CNEWA Canada

Lebanon in Crisis: Patriarch Bechara Rai Calls on the World, ‘Do Not Let Lebanon Fall into Despair’

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, took part this morning in a special international webinar produced by a partnership of CNEWA, Salt +Light Media and Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture. CNEWA’s chair Cardinal Timothy Dolan introduced the session from New York City, and the patriarch joined from Beirut.

The hour-long session was titled “Lebanon’s Tragedy, Lebanon’s Hopes,” and afforded the patriarch an opportunity to offer a personal update on the crisis in Lebanon, to describe the hardships the people are facing after the 4 August explosions, and to appeal to the public to support the country in this moment of need.

He began by delivering the statement below, in French and English.

Lebanon, the last Christian foothold in the Middle East, multi-confessional and multi-religious, home for 18 Christian and Muslim confessional communities, living together equal in rights and duties, is the only democratic secular state in the Arab world. It is an example of unity in diversity. That Lebanon is experiencing unprecedented economic, social and financial problems and is facing, as a result, an existential danger like never before in its history.

That small country resisted, for centuries, against persecution and oppression by various foreign occupations, prospered and remained strong. But at the present time, due to decades of political and financial corruption, due to the corona pandemic and the latest explosion at the port of Beirut, [Lebanon] is facing a real danger of disintegration. Due to the fast economic deterioration and the socio-political crises, the middle classes, the backbone of the population and the bedrock of a flourishing nation, are slipping sharply into poverty; more than half of the Lebanese population now lives below the poverty line, as the purchasing power of Lebanese currency has decreased by about 80 percent. In addition to all of our internal problems, the presence of more than half a million Palestinian refugees and 1.5 million Syrian displaced, has overburdened our infrastructure and taxed further the ailing economy of a country of 10,452 square kilometers and four million inhabitants!  Lebanon finds itself in a more critical situation still as it witnesses the emigration of a number of its work force seeking a future elsewhere.

The weakening of the Christian community in Lebanon would be a huge loss for the country, the Middle East and, indeed, the world. The many churches in Lebanon, especially since the 18th century, and despite the difficulties and challenges, have invested greatly in projects of development — in schools, universities, various educational institutions, and in hospitals and various social and mental health facilities. All these institutions have created and nourished a vibrant culture of openness, freedom and democracy. That is why Lebanon has been considered as the university, the hospital and the bank of the modern Middle East.  

Today I would like to urge all our friends, all those who believe in the importance of a culture of freedom, moderation, diversity and inter-religious co-living, not to forget Lebanon at this time of great need, as it faces the worst existential crisis in its history. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia once said: “Had we not have that country of Lebanon, we would have needed to invent it.”

I wish to address in particular the millions of Lebanese [outside the country], and indeed all friends of Lebanon in the free world: Please do not let Lebanon fall into despair. Help us to restore it, once again, to that vibrant and flourishing religious, political and cultural model in the Middle East, so that it may be able to play its role and fulfill its own mission.  

You can watch a recording of the webinar at this link.

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