Up to now, 500 people have already enrolled in Bauru. The project counts on the support of the Consulate General of Lebanon in São Paulo, and of the Embassy of Lebanon to Brazilian capital Brasília. When the case requires it, especially with regard to those who are already the fourth generation in Brazil, there will be a team in Lebanon to seek family documents there. "There they have a document that does not exist in Brazil, it is the ‘family balance sheet’, a kind of family tree that is recorded in the registry office," explained Hélen.

Bishop Edgard Madi is working on promotion of the project together with the Lebanese community, associations like the Mount Lebanon Clubs, present in many cities, and at Maronite parishes – there are eight throughout the country. Although it is an initiative of the church, the archbishop makes a point of stressing that the project includes all Lebanese, be they Christian or Muslim.

"The project aim is to connect the Lebanese who are outside their country to their roots and their culture, also to add strength to politics," explained Dom Edgard. "We are 15 million people spread around the world. And in Lebanon there are less than four million. We need these people."

Bishop Edgard was recently in Goiânia, capital of the midwestern state of Goiás, and he should travel to Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, this week, to continue promoting the project. The idea is to promote it heavily on television, radio stations and newspapers, to reach all the descendents spread around the country. The bishop stated that apart from the headquarters in Bauru, there are also people working in several points of Brazil to simplify the work of the census.

Hélen Raad, who is coordinating the headquarters in Bauru, is married to a Lebanese and has already got her citizenship. To her, more important than quantifying immigrants and descendants, is strengthening the Lebanese culture among sons, grandsons and great-grandsons. Making the ties closer and showing who these people are. "This will help rescue roots," she pointed out.

The Maronite church

The Maronites arrived in Brazil with the first Lebanese immigrants, in the late 19th Century, especially after the arrival of father Yacoub Saliba, in 1890, the first priest of the Our Lady of Lebanon church, in São Paulo. It was he who established, in 1897, the Maronite Beneficent Society.

But it was only in 1962 that Brazil received the first Maronite archbishop, thus marking the presence of the Maronite Eparchy in the country (as the Diocese is called). The first was Bishop Francis Zayek. Bishop Edgard is the fourth Maronite archbishop of Brazil. The census is also going to help discover how many people follow the religion here. "Most of the Lebanese are Maronite. But we do not know how many they really are," explained the Bishop.

The Maronites are catholic, they have Pope Benedict XVI as their main representative, but they have their own rites. They are followers of Saint Marun, a hermit monk from the fifth century who converted the habitants of the mountains of Lebanon to Christian faith.

Bishop Edgard has been working hard on meeting the Catholic Maronites of Brazil and even on increasing the number of parishes around the country. "Many Maronites go to the traditional Catholic church," he explained. Edgard was appointed by pope Benedict XVI himself to become the Bishop of Brazil last year.

Every Thursday, at 8:00 pm, the Bishop participates in Canção Nova, a channel that belongs to the charismatic movement of the Catholic Church, presided by father Jonas Abib, who is of Syrian-Lebanese descent. In program "Memories of Lebanon", Bishop Edgard speaks about the history of the country, about the Maronite church and also about Arabic and Arab cuisine.

From Beirut to Bauru

The project did not begin in Bauru by accident. The city, which is 345 kilometres away from São Paulo, has a large Arab colony, mainly Lebanese. "And there are many people in the second generation, i.e., sons of Lebanese. To these, the process for obtaining the citizenship is easy," explained Bishop Edgard. To him, it will be more difficult to attract the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Lebanese who arrived in the country to the census. "Many of these people only maintain the surname and the appreciation for Arab food. They know nothing about Lebanon," he said.

Massad Kalim Massad, a tradesman and president of Mount Lebanon Club of Bauru, is himself an immigrant. He was born in Lebanon and came to Brazil in the 1960s, straight to Bauru, where his father already lived. Massad explained that of the Arab colony in the city, 85% are Lebanese – 10% Syrian and 5% Palestinian and Jordanian.

Mount Lebanon Club is a meeting point for the immigrants and their descendants. Not only the Lebanese and Arabs, but also the citizens of Bauru. "The community has integrated itself into the city very well. It is already well rooted," stated Joseph Obeid, who arrived in Brazil at the age of eight and is currently the owner of Khalil Obeid Group, which has shoe, clothes and furniture shops, business in the agribusiness sector and two hotels, Obeid Plaza and Fenícia – the more traditional one, inaugurated in the 1980s.

The Obeid family is an example of the saga of so many other Lebanese immigrants to the city. Joseph’s father started as food and clothes tradesmen. The second generation expanded the business. "Trade in the city started with these immigrants. The first retailers and wholesalers were Lebanese," explained Benedito Luís da Silva, president of the Bauru Commercial and Industrial Association (Acib), of which Obeid is the vice president.

"They started their business in the 1930s and have always been very active in organisations like Acib", stated Silva, who is a descendant of Spaniards and is married to a daughter of Lebanese. According to the president at the Acib, many of these businesses established over seventy years ago are still operating, being run by the third or fourth generation of families of Arab origin.

According to Massad, of the Mount Lebanon Club, there are at least 500 Lebanese families in the city, with 350,000 inhabitants.

Further information
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