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Cablegate: Lebanon: Organization of the Maronite Church

VZCZCXRO0855
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHKUK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0577/01 1201434
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 291434Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1665
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN 1194
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2485
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIRUT 000577

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/GAVITO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI SCUL KIRF LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: ORGANIZATION OF THE MARONITE CHURCH

BEIRUT 00000577 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) This report is a general overview of the Maronite
community in Lebanon, to provide a brief understanding on who
the Maronites are, how the Maronite clergy is structured, and
what the responsibilities are of the clergy in Lebanon. A
subsequent report will cover the succession to the Patriarch
and a more in-depth look at the current head of the Maronite
church. EmbOffs spoke to Bishop Bishara Rai from Jbeil and
Carol Dagher, expert on Maronite affairs and representative
in the General Assembly Synod.

WHO ARE THE MARONITES?
----------------------

2. (U) Maronites are Christians who belong to the Eastern
Catholic Churches, a group of Churches that are autonomous
yet in full communion with the Holy See, and which recognize
the central role of the Pope within the College of Bishops.
The Maronite history extends back to the early fifth century,
when Saint Maroun, a Christian monk, founded the Maronite
spiritual movement.

3. (U) There are approximately eight million Maronites
worldwide, over one million of whom live in Lebanon. There
are large Maronite communities in Brazil (estimated five and
a half million), the U.S. (three million), Argentina
(700,000), Canada (100,000), and smaller populations in other
countries including Australia, Syria, Liberia, Israel, and
Cyprus. While its percentage of the total population in
Lebanon is waning (possibly at 25 percent today), the
absolute majority of total Lebanese worldwide are Maronite.

STRUCTURE OF MARONITE CLERGY
----------------------------

4. (U) Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, as the
Patriarch, leads the Maronite community. He was chosen as
the Patriarch of Antioch and the Levant in 1986 after serving
as a bishop and then as the Patriarchal vicar at Bkirki. As
the head of the Maronite community, the Patriarch wields
influence in Lebanese politics and is consulted daily by a
myriad of political figures from all confessions, who seek
his approval or appeal to him for support. (Note: Cardinal
Sfeir will travel to South Africa, the U.S., and Spain during
the last three weeks of May. End note.)

5. (U) The Patriarch is one of five members who make up the
Permanent Synod, an organization of four Bishops and the
Patriarch which meets for one week annually. In addition,
there is an Archbishop Synod composed of 40 diocese
worldwide, 12 of which are in Lebanon and organized
gegraphically. The "nucleus" of the Synod is the Concil of
Bishops, made up of approximately 30 bisops worldwide.

6. (U) The Synod coordinates the appointments of bishops with
the Vatican. Typically the Synod will compile and vote on a
list of 20-30 individuals it deems worthy to become a bishop.
To be included on the list, the candidate must receive a
half plus one majority of votes. The list is then
transmitted to Rome for approval by the Pope. Conversely,
the Patriarch can consult with the bishops, soliciting two to
three names from each bishop, and then send these names to
Rome. Bishops are appointed to a geographic seat, though
they do not need to be from that area. They remain bishops
until they reach the age of 75.

7. (U) A larger General Assembly Synod consists of appointed
members, such as priests and nuns, Catholic invitees, and
observers from other confessions, in addition to the
Patriarch, diocesan and honorary bishops. Experts on
relevant topics, such as education, economics, and social
affairs, are also invited to participate in the General
Assembly.

FUNCTIONS OF THE CLERGY
-----------------------

8. (U) The Council of Bishops meets on the first Wednesday of
every month. It deals with everyday affairs, such as
ecclesiastical, liturgical, pastoral, and national topics,
and issues a communique, which often makes a statement on the
current political situation.

9. (U) The General Assembly Synod has been meeting twice
yearly for the last three years. A number of committees,
composed of experts, professors, writers, are organized by

BEIRUT 00000577 002.2 OF 002


issue and are charged with presenting their research, for
example, on education administration, during its sessions.

SISON

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