Maronite patriarch asks St. Charbel’s intercession to save Lebanon from ‘total collapse’

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, head of the Maronite Church. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need.

Rome Newsroom, Jul 20, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai has implored Lebanon’s patron saint to help save the country from “total collapse” amid one of the worst financial crises the world has seen in decades.

In a homily for the feast of St. Charbel, the leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Catholics said that he sought the intercession of the 19th-century Lebanese saint for “the miracle of our salvation from this total collapse.”

Image from the Shrine of St. Charbel. / Hannah Brockhaus / CNA.
Image from the Shrine of St. Charbel. / Hannah Brockhaus / CNA.

The cardinal also decried Lebanese political leaders for their failure to fulfill the “most basic duties toward their people.”

“The political establishment gives proof after proof each day of its inability to perform its most basic duties toward their people and the country,” Rai said July 18.

“This group is incapable of solving simple daily problems such as waste, electricity, food, medicine, and fuels, incapable of combating corruption, facilitating the work of the judiciary … and incapable of settling issues such as resolutions and measures to address major reforms,” he added.

The cardinal’s comments came days after Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri resigned after failing to form a government over the last nine months.

“It is a time to assume responsibilities, not a time to retreat,” Rai said. “The country is not facing an ordinary governmental crisis, but rather a comprehensive national crisis that calls for concerted efforts by all.”

The cardinal urged that the “selfishness, interests and narrow electoral calculations that unfortunately dominate the minds of most political forces, at the expense of the higher national interest, must be transcended.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on July 15 that Lebanon’s “political class has squandered the last nine months.”

“The Lebanese economy is in free-fall, and the current government is not providing basic services in a reliable fashion. Leaders in Beirut must urgently put aside partisan differences and form a government that serves the Lebanese people. That is what the people of Lebanon desperately need,” he said.

Lebanon’s currency has plummeted in 2021. By June, the Lebanese pound had lost 90% of its value since October 2019.

The World Bank has described the current financial situation in Lebanon as among the “most severe crisis episodes globally since the mid-19th century.”

It estimates that Lebanon’s real GDP contracted by more than 20% in 2020, with surging inflation, high unemployment, and more than half of the population below the national poverty line.

The country’s leaders have failed to form a government to implement reforms 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.

Lebanon also hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, according to the U.N. The country took in 1.5 million Syrians, nearly half of which are not registered with legal status.

Some of the already vulnerable refugee population were hit so hard by the inflation caused by Lebanon’s severe economic depression that they now live in an abandoned mall on the outskirts of Beirut.

Pope Francis met with Hariri in April and expressed his closeness to the Lebanese people as they live “a time of great difficulty and uncertainty.”

The pope also hosted a day of prayer for Lebanon on July 1 that brought Catholic and Orthodox leaders to the Vatican to discuss the crisis facing the country.

Vatican officials have repeatedly stated that the pope intends to visit Lebanon when the country forms a government.

The Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States confirmed on July 7 that the pope has “made a commitment to visit Lebanon.”

“He has also said that he will visit Lebanon when there is a government. So that’s a great stimulus to form a government,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher said.

“We’re trying to do small steps, move forward, see what the reaction is. But we are appealing at the same time to the international community to do everything in its power to help Lebanon at this critical time,” he said.

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