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Lebanese bishop says real work begins now, after papal meeting


Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

John Burger - published on 07/02/21

Archbishop Paul Nabil el-Sayah says Christian leaders will keep up momentum of Day of Prayer for Lebanon.
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The Lebanese Christian leaders who gathered at the Vatican this week with Pope Francis will have to go back home and “work hard to keep up the momentum created by this day of prayer and reflection,” said a close associate of the Maronite Patriarch.

“The very fact that such a meeting has been held, I feel that a new dynamic has been launched,” said Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayah, retired curial bishop of the Patriarchate of Antioch of the Maronites. Participants in the meeting will return to their troubled nation, and “each in his own way will try to pass on the momentum” to those involved in Lebanon’s current struggles, “more specifically to those who are holding back the process and causing the political stagnation.”

The summit for Lebanon, held Thursday and Friday, consisted of prayer and private meetings between Pope Francis and Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Raï and leaders of Lebanon’s Chaldean, Melkite, Syrian Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and evangelical communities. 

“We assembled today to pray and reflect, impelled by our deep concern for Lebanon — a country very close to my heart and which I wish to visit — as we see it plunged into a serious crisis,” Francis said.

The country has been without an effective government for months and is dealing with high inflation; a devaluation of currency; unemployment; food, fuel and medicine shortages, and other ills.

Archbishop Sayah, former archbishop of Haifa, Israel, and the Holy Land, appreciated the fact that the meeting placed Lebanon in the limelight, calling attention to its ongoing problems. Pope Francis, he pointed out, launched a call “to stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interests and gains, and allow the Lebanese to rebuild their own future.”

“What the Pope is referring to are the two camps in conflict in the region,” Sayah explained in an email exchange with Aleteia: “Russia supporting Syria, and the West supporting Saudi Arabia and the anti-Syrian camp. The local actors are Iran on the Syrian side and Saudi Arabia on the side of the West. Behind the Lebanese conflict figures the Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict, which is also apparent in Iraq and Yemen. The formation of the government in Lebanon is blocked partly by internal conflicts but the regional conflict is contributing to that (if Syria and Saudi Arabia could agree this would very much facilitate the formation of a government in Lebanon).”

The archbishop said the delegations don’t really know what will come out of the meeting yet. “We have to wait and see and work hard to keep up the momentum created by this day of prayer and reflection,” he said. “But we should note that the Pope, in his final word, expressed the wish that “some practical initiatives ought to come out of this day of prayer and reflection, in the context of dialogue and commitment to an education in cooperation and brotherhood.”   

That brotherhood was modeled by the act of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christian leaders praying together with Pope Francis at the tomb of St. Peter in the basilica named for him. 

“Although those Christian leaders are not yet fully one in the faith, they have the basics in common, i.e. the Nicene Creed,” the archbishop said. “The gesture of each one lighting a candle and placing them together highlights the conviction that the light of Christ is in everyone, and that each one of them is prepared to offer that light to the other. That is a very beautiful exchange of gifts which is at the center of the ecumenical endeavor.”

The reason why Lebanon ought to be saved, the archbishop said, quoting the pope, is because it has offered the Middle East and the world, a “unique example of interreligious dialogue and Christian Muslim co-living … Lebanon is a small country, but it is big and even more than that: it is a message to the world, a message of peace, brotherhood emanating from the Middle East.”

Christians in the Middle EastLebanonPope Francis
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