The Maronites are members of the Maronite Church, one of the
three original churches of Antioch, whose spiritual head is the
Patriarch of Antioch who resides in Bkerke, Lebanon. Maronites
are part of the Roman Catholic Church and recognize the Pope of
Rome as Supreme Pontiff. The present Patriarch, His Beatitude
Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, is a member of the College of Cardinals.
Antioch was converted to Jesus Christ by Apostles Paul and Barnabas
and became one of the great original patriarchates, namely Rome,
Contantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. Maronites take
their name from the Hermit priest St. Maron who died in the year
410. St. Maron's disciples converted the inhabitants of Mount
Lebanon at the end of the fifth century. In the 7th century they
organized into a formal church and the first Maronite Patriarch,
St. John Maron, was appointed in 687.
A significant turn to the West occurred at the time of the Crusades.
Sharing the same faith as the Church of Rome, it was natural for
them to turn to the West for support and to reinforce their independence.
Since that time, the Maronites have played a central historic
role in Lebanon. Through the centuries, they represented free
Christian witness in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon where
they readily assimilated with the non-Christian population. Their
linkage with Rome provided many opportunities to introduce western
values and culture to Lebanon. Among many firsts is the first
printing press in the Middle East and women's suffrage. In 1584,
Pope Gregory inaugurated the Maronite College in Rome, which continues
to operate up to the present.
After the Ottoman withdrawal, the Maronites led the movement
toward independence for Lebanon. In the 1919 Peace Conference
at Versailles, Lebanon was represented by Patriarch Elias Howayek
who was delegated by all Lebanese people to demand independence
on their behalf; a mission which he successfully accomplished.
After the interim French mandate, final independence was declared
Today Maronites are present throughout the world, having a significant
number in the United States. There are two Maronite Eparchies
(dioceses) in the U.S. each having a bishop. Most Maronites have
family and relatives in Lebanon and they maintain regular contact
with them. Maronites have a strong interest in keeping Lebanon
sovereign and independent where free Christian witness can continue
to be heard. They also firmly believe that other Lebanese have
the same right but this can only be preserved in a free democratic
state which was given its modern life in 1943.
The survival and evolution of the Republic of Lebanon has been
a great challenge to its various religious constituencies. It
is the only country in the Middle East where Christians have at
least an equal role in the political, economic and civic life
of the country. It remains as a model of cooperation for the religions
and constituencies of the Middle East.