Until recent times, Lebanon was the only country in the Middle East with a Christian majority. Today, however, Christians make up no more than an estimated 34% of the total population. And among young people aged under 25 only one quarter are now Christians. The emigration among the Christian population continues unabated. Already during the civil war, between 1975 and 1990, around 700,000 Christians left Lebanon. Now the disastrous economic and political crisis that has afflicted the country and most recently, the devastating explosion in August this year which destroyed a section of the capital city Beirut, including one of the Christian quarters, have only intensified this trend.
In the archdiocese of Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley in the northeast of the country, the situation is still worse. Here Christians now account for barely 5% of the population. This is a poor region, where the situation is insecure owing to the proximity to the frontier with Syria, and people are afraid. Those who can are leaving the country and seeking a better life in Canada or Australia, while many others are at least moving away to the capital Beirut. The only thing that can check this mass exodus is the presence of a strong Church, capable of supporting its faithful, spiritually, pastorally socially and economically. And young, well formed and energetic priests have a crucial role to play in this.
Maronite Archbishop Hanna Rahme of Baalbek is happy to have seven young men in his archdiocese currently training for the priesthood. Already they are helping actively in parish work, for example in youth work and catechesis. The archbishop writes to ACN, „These young men have a strong missionary spirit. They want to serve the Church, whether in Lebanon, in the mission lands or elsewhere where there are large immigrant populations. They want to be „priests for ever“. We thank God for these young vocations; they are already serving the diocese with apostolic zeal.“
ACN plans to contribute 10,000 Euros towards the cost of the formation of these seven future priests.