One of the two Maronite Bishops in the United States was elected to lead the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace this past week in Baltimore.
Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, who originally hails from Lebanon, spoke with CNA after his election about the Church’s role amid the political and economic turmoil in his home country.
“The Lebanese people are suffering,” said Zaidan, who will serve a term from November 2023 to November 2026.
“Definitely with all the difficulties Lebanon is facing — and now, Lebanon is somewhat ignored — it's not a priority for many of the countries, especially with the war in Ukraine and other fronts.”
The committee’s mission is to advise the U.S. bishops on international issues. Zaidan, who has been a committee member, was chosen as chair over Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia by a vote of 148-95. He succeeds Bishop David J. Malloy, of Rockford, Illinois.
Zaidan listed a plethora of struggles causing instability in the country including its seeming inability to elect a new president, its devalued and inflated currency, and high unemployment rates.
“Plus, everything is becoming more expensive and employment is very high in Lebanon because of the uncertainty and corruption, and unfortunately you don't have the basic infrastructure from electricity and other people have to do it on their own,” he said.
“Plus, everything is becoming more expensive. Unemployment is very high in Lebanon because of the uncertainty and corruption," he said, adding that due to a lack of infrastructure for electricity and other necessities "people have to do it on their own.”
Zaidan said that if Lebanese citizens have family outside the country who can financially support them in small ways “that little hundred dollars makes a big difference for them.”
But, he added, "if they don't have anybody it's very difficult and that's why people would like to leave.”
Despite the many unfortunate circumstances burdening the Lebanese people, Zaidan said that the Church in Lebanon is doing whatever it can to be close to the suffering people. He praised the work of Caritas Internationalis, the church’s humanitarian arm, in using its resources to keep people alive.
“Often the priest is what we call the main person you go to because he knows his people. He knows who are the needy, who don't have any other one to help them,” he said.
Zaidan said that many priests are calling their bishops and taking the initiative to assist their flock.
He said he wanted to send a message of thanks to the parish priest in Lebanon and to “commend him for standing with his people and being part of that and serving them with all the difficulties going through himself and to stay there and do his best for his people.”
Zaidan also urged “everybody here and wherever they are to first keep Lebanon in your mind. Keep our brothers and sisters in your mind, in your prayers, and whatever you could spare here could make a big difference in Lebanon,” he said.
Zaidan said that Christ is closest to the people who are suffering and needy.
Zaidan said that the Maronites in Lebanon played a significant role in making Lebanon a great country. He said that Maronite Patriarch Elias Hoyaek de Helta who served from 1898-1931 “was instrumental in making Lebanon great as in its own borders today.”
Zaidan said that it’s important for Lebanon to be a “beacon of hope” and a “haven” for Christians in the Middle East.
“Lebanon, as John Paull II said, is a message between the East and the West, between the Christians and the Muslim — and also among the Christians — between the Catholics and Orthodox, as well.
“It’s a unique mission from that perspective,” he said.
Zaidan said that many Lebanese migrated to the United States over the past hundred years.“We always think about Lebanon as the mother church and the branches who are spread all over the world and are present in different parts of the world,” he said.
“Hopefully, we could bear fruits and let the mother church enjoy some of those fruits as well,” Zaidan said.