04/07/2022, 11.27
LEBANON - VATICAN
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The mess over the papal visit mirrors Lebanese confusion

by Fady Noun

The visit announced as official by the presidency was followed by a clarification from the Holy See: "It is being studied". In fact, the presence of the pontiff is given for certain, but according to protocol the Vatican announces the program. A leak of rumors that the office of the Head of State wanted to quell with the stamp of officialdom. 

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Yesterday the curtain fell on an unexpected episode concerning the long-awaited visit to Lebanon by Pope Francis, announced too early on April 5 with a tweet from the official account of the Presidency of the Republic. The Vatican backtracked on the rash announcement, typical of a superficial way of doing things that is characteristic of the Lebanese, with a clarification from the director of the Vatican Press Office, Matteo Bruni, who said that the trip is a "possibility being studied." 

Vehement criticism was levelled at the Presidency of the Republic for departing from protocol and releasing information that should have remained confidential, pending the official announcement by the Holy See. The Head of State and his faction have been accused of having exploited this announcement for mere electoral purposes, in order to take credit for having wrested from the Holy Father the concession of a visit to Lebanon. 

In reality, the facts are "a little different", reveals a European diplomatic source, awho adds that the leak of information is attributable to an indiscretion and who therefore lifts all responsibility from the president's office. With it susual diplomatic tact, but not without a certain ambiguity, the Vatican circles redeemed the misstep by announcing that the visit is still "being studied", given that there is still no certain date and not even a defined program. 

The journey is not compromised

Nevertheless, the expression "being studied" does not mean that the apostolic journey is compromised by the leakage of information. Proof of this is the fact of how it was received during the monthly assembly of the Maronite bishops, gathered yesterday in the patriarchal see of Bkerké at the announcement of the papal visit.

In the preamble of the communiqué issued at the conclusion of the meeting, the college of bishops "rejoiced at the announcement of the apostolic visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Lebanon next June." "While waiting for the details of the official program of this visit to be finalized," the note continues, "we ask God to bless it and fulfill the desires of his holiness the pope, including the good of Lebanon and the Lebanese. 

"We have full confidence that the pope will know how to well surprise everyone," Maronite Bishop of Batroun Mounir Khairallah told L'Orient-Le Jour (LOJ) yesterday, who said he was sure that "no one knows better than the Vatican what the identity and historical vocation of Lebanon is in its Arab environment." "The visit will certainly take place," the prelate confirmed without a shadow of a doubt, at the end of a meeting dedicated precisely to the program of the trip itself and held in the offices of the nunciature in the afternoon. According to the diplomatic source mentioned above, the announcement of the date of the visit and the official program will be made within a few days.

Promises

We also recall that on April 5, the apostolic nuncio to Lebanon Msgr. Joseph Spiteri had informed the Maronite patriarch and the Lebanese head of state that Pope Francis would visit Lebanon in June, although this information was to remain confidential pending the announcement of the date and official program at a later date.

Despite this the news was recklessly rmade public, thus forcing the presidency of the Republic to account for it with an official announcement, while being able to rely on the promises made by the Holy Father last March to President Aoun. During their meeting last March 21 in the Vatican, the Pontiff had in fact personally confirmed his visit to Lebanon, without however specifying the date.

For his part, Aoun had illustrated the "serious socio-economic problems of the country and the situation of refugees". According to a note issued at the conclusion of the meeting, they also talked about "aid from the international community, the upcoming parliamentary elections and the necessary reforms" to "strengthen peaceful coexistence among the different religious denominations living in Lebanon".

Anticipating the pope's upcoming visit to Lebanon, a church source who closely followed the pontiff's recent visit to Malta pointed out that Francis did not forget to refer to it during a passage on the Middle East. The pope said that the very existence of the island, "heart of the Mediterranean," is proof that we can live in "a kind of conviviality of differences," a theme that closely concerns the Lebanese. 

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