Partriach Sfeir's Christmas message
‘foreign tutelage’ at root of problems
Maronite patriarch’s Christmas address focuses on post-Sept. 11 politics and the social and economic issues affecting the nation
Abdo Matta -Daily Star correspondent

In his annual Christmas address, the Maronite patriarch warned Sunday that foreign tutelage over Lebanon has left the country vulnerable to international threats and regional instability.
“We keep receiving warning after warning, and caution after caution, as if we were the masters of our own fate,” Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said from Bkirki, in reference to demands by the United States in its war on terrorism.
“But it has become known that our opinion is not taken into consideration in most of our affairs, since we are under a situation of (foreign) tutelage that makes us face this situation on the ground.”
Sfeir ridiculed the official attitude toward such warnings saying, “we face the warnings carelessly, as if the matter means nothing to us. Thus, we have to pay for mistakes we have not committed and we appear as if we were responsible for what goes on in our country while everything happens against our will.”

Sfeir’s criticism of Lebanon’s official reaction to the international situation after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States came less than 48 hours before his scheduled meeting with President Emile Lahoud, who will make his traditional Christmas Day trip to Bkirki on Tuesday. Lahoud has championed Lebanon’s firm official stand against allowing Hizbullah to be characterized as a terrorist group, since it led the fight against Israeli occupation.
“We are forced to do penance for a mistake we did not commit, and violations that we have not carried out,” the patriarch continued.
“We try to look like we are responsible for what takes place on our territory, but it is taking place under duress, and our society remains subject to tension.”
The prelate also drew attention to a number of domestic concerns, including political prisoners, the economy and continued emigration: “Political prisoners remain in prison, the financial situation is deteriorating, and emigration continues.”

Referring to the recent controversy over dozens of administrative appointments made by the government earlier this month, Sfeir indicated that although reviving the performance of the bureaucracy was an important matter, “we are consumed with the tug-of-war over administrative positions and dividing up shares (of political influence), as if Lebanon has no other problems.”
He called on officials to realize national reconciliation and join efforts to face domestic and international dangers.
Sfeir also urged them to learn from the experiences of “other countries that are bigger and have more resources yet failed to overcome their economic hardships” a possible reference to Argentina, whose government fell last week amid popular protests.
However, the patriarch said  “despite all hardships, we continue to be optimistic about a global awakening that puts every one before his responsibilities.”
During his Sunday sermon, Sfeir also blamed a growing tendency toward choosing out-of-wedlock relationships over marriage, and discouraged long periods of engagement.

“Christians often ignore the church and even the civil authority in their marriages. They only listen to their instincts causing families to disintegrate and children to be brought up without religious and ethical principles,” he said. He added that happiness is not necessarily embodied in material fortunes but is dependent on love and understanding.
“In the past, men and women used to get married at an early age, and establish their families without delaying or worrying about modest means … but today, young men and women are getting married only after they have prepared their new home as much as possible, and secured the best furniture, something that involves a bit of selfishness,” Sfeir said, advising young Lebanese not to wait long periods of time before getting married.
He congratulated all the Lebanese, both in Lebanon and in the diaspora, on the occasion of Christmas and thanked the Lebanese in the diaspora in particular for their reception during his visits to the Americas this year.