Today, the heads of the churches in Lebanon — Armenian Apostolic, Catholic, Evangelical and Protestant — gathered at the Vatican with Pope Francis for a day of prayer and reflection dedicated to Lebanon.
The day began with the recitation of the Our Father in the St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by a moment of quiet prayer at the tomb of the apostle, which lies beneath the famous baldacchino crowning the high altar. The prelates and pastors then joined the Holy Father in three sessions in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace to discuss the challenges devastating the nation of more than 5 million people, a third of whom are Christian.
“A phrase from the Scriptures resounded among us today, as if in response to our fervent prayer,” said the pope in a concluding address. “In a few short words, the Lord declares that he has ‘plans for peace and not for woe’ (Jer 29:11).
“Plans for peace and not for woe. In these woeful times, we want to affirm with all our strength that Lebanon is, and must remain, a project of peace. Its vocation is to be a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different religions and confessions meet, where different communities live together.”
The 84-year-old pontiff addressed the Lebanese people, Lebanese politicians, the Lebanese diaspora and the international community, exhorting all to work for the common good of all: “Here I would reiterate how essential it is that ‘those in power choose finally and decisively to work for true peace and not for their own interests. Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many! No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations!’ ” (Address at the Conclusion of the Dialogue, Bari, 7 July 2018).
Forcefully, the pope implored that outside actors must “stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interests and profits! The Lebanese people must be given the opportunity to be the architects of a better future in their land, without undue interference.”
“As Christians,” he continued, “today we wish to renew our commitment to building a future together. For our future will be peaceful only if it is shared. Human relationships cannot be based on the pursuit of partisan interests, privileges and advantages. No, the Christian vision of society arises from the Beatitudes; it is born of meekness and mercy, and it inspires us to imitate in this world God’s own way of acting, for he is a father who desires his children to live in peace. We Christians are called to be sowers of peace and builders of fraternity, not nursing past grudges and regrets, not shirking the responsibilities of the present, but looking instead with hope to the future.”
In his address, Pope Francis assured Lebanon’s non-Christians “of our openness and readiness to work together in building fraternity and promoting peace. For ‘peace does not call for winners or losers, but rather for brothers and sisters who, despite the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity,’ ” quoting from the interreligious meeting on the Plain of Ur during his March 2021 pastoral visit to Iraq.
“It is my hope that this day will be followed by concrete initiatives under the aegis of dialogue, of efforts to educate, and of solidarity.”
Joining the bishop of Rome were Cardinal Bechara Boutros, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites; Youhanna X, Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and all the East; Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and All the East; Youssef Absi, Melkite Greek Catholic patriarch of Antioch; Aram I, catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians; Mor Ignatius Youssef III, Syriac Catholic patriarch of Antioch; the Reverend Joseph Kassab, president of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon; Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji of Beirut; and Bishop César Essayan, apostolic vicar of Beirut of Latins. These heads of churches were joined by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, and Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, apostolic nuncio to Lebanon.
Even before the tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut last August, Lebanon has suffered a dramatic socioeconomic and political implosion that has crippled the country, reducing its once bustling middle class to poverty and devastated its marginalized and vulnerable populations. The World Bank estimates that the political deadlock and economic freefall may be among the top three financial disasters to strike a nation in the last century.
The Holy See has charged CNEWA and its partner agency L’Oeuvre d’Orient to coordinate worldwide Catholic aid to help Lebanon. Join CNEWA in its important work in Lebanon.