THE BEST ‘WEAPON’ FOR THE MUSLIMS
FR. PIOTR BĄCZEK
Piotr Bączek talks with Raymond Nader – a Lebanese maronita, a chief of the Christian television Noursat in Beirut about being a Christian in the middle of the Islamic world
FR. PIOTR BĄCZEK: - According to the constitution of Lebanon the president of the country is a Christian, the post of the prime minister is held by a Sunnite, and the National Congregation is governed by a Shiite. What is such a structure like in practice?
RAYMOND NADER: - This is a very complicated structure and does not work properly for now. We have a lot of tensions among these three areas of the authority. Every decision requires a consent of all of them. It needs to be added that every part of Lebanon is connected with regional powerful countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia. Besides that a lot of other countries have an influence on our situation – Russia, Finland, Poland, France, Italy, Syria. Christians are related to the West. It makes the international situation influence our inner policy. All this merges in Lebanon. I would say that our country is in the middle of the world, through which our policy is very complicated. It is difficult to understand exactly. We have a very high corruption, a bad economic situation.
– What does it mean to be a Christian in Lebanon?
– I think that in our country the Christians have a very important role to play. Firstly – because we are Christians. Secondly – we are the only Christians in the world who speak Arabic – we speak the same language as the Muslims. In this context one can ask who can proclaim the Good News in the Arabian world. Followers of Islam will not listen to people of the West. They do not want to listen to the Americans, they hate them; they will not listen to either French or Poles. They will listen to somebody who speaks their language. We come from the same civilization, from the same land. We have the common history. Lebanon is a country of the Christians and the Muslims. In our country the Muslims differ from those Muslims living in other parts of the world. Why? Because they live together with us, with followers of Christ. They are also under influence of our Christian civilization, our culture, our lifestyle. They are becoming similar to us. That is why our role in Near East is to be witnesses of Christ towards the Muslims. We want and should live like Christians and proclaim the Christian message. I uncovered it when I was fighting in a war (civil war in Lebanon between the Christians and the Muslims in the years 1975-90). We were using weapons and tanks then. Today I know though that the best ‘weapon’ towards the Muslims is leading them to baptism.
– How effective is this idea today?
– It works but we must remember about the mentality of the Muslims and differentiation of the Islamic world. There are fundamentalists – a closed and hermetic groups – who do not want to talk or build a dialogue with others. Their purpose is to destroy those who think and believe differently. And they sometimes kill the Muslims. This is their mentality. We also have moderate Muslims. It is possible to negotiate with them and they agree to change. We can influence them or change their lifestyle. And here we can observe progress. Every year a lot of them get converted into Christianity and get baptized. Some of them can do it legally and can live like Christians and some of them only in secret in fear of radical Islam. We can speak about progress in this group.
Christians can live and function normally in Lebanon because our country is the only one in the region where there is the freedom of speech. In Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt there is no such freedom. So, we have a special task and challenge in Lebanon. We are the only Christians who have a possibility to proclaim God’s words in Near East. There are Muslims everywhere. Sometimes they threaten us with bombarding. We know that it is dangerous but we are fighting, we are ‘fighters’, we are not afraid of problems. We proclaim the Good News as today it is our mission. As Jesus said: we are to be the Light.
– One of the most important forms of proclaiming the Gospel in your region is the Christian television Noursat. How did this project appear which you are managing today?
– Our station began to work in 1990, at the end of the civil war. It was when an idea of establishing television appeared. It was the idea of a layman who was fasting only on water and bread, and walked barefoot. It was on the Pentecost. I joined this project with my friends and we began to build the station. 30 years ago it was not the television yet; we had only one camera, an editorial table, in a team – a secretary and three, four people making materials. We were broadcasting a few hours a day. After some time we began to develop. At present we are broadcasting all over the world via satellite connections. Noursat can be watched everywhere. We have 9 theme channels, we are on Internet, in social medias. We broadcast in the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Brazil, Mexico. We have 130 employees and 300 volunteers, reporters in Arabic countries. We are also developing our cooperation with Poland. Today our biggest problem is gaining funds as we maintain our station by donations. In this respect it is more and more difficult.
– Your television is watched also by the Muslims…
– Yes. I said that we speak Arabic, we have the common history and culture with the Muslims. In this situation one can imagine that followers of Islam watch our Christian television in which we speak about Jesus, about St. Szarbel. After all Szarbel with his beard and hood watched like them! He spoke Arabic, but ‘the language of Jesus’ to them. Followers of Islam are impressed by him. One can say that in Lebanon we have a lot of Muslims who love Szarbel more than Mahomet. They know that Mahomet does not live that it is a finished story. Whereas St. Szarbel works miracles, appears to people. When somebody is ill, he will not go to Mahomet – but will go to St. Szarbel in Annaja.
This saint is a great miracle worker not only for us, Christians, but also for Muslims. Recently a mother of a Muslim sheikh has fallen ill. It was cancer, during a month she lost 13 kilos. They went to Annaja to St. Szarbel. And later this sheikh appeared on various TV channels to say that his mother had been healed there. He was encouraging people to visit Annaja. Such situations are the first step to baptism.
– And how do you look at the Western Christianity from the Christians living in Near East?
– We have a big problem with it. Christians of the West feel modern, have science and do not need God. Because this science which they trust, does not give anything at all, does not answer the most urgent questions. We are still suffering, having the same problems and issues to solve. It is seen that the things are turning worse and worse and from the side of science there are no answers to everything. And we, Christians, have this answer. It comes both from science and faith. I am saying it as a person dealing with nuclear engineering: we cannot remain on the same science, we cannot completely trust it. I will give you a simple example: not long time ago did physicists, teachers, engineers think – from the scientific point of view – that the world is static. And later a Great Explosion was uncovered: the world is getting wider and is becoming static. During a dozen years science has changed opinion, so how can we trust it completely?
When Georges Lemaitre, a priest – one of explorers of the Great Explosion – proclaimed his hypothesis, he was being laughed at (his assumptions were not accepted well because he was a priest). Now science is accepting the opinion that there was creation and life did not appear by itself. We have hundreds of ‘evidence’ for existence of God.
I think that humankind begins to look in a different direction. Because a lot of scientists say that the world was created, that there is a Creator who created the universe. They say that it is not necessarily God, but great power, intelligence. Our task, as Christians, is to point to Jesus, to God – to His love. Christians answer that this creative power is God. We must pray fervently, live by Eucharist, live by God, in order to point to Him. But we must also be close to secularized people to be able to tell them about God, about Christ.
– How do you see Poland in this situation? How do you evaluate our situation as believers?
– I tell a lot of my friends that Poland is my second home, my second country. There are a lot of similarities between Maronites and Poles, for example, we and you have always had problems with our neighbours. You have always had to defend, fight with your neighbours. Throughout the whole history these problems have also had religious background. Certainly, it is not as clear as in our country. In Lebanon we have Christians and Muslims. The task of the Maronites in Lebanon is evangelizing. I think that the role of Poland is re-evaneglization of western Europe. Maybe your role is ‘re-baptize’ Europe. Recently I have been in Ukraine and I am moved by faith there. We should add Croatia, Hungary, Poland to it. Faith is everywhere there, Churches are alive and are spiritually active. It is completely different, for example, in France, in Great Britain, Spain – you are not ‘looking for’ God there.
In this context it is important that the world is changing. It is possible to speak a new language, use new tools, social medias, television. But we must be careful not to become like other people. We must remember that our role is evangelizing, proclaiming Christ.
In Lebanon it is possible to lose one’s life for it. It is easier for you, you can be physically safe. But there is also a difficulty: you must face up a danger of losing your identity, awareness of being Christians.