Marching towards 2033! Lebanese chronicles

The aim of this trip with Olivier Fleury, director of the Association, Martin Hoegger and a young couple, Elodie and Rémy Pilloud, was to listen to the different churches (there are many in Lebanon!). How can they give a common witness on the occasion of the 2000th anniversary of Christ's resurrection in 2033?

3. December

 We begin these visits with the Catholicos Aram I, of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who believes that organising this jubilee of 2000 years since the resurrection of Christ in the Middle East, where Christians have become a minority, will be very important. It will give them greater visibility.

Mgr Aram I, Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Mgr Daniel Kourieh, Archbishop of Beirut of the Syriac Orthodox Church, tells us: "I thank you for this dream, I think it is a holy goal, an important sign of the unity of the Church. Go ahead, challenge the leaders. Turn your dream into reality". 

4. december 

 This Sunday, we had Worship at the Life Center, the headquarters of the Church of God. This is the day when the children dress up for Saint Barbara's Day. We continue with a mass with Iraqi refugees in the Chaldean Church.

We talk to Daniel Obeid, president of the Lebanese section of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF), which organises an annual gathering of young people with other organisations on the theme "Celebrating Christ's Resurrection Together".

The Feast of Saint Barbara at Life Center

We are visited by Zahi Azar, Director of the Middle East Ecumenical Institute. According to him, Christians have forgotten that the resurrection of Christ is their unity. This event will restore the resurrection to the lives of the faithful.


5. december

We meet Said Deeb, director of the Life Centre where we are staying. 2033 seems a long way off, he says, but the preparations for this event are under way today. Each church has its own programme, so how can we do something together? We need to talk to all the churches.

Then we visit the centre of the Armenian Evangelical Social Action, in the company of Anie Boujikanian. Talin, one of the staff members, says: "I was so happy to hear about your project. It's the resurrection that gives me strength. It's my compass, without it I'd be lost and wouldn't be able to work here. It's not a concept, but a person: Jesus".

Mgr George Saliba filmed by Elodie and Rémy Pilloud

In the afternoon, we met Mgr Georges Saliba, Metropolitan of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mount Lebanon, who told us of his joy: "We are the people of the resurrection. The resurrection is the basis of our faith: if Christ has not risen, our faith is in vain. This is the first time I've met an association centred on the resurrection and I'm very happy about it." 

At Aïn Aar, in the centre of the Focolare movement, high above Beirut, we are welcomed by the ecumenical commission of this movement with wide horizons. We need to start preparing now for the event of 2033 in our daily lives by living the resurrection," says one of its members. 


6. december 2016

Martin Accad, professor at the Arab Baptist theological Seminary and director of the Middle East Institute of Studies, believes that in Lebanon we should in some way give Muslims a place in this event. Their leaders should be visited. Lebanon could be a model for other countries. "Lebanon is a message", said Pope John Paul II.

We went to Adyan's headquarters to meet Father Fadi Daou, director of this foundation that works to improve understanding between Muslims and Christians. He asks us a number of questions, such as the presence of the risen Christ today and the need for theological reflection.

Dany Obeid, our guide, then took us to the "Street of the Bible Society" at the Society's headquarters to meet Mike Bassous, its director.

Olivier Fleury with Mike Bassous

As well as biblical ecumenism, he tells us about the ecumenism of the martyrs in this region: "With the persecutions, Christians are coming together. I see this as the beginning of a new mission. Persecution leads to a deeper level of faith. I'm optimistic, because God is working through the blood of the martyrs. 


7. december 

We are welcomed by Mission de Vie, a new community founded by Father Wissam Maalouf, inspired by the spirituality of Mother Teresa. The presentation of Jesus Celebration 2033 arouses his enthusiasm, as well as that of the brothers and sisters with whom we share a meal: "It's an idea of the Holy Spirit. We're looking forward to working together with our respective charisms. Providence will know how to create bridges so that we can meet again".

With the Mission de Vie community

Then , we met Catherine Mourtada, founder of the Tahaddi Association, which works with the poorest of the poor in Beirut. 2033 is really too far away," exclaims Catherine. I'm in the present, worried about the children who can no longer go to school because their parents prefer them to sell Kleenex so that they can earn a few pennies! »

After the "little ones", we head off to a neighbourhood where the "big ones" live. This morning, we are in Ras Beirut with David Roche, a priest of the Anglican Church. He is quick to share with us his impressions of JC 2033: "As soon as I heard about this project, I said to myself: this is a wonderful opportunity to gather around Christ... He alone can bring us together. This is a great project: it shows unity in love. I think it is inspired by God".  

We then went to NEST (Near Eastern School of Theology), the Protestant theological faculty of the Middle East. Here we meet its president, Professor Georges Sabra, and his predecessor Mary Mikhael. We need hope", says Mary Mikhael. What can we do right now to embody the reality of the resurrection every day? 

We also met Nabil Maamarbashi, from the National Evangelical Church. He points out that this project will be able to put the spotlight back on the feast of the Resurrection. 

8. december  

From left to right: Martin Hoegger, Dany El Obeid, Samer Lacham, Michel Jalakh, Olivier Fleury, Elodie and Remy Pilloud

We arrived at the Middle East Council of Churches to meet Fr Michel Jalakh, its General Secretary, and Samer Laham, Regional Director of the Ecumenical Aid Service. "A project like this could be a cornerstone in our region. It has a strong spiritual and Christocentric dimension, which is fundamental for us", says Father Jalakh.

The second part of the day finds us on the 7th floor of Saint Joseph's University, where we meet Gabi Hashem, President of the recently founded Middle East Ecumenical Institute. He is accompanied by Souraya Bechealany, professor of ecumenism, and Zahi Zahar, director of the Institute.  Presenting the JC 2033 project, G. Hashem exclaims: "What characterises the faith of Eastern Christians is the cry in the night: Christ is risen! Our Churches need resurrection. Training young people in the importance of Christ's resurrection will be our contribution". 

Souraya Bechealany insists on getting young people involved now, as they need to experience and celebrate the one event that does not pass away: the resurrection of Jesus". En marche vers 2033, could be the name of this movement!"  

9. december

This morning, before leaving, we meet evangelical pastor Ronnie Bassous, head of « Grain of Wheat » in Lebanon, an international association (based in Switzerland) that works with children. He hopes that this project will bring together the historic churches and the evangelicals (and the evangelicals among themselves).

 As Martin head north, Olivier, Elodie and Rémy head up to the Bekaa plain to meet Mgr Antonios Al Soury, the Orthodox bishop of Zahle. It was a dream meeting," exclaims Olivier, "we met a bishop and left a friend. "The disaster of our world is disunity, your project will contribute to unity", says Mgr Antonios.


Olivier Fleury and Mgr Antonios Al Soury 

At the University of Balamand, with our friend Antoine Semaani, we met Fr Porphyrios Georgi, Dean of the Theological Seminary. On the subject of Jesus Celebration 2033, he told : "Any initiative to pass on a common witness must be a priority, especially in today's confused world".

When we arrived at the Karmsadde Seminary, high up between the sea and the snow-white mountains, I was invited to the table of the Archbishop of Tripoli, Mgr Georges Bou-Jaoudé. On hearing about the JC 2033 project, he said to me: "Let's unite! What people want is to celebrate together. Persecution is pushing Christians towards greater unity. Pope Francis is also moving in this direction: the martyrs are a source of communion. The resurrection is the essence of our faith. Let's proclaim it together, with no half measures!

The next day, Mgr Antoine Michael, director of the seminary, spoke about the spirituality of the Syriac-Antiochian Churches, of which the Maronite Church is a part. It is a spirituality of the threshold, closer to Holy Saturday, a day of waiting, of transition between the death of Christ and the resurrection. On the subject of the Jubilee of 2033, Mgr Antoine says: "This Jubilee will be a beacon of hope, strength and courage to continue on this path of martyrdom, of witness to Christ who is truly our life".


At the end of this brief but rich stay, my thanks go to Olivier Fleury who initiated this wonderful vision of calling all the Churches to celebrate together the 2000th anniversary of the resurrection of our Lord. Also to Elodie and Rémy Pilloud: their presence has always reminded us that this project is primarily aimed at young people.

I would also like to thank Dany El Obeid, who has been more than just our guide and driver - he has been an essential part of all our visits. He himself is already in close fellowship with several of the churches we visited.

Finally, I would like to thank Carla Khijoyan, who made several contacts from Geneva. When I visited her in her office at the World Council of Churches, she said to me: "Talking about 2000 years of Christ's resurrection is the message that needs to be proclaimed in this region chosen by God. The message of hope that God is giving us in the terrible situation we are living in. We can start spreading this message today. But to do that, we need to get out there and listen to the Christians".

Thank you to all those who welcomed us so kindly. We have tried to listen. We have also tried to sow seeds of hope. May God make them bear fruit and bless them! Blessed be the name of Jesus Christ! 

Martin Hoegger

Beautiful Lebanon between the sea and the white mountains

Le beau Liban entre mer et blanches montagnes