LEBANON: Monastery's pastoral centre sustains abiding presence
By John Newton
Carmelite priest Father Raymond Abdo, who said the new pastoral centre was helping stem the tide of Christians leaving Lebanon
A 19th century monastery in Lebanon has been transformed into a pastoral centre, playing a crucial role helping to stem the tide of Christians leaving the country.
Carmelite priest Father Raymond Abdo told Aid to the Church in Need – which helped with the conversion of the monastery in Kobayat, northern Lebanon, into a pastoral centre – that the project was vital for the revival of a Christian community that has suffered from massive emigration, poverty and Islamist extremism.
Father Abdo said: “The renovation of the monastery of Kobayat is part of the social commitment of our fathers in the north of the country.”
He added: “Many people come to pray in the monastery. They have confession, spiritual guidance and we have many groups of young people.”
The renovation, for which Aid to the Church in Need provided £36,000, is helping Christian renewal in an area close to the Syrian border which has experienced political instability.
Fr Abdo said: “The Carmelites are working to strengthen the Christian presence in this area so that we might prevent people, especially young people, from leaving, because it is very easy to emigrate to outside the country.
“We are working constantly so that the numbers of those leaving the country do not increase.”
He described how the building, which dates back to 1892, also houses a scheme to help keep young people in the region.
A local Christian businessman has set up an IT company providing jobs for about 35-40 people who are working in a part of the old monastery buildings.
Commenting on the declining numbers, Father Abdo added: “It’s very bad actually because Christians are now less than half of the country – before the [1975-90 civil] war Christians were 75 percent of the population.”
But the Carmelite priest said vocations to the religious life were still relatively healthy.
Father Abdo said: “There are many vocations still in Lebanon – more than in some other countries, thank God – and there are many Carmelites from Kobayat because we have had a monastery there for so long.”
“In the Lebanese Carmelite province we have three young men in the novitiate, two postulants, and four young are preparing themselves for priesthood.”
Fr Abdo said: “If we are faithful to our commitment and to our vows we can attract many vocations – even if we are working in social things.”
He said: “The most important thing is to help people spiritually and even if there are no [religious] vocations, the vocation of marriage is very important, the vocation to testify to God in our lives is very important – and everything we can do to strengthen people in that is very important.”
The new pastoral centre was formally consecrated by Lebanon’s Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, on 21st May – having been previously blessed by the former Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, who retired in February.
As well as receiving support from Aid to the Church in Need, the pastoral centre project obtained funding from a number of different Catholic organisations, including Missio.
The Carmelite order in Lebanon has six monasteries with 32 monks, more than half of whom are aged 35 or under.
The Carmelite fathers have been working in Lebanon since 1643.