Cardinal calls on Lebanese leaders to resolve differences

Cardinal calls on Lebanese leaders to resolve differences

A Lebanese woman reads a religious book during Sunday Mass at Saint Maron-Baouchrieh Church that was damaged by last Tuesday's explosion that hit the Beirut seaport, in Baouchrieh neighborhood in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. (Credit: Hussein Malla/AP.)

As Lebanon’s top political leaders struggle to form a government coalition, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Raï continues to call on President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to hold a “personal reconciliation meeting.”

As Lebanon’s top political leaders struggle to form a government coalition, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Beshara Raï continues to call on President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to hold a “personal reconciliation meeting.”

“Shouldn’t domestic and foreign obstacles vanish before the salvation of Lebanon’s fate and reviving the state of institutions?” Raï said on Sunday Mass, during his homily.

After a year of severe economic and political instability made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion in Beirut’s port in August that left thousands homeless and 202 dead, observers have pointed out that Lebanon is edging closer toward a full-blown crisis that is raising the ghost of widespread unrest or another civil war.

The country is facing challenges on several fronts, with its economy in shambles, its national budget unsustainable, its infrastructure in disrepair, its security at constant threat from extremists, and regional conflicts stretching its ability – and willingness – to take in refugees.

The entire Lebanese cabinet – formed in late January – resigned Aug. 10, six days after the explosion that rocked the country. Since then, there have been several attempts to form a new government, but the president and the prime minister-elect are unable to come to an agreement on who should be part of the new cabinet.

“What is the value of a government of specialists should its independence and capabilities be eradicated through picking partisan ministers who are not at the level of responsibility?” he asked.

“These dangerous questions prompt us to renew the call for His Excellency the president and Mr. PM-designate to hold a personal reconciliation meeting, in which they would renew the confidence required by their high responsibilities,” the patriarch continued.

“Are quotas and naming ministers more important and more valuable to those responsible for forming the government than the cry of a mother who does not find what to feed her children?” he asked. “Or [more important] than whoever suffers because a father cannot find work to feed his family?”

Forming a government, he said, would help resolve political, economic, financial and social crises.

“Don’t internal and external obstacles disappear when it comes to saving Lebanon’s fate and reviving the institutions of the State?” Al-Rahi asked.

“It’s truly shameful, for not saying criminal, for disagreement to continue due to naming one person here or one there, and on the proportion of shares, the game of third parties and adding some numbers, while the state is almost completely gone,” he said, noting that these disagreements are basically a “suicide” for the country.

On Jan. 6, solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Rai issued three “appeals” to introduce real change in the country’s current way of doing things. The appeals were addressed to politicians, private health institutions and the banks of the Land of Cedars.

Rai urged Aoun and Hariri to dispel hostilities and misunderstandings, to abandon a sectarian logic and overcome the political paralysis that has long prevented the formation of a new government. The cardinal has invested much time and capital in fostering dialogue between the two politicians, in the hopes that they could move on from working on forming government into actually governing to prevent a collapse.

Hariri was tasked with forming a new government in October but has thus far failed to set up a new cabinet.

The patriarch also addressed the country’s private health facilities, most of which are owned by the Catholic Church. He called on these facilities to open their doors to “our brothers and sisters affected by the COVID-19 epidemic.”

Lastly, he called on local banks to authorize the transfer of funds intended to support young Lebanese studying abroad, as they “have the right to live in dignity with the money their families have deposited with the banks. They have to pay the university’s installments and provide room and board.”

Banks have frozen assets to fight capital fleeing abroad. These restrictions are associated with the country’s economic crisis.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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