Located on a hillside above the predominantly Christian city of Jounieh, the more than 1,000 year old forest had been threatened by real estate developers and construction contractors who wanted to include the area in a series of holiday resort developments that included a cable car (pictured above), restaurants and night clubs, and a large casino. But it’s thanks to the work of a church that generations in the future will get to experience this natural treasure.
Unique in both its flora and fauna, the Harissa Forest, despite its small land area, contains more than 27 endangered and 52 rare plant species, as well as 168 species of animals, 152 types of butterflies and 69 species of birds.
Most, it not all of this national treasure might have been destroyed or severely altered, had not the Maronite Church stepped in and declared the forest to be the word’s first “Maronite Protected Environment”. The Maronite Church, an eastern branch of the Catholic Church, is one of the oldest Christian sects and has been in existence since Roman times.
It owns considerable property in Lebanon, including a good portion of the Harissa Forest itself. Due to concern out of seeing this lovely natural heritage fall victim to commercial interests, the Church leaders in Lebanon, led by the Maronite Patriarch himself, Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir decided to declare the forest to be a natural reserve and as such would be afforded the Church’s protection.
The Maronite Church has also become involved in helping to preserve other natural locations in Lebanon and has opened an ecology center, as well as sponsoring environmental education and action programs in more than 75 villages and towns.
The church’s actions involving preserving the environment has resulted in its being considered as one of the main environmental protectors in Lebanon, according to Martin Palmer, Chief Administrator of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation(ARC) .
The Harrisa forest is just one of Lebanon’s natural sites mentioned by Green Prophet. A previous article noted work being done by activists to save the country’s historic cedars in the Chouf Cedars Forest, Lebanon’s largest cedar grove, from the ravages of climate change.
Another article noted efforts being made to combat forest and brush fires, which last summer alone damaged more than 15 million square meters of forest and brush land.
By being active in environmental and ecological projects in Lebanon, the Maronite Church, the country’s largest Christian sect, can be great influence on helping to preserve some of the oldest and most historic forest areas in the Eastern Mediterranean. They can set an example for the rest of the Middle East to follow.