News From the SSPX's Apostolate in Lebanon

March 17, 2023

The following is a report by Fr. Patrice Laroche, FSSPX.

Like the cedars, the Christian faith valiantly strives to remain in Lebanon. With all the restrictions placed on the apostolate, the coronavirus crisis has been there, as in many other countries, an indicator of the disappearance of the spirit of faith. Instead of praying for help from Heaven, the measures decreed by the WHO were cheerfully applied, even anticipated, and churches were closed.

One of our Canadian colleagues, Fr. Joseph Stannus, then Prior of Innsbruck in Austria, was going to Lebanon in the spring of 2020 to visit our faithful there. His stay, which was to last ten days, was extended by force of circumstance and lasted two months.

We couldn't bring ourselves to go whole weeks without Mass. Also, the apartment of one of our faithful who served as his accommodation during his stay was transformed into a chapel and then into a real provisional priory from February to May 2020. A priest of the Society was on site and offered Mass every day: it remains the good old days for those who were present then.

At the same time, a Maronite priest offered to collaborate with us. After Fr. Stannus left, he continued to celebrate Holy Mass at least on Sundays – this time, in the Maronite rite – in this temporary chapel. Unfortunately, after two years, it was no longer possible for him to continue his help. Also, since Easter 2022, we have been striving to make a short stay in Lebanon each month.

A Permanent Chapel

Since then, a building to be renovated has been made available to us free of charge for three years. Circumstances all the more fortunate since it is no longer possible for us to celebrate Mass in churches. We have now built a chapel in this house, in a valley that descends from Mount Sannine and whose river, called Nahr el Kalb (the “River of the Dog”), will flow into the sea when it is not dry, which is often the case in summer.

The place, located 15 km north of Beirut, is quite central and easily reachable in avoiding traffic jams.

Currently, about forty people come to attend Sunday Mass. These know the Latin rite, either because they are families in which one of the spouses is European (French, Swiss, or Belgian), or because they have gone on retreat with us. Some have made a stay in France and learned to know and appreciate the traditional Mass there.

For a long time, an annual visit by a Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) priest preaching a retreat had been the usual rhythm of our apostolate, made precarious by military tensions, departures abroad (Canada, Australia, France, and various African countries) and the political divisions linked to the country's tragic past.

In recent years, the group has grown stronger and many faithful have taken the measure of the crisis that is shaking the Catholic Church, even in Lebanon. As a consequence, many are asking for a permanent presence of the Society in Lebanon.

Unfortunately, we have to content ourselves with encouraging them by telling them to wait, because the group is not yet large enough and the financial means are lacking in a country whose economy has been ruined by war and corruption, while urgent appeals for the help of additional priests are coming from everywhere.

And yet, while the political situation is unstable and the economy catastrophic, Lebanon and the Middle East seem to be opening up to Tradition. From Turkey and other countries in the region, catechumens come to us to receive baptism in the traditional rite. A priory in Lebanon could encourage and accelerate this movement, and would be a support for the faithful, many of whom are tempted to emigrate.

Lebanon: A Former Incubator of Vocations

It is good to know that in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century, Lebanon was a breeding ground for vocations and the Latin congregations that settled there soon flourished, with many indigenous vocations.

Jesuits, the Christian Brothers, Marist Brothers, Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Charity of Besançon, Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, not to mention the Franciscans, Carmelites, and Lazarists living in Lebanon for centuries. All are still famous for their schools, clinics and hospitals.

This is why many Lebanese tell us not to be afraid to make a foundation in Lebanon and that the fruits will soon appear in this still fundamentally religious country (69% of Catholics practice every week compared to less than 10% in France).

There is currently a Lebanese seminarian in the Society and two Dominican sisters. A young man is also preparing to enter the seminary, but waits to begin the concrete steps to obtain a passport, which in the current situation takes months!

There is no doubt that the intercession of Charbel Makhlouf (1828-1898), the hermit of Annaya so venerated in these lands, and the generosity of the faithful will allow the traditional faith to continue to fertilize this martyred country.