07/07/2020, 00.00
LEBANON
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Maronite Patriarch wants Lebanon to be open and neutral, without divisions and violence

by Fady Noun

In his Sunday homily, Card al-Rahi laid out the bases for a new Lebanon that is sovereign and protected from foreign attacks. To this end, he addressed an appeal to the country’s political leaders, one that should not be seen as partisan. Lebanon’s foreign minister is in Rome today.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – What did the Maronite patriarch, Cardinal Bechara al-Rahi, have in mind when he delivered his homily last Sunday? According to a well-informed source close to the patriarch, he wants the Maronite Church to gradually promote the notion of Lebanon as a neutral state and that its neutrality be guaranteed internationally. To achieve such a goal, support must be sought in other communities. “The Sunday homily,” the source said, “should not be considered as another complaint, but rather as a potentially foundational speech.”

What are the four principles laid out by the head of the Maronite Church? In brief, Patriarch Al-Rahi asked the president of Lebanon to "break the siege (...) on the country’s ability to decide for itself”.  [Secondly,] the state should exercise its sovereignty fully rather than just nominally. To this end, he urged the United Nations, the international community and the Arab world to take note and guarantee Lebanon’s neutrality. Thirdly, the patriarch slammed the country’s leaders for Lebanon’s economic collapse and for failing to take responsibility in that collapse. Lastly, he wants the security services to stop harassing the activists involved in the 17 October protest movement.

“For the first time,” noted the source, “the patriarch’s words reflect a national aspiration for change. We must prevent this aspiration from being highjacked by one side or the other. Patriarch Al-Rahi is not asking for the fall of this government; he is going after the entire political establishment and is demanding that Hezbollah disarm, which is one detail in an overall vision.”

“One thing is certain, it is no longer a question of being silent," said a Maronite bishop who asked that his name be withheld. “We have been asked for years to say, as clearly as possible, what we want. Now we have decided to do it, and if the patriarch goes to Rome, he will go there with a well-prepared file.”

Contrary to what was reported yesterday, the patriarch is not planning a visit to Rome any time soon. For former lawmaker Fares Souaid, the Sunday homily marks "a great turning point in the life of the country and the Church. It marks the return to the front stage of a patriarch who had pulled back a bit to allow certain political leaders and Christian parties to prove themselves.”

For Souaid, leader of Lady of the Mountain Rally[*] party, “With such leaders and Christian parties losing popularity, the Church decided to resume her place as guarantor of Lebanon’s continuity.” After all, “she helped create it a century ago.”

For the patriarch, “legality has been mortgaged. He knows very well that Lebanon cannot continue to exist with state within a state, sucking the life out of it economically and politically, acting like a great policy maker in lieu of the president.”

According to Church sources, it is purely coincidental that the patriarch’s homily was delivered just as Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti was getting ready to visti Rome where today he met with Cardinal Paul Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.

The two men are very likely to talk about the crises that hit Lebanon in 2019, as well as the impact within the country of the puzzling blasts at Iranian nuclear sites and the countdown to Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank.


[*] Rassemblement de Saydet el-Jabal.

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