09/06/2006, 00.00
LEBANON
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The Christian exodus and Lahoud's fate central to Maronite bishops' appeal

by Yousef Hourany
In the message released today, the prelates urge Christians to come back home despite the economic crisis and express their hope in international assistance and peace-keeping force.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanon's dramatic situation, aggravated by the refusal of President Émile Lahoud to resign, and the continued exodus of Christians from the country are the main two issues expected to be included in the appeal Maronite bishops are scheduled to make today, the seventh of its kind since September 2000, in Bkerke where they have gathered for their monthly meeting.  After a short trip to the patriarchal residence in Dimane in northern Lebanon, Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir is back to chair the event.

Well-informed Church sources have told AsiaNews that the appeal will be informed by the developments in Lebanon's and the region's current crises, especially the war between Hezbollah and Israel and the patriarch's July trip to the United States.

During that trip the head of the Maronite Church met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice-President Dick Cheney, both of whom told him that the US would not forget Lebanon and was committed to a just solution to the Palestinian question.

In this seventh appeal, Maronite bishops will refer to the serious constitutional problem represented by President Lahoud's refusal to resign despite the fact that his presence in the office is increasingly dividing the Lebanese and has negatively affected Lebanon's relationship with the United States, the European Union and some Asian countries.

On the domestic front, the appeal will mention the fact Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, backed by a parliamentary majority led by Saad Hariri, is increasingly playing a central role.

According to the same sources, the statement by Maronite bishops will focus on seven main points, including the serious economic crisis and Christian emigration.

During the war between Israel and Hezbollah some 240,000 Christians left the country and most do not want to come back. This worries Lebanon's Church because, as John Paul II put it, "a Christian presence in Lebanon is a necessary condition for a Christian presence in the Middle East". For this reason, they intend to make a strong appeal to Christians to come back and are themselves prepared to take the prophetic social steps that would bring them home.

The bishops' appeal will also stress the importance of the international community's support for Lebanon, whether in the form of material assistance or the deployment of a peace-keeping force. In their view, all this represents a further guarantee for all of the country's citizens.

Still some observers wonder whether this appeal will bring together the Maronite family after the political divisions caused by the 2000 appeal which included the creation of the Kornet Chehwan gathering.

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