Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Measured Optimism in New Study

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Many predict a bleak future for Christianity in Europe, but in his latest book Philip Jenkins argues that the situation is not all bad. “God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis,” published by Oxford University Press, is the concluding volume in a trilogy on the future of Christianity.

The first two volumes — “The Next Christendom” and “The New Faces of Christianity” — concentrated mainly on the rise of religion in the global South of the world. The third volume takes a look at Europe, affected by a marked decline in practicing Christians, combined with a growing presence of Muslim immigrants.

Could Europe go the same way as North Africa, with Christianity supplanted by Islam? This is what some prognosticate, notes Jenkins. In reply he admits that the current situation is far from ideal in terms of Christian religious practice, but the situation is not as grim as some would have us believe.

In spite of a declining fertility rate and immigration from Islamic countries, Jenkins points out that in most West European nations, Muslims constitute only around 4-5% of the population. By comparison, in the United States, there is a minority presence of Latinos, Asians and other groups of around 30%.

There are varying projections for the future. Jenkins cites data from the U.S, National Intelligence Council that calculates the current Muslim population of around 15 million in Europe could rise to 28 million by 2025. The numbers, however, will not be evenly distributed. France, Germany and the Netherlands could have a Muslim minority of 10-15% by 2025.

Jenkins points out that if we take a wider definition of Europe, as being everything west of the former Soviet Union, then the Continent will have around 40 million Muslims by 2025. This is, however, only about 8% of the population.

Moreover, he argues that both Christianity and Islam face difficulties in surviving the secular cultural ambience in Europe and that is a mistake to suppose Islam will be immune to this pressure, which could well moderate the more strident elements.

Jenkins also advises against an overly alarmist view of the Muslim presence. It would be a mistake to lump the entire Muslim population in Europe in the category of radicals or religious extremists. Certainly, he admits, there are a number of extremist Muslim leaders and communities that are alienated from mainstream society. Yet alongside the radicals there are also moderate Muslims whose presence should not be forgotten.

When it comes to problems stemming from the Muslim presence in Europe Jenkins asserts that we need to distinguish their origins. In addition to tensions deriving from Islam itself we need to allow for economic, racial and social factors, as well as cultural traditions in the countries of origin of immigrants that are not an integral part of Islam.

Two paths

Jenkins contends that Europe could well take the path of the United States, which has managed to integrate large numbers of immigrants with varying religious and ethnic backgrounds. He does admit, however, that another path exists, that typified by Lebanon where religious identity becomes linked with economic and social grievances, leading to a far grimmer future.

In this challenge of deciding which path the Continent will take Jenkins notes that one factor handicapping European governments is a pervasive secularism that impedes authorities from treating seriously religious concerns and motivations.

In fact, Jenkins chronicles the impact of secularism on the Christian churches in one of the book’s chapters. The decline in Christianity has been particularly marked in Protestant areas and in the countries that were under the dominion of the now defunct Soviet Union.

The Catholic Church has maintained a higher level of participation, but Jenkins adds, faces considerable challenges. The social and cultural forces have influenced the population to the point where family size in Catholic countries has dropped to the lowest levels in Europe. In addition, Church attendance in countries such as Italy and Spain has declined sharply in the last decade or so. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have fallen notably, with little sign of any turnaround.

Nevertheless, Jenkins continues, along with this negative trend we need to consider other, more positive, elements. Despite the decline Europe is still home to a considerable Christian population. In Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, religious participation is still very high. In Britain Polish and Croatian immigrants have brought about a religious resurgence in some areas.

Pilgrims on the rise

Other encouraging trends include the high level of popular appeal enjoyed by Benedict XVI, who is attracting large numbers to his public appearances. The continuing popularity of religious pilgrimages is another sign of life in European Christianity, Jenkins points out. In the 1950s Lourdes drew around 1 million visitors a year. The number now is close to 6 million. The Polish shrine of Czestochowa draws several million a year, many of them young people.

Fatima reports around 4 million visitors annually. In Spain numbers of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela have risen to around half a million a year, with up to a million in holy years. Italy too sees large numbers of visitors to shrines such as Loreto.

Jenkins also argues that the large numbers of new saints created by John Paul II has helped to strengthen popular piety. In fact, he compares the efforts of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to the era of the Catholic Reformation, when the Church brought about a revival in its fortunes after a period of grave difficulties.

The founding of dynamic new religious orders and movements in the Catholic Church is, for Jenkins, another indication that Christianity is far from dead in Europe. Evidence of this were the gatherings of members of the new movements held in Rome at Pentecost in 1998 and 2006. Charismatic groups within the Catholic Church have also flourished in many European countries.

Thus, while clergy numbers may be declining increased participation by lay people is providing a source of renewal for Church life. The large numbers of young people who attended the World Youth Day activities in Cologne, Germany in 2005 is another positive sign for the future of Christianity in Europe. Evangelical and charismatic groups within the Protestant churches are also growing, Jenkins points out.

Another source of strength for Christianity in Europe is immigration. In addition to the Muslim immigrants a portion of new arrivals are Christians. Birthrates have plummeted in Italy, but Rome, for example, can count on the presence of tens of thousands of immigrants from the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

There is also a growing presence of clergy from other continents that is helping to make up the shortfall in local vocations. Great Britain, says Jenkins, is host to around 1,500 missionaries from some 50 nations, many of them African. Another example he cites is that of a French Catholic diocese that hosts around 30 priests from former colonies in Africa.

Why then is the public impression regarding the future of Christianity in Europe so negative? Jenkins accuses the European media, which he judges to be more secular and hostile to religion than in the United States, of ignoring these positive trends for faith. In addition, Europe’s governing elites tend to be very secular and unresponsive to public pressure, a situation that leads them to an anti-Christian stance not in line with the sentiments of many citizens.

Thus, Jenkins argues that while we cannot deny that European Christianity is going through a period of crisis it would be a mistake to oversimplify matters by ignoring the diversity of the situation.

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Assaults Multiply in Post-Christian Society

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 2, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Hostility toward Christianity is increasingly becoming a fact of life in many countries. Even in the most Catholic countries, religion has always encountered opposition, but as recent events demonstrate, believers are facing frequent episodes of animosity, both by individuals and institutions.

Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of the central Italian city of Bologna, strongly protested a blasphemous depiction of the Virgin Mary, part of a local art exhibition. On June 19 the cardinal presided over a Mass of reparation for the offense, celebrated in the Marian shrine of San Luca, reported the Catholic daily newspaper Avvenire the following day.

Although city authorities distanced themselves from the exhibition following the Church’s protests, the artworks had been patronized by Bologna’s local government.

Just a few days later came news from Spain, where the daily newspaper La Razón reported June 23 that legal investigations were under way concerning pornographic images of saints. Francisco Muñoz, a Socialist Party official in charge of cultural affairs in the western Spanish region of Extremadura, was denounced for his role in giving official patronage to books by photographer José Antonio M. Montoya.

The books contained blasphemous photos of a pornographic nature not only of a number of saints, but also of Jesus and Mary. The books were published by the local government authorities and one of them even contained a preface written by Montoya.

When the books were published earlier this year, Church authorities had made strong protests. A note issued March 15 by a committee of the Spanish episcopal conference demanded greater respect for the Catholic faith. The images contained in the books are not only an offense against believers, but disturb the conscience of every upright person, the statement argued.

Neo-pagans

Meanwhile, in France authorities have arrested three young men accused of being responsible for a series of profanations of churches in May, including one 16th-century chapel that was burned to the ground. According to a June 26 report published by the daily newspaper Le Monde, the men were arrested June 21 by police from the town of Quimper, in the Brittany region located in the northwest of the country.

The men inscribed the initials TABM in the places where they carried out their attacks, and at first it was thought to be a Satanic group. It later turned out the men belonged to the neo-pagan group of Celtic nature called “True Armorik Black Metal.”

An offense of a different nature confronted the Church of England recently. Media company Sony included images of a violent gunfight in Manchester Cathedral as part of one its new games for PlayStation 3, reported the Times newspaper June 13. The dean of the cathedral, Rogers Govender, described the game as a “virtual desecration.”

Following protests from the Anglican Church, supported in Parliament by then prime minister, Tony Blair, Sony apologized, reported the Times two days later. The company said they had not intended to cause offense, but at the same time gave no indication that they would either withdraw the game or accede to the request that they make a donation to the cathedral’s work on educating young people against gun crime.

Paganism is also making a comeback in Greece, reported the British newspaper the Guardian on Feb. 1. The article recounted a recent pagan ceremony carried out by a self-styled priestess, Doreta Peppa, in the ruins of the Athenian temple dedicated to the ancient Greek god Zeus. According to the Guardian it was the first such ceremony since the Roman Empire outlawed pagan worship in the late fourth century.

According to the article last year the group Ellinais, of which Peppa is a member, obtained legal recognition as a cultural association. This was a notable achievement as in Greece all non-Christian religions, excepting Islam and Judaism, are prohibited. Members of the group hope to obtain official approval to carry out pagan ceremonies for baptism, marriage and funerals.

Pagans are also making progress in the United States, where Wiccans recently won a battle with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, reported the Associated Press on April 23. The Wiccan pentacle will now form part of the list of emblems allowed in national cemeteries and on government-issued headstones of fallen soldiers. The government agreed to add the symbol to its list to settle a lawsuit initiated by a group of families.

Christian discrimination

A further victory for pagans came in Scotland, where the University of Edinburgh gave permission to the Pagan Society to hold its annual conference on campus, reported the newspaper Scotland on Sunday, May 27.

The decision drew protests from the university’s Christian Union, which had earlier seen one of its events banned by campus authorities because it warned of the dangers of homosexuality.

“It’s OK for other religions, such as the pagans, to have their say at the university, but there appears to be a reluctance to allow Christians to do the same,” commented Matthew Tindale, a Christian Union staff worker.

The article also cited Simon Dames, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, who declared he felt that allowing the pagan festival to go ahead while barring the union meeting was an example of “Christianphobia.”

Christians are also alleging unfair discrimination in an English case now before the High Court, reported the BBC on June 22. Lydia Playfoot, a 16-year-old schoolgirl has accused Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, of discriminating against Christians by banning the wearing of purity rings.

She was told by school officials to remove her ring, which symbolizes chastity, or face expulsion. According to the BBC a group of girls at the school were wearing the rings as part of a movement that originated in the United States, called the “Silver Ring Thing.”

The school argued that wearing the ring infringed rules governing what pupils can wear. Playfoot protested, pointing out that Sikh and Muslim pupils can wear bangles and head scarves in class. She also argued that other pupils regularly broke the rules with nose rings, tongue studs, badges and dyed hair.

When Playfoot refused to remove the ring she was taken out of lessons and made to study on her own. The only reason for banning the rings was because the school refused to “give respect to aspects of the Christian faith they are not familiar with,” she told the BBC

European Union

On a wider level any hopes that the European Union would soften its opposition to Christianity were finally killed off recently. Germany took over the rotating European Union presidency in the first semester of this year and Chancellor Angela Merkel had declared she wanted to reopen the debate over whether the prologue to the proposed new constitution should mention the continent’s Christian heritage, reported Deutsche Welle on March 24.

“I believe this treaty should be linked to Christianity and God because Christianity was decisive in the formation of Europe,” she had said following a meeting with Benedict XVI last year.

Nevertheless, Merkel admitted afterward that there was no real hope of having any such mention in the new constitution, according to Deutsche Welle on May 15.

In Germany the Church is concerned about the future of Christianity, as evidenced in recent comments by Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German episcopal conference. According to a June 22 report by Deutsche Welle, the cardinal warned that an overly zealous religious neutrality by the state could lead to all faiths being treated equally, regardless of the size of their flock and their history.

“The deep cultural connection between Christianity and our legal state, which goes back to the Middle Ages and before, cannot simply be ignored,” Lehmann said in a speech given in the city of Karlsruhe. A connection increasingly under attack from growing anti-Christian forces.

Pope Offers Guidelines

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Confrontations over globalization no longer make headlines, but many concerns remain over the future of the world economy. In past months the question of growing economic inequality has come under increasing attention.

Globalization has delivered many benefits, argued a front-page article published May 24 by the Wall Street Journal. The article did concede, however: “As trade, foreign investment and technology have spread, the gap between economic haves and have-nots has frequently widened, not only in wealthy countries like the United States, but in poorer ones like Mexico, Argentina, India and China as well.”

The experience of the last few years is showing that those with education and skills benefit from globalization. Others, without these advantages, are not so fortunate. While not forgetting the benefits of globalization for many millions of people, the Wall Street Journal also expressed concern that the growing inequalities could provoke a backlash that would damage trade and investment.

Earlier this year, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also warned of problems stemming from economic inequality. In a speech given Feb. 6 to the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce in Nebraska, Bernanke defended the idea that the free market does not guarantee an equality of economic outcomes, allowing as it does the possibility for unequal rewards due to differences in effort and skill.

Slipping down the ladder

“That said, we also believe that no one should be allowed to slip too far down the economic ladder, especially for reasons beyond his or her control,” he added in the text posted on the Federal Reserve Board site.

Outlining evidence from a variety of sources, the Federal Reserve chairman pointed out that over the last few decades economic well-being in the United States has increased considerably. At the same time, he observed that “the degree of inequality in economic outcomes has increased as well.”

Bernanke admitted the difficulty of resolving the question of how to maintain a balance between a market system that uses economic incentives and stimulates growth, and the need to protect individuals against adverse economic outcomes.

Proposing solutions to this problem involves value judgments beyond the realm of economic theory, Bernanke concluded. He did, however, suggest a range of possible measures, ranging from education and job training, to helping individuals and families bear the cost of economic change, as ways to affront the problem of inequality.

A similar position was expressed in an opinion article by Danny Leipziger and Michael Spence, published in the Financial Times on May 15. The authors, respectively a vice president at the World Bank and a 2001 Nobel laureate in economics, argued that in the globalization debate the most important issue is “who benefits and who loses.”

“Globalization is a positive sum game in the aggregate but one that produces both winners and losers,” they also observed.

Leipziger and Spence supported improvements in education to help workers affront the current situation. In addition, they called for better safety nets, more investment in infrastructure and assured access to services such as health care.

Dignity of the person

Amid the ongoing debate over issues of economics and ethics, Benedict XVI has addressed these issues on several occasions in recent months. On May 26 he spoke to a group of young people from Confindustria, the General Confederation of Italian Industry.

Every business, the Pope noted, should be considered first and foremost as a group of people, whose rights and dignity should be respected. Human life and its values, the Pontiff continued, should always be the guiding principle and end of the economy.

In this context, Benedict XVI acknowledged that for business, making a profit is a value that they can rightly put as an objective of their activity. At the same time the social teaching of the Church insists that businesses must also safeguard the dignity of the human person, and that even in moments of economic difficulties, business decisions must not be guided exclusively by considerations of profit.

The Pope also dealt briefly with the theme of globalization. This is a phenomenon, he commented, that gives hope of a wider participation in economic development and riches. It is a process not without its risks, however, leading in some cases to worsening economic inequality. Echoing the words of Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI called for a globalization characterized by solidarity and without marginalization of people.

Other principles that need to guide the economy are justice and charity, Benedict XVI explained in a message, dated April 28, to the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Mary Ann Glendon. The letter was sent on the occasion of the plenary session of the academy, held April 27-May 1.

The pursuit of justice and the promotion of the civilization of love, the message stated, are essential aspects of the Church’s mission in its proclamation of the Gospel. Justice and love cannot be separated, the Pope observed, because of the Church’s experience of how the two were united in “the revelation of God’s infinite justice and mercy in Jesus Christ.”

Justice, he continued, must be “corrected” by love, a love which inspires justice and purifies our efforts to build a better society. “Only charity can encourage us to place the human person once more at the center of life in society and at the center of a globalized world governed by justice,” the Pope stated.

Labor market

The Pope took a closer look at some of the problems facing workers in a couple of speeches earlier this year. In a message dated March 28, sent to participants in the 9th International Youth Forum organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Benedict XVI commented that in recent years economic and technological changes have radically changed the labor market.

This has given hope to young people, the Pontiff conceded, but it also brings with it the need for greater skills and education, and the demand that workers be prepared to travel, even to other countries, in searching for jobs.

Work, he explained, is part of God’s plan for humanity and through it we participate in the work of creation and redemption. We will live this better, the Pope urged, if we remain united to Christ through prayer and sacramental life.

Then, on March 31, Benedict XVI spoke to a gathering of Confartigianato, an association of Italian artisans. Work is part of God’s plan for man, even if because of original sin it has become more of a burden, the Pope explained.

It is important, he exhorted, to proclaim the primacy of the human person and the common good over capital, science, technology and even private ownership. As Christians, we can testify to the “Gospel of work,” in our daily lives, the Pope reminded them.

The Pontiff also had words for those directing workers, in an address to a group from the Italian group, the Christian Union of Business Executives on March 4. Justice and charity, the Pope said, are inseparable elements in the social commitment of Christians.

“It is incumbent on lay faithful in particular to work for a just order in society, taking part in public life in the first person, cooperating with other citizens and fulfilling their own responsibility,” said the Pope.

“Unfortunately, partly because of current economic difficulties, these values often run the risk of not being followed by those business persons who lack a sound moral inspiration,” he also noted. Values which, together with sound economic policies, could go a long way in finding solutions to the ethical challenges in a globalized world.

Interview With John Kenney, an Augustinian Scholar

BURLINGTON, Vermont, JUNE 19, 2007 ( Zenit.org ).- Benedict XVI is moving the Church away from religion, in the modern sense of the term, and toward a deeper understanding of Christianity, says an Augustinian scholar.

In this interview with ZENIT, John Peter Kenney, professor of Religious Studies at St. Michael’s College, in Vermont, discusses the role of St. Augustine in the thought and work of Benedict XVI.

Kenney is the author of “The Mysticism of St. Augustine: Rereading the Confessions,” published by Routledge in 2005.

Q: What Augustinian influences do you see in the Holy Father’s work, especially his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” and his general-audience catecheses?

Kenney: Both the encyclical’s hidden architecture and many of its themes are Augustinian.

I was initially struck by the Holy Father’s discussion of “sacramental mysticism” — the ecclesial dimension of Christian contemplation. This is an important theme in the “Confessions,” part of the emancipation of Augustine’s thinking from pagan Platonism.

Too often Augustine has been misread as a proponent of an individualistic sort of mysticism, whereas a close reading of the whole of the “Confessions” shows his mature recognition that the human soul can only come to know God when nested in “the living soul of the faithful,” the Church.

In this first encyclical, the Holy Father also offers a nuanced discussion of the role of the Church in reference to politics and the state that is very much in keeping with Augustine’s position in “The City of God.”

What the catechetical talks have exhibited is just how deeply the Holy Father’s thinking is informed by the whole range of patristic theology. He has, as you know, been proceeding chronologically, discussing both major and minor authors in some detail.

I think it is worth keeping in mind that the Pope’s thought is not just Augustinian, but broadly patristic.

Q: Augustine is known for his Order of Love — “Ordo Amoris” — emphasizing love over the intellect. How do you see this fitting into the pontificate of Benedict XVI?

Kenney: Clearly Benedict XVI believes in the objectivity of truth and in the possibility of the right ordering of human affections in relation to that truth. These convictions were central to Augustine’s own conversion and they remained at the core of his thinking.

The “Ordo Amoris” emerged in Augustine’s thought because of his own startled recognition that God is transcendent being itself and we are made in the image of that reality. Our deepest longings, loves and desires can finally be fulfilled only if we order them correctly in relation to their divine source.

For lots of historical reasons, Augustine has sometimes been interpreted as emphasizing love over the intellect.

But the Holy Father understands Augustine in his proper patristic context, as discovering eternal truth within the soul and calibrating human desires in reference to their ultimate divine foundation.

It is the dysfunction of our age that we fail to understand that calibration — something that Benedict XVI’s pontificate seems intended to remind us.

Q: How does Augustinian thought differ from Thomistic thought, and how might that influence Benedict XVI?

Kenney: I’d be very reluctant to see Benedict XVI’s affinity with Augustine in terms of any self-differentiation from the thought of Aquinas. Indeed the Regensburg address emphasizes the common intellectualism of Augustine and Aquinas in contrast to the voluntarism of Duns Scotus and the later medieval nominalists.

Both Augustine and Aquinas hold that our knowledge of goodness and truth mirror, at least to some limited extent, the inner nature of God.

God is not so remote and his will so inscrutable that we have no means of knowing him as infinitely good. So for Benedict XVI, Augustine and Aquinas exemplify the great synthesis of biblical faith and Greek philosophy.

They are its twin pillars in the Latin West, even if their philosophical theologies do differ, given their distinctive appropriations of Platonism and Aristotelianism. But it is their common character that Benedict XVI has been emphasizing.

Q: Do you think Benedict XVI identified with Augustine early on because they were both thinkers who became pastors out of necessity?

Kenney: Yes, perhaps that’s true. His doctoral dissertation, completed a few years after his ordination, was on Augustine’s conception of the Church.

This suggests a connection with Augustine early on in his life as a priest. But I suspect that the root of this identification went even deeper and lay in his recognition of the Church as an anchor of sacred truth in a world riven by dehumanizing secular ideologies.

He had, after all, first-hand experience of such ideology in the Germany of his adolescence. Like Augustine, he identified the Church as a divinely ordained community that prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem.

So the events of both their lives brought them to see the unique role of the Church in a fallen world and also to discern the pastoral aspects of their own vocations.

Q: What might be the historical significance of having an Augustinian-influenced Pope at this time in world history?

Kenney: One of the most powerful themes in Augustine’s thought is the universality of the Gospel. This is what drew him to Catholic Christianity rather than to Donatism, which seems to have been the dominant tradition throughout much of his native North Africa.

For Augustine, Christianity is by its very nature global, and the Gospel is intrinsically universal in its message and scope. And so the Church can never be just a local sect or a national institution.

Augustine was a member of that post-Nicene generation who articulated what we think of as the Catholicism of the Church and who sought to build a communion of faith across the peoples of the ancient world. There is therefore much in Augustine that speaks to our present age of globalization.

Q: Where do you think Benedict XVI is trying to point the Church and the world right now?

Kenney: He’s pointing us away from religion — in the modern sense of the term. Religion is a category of modernity, usually understood to mean either individually authenticated spiritual experiences or else a particular type of collective ideology based on socially defined values.

To think of Christianity in such terms is to drift toward the relativism that Pope Benedict has so famously decried. Hence Benedict XVI has insisted that personal spiritual experiences can only become meaningful within the shared context of a lived theology. And the collective life of the Church is far more than a form of social or political association. Christianity is not an ideology.

These modern representations of religion can constitute a reduction of Christianity to psychological, sociological and political categories and can result in a denial of its claims to transcendent truth.

Benedict XVI has a masterful grasp of all these reductionist tendencies and he has pushed back hard in order to restore recognition of the richness and depth of Christianity.

So one might say that we have a Pope who is opposed to religion — and in favor of Christianity. Thank God for that.

Interview With Lebanese Presidential Hopeful

ROME, JUNE 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A candidate for the Lebanese presidency says that the country needs a balanced government, which includes the participation of Christians.

General Michel Aoun, 72, a Lebanese military and political leader, came to Rome last week to visit Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Vatican secretary for relations with states.

Aoun returned to his country just two years ago, after spending 15 years exiled in Paris. He has become one of the leading figures in the complex Lebanese political scene.

As the leader of the opposition-aligned Free Patriotic Movement, he is a presidential hopeful.

In this interview with ZENIT, Aoun reflects on the role of Christianity in the Middle East.

Q: General, you are the leader of one of the biggest parliamentary factions with an Arab Christian majority. What does this visit to the Vatican mean to you?

Auon: To me, the Vatican is the supreme spiritual reference point in the heart of the Catholic Church. We can also say that it is an important moral authority in the Christian world in general, Catholic or not. The Vatican’s positions are influential at an ethical and moral level. And we, as Maronites, are part of the Catholic world.

When Lebanon goes through crises or challenges, we find it important to keep the appropriate Vatican authorities informed of the situation, especially since the media coverage sometimes reflects the interests of those covering the news and not the reality lived by the Lebanese people.

From this arises the importance of my coming here in person, to have a dialogue and discuss with [Vatican] authorities and get this image clear. We certainly met with people equipped with a critical sense, and therefore able to discern what is true and what is false. This means that the Church’s position, be it a moral question, or advice or something else, is more useful and objective.

Q: Given your faith experience, is it possible to speak of Arab Christianity? Could we say that such a thing exists?

Aoun: Arab Christianity was one of the first forms of Christianity that expanded throughout the Arab peninsula, Mesopotamia and even to India.

There are multiple traces of a Christian culture that can be seen in northern Syria even today; and recorded Arab history tells us that Christians were widely spread. There are remains of only a small number of Christian Arabs but, historically speaking, they were present throughout the Arab peninsula.

Q: What is the present role of Christian Arabs in modern-day Lebanon?

Aoun: The Christians of Lebanon comprise Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics and other confessions. Setting aside the fact that there are five patriarchs that bear the name of “Patriarch of Antioch,” we know that the first Christians and the Good News came out of Antioch.

In my book, I recall the Christian presence in the East, our historic roots, and the fact that we are not immigrants but authentic inhabitants established in the East 662 years before the birth of Islam. There is some confusion between Westerners regarding what is considered Arab. Everything that is Arab is not necessarily Muslim.

The Arab race includes all regions. Regarding the Arab civilization, it is the Christians that have worked to keep it alive, and the ones that have preserved the Arab language. They were among the most illustrious scribes, and in the time of the Caliphate, the court poets were Christians — for example, the poet Al-Akhtal.

Arabs form part of the Eastern world, thus the importance of the postsynodal apostolic exhortation written by Pope John Paul II, and published in May 1997, in which he speaks of the Christians of Lebanon and the East.

On the other hand, the Christians of Lebanon these days serve as a reference point for the Middle East; and the model of their relationships serve as an assurance and guarantee of the Christian presence in the rest of the Arab countries of the region.

Q: In Islam there is an intimate link between the political and the social. Do you expect Lebanon to someday separate politics from religion?

Auon: As a political movement, we seek to separate the political sphere from the religious one. Lebanon has known periods — like the Ottoman War, which was one of the most cruel and unjust — during which people were forced to “affiliate” with a particular religion, under a policy of marginalization and persecution.

The situation started to improve after World War I, when Lebanon became a French protectorate and later gained its independence thanks to the national pact. At that time the Christian influence in the social life was notable and Christian elements were active in the political life until the events of the ’70s — the civil confrontation between Christians and Muslims — 1975-1980 — when the political equilibrium was shaken and Christians were marginalized.

Lebanon can’t survive without a balanced government and the participation of everyone, which includes Christians, Shiites and Sunnis. Michel Chiha — may he rest in peace — one of the most prominent figures who understood well the Lebanese reality, said, “Whoever tries to eliminate religion in Lebanon is trying in reality to eliminate Lebanon.”