05/03/2007, 00.00
LEBANON – VATICAN

Sfeir brings concerns about his country’s future to the Vatican

by Youssef Hourani
Maronite Patriarch is increasingly worried about the institutional deadlock caused by the country’s political crisis, but especially by the increasingly bitter divisions within the Christian community. The synod of Maronite bishops will take place in a few weeks.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Card Nasrallah Sfeir is in the Vatican to see the Pope and bring his concerns about his country’s institutional deadlock caused by its ongoing political crisis. In addition, Lebanese sources close to the Patriarchate suggest that he will also discuss the growing divisions within the Christian community.

The sources also see a connection between Cardinal Sfeir’s Vatican visit and that by David Welch, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, who was received at the beginning of the week by the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti. A former advisor at the Apostolic Nunciature in Lebanon, the archbishop is seen by Lebanese politicians as “a sharp-minded expert who knows Lebanon’s reality and mentality, not to mention a keen observer of how Patriarch Sfeir has led the Maronite Church for the past 21 years and more.”

Similarly, they stress that Cardinal Sfeir remains concern about the increasingly permanent nature of emigration and his fears that the country’s economic crisis might end up depriving Lebanon of its more productive elements.

The Maronite patriarch’s meetings are described as “rich in content.” Significantly, they are taking place just a few weeks before the next synod of Maronite bishops, which is scheduled for the first week of June, and only a few months before the end of President Émile Lahoud’s mandate on November 24. Lebanon’s presidency is reserved for the Christian community.

A Maronite bishop who chose to remain anonymous told AsiaNews that “danger lurks behind our doors,” hence the need to elicit support from  the Holy See a month from US President George W. Bush’s visit to the Vatican.

Divisions among Christians remain the Maronite Church’s main worry. So much so that some have accused Cardinal Sfeir of losing his neutrality and moving closer to the positions expressed by the March 14 movement, the alliance between Geagea and Hariri, which is opposed to the partnership between General Michel Aoun and Hezbollah.

Many hope that the Vatican may also do something with regard to the Christian presence in the Middle East, a topic close to Pope’s heart.

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