Advocates say action is needed to stop the hemorrhaging of Christians from their biblical homelands, especially Lebanon and Iraq, as security, poor governance and economic crises threaten their future.
“Lebanon is now the only place on earth where there is a conviviality between Christians and Muslims. Lebanon,” warned Maronite Catholic Bishop Gregory J. Mansour, who heads the Eparchy of St. Maron in Brooklyn, New York. .
The bishop told the distinct history and religious mosaic of Lebanon while addressing two panels at the Washington, DC-based national summit In Defense of Christians, which focused on “Combating Oppression and Empowering of the oppressed ”on September 21 and 22. The conference was held in person and broadcast live.
“Lebanon was created intentionally when Patriarch (Maronite) Elias Peter Hoayek, at the age of 76, traveled to Versailles (in 1919) to urge Allied leaders to create a nation that would be a refuge for the Christians and Muslims, ”Bishop Mansour explained. . “He went with a delegation of Christians and Muslims with the vision of his borders including Shiites, Sunni Muslims, Druze and all kinds of Christians.
“We believe that an Islamic-Christian conviviality can survive, and it is in the best interest of Lebanon (…) because it is not an enclave for ourselves, but it is to reach out to the peer to peer neighbor, ”he said.
But Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is still the only armed militia left since the country’s 1975-90 civil war, is now also the troubled country’s main political agent. Critics accuse Hezbollah of creating a state within a state at the behest of Iran.
I cannot stress enough the importance of Catholic institutions in Lebanon
Lebanon finally has a new government following a year-long political paralysis that sank its economy. Observers, however, blame decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political elite for the small Mediterranean country’s financial crisis.
Most Lebanese are struggling to survive amid soaring inflation and the loss of more than 90% of the value of their currency, coupled with fuel and medicine shortages and severe power cuts. The deadly explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020 exacerbated Lebanon’s woes.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of Catholic institutions in Lebanon,” Bishop Mansour said of the many hospitals, schools and social programs run by Catholic groups.
“Without them the government was nil, and if you want to serve the poor in Lebanon, help the Catholic institutions, because they help the Catholics, the Orthodox, the Evangelicals, the Shiites, the Sunni Muslims and the Druze.”
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Bishop Mansour called for the preservation of Lebanon’s unique history and feel, warning that the Lebanon the world has known and loved “might not be here tomorrow if you don’t help Catholic institutions, for example, or if you don’t diminish some of Hezbollah, Iran or Saudi Arabia’s arm in Lebanon. We don’t want a Lebanon that looks like Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Former Lebanese lawmaker Neemat Frem, who is working on a project examining how to rebuild Lebanon’s governance and decision-making processes, told the assembly he was ready to give the new government two months to see how it would handle the talks. of the International Monetary Fund on structural changes in the banking sector and the economy as well as government decision-making regarding Hezbollah and other political forces.
He warned that the failed state of Lebanon is a silent killer, causing an exodus of Christians from the country due to deteriorating living conditions. “It is alarming. It will change Lebanon forever,” Frem warned. “This is why we must act now.”
Habib Malik, a professor at the Lebanese American University, said Lebanon “is losing its youth to rampant emigration” due to the economic, political and governance problems that overwhelm the country.
“It’s mostly young Christians, as well as entire Christian families (who) pack their bags and leave for good,” said Malik. “This will make Lebanon indistinguishable from its Arab environment in terms of the absence of fundamental freedoms and pluralistic coexistence.
Lebanon’s role and identity are so important and deserve to be defended
Gregg Carlstrom, reporter for The Economist, tweeted on September 23 that “passport applications in Lebanon are up 50% from previous years, and the government has issued a record 6,000 passports per working day since mid-June.”
Bishop Mansour reminded the IDC conference that Saint John Paul II said that Lebanon is more than a country, it is a mission.
“Christians and Muslims have equal buy-in to this reality,” Bishop Mansour said. “The role of Lebanon and its identity are so important and deserve to be defended.
Nadine Maenza, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said at the summit: “Christians in the Middle East are struggling. They don’t have the kind of support they need. support these communities.
Maenza applauded the US Agency for International Development for helping rebuild homes in the Nineveh Plain, which had been overrun by Islamic State militants. But she said the security situation is so dire that many Christians cannot live there. The same goes for Syria, she said.
Bishop Mansour said Pope Francis was “moved to the depths of his soul” during his historic visit to Iraq in March.
“Not by the persecution of Christians, we are used to it,” the bishop told the assembly. “He was moved by the forgiveness of some of these Christians towards their persecutors. And that just allowed him to redouble his efforts to work for justice and peace.