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Holy Valley Protected

November 1, 2003:

Presentation of the Qadisha document. Photo courtesy of AFDC (afdc.org.lb)

The future of an endangered holy valley was made more secure this week when a Maronite church leader presented a landmark document to HRH the Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace.

Prince Philip is the founder of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) which has assisted this initiative, in collaboration with its Lebanese partner AFDC.

The presenting of the Qadisha Document as a Sacred Gift is the latest of the many unprecedented steps taken by Cardinal Sfeir, Patriarch of the Maronite Church, to protect important Mediterranean forests, historical places and ecosystems.

"Today, in the spirit of St Maron we need to rediscover why God wishes His Church to care for nature, through education, teaching and preaching. In looking again at the life of St Maron and the thousands of hermits who sought Christ in the wilderness, in the forests and valleys, we believe we can become true believers by caring for all aspects of God's creation." Qadisha Declaration October 30 2003.
The first was the Harissa Forest – named by WWF as one of 10 “Forest Hot Spots” in the Mediterranean – above the town of Jounieh, just north of Beirut in the Lebanon. It is partly owned by the church and four years ago was threatened by large-scale development plans. The Maronite decision to promise to preserve their part of that forest and not allow roads or buildings has encouraged private landowners and even one of the local municipalities to make similar promises.

This latest initiative, planned with the assistance of ARC is a promise to preserve the Qadisha Valley. This is the holy valley of the Saints, where Lebanese Patriarchs took shelter from the Ottomans for hundreds of years.

Like the Harissa Forest it was also under immediate threat of the kind of intensive tourist development that environmental experts did not believe it could withstand. The Patriarch’s promise to work with the Lebanese Government to make it into a National Park, protected by law, was perhaps the only thing that could save the tranquil area from the planned restaurants and nightclubs.

When asked by Prince Philip why he did this, Cardinal Sfeir said simply: “Because it is God’s Creation.”

Earlier he had told a press conference that “when I visit the Qadisha I feel that all the history is there. Twenty-two patriarchs have lived there and are buried there. It is part of our history which is written in that place.”

ARC’s International President, Mr Enkhbayar, Prime Minister of Mongolia, commended the Qadisha project as a model example of a local community honouring its past and working to preserve a place of international importance.

At the same meeting Mr Enkhbayar also presented the work of the newly forming Asian Buddhist Network which works on the other end of the scale. Rather than being local people thinking globally, the Network involves global people (in this case Buddhist communities in up to 18 countries) thinking locally to preserve actual environments.

“We believe the Asian Buddhist Network will be a vital force in the way Asia prepares for its future,” said Martin Palmer, Secretary General of ARC.

“In many of these countries Buddhism is a damaged faith that needs to be restored and brought back into the community after its systematic destruction under communism. ARC is helping these communities to help themselves recover – and address the pressing issues of ecology.”



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ARC is working in India, China, Cambodia, Mongolia and elsewhere, helping local faith communities protect their environment
8 September 2003:
The Prince, the Prime Minister and the Patriarch
HRH Prince Philip has invited Mongolian Prime Minister and President of ARC, Mr Enkhbayar and the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East to Buckingham Palace in October to discuss urgent conservation projects.