Four patriarchs have already confirmed their attendance at the Vatican’s day of prayer for Lebanon hosted by Pope Francis.
The pope announced earlier this week that he had invited the leaders of the main Christian communities in Lebanon to the Vatican on July 1 to “pray together for the gift of peace and stability.”
Lebanon has faced a financial and political crisis for months, as politicians have failed to form a government to implement reforms after the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port last August.
Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, the apostolic nuncio to Lebanon, has said that all the heads of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christian communities in Lebanon have been invited to the prayer meeting, which will be presided over by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica.
These are the leaders who are expected to attend the Vatican’s day of prayer for Lebanon:
Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai
As the Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Cardinal Rai has served as the leader of Maronite Catholics, predominantly based in Lebanon, for more than 10 years. The Maronite Church is the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches that are sui iuris, or self-governing, and in full communion with Rome. It celebrates the liturgy in Aramaic and Arabic according to the West Syriac Rite.
The 81-year-old cardinal is an outspoken preacher, who has called on the country’s political leaders to “overcome the logic of partisan interests” and form a government to rescue the country. Rai met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in November and briefed the pope on the country’s “bitter economic crisis.”
Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
Younan has served as the Syrian Catholic Patriarch of Antioch since 2009.
The Syriac Catholic Church is one of 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See. It has members spread across Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, as well as a growing diaspora in the United States. The patriarchate has been based in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, since the 19th century.
Younan, 76, served Syrian Catholic communities in the U.S. from 1986 until 2009, when he was his elected patriarch. He served as co-president of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East at the Vatican in 2010.
Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
Ignatius Aphrem II is the patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church based in Damascus. The 56-year-old Syrian patriarch previously served as the Orthodox Archbishop for the Eastern United States from 1996 until his election as patriarch in 2014.
The Syrian Orthodox Church distinguished itself after the divisions following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Its leaders have engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the Catholic Church since signing a joint declaration with John Paul II in 1984. Today Syrian Orthodox communities live mainly in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey.
Aram I has served as the Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church since 1995 and resides in Antelias, Lebanon. The 74-year-old Catholicos was born in Beirut. He holds a Ph.D. from Fordham University in New York and has written more than a dozen books in Armenian, English, and French.
The Armenian Apostolic Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church and Armenia’s national church. It has two sees, with Catholicoi based in Armenia and in Lebanon.
Catholicos Aram I has met with Popes John Paul II, Benedict VI, and Francis during his more than 25 years as Catholicos.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri
Cardinal Sandri will participate in the Vatican’s Lebanon meeting in his role as prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Vatican congregation responsible for communication with the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches.
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Sandri has visited Lebanon on numerous occasions since he was appointed prefect in 2007.
Cardinal Kurt Koch
Cardinal Koch has served as the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity since 2010 and has also been a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. He has co-presided over meetings of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
Ambassador Farid Elias Al-Khazen
While the Vatican’s day of prayer for Lebanon will be a gathering of Christian leaders without the presence of politicians, Archbishop Spiteri has said that diplomats and officials representing Lebanon to Holy See, such as Ambassador Farid Elias Al-Khazen, are also expected to attend.
Pope Francis has frequently spoken of his concern and affection for Lebanon in speeches and correspondence amid the country’s crisis.
The pope wrote a Christmas letter to the “beloved people of Lebanon” on Dec. 24 in which he said that he was “deeply troubled to see the suffering and anguish that has sapped the native resilience and resourcefulness of the Land of the Cedars.”
In his speech to diplomats accredited to the Holy See this year, the pope called for a renewed political commitment to fostering the stability of Lebanon.
“A weakening of the Christian presence risks destroying internal equilibrium and the very reality of Lebanon. Moreover, without an urgently needed process of economic recovery and reconstruction, the country risks bankruptcy, with the possible effect of a dangerous drift towards fundamentalism,” Pope Francis said.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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Pope Francis met with Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch at the Vatican this weekend and told the pope of the challenges facing Lebanon as it experiences political instability and a “bitter economic crisis.”