US must join international community in rebuilding Lebanon, say bishops

.- The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) international policy committee has urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to increase efforts with the international community to establish peace, stability, and political reform in Lebanon.

Calling the assassination of Lebanese cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel “another sign of the deepening crisis in Lebanon,” Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando said in a Dec. 1 letter to Secretary Rice that the assassination and recent war with northern Israel has weakened democracy and emboldened radicals in the country.

Gemayel, who was serving as the Lebanese Industry Minister, was shot dead in broad daylight on Nov. 21 near Beirut.  The Industry Minister was part of a prominent Maronite Catholic political family. Both his father, Amin Gemayel, and uncle, Bachir Gemayel, were elected to the Lebanese Presidency, though his uncle was assassinated prior to taking office in 1982.

Gemayel, 34, was known as an outspoken critic of growing Syrian influences on his country. The assassination rallied the country’s anti-Syrian coalition to demonstrate against the pro-Damascus opposition, led by Hezbollah. Thousands attended his funeral Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, on Nov. 23, and thousands others demonstrated in a public square nearby.

“The United States, in coordination with the U.N. Security Council, must work with even greater resolve to strengthen the current ceasefire and [to] support the expanded U.N. peacekeeping force working with the Lebanese army to assert exclusive Lebanese government authority throughout southern Lebanon,” Bishop Wenski wrote.

“A resolution of the crisis requires disarmament of militias, a permanent ceasefire, an eventual peace agreement with Israel, and reconstruction assistance for Lebanon. All nations in the region will need to play constructive roles in helping the Lebanese people resolve their own internal political crisis and refrain from actions that could further destabilize the situation.”

The bishop said the U.S. should also join the international community in providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Lebanon to help rebuild the infrastructure and restore communities devastated by the war.

“We must replace the despair that feeds radicalism with a hope for a brighter future for the long-suffering people of Lebanon,” the bishop said.

Bishop Wenski noted that the U.S. bishops’ relief and development agency, Catholic Relief Services, is providing humanitarian and development assistance in Lebanon through Caritas Lebanon and local partners.

“Our conference of bishops has strong ties of solidarity with the people of Lebanon,” Bishop Wenski said. “Lebanon is a country where Christians and Muslims share a common responsibility for governance and a common future.”

“As the people of Lebanon mourn the loss of yet another leader to the heinous act of assassination, our nation must act creatively and constructively to strengthen full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701,” he concluded.

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