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Boulos Abdel Sater, a new spokesperson for the Lebanese protest


The Maronite Archbishop of Beirut has reconciled the Church with the movement, said a religious official.

Revolutionaries now have a new voice in the Church. The cri du coeur launched on Sunday by the Maronite Archbishop of Beirut, Mgr. Boulos Abdel Sater, who summoned those responsible for "ensuring a dignified life for the Lebanese" or, failing that, to resign, had considerable impact on the protesters.

Unheard of in form or in substance, the homily of the prelate, who spoke on the occasion of Saint-Maron, before the Head of State, the President of Parliament and the Prime Minister, raised thunderous applause from those present in the church and among the faithful. Even the Speaker of the House, Nabih Berry, in a gesture that some interpreted as "cunning", even "populist", clapped to signify his approval. Only President Michel Aoun and the head of government, Hassan Diab, remained frozen, as if dumbfounded by what they had just heard.

"Dear officials, remember that power is there to serve," said Archbishop Abdel Sater to his audience, which included many ambassadors. “We are tired of controversies. We are worried about the future of our children. We want initiatives that give hope, that bring together and build, to be taken," he added.

In a calm and balanced tone, the Maronite prelate continued: "Do the tens of thousands of Lebanese who elected you not deserve that you improve political, economic and financial behavior, and that you work day and night with the real revolutionaries to find that which ensures each citizen a dignified and decent life? Failing that, resignation is more honorable," said the prelate, criticizing "those who, in their speeches, encourage intolerance and division and consider the country their property".

Many commentators have argued that this was all the more unusual since the Maronite Church has to date rarely spoken out in such terms. It is not the first time that Archbishop Abdel Sater, elected in June 2019 as head of the Archbishopric of Beirut, has stood out for taking such positions. Just a few months after taking office, the prelate had already made his mark with his declaration concerning the admissibility of pupils from poor backgrounds to the College of Wisdom, by decreeing that no child should be rejected from school for a lack of financial means.

Some time later, the new archbishop decided to give up the use of the Mercedes in which his predecessor had traveled. It has even been claimed that the archbishop sold the cars at his disposal and used his own vehicle.

During his career, Archbishop Abdel Sater distinguished himself through his integrity, his simplicity and his compassion, say those who know him well. For many years, he was parish priest at the Church of the Sacred Heart "where he devoted himself to the task by serving his flock. He was close to people and their concerns, ”says a diocesan.

Very early on, we were talking about a style "close to that of Pope Francis", said Father Fadi Daou, the founder of the Adyan association.

Warning signs

In the early days of the October 17 protest, the Archbishop once again stood out from the crowd by publicly, and in his own way, claiming his membership of the popular movement. "I am revolutionary, in the footsteps of Christ", wrote Archbishop Abdel Sater on the Facebook page of the archdiocese, justifying his bias for "Jesus, who rebelled against the governor corrupted by self-denial and counting", and for "the one who came to serve and not to be served, the one who also rebelled against injustice by telling the truth without fear or fear".

“We knew him to be [a] reformer and revolutionary. He had already surprised [people] by his clear position on the schools of Wisdom. But no one expected such a strong speech at a political level, especially since he is not renowned for his qualities as a speaker, "said Father Fadi Daou.

According to a religious official who wanted to remain anonymous, Bishop Abdel Sater ended up reconciling the popular movement, or at least part of the protesters, with the Church. “During the demonstrations, the Saint-Georges cathedral barricaded itself and closed its doors in front of the demonstrators, thus leaving an impression of distance between the Church and the people, a spectacle which contrasted with that offered by the neighboring al-Amine Mosque, [which] remained wide open in front of people who could take refuge there if necessary. However, by his power and his nods to the protest movement, the homily of Archbishop Abdel Sater came to reverse the situation through the clear commitment of the Church in favor of the grievances of the people," commented the official.

This correcting of their position was undoubtedly agreed up and blessed by Bkerke, as noted by some observers who consider that the Patriarchate understood that it was now necessary to "follow in the style inaugurated by Pope Francis", namely a pastoral ministry of proximity and that is concerned with justice.

"In Bkerke, there was recently an awareness that it was time to rectify the mistakes made and that a prophetic voice was now needed," comments the diocesan who believes that the election of Archbishop Abdel Sater as head of the archdiocese should be interpreted in this context.

Even if the intervention of the Archbishop was not universally popular among the protesters, some considering it preferable that the religious leadership remain far from the political field, the fact remains that a majority of protesters have adopted the prelate as their new spokesman. This is evidenced by a message that has spread on social media: "They denied the protesters access to the church, but they discovered that one of them was already inside."

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 11th of February)

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