ROME – Pope Francis concluded the day of prayer and reflection for Lebanon by urging the Lebanese people and the international community to come together so that the country can remain “a project of peace” and not a land for “interests and external profits ”.
“Let the night of conflict pass before a new dawn of hope,” he said Thursday. “May hostilities cease, disagreements fade and may Lebanon once again shine the light of peace.”
It is essential, François said, that those in power – both in Lebanon and abroad – choose to “work for genuine peace and not for their own interests.” May there be only a few who benefit from the sufferings of many! Don’t let half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations! “
“Stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for external interests and profits! »Says François. “The Lebanese people must have the possibility of being the architects of a better future in their country, without undue interference. “
The Pope’s words were spoken during an ecumenical prayer service held in St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday afternoon, after spending the day with nine of Lebanon’s most important Christian leaders, where they prayed for the country and thought about how to help alleviate the current crisis.
Lebanon’s economic collapse is expected to be among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century, according to a report released on Tuesday by the World Bank. Lebanon defaulted on its debt last year, the currency has lost about 90 percent of its value, and poverty is devastating a country once considered a beacon of prosperity in the region.
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The complete collapse of the Lebanese economy over the past 18 months is largely blamed on the corruption and mismanagement of the country’s political elite. The country was unable to form a government after the previous one resigned following the August 4, 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut that left at least 220 dead.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri blamed each other for the political stalemate.
World Bank’s latest report sees “no clear turn on the horizon” and the statistics it shared, along with those from UNICEF, also released this week, are grim: 30 percent of children go to bed hungry and not getting the primary health care they need; most people in the country have access to only three hours of electricity a day; 10 percent of children work to support the family; and 40 percent of children live in families where no one is working. In addition, Lebanon is home to around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and 99 percent of these families do not have enough money to buy food.
In the words of Marwan Sehnaoui, president of the Foundation of the Order of Malta in Lebanon, the country is today “in intensive care”, and despite wars, conflicts and political crises before, “never has the situation ‘was so dramatic’.
Lebanon, the Pope said in his address, is called to be a land of “tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of brotherhood where different religions and faiths meet, where different communities live together, putting the common good before their own. individual interests “.
Those who met in Rome are Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon; the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan; the Greek Orthodox Patriarch John X of Antioch; Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Aram of Cilicia; and Reverend Joseph Kassab, President of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon.
“As Christians today we wish to renew our commitment to building a future together,” Francis said, adding that human relations cannot be based on the pursuit of “partisan interests, privileges and advantages. “.
“Christians are called to be sowers of peace and builders of brotherhood, not harboring the grudges and regrets of the past, not shying away from the responsibilities of the present, but rather looking with hope towards the future”, a- he declared. “Let us therefore assure our Muslim brothers and sisters, and those of other religions, of our openness and our availability to work together to build fraternity and promote peace.”
Towards the end of his speech, François highlighted the role of youth and women in the renaissance of Lebanon, asking that the voices of the former be heard and that women be included in decision-making processes.
“Let us not be discouraged, let us not tire of imploring heaven for this peace which men and women find so difficult to build on earth”, he declared. “Lebanon cannot be left in the grip of events or those who pursue their own interests without scruples. It is a small but large country, but more so, it is a universal message of peace and brotherhood from the Middle East.
The Vatican has long viewed Lebanon as a key player in ensuring the survival of Christianity in the Middle East, as a third of the country’s population is Christian. Since the end of the civil war in 1990, Christians and Muslims have mostly lived together peacefully, a rarity in the region.
Earlier today, the Pope and his guests prayed the Our Father in Arabic in St. Peter’s Basilica, before heading to the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace for a series of closed-door meetings.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, told reporters that for Christians the most important part of the day of reflection for Lebanon was “to start with faith. In Lebanon, there are a lot of problems, a lot of difficulties, a lot of suffering. It is superfluous for me to go into details on this subject.
“Who can intervene? God our father, ”he said, which is why Pope Francis invited leaders to a day of prayer and reflection“ in the light of the grace of God ”.
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