“I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the presence of Christians in the Middle East is essential for the Church and human culture,” he said in Houston. “Christians are an integral part of the universal Church, the body of Christ. They proclaim the Gospel of Salvation in their geographical environment . . . the Gospel of freedom and human dignity. We appeal to the international community, and in particular to the great country of the United States, to keep in mind the indispensable role Christians play in the Middle East, and promote it, and do what must be done so that this presence continues.”
The patriarch paid tribute to the US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, a Lebanese-American born in Peoria. “Ray LaHood is a precious voice for our people inside the Obama administration, a great support for our cause, the cause of Lebanon, seeking peace and freedom for our people, so that it can remain rooted in that beautiful country that Pope John Paul II described as a message for the East and the West”.
From this point of view, the patriarch urged the residents of Peoria “to continue registering your marriages and the birth of your children at the Lebanese consulate. This way you can remain connected to the land of your ancestors and can be of great support to your brothers and sisters who continue to live in Lebanon, knowing that the Lebanese political system is based on a confessional balance between Christians and Muslims.”
At a time when advertising posters in Beirut extol one’s “roots”, the World Maronite Foundation in Washington, an organisation set up by the Maronite Patriarchate and chaired by a former Culture minister, Michel Eddé, is involved in Lebanon’s human “reforesting” thanks to the ties Christian emigrants have with the motherland.
Some 215,000 Maronites in the United States are also Lebanese citizens. However, there are more than that, and they include second and third generation Lebanese-Americans. The World Maronite Foundation has set as its goal the re-establishment of such a connection, and for this reason it is working on behalf of not only Maronites but all Christians in the two Americas, namely Greek Orthodox, Melkites, Syriacs and Armenians. The presence of Maronite Patriarch Béchara Rai provides the opportunity to multiply contacts.
“Being Lebanese has certainly many advantages,” said Antonios Andari, an indefatigable defender of the World Maronite Foundation. There are, he noted, “heritage and tax” advantages, as well as the right to vote once it can be exercised at Lebanon’s embassies abroad.
“But in addition to all these advantages, there is one that is priceless, i.e. protecting the Lebanese model of living together. Now, if statistically the number of Christians should drop to 10 per cent of the total population in the next 20 years, the Lebanese model would be compromised. We must therefore react for the good of everyone, not only Christians.”
The Foundation’s work is centred in Los Angeles and Michigan. The Foundation has been pushing for a new law that would allow the Lebanese to pass their citizenship on to their children. In Michigan, there are 500 case files of Christians who want to obtain Lebanese citizenship. However, only in 85 cases do they meet the current legal criteria necessary to obtain it. The others have to wait for a new law.
According to Andari, the Lebanese government should approve shortly a draft bill in this sense. Such a law is indispensable if the ‘Roots’ project is to actually materialise.
“Do not come back to Lebanon but stress your Lebanese roots. We must prevent the disappearance of the Lebanon of coexistence,” Andari said. A large human reservoir exists over there in the two Americas to achieve this goal. All we have to do is know how to reach it.