Archbishop Gallagher on hopes for Lebanon’s future

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Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, briefs diplomats accredited to the Holy See on his recent visit to Lebanon.

By Francesca Sabatinelli

The people of Lebanon have such a great desire for a visit from Pope Francis that a papal trip is conceivable as soon as conditions allow.

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher made the statement Wednesday to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.

The Vatican Secretary for Relations with States visited the land of cedars from January 31 to February 4 and informed the diplomats that the Holy See is already “examining the possibility of a visit, perhaps even by the end of the year”.

Exploring the complex realities of Lebanon

The Archbishop said his visit to Lebanon offered a very “interesting experience given the intensity of the meetings and an excellent one from a political-diplomatic point of view”.

He was able to “touch” the realities of the Middle East nation and witness first-hand the many people who wished to meet him as representative of the Holy See, noting the need for “real consensus on problems and solutions” found .

During his visit, Archbishop Gallagher met families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion on August 4, 2020.

“They live with a strong sense of frustration,” he stressed, as they fear the “process will be hampered”.

Another daily struggle for most Lebanese, he said, is access to “liquidity and banks,” amid high inflation and an ongoing cash crunch. At the same time, many resent the large number of Syrian refugees as a threat to the country’s demographic and economic balance.

May elections

Archbishop Gallagher said a key issue in Lebanese politics is the ongoing implementation of the Taif Accords, a treaty that ended the civil war

1975-1990,
and its requirements for a power-sharing formula between religious groups.

Speaking to ambassadors to the Holy See, the Archbishop considered alternative proposals to achieve some “neutrality” in Lebanon, including one from Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch.

“This appears to be an essential element for Lebanon’s future,” Archbishop Gallagher said, although he admits that talks about neutrality in the region will be difficult.

A next step, he hopes, will be taken in the upcoming elections in May. But he warns that the Lebanese diaspora could decide the vote because of the budget, as many Lebanese living abroad send vital economic support to their families.

Youth and Interreligious Dialogue

The Secretary for Relations with States then addressed the issue of emigration by young Lebanese, saying many of them had personally expressed their desire to leave the country to him.

At the same time, Archbishop Gallagher said he had also witnessed several “projects of hope,” such as the Carlo Acutis youth center run by the Lazarist Fathers, which he had visited.

He admitted that many young people had voiced criticism to him of the Lebanese Church, which they see as “rich amidst so many poor young people,” an issue he says he raised at the Maronite Synod.

Archbishop Gallagher concluded his speech by noting that Pope Francis’ Day of Prayer for Lebanon, held on July 1, 2021, had a positive impact on interreligious dialogue in the country.

Also, the Pope’s visit to Iraq in March 2021, he added, “had a great impact, especially the meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which became a source of encouragement for everyone.”

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