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The Maronite Catholic Church

Seminarians study at the Maronite Seminary of St. Antoine in Lebanon. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

The Maronites of Lebanon trace their origin back to the late 4th century when a group of disciples gathered around the charismatic figure of St. Maron. They later founded a monastery located midway between Aleppo and Antioch. In the 5th century the monastery vigorously supported the christological doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon.

By the 8th century, the monks had moved with their band of followers into the remote mountains of Lebanon, where they existed in relative isolation for centuries. It was also during this period that they began to develop a distinct identity as a church and to elect a bishop as their head, who took the title of Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.

The Maronites came into contact with the Latin Church in the 12th century, when the Latin crusader principality of Antioch was founded. In 1182 the entire Maronite nation formally confirmed its union with Rome. But there is a strong tradition among the Maronites that their church never lacked communion with the Holy See.

Patriarch Jeremias II Al-Amshitti (1199-1230) became the first Maronite Patriarch to visit Rome when he attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. This marked the beginning of close relations with the Holy See and a continuing latinizing tendency. The 16th century saw the conquest of the Maronite homeland by the Turks and the beginning of long centuries of Ottoman domination.

Father Dario Escobar presides over a service at Hawka Monastery in Lebanon’s Qadisha Valley. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

A major reforming synod took place at Mount Lebanon in 1736. It drafted an almost complete Code of Canons for the Maronite Church, created a regular diocesan structure for the first time, and established the main lines of Maronite ecclesial life that endure to this day.

By the 19th century the western powers, especially France, began to offer protection to the Maronites within the Ottoman Empire. A massacre of thousands of Maronites in 1860 provoked the French to intervene with military forces. After World War I both Lebanon and Syria came under French control.

When France granted Lebanon full independence in 1944, it attempted to guarantee the safety of the Maronite community by leaving behind a constitution guaranteeing that the president would always be a Maronite. The civil war that erupted in Lebanon in 1975 revealed, however, that the community’s future remained precarious. Many thousands of Maronites left Lebanon to make new lives for themselves in the West.

The Maronite Patriarchs have resided at Bkerke, about 25 miles from Beirut, since 1790. Today there are ten dioceses in Lebanon with about 770 parishes, and seven other jurisdictions in the Middle East. This is the largest church in Lebanon, making up about 37% of the Christians and 17% of the overall population.

A child lights a candle at St. Charbel Church in Lebanon’s Kadisha Valley. (photo: Armineh Johannes)

There is a Maronite Patriarchal Seminary at Ghazir and a diocesan seminary at Karm Sadde, near Tripoli. Advanced theological education is provided at the University of the Holy Spirit at Kaslik. A Maronite College was founded in Rome in 1584.

The Maronite liturgy is of West Syrian origin, but it has been influenced by the East Syrian and Latin traditions. The Eucharist is essentially a variation of the Syriac liturgy of St. James. Originally celebrated in Syriac, the liturgy has been for the most part in Arabic since the Arab invasions.

The steady emigration of Maronites from Lebanon in recent years has produced flourishing communities in the diaspora. In the United States, there are two dioceses with a total of 57 parishes and 102 priests serving about 56,000 faithful. The diocese of St. Maron of Brooklyn is presided over by Bishop Gregory J. Mansour (Pastoral Center, 109 Remsen Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11201), and Bishop Robert J. Shaheen heads the diocese of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles (931 Lebanon Drive, St. Louis, Missouri 63104), founded in 1994. In Canada, the diocese of St. Maron of Montreal, headed by Bishop Joseph Khoury (12475 Grenet Street, Montreal, Quebec H4J 2K4) has 12 parishes for about 80,000 faithful. Bishop Ad Abikaram oversees the diocese of St. Maron of Sydney (105 The Boulevard, PO Box 385, Strathfield, NSW 2135 Australia), which has nine parishes for an estimated 150,000 Maronites in Australia.

There is also a very large Maronite presence in Latin America. Three Maronite dioceses are based in Buenos Aires with an estimated 700,000 faithful, in Sao Paolo, Brazil, with 468,000 members, and in Mexico City with about 150,000 faithful. But for these estimated 1,318,000 Maronites there are only 15 parishes served by 37 priests.

Location: Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, Brazil, USA, Canada, Australia

Head: Patriarch Nasrallah Cardinal Sfeir (born 1920, elected 1986, cardinal 1994)

Title: Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites

Residence: Bkerke, Lebanon

Membership: 3,107,000

Last Modified: 2 January 2007

View alphabetical index
Table of Contents
The Assyrian Church of the East
Oriental Orthodox Churches
The Orthodox Church
The Catholic Eastern Churches
  • Churches With No Counterpart
  •  The Maronite Catholic Church
     The Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
  • From the Assyrian Church of the East
  • From the Oriental Orthodox Churches
  • From the Orthodox Church
  • Appendix I
    Appendix II
    Biography: Ronald G. Roberson, CSP