When young people tell him that they want to leave Lebanon, bishop Jules Boutros tries to remind them that money, safety and education may be important, but only Jesus Christ is indispensable, and that they are needed back home.
At a time when many young Christians try to leave the Middle East, the Vatican recently confirmed the nomination in Lebanon of the youngest bishop in the world. Bishop Jules Boutros belongs to the small Syriac Catholic Church, which has about 140 thousand members worldwide, and around 16 thousand in Lebanon.
Aged only 39, bishop Jules will be dedicating most of his time to youth ministry and as such feels a special obligation to helping young Christians cope in a society that is going through a terrible financial crisis, aggravated by political infighting and the enormous Port explosion of 2020 that levelled a large part of the capital.
Following his ordination, on 18 June, the bishop’s first visit abroad was to Europe, where he will meet with Arabic speaking Christians in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, and also paid a visit to the international headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The Middle East needs us a lot
Speaking to ACN, the bishop describes his first reaction when young Christians tell him they want to leave the country. “Before saying a word, I feel sad. The feelings come before the words. I feel sad because I lived in Europe for eight years, and I know the difficulties that any young man or woman can face. We Lebanese are quite well prepared for emigration, we can speak two or three languages, our culture is open to the Western culture, and we can adapt, but it is not that easy. However, I do not express that sadness in my heart a lot because what I can do is help them with some questions, with dialogue to discern their decision.”
The first thing he tries to ascertain, he says, is the motivation behind their wish to leave, reminding them that if their mission as Christians is not at the centre of their decision, then they are better off staying at home. “As Lebanese we speak Arabic, we are from a certain culture, and we have a special mission in our culture, and the Middle East needs us a lot. It needs our presence, our word of truth, our testimony of Jesus, our people. We have a mission here.”
“Getting a better education, more safety, a better salary, these are not the necessary things in our life. The only indispensable and necessary thing in our life is Jesus Christ. I try to make them think that if they go abroad, they should go with a missionary spirit, and if they want to stay, they have a great mission also: to build peace and a better place here too.”
A treasure for our Muslim brothers
Lebanon is the country in the Middle East with the highest percentage of Christians. These were once a majority, although emigration has taken its toll. Bishop Jules, however, says that Christians also have an obligation towards their Muslim neighbours.
“We have a mission with our Muslim brothers and sisters, they need us, because they are also facing a crisis of faith, problems in their religion, they are trying to get out of a certain religious fundamentalism and violence in the name of God. We should help them to be better Muslims, to create a better society, and share with them our treasure, that is the Bible, the Gospel, the word of God, Jesus Christ. We have a treasure, but it is not only for us. We have to share it with our brothers and sisters. They need us and we need them as well.”
Following the crash of the Lebanese economy, ACN increased its aid to the local Church. Many of its projects are aimed at supporting youth ministry as well social and educational initiatives, which also helps keep communities stable and prevents people from feeling they have no other choice but to emigrate.