting the arrival of the converts, Boniface was quietly reading in his tent.
Suddenly a band of armed pagans appeared in the center of the encampment. His companions would have tried to defend their leader, but Boniface would not allow them to do so. Even as he was telling them to trust in God and welcome the prospect of dying for Him, the Germans attacked. Boniface was one of the first to fall; his companions shared his fate. The pagans, expecting to carry away rich booty, were disgusted when they found, besides provisions, only a box of holy relics and a few books They did not bother to carry away these objects, which were later collected by the Christians who came to avenge the martyrs and rescue their remains. The body of Boniface was carried to Fulda for burial, and there it still rests. The book the bishop was reading and which he is said to have lifted above his head to save it when the blow fell is also one of Fulda's treasures.
Boniface has been called the pro-consul of the papacy. His administrative and organizing genius left its mark on the German Church throughout the Middle Ages.
Though Boniface was primarily a man of action, his literary remains are extensive.
Especially interesting and important from the point of view of Church dogma and history are his letters. Among the emblems of Boniface are an oak, an axe, a sword, a book.
|Acts 1: 1 - 11|
|1||In the first book, O The-oph'ilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach,|
|2||until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.|
|3||To them he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God.|
|4||And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me,|
|5||for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit."|
|6||So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"|
|7||He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.|
|8||But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Sama'ria and to the end of the earth."|
|9||And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.|
|10||And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,|
|11||and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."|