Parolin: What is essential is Lebanon’s identity
by Fady Noun

The Pope could comfort the Lebanese with a visit. “I believe that Christians should not be afraid. Our present and our future are in God's hands,” said Card Parolin. The prelate briefly prayed in front of broken hangars in the Port of Beirut. AsiaNews continues its campaign “Help devastated Beirut”.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – For Vatican insiders, the silence that followed questions about a possible papal trip to Lebanon addressed yesterday to the Holy See's Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, suggests that such an eventuality is being seriously considered.

Asked about this by journalists, when he arrived in Lebanon on Thursday, the Vatican’s Number Two said that Francis "would certainly come," but that "the internal and external circumstances" would have to lend themselves to it. In other words, his visit to Lebanon should be a factor of unity, not disunity, should the regional situation allow it.

Yesterday, the day after his arrival, at the end of a moving tour of Beirut’s Karantina district, a poor neighbourhood located near the site of the terrible explosion, where he did a walkabout, Secretary of State Parolin promised to convey to the Pope the feelings the population has towards him. “We hope that he can come and comfort you personally with a visit,” the prelate said.

In Bkerké, where he met the Eastern Catholic patriarchs, Card Parolin stated that the Vatican stressed the importance of Lebanon’s “identity” and “role” in its Arab environment, without neglecting the advantages of the principle of “active neutrality” defended by Maronite patriarch.

The sovereign pontiff’s right-hand man, who returned to the Vatican at the end of the afternoon, travelled to Lebanon to take part in yesterday’s Day of fasting and prayer that Pope Francis had set aside to mark the first month after the disaster that devastated Beirut.

A physically trying visit

Touring the Karantina district was the culmination of a highly-charged day, which Beirut’s heat made physically trying. The day, which started with a visit to the Baabda (Presidential) Palace, included two official visits, one to the President, the other to the Patriarchal See in Bkerké.

Card Parolin prayed briefly in front of broken hangars in the Port of Beirut, laying a wreath against the railing along the sidewalk. He then visited two hospitals, the Rosaire and the Geitaoui, as well as the School of the Sacred Heart of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Gemmayzeh.

Finally, after lunch in Bkerké, during which he met the Eastern Catholic patriarchs, Parolin went to the Karantina district, with an extended stop at the Beirut fire station and the neighbourhood convents where he greeted the relatives of those who died or were seriously injured, before addressing the men and women religious and associations involved in health and food relief: Offer-Joy, Solidarity, Caritas and L'Œuvre d ' East.

Speaking before the president, Card Parolin stressed the importance of preserving Lebanon’s “identity,” an issue he stressed again in Bkerké where, in response to a question about the campaign in favour of Lebanon’s “active neutrality” promoted by the Maronite patriarch, he said that this idea is under study, that It is important for Lebanon be "sheltered from external conflicts" and "that it is important for the Vatican that Lebanon preserve its identity and role in the Middle East and the world,” a model of living together, pluralism and freedom.

“I believe that Christians should not be afraid. Our present and our future are in the hands of God,” said Cardinal Parolin when asked at the Patriarchal See, about the fears of Lebanon’s Christians for their future.

“The phrase ‘fear not’ is often found in the Holy Scriptures. I just repeated it during my short stay. I have taken the measure of your suffering. The destruction I have seen is unimaginable. But I also saw in person your will to rebuild and your desire to start again. I am sure that with God's help all the trials will be overcome. Lebanon is not alone. The whole Church is at its side.”

Donation of US$ 950,000 to hospitals

Cardinal Parolin also greeted and praised the nuns and staff of the two hospitals he visited, describing them as "the true heroes of the disaster since they forgot about healing their own wounds in order to continue to serve their brothers and sisters.”

He also expressed his admiration for the doctors and nurses who carried patients up the stairs because lifts were out of order. The prelate also announced a donation of US$ 475,000 to two hospitals each, money raised by L’Œuvre d´Orient, a Paris-based association.

Deeply touched by the show of human suffering during his visit to Karantina, the cardinal said that he saw "deeds that go beyond words, and prayers that cross all barriers,” adding that "the God of all mercy is also the Lord of history".

“You have the ability to walk away and find your way, perhaps with compromises. But you can do it with the grace of God,” he told the men and women religious before leaving.

“You have done this in the past (...) Times of crisis are also times of opportunity for faith, growth and solidarity. I will convey your feelings to the Pope. Let’s hope that he can come and personally comfort you with a visit.”

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