Our Challenges in Argentina
In the past decade, our church in Argentina has faced various challenges. First among these challenges is clerical vocations, where the archdiocese has been able to accompany the path of two of her youths in their studies at the Saint John of Damascus Theological Institute at Balamand and their consecrating themselves to serving the Church. One of them has married and become a deacon and the other has completed his studies. Both are attached to our cathedral in Buenos Aires.
There has been an effort in our parishes to create sources of income to support the Church’s mission. Most of them have worked to establish facilities (a library selling small religious objects, a multi-use parish hall, various activities that produce material income) or to develop their facilities, as has happened in the large parishes (parking lots, expanding school buildings or pastoral centers), where this development is useful for existing pastoral work and ensures necessary sources of income to cover the needs of the parish and the archdiocese at the same time. Most of them have been able to realize their plans or are still working to realize them, despite the instability of the economic situation in the country.
Studying the current pastoral situation and ways of making it effective has been the focus of ongoing work through meetings in the parish or at the archdiocesan level. This has taken place through working committees in the parishes (religious education, youth, ladies, parish councils, priests), each individually or gathered together at an archdiocesan conference or at various retreats that the archdiocese has held annually for each committee, where this work has been organized and developed.
Our church has a good presence in Argentine society. This is not because our Antiochian Church is the most geographically widespread, most numerous (number of priests, number of faithful, institutions and schools) and most active (in parishes and in the archdiocese) compared to the other Orthodox or Eastern churches (though nevertheless, we are only a small minority compared to other churches), but rather it is thanks to the engagement of her priests and faithful in society and the openness of the parish and church to interacting with those who come to them. It is worth mentioning that a significant number of Argentinians have converted to the Orthodox faith and in the past two decades, they have been a pastoral force in the fields of social services, religious education, and organizing activities in more than one parish. Some of them have efforts to learn the faith more than they did during their catechumenate and so have been involved in religious education programs in Spanish offered over the internet by Balamand University.
The archdiocese has also been able to make slow progress in working with the other Orthodox churches because of the repercussions of events between the Orthodox churches reflected in the work of the episcopal assemblies. She has continued her participation in the ecumenical commission in Argentina and has held its presidency for two consecutive terms. She has an active role in it in joint activities that have brought together Catholics and Protestants and she has been a bridge for making them aware of Christianity in the Middle East and what happened because of the wars in the past decade, especially in Iraq and Syria. The churches belonging to the committee have been strongly sympathetic and their support is very large and important. To this should be added the strength of the church’s representative before the Argentine state in simple matters, such as giving a speech representing the Orthodox and Eastern churches at the presidential celebration of the national day on occasion of the centenary of the Argentine flag (2012), the second centenary of independence (2016), and discussion of a new draft law on religions before the relevant committee in the Chamber of Deputies (2018).
These challenges have been a good opportunity for our church to live its vocation as a community that works with each other, starting off from its faith and commitment to serving its parish and its Church, and the contribution of its children in their civil and national commitment. All of this is a source of great joy and consolation for me and I cannot but share it with their brothers in Arabic, so that they may rejoice on account of them. In this way, the joy of all of us increases.
Metropolitan of Jbeil and Batroun (Mount Lebanon)