Greek Catholics are the second largest Uniate community in Lebanon. They emerged as a distinct group in the early eighteenth century when they split from the Greek Orthodox Church. Although they fully accept Catholic doctrines as defined by the Vatican, they have generally remained close to the Greek Orthodox Church, retaining more of the ancient rituals and customs than have the Maronites. They use Arabic and follow the Byzantine rite. In Lebanon, when one speaks of Catholics, one is referring to this group, not to Roman Catholics or the Maronites.
The highest official of the church since 1930 has been the Patriarch of Antioch, who resides at Ayn Traz, about twenty-four kilometers southeast of Beirut. The patriarch is elected by bishops in a synod and confirmed by the Pope in Rome, who sends him a pallium (a circular band of white wool worn by archbishops) in recognition of their communion. Greek Catholic churches, like those of the Greek Orthodox, contain icons but no statues.
The Greek Catholics live primarily in the central and eastern parts of the country, dispersed in many villages. Members of this sect are concentrated in Beirut, Zahlah, and the suburbs of Sidon. They have a relatively higher level of education than other sects. Proud of their Arab heritage, Greek Catholics have been able to strike a balance between their openness to the Arab world and their identification with the West, especially the United States. Greek Catholics constituted 3 percent of the population (72,000) in 1986.
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