10/31/2005, 00.00
LEBANON
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Lebanon looks to Patriarch Sfeir during rough patch

by Youssef Hourany

Aoun and Geagea say they are ready to follow the cardinal's instructions. He talks of "many dangerous roads" before the country. From Joumblatt comes a call to Christian forces to come together to decide about the future president of the Republic, who must be, he says, Maronite. The Druze leader cautions Assad not to refuse to collaborate with the international community.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir is fast becoming a point of reference not only for Christians but for the entire nation. This is increasingly felt as Lebanon lives through a difficult time, thanks to internal repercussions of the Mehlis report and debate surrounding the future of the President of the Republic Emile Lahoud.

Yesterday, in his homily, the Patriarch once again underlined the need of a spiritual revival based on values of faith in the Eucharist, and he expressed concern about the current state of affairs: there is a prevalent "perplexity which has gripped the minds of most Lebanese, who are currently standing at the crossroads of many paths" which are all "full of dangers". The cardinal made a heartfelt appeal to "prudence and wisdom before judging matters and people", insisting on the importance of national unity. This is the "only sure way which will keep us far from division and fragmentation". For this reason, all must avoid the quest for "personal gain", seeking rather "the common good" because at the moment there is no room for "egoistical" people who seek their own interests. Finally, Patriarch Sfeir raised a prayer that the Almighty God, prince of peace, may distance "our country" from the perils which threaten it.

Bkerke, the seat of the Patriarchate, could testify to the centrality of the role played by Card. Sfeir at this critical time. The Patriarch, since his return from Rome last week, has received many visitors, who say they are ready to accept the solutions he proposes. General Michel Aoun, who was received by the Patriarch last week, spoke of the need to follow the directives of the "wise old man of Bkerke" who "asked nothing for himself". He added that the "prophetic voice of the Patriarch is the only one able to clarify and illuminate people".

Even the leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea was welcomed for more than an hour late yesterday evening. He told our correspondent that "there is unanimous consensus with the Patriarch, who is calling on all to 'hold their breath' and not to run too much". Geagea reiterated "the full backing of the Lebanese Forces for the proposals of the Patriarch". Lebanon, he added, was living through a "transitory" period which should not last long, before the advent of a time of internal peace and stability. "I hope to see within a couple of months the revival of a just state, strongly desired by all".

For his part, the Druze leader, Walid Joumblatt, launched an appeal to all "Christian political forces" in an interview with the television station Al Arabya (The Arab). He called on them to unite as quickly as possible under the guidance of Patriarch Sfeir to debate the future of President Lahoud and of the Presidency of the Republic, saying that all wanted to elect a "Maronite Christian president, as is obvious". He also drew the attention of all to the looming danger, predicting the Security Council's approval of a "very strong resolution against Syria". Joumblatt cautioned the Syrian President Bachar El Assad about the risk he ran if he refused to collaborate fully with the international community. If he did not cooperate, "a future worse than that of Saddam Hussein awaits him", said Joumblatt, echoing the concern voiced by the patriarch should events follow such a course.

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