Pope Francis will join the main Christian religious leaders of Lebanon on July 1 for a day of reflection and prayer in Rome for this country of some five million inhabitants. Lebanon is facing a political, financial and humanitarian crisis of the highest gravity and has been without a government for many months.
“The Holy See fears the collapse of the country,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, said frankly at a press conference at the Vatican on June 25, detailing the event. Bishop Gallagher said the Holy See fears the collapse of Lebanon, the last democracy in the Arab world, will have dire consequences for Christians in that country.
There has already been a brutal exodus of Christians, especially young people, from the country, he said. He said that if the exodus were to continue, “it risks destroying the internal balance” in Lebanon.
According to the country’s power-sharing system, the Lebanese president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the parliament a Shia Muslim. Seats in cabinet and parliament are split equally between Muslims and Christians. No Christian political leader from Lebanon was invited to the retreat.
“The Holy See fears the collapse of the country,” said Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations with states, frankly.
Archbishop Gallagher recalled that Pope Francis had sent Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, to visit Lebanon after an explosion in the port of Beirut that caused such a catastrophe in the city. He said the Pope also sent aid to Catholic schools in Lebanon and made arrangements for the Vatican, together with the European Union’s Committee of Bishops, to send pharmaceutical aid following the accident. devastating. Since then, heads of state who have visited the Vatican have been invited to see what their country could do to help Lebanon.
The Pope first announced this prayer event on May 30, accepting a suggestion from Christian religious leaders in the Land of the Cedars, where Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for centuries.
During a press conference on June 25, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of Oriental Churches, recalled that over the past half century the popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis have granted a constant attention to this land, which they described as “a message” to the world about how Christians and Muslims can live together in peace. He recalled how Saint John Paul II called a special synod of bishops for Lebanon on June 12, 1991, when the situation was really “dramatic” in the country after its long civil war and invited the Catholics of Lebanon to a journey of prayer, penance and conversion.
This synod took place in 1995. The Polish pope visited the country in May 1997 and presented his post-synodal exhortation. Benedict XVI also visited in September 2012, after the Special Synod for the Middle East.
“Thirty years ago, the situation was dramatic”, but the accounts of this period “resemble a chronicle of our time”, noted Cardinal Sandri, explaining the great need for this day of reflection and prayer, where the Pope will greet the Christian. the religious leaders gathered in Santa Marta – the Vatican guesthouse where they too live and will reside – followed by a “walk together” to St. Peter’s Basilica for the opening prayer. Once inside the basilica, Cardinal Sandri said, church leaders will descend to the confessional of Saint Peter, under the high altar, and everyone will place a candle there asking for the saint’s intercession for this. country.
The cardinal explained that the reflection will involve the Pope and Christian leaders seated together in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican, where they will share their personal perspectives in three separate closed-door sessions in the morning and afternoon, each one being introduced by an introductory speech. speaker. The Pontifical Nuncio in Lebanon, Bishop Joseph Spiteri, will be the moderator of these sessions. Pope Francis will speak at the end of the day, and what he says then will generate a lot of interest.
Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis have given constant attention to Lebanon, which they describe as “a message” to the world about how Christians and Muslims can live together in peace.
The cardinal listed the Catholic leaders who would be at the July 1 event. They include the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai; the Syro-Catholic Patriarch, Ignace Youssif III Younan; the Chaldean bishop Michel Kassarji; and the Latin apostolic vicar, Mgr César Essayan.
Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told reporters at the press conference that “almost all Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches are present. [in Lebanon] with their great diversity of rites and traditions, as are the different ecclesial communities born of the Reformation ”, and there is an interweaving of collaboration and living together, as well as many mixed marriages.
He listed the non-Catholic churches that would be present at the event: the Greco-Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Antioch, of Byzantine tradition, led by Patriarch Youhanna X Yazigi; the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, headed by Catholicos Aram I; the Syro-Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II; and the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon.
Archbishop Gallagher said he expected them all to have a much clearer picture of the situation in Lebanon and possible ways forward by the end of the day of reflection.
Archbishop Gallagher recalled that Pope Francis was keen to visit the country and made it clear to Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri when they met last April that he would visit Lebanon once they formed a government. At that time, he encouraged the political forces to collaborate for the good of the whole country.
Asked by an American journalist why the Vatican pays so much attention to Lebanon but not Hong Kong, Bishop Gallagher replied: “Hong Kong is a cause of concern for the Holy See. But while Lebanon is a place where we see that we can make a contribution, we don’t see it in Hong Kong. We still have to be convinced that we can make a difference in Hong Kong. “