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Migration et politique au Moyen-Orient

Françoise de Bel-Air

The Maronite Church in Lebanon: From Nation-building to a Diasporan/Transnational Institution

L’église maronite au Liban. De la construction nationale à celle d’une institution diasporique/ transnationale

Paul Tabar


In this chapter, the author examines changes within the Maronite Church, which are transforming it into a nation-building, but also diasporan institution. These changes are caused by the growing influence of the Maronite Diaspora on the Church and the de-territorialising impact of migration on the Lebanese abroad. In this connection, the Church is best understood as a “globalocal” institution: on one hand, it restores links of the Maronite diasporan communities to the mother Church in Lebanon, and on the other, it becomes diasporic by developing its institutional presence abroad and responding increasingly to the needs of the Maronite diaspora in various parts of the world. The Maronite Patriarchal Council that was held in Lebanon between 2003-2004, and the Maronite Church in Australia are examined to substantiate the above claims.

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1In this chapter, I am mainly concerned with the new self-image that the Maronite Church is currently building in the context of an increasingly globalised world. More specifically, I argue that the dissemination of the Maronites across the world since the middle of the nineteenth century, which resulted in the number of the Maronites abroad to be far greater than their number in their country of origin (Dagher, 2000: 79), is driving the Maronite Church to redefine its identity, in such a way as to make it compatible with the ethnic and cultural pluralisation of its congregation.

2Broadly speaking, since the beginning of the Lebanese emigration in the 1860s and up until the Ta’ef Accord in 1989, the Maronite Church’s relationship to the Maronites abroad was based on intermittent mobilisation of the latter to financially keep supporting their kin in their homeland and to back up the Church in its role as a political player in Lebanese politics. However, during the last Maronite Patriarchal Synod (2003-2004), the Church had to face a new challenge created by the continuing emigration of Maronites and their dispersion across the globe. This chapter argues that the process of tackling this problem has transformed the Maronite Church in Lebanon, not only into a nation-building institution but also a transnational/diasporan one.

3The Maronite Church has recently been engaged in redefining its identity and its vision for the future and, in so doing, has also been involved in reconstructing the narrative of its own history in the light of this redefinition. This chapter examines the case of the Maronites in Australia in order to illustrate the implementation of this new trend, which is sparked by the Synod and widely supported among Maronite communities overseas. More significantly, it focuses on new developments in the Church’s political relationship to Lebanon as a nation-state, which is gradually transforming the Maronite Church into a transnational-cum-diasporan institution addressing “policy quandaries surrounding a host of problems that spill over national borders” (Vertovec and Cohen, 2002: 11).


  • 1 Many studies have been written on the first and second phases of the history of the Maronite Churc (...)

4In general terms, one could present the history of the Maronite Church as passing through three main phases: the parochial phase, which extends from the early stage of the history of the Maronite Church (around the fifth century) until the last quarter of the nineteenth century; the nationalist phase, that reaches its highest point in the creation of an independent Grand-Liban (Greater Lebanon) in 1943 and continues up until the Ta’ef Accord in 1989; and finally, the transnational/diasporic phase, that began to develop in the last decade of the past century and remains in process.1

  • 2 For a study of the shift in the political consciousness of the Maronites from a parochial/familial (...)
  • 3 For a good survey of the role of the Maronite Church in Lebanese politics after the Ta’ef Accord, (...)

5One could further argue that the line separating the parochial from the nationalist phase in the history of the Maronite Church can be clearly drawn,2 whereas the nation-building phase and the transnational/diasporan one are still overlapping. In addition to the task of nation-building, in which the Maronite Church is still strongly engaged,3 there has been a significant increase in the transnational/diasporan orientation of the Maronite Church since the 1990s, as can be witnessed in the outcomes of the last Maronite Patriarchal Synod.

  • 4 For a good study of the 1736 Synod and its impact on the Church, see Harik, 1968.

6In February 2003, Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Patriarchal Head of the Maronite Church, inaugurated the first session of the second Synod of the Maronite Church. This was arguably the most important Synod to be held since the famous “Lebanese Synod” in 1736.4 The latter was organized after the Vatican Synod (1545-1563), which was designed to reform the Catholic Church in response to the Protestant Reformation. For the first time in the history of the Maronite Church, the second Synod attracted religious and lay delegations from abroad that took an active part in discussing the issues raised during its various meetings. These delegates came from neighbouring Arab countries (Syria, the Holy Land, Jordan and Egypt), Cyprus, Europe, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the United States of America, Canada and Australia. This global Synod would have been unthinkable were it not for the globalizing impact of migration on the Maronites in Lebanon since the 1860s.

  • 5 Each member was entitled to speak for eight minutes on each of the synodal documents. The total nu (...)

7The first session of the Synod took place at Our Lady of the Mount Monastery in Fatqa, Lebanon, and was attended by 443 members who made 433 interventions during the discussion of the texts prepared specifically for the occasion.5 Out of these texts, documents 2 and 4, entitled “The identity of the Maronite Church, Vocation and Mission” and “The maronite Diaspora and its Development” respectively, are directly relevant to our present discussion.

  • 6 For a press coverage of the Synod session and the decisions that the Synod members voted for, see (...)

8These documents were discussed and voted on during the second session of the Synod, which was held in October 2004. 150 out of 185 voting members were present during this session,6 and the vast majority (approximately 87.59 %) of them approved of these texts. A close look at these documents reveals the extent to which the presence of the Maronites in different parts of the world has transformed the identity of the Maronite Church, from a primarily communal/nationalist identity to a diasporised/ transnationalised one.

Identity: not Territorial but Transnational

9Reflecting on his participation in the Synod, Father Geoffrey Abdallah, Dean of St. Maroun Cathedral in Redfern, Sydney, and Episcopal Vicar for Youth, wrote the following:

“The topics of ‘identity’ and the ‘expansion’ [read Diaspora] were much discussed during the Synod – particularly the role of Lebanon and our relationship to Lebanon. However, we cannot avoid the reality that the majority of Maronites now live outside of Lebanon and are unlikely to return permanently to Lebanon. This does not mean that the Maronites living outside of Lebanon wish to form nationalistic Churches such as the Maronite Church of Australia or the Maronite Church of America etc, independent from Lebanon. Quite the opposite, we are requesting that the Maronite Church in Lebanon itself move from being a nationalistic Church into a universal [read transnational] Maronite Church, embracing all Maronites, regardless of their ethnicity or culture for we are now, to use the opening words of Bishop Abikaram’s intervention in the Synod [Abikaram has been the third Bishop of the Maronites in Australia since January 2002], “Maronites of the world.” This is something positive and encouraging. Otherwise, the Maronite Church will become irrelevant to future generations born outside of Lebanon.” (Marounia, no. 3, February 2004: 5)

  • 7 “[E]stimates vary between 16 million émigrés of Lebanese descent and 4 million. But they all agree (...)
  • 8 See Central Committee of the General Secretariat, 2004.

10This quote captures the conundrum faced by the Maronite Church during the recent Patriarchal Synod: reconciling between its local and global dimensions. The spread of the Maronites across the world since the middle of the nineteenth century and the demographic reality that their number abroad far outstrips their number in their place of origin7 led the Maronite Church to redefine its identity in a way that makes it compatible with the ethnic and cultural pluralisation of its congregation. In the light of this new development, Synod participants extensively debated the defining characteristics of the Maronite identity, which eventually led to a reconstruction of the Church history to ensure that it befits this newly emerging identity.8 In broad terms, the participants in the Synod asserted that Maronite identity, though homogeneous and universal in its religious character, is at the same time multiple and diverse. Its roots are Antochian/Syriac (read local), yet at the same time, they branch out to converge with the universal identity of the Catholic Church. More importantly, the Maronite identity is conceived as being embedded in a multiplicity of national environments: Lebanese, Arabic and several other diasporic environments (Central Committee of the General Secretariat 2004: 10; 27). In line with this new definition of the Maronite identity, the Synod perceives the history of the Church as part and parcel of the history of the Diaspora. In the words of the Synod:

“Diaspora became part of the history of this Church and a complementary part of its spiritual vocation as God wishes. With the dispersion of the Maronites, the fate of this Church became a global fate and we should look at its future [development] from this perspective… At the existential level, the Maronite church is not any more a particular Church confined to a specific place on earth. Along with the dispersion of its followers, first in the past in the Arab world, and presently in the whole world, the Maronite church has been transformed into a global Church despite the fact that its cultural legacy is oriental and Syriac.” (Synodal Documents, First Dossier: 103-105)

11Even at the theological level, diversity is cherished as a constitutive element of Catholicism.

The Pluralisation and Transnationalisation of the Maronite Historical Narrative

12In contrast to the popular view that Lebanon is a haven for Christian minorities in the Arab region, the Synod initiated a new reading of the formation of Grand-Liban in 1920 and its present and future character in the light of the emerging pluralised identity of the Maronite Church. Accordingly, the creation of Lebanon as a nation and its independence in 1943 is conceived as the culmination of a long and broader struggle to defend the right of the individual to be free and different, both culturally and religiously. In this context, reference to a saying by Patriarch Hwayek confirms the pluralist outlook of the Church since the creation of the Grand-Liban. In this quote, Hwayek declared that Lebanon is not a “Christian nation” but rather a nation for all its sons and daughters, where Muslims and Christians could live together in mutual respect and total equality (ibid.: 28).

13According to the Synodal text, this pluralistic approach to the history and identity of the Church goes back even further to the early days of the Maronite Church when the latter has always accepted peoples of different religious creeds and co-existed happily with them. Furthermore, the text asserts that the Church has never been associated with a particular territory and its character has always been defined as being Antochian (read local) and Catholic (read universal). On this point, the text clearly concludes that “The Maronite Church always successfully combined between holding on to its identity and creatively interacting with its surroundings without any rigidity or loss of identity” (ibid.: 83-84).

14Moreover, when recounting the history of the Maronite Diaspora (al-intishar al-Lubnani), the authors of the document do not take Lebanon as a point of origin. According to them, the Maronites first migrated to Lebanon from an area located in “northern Syria”. During subsequent waves of migration, they travelled to other parts of present-day Lebanon, neighbouring Arab countries (Syria, Palestine and Egypt) and Cyprus. In the 1860s, they started migrating to the United States, Mexico and Latin American countries, then to Canada, Australia, and Africa and, more recently, to Arab Gulf states and Europe, especially France. As a result of these migrations, the document argues that the nationalist sense of belonging to Lebanon among the Maronites has diminished over time, whereas their sense of belonging to the Church remained strong.

  • 9 It is appropriate to note at this point that Yoakim Moubarak, a Maronite Father who was among the (...)
  • 10 In an interview conducted in 1997, Patriarch Sfeir reveals that “the creation of a Maronite dioces (...)

15It is my argument that this disparity in the Maronites’ sense of belonging is leading to the transformation of the Maronite Church into a diasporan/transnational institution without it losing sight of the need to maintain its position as a major nation-building institution.9 This occurred first at the level of the central authority of the Catholic Church, when the Second Vatican Council finally “recognised the truth of the Oriental Churches and its [sic] great historical and spiritual value” under the influence of bishops who were participating in the Council as representatives of their congregations in the diaspora (ibid.: 94). As a result of this crucial development, Maronite Dioceses were allowed to be formed in diasporan territories, independently of the direct authority structure of the local Latin churches. Consequently, Maronite episcopates abroad, except those in France, were no longer linked up directly to the Congregation of Eastern Churches in the Vatican, but rather to the Patriarchate in Lebanon.10

16Thus, for the first time in the history of the Maronite Church, we now have more Maronite Dioceses abroad (six in the Middle East and eight in America, Australia and Europe) than in Lebanon (where there are twelve), allowing the Mother Church in Lebanon to resume its direct religious authority over its congregations across the world, bypassing the organizational authority of the local Latin churches. Reflecting on this development, the synodal document states that a new history is being written for the Maronites, “who became Australian in Australia and American in America and European in Europe” without losing their “oriental spiritual identity” and their “cultural belonging” to their “motherland” (ibid.: 95). As an extension of this pluralized and transnationalised historical narrative, the Synod presented the Church’s future mission as being primarily an initiator of dialogue between different religions and cultures. At a theological level, this mission is also perceived as being the result of Divine care that is specially offered to those Maronites who are dispersed across the world (ibid.: 106-107).

Practical Steps to Diasporise and Transnationalise the Church

17During the 2003-2004 Synod, the participants approved of a series of measures that would result in transforming the Church from a purely national to a transnational institution. These measures were first presented in the form of recommendations. However, in a preamble to these recommendations, the Synod called upon the Church to commit itself to a three-pronged mission: first, to fully take on the task of building the Lebanese nation with other communities living in Lebanon; to become an integral part of the Arab world and its destiny and to show concern for its future; and, finally, to play a progressive role in the dialogue between various peoples and cultures. However, the Synod reveals that the last objective necessarily requires that the Church develop a new understanding of the Maronite diaspora, and that the latter should be firmly linked with the mother Church in Lebanon (p. 99). The Synod participants argued that a Maronite living abroad could dispense with his/her Lebanese identity and adopt the national identity of the country of settlement; but he/she could not remain a Maronite without regularly communicating with the mother Church in Lebanon and sustaining strong links with it. To conclude this point, the Synod argued that, inasmuch as the diaspora needs the Patriarchate in Lebanon, the latter’s existence would be unjustified without the Maronites who are dispersed across the world. As the Synod document puts it metaphorically, the Patriarchate represents the “roots” of the tree and the Dioceses in the diaspora are its “branches” (ibid.: 104).

18In this context, the Synod recommends that the Maronite Church extend its jurisdiction to cover the Maronites in the diaspora, as the above-mentioned Vatican Council had recommended. In so doing, the Church would be able to discover the specific needs of this diaspora and establish the necessary parishes and dioceses required to serve its followers abroad. The Synod argues that the transformation of the jurisdictional power of the Church into a transnational one befits the Catholic Church’s outlook on unity and diversity. It is said that the then current Pope, John Paul the Second, had stated that “the Church breathes through its oriental and its occidental lungs” (ibid., 105).

19The Synod recommended that the Patriarchate establish The Patriarchal Committee for Diasporan Affairs, and that this special committee be attached to the General Secretariat of the Patriarchate. It also suggested dividing this Committee into two parts: one secular, consisting of all non-church organizations that the Maronites have established in Lebanon or abroad, and the other church-related and concerned with all diasporan dioceses. The overall aim of this committee is to secure legal, organizational and cultural links between the diaspora and the Church. The Synod argued that a centralized church hierarchy would also generate solidarity and unity among the Maronites at home and abroad. However, this can only be achieved if the Church provides priests and bishops who are qualified to serve the Maronite diaspora. Consequently, the Synod recommended that the Church establish a Clerical College from which priests and bishops would graduate with the appropriate qualifications to serve in the diaspora.

20Up to this point, we have shown how the diasporisation and transnationalisation of the Church has manifested itself, first by reinventing the identity of the Maronites and the narration of its historical development, and secondly, through the organizational steps taken by the Vatican Council and the Maronite Church in order to achieve autonomy from the Latin Church in the diaspora and extend the jurisdictional and organizational authority of the Maronite Church to cover the Maronites outside the boundaries of Antioch, the traditional seat of the Patriarch. More recommendations have been approved by the Synod, further indicating the degree to which the Church has been transnationalised. These include the establishment of a library that will contain books written by Maronites in the diaspora; the creation of a church website at home and in the diasporan countries; the establishment of a multilingual translation bureau to promote the interaction between the mother Church and the Dioceses in the diaspora; and the creation of a Maronite Fund to propagate solidarity among the Maronites across the world.

The Localisation of the Maronite Diaspora

21However, inasmuch as the Maronite Church in Lebanon has taken real steps to become a diasporan/transnational institution, others were taken to particularize and localize the Maronites in the diaspora. In this regard, it is important to note that all Dioceses in the diaspora are held accountable to the Patriarchate in Lebanon and are ultimately placed under its central authority. Although they enjoy relative autonomy, these Dioceses are considered part and parcel of the Maronite Church organization, whose central authority emanates from the Patriarch in Lebanon. As a result, many aspects of the moral (e.g. gender and sexuality), social (e.g. marriage, divorce, baptism, religious festivities and death ceremonies) and political (e.g. current political issues in Lebanon) reality of the Maronites in diasporan countries are directly affected by the decisions taken by the mother Church in Lebanon. Furthermore, the Synod accords great importance to the translation of Maronite Catechism and the “Maronite Syriac Culture” into the various languages of the countries of settlement, so that the younger generation in the diaspora are taught Maronite Catholicism in their own language when attending Latin Catholic schools and schools run by the Maronite parishes abroad. The link between the Church in Lebanon and the Maronites abroad is strengthened further by asking Dioceses in the Diaspora to re-establish relations with their parishioners, and win them back into their fold after having lost contact with them for a long period of time. The Synod suggests that this should be preceded by a survey, conducted to determine the number of Maronites living in the diaspora and their socio-economic and educational profiles. In addition, the Synod decides to encourage the Maronites in the diaspora to maintain their property rights in their home of origin; to disseminate the Maronite cultural, literary and artistic heritage among the Maronites living overseas; and to broaden the broadcast of Télé Lumière, a Catholic Christian television station located in Lebanon, and Voice of Love, a Christian radio station, to cover audiences abroad. All these measures are designed to create a transnational community, unified around the teachings and instructions of a very particularistic church located in Lebanon (Central Committee of the General Secretariat, 2004: 108-110).


22In the section below, I examine the case of the Maronite community in Australia to show the extent to which the Australian Maronite Church has implemented the recommendations of the Synod. I also show how, in the process of this implementation, the Church is being transformed into a globalocal institution.

A brief history of the Maronite church in Australia

23The Maronite Church in Australia has grown substantially over the past century. On 8 May 1893, the Maronite Patriarch sent two priests to Sydney, having realized the need to establish a Maronite Mission in Australia. In 1894, a Maronite chapel was set up in Waterloo and served until 1897. On 10 January 1897, Saint Maroun’s church in Redfern was dedicated. From the beginning of the twentieth century up until the early 1960s, the presence of the Maronite church did not develop significantly. Maronites in various parts of Australia relied on irregular visits of priests from Redfern, occasionally supplemented with visits by travelling priests. Under the leadership of Monsignor Peter Ziade (1963-73), the Church experienced further development. The premises of St. Maroun’s were expanded (2 May 1965) to supply a greater range of services for the faithful. In this connection, a community hall, a school and a presbytery were built. In 1970, a foundation stone was laid for Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Harris Park, Sydney, and the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family established a mission in 1968. In 1973, Rome appointed Archbishop Abdo Khalife as Bishop of the Maronite community in Australia. His chief task was to organize a new Maronite Diocese in Sydney. His term in office lasted until 1991, during which he was able to purchase two more churches and a residence, as well as complete the building of Our Lady of Lebanon Church. He also bought a church in Wollongong, an industrial city south of Sydney, started building a hostel and bought two more houses close to Our Lady of Lebanon Church. In 1981, he invited the Antonine Sisters to establish a mission in Melbourne, Victoria. In March 1991, Bishop Hitti succeeded Bishop Khalife in the Diocese. Under his auspices, he welcomed the Congregation of Lebanese Maronite Missionaries, who founded a mission in Sydney (1993), and invited the Antonine Monks to establish a mission in Melbourne (1997). Bishop Hitti also opened two high schools, a childcare centre in Belmore and a Chancery Office. He gave his approval to the Maronite Sisters to purchase a nursing home in Dulwich Hill. On 8 February 2002, Bishop Ad Abikaram was officially installed as the third Maronite Bishop of Australia. His contributions to the development of the Diocese and its transformation will be the topic of our discussion below.

24However, it is important to realise that, under the leadership of the first two Bishops, the Maronite Diocese grew in size by increasing the number of parishes, schools, childcare centres and nursing homes. This early process of developing the religious institutionalization of the Maronite community is crucial to understanding the progression by which the community has been particularised following its immigration to Australia. Suffice it to say, at this point, that prior to the Synod, the Maronite church in the Australian diaspora was developing institutionally, and that the Maronites were gradually integrating into the broader Australian society at a time when the official discourse of the church did not address, in any systematic way, the Maronite diaspora and its impact on the identity and mission of the mother Church. This process had to wait until a decision was taken to organize the second most important Synod since the sixteenth century.

The Synod and the Australian Maronite Eparchy

25In the aftermath of the call by the Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, to the Maronite Patriarchal Synod in February 2003, the Head of the Maronite Eparchy in Australia, Ad Abikaram, announced that the Church was adopting “an unprecedented and innovative strategy to develop a framework for the Maronite Diocese of Australia, which encompasses a new vision and new horizon” (Marounia, no. 1, April 2003, p. 5). (In March 2005, the Maronite church in Australia decided to use the term “Eparchy” instead of “Diocese” because the former is used by Eastern Catholic Churches in their official business.)

26The first practical step resulting from the “new horizon” plan was the development of a new Eparchial organizational structure. Accordingly, the Maronite Eparchy of Australia is now made up of a Council of Priests, an Administrative Council and a Diocesan Board. Collectively, these structures support the Bishop, the head of the Maronites in Australia, in his governance of the Eparchy. More specifically, the Administrative Council advises the Bishop on all administrative matters concerning the Eparchy, while the Diocesan Board evaluates, plans and coordinates operations within what the strategic plan calls the “functional areas” of the Eparchy. These include Parishes, Chancery, Secretariat, Eparchial Pastoral Council, Finance and Community Services and Support. The head of each “functional area” is represented on the Diocesan Board. The Bishop’s Office represents another layer which “coordinates work between various departments and committees within the Eparchy, and liaises with the wider community.” It also drives “the strategic planning, research and spiritual agendas, and acts as the “heart” of the Eparchial activities,” as well as coordinates “official events with religious, social, government and non-government organizations”. Several advisory and support committees (including the Ladies of the Gospel, Maronite Catholic Society, Finance Advisory Committee, Legal Advisory Committee and Development Fund Committee) provide consultation and advice to the Bishop’s Office. Finally, attached to the Diocesan Board are a number of bodies (Parishes, Chancery, Secretariat, Eparchial Pastoral Council, Finance and Community Services) which further demonstrate the different areas of activities in which the Church in Australia is involved (see figure 1)

Fig. 1: The organizational structure of the Eparchy

Fig. 1: The organizational structure of  the Eparchy

27It is clear that this new organisational structure of the Maronite Church in Australia confirms its relative autonomy from the Latin (Roman) Church hierarchy operating in Australia. It also ensures a firm grip over the Australian Maronite community by the Bishop of the Eparchy, Ad Abikaram, who, in turn, is held responsible for his leadership by the Patriarch in Lebanon. Thus, by extending the jurisdiction and organisational structure of the Patriarchate into Australia, the Maronite Church is performing a double act: it is becoming transnational and, at the same time, turning the Australian Maronites into a localized community. This two-pronged process, which could better be captured by the term “globalocal”, is best demonstrated by the examination of two organisational bodies which are part of the overall structure of the Eparchy: the Parishes and the Community Services provided by the Eparchy.

  • 11 For a brief exposition of Maronite spirituality and liturgy in English, see Marounia, no. 8, 8 Sep (...)

28There are eleven parishes in Australia. Eight of them are in New South Wales, where the majority of the Maronites have settled. They cover Redfern (the site of the first parish in Australia), Punchbowl, Croydon, Thornleigh, Harris Park, Mount Druitt and West Wollongong. In addition, there is one parish in each of the States of South Australia (in Adelaide) and Queensland (in Brisbane) and two parishes in Victoria (Melbourne). There are also five Mass Centres, one in Victoria (Dandenong) and four in New South Wales (Leppington, Earlwood, Dulwich Hill and Terrigal). According to the organizational structure of the Eparchy, every parish is involved in various activities that are regulated and specified by the Eparchy. One important activity is the teaching and practice of the Maronite spirituality and liturgy.11 This is done mostly through holding masses and other religious ceremonies and feasts (e.g. baptism and confirmation, marriage, funeral ceremonies, Maronite feasts, etc.), as well as writing about them and publishing these writings in the language of the country of settlement (which is English in the case of Australia). Trying to define “Maronite spirituality” in the context of Australia, the chancellor of the Eparchy, Fr Peter Joseph and Fr Emmanuel Sakr wrote the following in the official magazine of the Eparchy:

“The Maronites’ migration from Lebanon has brought Maronite spirituality to the world. The true Maronite strives diligently for spiritual and cultural authenticity and intellectual openness. He has great respect for the country where he lives, for freedom and the dignity of life. This stems from his faith in Christ’s humanity which has inspired the Maronites throughout their history.

However there is one other important aspect to acknowledge. It is the aspect of Middle Eastern culture, specifically Lebanese culture, as an element that has shaped Australian Maronite consciousness up to the present.” (Marounia, no. 8, September 2005: 31).

29This quote clearly expresses the objective of teaching Maronite Catechism and spirituality through the various activities of the parishes, including holding mass, participating in Maronite rites, celebrating religious feasts and church publications. It is also clear that, as a result of the migration of Maronites, only later followed by their Church, their identity has been de-territorialised and then re-embedded in the Australian context without losing its renegotiated Maronite component:

“What defines a Maronite is not primarily being Lebanese; rather, being Maronite is a spiritual reality that has roots well beyond Lebanese culture. In other words, one does not have to be of Lebanese descent to be a Maronite. In Australia we are a Syriac Church of the Antiochian tradition in a Western country.” (ibid., 31).

  • 12 For a good coverage of these activities, see the official magazine of the Maronite Eparchy of Aust (...)

30Apart from the regular masses that the Maronite parishes in Australia hold in Arabic, Syriac and English, they are also involved in several social, cultural and fund-raising activities.12 More specifically, they show special concern for serving the social and educational needs of their community, covering education, family and elderly support services, community welfare, youth and childcare services and psychological support services. The elderly, for instance, are cared for by the Sisters of the Holy Family at their Hostel in Marrickville (New South Wales) and by the Antonine Sisters at St Paul’s Hostel, Melbourne (Victoria). Childcare centres are run in Sydney by the Sisters of the Holy Family, at Belmore and Dulwich Hill. The Antonine Sisters in Melbourne maintain their childcare facilities in the suburb of Coburg.

31On the other hand, the Maronite Eparchy runs three schools in New South Wales and one in Victoria. These schools teach the Maronite liturgy and spirituality as part of the compulsory subject of religion. Arabic is also taught in these schools. The school’s impact on transforming Maronites into a globalocalised community is well expressed in the stated educational philosophy of the Eparchy:

“The essential feature of Maronite education is its Maronite identity. This means that our spirituality is infused into the schools, together with the educational principles and curriculum normally covered by any school in Australia. The children are taught according to the ever-contemporary tradition of the Church.” (Marounia, no. 8, September 2005: 40).

32 Furthermore, when introducing itself to its readers, the magazine Marounia, published by the Eparchy, states that it

“will reflect activities and interests across all Parishes as well as the central activities of the Diocese [Eparchy]. A requirement of the Diocesan Strategic Plan will be to ensure ongoing information sharing with as many Maronites and Catholics as possible. The partnership of the Diocese [Eparchy] with Maronite village associations [in Australia] in reaching out to members of the community, who may not be connected to a Parish, is crucial. Marounia will create an avenue for celebration, information exchange, education and advertising that builds upon our predecessors’ valuable efforts”. (Marounia, no. 1, April 2003: 8).

33The Eparchy prints 6,500 copies of Marounia. It is published quarterly and distributed among many parishioners in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and New Zealand. It is also distributed to schools, kindergartens, childcare and aged care centres run by the Eparchy. Supporters of the Maronite Church and affiliated businesses receive the magazine as well as parliamentary members, Catholic Education Offices, Latin (Roman) Catholic Dioceses, Bishops Conference of Australia and Chancery staff and guests (Marounia, no. 6, March 2005: 36).


34At this point, it would be revealing to give a brief account of the social and political roles of the Maronite Church prior to the 1990s, specifically as they relate to the question of nation-building and the presence of the Maronites abroad. Following this account, we examine the transformation of these roles under the impact of the diasporisation of the Maronites and the increasing transnationalisation of the Church institution.

The Church until the Ta’ef Accord: a Nation-Building Institution

35In broad terms, since the beginning of Lebanese emigration in the 1860s and up until the Ta’ef Accord in 1989, the Maronite Church hardly intervened directly in the lives of Lebanese Christians abroad. To be more precise, whenever the issue of emigration was raised, the Church dealt with it as a manifestation of the adventurous and mercantile spirit of the Lebanese (read Christian) people, which could not be immured by the boundaries of Lebanon. Christians abroad were also perceived as a source of financial and political support for their fellow Christians back home. There was, and still is, a constant reminder in public debate surrounding emigration, that in times of hardship, such as the Ottoman siege of the Mutasarrifiyya during the First World War and the civil war between 1975 and 1990, the Lebanese abroad were an essential source of economic support to their kin at home.

  • 13 For further details on this point, see Zamir, 1985.

36Albeit in an ad hoc manner, the Church also sought the support of Lebanese expatriates (e.g. those who were present in France during the first quarter of the twentieth century) in its struggle to create Greater Lebanon13 and, later on, to protect its sovereignty. More importantly, since the creation of the Grand-Liban, the Church has called at various points in time for the rights of Lebanese migrants and their descendants to obtain Lebanese citizenship. But prior to the Ta’ef Accord, this was done in the context of Muslim demands that the Maronites in Lebanon and the Christians in general should have a smaller share in power due to a descrease in their numbers. In response to this polemical claim, the Maronite Church, in collaboration with Christian politicians, particularly the Phalangist Party, insisted on counting the Lebanese abroad and granting the Lebanese citizenship to their descendants. By raising this demand, the Church aimed at retaining the numerical superiority of the Maronites in the face of the growing number of Muslims, since the majority of the Lebanese abroad were Christian Maronites. As Dagher puts it: “Since the early twenties, the Christian ruling class has strongly defended the idea of incorporating the Lebanese émigrés in the national census and giving them the voting rights. Some would go as far as defending the idea of granting them seats in Parliament.” (Dagher, 2000: 80).

37To recapitulate, the relationship of the Maronite Church to the Maronites abroad was based mainly on the intermittent mobilisation of the latter to perform two essential tasks. Firstly, to financially keep supporting their kin in their homeland; and secondly, to politically support the struggle of the Church to protect Lebanon as an independent nation and to maintain the privileges of the Maronite political élite in the overall structure of the Lebanese state. Even at the religious level, the Maronite Church never succeeded in providing its followers abroad with the appropriate religious infrastructure (e.g. Maronite priests and parishes) needed to provide the Maronite communities with adequate religious services pertaining to their specific religious rites (Maronite Mass, celebration of Maronite Feasts, baptism and wedding ceremonies according to Maronite rites, etc.). The lack of religious services experienced by Maronite expatriates abroad only started to formally preoccupy the mind of the Church hierarchy in the 1990s, when the Maronite Church began consciously transforming itself into a transnational/ diasporan institution. Prior to this period, the Maronite Church could therefore be characterized as being a religious institution involved more or less exclusively in the process of building the Lebanese nation-state.

Overcoming the Lebanese Nation-State

38After the Ta’ef Accord, the Church’s renewed concern about the Lebanese diaspora lead it to deal with issues that “spilled over” the national borders of Lebanon. More accurately, it could be argued that, in contrast to the Lebanese state, whose sovereignty is by definition coterminous with the physical space inhabited by the Lebanese nation, the universalistic character of the Church enabled it to respond more readily to the diasporisation of the Maronites. The Church’s growing awareness of this reality, as manifested earlier in the discussion of the Synod’s document on the Maronite diaspora, is potentially lending it more power as a simultaneously Nation-building and transnational institution.

39To begin with, in the context of maintaining its role as a nation-building institution, the Maronite Church has been strongly advocating granting Lebanese citizenship to the descendants of Lebanese emigrants and giving the Lebanese abroad the right to vote and to parliamentary representation. It had also continuously lent its support to politicians who espoused the same demands. In a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops Council in November 2003, the Maronite Church joined forces with other Catholic Churches in Lebanon to call for:

“treating, as a Lebanese citizen, everyone of Lebanese descent as a prelude to making it easier for them to acquire the Lebanese citizenship, as it also indirectly approved a recent proposal put forward by Kesrouan MP Neamtallah Abi Nasr calling for the creation of [twelve] additional parliamentary seats for expatriates” (Daily Star, 17 November 2003).

40The statement also called for “restoring cohesion to the World Cultural Union”, which is the largest body representing Lebanese immigrants, and for “enabling Lebanese expatriates to take part in local political activities” (ibid.). In this connection, the Church is echoing the wishes of many immigrants who are willing to partake in the politics of their home country despite their presence outside Lebanon.

  • 14 On the role of Lebanese-American groups in the process leading up to Syrian withdrawal from Lebano (...)

41The added power that the Church could potentially obtain from achieving these goals has already been experienced in the lead-up to the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon. During this political process, and in the context of preparing the ground for the UN Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, Lebanese expatriates played a very prominent role in lobbying the US and French governments.14

  • 15 For more information on the role of ML in addressing issues pertaining to the Lebanese diaspora, s (...)

42As a nation-building/diasporan institution, the Church has also been very active in encouraging Lebanese Maronites abroad to establish branches of the Maronite League (ML) in the countries of their settlement. The significance of this move becomes clear when we learn that ML is “one of the most influential national policy organizations” in Lebanon, and its membership amounts to 1300, including “former Presidents of the Republic, members of Parliament, Cabinet members, high ranking public servants and retired officers, intellectuals from all professions who excelled in their field”. Furthermore, ML describes itself in terms which link it closely to the Maronite Diaspora: “[ML is] a pressure group founded to support a free, sovereign, plural and democratic Lebanon; to strengthen ties and promote cooperation between Maronites in Lebanon and around the world; to advance Maronites interests [sic] within a plural society.” (emphasis is mine)15. The strong link between the Maronite Church and ML is also expressed in one of its objectives, declaring the support of the Maronite Patriarch as their: “highest religious authority entrusted with [the Maronites’] traditions and heritage”. The growing influence of ML in the diaspora is manifested by the fact that it currently has ten branches abroad, including the USA, Canada, Mexico, France and Australia. These branches work very closely with the Maronite Eparchies established in these countries.

43In other words, the fact that the Church is willing to acknowledge that the Maronites abroad have the right to belong to different national identities and, at the same time, remain in its congregation, is leading the Church to expand its religious, cultural and political authority beyond the boundaries of Lebanon (and Antioch), reaching several countries across the world. Accordingly, the Church is proving to be better equipped than the Lebanese state to address issues related to the diaspora and emerging outside the national boundaries of Lebanon.

  • 16 Daily Star, 2 April 2001.

44In this context, for example, at the beginning of 2001, the Maronite Patriarch made a five-week trip to the United States and Canada. During this visit, he met with many active members of the Lebanese communities abroad and discussed with them issues pertaining to Lebanese politics and the diaspora.16 Taking up these issues and lobbying for their fulfilment in Lebanon means that the church is “importing”, more than ever, the diaspora into Lebanese politics. Moreover, it could also be argued that undermining the political predominance of the Maronites in the Lebanese State after the Ta’ef Accord is encouraging the Church to increasingly focus on the Maronite expatriates, and is gradually leading the Maronite diaspora to substitute the Lebanese nation with the Church institution as a rallying point for their sense of identity.


45Reflecting on the outcome of the Synod, an Australian Maronite priest wrote:

“Although the Maronite Church is an Antiochean, Syriac, and Chalcedonian Church, the Synod acknowledged that Maronites of the Expansion know that their new homes may be their permanent homes. Their existence has become part of the society they live in, and they become an internal element of this society. However, they remain always in unity with ‘the Mother Church in Lebanon.’ ” (Marounia, no. 8, Sept. 2005: 43).

  • 17 This is also propped up by multicultural policies adopted by the Australian government since the e (...)

46The development of the Church institution, and the increasing diversification of its community services, is certainly playing a crucial role in the shaping of the particularistic and localised identity of the Maronites in Australia.17 On the other hand, the long settlement history of the Maronites in this country, combined with the conscious efforts by the Eparchy to integrate into mainstream Australian society (the recruitment of priests who are Australian-born, the translation of the Liturgy into English and publishing the Maronite Catechism in the Australian native language, etc.) has resulted in the diasporisation/globalisation of the Maronite community and its church identity.

47More generally, we have shown that this dual act of turning the Maronites into a globalocal community has been primarily driven by the Maronite Church itself, and is manifested in the institutional development of the Church and the expansion of its authority into the various countries where Maronites are settled, as well as in its discourse, which is gradually deconstructing the nationalistic identity of the Maronites into a diasporan/transnational one. However, as indicated above, the globalocalisation of the Church (and of the Maronites) does not negate its crucial role in the process of Lebanese nation-building. On the contrary, the process of globalocalisation is empowering the Church with new diasporan/transnational resources, to paradoxically maintain the viability of building the Lebanese nation in an increasingly globalised world.



Baroudi S., 2005: Spiritual Authority Versus Secular Authority: Relations Between the Maronite Church and the State in Postwar Lebanon, Unpublished paper, Lebanese American University.

Beydoun A., 1984: Identité confessionnelle et temps social chez les historiens libanais contemporains, Beyrouth, Université libanaise, distribution Librairie orientale.

Central Committee of the General Secretariat, 2004: The Maronite Patriarchal Synod, 4 vols., Lebanon.

Dagher C., 2000: Bring Down the Walls: Lebanon’s Post-War Challenge, New York, St. Martin’s Press.

Harik I., 1968: Politics and Change in a Traditional Society: Lebanon 1711-1845, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Lopez M., 2000: The Origins of Multiculturalism in Australian Politics 1945-75, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press.

Samah I., 2005: “The New Liberationists of Lebanon: Michel Aoun and the Lebanese-American Lobby”, Al-Adab, 53, 6-7, p. 49-58.

Tabar P., 1994: “The Image of Power in Maronite Historical and Political Discourse”, The Beirut Review, 7, p. 91-113.

Vertovec V. and Cohen R., 2002: Conceiving Cosmopolitanism, Theory, Context, and Practice, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Zamir M., 1985: The Formation of Modern Lebanon, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.


1 Many studies have been written on the first and second phases of the history of the Maronite Church and, needless to say, the majority of these studies, particularly the ones written in Arabic, are motivated by ideological and political concerns rather than by solid and well-grounded research. Of course, this is not surprising in a country where the national identity of the people and territories is still highly controversial and subjected to intermittent bloody political conflicts. For a critical assessment of these writings, see Beydoun, 1984.

2 For a study of the shift in the political consciousness of the Maronites from a parochial/familial consciousness to a nationalistic one, see Tabar, 1994.

3 For a good survey of the role of the Maronite Church in Lebanese politics after the Ta’ef Accord, see Baroudi, 2005.

4 For a good study of the 1736 Synod and its impact on the Church, see Harik, 1968.

5 Each member was entitled to speak for eight minutes on each of the synodal documents. The total number of Synodal documents was 23, covering social, cultural, political, economic, pastoral, religious and organizational matters pertaining to the Maronite Church in Lebanon and across the world.

6 For a press coverage of the Synod session and the decisions that the Synod members voted for, see Al-Nahar, 19 and 20 October, 2004.

7 “[E]stimates vary between 16 million émigrés of Lebanese descent and 4 million. But they all agree on the fact that Christians amount to between 65 percent and 70 percent, among whom Maronites alone represent roughly 48 percent of this diaspora, and are thus the largest ‘Lebanese’ community abroad” (Dagher, 2000: 9).

8 See Central Committee of the General Secretariat, 2004.

9 It is appropriate to note at this point that Yoakim Moubarak, a Maronite Father who was among the first people to call for a Maronite Patriarchal Synod, warned time and again against the “dissolution” of the Maronite identity among emigrant societies. In his unpublished treatise, he raised this question in rhetorical terms: “Will the fifth [migration] wave [starting in 1975] be the last milestone in the trail of Maronite dispersion or will it prod the renewal of the mother Church and the fatherland?”, Quoted in Dagher, 2000: 82-83.

10 In an interview conducted in 1997, Patriarch Sfeir reveals that “the creation of a Maronite diocese in Europe prompts reticence from the local episcopates– of which oriental Catholics are dependent too – because they fear that it might spur similar demands from the faithful of other oriental Catholic rites living in Europe. In fact, I think they don’t understand this need to preserve one’s specificity while at the same time belonging to the universal catholicity.”, Quoted in Dagher, 2000: 82.

11 For a brief exposition of Maronite spirituality and liturgy in English, see Marounia, no. 8, 8 September 2005, pp. 30-33.

12 For a good coverage of these activities, see the official magazine of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia, Marounia, which may also be accessed online at <>.

13 For further details on this point, see Zamir, 1985.

14 On the role of Lebanese-American groups in the process leading up to Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, see Samah, 2005.

15 For more information on the role of ML in addressing issues pertaining to the Lebanese diaspora, see <>.

16 Daily Star, 2 April 2001.

17 This is also propped up by multicultural policies adopted by the Australian government since the early seventies. For further details on the origin and development of multiculturalism in Australia and its impact on maintaining cultural differences, see Lopez, 2000.

List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1: The organizational structure of the Eparchy
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