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The Laity





1. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul declares: “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before Him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4). Thus, the Church looks upon the presence of the faithful and at their lives and their roles, for although God’s kingdom is not of this world, He aims to fulfill it in this world through those who believe in Him. Through Christ, time itself becomes a new opportunity for man to ascend to the level of divinity, and history itself becomes the proper place for the people of God to embody Christ’s love and his kingdom in their lives because being the image of his Teacher, the Christian strives to live love and to realize within himself and in his life “the full stature of Christ.” The Church urges the faithful to witness to Christ in the world, turning his home and his workplace as well as his educational, familial, social, professional, and political interests into centers where he gives witness to God’s love in him.


2. In the light of this calling and mission and through this synodal journey which is within the dynamism of renewal for individuals and communion, this synodal text propounds the role of the laity in the life of the Maronite Church, doing so in a brief historical overview. The text will move on to examine some of the ecclesiastical principles that nurture the life of the laity focusing on the current situation and then will conclude by voicing aspirations for the future—aspirations that will be accompanied by organized and well-planned projects that will guide the faithful to pursue the path of the Lord towards holiness.



Chapter 1: Historical Overview



 First: Oral Tradition


3. Lay believers within the Maronite Church were known for centuries as awam, which is a word of Syriac origin (amo in the singular; ama in the plural) meaning “the people.” This term often surfaced in the Maronite councils to indicate the recurring participation in these councils by the Maronite laity who worked alongside the bishops, priests, and dignitaries. At that time, these ‘ama’ assumed their roles in ecclesiastical life including the way in which the people’s word was close to being an accomplished fact when it came to choosing “the village priest” from among learned persons who were well-known for their virtue. These people would present their choice to the bishop who in turn would ordain the candidate a priest to serve his parish. Also for several eras the Maronite laity, through their representatives, participated in the election of their patriarch[1].

4. Looking back at the first Maronite community we find that hundreds of religious men and women[2] chose to lead lives that were similar to St. Maron's until the time when the Maronite Church grew from the little community of Beit Maroun in Apamea into an organized Church in Lebanon headed by the Patriarch; this Church shared the lives of her children in every aspect and in every dimension. Tradition has it that “all the people, both young and old, gathered within the Church at least twice a day, both mornings and evenings, in order to pray, to read the Gospel and the Sacred Scripture as well as the biographies of the saints, to hear the Word, and, participate in the Holy Eucharist. Thus churches became numerous even in one single village, thus facilitating frequent attendance”[3]. The people's lives during that time had a positive impact on the local community especially in Lebanon since Maronites were spread all across Lebanon as they worked for the Druze and Shiite sheikhs. The lives of Maronites bore witness and left a lasting impression, so much so that a number of Druze and Muslim families converted to Christianity, following their example.


Second: The Lebanese Council       


5. With the Lebanese Synod of 1736, the relationship between the laity and the clergy began to crystallize and the position and role of the laity began to take root, manifesting itself in the introduction of compulsory education, in the opening of schools, and in the wide expansion of culture and education[4]. However, this role of laity began to decline and was gradually replaced by the Roman tradition of a clerical hierarchy which had been introduced to Maronites by the students of the Maronite College in Rome. With the opening of schools and of seminaries, and with the popularization of reading and the spread of learning, the Western concept of the ecclesiastical hierarchy became more relevant in the Maronite Church. The value of such an ecclesiastical hierarchy was promoted under the pretext of organizing the Church and rectifying the flaws5 which created a rift between the Church authority and the people. Therefore, the ecclesiastic authority took exclusive control of Church affairs, which caused the role of the laity to decline and become marginalized, limited only to secondary services.


6. However, in the following period stretching from the middle of the 18th century up until the time of Vatican II, the Maronite Church witnessed a considerable growth which was reflected in the increase of Western missions, in the spread of Maronite educational institutions, monastic orders and missionary congregations, and the establishment of Maronite schools in monasteries and in parishes.


Two main factors emerged and had a substantial impact upon the life of the Maronite Church at the level of the parish: Firstly, there was the spread of male and female confraternities [6] in parishes and an increase in the number of Catholic lay organizations that were being established by the Western Missionaries, particularly the Jesuit fathers, who played a major role in their foundation and development. Secondly, there was the onset of Maronite emigration after the events of 1860, an emigration that was intensified during the period of World War I and World War II such that the Church of the Expansion became larger than the Mother Church. However, the intensified contact with the universal Church played a primary role in mooring the Maronite Church’s presence in the Countries of Expansion to the Mother Church. Additionally, Maronite laity, through their ecclesiastical commitment, their diverse contributions and generosity, were playing an essential role in establishing both Maronite parishes and Maronite eparchies within the Countries of Expansion.


7. During this phase there was evidence of considerable activation involving the role of the laity in various sectors especially in three areas: Education through the schools and universities; Social services through associations, hospitals, and dispensaries; and the area of pastoral life through confraternities, apostolic movements, and waqf committees. As for the Countries of Expansion, many Maronite emigrants had the greatest influence in establishing Maronite Churches and transforming them into parishes in coordination with the local [Latin] ecclesiastical authorities. In the Countries of Expansion members of the laity would quite often host Maronite priests from Lebanon and place their material and moral support in the service of building Churches and establishing parishes. Moreover, many among them have worked tirelessly to establish eparchies within the Countries of Expansion standing alongside their bishops in all circumstances and during different phases, and interested in anchoring the Church’s presence next to her children in the Countries of Expansion. Their stance and actions have given great impetus to the Maronite Church within the Countries of Expansion, consolidating the ongoing bond with the Mother Church.



Chapter 2: Ecclesiastical Precepts on the Laity and Their Apostolate from the Second Vatican Council to the Present Time


 First: Council Documents


8. The decrees of Vatican II [7] validated the concept of the Church as the “Body of Christ,” “the People of God,” the Participation Church, and the Church of the One Body, in which all the members are active. Within the Church both the talents and the distinctive callings are numerous with each person performing his role in order to build up the Body and maintain its wellbeing. Vatican II defined the term laity as “all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specifically approved by the Church. By way of their common priesthood, the laity are called to holiness: These faithful are, by baptism, made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ, and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world” [8] . For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne – all these become “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through” Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist” [9].


9. This concept affirms that there is neither room for competition nor for monopolizing any position at the expense of the ecclesiastical community; rather, the participation is for service. To achieve the true form of participation, two conditions must simultaneously exist: Firstly, the authority must be a service to the entire body and operating in cooperation with the laity in order to provide optimum service to the Church. Secondly, the willingness of the laity to assume their role without compensation in conformity with their calling. In the area of participation, the fathers stress the need for deepening the comprehensive vision within the framework of ecclesiastical partnership between the bearers of the priestly service from the bishops, priests, and deacons to the general priesthood, i.e., all of the faithful who “are called there by God so that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way, they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity….”10. This complementary view supports the role of the laity as witnesses in the heart of the world, making “the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can the Church become the salt of the earth11.


10. The documents of the Second Vatican Council called on priests to “…sincerely acknowledge and promote the dignity of the laity and the part proper to them in the mission of the Church. They should also hold in high honor that just freedom which is due to everyone in the earthly city. They must willingly listen to the laity, consider their wants in a fraternal spirit, recognize their experience and competence in the different areas of human activity so that together with them they will be able to recognize the signs of the times…Likewise, they should confidently entrust to the laity duties in the service of the Church.” The Second Vatican Council also exhorts: “The Christian faithful, for their part, should realize their obligations to their priests, and with filial love, they should follow them as their pastors and fathers. In like manner, sharing their cares, they should help their priests by prayer and work”12.



Second: “Christifideles Laici” and the Difficulties of Acclimatization to the Second Vatican Council



11. Twenty years after Vatican II, Pope John Paul II issued the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “On the vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World (“Christifideles Laici”). This Exhortation was issued in order to deal with some difficulties and dangers, two of which the laity previously had a hard time avoiding. The first was “the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural, and political world.” The second was “the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, i.e., a separation of the gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the gospel in various situations in the world” 13. Additionally, some people were misinterpreting the Second Vatican Council and were unable to distinguish between the ministerial priesthood that is given to priests through their ordination and the common priesthood that is given to the faithful at their baptism, whereby they receive Christ and become his brethren, children of his Father by adoption, and temples of the Holy Spirit. Hence, they become partners in his Priesthood.


This Exhortation valued the practices inspired by the Vatican II and defined the principles that should be adhered to so that the participation of the laity would be a “true ecclesiastical practice.” The members of the synod discussed the services of the Church that the laity can undertake stressing on the necessity to support the new lay apostolic movements and their development in the heart of the Church.


12. This Apostolic Exhortation especially dealt with the status of the woman and with her role both in the Church and in society. The woman should not neglect the spiritual and human gifts that God had bestowed upon her for the benefit and development of the Church, but she would get all her rights and her unique role in humanity. The commitment of woman springs from her awareness of her maternal and feminine role and its uniqueness in the heart of the family and of the Church. The Church14 has invited women to integrate into the structures of the Church and Pope John Paul II adopted the request of the fathers of the synod held during his papacy for more participation by women in consultations, in the processes of decision making within the Church, and in the preparation of parochial, diocesan and other related documents. It was also requested that women embark upon missionary life, bringing the attention on their complementary role in transmitting the faith, in catechesis, and in theological teaching15. This integration of women into the Church is not new. Women, following the example of the Virgin Mary, had always been present in the community of Beit Maroun ever since its inception. If this role at one point was weakening, it has now returned with even more dynamism. We see women committed to many apostolic movements and confraternities and they are willing to stay committed providing that the doors remain open to them so that they may fulfill their roles within the Church and participate in decision making, especially those decisions that are related to family, education, and culture…


This Exhortation also invited the laity to fructify their bond to the baptism, to become aware of their call to holiness, committed to witnessing and work to change the world and disseminate evangelical values, each person according to his/her situation and his/her gifts, by being “a branch in the vine” of the Church-Sacrament, of the Church–Communion, and also by “bearing fruits” in the Church-Mission.


Third: The Apostolic Exhortation, A New Hope for Lebanon


13. The Apostolic Exhortation, A New Hope for Lebanon, mentioned the laity more than 45 times and directly apportioned them with paragraphs 45 to 51, praising the role of the laity in the preparatory stage of the synod in which many members of the laity participated “acutely and zealously in answering questions and in preparing for the special assembly.” In addition, several members of the laity participated in the works of the synod as auditors.


This Exhortation reiterated the importance of the laity’s role and mission. It called the laity to commit to the “service of the earthly city for the common good, extracting from their faith the necessary guidance and the basic principles of life within the society”16 as well as the principles related to the administration of both public affairs17 and social policy for the sake of changing the world and attaining the common good.


14. This Exhortation commended the laity’s generous willingness and readiness to cooperate with the ecclesiastical authority, and its request to participate in the decision making bodies such as the parish and eparchial councils, the waqafs, and other ecclesiastical services18 according to their personal gifts. In return, the laity “expect from the ecclesiastical authority to ask for their help and to trust them”19. After reiterating the importance of formation for the laity, especially the adults, this Exhortation called them to actively and responsibly participate in the ecclesiastical structures, at the level commensurate with each person’s abilities, and to apply themselves to intellectual research and study. Then, the Christian culture will grow and flourish in the Arab world.


Pope John Paul II expressed his joy that the “fathers of the synod wanted to allow women a wider scope of work in the different ecclesiastical structures at the level of parishes and dioceses, and in the organizations erected within the patriarchates in the spiritual, intellectual, educational, social, and administrative domains”20.



Chapter 3: Status of the Laity in Present Times



15. The social dimension plays an important role in the life of Maronites and in the quality

of their interaction with the different facts that surround them as well as with the environments in which they reside. Maronites now reside in the various Countries of Expansion worldwide, setting them to be influenced by a variety of civilizations and traditions, while simultaneously preserving their faith and ecclesiastical constants. Thus, they are able to get the proper enculturation without losing their Maronite identity. Wherever Maronites reside, the constants are manifested in the level of their commitment to their faith through prayer and regular participation in the mysteries as well as in the parochial or local life of the Church, following the values and principles that they have acquired from their ancestors. The Maronite Church has greatly succeeded in fostering the Maronite commitment within each of its believers, especially within the children. We find this commitment evident in the life of the Maronite Church throughout the world where she has been able to organize herself, vigilantly overseeing the formation of both her sons and her daughters and caring for them.


The Commitment of Individuals


16. The Maronite faithful have always lived a life of faith fervently and sincerely in spite of the challenges that they have faced throughout history. The past few years have witnessed a warm and renewed return of the faithful to a life of mature commitment, and of a desire for religious education and to a thorough study of the matters of faith. The constant growth of Lay associations that focus on couples and on families is just a living testimony of this renewed spiritual awareness. On the other hand, Maronite associations in Lebanon and worldwide are still witnessing spontaneous and gracious impulses toward religious and ritual practices that fall within the traditional and emotional sphere that is built on the Maronite heritage. In addition, though, from time to time, there are Maronites under the influence of certain geopolitical factors. Some Maronite associations are witnessing approaches that would transform faith into political ideologies or confine faith to narrow confessional affiliations. Also, with other Maronites, especially during times of political crises, there is an inclination to intermix religion with those who “hold” that religion. If the position of a certain priest, bishop, or patriarch does not suit the views of some members of the Maronite laity on a given social or political issue, those members will distance themselves from the person who holds that religion and will even boycott the Church. Therefore, even while a Maronite may have had a steady and noticeable growth in his commitments to a life of faith within his parish, within his diocese, and within the Universal Church, his commitment still needs guidance, education, and invigoration so that the faithful may become better prepared for effective participation in the life and work of the church, regardless of the performance of one authoritative figure or another.


The Apostolic Associations and Movements


17. The wish to find guidance, education, and become invigorated in one’s commitment finds its echo among many children of the Church who belong to lay apostolic confraternities, movements and associations, and prayer groups, whether they be new ones or older established ones. Thus, some of the faithful have enrolled in theology and religious education institutes. Others participate with a distinctive dynamism in invigorating pastoral and apostolic work in the parishes and eparchies alongside the priests and bishops. All these faithful, with their affiliations, capabilities, and dynamism, represent “a new spring for the Church” as Pope John Paul II had referred to them.


18. Today, the ecclesial hierarchy is making use of the presence and participation of the laity within its various ecclesiastical structures by way of their position and apostolate, thus making significant strides in this regard within the parish. However, reality has exposed two obstacles that need attention. Firstly, some of the faithful believe that the Church takes recourse to the laity and involves them just because of the shortage in clergy. Secondly, the presentation of their commitment to serve the parish or the eparchy as crossing the boundaries by the laity, and their attempt to take over the authority of the priest.



First: The Role of the Laity in Ecclesiastic Structures


19. These two views blemish the theology of the Church-Communion who urges the faithful who “clothed himself/herself with Christ through baptism,” to become an active member in the mystical Body of Christ. From this perspective, the teaching Church urges the lay faithful to put their talents and their capabilities, as apportioned to each one, at the service of the Church in order to realize the kingdom of God in this world.


The true and actual commitment within the ecclesiastical structures requires from every lay person to not merely be content with his socio-confessional affiliation; rather, he/she should delve into the living faith through a profound life of faith, an on-going formation, the embracement of ecclesiastical communion, and the willingness to place his/her capabilities at the service of the Church. Moreover, the Church suffers when she sees her children, on their quests to obtain positions of honor or power, use their participation in specific ecclesiastical institutions and structures merely as a steppingstone to attain their own objectives and to achieve personal interests.


20. The Church calls the laity to uphold a diverse pastoral ministry in the service of the community and in the service of building up God’s people. The Church entrusts the laity with specified responsibilities in cooperation with the parish priests, with the spiritual directors of the apostolic movements, and with the bishops at various levels. The Catholic Church in Lebanon, especially the Maronite Church, has made significant steps in this field either at the level of the decisions made by the Synod of Maronite Bishops or at the level of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon. The Church gave the laity an active role in all episcopal committees, and in all ecclesiastical bodies and institutions. The Church has ensured that all parochial and diocesan councils will be energized and activated. The Church has also worked to establish parochial and diocesan councils where there were none. The Maronite eparchies in the Middle East21 and in the Countries of Expansion have followed in the steps of the Mother Church and have launched positive and effective initiatives that will promote the role of the laity and involve them to provide parochial services to her children. As a result, the apostolic organizations and movements22 and spiritual groups have expanded and have forcefully contributed to bringing about renewal and fostering commitment.



On the Apostolic Movements and Parochial Action Organizations



21. Christian movements constitute a priceless treasure for the Catholic Church in general and for the Maronite Church in particular. These Christian movements are one of the manifestations of the charisma of the Church where the members experience a fraternal and pure Christian life. “The authority ought to preserve the uniqueness and particularities of their groups while ensuring that these lay groups abide by Church precepts”23. The authority ought to help these groups to use their commitment in the service of enhancing the progress of their parishes and dioceses.


Our parishes, both in Lebanon and the Countries of Expansion, are rich by way of having a great number of apostolic and lay action groups and organizations. Hence, it has become necessary for us to help these groups remain alive in the heart of the local church. Pope John Paul II has constantly recommended that there be an enhancement of these movements so that they can play a role in reviving Christian life and in re-evangelizing the world, especially the youth, by employing a multifaceted vision of congregational worship and expression of the faith24.


For this reason, the Church invites these Christian movements to enrich their members with a deep and ongoing human and religious formation that will allow them to grow in the love of Christ and in the love of the Church. Then they will give a solid and powerful witness to the partnership in their doctrine along with a “mutual respect to all forms of the apostolate in the Church”25.



On the Ecclesiastical Institutions


22. From a different perspective, the Catholic schools are witnessing a qualitative move both in the organization and in the dissemination arenas of their apostolate. These schools are adopting a special ministry for the educational cadres such as the administrative and teaching staff as well as the parent and alumni associations. The synod also discerns noticeable ecclesiastic effort to transmit the Word of God through catechetical instruction to students both in public and private schools, in addition to the programs of formation proper for children in parishes and ecclesiastical institutions. The Church has also established a mechanism of cooperation between hospitals and the committee of coordination between the universities, although such efforts remain incomplete. A fundamental question still remains and that is: How can an employee in the ecclesiastical institutions be a Christian if he does not have the opportunity to witness to his faith while performing his daily professional functions?                                                                                                                                                                                                     

23. Maybe the answer to that question would entail that this role would be pioneering par excellence within the life of the Maronite Church which has been able, throughout the generations, to transmit the faith purely to all who were alien from Christ, through each Maronite’s daily life witnessing at home, in society, at school, at the hospital, and everywhere else. Hence, this role must now be re-activated on two ends: The ecclesiastical authorities should give the good example, by living what they preach, and by providing the proper environment for the faithful who work within the ecclesiastical institutions; and the laity, from their part, should connect their faith with their work so they become truly the living stones in the building up of the kingdom.


On the Episcopal Committees and General Ecclesiastical Offices


24. At the level of the Church structure and the management of its institutions, the ecclesiastical authority has given prime position for the laity to assume an essential role, especially at the levels of implementation and strategy making. Examples of this are evident within the episcopal committees and ecclesiastical administrations as well as within institutions that are linked to the Church or stem from the Church. However, many members of these committees and bodies have expressed their dissatisfaction with the chaos and partiality that is prevalent in the workplace. They are also dissatisfied with the disregard of punctuality, the lack of planning, and the monopolization of some bishops and/or officials of the crucial decisions, excluding any input from lay members who may oppose their views.


This reality seriously poses questions pertaining to the standards and criteria that are currently in use for the selection of lay members for these committees and for these bodies. Reality also raises question marks related to the competence of the person in charge and the extent of his awareness of the need to foster the participation of the laity in ecclesiastic life and, consequently, the need to include the laity in the decision making process. More than ever before, this issue has become an urgent one today especially because the Maronite Church is determined to work in a communal synodal spirit where no person is favored over another except in the truthfulness of his witnessing, in the integrity in his work, and in his dedication to the service of the Church. Thus, it is necessary to instate clear and specified criteria for choosing the person who will be in charge, criteria that takes into consideration his attested-to Christian commitment, his competent knowledge, his adequate education, his communal ecclesiastical spirit, his humble service, and other similar attributes.


Secondly: The Role of the Laity in the Civil Structures


 25. The Church calls the laity to live a committed Christian life as “witnesses to the gospel in the world.” The Church is aware that by merely being present in the world the laity are subject to live through a kind of gravitation or a schism between the faith on the one hand, and the professional, political, economic, and other areas of life on the other hand. This means that the laity will from one side, practice their religious rituals while they, on the other side, work in the world according to the laws of profit and loss, i.e., according to the requirement of their self interests and affiliations. This seems to contradict the special apostolate of the laity that calls for them to work from within “like yeast in the dough,” in order to sanctify the world in the milieu where they reside. However, the positive aspect of this reality lies in its ability to exhibit the inestimable worth of the laity who by their work within the different institutions are trying to live their Christianity with honesty and steadfastness, even if “against the current” relying on the grace of God and hoping that love will be a means of the social change. The world today does not need more speakers; rather, it needs more life witnesses. The Lord has entrusted every baptized person to witness in the world to his gospel. The faithful, aware and appreciative of God’s graces, strives to reciprocate God’s gifts by following daily the law of love in the midst of the world on the one hand, through placing his time, gifts, and capabilities at the service, progress and the building up of the community on the other hand. The believer embodies “the faithful and prudent servant whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time” (Matthew 24:45).


The Social Influences: War, Emigration, and the Economic Situation


 26. The wars and conflicts that take place in our country as well as all over the world have a great influence on destabilizing the lives of families and individuals, and in increasing Maronite emigration. What the war could not accomplish, the worsening economic situation brought it to completion, as it swept across Lebanon and many other places in the past years. These factors place the Maronite faithful face to face with appreciable challenges, and many try to face them through their Christian commitment as they live and work within the civic structure, in the economic, political or professional spheres. Many humanitarian initiatives based on the Christian Faith have surfaced in our Church, striving to counter this reality with a spirit of responsible love, instead of running away from it or succumbing to it.


 Relations with Other Religions


 27. The Maronites throughout the world live in the midst of varied multi-religious societies trying to live their faith while giving the utmost respect to the faith of others. This reality would not have become fact had the Maronites not been trained to accept dissimilitude and to respect differences and had their Church not grown in the East, especially in Lebanon. The slogan “Lebanon the mission,” which Pope John Paul II introduced, confirms this fact. What inspired the Pope to come up with this slogan was the reality of the life of the Church in Lebanon and her relations with the other religions. However, the near and distant history of the Maronites was never devoid of caution which was built sometimes on prejudgments and which was materialized many times over, in violence of confessional orientation, last of which was the recent war events in Lebanon. Likewise, the faithful are living a state of fear of a spread in Islamic fundamentalist movements and the inclination to exclusive possession of power and their extremist critical stances, and this is what contributes to reinforce a feeling of frustration, leading some to go into confinement, or choose migration.


In front of this situation, the Maronite Church is striving to firmly establish the concept of “Lebanon the Mission” with the logic of partnership with the other in the building of a nation belonging to all of its children. This effort requires an active ‘dialogue of life’ through open-handed love, interconnection, openness, focusing on the necessity of changing mentalities, purifying the memory and accepting the other as he is.


 On the Economic Life


 28. In the world of economic life the mentality of a schism between ethics and commercial production prevails, and is influenced by globalization, competition and chaotic capitalism. Manipulation has become ‘shrewdness’, and honesty ‘naivety’, and work became to seek a short range quick profit at the expense of public interest and ethical behavior. The social teachings of the Church warned of these situations, and the Maronite Patriarch, Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, and with him the Council of Bishops raised high their voice rejecting this situation and stressing not just on the necessity of moving away from it but rather, fighting it by returning to the religious and moral values, in order to change this state of affairs and to destroy the infrastructure of sin26 in society, confirming the importance of productivity which nurtures this society. This teaching gives primacy to self over possessions, affirming that the right to private property demands responsibility and requires a fostering of an atmosphere of solidarity and providing care for the poorest in the Church and in society. Consequently, the reality of the situation places those who venture into the domains of economic life, up against the responsibility of conducting their business and profession in a Christian spirit distinguished by a high standard of morality, giving precedence to the common good over all else.


 On Political Life


 29. The Apostolic Exhortation, A New Hope for Lebanon, urges lay believers to participate in political life in their quest to build their nations and their societies, so as to provide the best opportunities for their children. The Exhortation reiterates that “lay believers should absolutely not relinquish their right of partaking in ‘politics’, that is, in the diverse, multi-faceted economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural activities that aim at fostering the common good, systematically and through establishments”27. They clothed themselves with Christ through baptism and have shared with him his priestly, prophetic and kingly functions; consequently, in their service to people, society and country “they are making of their work praise of the Creator by completing the work of creation”[28] and are embodying “the Gospel and its effectiveness, an embodiment that shines in their daily lives…and are expressing in with patience and courage, amidst the hardships of the present times, their hope in glory.”[29] They are also participating in the Lord’s kingly role by “offering themselves to the service of Christ, through love and justice.”[30]


Because many of the laity involved in politics are still alien to the essence of this noble practice stemming from Christian values, the sermons, letters, and declarations of the Patriarch and the communiques of the Synod of the Maronite bishops, have tackled the concept of political commitment in its deep meaning as defense of national values such as independence, sovereignty and a free decision. They stressed the necessity of participating in changing and consolidating democratic political practice into becoming based more on ethics, respect for human dignity, human rights, and public liberties. They specified the criteria a citizen must employ in practicing his rights and performing his duties when choosing his representatives.


In summary, the Church urges her sons and daughters dealing in politics, to humanize this sector and to constantly instill in it a spirit of renewal. Thus, it aims at activating the Maronite civic society, rich as it is in talent, and capabilities in order to revive the noble political endeavor to change the used political concept that puts private interest over public interest, and, to focus on a new breed of politicians, who employ science, competence, and morality in the management of public affairs.


 On the Professional Life


 30. The Church calls the laity to commit to the faith and to live it accordingly in the world of the professions, each according to his/her field and specialization. She realizes quite well that many initiatives might remain shy, individual attempts in the face of what impedes them by way of challenges, structural changes and conflicting gravitations. But, it is the way that leads to the desired change, on all levels.


Therefore, the laity find themselves, without hesitation, called to fight evil and the web of sin in society and every kind of alienation from virtue, and to transcend the walled individualistic spirit prevalent in many practices. They are also called to work on fulfilling the common good and to erect ‘the structure of resistance’ to limit emigration and alleviate anxiety and despair among the youth, to help them stay entrenched in the homeland, cultivating their attachment to the land. The Church also invites her faithful, through their various commitments, to confirm every person’s inalienable basic rights, to preserve the dignity and freedom of every human being, to persevere in the service of peace, to reign justice, solidarity, charity, evangelical simplicity in life, and caring for the poor and the destitute before others. Thus, the laity who believe in Christ, will become, according to Pope John Paul II, the ‘prophets of hope’, the hope of changing the world and making it more responsive to the real needs of all people.


In this domain, there is the need for a pastorate specific to the professions and their proprietors. The current initiatives to organize this commitment remain isolated and dispersed, since there is no set work plan or any organized body to nurture its development. Some of the committed, members of Christian movements and associations, try to live this testimony in varied modes, however, there is no common denominator between them for their efforts to bear fruit. Work to realize this integration has become a dire necessity.



Chapter 4: Future Perspectives


 31. Today, the Maronites in Lebanon and worldwide are facing crucial challenges specifically so in the absence of any plans of action, strategies and decisions that would form a clear vision of the future and would plant in the hearts hope of a better tomorrow. These challenges, multiple and diverse as they may be, places the faithful face to face with three challenges:


a.                   To be able to retain the firmness of their faith at a time when they are merging into all the various sectors of labor and the different walks of life while they are exposed to all kinds of pressures.

b.                  To uphold their openness and their collaboration with others (it is a historical constant of theirs) without losing their souls and their true identity.

c.                   To engage scientific and technological development, and acquire education and knowledge right in the midst of their broad expansion, in the societies of the world, without sacrificing what they were brought up on, in spiritual and moral values derived from their faith.



First: Recommendations


32. Therefore, in the light of the above text, the Synod has arrived at the following recommendations:


a.                   The real actualization of what the Vatican II Ecumenical Council brought, and what the Apostolic Exhortation: A New Hope for Lebanon presented, in expectations concerning the identity of the laity, their calling, mission and the importance of involving them in the service of the Church and the conveyance of taking the Gospel to the world.

b.                  Issuing a general pastoral exhortation that deals with the different dimensions and aspects of the participation of the laity in the life of the church, and provides practical guidance to this participation in the activities of the Church, its decisions, its administration and its institutions.

c. Activating the commitment of the laity in the ecclesiastical infrastructure, through constitution in the service of the Word, in catechesis, in spreading the Good News, through the participation in pastoral councils, in stewardship committees and ecclesiastical organizations, both spiritual and apostolic, such as affiliating with liturgical workshops; through service of the sick and the poor, in parish management, in living the Christian life in the heart of their families and in their workplace, etc…

d.                  Finding a mechanism to incorporate the laity in decision making at the level of the eparchial, parochial, and ecclesiastical institutions; elucidating the relationship between the various councils and bodies and activating their work as well.

e.                   Fostering the participation of women at the parochial and eparchial levels and in the structures of the Church that encompass the different services and sectors.

f.                   Encouraging the spread of lay apostolic movements in coordination with the Episcopal Committee for the Apostolate of the Laity in parishes and eparchies, and encouraging priests to coordinate with the apostolic movements in their parishes while retaining the characteristics of each movement and respecting its bylaws, and to capitalize on the abilities of their members in the development of parishes with the aim of transforming them into living cells, full of activity and vitality.

g.                  Developing formation programs on the concept of leadership stemming from the spirit of the Gospel, and training on the leadership skills necessary for the dissemination of Christ’s teachings, and living in accordance with the Church’s social teachings.

h.                  Erecting a ministry of professions for the laity according to their professions through the founding of societies such as the ‘Society of St. Yves’ for lawyers who defend widows, orphans and the oppressed, and the ‘St. Luke Society’ for doctors aiming at alleviating the burden of hospitalization “for the little ones,” and the ‘Association of Diplomats for Reconciling the Enemies,’ and the association of businessmen to provide job opportunities for the unemployed, etc…

i.                    Encouraging and renewing Christian student organizations that they may attract teenagers and counter the various material currents that pursue students, threatening to lead them astray.

j.                    Finding a mechanism to bring together the Maronite youths spread across the globe that they may get acquainted with each other, exchange experiences, create job opportunities and consolidate the spirit of belonging, through organized periodic reunions such us the Maronite World Youth Day, summer camps, youth exchange programs, and others.


Second: Work Strategies


 A. Serious Attention to Formation


 33. His Holiness welcomed the audience of the Special Assembly (for Lebanon) of the Synod of Bishops by saying, “We have the right to expect from the laity, of good formation and who are in harmony with themselves, a new spring for the Church in the Third Millennium.”[31] It is not right that everything left – in the spiritual and apostolic life – is left to absolute spontaneity. Formation is essential in every serious and long-term Christian endeavor because it prepares the competent lay person to fulfill his apostolate and calling, and holds high hopes for the future. Therefore, the Synod recommends:


a.                   That the Maronite Church exerts effort to provide on-going formation that fosters the maturing of faith, which grows as life does, day by day. Formation is to be directed in a special way toward the adult faithful, where the need is pressing. This formation may be provided through the centers of religious education, the Christian media, lay apostolic movements, and others, provided they allow for common periods of formation and specialized training for laity and priests that they may work together within the necessary pastoral and ecclesiastical framework.

b.                  That the Church toils to make formation a growing one; she seeks to fructify the bonds of baptism, to personalize faith, internal metanoia, and serious work and readiness to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and activate these talents in the life of the faith, that they may reach every person and the whole person.


c.                   That four fundamental methods be employed during formation, derived from its development throughout history: attentive, dynamic and acquiescent listening to the Word of God and the Church; the practice of personal and group prayers; spiritual direction; and, spiritual discernment.

d.                  That this formation includes important dimensions such as an introduction to spiritual life, getting a firm grasp on Christian doctrine, following up on the Universal Church teachings on the Apostolic Exhortations, Papal Encyclicals, declarations of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops, letters by the Catholic patriarchs of the East, letters by the Maronite Patriarch on various occasions, and the Christian perspective on social issues in accordance with Church social and moral teaching.

e.                   That formation focuses on mission and apostolic dimensions and on the importance of the Christian presence in the East and the Arab world.

f.                   That formation is based on the spirit of ecclesiastical communion and its activation at the level of collaboration among Eastern Catholic Churches and the placing of resources, ‘together’, in the service of the Kingdom.

g.                  That formation focuses on ecumenical openness toward the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the ecclesiastical groups emanating from the Reformation movement, considering that the traditions of our Eastern Church assumes an abundance of openness and interaction with all the Christian faithful of various affiliations.

h.                  That formation encourages the lay people to enter in dialogue of life with followers of other monotheistic religions, especially Islam.

i.                    That the role of the parish priest remains a pioneering and essential one in providing a minimum level of formation and guidance to allow his parishioners to help him realize the goals of the mission and to live their testimony of Christ.


 B. Urging Participation in Church Mission and Decision Making


 34. Believing in the importance concepts of unity in diversity, and in the concept of the Communion Church, the Church stresses on the necessity of investing the capabilities of the laity, their spiritual wealth, and their individual and collective qualifications, to serve in the Church and to work in God’s field. Thus, the lay people realize a quality leap from being secondary assistants into becoming ‘living stones’ in the structure of the Church. Thus, barriers would be destroyed and bridges span ‘to work together.’ As an example, the effectiveness of this partnership was revealed in the preparation for the Special Synod for Lebanon, in the year of the Holy Jubilee, as well as in many activities organized lately by the Maronite Church.


The Church seeks to achieve participation by activating work in parochial and eparchial councils and supplementing it by forming ‘organized’ cells for analysis and planning, and taking an initiative on the part of qualified and specialized lay people to study current files and issues, each according to his field of expertise. These cells are to serve the patriarchal and eparchial ecclesiastical structures, presenting one’s studies, ideas and suggestions to the ecclesiastical decision makers, for the purpose of confronting situations and challenges accurately and knowledgeably, on the one hand, and inhibiting extemporization in matters that are often of a fateful nature, on the other hand. This issue may propose the importance to resort to those of specialization and experience that they may be of service to the Church in this field.



 C. Fostering the Role of Apostolic Lay Councils


 35. Encourage the work of the Lay Apostolic Council emanating from the Episcopal Committee for the Apostolate of the Laity and urge it to continue to raise an all encompassing awareness in our Churches as to the identity of the laity, their calling and their mission. This council would coordinate the work of the international and local lay apostolic movements and would look after the ecclesiastic identity of these movements in the context of the Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici. It would sponsor the local and international youth days, and would strive diligently to launch the ‘ministry of professions’ and to motivate the faithful to commit to Christianity in the midst of the world of politics, economics and society…


a.                   Universalizing the eparchial committees to coordinate the work of the laity affiliated to apostolic movements and organizations and proprietors with personal commitments.


b.                  Establish lay apostolic councils and committees in each of the Maronite eparchies worldwide, to encourage the laity to embrace their role within a mechanism that allows them a minimum limit of freedom of action within their eparchies and parishes.


c.                   Organize the many existing initiatives, at the level of commitment of the laity in the ecclesiastical structures. The experience of immigrant clubs in Latin America and lay councils in the two Maronite Eparchies in the United States, and the renewed experience of the Eparchy of Australia, provides important samples of the active role that the laity can assume in uplifting the Church and effecting real progress in her performance and fostering her expansion.


d. Establish a special department within the Secretariat of the Maronite Patriarchate for the mission and functions of the laity. This department would address their causes and provide them with the proper accompaniment.



Conclusion: The Courage to Hope for “a New Heavens and a New Earth” (2 Pet. 3:13)



 36. On the journey of the Patriarchal Synod, let us open our hearts and minds to the work of the living and life giving Holy Spirit that we may enter into the dynamism of intrinsic and lived renewal. Let us work together through the courage of hope in its five dimensions:[32] the courage of holiness; the courage of learning and of integrated formation; the courage of partnership in the Church; the courage of effective and responsible participation; and the courage of mission. Thus, we commit “together before God for the sake of man and society;”[33] and walk “together into the future.”[34] “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5).







1. Identity, Vocation and Mission of the Laity.

1. The Synod recommends the active actualization or the identity of the laity, their mission and the importance of their participation in ecclesiastical ministry and in carrying the Gospel to the world at the level of the Patriarchate and the eparchies and at the level of the Maronite parishes in the world. As transmitted by the Maronite tradition, the Second Vatican Council and the Apostolic Exhortation “A New Hope for Lebanon.”

1.a: Promulgating a general pastoral exhortation on the part of the Council of Maronite Bishops dealing with the various dimensions of lay participation in the ecclesiastical life and that of society giving practical directives for this participation in Church activities, decisions, administration and institutions.


1.b: Training the laity on the concept of leadership emanating from the Gospel, and benefiting from the capabilities for an effective participation in the life of the Church.


1.c: Coordinating with the Council for the Laity in Lebanon and similar councils in other countries, as need dictates.

2. Apostolic Movements and Organizations.

2. The Synod recommends that the faithful, especially those belonging to apostolic movements and organizations, be diligent in maintaining a solid faith and hope and witnessing to it in all sectors of work and the domains of life.

2.a: Encouraging the expansion of apostolic movements and organizations in parishes and eparchies and prompting them to conform to parish life, mobilizing capacities, transforming them into living cells in the Church and in society.


2.b: Endeavor to accompany them spiritually, and providing directors to guide them.


2.c: Local bishops in cooperation with the Episcopal Committee for the Mission of the Laity are to look into the suitability of new apostolic organizations originating abroad to the spiritual needs of our Church and her traditions and any pastoral benefit derived from them, before allowing them to enter the eparchies and the acculturation with our spirituality.


2.d: Encourage and Renew the Christian student organizations enabling them to attract the youth.







2.e: Establishing a ministry for the laity according to their professions by forming societies such as the “St. Yves Society” for lawyers and the “St. Luke Society” for doctors, “the League of Christian Nurses,” “the Association of Diplomats for Reconciliation,” “the Association of Business People and the Academia and Alumni Associations.

3. Maronite Spiritual, Educational, Political and Social Movements and the Identity of the Maronite Church.

3. The Synod calls on all Maronite lay movements and on all those committed Maronites, to work together and coordinate activities so as to be in harmony with the identity of the Maronite Church and her expansion across the globe.

3.a: Erecting a department concerned with the mission of the laity and their duties to take care of their affairs and to provide them with the necessary accompaniment, provided it stems from the Secretariat General of the Maronite Patriarchate.


3.b: Consolidating lay clubs and councils in the eparchies of the expansion, erecting them where need calls, thus giving the laity the opportunity to assume their role in the Church and to enlighten generations to the richness of Maronite history and heritage.


3.c: Establishing a general Maronite council to include representatives of existing Maronite spiritual, educational, political and social movements for the purpose of coordinating work between them in accordance with Church directives.

4. Formation of Spiritual Directors


4. The Synod recommends that superiors general and mothers superior to provide preparation and formation to male and female spiritual directors to accompany apostolic societies, providing the necessary education and formation for those responsible in them and for their members, accompanying prisoners in prisons and correctional facilities, and the sick in hospitals, especially the terminally ill.

4.a: Erecting a special department at universities to habilitate directors from priests, monks, nuns and laity.


4.b: Eparchies and monastic orders are to provide qualified directors to accompany these institutions.


[1]. Refer to Al Manara Magazine, 224, Issue No. 1 (1983), an issue dedicated to the study of the Maronite synods, starting with the first synod in 1557 up to the Baladite Synod that was held in Bkerke in 1856.

2. “THEODORET counts 250 women among the disciples of St. Maron,” Michel Hayek: Liturgie Maronite, Paris, 1963, p.10.

3. Boutros Daou, History of the Maronites, vol. 4, p.188

4. The Lebanese Synod, Section IV, Chapter IV: “On the Confraternities of the ‘Awam,’” and Chapter VI. “On Schools and Curricula.”

5. Especially the interference of politics in ecclesiastic affairs and feudal disputes on the election of the patriarch or sometimes conspiring for his deposition: «Aucun clerc, ni aucun laïque ne peut se mêler de l’élection patriarcale……De même que les clercs et les laïques ne peuvent former des conjurations contre les évêques, ceux-ci ne peuvent conspirer contre le patriarche. Le patriarche n’est justiciable que du Pape » Synode du Mont Liban. Plan et extraits. Pp.557-558 in MOUBARAC Youakim. Pentalogie Antiochienne/domaine maronite. Beyrouth. Édition Cénacle Libanais 1984. “No clergy, no lay person can interfere in the election of the patriarch…Also, the clergy and laity cannot form, plotting against the bishops who, in turn, cannot conspire against the Patriarch. The Patriarch is accountable just for the Pope.”

6. The appearance of Congregatio Beatae Virginis Mariae dates back to the year 1563 in the School of Rome. It was among the first associations in Lebanon (communitiesof prayer, piety, parochial service and social solidarity). It remains in a state of constant renewal, especially with the emergence of groups specialized in guiding the youth such as The Knights of the Virgin Mary, The Zanabik (The Lilies), The Tala’eh and the Christian Life Community Associations CVX…

7. Vatican II discusses the subject of laity in Constitutions and Decrees: Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution On the Church, 1964 (Chapter IV, no. 30.-38.), Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution On the Church In the Modern World, 1965; Apostolicam Actuositatem, Decree On the Apostolate of the Laity, 1965; and it completes the decrees that discuss Christus Dominus, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church; Presbyterorum Ordinis, Decree on the Ministry and Life of the Priests; Perfectae Caritates, Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life; Ad Gentes, Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church (1965) which addresses the laity directly on number 21.

8. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, § 31.

9. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, § 34.

10. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, § 31.

11. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, § 31.

12. Vatican II, Presbyterorum Ordinis, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, § 9.

13. Apostololic Exhortation: Christifideles Laici, Intro., No 3.

14. Through the documents of Vatican II and the letters of the Pope, especially “Mulieris Dignitatem” on the dignity of women.

15. Apostolic Exhortation: Christifideles Laici, § 51.

16. Apostolic Exhortation: A New Hope for Lebanon, § 1.

17. Ibid., § 45.

18. Ibid., § 10.

19. Ibid., § 45.

20. Ibid., § 50.

21. Especially through groups of religious education (in parishes) and the groups that are dedicated to the case of the Family, such as the groups of the Virgin Mary, etc…

22. In the countries of expansion for example: The National Apostolate of Maronites (NAM), Order of Saint Sharbel, The Maronite Youth Organization (MYO), Knights of Kannoubine, etc.

23. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici § 30, John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, A New Hope for Lebanon, § 74.

24. John Paul II, Encyclical “On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate Redemptoris Missio, 1990, § 27.

25. Vatican II, Apostolicum Actuositatem, Decree On the Apostolate of the Laity, § 23.

26. Especially in the Apostolic Exhortation, Sollicitudo rei socialis and Centesimus Annus.

27. A New Hope for Lebanon, § 112.

[28] Ibid., § 113

[29] Ibid., § 113

[30] Ibid., § 113

[31] Angelus of December 10, 1995, during the meeting of the Synodus Episcoporum/Coetus Specialis pro libano 26 November-14 December 1995.

[32] From the intervention of Cardinal Pironio in the Special Synod for Lebanon.

[33] Third Pastoral Letter of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, Together Before God for Man and Society, Bkerke, 1994.

[34] Sixth Pastoral Letter of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, Together Towards the Future, Bkerke, 1999.