Category Archives: Church

The Help Given the Demoniac

MEDITATION

The Help Given the Demoniac

The devil ceaselessly sets his snares against a person who is so hardhearted as to despise God’s help in resisting him; for then he sees a blackness of iniquity rising up in that person, bringing such bitterness into his whole body that its strength dries up. Hence, when a person begins to contemplate his evil and so crushes himself in despair, deeming it impossible for him to avoid evil and do good, the devil sees this and says, ”Behold a person who is like us, denying his God and turning to follow us. Let us hasten and run swiftly to him, urging him by our arts so that he cannot escape us. For to leave God and follow us is what he wants.”

But a person who is assailed by these evils through the devi|’s agency, and polluted by murder, adultery, voracity, drunkenness and excess of all vices, will fall into death if he continues in them impenitent; while one who resists the devil and withdraws repenting from these vices will rise again to life. For if a person follows the longing of his flesh and neglects the good desires of his spirit, the Maker of this globe says of him, “he despises me and sinfully loves his flesh, and reiects the knowledge that he should turn away from perdition. And therefore he must be cast out.” But if a person loves the virtuous ardor of his spirit and reiects the pleasure of his flesh, the Creator of the world says of him, ”he looks toward me and does not nourish his body on filth, and desires the knowledge of how to avoid death. And therefore help will be given him.”

Saint Hildegard of Bingen

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (t 1179) was a German Benedictine nun, physician, composer; and mystic. She is a Doctor of the Church,

The Stigmata – Lesson and Discussion

Bret Thoman
What is the stigmata?
The stigmata is the markings of Christ given to someone by God while they are still alive. It is “[The] Phenomenon in which a person bears all or some of the wounds of Christ in his or her own body, i.e., on the feet, hands, side, and brow. The wounds appear spontaneously, from no external source, and periodically there is a flow of fresh blood.”[1] Sometimes the stigmata is visible and other times the wounds are invisible. The word “stigmata” comes from the Greek “tattoo mark”. The Church has never issued an infallible declaration concerning the stigmata.
 
Who has received the stigmata? “There have been 321 cases of authentic stigmatization recorded.”[2] Of the 321 cases, more than sixty of the people have been canonized as saints[3] and almost ninety percent of all stigmatists are women. There are some theologians who speculate that Saint Paul was the first to receive the stigmata because he says in today’s second reading, “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body”[4], but we are not sure. The first recorded account of someone receiving the stigmata is Saint Francis of Assisi. 
 
The following is a list of known stigmatists who have been beatified, canonized, or declared venerable:

 

Angela of Foligno
Anna Maria Taïgi
Anna Rosa Gattorno
Camilla Battista Varani
Catherine Emmerich
Catherine del Ricci
Catherine of Genoa
Catherine of Racconigi (1486-1547), Dominican
Catherine of Siena
Charles of Sezze
Christina Ciccarelli
Clara Isabella Fornari
Clare of Montefalco
Colette
Elizabeth Achler
Faustina Kowalska
Flora of Beaulieu
Frances of Rome
Francis of Assisi
Gemma Galgani
Gertrude
Gertrude van Oosten
Helen of Hungary
John of God
Lydwina of Schiedam
Lucy of Narni
Lutgarde
Margaret Mary Alacoque
Margaret of Cortona
Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament
Maria Lopez of Jesus
Marie of the Incarnation
Mary Anne of Jesus (1557-1620), Franciscan tertiary
Mary Frances of the Five Wounds
Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi
Mary of Jesus Crucified
Matthew Carreri
Osanna of Mantua
Padre Pio
Rita of Cassia
Rita of Lima
Stephana de Quinzanis
Veronica Giuliani

 
When and how do people receive the stigmata? Everyone who has received the stigmata has received it in different forms and fashions. For example, “The best known stigmatic was St. Francis of Assisi. During an ecstasy on Mount Alvernia on September 17, 1224, he saw a seraph offer him an image of Jesus crucified and imprint upon him the sacred stigmata. Blood used to flow from these wounds until the time of his death two years later. He tried to conceal the phenomenon but not very successfully.”[v] Usually, the person who receives the marks of Christ receives them sometime on Thursday and/or Friday, coinciding with Our Lord’s passion. The people who have received the marks have also received them after intense prayer and forms of ecstasy. Sometimes the wounds would come and go. Padre Pio had the stigmata for a long time, then one day it went away only to return again a short time later.
 
Do the wounds constantly bleed? At times, yes. They are not free flowing to where there are dangerous levels of blood loss, but they do bleed. Also, they do hurt. Both Padre Pio and Saint Francis had extremely difficult times walking around because of the wounds which slowed them down.
 
How do we know if the stigmata are real? Just like miracles that occur at Lourdes and miracles that happen through the intercessions of saints, the Church does not just claim stigmata haphazardly. There are certain things that the Church looks for when approving or disproving stigmata. “Through centuries of canonical processes, the Church has established certain criteria for determining genuine stigmata. Thus the wounds are localized in the very spots where Christ received the five wounds, which does not occur if the bloody sweat is produced by hysteria or hypnotism. Generally the wounds bleed afresh and the pains recur on the days or during the season associated with the Savior’s passion, such as Fridays or feast days of Our Lord. The wounds do not become festered and the blood flowing from them is pure, whereas the slightest natural lesion in some other part of the body develops an infection. Moreover, the wounds do not yield to the usual medical treatment, and may remain for as long as thirty to forty years. The wounds bleed freely and produce a veritable hemorrhage; and this takes place not only at the beginning but also again and again. Also the extent of the hemorrhage is phenomenal; the stigmata lie on the surface, removed from the great blood vessels, yet the blood literally streams from them. Finally true stigmata are not found except in persons who practice the most heroic virtues and possess a special love of the Cross.”[vi]
 
Why do some people receive the stigmata? The people who have received the marks of Christ have had a deep desire to be as close to Christ as humanly possible. They spend hours in prayer, receive daily Eucharist, and fast for long periods. “Authentic stigmatization occurs only among people favored with ecstasy and is preceded and attended by keen physical and moral sufferings that thus make the subject conformable to the suffering Christ. The absence of suffering would cast serious doubt on the validity of the stigmata, whose assumed purpose is to symbolize union with Christ crucified and participation in his own martyrdom.”[vii]
 
The stigmata can also be seen as a witness to the great holiness of the person or used to awaken something within the world at that time. “In his paper Hospitality and Pain, Christian theologian Ivan Illich states: ‘Compassion with Christ… is faith so strong and so deeply incarnate that it leads to the individual embodiment of the contemplated pain.’ His thesis is that stigmata result from exceptional poignancy of religious faith and desire to associate oneself with the suffering Messiah.”[viii]
 
Why is the stigmata usually in the hand instead of the wrist? While some stigmata have been shown in the wrists, the majority have been in the hands. Many people see this and think that the markings are fake because it is believed that Jesus was crucified in the wrists. We have to ask ourselves what the purpose of the stigmata is in the first place. It has a mystical purpose. The markings are not the actual markings of Jesus Christ; it is not like the priest being in persona Christi or the Eucharist being the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. The mystical purpose of the stigmata is to unite us to our Lord.
 
What are we to learn from the stigmata? The first thing to note is that our salvation is not dependent on whether or not we believe in the stigmata. This is why the Church has not pursued it so fervently. The Church will recognize it, but not trouble herself with making dogmatic decrees on the matter. Whether someone believes in people receiving the stigmata or not, what we learn from this is to unite our sufferings with Jesus in the body of Christ.
 
Saint Paul says in the second reading, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”[ix] The cross is where we see our salvation and the example of perfect suffering. We are the body of Christ. Jesus is the head. Jesus’ suffering is completed and perfected on the cross. He suffers no more, but we, the body of Christ, do still suffer. However, since we are connected to the head of Christ, our suffering has meaning. Saint Paul writes, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.”[x] We can take on our own burdens and other peoples too if we so desire to bring the body closer to health. We should never look at any suffering, pain, or hardship with despair, because we are not alone. We unite our sufferings with Jesus, the head, and are brought to salvation. Of all people, Jesus understands suffering because He is a divine person that took on human flesh, and with it all its sufferings, even death.

[1] Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary pgs. 520
[2] http://catholicism.org/the-stigmata.html
[3] cf. Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary pgs. 520
[4] Gal. 6:17
[v] Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary pgs. 520
[vi] Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary pgs. 520 – 521
[vii] Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary pgs. 520- 521
[viii] http://www.catholic.org/saints/stigmata/
[ix] Gal. 6:14
[x] Col. 1:24

Pope discusses why he chose “Francis”

New pope meets with journalists
“Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”
March 16, 2013 10:52 EST By Catherine Harmon

Today Pope Francis met with the more than 6,000 members of the media currently accredited to the Holy See, most of whom went to Rome specifically to cover the conclave and the election of a new pope.

Pope Francis’ remarks focused on the role of the media in the modern world. But he also related why he chose “Francis” as his papal name, for St. Francis of Assisi, who he described as “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who love and safeguards Creation.”

The full text of Pope Francis’ address is below, via Vatican Information Service:
Dear friends, I am pleased, at the beginning of my ministry in the See of Peter, to meet with you who have worked here in Rome at this very intense period that began with the surprising announcement of my venerated predecessor Benedict XVI, this past 11 February. I warmly greet each of you.

The role of the mass media has been continuously growing in recent times, so much so that it has become essential to narrate the events of contemporary history to the world. I therefore especially thank you for your distinguished service these past few days—you have had a bit of work to do, haven’t you?—when the eyes of the Catholic world, and not only, were turned toward the Eternal City, in particular to this area that has St. Peter’s tomb as its focal point. In these past few weeks you’ve gotten a chance to talk about the Holy See, the Church, her rites and traditions, her faith, and, in particular, the role of the Pope and his ministry.

A particularly heart-felt thanks goes to those who have been able to observe and present these events in the Church’s history while keeping in mind the most just perspective in which they must be read, that of faith. Historical events almost always require a complex reading that, at times, can also include the dimension of faith. Ecclesial events are certainly not more complicated than political or economic ones. But they have one particularly fundamental characteristic: they answer to a logic that is not mainly that of, so to speak, worldly categories, and this is precisely why it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wide and varied audience. In fact, the Church, although it is certainly also a human, historical institution with all that that entails, does not have a political nature but is essentially spiritual: it is the people of God, the holy people of God who walk toward the encounter with Jesus Christ. Only by putting oneself in this perspective can one fully explain how the Catholic Church works.

Christ is the Church’s Shepherd, but His presence in history moves through human freedom. Among these, one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, Successor of the Apostle Peter, but Christ is the centre, the fundamental reference, the heart of the Church! Without Him, neither Peter nor the Church would exist or have a reason for being. As Benedict XVI repeated often, Christ is present and leads His Church. In everything that has happened, the protagonist is, ultimately, the Holy Spirit. He has inspired Benedict XVI’s decision for the good of the Church; He has guided the cardinals in their prayers and in their election. Dear friends, it is important to take due account of this interpretive horizon, this hermeneutic, to bring the heart of the events of these days into focus.
From this is born, above all, a renewed and sincere thanks for your efforts in these particularly challenging days, but also an invitation to always seek to know more the Church’s true nature and the spiritual motivations that guide her and that are the most authentic for understanding her. Rest assured that the Church, for her part, is very attentive to your precious work. You have the ability to gather and express the expectations and needs of our times, to provide the elements necessary to read reality. Like many other professions, your job requires study, sensitivity, and experience but it bears with it a particular attention to truth, goodness, and beauty. This makes us particularly close because the Church exists to communicate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty ‘in person’. It should be clear that we are all called, not to communicate ourselves, but rather this existential triad that shapes truth, goodness, and beauty.

Some people didn’t know why the Bishop of Rome wanted to call himself “Francis.” Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis de Sales, even Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. At the election I had the archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo next to me. He is also prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes [O.F.M.]: a dear, dear friend. When things were getting a little ‘dangerous’, he comforted me. And then, when the votes reached the two-thirds, there was the usual applause because the Pope had been elected. He hugged me and said: ‘Do not forget the poor.’ And that word stuck here [tapping his forehead]; the poor, the poor. Then, immediately in relation to the poor I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of war, while the voting continued, until all the votes [were counted]. And so the name came to my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who love and safeguards Creation. In this moment when our relationship with Creation is not so good—right?—He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!

I wish the best for you, I thank you for everything that you have done. And I think of your work: I wish you to work fruitfully and with serenity and to always know better the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reality of the Church. I entrust you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of evangelization. I wish the best for you and your families, for each of your families, and I wholeheartedly impart to all of you the blessing.
After personally greeting some of the journalists present, Pope Francis, in Spanish, concluded: “I told you I wholeheartedly imparted my blessing. Many of you don’t belong to the Catholic Church, others are not believers. From my heart I impart this blessing, in silence, to each of you, respecting the conscience of each one, but knowing that each of you is a child of God: May God bless you.”

What is a Cardinal?

The Role of the College of Cardinals in History and Today
By: Msgr. Charles Pope

See more at: http://blog.adw.org/2013/03/what-is-a-cardinal-the-role-of-the-college-of-cardinals-in-history-and-today/#sthash.14qBmMNM.dpuf

Now that attention shifts to the College of Cardinals, it might be good to spend a brief time reflecting on what a Cardinal is and how the College of Cardinals functions. Perhaps it is good to start with a little history and then describe the present realities.

History [1]- Originally the term “cardinal” simply referred to any priest who was attached to a particular church or diocese. Even to this day we speak of diocesan priests as being “incardinated” (or attached) to a certain diocese, and this is required for every priest. There are not to be “free-ranging” priests. Later however, from about the 4th Century through the late Middle Ages the term “cardinal” came to be used only of certain more prominent priests in the larger and more prominent dioceses of antiquity such as Constantinople, Milan, Ravenna, Naples, Sens, Trier, Magdeburg, and Cologne and of course, Rome. In more recent centuries the term came only to be used of Rome.

And thus we find the term cardinal used in the Church at Rome (from at least fifth century) to designate priests permanently serving in the Roman parishes and ministries under the Bishop of Rome, the Pope— These were the “cardinal priests.” However, as the number of priests grew, not all the priests attached to these Roman parishes were known as cardinal, but only the first priest in each such parish—i.e. the Pastor or Rector.

Cardinal priests attended not only to their own ministry or parish but also convened regularly to oversee matters of Church discipline in the diocese of Rome. These might include matters of disciplining the clergy, filling vacancies and so forth. But it also involved matters pertaining to the laity insofar as they interacted with the Church. Thus the Cardinal priests assisted the Pope in the administration of the Diocese of Rome. There are some echoes of all this in every diocese through a mechanisms known as the College of Deans and College of Consultors who assist the Bishop in administrative details and matters of Church discipline.

Cardinal Deacons – During all this time just described there also existed a group known as the cardinal deacons. The Roman Diocese was divided into seven regions and a deacon was assigned to each. They performed numerous duties but chief among them was record-keeping and the coordination of the care of the poor, cemeteries and the like. Given their elevated status over a deacon who only served a parish, they came to be called cardinal deacons. These cardinal deacons would also assist the Pope liturgically whenever he was in that region of the diocese. The number of these cardinal deacons gradually rose over the years.

Cardinal Bishops – Yet again, during all this time there also emerged the cardinal bishops. As the worldwide Church grew in size, the duties of the Pope, and the administrative concerns of the Roman Church (diocese) grew. The Pope increasingly came to call on bishops of nearby dioceses (esp. Ostia and Velletri, Porto and Santa Rufina, Albano, Frascati (Tusculum), Palestrina (Præneste), and Sabina) to represent him in an official capacity and to give him counsel. In a way it was like the modern notion of a local synod.

Thus we see that the Cardinals had varying ranks and functions. They were, assistants of the pope in his liturgical functions, in the care of the poor, the administration of papal finances and possessions, and met in synod over the disposition of important matters to include Church discipline.

By the 11th Century the College of Cardinals took on more importance as they began to oversee the election of a new pope when this became necessary. They not only saw to the election but they also ran things during the interregnum. From this time on their functions and importance grew. The Pope met regularly with them in something called the “consistory,” i.e. the reunion of the cardinals and the pope. In these meetings were regularly treated doctrinal questions of faith, disciplinary matters, canonizations, approvals of rules of new orders, indulgences for the Universal Church, rules for papal elections, the calling of general councils, appointing of Apostolic legates and vicars etc. The consistory also oversaw matters concerning dioceses and bishops, creation, transfer, division, the nomination and confirmation of bishops, also their transfer, resignation, etc.

The Modern Scene – More could be said of the history but allow this to bring us to modern times [2].
Although we see historically that there are three ranks of Cardinals (bishop, priest and deacon) it is now the practice that only bishops are elevated to the College of Cardinals. Since 1962 all cardinals have been required to receive episcopal consecration unless they are granted an exemption from this obligation by the Pope. Most recently this happened with Cardinal Avery Dulles who was elevated to Cardinal but remained a priest.

Though all the Cardinals are now bishops, the traditional distinctions are maintained. The title of “Cardinal Bishop” only means that he holds the title of one of the “suburbicarian” (nearby dioceses of Rome listed above) or that he is the Dean of the College of Cardinals — or that he is a patriarch of an Eastern Catholic Church. Cardinal priests are the largest of the three orders of cardinals. Cardinal priests today are generally bishops of important dioceses throughout the world, though some hold offices in the Curia. The cardinal deacons are either officials of the Roman Curia or priests elevated after their eightieth birthday (such as Cardinal Dulles was).

As for the functions of the College of Cardinals, we have already seen much of this in the history above. In modern times the function of the college is to advise the Pope about Church issues whenever he summons them to an ordinary consistory. The cardinals not only attend the meetings of the College but also make themselves available individually or with small panels of cardinals if the Pope requests their counsel in this way . Most cardinals have additional duties, such as leading a diocese or archdiocese. Others run a department of the Roman Curia.

The College of Cardinals also convenes on the death or abdication of a pope as a papal conclave to elect a successor. The college has no ruling power except during the sede vacante (vacant see) period, and even then its powers are extremely limited.

Those who attain to this office have proven their worth as stable and wise counselors, good bishops of the Church. May our Cardinals experience many graces and blessings in their work of electing a new Pope, likely from among their own number.

Christianity at the Crossroads

Islamic Studies Professor on the Reality of Christianity in the Mideast
ROME, MAY 4, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need interviews Jesuit Fr. Samir Khalil Samir SJ, professor of History of Arab Culture and Islamic Studies, and an expert in interreligious dialogue in Rome and Beirut.

Q: I want to give an understanding of the situation of Christians in the Middle East. What kind of the numbers are we talking about? And what would be the different experiences that Christians are undergoing in the different countries in the Middle East.

Father Samir: It’s difficult to be exact about numbers. I would say about 16 million. The greatest number is in Egypt, around 8 million to 10 million. The Patriarchate says much more but the government says much less. In Lebanon, we have the greatest proportion of Christians – the ratio of Christians to the general population, even if it is small in number, is around 2 million. Then we have Christians in Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq; this is the area where there exist the native Christians. The great numbers of Christians outside of Egypt are in Arabia in fact; these are Filipinos, Sri Lankan, and Indians…

Q: …foreign workers coming in

Father Samir: …foreign workers who are imported and they are suffering a lot because of the situation in these countries.  In Egypt, the situation is difficult but there is no persecution, we would say discrimination. And then we have the wartorn areas like Iraq and for over 60 years in Palestine. These two situations make it very difficult for Christians. In Palestine, the Christians have lost hope and they leave the country if they can. We find the same situation, more or less in Iraq. The Christians are migrating from their area to the north, the Kurdish north of Iraq.

Q: Let us leave the question of war to the side for a moment.  How would we grade, if you will, when we are talking about discrimination and when it is an outright persecution?

Father Samir: War is the worst situation and the discrimination in Egypt is the second level. For example, the whole day and during the whole year, you are bombarded with Islamic propaganda starting at five in the morning. They start their preaching using megaphones and this is five times a day. Then you have the radio and television; often your neighbours play these programmes at a high volume. You cannot complain because your neighbour will justify by saying that its God’s word. The television and film are also inundated with Islamic propaganda. In the schools, the boys and girls start their day with Islamic teaching. It starts when the students are outside they are again inundated by Islamic propaganda; it is called Khutbah. When there is a transition from one teacher to the next the same ritual is again repeated. In terms of employment when one is looking for work particularly in the public sector, you are asked for your name, which is normal, but in Egypt, you are asked your name; this is the system, and through your name particularly in Egypt your name, your father’s name and your grandfather’s name and if there is no mention of Mohammed in your series of names then you are known to be a Christian.

Q: And in fact, in your ID card religion is mentioned.

Father Samir: Exactly, but they will not ask for your ID card, just your name, but then you will know that you have been classified and it could be a reason for a refusal of a job and things like that. You feel that you are treated differently. The atmosphere is the Islamizing of society. And during Ramadan the whole running of the system is altered. The hours are changed. The transit system stops running from 5pm until 8am; life is dependent on one’s religion and because it is Islamic in nature, being a Christian one feels not being counted or one feels marginalized. These are simple things but you also find discrimination in the university. A Christian cannot be a gynaecologist, or teach Arabic because their reasoning is that being Christian, how can one teach Arabic when it is based on the Koran and how can you teach the Koran if one is not a Muslim.

Q: …and a gynaecologist obviously because as a Christian how can you be looking at a Muslim woman …

Father Samir: Yes, or if a Christian girl is outside without wearing a veil, the criticism will be so strong that in the end it is better to acquiesce. There is this pressure. In the cities this is not a problem but in the small villages this is more apparent.

Q: Can we say that this is a mirror reflecting across many of the countries in the Middle East?

Father Samir: No, not so much, obviously in the Arabic peninsula this is reflected. I am speaking of these countries where Christianity existed before Islam like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine where native Christians have always existed; Egypt is the worse. On the other end you will find Lebanon, which is not a Muslim country. It is an Arab country. It is the only Arab country, which is not Muslim but a religious one where Christians and Muslims are equal; that means that we recognize that religion is an essential part of society, the system and the state, so that in the Lebanese parliament you will find 64 Christians and 64 Muslims, Christians from different denominations and Muslims from their three or more denominations.

Q: So this, in fact would be the model of what an ideal situation of living together would be…

Father Samir: …and in between you have countries like Syria and what was once Iraq which pretends to be secular and under the political party, the BAATH party which is still the situation still in Syria. The state is aware of your religion but you are free and politics does not change. The president of Syria is certainly a Muslim but the system is secular.

Q: Although there is no freedom of religion only the freedom to worship.

Father Samir: Yes, but it is not so bad. A Muslim can convert but it is not easy because of family and social pressure and not because there is a law or it is entrenched in the state constitution; that is the difference. In Egypt you will be punished because of the Shari’a law which is a basis of Egyptian constitution. The same situation in Syria exists in Jordan. The king and the kingdom is open minded especially towards the Christians and actually welcomes, with great esteem, the Christians. The Christians, most of them of the Latin are from Arab tribes. So they cannot say that they are westerners. They speak like the Bedouins; they are after all Arabs.

Q: They are from the roots of the country.

Father Samir: Yes, like Bishop Twal the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the Bishop of Algiers, both belong to Arab and Jordanian tribes. In Saudi Arabia, you cannot do anything. You cannot even pray.

Q: I want to come back to question now of the emigration of Christians as a consequence of this horizon of discrimination to outright persecution. What kind of numbers are we talking about?

Father Samir: This is difficult to say. We have to take it by country, but what is sure is that the migration is growing and the number of Christians annually is dwindling everywhere. I just heard from the Bishop of Tier, Lebanon, where there is no discrimination and he said: “When I was a child in the 50s in Tier, there were 10,000 inhabitants, 5000 Christians and 5000 Muslims. Today 3000 are Christians of the 80,000.

Q: Here we must say then that economics is playing a role because you say Lebanon is not under discrimination. 

Father Samir: Absolutely; there is no discrimination and let me emphasize that the dwindling number is primarily due not always to religious reasons; my family emigrated to the US and Canada. My brothers are still there and nobody constrained them from migrating, they simply and I, feel that it is not anymore our country. The atmosphere is changing; it’s a psychological thing. You feel that there is no freedom as we used to have before. The Christians are more amenable to freedom than Muslims are; they do not support it. So, if for cultural, political and social reasons the Christians have the possibility of migrating, they will migrate.  They may also have families who migrated in the 19thcentury or the beginning of the 20th century or they speak fluently the western languages. My family at home spoke French fluently and a little English so the adaptation and enculturation to the US was not so difficult. In other countries, the reason could be religious.

Q: What you’re saying is extremely pessimistic; the trend is growing. Is it irreversible?

Father Samir: If we leave it to take a natural course then it is irreversible because this situation will not change in twenty years. Democracy suddenly will not come from heaven. You need to build a generation of freedom-loving people and this is an important element, freedom. This Islamic movement, which tries to Islamize, the societies will grow and will not stop within our lifetime.  So it will grow and if it comes to a certain point, we have seen this in Turkey, how the proportion of Christians at the beginning of the 20th century was over 20% to 24 %. The number today is 0, 2% a hundred times less as a proportion to a century ago, because when you reach a certain point, 1 % or 2 % there is a movement…

Q: It feeds on itself.

Father Samir: Yes, yes. That is why it is important to stop it now and maybe propose to those who have left to come back. It is difficult.

Q: It’s impossible. I mean in a certain way, at the same time as we are seeing this natural, if you will, tendency to leave the country, it is being further provoked by the reality of violence, the war in Iraq, by the situation in Palestine, which is provoking a further radicalization among Muslims and consequently a further pressure on Christians?

Father Samir: Yes, yes, but I will give an example to show that it could be stopped. Let me show Lebanon as an example. I remember that Hezbollah, about 10 to 15 years ago, wanted an Islamic society based on the model of Iran. They even said that they are more dependent on Iran than from Lebanon. The great figure of the Shia Muslim in Lebanon at that time was Imam Chamseddine (Imam Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams ad Din) who died three years ago. Chamseddine in his biography which he dictated during the last week of his life said; “I was convinced that an Islamic society was ideal but now after 10 to 15 years I must confess that the society as it is now, in Lebanon, is better because Christians bring a contribution;” another approach to us living together, and Hezbollah for some other reason said the same, they do not want an Islamic society. So here is my point: is it possible to stop this trend in the Arab world and to show to the Muslims that we, the Christians, are a chance for you to move towards a more open society. If you want, we will work together.

Q: But that is the question: do they want? There is within the Muslim society a new term that has surfaced which is “Islamist”. What is a difference between a Muslim and an “Islamist” and how does this play into what we are just talking about?

Father Samir: This word was unknown twenty years ago. In Arabic we distinguish very clearly, between: Muslim” that means Muslim and “Islami” which is a neologism because the reality is new. “Islami” plural “Islamiun” means those who have the intention of Islamizing society which is also connected to Salafism ; Salaf [Arabic “predecessor” or “forefather”] being the ancestors: We want to go back to the ancestors; that means to early Islam; but early Islam nobody knows how it was, what they wore… but we can predict.

Q: There is even an external appearance as indicated by the “Islamiun” for both men and women, isn’t?

Father Samir: Yes, They say the prophet certainly had a beard… So they wear a beard. They all wear a beard and when the beard is not trimmed the better it is. The more Islamic it is in their mind. They also do not wear trousers but wear the long white robe. You also recognize them with their teeth. They chew a root from a tree, the miswak, because they believe that the prophet was using this to clean his teeth. He certainly did not have the Japanese made toothpick. He just used what he could find and for the women the veil. In Lebanon where there are different Muslim denominations, you can see which denomination these Muslim adhere to. With some practice, you will recognize these variations whether one adheres to Shia, Sunni or Alawites. In fact it is a political sign not a religious sign that indicates ones political affiliation and to a specific group, for example if you are “Hezbollah” you wear yellow and if you are from Hariri you wear blue etc., You are not wearing these colours for religious choices but political reason. That is why I say to the European and the West, particularly about Lebanon, that it is true that every one has the freedom of religion but it is more political and not religious because religion and politics are so convoluted in the subconsciousness of the Muslims.

Q: But even in the religious field the Muslim is not free to worship?

Father Samir: The reality, especially amongst these Islamist, is their ideal and vision: We respect people but we push everyone to be a good Muslim. A good Muslim must pray five times a day and if you are working during prayer time, you will be punished so that you will learn to be a good Muslim. A religious police comes and closes the shop. If you are eating during the time of Ramadan, you will be punished, put in prison and beaten, so that you learn to be a good Muslim, it is for your own good. But they cannot understand freedom, that I am free to do something, which you consider bad, but in itself is not bad, it’s neutral. Here we have two visions of society. The ideal society for them is from God. We have to learn the inner freedom and here again, I think, we Christians, we have no merit. This is more in our tradition whether we learn that from the Gospel or from our Western Christian friends. And the fact is that it is an essential point.
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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.