Syrian puppet!, shouted a small group of demonstrators outside Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral last month. Inside, Maronite Archbishop Francis Zayek was welcoming President Elias Hrawi of Lebanon, in New York for a state visit to the United Nations.
The president, a Maronite Christian, sat before the altar with his wife at his side. He was also flanked by Prime Minister Omar Karami, a Sunni Muslim, and Speaker of the House Hussein el-Husseini, a Shiite Muslim. The three of them form a troika of leadership in their troubled land.
Just one year ago in a final, bloody attack and battle in Beirut, 16 years of internecine and international strife in Lebanon came to a halt. Since then, this newly formed government of national unity gradually has been trying to establish some degree of sovereignty over the land of Lebanon.
Most of the country is under the control of Syria, an unwanted occupier in the eyes of most Lebanese; in the eyes of some, a necessary presence to maintain order and stability. Much of the south is under the control of Israel, perceived by almost all Lebanese as an occupying foreign power.
The government of President Hrawi, trusting in the Taif accord, which enabled the present reorganization of the Lebanese government and provided for the gradual withdrawal of Syrian forces, is collaborating closely with Syria.
His critics accuse him of selling out his country; his supporters commend him for his practical wisdom and patient perseverance in seeking to restore Lebanons independence.
Half a loaf is better than none, the old saying has it. Is this, perhaps, a good description of President Hrawis policy?
Last spring I joined two small Lebanese organizations presenting a testimony before the United States House of Representatives subcommittee on the Middle East. They had invited public submissions regarding the 1992 foreign aid bill.
At that time about $7 million were proposed for Lebanon, in contrast to over $4 billion in aid to Israel.
I quoted the Gospel story of the woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon (that is, Lebanon) who begged the Lord for help.
I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Jesus told her. It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.
Please, Lord, she replied, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters. And, with that display of faith, the Lord granted her plea.
My plea was for a more substantial scrap for Lebanon. (The appropriation subsequently was increased to $10 million.)
In Lebanon, in America and everywhere, politics, as they say, is the art of the possible. Good politicians are artists of a special sort, knowing how best to pursue an ideal in the flawed and sinful situation which is the real world.
What can we do as believers but encourage them, for as Jesus taught us, Everything is possible to one who has faith.
Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA