Bassil at inauguration of Church Restoration in Lebanon project says aspires to renovate ‘a thousand churches’, Hungarian counterpart touts protection of Christianity

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK), and the Lebanese Faith Energy Association (LFE), inaugurated the first phase and the launching of the second phase of “The Restoration of Churches in Lebanon Project” — funded by the Hungarian government — during a ceremony in the courtyard of Mar Nahra church in Samar Jbeil, Batroun district.

The inauguration ceremony took place in the presence of Hungarian Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, Ambassador of Hungary to Lebanon, Geza Mihalyi, Lebanon’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Gebran Bassil, Minister of Environment, Fadi Jreissati, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Salim Jreissati, and a huge crowd of political and religious figures and dignitaries.

In his delivered word, President of the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, Rev. Fr. Prof. George Hobeika said:

“It is my great pleasure to be here with to inaugurate the first phase and launch the second phase of the Church Restoration in Lebanon project, which is fully funded by the Hungarian Government and implemented by the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) under the patronage of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the Lebanese Faith Energy and with the blessing of our Superior General Most Reverend Father Abbot Neemtallah Hachem.

We are gathered this evening to celebrate a project that makes us realize, one more time, that every church, as a building, has a rich history of events, peoples, miracles, prayers, as it has a special story worth of being told, preserved and shared.

As a matter of fact, this very project aims not only at restoring a number of churches in various Lebanese regions, but above all, at upholding our Catholic identity in its greatness, by itself and by its openness to the other.

This project to restore the churches in Lebanon is the result of many relentless efforts exerted by the Hungarian government represented here today by His Excellency Mr. Peter Szijjarto, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary and His Excellency Mr. Geza Mihalyi, Ambassador of Hungary to Lebanon, and with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Lebanon, spearheaded by His Excellency Mr. Gibran Bassil, our Minister of Foreign Affairs.

I take this opportunity to express to the Hungarian governmentour deepest gratitude for all whatit has had the generosity of heart and mind to do to safeguard our tangible religious heritage, threatened with collapse and disappearance. We can never forget how Hungary revolted against the fact that Christianity wasn’t mentioned as the foundation of European culture in the Constitution of the European Union. Once again, we put into words our deep joy of being your sincere friends, united forever in faith and culture, for the good of all mankind.

Finally, I cannot but thank all those who worked on the implementation of the project, namely, the highly qualified team of USEK, I will not name them all as the list would never end; yet, this evening we can see the commendable result of their work!

May this project be a stepping stone to more fruitful projects in the near future always in the service of the church!”

For his part, and in a word addressed to the Hungarian Minister, Minister Bassil said, “You are here in a privileged place, where you stand in the heart of history and civilizations. Miles away from here, crafts started in the port of Byblos, where our ancestors transferred the alphabet to the world. Today, your initiative preserves this cultural memory and the religious heritage that anchors in the cradle of the three religions.”

Bassil went on to say that the funding provided by the Hungarian government for the restoration of 33 churches was “a model that we hope will be adopted by other friendly countries.”

“We aspire to restore 1,000 churches in Lebanon; the country of thousands of churches and temples. This Hungarian donation contributes to the restoration of churches, and thus contributes to the consolidation of Lebanese diversity in a country of communion and harmony between Christians and Muslims,” Bassil added.

“The Hungarian initiative encourages the survival in this land, which has yielded prophets and given saints. We will not allow anyone to replace us, neither refugees, nor displaced, nor corrupt,” Bassil added.

In turn, the visiting Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs delivered the following word:

“First of all I’d like to express my appreciation for the invitation. It is great being back to Lebanon; fourth time in Lebanon but first time outside of the capital. I appreciate that you have showed to me that Lebanon is more than Beirut. I think it’s a very specific mercy that today we can be here together and we should be thankful to God for that.

I’m proudly representing here in front of you a country which has a one-thousand-year long Christian history. More than a thousand years ago, our first King Steven has offered the country to Mary the Virgin. Our country has protected Christianity many times during our history, and under very challenging circumstances as well. And we have never given up our Christian faith, our Christian Heritage or our Christian culture, even not under the most challenging circumstances during the communist dictatorship very recently. I’m representing a country, the elected officials of which speak openly and honestly about the importance of preserving Christian culture and Christian values.

We are speaking up about the challenges Christianity is faced with, and we always speak honestly and openly about the destiny of Christian communities all over the world. And this is one of the reasons why we were able to build friendship, alliance and strategic partnership between Lebanon and Hungary.

Geographically speaking, we are far away of each other, we have just a very limited number of common points in our history, but Christianity is definitely the best common basis based on which we can understand each other mutually.

And we know very well, we are well aware, that your neighborhood is a pretty challenging one. But, believe me, Europe is faced with tremendous challenges as well. You have spoken about the impacts of the migration crisis on Europe. As you know very well, there are attempts in Europe to change the composition of the population of the continent, and there are attempts to push back the Christian heritage and Christian values in Europe, in a continent which was basically founded on the basis of Christianity. And my friends, we think that Christianity is repeating itself. And now, we Christians, we have to step up in order to protect Christian communities, Christian values, and Christianity itself.

As we all know very well — both of us we take part in many multilateral international events — that both global politics and European politics are full of hypocrisy, political correctness and double-standards. And if someone speaks out to protect the Christian values, he’s going to be stigmatized immediately and would be coupled with the darkest dictatorships of the last century in Europe. If you look at the declarations of international organizations you will hardly find any reference to the need to protect the Christian communities globally.

And we know that there are political organizations, and non-governmental organizations as well, who like to portray themselves as the last protectors of rights of minorities, but these are the very organizations who suggest that Christianophobia is the last acceptable form of discrimination globally. And we have to reject that very strongly.

And now we have to speak about the fact very openly, that Christianity became the most persecuted religion on earth. 80% of those men and women who are attacked because of their religion and faith are Christians. In 2018, 4000 Christians were killed because of performing their religion.

Every month last year, there were more than one hundred Christian churches being under attack. If we look only this year, 2019, there was a terrorist attack during a holy mass in the Philippines. Within three weeks there were 120 Christians killed in Nigeria. And on the Sunday of Easter, there were a series of attacks against Christians and Catholics especially in Sri Lanka.

We have to speak about that openly; we have to make it clear that it’s unacceptable that our Christian communities are being under continuous attack globally. And that’s why I think my friend Gebran, Eminences and dear colleagues, that it has a huge significance that now we celebrate the restoration and reconstruction of churches instead of speaking about destroying them. And we have to speak openly; the culture of impunity must be over. Whoever commits an attack against Christians, against Christian communities, against our churches must count with the consequences. And we Hungarians, we have established a separate State secretariat in our government, which has only one portfolio (…) to monitor the situation of Christians communities, and if we see that there are Christian communities in need, then we have to act and help them.

Between 2016 and 2019, we have spent almost 30 million dollars globally to help the Christians communities to stay where they have been living for centuries, here in Lebanon, in Syria, in Jordan, in Iraq, and in Nigeria as well. We are reconstructing churches, we are reconstructing schools, reconstructing houses of Christian families and covering expenditures of Christian hospitals. And we have launched a scholarship program for Christian young people who are discriminated, where they have been living in order to get competitive knowledge and then contribute to the strengthening of their own communities.

Yes, we have made an agreement with Mr. Gebran that we rebuild 33 churches here, out of which 14 we have concluded, and 19 will follow. And if there is an agreement that this is a successful project – and I hope we all agree on that – then why not continue. So, we are very happy to start negotiations about how to continue with that. I’d like to express our appreciation to colleagues at the Catholic University named after Peter Pazmany in Hungary, and the University of Holy Spirit in Kaslik for implementing this very important project.

It was easy to agree, but it had to be implemented as well. Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, may God give us many opportunities to be convened on the occasion of reconstructing Christian churches instead of destroying them. Mr. Gebran, I really do appreciate your openness and the openness of the Lebanese government to implement this project together. We are proud that we could contribute to strengthening the Christian communities here in Lebanon. I’m happy to continue this job together with you. Thank you very much.”

Source: National News Agency