Are there tensions in Lebanon between Christians and Muslims?
No, there is a long history of harmony between the two communities, which dates back many decades, up to a century. That culture of living side-by-side is inscribed in the hearts of our people. They work side-by-side and, in Catholic schools, often there are 15 percent or 20 percent, or more, of the students who are Muslim. Muslim parents are eager to have their children taught certain basic values at our schools.
Could Lebanon be a model for the Middle East in this regard?
Yes, St. John Paul II declared that Lebanon, with its conviviality among Christians and Muslims, has a message for the region. Citizens here have the same rights and obligations. It is therefore crucial for the world to help Lebanon preserve this unique state of affairs that shows the world that Christians and Muslims can live together.
Given the upheaval and wars in the region, is Lebanon at risk of losing its privileged position in this regard?
The greatest risk is that Christians will leave Lebanon, also that they do not have many children. That is crucial for maintaining this equilibrium. Christians should not become a small minority. Right now, approximately 38 percent of Lebanese are Christians, with Muslims comprising 62 percent, more or less half Sunnis and half Shiites, not counting the refugees.
What does the Maronite Church in Lebanon want Churches in the West to do?
It would be great if Christians in the West would petition their government so that, for example, the US government take account of the importance of Christians in the Middle East. It seems that sometimes that economic considerations have precedence, as has been the case in Iraq, for example. Western policy should ensure that Christians remain in the Middle East – their presence is vital.
The Lebanese example shows why: Lebanese Muslims are very much influenced by Christians – they are different than Muslims in Syria or Iraq, because they have lived side by side with many Christians and have been exposed to Christian values, including their support for democracy, and tolerance. That is a vital, indispensable gift Christians have to offer the region.