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Maronite Catholics asked to participate in census

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BOSTON — The Maronite Catholic community in the United States is over halfway through a year-long census with the hope of reconnecting Maronites with their Church heritage and extending that connection back to the Middle East.

"The Maronite Catholics have a special heritage," said Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y. "It goes back to the culture of Jesus himself, an Aramaic culture, and it's this culture that we want to celebrate within the context of the Catholic Church."

Over the last 150 years, many Maronites have left Lebanon and the Middle East to come to the United States, said Bishop Mansour. They have become citizens of this country and most have assimilated into the Latin Church. In the last three decades, many Maronites came to this country because of the war in Lebanon, which lasted from 1975 to 1991.

"Many, many young professionals have come over and might be a little homesick for their own Maronite tradition," he said.

The census, which began last June, has already helped the community contact hundreds of people and hopes to find more members in an effort to further expand the reach of the Maronite community.

"Many of the people in the parishes have already signed up, but we've also had several hundred Maronites throughout both [Maronite] dioceses sign up," he said. "In 10 years, we have added 20 parishes, and that's because we've been listening to where the people are and trying to give them, in the midst of their Catholic surrounding, their own particular church, which really makes the Church very catholic, more universal."

Most of the responses to the census have come through the use of the Internet, where people can fill it out online. The community has also taken out ads in Catholic newspapers, including one that appeared in The Pilot last month.

Vatican and Lebanese Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church, requested the census, which has been two years in the making, said Bishop Man-sour.

"This has been in the works for several years," he said. "It has been requested by our patriarch, and the Holy See, I think, would also like to know what happened to Maronite people over the decades."

The Maronite Catholic Church is one of 21 Eastern Catholic Churches, which are all in communion with the universal Church. It has the same “essence” of Catholic faith as the rest of the Church but with a different “expression,” Bishop Mansour said.

The Mass, sacraments, calendar and saints are a little different and reflect the Aramaic culture of the Middle East, he said. The Syriac dialect of the Aramaic language still used at Maronite Masses.

"We use a combination of that ancient language along with the Arabic, which is the vernacular in the Middle East, and English, which is our vernacular here," he added.

"The Maronite Church is not an ethnic Church," he continued. "It's a Church with all the rights and responsibilities to evangelize, to outreach, to help the poor, to witness to Christ. It's a Church that has its obligations, and it needs its members to be involved in order for it to be what God asks of us to be."

The Maronite Church in the United States has two eparchies, or dioceses, but many states have no Maronite church. There are three parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston — Our Lady of the Cedars of Lebanon in Jamaica Plain, St. Theresa of Lisieux in Brockton and St. Anthony in Lawrence.

The national Maronite Church is in a “period of study and outreach,” said Bishop Mansour. The community hopes the census will provide a mailing list that will ease communication. The mailing list would be optional and confidential. Bishop Mansour said he hopes to open a door for people who would like to know more about the community, including their nearest Maronite Church or Maronite priest. Some priests fly to celebrate Sunday Mass at small communities, trying to form themselves into a new Maronite parish.

On top of reaching out and providing information, the census is a way to listen to the stories of Maronite Catholics who have lost touch with their unique Church, Bishop Man-sour said.

He said he hopes to compile a history of how Maronites moved from the Middle East to America, how they assimilated into the culture and what role their particular Maronite Catholic faith has played in their lives.

To obtain the Maronite Catholic Church census, visit www.maronitecensus.net, or call the Eparchy of St. Maron at 718-237-9913.

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