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Maronite archbishops tends to flock in hills of southern Lebanon

.- Archbishop Chucrallah-Nabil El-Hage, Maronite Catholic Archbishop of Tyr, went into the hills of his war struck archdiocese yesterday, in search of those who have been unable or unwilling to abandon their homes, The Age reported.

His diocese, which includes all of south Lebanon, normally includes about 50,000 Maronite Catholics, the archbishop told a reporter for The Age, “but right now I would be surprised if there are still 10,000.  The rest have all fled the fighting.”

"This is the Holy Land," the archbishop said. "We have a spiritual mission as Christians here to bring peace between Jews and Muslim people. I am coming here to tell the people who have stayed that they are the ones who will bring a new spring. I pray to God that Lebanon may be protected and will continue its mission to the world as a country where different religions and cultures have come together, and not a country of conflict."

In a visit to the mostly Christian village of Ein Ibil, the archbishop encountered an abandoned convent and 20 of his flock still in the town, who rushed to greet him.  

Georgette Kasrooni, 70, threw her arms around him and burst into tears. "They are bombing the road to Rameish. Our children are there," she cried. "What can we do? Where can we go? We have no bread or fuel or power.”

The archbishop sat down at the Suleiman family home, which has been hit several times by Israeli missiles, to hear of their struggles and pray with them.

"My own house was destroyed completely so I came to stay here," said Therese Suleiman, 50, a mother of 12. "There were 30 of us staying here, sleeping in the basement, when the shells hit. So far, grace of God, no one has been killed although seven or eight have been wounded. God is watching over us."

Outside, the bombardment had shifted closer and reached an intensity of one shell every second. Smoke from the explosions slowly filled the valley until the village at the centre of the fighting, Aita al-Shaab, completely disappeared.

As Israeli forces continue to attack Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon in retribution for attacks the Islamic militant group has conducted on their country, much of the international community has called for a cessation in fighting, in order to work things out without the deaths of innocent bystanders.  The Holy Father, on Sunday, renewed his fervent call for prayers for peace and those suffering from the conflict.  He also re-issued a forceful plea for an immediate ceasefire.

In the meantime the archbishop will continue to move among his people, calling them to faith.

Those who remain are thankful for his visits, but beg also for material assistance, "It means a lot that the archbishop came here, but we need a lot of help," Ms Suleiman said. "This is our home and we won't leave, not even now," she said. "Where should we go?"

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