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Jan 31 - Youseff Karam, St Maron & Lebanon

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

Today in 1867 the Maronite nationalist leader Youssef Karam left Lebanon on board of a French ship for Algeria, to begin his second period of exile, under the orders of Napoleon III. In todays pod we look at the ancient Maronite Church, and Lebanon's struggle for independence from Colonial Rule. Below is a small reflection on the Cedars of Lebanon, their significance in the Bible and their place on the national flag


The Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with Rome and has ancient roots. After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the ancient Greek city of Antioch became a centre for Christianity and was where the followers of Jesus Christ first became known as "Christians". Antioch became one of the five original Patriarchates (the Pentarchy) after the Roman emperor Constantine recognized Christianity. Saint Maron, was a Syriac hermit, who attracted a large number of followers who followers migrated to the area of Mount Lebanon from Antioch establishing the nucleus of the Maronite Church. In 2016 Pope Benedict XVI unveiled a statue of Saint Maron in the last available niche on the outer wall of Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The sculpture also features an inscription in Syriac reading: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon.

The Lebanese Maronite Christians are believed to constitute about 22% of the total population of Lebanon. Lebanon's constitution was intended to guarantee political representation for each of the nation's ethno-religious groups. The Maronite and the Druze (who are Muslims) founded modern Lebanon in the early eighteenth century, through the ruling and social system known as the "Maronite–Druze dualism". Under the terms of an unwritten agreement known as the National Pact between the various political and religious leaders of Lebanon, the president of the country must be a Maronite

Youssef Karam would become one of most powerful personalities in Lebanese Politics and remained loyal to Bkerke, which is the seat of the Maronite Patriarch, he was relied upon to restore peace when there were local uprisings. In the 19th Century the Ottomans ruled Lebanon, and there was tension between the Druze and Maronite Communities. The Muslim Druze felt threatened by the growing presence of the Christians Maronites in their traditional area of Mount Lebanon. In May 1860, a number of Maronite Monks and villagers were massacred. Karam raised an army of 500 men to protect the Maronites in the Mount Lebanon area. The Ottoman Governor, Khorshid Pasha saw Karam's calls for Lebanese self-rule as a threat to Turkish interests in Lebanon and the area, and convinced the European Ambassadors that the Turkish presence in Lebanon was essential to maintain peace.

Opposing the new internationally sanctioned status quo, and angered at the idea that the new governor would not be a native, Karam insisted for complete home rule for Mount Lebanon. The first governor Daud Pasha then issued an order exiling Karam to Turkey, where he remained until 1864. When he was allowed to return to his hometown, Karam continued to agitate for home rule and the redeployment of Ottoman troops out of Mount Lebanon. Many battles followed and today the French Ambassador ordered Karam to leave Lebanon in return for French guarantees of safety for his men and entourage. Karam travelled from Algeria to European capitals explaining the plight of the Lebanese people and stressing their desire to form a sovereign and independent state. Whilst there, he wrote many letters and memoirs in support of self-rule for Lebanon. Most of his writings have survived to this day. He was to die in exile in India

Reflection (not in pod) - On the Cedars of Lebanon

I have been fascinated by the cedars of Lebanon, ever since a trip to Beirut a few years ago, I was struck by a large group of South Korean pilgrims visiting the remnants of the Cedars.

Cedar wood is highly sought after for its strength and size. King Solomon was to use it widely in his construction of the first temple of Jerusalem. This was a key moment in monotheism, replacing the tabernacle which had been constructed by Moses to allow a nomadic people to honour the arc of the covenant. The temple became the sole place of Israelite sacrifice. Isaiah uses Lebanese cedar as a metaphor for pride in the world, whereas the psalmist talks about the tree as a symbol for righteousness.

In the ancient world, the cedars on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, were famous and much sought after as a natural resource, appearing in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Cedars on Mount Lebanon were much sought after for high quality construction, in particular for shipbuilding in the area of the Mediterranean. Not surprisingly there has been extensive deforestation which has left only small remnants of the original forests . There are records that many attempts to conserve them have been made, starting with the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who created an imperial forest marked by inscribed boundary stones. Reforestation attempts are ongoing, In Turkey, over 50 million young cedars are planted annually, covering an area around 300 square kilometres.

Its place of pride in the centre of the national flag, underneath two red strips, where the Cedar is said to be a symbol of holiness, eternity and peace. As an emblem of longevity, in a text of the proclamation of the State of Greater Lebanon, it was said in 1920 : an evergreen cedar is like a young nation despite a cruel past. Although oppressed, never conquered, the cedar is its rallying. By the union, it will break all attacks.

Lets pray for peace in the area.

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