7/15/2011 11:42:00 AM Lebanon's new Melkite leader brings experience working with Muslims
Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Bustros
Catholic News Service
BEIRUT — Archbishop Cyrille Bustros will bring years of experience working with Muslims to his new job as Melkite Catholic archbishop of Beirut. Prior to his appointment as archbishop of the Newton, Mass., Melkite diocese in 2004, Archbishop Bustros served as bishop of Baalbek, an area in eastern Lebanon known for its towering Roman ruins. That area is more than 80 percent Muslim.
During his seven years as head of the Melkite Catholic Diocese of Newton, Mass., Archbishop Bustros often was invited to speak at universities and conferences on the issue of Muslim-Christian dialogue. Back in his homeland, however, dialogue will be an ongoing part of his ministry.
The archbishop will be installed as Melkite archbishop of Beirut July 22. He summed up his priorities in a Catholic News Service interview: "Build churches, build the family, build the youth, preach and dialogue with Muslims."
As typical for the installation of a church official in Lebanon, Muslim clerics and dignitaries will be in attendance and will offer their congratulations to Archbishop Bustros.
Of Muslim-Christian coexistence, he said, "the basic principle in order to live together in peace is to respect each other, and to accept each other as different."
"Differences must not be a cause of enmity. Everyone has the right to have their own ideas. We are called to a permanent dialogue between religions," the archbishop said, stressing that "dialogue has no goal to convert the others, but to cooperate with each other for the well-being of the society."
"Religions must promote peace and promote conviviality," the bishop added.
The Melkite Archdiocese of Beirut includes the capital city, with an approximate 50-50 split of Muslims and Christians, and stretches to the ancient coastal city of Jbeil to the north and Mount Lebanon to the east, where Christians account for 80 percent or more of the population. Its 100 parishes serve approximately 200,000 Catholic Melkites.
"In our dialogue with Islam, we have to remember that there are many differences between Muslims themselves. There are the moderates and the extremists," Archbishop Bustros said.
"Dialogue is the only way to peace," the 72-year-old archbishop said.
Muslim extremists do not represent the true Islam, he said, pointing out that even many Muslims don't recognize these extremists as "true Muslims."
Archbishop Bustros said Americans are more and more able to distinguish the difference between moderate and extremist Muslims.
"As Christians, we have to help the Muslims to modernize their religion, to actualize it, which means to reinterpret it. That's the future of dialogue: how to re-interpret the Quran in the context of the new societies in which Muslims live now."
"And we have to help the moderate Muslims to spread their modern interpretation of Islam between Muslims," he said.
"In Lebanon we need unity between the different denominations," Archbishop Bustros explained. "Jesus taught us that, in spite of our different religions and denominations, we are all children of God. From being children of God, we can recognize each other as brothers and sisters and build a society of love and peace."
Archbishop Bustros said he intends to apply his experience gained in the United States to institute the system of having married deacons in the Beirut Archdiocese. In the Middle East, being a deacon is usually seen as a temporary position on the way to becoming a priest, but Archbishop Bustros said married permanent deacons could help priests during weekends by visiting and distributing the Eucharist to the sick and homebound and by teaching catechesis.
Those deacons will be much needed for the growth of the Beirut Archdiocese that Archbishop Bustros envisions.
"I have to build churches," the archbishop said, noting that, during Lebanon's civil war, large numbers of Melkites migrated to Beirut from the South and other affected regions of the country, and dozens of churches were destroyed. Archbishop Bustros said that in Lebanon "we have kept the tradition of the holiness of the family." Children are still close to their parents, and there are fewer divorces than in the United States.
Still, he added, "I have to reach out to the youth, for they are the future of the church."