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Exclusive interview: Lebanon’s president on the future of Christians in the Middle East


© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

Tony Assaf - published on 03/29/17

Aleteia talks with President Aoun for Aleteia in Rome.

Aleteia had the privilege of meeting with the President of the Lebanese Republic, General Michel Aoun, who arrived in Rome accompanied by his family for an official visit with Pope Francis. Thursday evening General Aoun attended Mass in the Church of Saint-Maron (the Maronite parish in Rome), celebrated by theProcurator of the Maronite Patriarch at the Holy See, Bishop Francis Eid, in union with the cor-episcope and chaplain of the Maronite Church mission in Rome, Mgr Tony Gebran, a group of cardinals, bishops and priests, as well as the Lebanese chargé d’affaires at the Vatican, Albert Samaha, the chargé d’affaires at the Lebanese Embassy in Italy , Karim el-Khalil, more than 25 ambassadors accredited to the Holy See and a large crowd of Lebanese people residing in Italy.

The parish choir sang at the Mass. The parish committee presented President Aoun with a statue of St. Maron, and Aoun in turn gave the parish an icon of the same saint.

In addition, immediately after Mass, a reception was held in honor of the president and the congregation.

Our interview with the President of the Republic targeted religious, social and political themes:

Aleteia had the privilege of meeting with the President of the Lebanese Republic, General Michel Aoun, who arrived in Rome accompanied by his family for an official visit with Pope Francis.
© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA
Aleteia had the privilege of meeting with the President of the Lebanese Republic, General Michel Aoun, who arrived in Rome accompanied by his family for an official visit with Pope Francis.

Aleteia: Mr. President, your meeting with the pope comes at a time when the world needs a message of love and dialogue, and since “Lebanon is a message” according to the late Pope John Paul II, will Lebanon under your leadership play the role of a message from the Middle East and will it thus be an example of a new philosophy of dialogue in the world? Has Pope Francis asked of you to play a specific role in this field?

President Aoun: Certainly Lebanon is the meeting place of different cultures and civilizations, and its social fabric includes all the confessions of Islam and Christianity that live in harmony, respecting freedom of belief and political balance, and this is proof that it has been a sophisticated model throughout the Muslim conquest up until today.

Of course, Lebanon has experienced bad historical phases, not during the time of the Arab rule, but during the Crusader Kingdoms and later the Ottoman rule, while throughout the rest of the time, Lebanese Christians and Eastern Christians participated with the Muslims in developing their civilization.

Aleteia:  Your meeting with the pope is considered a message of hope for the Christians of the East. What would you say to the Christians who have suffered and continue to suffer, fearing both the present and the future?

President Aoun: This is a disaster. The war with extremist groups is a very serious retroactive reaction, as I already wrote in 1994 in the Al-Hayat newspaper, and this is what is happening now. Terrorism constitutes a retroactive reaction that has nothing to do with Islam and is moving away from the fundamental principles of this religion, which is why it has begun to fail, yet it will have made a major impact and leave the Middle East in ruins.

I believe that Christians in the region are no longer in “direct danger,” but the danger remains in the form of terrorist cells that target everyone, Christians and Muslims! Everyone has been affected, both mosques and churches have been attacked in Syria. The Christians were not against the basic power which the terrorist movement opposed, which is why they were in as much danger as any other person. Christians are connected to the resistance movement in Syria, they have resisted with the Muslims, and they should return home. One and a half million Syrians and half a million Palestinians, they must all go back when the situation in their country becomes secured.

Aleteia: Sharing power in politics, with an equal division of power among Christians and Muslims, was the Free Patriotic Movement’s obsession before your election as president of Lebanon and is still their major preoccupation. It is also the most important point in the agreement of your political party with the Lebanese Forces. Today, as president, how will you accomplish this partnership?

President Aoun: Equity and partnership became a reality immediately in the present government as Muslims appointed Christian ministers and vice versa.

So this partnership has been achieved, but we still have to find a solution for the electoral law because it is too complicated and this is what we are presently examining. Equity in the parliament will remain numerical, but today’s great concern is how to ensure the confessional allocation of seats in the Parliament; this issue is being studied and we are hoping to reach a solution. Note that there have been many other complicated problems that we have succeeded in solving.

Aleteia: Your election has brought hope of the institutions’ effectiveness to young Lebanese, at a time when the 29-month presidential vacuum created fear of the future among young people. What is your message to young Lebanese residents and expatriates and what plan do you propose so that they can be rid of their fear?

President Aoun: Fear is now behind us; we have overcome one of the most dangerous phases in our history. The threats to our security that take place today, like car bombs for example, are very little in comparison to our past history.

We have resisted, our national unity is still intact, and the internal danger in Lebanon has been suppressed. The current situation is much better; what remains is the bad economic situation in the world. The world must reconsider the regulations it has made, and reflect on the false steps taken by the new international regime in regard to the economy, so that many things can be solved.

Aleteia: Michel Aoun army commander, Michel Aoun Prime Minister, Michel Aoun an activist in exile, Michel Aoun member of Parliament and leader of a parliamentary coalition, Michel Aoun President … what do you have to say about Michel Aoun the Christian? Who does Jesus represent for Your Excellency?

Aoun: For me, Jesus Christ is the first rebel in history and probably the only one, because he changed the world.

Christianity arose in the world as an ideology when Judaism was the first religion and the Jews believed that God was for them alone.

The commandments were prohibitions, for example: “Do not take the name of God in vain,” but Christ came to give God, Christ did not make a special God, he made him God for everyone.

People do not pay attention to the fact that the law of Moses is not the same as Jesus Christ’s commandments, although there are many examples that prove this.

The law said, “Do not take the name of God in vain.” Christ did not say that, but he said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ’No.’”

Christ did not say, “Do not kill,” but he said, “Love one another.” Killing is a negative behavior, while love is the fundamental relationship between human beings.

He did not say, “Do not be sad,” but he said, “anyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Christian teaching is positive for man. It shows him what he has to do, not what he should not do.

Jesus did not say, “Do not steal,” rather he said, “Go, sell what you have.”

Jesus did not say “Do not give false testimony,” he did not sit idly by, but he said, “I have come into this world for judgment.”

This is what Christianity represents for me, and whereas the law of Moses is based solely on “non-aggression,” the Christian message is a message of peace for the whole world; there is a difference between the two, and Christianity has created peace in the world.

[Ed.: Haitham Shlomo and Mary Yaacoub were also present for this conversation.]

Christians in the Middle EastPope Francis
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