01/05/2022, 18.01
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Gallagher in Beirut in February to prepare papal visit

by Fady Noun

A symposium on "John Paul II and Lebanon” on 2-3 February provides the Holy See’s top diplomat with a venue to organise the trip, which could take place between the country’s legislative and presidential elections in May and October respectively, if stability and security are ensured. “Now it's up to the Lebanese,” a source said.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Cardinal Paul Richard Gallagher, the Secretary for Relations with States, will travel to Lebanon in early February to prepare a papal visit, this according to various sources.

Card Gallagher will be at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK), north of Beirut, where he will inaugurate a symposium on the topic “John Paul II and Lebanon” on 2-3 February 2022. The university is part of the Lebanese Maronite Order.

The Vatican diplomat will discuss with the country's top officials the possibility of a pastoral visit to Lebanon by Pope Francis in 2022, a country in crisis that the Supreme Pontiff has repeatedly said he wants to visit.

During his 26 years of reign (1978-2005), the "great pope" John Paul II described Lebanon as “more than a country, a message of pluralism and tolerance for East and West", in an appeal made to the bishops of the whole world on 7 September 1989.

Overused and faded, the slogan Lebanon as a message has lost its depth and impact. To regain its power, the Vatican, the Lebanese Ambassador to the Holy See Farid el-Khazen and Holy Spirit University of Kaslik are jointly organising a symposium centred on “John Paul II and Lebanon” on 2-3 February at USEK campus with Card Paul Gallagher as the guest of honour.

The idea for the symposium dates back to 2020, Ambassador Farid el-Khazen said. The initial purpose was to mark the 25th anniversary of the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops consecrated to Lebanon (1995) and John Paul II's visit to Lebanon in May 1997 to hand over the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation to the local Church.

The commemoration was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but, barring any surprises, the symposium will take place next month.

As for a possible papal visit to Lebanon, a reliable source suggests that if it is to take place, it will be between Lebanon’s two elections scheduled for this year, i.e., the parliamentary election in May and the presidential election in October, if the conditions for political and security stability are met that is. “Now it's up to the Lebanese,” the source added.

The symposium itself will start with a look at the past, followed by sessions devoted to Islamic-Christian relations, living together, education, culture and freedoms, ending with the document on human fraternity in Abu Dhabi (2019) and Lebanon’s historical vocation. The meeting will be held on the sidelines of any political news, in particular the proposal by Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi for Lebanese neutrality.

For Lebanon’s ambassador to the Holy See, the spirit rather than the letter of "living together" will be at the heart of the symposium, where “living together” relies on the notions of “civic equality and cultural community”, as Card Jean-Marie Lustiger, then archbishop of Paris, defined it. John Paul II sent Card Lustiger to Lebanon in April 2000.

"But it's not just about words," the diplomat said. While admitting that without an effort from the international community in the current geopolitical context, Lebanon cannot regain its free decision, he believes that the Lebanese must still "carry out their own duties at home”.

They must remember that during his visit to Lebanon, John Paul II said: "Lebanese, you ask me for miracles; it is up to you to perform them.”

The importance given by John Paul II to the Lebanese model has not changed, despite the important developments since the 1990s, the ambassador stressed.

Pope Francis has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, visiting the Holy Land, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and, lastly, Iraq last year, before the ecumenical day of prayer on 1 July 2021 at the Vatican, to which the heads of the Eastern Churches were invited.

Echoing the three key words of John Paul II's formula, “message, tolerance and pluralism”, Pope Francis ended the meeting saying that Lebanon was “a universal message of peace and fraternity arising from the Middle East” whose “vocation is to be a land of tolerance and pluralism, an oasis of fraternity where different religions and confessions meet, where different communities live together, putting the common good before their individual interests.”

This a toll order for a country in crisis, seeking constantly how to turn its rich and complex identity into viable institutions.

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