Maronite Catholic leader calls on international community to ‘help save Lebanon’

By Courtney Mares for CNA

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the Maronite Patriarch, at the Vatican March 5, 2013. Credit:

Rome Newsroom, Feb 9, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch called on Tuesday for the United Nations to help resolve the country’s crisis by convening an international conference.

In a homily for the feast of St. Maron on Feb. 9, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, the leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics, said that the international community had a responsibility to help prevent Lebanon’s collapse.

“Today we regret that as we celebrate the feast of St. Maron, the Lebanese are suffering torments and make sacrifices, while their country is busy with many small matters. Officials compete to obstruct internal solutions, which prompts us to look to the United Nations to help save Lebanon,” Rai said.

The Maronite patriarch noted that the UN is not a regional or partisan group and could help foster a solution within the framework of Lebanon’s unity, plurality, and system of neutrality.

“Lebanon today needs a firm and strict international role that applies previous decisions without exception and partiality, even if the matter calls for issuing new decisions,” he said.

The cardinal’s comments came the day after Pope Francis called for a renewed political commitment to fostering the stability of Lebanon in his speech to diplomats accredited to the Holy See.

Pope Francis expressed his “hope for renewed political commitment, both national and international, to fostering the stability of Lebanon, which is experiencing an internal crisis and risks losing its identity and finding itself caught up even more in regional tensions.”

“It is most necessary that the country maintain its unique identity, not least to ensure a pluralistic, tolerant and diversified Middle East in which the Christian community can make its proper contribution and not be reduced to a minority in need of protection,” the pope said.

He continued: “A weakening of the Christian presence risks destroying internal equilibrium and the very reality of Lebanon. Moreover, without an urgently needed process of economic recovery and reconstruction, the country risks bankruptcy, with the possible effect of a dangerous drift towards fundamentalism.”

The pope said that all political leaders in Lebanon needed to “set aside their personal interests and to commit themselves to pursuing justice and implementing real reforms for the good of their fellow citizens, acting transparently and taking responsibility for their actions.”

Lebanon’s political leaders have failed to form a government to implement reforms months after the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port on Aug. 4. The blast killed nearly 200 people, injured 600 others, and caused more than $4 billion in damage.

Following the resignations of the leaders Hassan Diab in August and Mustapha Adib in September, Saad Hariri was given the task of forming a new government in October. This development came less than a year after Hariri himself had resigned as prime minister, on Oct. 29, 2019, in the wake of mass protests.

Before the explosion, the country was already facing severe economic pressure. Unemployment had soared and the national currency had lost at least 80% of its value against the U.S. dollar since 2019, according to AP.

Cardinal Rai suggested that an international conference organized by the UN could “remedy the paralysis in the Lebanese system.” He first proposed this idea in his Sunday homily on Feb. 7.

He said that there was a “great chasm” between the people in political power, with their “personal interests and calculations,” and those who suffer “poverty, deprivation, and hunger.”

“It is necessary to declare that the situation in Lebanon has reached a dangerous stage, which necessitates a frank stance, sincere word, and bold decision. Silence is part of the crime against Lebanon and its people, and handwashing is a participation in the crime,” he said.

“No longer is it permissible for any official to evade responsibility and the national duties entrusted to him under any pretext, because the situation has gone beyond the government to the fate of the nation.”

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