Religious or Ethnic Group
Maronite Christians are a denomination dating back to St. Maron, from the late 4th and early 5th centuries. They belong to the Eastern-rite Catholic church and while dispersed worldwide, their heartland remains Lebanon where they are a powerful ethnic and political force. Under Lebanon's constitutional confessional system, the Lebanese president is always Maronite.
Maronites constitute one of the largest Christian denominations in the Eastern-rite church, and they have a heritage of resistance to imperial authority. They remained largely independent under the caliphates and resisted Syrian influences in modern Lebanon. They are traditionally rural and even isolationist in Lebanon, concentrating in the north around Mount Lebanon.
As part of the Eastern-rite, Maronites are under the authority of the Pope in Rome, but retain their own ethnic, liturgy, spirituality, sacred art, and organisation traditions. Their liturgy is in a form of Aramaic and their priests can marry. The head of the Maronite Church, who is under the Pope, is the Patriarch of Antioch and All The East. The current patriarch is Nasrallah Sfeir.
While their heartland is in Lebanon, there are Maronite communities in Cyprus, the United States, and Australia, among others. Maronites traditionally also have strong ties to France, and their primary and secondary education is often conducted in French.
Accurate estimates of their numbers in Lebanon are difficult to find and politically sensitive to investigate given the confessionalist nature of the Lebanese constitutional framework. The normal range given is just below 20 up to 25 percent out of a total Lebanese population of nearly six million. Worldwide they are estimated to number around three million.