National Order of Outstanding Friendship

On Saturday, November 18th, I, among 8 other distinguished ladies and gentlemen, had the distinct honor of being awarded the “Igihango”, National Order of Outstanding Friendship medal.
The nine new members of the National Order of Outstanding Friendship include, Hezi Bezalel, Howard G. Buffett, John W. Dick, Dr. Paul Farmer,  Dafroza Mukarumongi-Gauthier, Alain Gauthier, Prof. Linda Melvern and Joseph Ritchie.

I was was termed as an ‘envoy of goodwill’  because I played a great role in fostering ties between Rwanda and  the Vatican at a time when relations were shaky.

“The purpose of our various National Orders is to honor extraordinary contributions to our national life. Doing so serves to inspire our young people to conduct their lives with the highest principles and ambitions. This ceremony will therefore be a regular occurrence, allowing us in due course to recognize the many others whose achievements fortify our country,” Kagame said.

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GRC-USEK

Jounieh, July 13, 2017

Before I start my address, allow me to thank the administration of the USEK and in particular its President Reverend Doctor Father Hobeika. When they had to choose a notable figure to be your commencement speaker, they bestowed on me that great honor and allowed me to be an USEK alumnus like you while I’m receiving today an honorary doctorate that made me extremely proud and happy.

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Graduates:

Today is your D Day, or should I rather say our D Day? I am privileged by the doctoral degree awarded to me and which shall remain attached to my name.

This is especially true as I reflect on the hard work and energy each and every one of you has invested in obtaining his or her degree. The doctoral degree is the most cherished of all degrees and yet I, personally, never had the opportunity to pursue higher education. At USEK, you have not been taught only what to think, but mainly how to think. Terence White, in “The Once and Future King” let us listen to the whispering of Merlin the Magician who was tutoring a young boy who will become a great king; Merlin said that learning is the only thing that never fails.

There is a moral to this story.
Allow me to draw on my personal history and life experience to give you today words of wisdom, and words of encouragement.

1. My first point is that true success is not reflected in the acquisition of material things. A wealthy man is not necessarily rich. A rich life is not a check-list of acquisitions and achievements. Your CV is not your life objective but only shorthand for the milestones that have marked your personal itinerary.

Yes, your graduation was a very important goal. But this is only the beginning of the road. There are many more miles to travel.
Keep in mind Confucius teaching: It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.

As for Aristotle, Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.
Keep in mind that who you are is more important than what you have.And keep in your heart a place for values as for Clive Lewis teachings: Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.

As from today, lot of people will forget how you came to USEK, but everybody will remember that you graduated from USEK. I see you here with parents who have forgotten all their tears and sacrifices. Let’s give the proud parents a round of applause.

My grand-father used to say: « What you hear and what you see is not necessarily the same thing ».
The accumulation of diplomas does not make the great writer, lawyer, scientist or business entrepreneur.
The recipe for real success is a blend of knowledge, wisdom, sacrifice, love of what you are doing, vision and hard work.

Success never comes by accident. In case it does, it is always a fleeting glimpse.
For me, to be rich is to be knowledgeable, wise, to have common sense, to have the inspiration to become a political leader, to have the vocation to become a religious leader, to have the dedication of a scientist, the creativity and imagination of a writer or poet, the business acumen of an entrepreneur.

In other words, the desire and ability to create, innovate, lead and transform the world.
A millionaire has not necessarily achieved more than the doctor who saves lives or the engineer who builds monuments, or the teacher who makes education possible or the astronomer who search in the past to discover the future. Try to be as modest as one of the most brilliant brains of the last few centuries Albert Einstein who used to learn from yesterday, live for today and hope for tomorrow. He always told his students not to try to become men of success but men of value. For him, wisdom is not a product of schooling, but a lifelong attempt to acquire it.

2. My second point is about success and failure. Sir Winston Churchill used to say: if failure is not fatal, success is not final; it is the courage to continue that counts.

At your age, having begun to work at the age of 15, I was already, and possibly prematurely, in positions of responsibility.
My desire for success was great and like any other human being I had fear of failure of not being able to take care of my family.
But never has the sense of risk shaken the confidence I have in my ability to achieve goals.

Yes, I too have had setbacks, but when things have gotten rough, I have drawn on my inner strength and learned things about myself that I could learn no other way. So, as you launch your careers, be proud of your success, learn from your failures and carry on with your ambitions.

3. My third point is about the value of education. Once you are educated, your enlightened mind cannot become again dark.
History has accelerated. Many traditional jobs are disappearing. Less-qualified jobs are moving East and South. I will never forget some wise words from a big African leader Nelson Mandela: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. And of course, the educated will lead in this worldwide competition.
You can never be overeducated. You appreciate that getting ahead in life without an education has become more difficult by the day. Please value the degree you receive today. It speaks of your intellectual abilities, diligence and hard work.
You have been taught to think out of the box, to put forward your ideas. You were not alone in this effort. I salute the Faculty and staff of USEK University and the student body as a whole. Each and every degree awarded today is the peak of an individual and collective effort. Today, you have no choice, you have to think “global”. It may happen soon enough, one day there will be no borders, no boundaries and no countries, your only passport will be your heart.

This evening, you are sitting next to your fellow graduates and many of them will be life-long friends. Some of you may even be clever enough to imagine that you may be sitting next to one of the future leaders of our country. Or indeed that you yourself may be that leader! There is a fair chance that will turn out to be true. Hence I urge you to treat your neighbor with respect! He may be the next Général DeGaulle, Michael Dubakey, Saïd Akl, Camille Chamoun, Steve Jobs, Tom Barrack or Father Georges Hobeika.
In concluding, allow me to point out the special duty you have towards your motherland. We are proud of Lebanon and you are its greatest resource. You are its present and you are its future. You are its potential.

We Lebanese, have shown for many generations now, that the world is flat. Recently, on social medias, you can watch a video confirming a connection between Phoenicians and some remote sites in New Hampshire in the United States. Our past history has been stolen; do not anybody steel our future.
A Lebanese is almost by definition a citizen of the world. That is how I felt as a young man growing up in Nigeria and Lebanon and then travelling all over the world.

May you be the future Ambassadors of our country, the next Danny Thomas, Charles Malek, Carlos Slim, Amine Maalouf, Carlos Ghosn or Philip Salem.
Our country needs you. You have the capacity, the resources and the willpower and hopefully, the political motivation. We need your commitment to make Lebanon the flourishing democracy, it deserves to be.

Later today, when this meeting shall be over, we will each go our own way. May some of these thoughts stay with you for your own life and for a better life for you and our country. And finally, some wit and wisdom from Wayne Huizenga:

“Some people dream of success, while other people wake up every morning and make it happen”.

Thank you!

Thank you, my friends, for this tremendous honor.

Many years ago, I was asked to address a group of Lebanese leaders. It was among my first public speeches. at that time there WAS GREAT disunity among the Lebanese. I spoke from the heart then, to CONDEMN DISUNITY among the Christians. Much has changed in the years since and much has remained the same. In many ways, we have allowed ourselves to remain hostages to the politics of the past. We can no longer allow ourselves to be trapped by this history.

In the scriptures, Lebanon was called “the white one” by the prophet Jeremiah for its snow. It was a profound tragedy that this white was stained red with blood – even Christians spreading the blood of other Christians.

Even today, we find it difficult to shake free from tragedies in our own history. But we must.

What will future generations think of us, if while our brothers and sisters were being slaughtered we were consumed with fighting amongst ourselves? Enough. We must evolve beyond the politics of past generations, where the interests of Christians have been undermined because of personal interests and of personal agendas. Lebanon’s Christians – in the Middle East and here in the Diaspora – cannot be divided. they must be like the cedars, a symbol of strength, resilience and perseverance.

Brothers and Sisters,

We have many things in common here today, one of which is being part of the Lebanese Diaspora. The Christians still exist in Lebanon today thanks to this Diaspora.

In 1906, during the great famine when our colonial masters thought that hunger will be enough to kill all of us, it was the Brazilian Diaspora that saved our existence.

Today, we face a danger worse than the 1906 famine. Most of our leaders have put their own interests before the interests of the Christian community as whole and are consequently threatening our existence in Lebanon.

It is time for the Diaspora to react. It is time for the diaspora to organize itself and to influence the political decisions affecting the future of the Christians in Lebanon and hopefully of the christians in the whole middle east.

It is time for change. It is time for the new generation to build a new consensus that will keep the christians united no matter what.

Let me make one thing clear. Neither me, nor any member of my family is interested in any kind of political or governmental position in Lebanon. So please, I don’t want to be misunderstood and I don’t want people to think that i am campaigning for any position. I am calling upon the diaspora to take its responsibilities and to act in order to preserve the existence of Christians in lebanon before it is too late.

1906, it was Brazil.

Today, it is the Americas, in particular the United States of America.

I see among our people in this Diaspora many who have achieved successes that go beyond leading a country like Lebanon. We all have families and friends in Lebanon. We have to raise consciousness. they have to make the right choices. They have to make the leaders accountable.

So please take that responsibility on your shoulders, pass it along to your families and friends

Let us achieve unity.

We have always led and we have lost that role simply because our leaders are divided and busy killing and destroying each other.

We believe in democracy, WE believe in freedom.

I am asking you to help in maintaining our freedom and to democratically restore our role.

For us to achieve that, we have got to be united to be able to defend our existence.

Lebanon is a multi-confessional society. We very rarely have a problem selecting a Speaker of the House. We very rarely have a problem selecting a Prime Minister. Yet we are never able to select a President, we allow foreign countries, outside of our borders decide who is going to be our next President.

shame on us: a people that claims to be intelligent and attached to freedom and democracy .

Two months ago, we held in Washington a summit In Defense of Christians that is still an issue and that is still a necessity. This could be an organization that we can gather around, create our unity in the Diaspora, push it into Lebanon because we have the capacity to do it, try to create that unity in Lebanon and work toward saving the existence of Christianity in the Middle East and particularly in Lebanon.

We have a duty to educate every Lebanese irrespective of his religion or confession. our country comes before anything else because it gives us what we believe in: freedom, democracy, the right to practice any religion we want and the right to live the way we want within the law.

So my dear Brothers and Sisters, irrespective of our religion and confession, we all have a duty to save Lebanon.

There is a temptation for us to believe that Christianity is over in the Middle East. This is not so. This will never be so.

Our ancestors have fought for hundreds of years for this not to be so and it is our duty to carry on this heritage.

A man, if he is blessed, may develop many loves over the course of a lifetime. I love the country of my birth, Nigeria. I love the land of my parents’ birth, Lebanon. And I love the nation in which I speak to you now, America. And I have a great love that I know you here share with me – for Christianity and for the Christians of the Middle East.

Thank you.


Download Speech

On February 27th, 2011 I was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Civic Services from Our Lady of Mount Lebanon, Saint Peter Cathedral.

I was humbled by the presence of His Eminence Cardinal Sandri and His Excellency Bishop Shaheen.

No words can truly express my gratitude to those who have recognized me and awarded me with this great honor, nonetheless I hereby share my acceptance speech in an attempt to describe, in my own words, what this honor means to me:

Your Eminence Cardinal Sandri, Your Excellency Bishop Shaheen, and all of you, Honorable Ladies & Gentlemen – which makes everybody present here; A good friend of mine, a very wise gentleman, told me once, when I was the first Lebanese to be honored by the House of Lebanon, that only when you are recognized and honored by your own People, you truly realize that you have really succeeded in your visions, in the causes for which you fight and in your deeds”.

And here I am, being once more honored by my own People. This time, by the Maronite Church, to which I proudly belong.

Every Maronite knows and should always remember that being Maronite is synonymous with being Lebanese. Though we belong to the Eastern Rite, we are an integral part of the Catholic Church. We can pray, marry and baptize in any Catholic Church in the world.

The reason, nonetheless, for which the Maronites, everywhere in the diasporas, keep on erecting their own Churches and building their own Institutions, is to keep their relationship to Lebanon alive, therefore expressing their profound and unconditional attachment to the country of their ancestors. The Maronite Church is not only a creed and a religious affiliation, but also an identity. Being Lebanese however, does not mean that you are a Maronite. Lebanon is, in fact, a pluralistic and multi-confessional Democracy where all are equally Lebanese; but, being a Maronite always means that you are a Lebanese, at least spiritually.

It is, therefore, our sacred duty, the duty of each one of us, to make sure that Lebanon continues to exist as an Independent and Democratic Country. Not only because of our great love for Lebanon, but also for the existence of our Church, the Maronite Church.

Lebanon has gone through a lot of turmoil throughout its history, both ancient and modern; but, thank God, it has continued to exist because of its people’s will and love and because of the Diaspora’s attachment to the motherland, its support and assistance, irrespectively of the different regions or religions to which its members belong. As we all know, most of us here today are part of the Lebanese Diaspora which is spread all over the world.

The reason for which Lebanese have excelled wherever they went, regardless of their number, succeeding outstanding achievements in business, politics, health, science and education, is because they always understand and assimilate the values and the traditions of the Countries that have hosted them. I have faith in our people. It is faith grounded in experience. If you doubt me, just look around you to see proof of our strength and ingenuity. Nowhere is this more true than here in America.

One of the greatest and most successful Lebanese communities in the Diaspora is the one of the United States of America, the greatest and most influential country in the world. Lebanon owes a lot to the United States. The American People have always assisted Lebanon and supported its cause, regardless of the Government they had and the Leaders they elected. For this, the Lebanese, whether in Lebanon or around the world, will always be thankful to the American People. The American understanding and support have always been crucial to Lebanon and helped us, as well, to preserve the many values we share.

Throughout my life, I have sought to place the dignity of our Community and human beings at the center of everything I did. Preserving our Maronite heritage and securing real and lasting improvement in our lives are the measures of all what we should always do. It is in this spirit that I humbly and proudly accept today the Acknowledgment granted in favor of a Lifetime achievement for Civic Services, from Our Lady of Mount Lebanon, Saint Peter Cathedral.

This homage has no parade, no pantheon of victory.   It is a simple and noble message of growing mutual understanding that human diversity, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere, is both the reality that makes dialogue necessary, and the very basis for that dialogue, a message that I will always carry and relish. No one knows, better than the honorable members of this community, that this recognition is also the symbol and the expression of our will to promote our noble cause, the one that needs the genuine support of genuine friends, of people with the courage to promote change toward achievements despite all obstacles.

We, therefore, need deeds that respect our promises, honor our commitments, achieve our goals, and never lose our own identity, as Maronites and loyal citizens.

Once more, Lebanon is, at the present time, experiencing difficult and perilous moments. May the men and women who hold the destiny of our people in their hands, avoid anything that might cause the present situation to deteriorate and become even more dangerous. May they take to heart the words of the Apostle Paul:

“If it be possible, live peaceably with all men”.

I want to add that the Lebanese People, irrespective of their Religion and Faith, have at least two things in common: they all love Lebanon, and they all believe in one God. Inspired by our ideals and convictions, we can achieve our goals. We would have done our best to serve Lebanon and make it a peaceful Nation, where we will live in harmony with all our fellow citizens, for the sake of Lebanon and the perennial existence of our Church.

Thank you.