BEIRUT — Marking the anniversary of Lebanon’s massive popular uprising against the corrupt political class, Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai encouraged the country’s young people to continue their protest movement.
More than a million Lebanese of all religions, sounding their cries in unison, took to the streets Oct. 17, 2019. The protests, which continued for months, diminished during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.
“We note with immense sorrow that the political class still ignores, and even despises the demands of the demonstrators and the people,” Rai, patriarch of Maronite Catholics, said in his Oct. 18 homily from Bkerke, the patriarchate north of Beirut.
Rai said of the country’s officials: “Nothing moves them. Neither the revolution, nor the explosion at the port, nor the destruction of the capital, nor the economic and financial collapse, nor the pandemic, nor poverty, nor the death of innocent people.”
Lebanon was traumatized by a massive double explosion Aug. 4 at the Beirut port; it was considered one of the world’s most powerful nonnuclear explosions. The disaster, blamed on 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate stored for years in a port warehouse, killed more than 190 people, injured more than 6,500 and left more than 300,000 people homeless.
The disaster came as Lebanon veers toward economic collapse, pushing its population further into poverty.
Lebanon has been left without a fully functioning government since Prime Minister Hassan Diab, now caretaker prime minister, submitted his Cabinet’s resignation Aug. 10 over the Beirut port explosion. Rai criticized Lebanon’s political leaders for delaying the government formation process and accused them of plunging the country into a state of “paralysis.”
Lebanese officials, the cardinal said, “have no more shame.”
“They have lost the respect of the people and of the international community,” he said, accusing “those who hold the reins of power of having neutralized the state as an institutional entity in the service of the people.”
“No one is innocent,” the cardinal charged, stressing that “responsibility is collective.”
“You are responsible for a crime, that of placing the country in a state of total paralysis, in addition to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic,” Rai charged. Lebanon has seen a surge in coronavirus cases, prompting the lockdown of nearly 100 towns in the small country.
Rai pointed to the positive outcome of the popular uprising, which he said had “succeeded in bringing about a change in the Lebanese personality, to breathe new life into the people and to mobilize them in favor of building a free, strong and modern state.”
It managed to unify Lebanese of different religions, cultures and partisan affiliations, he said, “to consolidate the peaceful concept of change.”
The cardinal encouraged a “renewed” peaceful demonstration movement, that is “ethical, independent and unaffiliated with anyone.”
“We want a unitary revolution defining Lebanese objectives with boldness and clarity, which carries a constructive social and national program, without the protesters arguing among themselves about their demands. We want a revolution that reemerges with a new united leadership, which represents the people and which is the interlocutor of the state and the international community,” he emphasized.
The demonstration movement, the cardinal said, “represents an opportunity for change through democracy, heritage and values. Young men and women of Lebanon, set out for change,” he encouraged them.
“You are the future of Lebanon and it is about you that your friend John Paul II was talking about when he described you as being the renewed strength of Lebanon,” Rai said of the saint’s proclamation that “Lebanon is a message.”
“We are with you,” the cardinal added.