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What can we do to help our Christian brethren in the Middle East?

Praying for them, and the invocation of Saint Charbel, may be a good way to start

By on Thursday, 2 August 2012

Charbel

Over the next few Sundays the gospel readings are taken from the sixth chapter of St John, which is usually known as the Eucharistic Discourse. This means that for the next few weeks every priest in the land will have to preach about the Holy Eucharist and allied topics, and as I myself contemplated this task I thought of all the saints who, in various ways, have deepened our understanding of the Eucharistic miracle.

The first that came to mind was, paradoxically, for he is not very well known in England, Saint Charbel (sometimes spelled Sharbel) Makhluf. I first came across devotion to saint Charbel in Lebanon, his native land. Wherever you go in the Christian parts of Lebanon, there you see Saint Charbel’s picture. The iconography is unmistakeable: he is wearing his monk’s habit, and his eyes are cast down.

Charbel was a monk in a Maronite monastery in Jbeil, Lebanon; he was famous for his devotion to prayer, and for the last decades of his life he lived as a hermit, giving himself entirely over to contemplation. It is said of him that he never looked at his fellow human beings, but only looked at the tabernacle, so rapt was he in contemplating the miracle of the real presence.

This idea of never casting a glance at your fellow human beings does strike one as distinctly odd by today’s standards, but it is worth remembering that the saints are meant to be counter-cultural, they are meant to make us think and readjust our worldly perspectives. We look at so many different things these days, but one thing alone, surely, is necessary. When we reach eternity, we shall, we hope, gaze on God forever, and never look away from that beatific vision. Why not start to look at him now, under the form of the Eucharistic speicies?

Charbel died on Christmas Eve, 1898, and he was beatified during the closing days of the Vatican Council, in 1965; he was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1976. His cult is very strong wherever there are Lebanese communities, and remarkably strong in Mexico. Charbel is revered for his miracle-working reputation, but should chiefly be remembered as an example of prayer, I think. There is a picture of him in the church of Our Lady of Consolation, West Grinstead . But nowhere else have I seen one in this country. His feast is on the 24th July, and has recently been made a universal, though optional, memorial.

Perhaps one reason that led Pope Paul to canonise Saint Charbel was the desire to remind Catholics of the long history of the Maronite Church, and of the continuing devotion of the Lebanese to Christ the Saviour. He may also have wished to correct the erroneous notion that Catholicism is somehow a purely Western phenomenon. Sadly, the Maronite community in Lebanon has been much reduced in numbers in recent years, and there are now more Maronites outside Lebanon than in it. A similar fate may be awaiting the Christians of nearby Syria. These communities, along with other Christian communities of the Middle East are the subject of an outstanding book by William Dalrymple, From the Holy Mountain, which if you have not read yet, you should get hold of at once.  We often wonder what we can do to help our Christian brethren in the Middle East. At the very least we can pray for them, and the invocation of Saint Charbel may be a good way to start.

  • karlf

    What effect do you actually believe the praying will achieve?

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    I do think we should pray for them….but I also think the day is coming when we will have to act for them.  How many Catholics are there in the world?!….and still we leave the safety of Middle Eastern Christians totally in the hands of disinterested Western secular Governments.

    How about an order of lay and clergy dedicated to the safe passage of Christians from war torn lands where they are in particular danger because of their Faith.  I think the Vatican is going to have to flex its muscles and act independantly of any government but with the good will of all.  Surely a corps of 10.000 could be raised to see to the safe passage of Christians?!  Or is it just too dangerous or what.  Secularism seems to have sapped us of our Christian self-determination and identity. 

  • C_monsta

    Is the prayer a call for God’s intervention? – in which case, why
    bother? God doesn’t intervene to help alleviate human suffering even in
    the worst instances.

    If the prayer is simply to show support, then surely there must be better ways of doing this?

  • Jeannine

    The Vatican does act independently to help those in need. Money from the Peter’s Pence is used for that purpose. We as individuals can also help by donating to Pontifical approved organizations whose purpose is to help the Middle East Christians, ie CNEWA or Aid to the Church in Need. A while back the Catholic Herald printed an article detailing the collaboration of Aid to the Church in Need & the Diocese of Erbil, Iraq. See http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2011/01/31/church-to-build-hospital-and-university-in-iraq/

    There are also non-Catholic organizations helping the Middle East Christians.

    The Vatican has no muscle; yet, they can & have encouraged governments to help these Christians. For obvious political reasons, even if the Vatican had muscle, they can not raise a corps of 10,000. ——Crusades: Muslims have very long memories & would be preceived as creating an army for war.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    I know about all these wonderful organisations and thank God for them.  But I am talking about something fundamentally different.  To do for ourselves and for our brothers in Faith what we beg our uninterested secular governments to do.  That is to provide safe passage and protection for Christians out of war torn areas etc.

    Why should we continue to put our safety in the hands of secularists….when we have sooooo many Catholics throughout the world.  That’s odd.  And it’s not only Muslims who have long memories….so do Catholics.  And it’s about time we learnt something from the Crusaders who for long periods provided protection for pilgrims to the Holy Land.

  • Julia

     Praying is an incantation.
    All religions have incantations.

  • Juliaset

    Catholic religion is one of the causes of all the Milddle East’s problems.
    The other two Abrahamic religions of course play their parts together with Christianity.

    The Christians might well be the first to bomb the Islamics, but it could be the Jews. One day the Islamics will get the nuclear bomb and then they will bomb the other two.

    Have we not had enough holy wars? The madness of religion lies open before people’s eyes, yet many are blind to it, and argue “their patch”. If there were a God, he would damn them for it.

  • Juliaset

     A Catholic army or militia.
    What a brilliant idea. Would they have tanks, machine guns, holy water, high velocity rifles?
    Or instruments of torture and firewood to burn the heritics and non-true believers who believe the “wrong” thing.

  • Juliaset Jmb

     If the religious wingnuts could ALL be removed, to say their own incantations to their own particular God, there would be very few “war-torn areas”.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    So you don’t like the idea of Christians defending and protecting other Christians.  Well too bad.  You sound deeply suspect to me…. and best ignored.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    And how do wingnut atheists propose to ‘remove’ the religious?!  By gulags and brutality as usual I suppose.  Don’t bother.  Stay at home, dying out.

  • Julia

     If you read your history books luv you will find that the Pope has had many armies in the past. The church doesn’t talk about this much (well, not at all actually!). If you read about this, you will discover the reason why it doesn’t.

  • Julia

     No dear, removed from places where their presence is causing conflict, death and destruction (and THAT really is “as usual”).

    If there were a deity of the type imagined by the devotees of the big mail-order religions, like Christianity, it would have a lot to answer for.
    We are disgusted by the thought of such a thing, watching its equally disgusting votaries slaughtering each other through the ages and always demonstrating their malice and hatred of their fellow men through murder and torture.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    The only ones that have a lot to answer for are here on earth.  It is human beings that have slaughtered in their millions….so stop blaming God.  Nice try though.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Well I think he’s gonna need another one….a peace-keeping force for now.  As far as I can see only secularist governments have armies these days to carry out their own political and often subversive agendas!  That’s bad.

  • karlf

    Perhaps that’s true, but what does it actually do to help?

  • C_monsta

    We personally can’t stop all the dreadful suffering, but God can – although he does nothing but watch it all happening.

  • Julia

    What a prospect!
    Like some of the good old times?
    Religious wars again blighting the lives of the (known) world.
    There may not be a Hell, but the religious wingnuts will do their best to craete one on earth (again, “as usual”).

    But this time tey are on a loser.

  • Julia

    I didn’t blame God for anything.
    God does nothing because he’s not there to do anything.

    Yes, it’s people (here on earth, as you oddly say – where else would they be?).
    But religion is a way of providing an understanding of the world which has now long passed its “best before” date.
    Unfortunately, as in the Middles East, it leaves behind its obnoxious rump of hatred, superstition and conflict.

  • Julia

     Apologies C_monsta. My reply should have been addressed to la catholic state.

  • Pereanselmepb

     Saint
    Charbel was totally unknown to me also, untill I start hearing about him from
    the small community of lebanese working in different projects in the algerian
    sahara desert where i was once a  missionary. I asked one of the Lebanese to
    make a presentation of the Saint to the entire tiny community of our parish in
    the desert. And that was appreciated by many. Now to the question what can we
    do help them, the answer is not so easy. Maybe the first thing to do is to give
    our support to the existing organizations, like “Les oeuvres d’Orient”, that
    help Christians in the Middle East(this one is a French based catholic organization,
    maybe there is an English equivalent of it??!!). Secondly, after a year of
    study in Cairo and helping as a vicar in a parish, I think the best help we can
    make for eastern Christians is to help them defend their right of belonging to
    their native lands. They are Egyptians, Lebanese … and they have the same right
    and duty like all the other Egyptians, Lebanese and so forth…! Therefore, I
    believe, the real support we can give is to act for the entire region to be a
    place of peace where all (Christians or muslims) are respected and given equal
    rights, regardless of their religious belonging. Any muscles intervention of
    the Vatican (if it has muscles ) will not help at Christians there, at the
    contrary it will contribute to isolate them as a foreign element. And we all
    know that’s not true… Christianity has come from them to the west and not the
    opposite…!  

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    So it’s all right just so long as it’s secular armies that are creating havoc and war then is it?!  What arrogance.  Time to take the log out of your eyes methinks! Secularists are the last people on earth to be in charge of armies. History shows this clearly.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Actually….you can stop lots of personal suffering….the ones you inflict on others.  Try it before you start ordering anybody else or God around for that matter.

  • C_monsta

    No worries. ”
    where else would they be?” raises an interesting point, as if our consciousness was to exist in heaven in a sort of magic ghost brain and body what would we be? we wouldn’t be human, so would we be people? Hmmmm??

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    If God wasn’t there….neither would you be.  LOL….stupidity and arrogance are two ugly bedfellows.

    And atheists are perfectly able to create war and hatred all by themselves.  Their left and right factions are the most evil and brutal in the history of mankind.  Atheism will soon put itself out of its misery….thank God for that.

  • C_monsta

    I don’t think you honestly believe that secularists actually want wars, do you?

  • awkwardcustomer

    Have we not had enough atheist murder? The 20th century had its fair share of atheist regimes murdering dissidents in the name of progress and revolution.  Estimates vary between 15-30 million deaths in the atheist Stalin’s gulag in the former Soviet Union.  And the atheist PolPot and the Khymer Rouge murdered around 2 million Cambodians as enemies of the revolution. 

  • Juliaset

     Stalin’s mum did complain that he should have finished his course in the seminary and become an orthodoc Christian priest. Later, of course, he did loose his “faith”.
    Uncle Adolf was a Catholic and spoke and wrote frequently of God. Before he came to power he was feted by the Church in Catholic Bavaria and Austria throughout the 1930s and during the early stages of the war.

    But the world is now largely in a post-religious phase, and increasingly atheists will call the shots in all areas of life – (be they despots or kindly people).
    Hitler and Stalin grew moustaches in later life. Does that mean that people with these hairy growths are generally evil nasties?

  • Julia

     There is no atheist misery that I know of. Is there any theist misery?
    Religion is dying my dear. Its numbers are presently maintained by the 3rd world and that will only last until education arrives. (NOT Catholic missionaries who do educate, but also indoctrinate).

  • Juliaset

     I suspect we will be nothing at all. But then: how can that be?

  • Juliaset

     History shows peoples at war, until “recently” (and again in very recent times) almost always in the name of religious righteousness – and always calling on God for assistance: from the “prayers for victory” in Britain in WW2 to the “God on our side” (or “God is with us”: “Gott mit uns”) on the black uniform belts of Hitler’s crack SS troopes (who were modelled on the Jesuits, and had a large Catholic membership).

  • awkwardcustomer

    Glossing over the murderous crimes of the atheist Stalin and his Soviet Communist regime in a rather joking manner, I might add, implies that you don’t really want to take on board the reality of the 15-30 million deaths, and more elsewhere, that atheism is capable of bringing about.  And PolPot DIDN’T have a moustache.

    Aside from facial hair, Hitler had something else in common with Stalin.  He too abandoned the Faith of his childhood.  Stalin became an atheist, but Hitler and the Nazis concocted a new religion which combined elements of pre-Christian Teutonic Paganism with the gods, rituals and symbols of the ancient world, then threw in a bit of Theosophy and Eastern mysticism to boot.

    In 1935 the Nazis produced a German ‘Farmers Almanac’ in which Christian feast days were replaced with pagan celebrations.  In the same year, Christian prayers were banned in schools.  Modern neo-Pagans love to ignore the Nazis’ fondness for Winter Solstice celebrations and for gathering on Walpurgis Night.  Yes of course there’s a vicious and distorted attempt to blame Europe’s Christian inheritance for the rise of Nazism, which among other things takes the heat off the connection between the Nazis’ foul racial theories and the evolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin.  We know that Darwin didn’t coin the term ‘survival of the fittest’.  But those who did used Darwin’s theories to justify the Eugenics Movement which inspired the Nazis in their aim of creating a master race.

    By the way, Marie Stopes also supported the Eugenic Movement, although her primary aim in pushing birth control was to limit the numbers of the undesirable poor.

  • Oconnord

    If I could reply to you and juliaset (cool names btw) at the same time. You are entering into a fairly endless discussion. Hitler’s abandonment of catholism is questionable, the same with Stalin’s christian upbringing. One could also add Mussolini to score points against religion. But of course this will be quickly countered with Polpot or Mao or Amin. The point scoring on both sides will go on and on. 

    But I’m pretty sure “On Origin of Species” was banned in Nazi Germany. But I do not disagree that it was practised in Germany, as it also was in other counties such as the USA, where there were forced sterilizations until the late 60′s or early 70′s.

    I’m also sure the world isn’t getting less religious in real terms, only in the West. Religion is growing in the poorer parts of the globe. But speaking as an atheist I don’t want atheists to call the shots.

    I want to vote for the best person to govern, not worrying about their religion, while expecting them to treat my views with the same respect I accord theirs.

    I know.. I’m a respectful, wishy washy, liberal, utopian, libertine who believes in both justice and compassion!!!  I’m not asking much!!

  • Oconnord

    When they do double blind tests the answer is NO. If people don’t know they are being prayed for they behave the same as a control group…. they don’t do any better… so it’s no help.

    But if they are in the group who are told of the prayers for their benefit they tend to do worse. It often put down as performance anxiety. So praying for someone does nothing, but telling them about it can worsen things by putting undue pressure to perform on them.

    It’s still early days in these studies, but the results are consistent, but not conclusive by any means. 

  • Oconnord

    Of course atheists can create war and hatred, but we have one less reason to do so. WE NEVER DO SO AT GOD’S WILL. 

    So even if only 50% of wars had a religious reason in history… that would mean we would have had 50% less wars.  

  • Oconnord

    I am in no way being critical of the author, I think that christians are the forgotten minority in Lebanon.

    But it must be remembered that christians are persecuted in almost every majority islamic country. There being two exceptions, countries where other religions other than christianity are the minority, so they are attacked. Or “totally” islamic countries where they attack minority islamic sects instead. 

    Mali to Bali, North to South Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia,Nigeria, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, ( pretty much all the ‘stans).  

    I admit persecution is difficult to measure, so I will use a “cheap shot”, since the start of Ramadan this year there have been over 100 islamic terrorist attack worldwide, resulting in 500 deaths. To put that in perspective, over the 35 years of the “Troubles in NI” there were about 3200 deaths. If the islamic holy month were to last 90 days, the body count would exceed that of the catholic/protestant conflict in NI.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    People mostly war over land power and conquest.  And in the past 100 years a terrifying phenomenon appeared, where tyrannts went to war to spread evil and unatrual atheistic ideologies.

    And those belts with ‘God on our side’ were standard army uniform from earlier pre-Hitler era!!  Hitler and his ideology were atheistic….as was Stalin.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Atheists are just as prone to spreading their beliefs as anyone.  Only difference is…atheists have NO moral limits or guidelines.  Very very dangerous for mankind.

  • karlf

     In reply to C_monsta below:

    Church teaching seems to be a bit limited on the subject of what we become
    after death, so I’d like to give you my take on this issue.
    When we die our physical bodies are finished with, so our consciousness and
    memories must survive this to be maintained in heaven by a sort of supernatural
    mechanism – a kind of supernatural version of our physical selves that eternal
    and not physical. Therefore, if our consciousness and memories are the only
    remnants of our original, physical selves, we will clearly not be human beings
    at all. I’d like to propose, for want of an appropriate term, that we refer to
    this state of being as ‘Spectoid’ i.e. we will become ‘Spectoids’ (I can
    provide an explanation for this term on request). I’m not sure if Spectoids can
    accurately define themselves as people though – your views on this would be
    very welcome.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Apart from having a world-wide Catholic corps to aid the safe passage of Christians from war-torn areas to safety etc…..we should also start to pray for the return of Muslims to Christ and the conversion of the Middle East.  Seems like we have given up on this….and I’m not sure we ever even started.  There is no other hope for Islamic nations.  Without the benign influence of Christianity, Islam becomes more absurd and grotesque.

    It is not an impossible task….as it will be the Holy Spirit in charge.  Christians have silently endured so much suffering in Islamic lands for centuries now…..that now may be the time to bear the fruit of this.  It is in the hands of God.  All we have to do is ask. 

  • C_monsta

    I’m not ordering anyone around – or causing widescale suffering. I’m just pointing out that, unlike ourselves, God has the power to stop the terrible suffering of millions of children, yet he just looks on as it continues. If I was God I’d actually do something to help people.

  • C_monsta

    ” It is in the hands of God.  All we have to do is ask”
     What do you think God will do if we ask?

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    You are causing whatever suffering you are causing (as we all are)…..and you are called on to relieve suffering.  That is your ticket to Heaven….or not as the case maybe.

    Complaining while doing nothing will get you nowhere nice.

  • C_monsta

    OK, but what does God do?

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    God will aid the conversion of Muslims and the Middle East.  As He did when Europe was being converted….and as He is doing in the Far East today.  The Holy Spirit is still at work in the world….regardless of what plans secular politicians might have to the contrary..

  • C_monsta

    No he’s not. He doesn’t do anything! If he doesn’t save children from the most extreme and awful suffering on such a huge scale, what makes you think he’s helping to convert Muslims? Islam is waxing, not waning.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    Really?!  If children today don’t receive what is their due,  it is not God’s but man’s indifference.  Maybe if you (and all other atheists) did something concrete for children’s welfare instead of complaining about it….the world would be a much better place.

    But it’s so easier to whinge and pass your blame onto God isn’t it!  Pathetic.  And if Islam is waxing….it is because Christians are not practising and not asking.  So let’s start.

  • C_monsta

    Think about what you are saying! Who do you know of who would act as God does? To watch over as these children suffer so terribly while having the power to stop the pain at any moment? Only the most deranged of humanity.

  • http://twitter.com/LaCatholicState la catholic state

    God’s only arms on earth are yours and mine.  And it is up to us to alleviate suffering.  But I guess you don’t want to hear that. What have you done to allieviate the suffering of any child?! 

    So you rather sit passively by and whinge and blame God.  Get up and do something. 

  • C_monsta

     That’s rather convenient for you: now God is powerless to intervene is he? After creating the universe that’s the only way he can affect things – through our minds? Incredible!