Visitors from around Europe gathered in Beirut, Lebanon (Province of Orient) for annual meeting of CEVIM – Conference of Visitors of Europe and Middle East from Sunday, April 8 through Friday, April 13, 2018. We present the short report from the event.
Formally, Sunday was not the part of the CEVIM meeting, but it was an occasion for special celebration in the Province of Orient. Archbishop Georges BOU JAOUDE’, C.M., Maronite Archbishop of Tripoli, Libya and former Provincial of the CM Province of Orient celebrated his 50th priesthood anniversary. He was the main celebrant of the special Eucharist in Miraculous Medal Church in Achrafié, Beirut. Maronite Bishop of Beirut, Latin Rite Apostolic Vicar for Lebanon and Visitors of Europe who came for CEVIM session were among concelebrants. The Church was full of people.
The Mass of thanksgiving was celebrated in Maronite rite. Saint Vincent choir invited for the occasion enriched the liturgy. In the homily Msgr. Georges recalled these stages of his life which led him to enter the Congregation of the Mission and to dedicate his entire priestly life to the evangelization of the poor following the teaching of Saint Vincent de Paul.
The exquisite fraternal agape together with Confreres, Daughters of Charity and lay collaborators finished the jubilee celebration.
April 9 was the first day of the CEVIM meeting this year. Participants were members of the Conference (13 Visitors from Europe and Middle East and the Executive Secretary). Fr. Javier Álvarez, Vicar General and Fr. Miles Heinen, Assistant General were present, too. Five interpreters secured simultaneous translation in five languages: English, French, Italian, Polish and Spanish.
At the beginning of the opening session the Chairman of the meeting greeted all participants. Next, three main topics were reported.
(1) Fr. Nicola Albanesi, Provincial of Italy presented the project of interprovincial European and Middle Eastern Theologate.
(2) Fr. Christian Mauvais, Provincial of France, reported on upcoming encounter of European seminarians which is taking place this August in Villebon, near Paris, France. Finally,
In the afternoon Confreres have visited Apostolic Nuntiature in Lebanon and the 77th Patriarch of Antioch for All-Christians of Maronite Rite Patriarch Moran Mor Bechara Boutros al-Rahi who is in this position since March 15, 2011, succeeding Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir. Guests were welcomed very cordially and given a rich presentation about peculiarity of relations between the State and Religions in Lebanon.
In the evening they watched the performance of a musical based on five scenes from the life of St. Vincent organized by Fr. Ziad Haddad, Provincial of the Province of Orient in the church of Miraculous Medal in Achrafié.
Morning session of the second day of the meeting was dedicated to the themes of trends of contemporary Islam and new new theological approaches to Islam. Dr. Nayla Tabbara, Director of the Institute of Citizenship and Diversity Management was the lecturer. She is a young Muslim woman (Sunnite) who studied in Western universities, including in Rome, and Rev. Professor Fadi Daou was another speaker.
They both are co-founders of “ADYAN”, the group formed by Muslims and Christians. It is a NGO registered in Lebanon which started exactly 10 years ago. Their goal is to work locally, regionally and internationally for pluralism, inclusive citizenship, community resilience, and spiritual solidarity, through home grown solutions in Education, Media, Policy, and intercultural and interreligious relations. (Learn more on their website: http://adyanfoundation.org). Dr. Tabbara illustrated various trends of the contemporary Islam and the goals of her Foundation. Fr. Daou talked about promoting the dialogue with Islam in the service of solidarity among citizens in society. These were very interesting presentations.
In the afternoon, participants visited the Druze village in rural Chouf District, the most religiously diverse region in Lebanon with almost equal proportions of Druze, Sunni Muslims, and Christians (Maronite and Greek Catholic) populations. Druze are an ethno-religious group made of the followers of Shia Muslim origin, originating in the eleventh century. The meeting was very useful opportunity to learn about reality of the strongly minority community in the Muslim world.
On Wednesday, the morning session was led by Rev. Professor Fadi Daou again, a diocesan priest from the same diocese which Fr. Ziad Haddad, the Visitor of the Province of Orient comes from. The speaker focused on the practical challenges of coexistence between Christians and Muslims in world today.
The distinction between different attitudes that guide Christians (or religious minorities in general) in weight with a Muslim majority was very interesting highlight of the presentation. He pointed out three attitudes in particular:
- an attitude of communitarianism identity (which uses the same attitude of the Islamic world to emphasize its own identity and defend it on the political level),
- an attitude of protectionist opportunism (which sees in Islam an enemy to defend from itself and which leads to mighty ally which can ensure the defense)
- an attitude of commitment to the common citizenship (which is the attitude that is emerging in the world of youth, which leads to the responsible construction of a “common home” while respecting everyone’s differences).
In the afternoon there was a meeting with Sheikh Muhammed Abu Zeid, who illustrated some aspects of Islamophobia which is spreading in many Western societies.
In the morning of fourth day Fr. Milad Zakhary, C.M. delivered a conference about Presence of the Congregation of the Mission in the Middle East.
Later all participants went to Antoura a town about 21km north of Beirut to visit Collège Saint Joseph, the oldest French school in the Middle East established by Vincentians in 1834. Current enrollment in this 12 grade school is over 4000 students. The school campus is located in couple of buildings and gardens originally built as Jesuit mission which was passed to Vincentians in 1773 and changed from the mission into a school still considered as one of the best in Lebanon (one of the few accredited by the French Ministry of Education – “école homologuée”).
From there Confreres moved to Dahr-Es-Sawan, in the suburbs of Beirut to visit Ecole Technique Saint Joseph founded in 1882 by Daughters of Charity as multi-grade professional school where local poor and orphaned youngsters until 18 years old were given both educational and professional preparation enabling them to live and work on their own. In 1964 new, technical school was built under the same name which is charge of Vincentian priests. Students get Lebanese Professional Certificate at graduation. The school assists and promotes the poorest of the poorest humanely, socially and spiritually including boarding. Currently, a great project of Christian – Islam dialogue and formation center is being prepared here, too.
On the final day of the CEVIM meeting participants visited Beth Aleph School in Achrafieh, near the Provincial House which is run by Vincentians, too. Beth Aleph is a school project (nursery, kindergarten and pre-school) for the migrants’ children who find difficulty to attend schools in Lebanon due to their social and financial status. They come from more than 10 countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, Eritrea, Egypt, Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Somalia and Syria. Education is provided in English and Arabic.
By Giuseppe Turati, CM
Translation: Thomas Zielinski