The ‘cry” of the people of Lebanon on 1st July

Representatives of the Lebanese Christian Churches will “walk together” with Pope Francis to pray for peace and ask God to help the country. Three working sessions will be held behind closed doors. The final prayer will be open to members of the diplomatic corps. An invitation to take part in the event was sent to all Lebanese male and female religious communities, as well as Lebanese Christians present in Rome.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A press conference was held this morning in the Vatican to present the agenda for the Day of Reflection and Prayer for Lebanon set for 1st July.

Card Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches; Mgr Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States; and Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, were present at the event.

Representatives of Eastern Christianity – Catholics, Orthodox, Armenians and Protestants – are expected to take part in the Day’s events. The representatives of Lebanon’s Churches will bring “the cry of a people” and “walk together” with Pope Francis to pray for peace and ask for God's help for the troubled country.

Thirty years ago, Card Sandri noted, when John Paul II convened a special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Lebanon, “the situation was tragic”. Now, it is not much different, and “The Christian community, in all its parts is questioning, reflecting, and praying.”

In presenting the agenda of the Day, the cardinal stressed that “on more than one occasion” the Pope and the heads of the Churches and ecclesial communities will “walk together” from the Domus Sanctae Marthae to the Vatican Basilica, after the welcome and greeting ceremony in the guest house’s hall. All of them will be staying at the Domus from the evening of 30 June to the morning of 2 July.

“After the Lord’s Prayer, participants will walk down the steps of the Apostle Peter's Confession; each will place a candle as a token of the prayer that burns, asking for the Apostle's intercession.

“During the day we will not be able to see or listen to them, because the doors of the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace will remain closed.”

Three working sessions will take place in camera, each introduced by the words of a rapporteur. The final prayer in the Basilica will be open to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. An invitation to take part in the service was extended to all male and female religious communities as well as Lebanese Christians present in Rome.

“It will be our prayer of intercession, which could be recited that day in parishes and religious communities, and not only of Lebanon”. This “will make us feel closer to them, and give them some support at this moment of mutual listening and discussion.”

The text of ecumenical prayer for peace will see the proclamation of some passages of the Word of God, alternating with prayers of invocation and songs drawn from the different traditions present in Lebanon, with texts in Arabic, Syriac, Armenian, and Chaldean.

“Towards the end of the service, the sign of peace will not be exchanged in the traditional way – in compliance with pandemic-related regulations – but young people will give Christian leaders a lit lamp, which will then be placed on a candlestick. This represents the hope of peace that the younger generations can deliver asking for help so that it may not be extinguished by the tribulations of the present.”

Participants will sit around a round table, starting with Pope Francis; Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, nuncio to Lebanon, who will serve as moderator; and the ten heads of Christian Churches.

The Catholic side will include Maronite Patriarch Card Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, Siro-Catholic Ignace Youssef III Younan, Melkite Bishop Youssef Absi, Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji, and Latin Apostolic Vicar Bishop Cesar Essayan.

Non-Catholics include Patriarch John X (Youhanna) Yazigi, primate of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All The East, which has “great historical, social and cultural importance in the Middle East,” said Bishop Brian Farrell, L.C., Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and whose members “are generally of Arab and Arabic-speaking”.

Catholicos Aram I will represent the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church. “Basically, the presence of the Armenian community in Lebanon dates back to the time of the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century,” Bishop Farrell noted.

His Holiness Aram “is a prominent figure in the ecumenical movement, having been moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches from 1991 to 2006,” playing “a major role in the development of the Council of Churches of the Middle East.”

The Syrian Orthodox Church will be represented by Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, who has been head of the Church since 2014. The latter is the “heir to the great Syriac tradition, little known in the West but very important in the history of Christianity, in theology and liturgy, and in missionary expansion in the East.”

Evangelicals, i.e. the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon, will be represented by its president, Rev Joseph Kassab. “The evangelical community in Lebanon originates from the intellectual awakening in the Arab-speaking part of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Today in Lebanon, it is closely involved in education.”

At the end of the meeting, Francis will address a final word and, before taking his leave, will gift a plaque as a memento of the day with its logo.

Answering a question, Bishop Paul Richard Gallagher, current Secretary for Relations with States, said that a visit by Pope Francis to Lebanon is unlikely this year, but might take place in early 2022.