Vatican ‘deeply concerned’ about the potential collapse of Lebanon

Pope Francis with the flag of Lebanon at a general audience at the Vatican, Sept. 2, 2020. Pope Francis with the flag of Lebanon at a general audience at the Vatican, Sept. 2, 2020. | Vatican Media.

Ahead of the Vatican’s day of prayer for Lebanon on July 1, a senior Vatican official has expressed concern that the potential collapse of the country could jeopardize the Christian presence in the Middle East.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, said June 25 that he believes that the Holy See can make a positive contribution to Lebanon’s economic and political crisis.

“The Holy See is deeply concerned about the collapse of the country economically, financially, socially, which would particularly affect the Christian community and the identity of Lebanon,” Gallagher told journalists at a Vatican press conference.

He said that a weakening of the Christian presence due to emigration “risks destroying the internal equilibrium and the reality of Lebanon itself, further putting the Christian presence in the Middle East at risk.”

Pope Francis expressed a similar concern about Lebanon in his speech to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See earlier this year.

“It is most necessary that the country maintain its unique identity, not least to ensure a pluralistic, tolerant and diversified Middle East in which the Christian community can make its proper contribution and not be reduced to a minority in need of protection,” the pope said.

“Christians, with their many educational, health, and charitable works, are an intrinsic part of Lebanon’s historical and social fabric, and they must be guaranteed the possibility of continuing their efforts for the good of the country, of which they were founders.”

“Moreover,” he added, “without an urgently needed process of economic recovery and reconstruction, the country risks bankruptcy, with the possible effect of a dangerous drift towards fundamentalism.”

With these concerns in mind, the pope has invited Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders in Lebanon to the Vatican to pray for the future of their country in St. Peter’s Basilica next week.

Several patriarchs are expected to attend the Vatican day of prayer, including Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of Maronite Catholics, and Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, the Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch.

Among the non-Catholic participants will be Patriarch John X of Antioch, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All The East; Aram I, the Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of the Syrian Orthodox Church; and the Rev. Joseph Kassabhas, president of the supreme council of the evangelical community in Syria and Lebanon.

The day of reflection and prayer will also include several hours of private discussion among the Christian leaders in the Apostolic Palace. The pope’s morning greeting and the evening ecumenical prayer for peace in St. Peter’s Basilica will both be broadcast via livestream.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, said that the religious leaders will each light candles and invoke the intercession of St. Peter for Lebanon.

Lebanese Catholics who reside in Rome will also be welcome at the closing prayer in St. Peter’s Basilica, according to Sandri.

“One year after the terrible explosion in the port of Beirut, with its dense clouds that obscured our gaze and filled it with tears, we want to see the sun again together with our brothers and sisters of Lebanon,” the cardinal said.

Lebanon has faced a financial and political crisis for months, as political leaders have failed to form a government to implement reforms after the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port on Aug. 4. The blast killed nearly 200 people, injured 600 others, and caused more than $4 billion in damage.

Before the explosion, the country was already facing severe economic pressure. Unemployment had soared and the national currency had lost at least 80% of its value against the U.S. dollar since 2019, according to AP.

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Pope Francis met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri on April 22 at the Vatican, where the Lebanese leader also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Gallagher.

Hariri was given the task of forming a new government last October following the resignations of the leaders Hassan Diab in August and Mustapha Adib in September. This development came less than a year after Hariri himself had resigned as prime minister, on Oct. 29, 2019, in the wake of mass protests.

Confirming a previous statement from Hariri, Gallagher said Friday that Pope Francis would like to visit Lebanon as soon as the country manages to successfully form a government.

“The pope would like to see a government in Lebanon, like so many of us, but that is, at the moment, not forthcoming. It would be the hope that maybe this religious meeting might make some contribution to that process,” he said.

“Whether, if they fail to form a government in months and months and months and months and months, the pope might consider going without a government being formed, I cannot say, but certainly the ideal would be yes.”

As for when a potential papal trip to Lebanon would take place, the archbishop added: “Let’s see … maybe it might be the beginning of next year.”

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