Vatican foreign minister visits Lebanon, still suffering from financial and political crises

Hannah Brockhaus   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA


St. George Maronite cathedral beside the Mohammad Al-Amin mosque in Beirut, the Lebanese capital. / Patrick Donovan via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Rome Newsroom, Feb 5, 2022 / 08:20 am (CNA).

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, concluded a five-day visit to Lebanon on Friday, marking 75 years of diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

The week included meetings with political authorities, Christians, and victims of the Aug. 4, 2020 port explosion.

According to Vatican News, Gallagher, who is secretary for relations with states, told local journalists that Pope Francis still hopes to visit their country, “when conditions permit.”

The Vatican envoy also addressed the Middle Eastern country’s 2019 economic collapse. Lebanon’s state debts, created by the lavish spending of successive governments after the 1975-1990 civil war, have led to a severe financial crisis.

Gallagher called out political leaders for Lebanon’s economic depression during a meeting in Beirut on Feb. 1.

“Let there be an end to the few profiting off the suffering of many. No more letting half-truth continue to frustrate people’s aspirations,” the diplomat said, according to Reuters.

Archbishop Gallagher also told politicians to “stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interest and profit.”

Lebanon is also facing political pressure as it prepares to hold a general election in May to replace President Michel Aoun.

Aoun is a Christian ally of the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which is designated a terrorist organization by the United States Department of State.

At the end of January, the country’s leading Sunni Muslim politician, Saad Hariri, withdrew from politics, causing some to call for a postponement of the 2022 Lebanese general election.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, Maronite Christian patriarch, said Jan. 30 Hariri’s boycott of the election must not be used as an excuse to delay the vote.

Rai has been a critic of Hezbollah, which holds the majority in the parliament.

Gallagher traveled with Vatican diplomats Msgr. Giuseppe Franconi and Msgr. Marco Formica.

He met President Aoun on Jan. 31, the first day of the trip, together with other government heads.

On Feb. 1 he spoke at a university symposium on the theme of John Paul II and the Lebanon message. He also met with Patriarch Rai and the Maronite bishops, and visited a Catholic-run migrant reception center.

Gallagher also met with Catholic bishops, as well as Orthodox, Muslim, and Druze religious leaders.

In a press conference with local media, the archbishop encouraged the Lebanese people to continue to be an example of a “plural, tolerant, and diverse” Middle East and recalled the role of Christians as “the historical and social connective tissue of Lebanon.”

“Weakening the Christian community risks destroying the internal balance and the Lebanese reality itself,” Gallagher said.

The Vatican envoy also prayed for comfort and consolation for those injured in the 2020 Beirut port explosion and for their families.

Twice during the visit, Gallagher had the opportunity to speak with the families of victims of the blast.

On Feb. 2, the archbishop celebrated Mass for men and women religious in the Roman Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

The trip to Lebanon concluded with a visit to the Monastery of Saint Maron and the tomb of Saint Charbel Makhlouf, which is in the town of Annaya.

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