09/02/2022, 12.06
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Archbishop Spiteri says openness in Lebanese DNA, encourages dialogue

by Fady Noun

The apostolic nuncio, freshly appointed to Mexico, bids farewll to the Land of the Cedars where he has worked since 2018. The diplomat cites coexistence as basis of nation's greatness, stubborn persistence in error  greatest limitation. The loss of trust of the international community. The knot of neutrality and the sovereignist parties.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Coexistence has always been the basis of greatness for Lebanon and its citizens. At the same time, the obstinate perseverance in error,  is perhaps the greatest limitation. These two basic observations are the signposts of the interview granted to AsiaNews by the apostolic nuncio to Lebanon Msgr Joseph Spiteri, on the eve of his departure for Mexico, his new destination after Pope Francis' appointment on 7 July. 

"Unfortunately, in the 1989 Taëf agreement, which put an end to the civil war, each faction," explains the Maltese-born prelate, in the Country of the Cedars since 2018, "moved in pursuit of their own personal gain. And even today they have failed to understand that in 30 years they have destroyed the country and continue to do so'. The apostolic nuncio speaks with calm lucidity: he particularly deplores the fact that, due to widespread corruption and bad governance, which have caused one of the most serious economic crises of our time in Lebanon, the Lebanese State "has lost the trust of the international community". 

The latter, the diplomat notes, 'now has a tendency to want to avoid this and grant aid directly to institutions weakened by inflation'. This was the case with Qatar, which allocated a fund directly to the Lebanese army. And the same thing has happened with the Holy See, whose charitable agencies directly assist the network of Catholic schools, which guarantees education to about 25% of the Lebanese school population.

Msgr. Spiteri, many think that the pope postponed the visit because he would not support the campaign on Lebanon's international neutrality and because of his criticism of a Maronite clergy that allegedly lives in luxury, as opposed to the faithful who live in hardship. What do you think?

Of course, Pope Francis does not spare the clergy any criticism. He did it again recently, addressing the newly created cardinals, whom he asked not to get caught up in the game of titles and honours when they are called 'eminence', but to remain close to the little ones. The pontiff also regularly denounces clericalism and worldliness. But the pope's criticism is general. And everyone is called upon to make their own examination of conscience. 

Secondly, with regard to neutrality, it should be noted that this term does not appear in any document from the Holy See. Because in the context in which it is used, this term is perceived as being directed against Hezbollah. However, Hezbollah, like all Lebanese parties, defines itself as 'sovereignist' and its opinion cannot be excluded from internal dialogue at all. On the other hand, we also know that neutrality is one of the foundations of the national pact underpinning Lebanon, which is 'neither East nor West'. In a sense, the country is East and West at the same time. Openness is inherent in Lebanon's DNA. We must continue according to this logic, while at the same time redefining it on a new basis. But beware: 'The future will only be peaceful if it is common,' the pope recalled during the Day of Prayer for Lebanon held at the Vatican, on 1 July 2021, in the presence of the Eastern Patriarchs.

During the day, the pope also said that 'Lebanon, with its unique experience of peaceful coexistence, cannot be left at the mercy of fate. Do you see this 'peaceful coexistence' applied in practice today?

Pope John Paul II said that the coesistence in Lebanon is 'a message, a model of freedom and tolerance'. Of freedom, and this we tend to forget. This is the experience of Lebanon, even before Greater Lebanon. In Lebanon, one breathes freedom. Mount Lebanon has always been a refuge for persecuted minorities. Brotherhood remains. Without brotherhood, freedom and equality lose their value. 

Nevertheless, I feel that the Church has not done enough to make young people aware of this historical legacy, to prepare them to become involved in the politics that Paul VI considered "the noblest of commitments". Unfortunately, the space has been occupied for decades by the same people. And there is no prospect of a replacement on the horizon.

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See also
Nuncio to Lebanon on the Pope and the 'existential crisis' of a message-nation
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