Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

    “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;

    “As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore!”

    Psalm 133:1-3, on the blessedness of unity among brothers, like “the dew of Mt. Hermon.” A snow-capped Mt. Hermon in Lebanon is shown above.

The effects of the explosion of August 4, 2020, in Beirut, above.  Several of the wounded are shown in the photo below.

   Letter #29, 2021, Tuesday, June 1: Lebanon Summit    

    Pope Francis has invited the Christian leaders of Lebanon to come to Rome on July 1 to seek ways to bring stability to that country.

    Reporting the news, Vatican News writes: “On July 1, Pope Francis will receive at the Vatican the leaders of the Christian communities of Lebanon, to discuss the deep crisis that the country has been going through for several months, a proof of the concern of the Holy Father for Lebanon and the Lebanese.”

    “Starting now,” Pope Francis told the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square Sunday, May 30, for the noon Angelus prayer, “I ask you to accompany the preparation for this event with supportive prayer, invoking for that beloved country a more peaceful future.” (link to a brief Rome Reports video on the Pope’s decision)

    “The meeting will be held in the spirit of the meeting in Bari in 2018,” the apostolic nuncio to Lebanon, Bishop Joseph Spiteri, told the press, referring to an historic ecumenical meeting during which some 60 bishops from countries around the Mediterranean gathered around the theme “Mediterranean, border of peace.” (link)

    Francis has held up Lebanon as a model of coexistence between Christians and Muslims and has praised Lebanon’s efforts to offer refuge to millions fleeing war in Syria and Iraq.

    But Lebanon is reaching its breaking point.

    ***

    More than half of Lebanon’s people now live below the poverty line.

    There is an increasingly large gap between ordinary people and the ruling elites, who have been repeatedly accused of corruption.

    The lockdown associated with the Coronavirus pandemic slowed the economy and brought further hardship.

    Then, on August 4, 2020, a terrifying explosion at a warehouse in Beirut killed 211 people and left tens of thousands homeless, especially in the Maronite Catholic section of the city.

    ***

    The country’s government resigned in response to the explosion, and a new government has not been formed.

    In April, Pope Francis met with the Prime Minister-designate of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, who asked the Pope for help in getting Lebanon out of the political and economic crisis.

    Now the Pope is gathering the country’s Christian leaders at the Vatican.

    The purpose: “For a day of reflection on the worrying situation of the country and to pray together for the gift of peace and stability,” Francis said Sunday.

    Four leaders have accepted

    The Maronite Catholic Patriarch, Béchara Boutros Raï, as well as the Patriarchs of the Catholic and Orthodox Syriac Churches, Ignatius Joseph III Younan and Ignatios Afram II Karim have confirmed their attendance. Catholicos Aram I, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Cilicia, has also confirmed he will attend.

    ***

    To Recapitulate: The Tragedy, and the Hope, of Lebanon

    Lebanon suffered a massive explosion in the capital, Beirut, on August 4, 2020 — almost one year ago now.

    Tens of thousands were left with shattered windows and crumbling roofs. It has taken months to clear the rubble. More than 200 died.

    At the same time, hundreds of thousands of refugees are still fleeing into Lebanon to escape violence in Syria and Iraq.

    Yet, Lebanon for months has been unable to organize a functioning government. There is no effective authority in place to oversee the distribution of international aid to help the needy.

    Many young Lebanese see no future in their country, and are seeking to leave.

    This is why the leader of the Catholic Maronite-rite Church in Lebanon, Cardinal Rai, has taken to pleading almost daily for months for the country’s politicians set aside their rivalries and form a functioning coalition government — for the sake of the ordinary Lebanese people, who now risk even famine if no solution to the impasse is found.

    ***

    It is in this context that Pope Francis has summoned the Christian leaders of Lebanon to come to Rome on July 1.

    It is also in this context that we at Urbi et Orbi is (“To the City and to the World”) Communications — the US non-profit which since 1993 has published Inside the Vatican magazine — launched our “Friends of Lebanon” project immediately after the August 4, 2020, explosion.

    It is in this context that we have now launched an larger initiative called “Unitas.” The word is the Latin word for “Unity.”

    The project will use all means to try to restore the unity of Christians so that, together, we may face the challenges of this increasingly post-Christian world.

    We will use all means — writing, lectures, podcasts, zoom meetings, pilgrimages, concerts, catechetical projects and charity initiatives — to try to turn the hearts and minds of modern Christians back toward Christ, in a society which seems intent on marginalizing Christ and his Gospel.

    We will strive to bring unity within our beloved Catholic Church at a time when our evident divisions — in many places — seem to be growing more profound.

    We will strive to bring greater unity with the Orthodox, who share with us the seven sacraments, but from whom we have been divided for nearly 1,000 years, since 1054 A.D.

    One thousand years of separation is long enough.

    ***

    Launched on May 13, 2021, three weeks ago, Unitas seeks to face directly the current crisis in the Church and world by “building bridges” between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, carrying out common charitable actions in view of an eventual closer union in an increasingly post-Christian age.

    To learn more about the special “Friends of Lebanon” initiative we have launched, click here (to donate, click on the link and scroll down).

    To learn more about the larger Unitas initiative, click here (to put your name on an email list for further information, simply click on the link and scroll down).

    We stand in solidarity with our friends, the people of Lebanon, Catholic and Orthodox alike — and with all who are facing the present trials there — and we hope that reason and charity will prevail over passion and party interest so that peace and prosperity may return in that beloved country in the shadow of Mt. Hermon. —RM

    Below, Pope Francis greets Lebanese Cardinal Rai, the head of the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon

    Above, four of the Christian leaders of Lebanon invited by Pope Francis to a meeting in Rome on July 1. Clockwise from upper left: Catholic Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites; and Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church (link); Mor Ignatios Afram II Karim, Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and of all the East (link); and Ignazio Giuseppe III Younan, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians (link).

    Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher (above, with Pope Francis), is the head of the Vatican’s diplomacy. Below he speaks about a just-announced high level July 1 meeting — in one month — in the Vatican to discuss the tragic situation for Christians in Lebanon

    The following interview was conducted by an old friend, with whom we have traveled on pilgrimage, the American journalist Deborah Lubov, who formerly wrote for Zenit, which has now closed, and now writes for the news agency, Exaudi.

    Vatican Foreign Minister: Pope’s Lebanon Meeting, ‘an Appeal for Progress’ (link)

    Archbishop Gallagher Expresses to Exaudi Hope to Secure Future for Lebanon’s Christian Communities

    May 31, 2021

    By Deborah Castellano Lubov

    The Pope’s upcoming meeting with Lebanese Christian leaders will be “an appeal to make progress,” to have “courage to overcome problems” and “to secure a future for the nation’s Christian communities.”

    Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, told this to Exaudi when its Editorial Director and Senior Vatican Correspondent asked him about Pope Francis’ announcement yesterday of the July 1 encounter in the Vatican to work toward peace.

    The Vatican’s foreign minister was speaking at the private event on “Today’s Challenges to Religious Liberty” today, May 31, 2020 at 11 am. Organized by Italian Ambassador to the Holy See, Ambassador Pietro Sebastiani, the event took place outdoors, in the cloister of Palazzo Borromeo, in full compliance with anti-Covid 19 rules and provisions.

    The Vatican diplomat along with Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, Prof. Vincenzo Buonomo, engaged in a dialogue on “Today’s Challenges to Religious Liberty,” and were introduced by a reflection of Ambassador Sebastiani.

    Exaudi asked Archbishop Gallagher what the Holy Father’s concrete hope is for the imminent encounter, and to what extent he believes the hoped-for visit of the Pontiff to the beleaguered nation could be affected by this meeting.

    “The Holy Father, in inviting the Christian leaders from Lebanon to come to Rome and to meet and be with him,” the Vatican’s foreign minister explained, “was his response to an appeal from them. One of them reached out to him, and he replied in this way.”

    “Obviously the meeting,” he said, “will try to discuss and analyze the very complex situation in which Lebanon finds itself, politically, religiously, and socially. Also economic too, but obviously being churchmen, we don’t necessarily have very much expertise as is well known in matters of finance, but they’re going to try to look at everything.”

    Spiritual Moment, to Offer Lebanese People Courage

    Clarifying it “is not just a talk shop,” he reminded it will be “a spiritual moment, to be with the Pope, to pray, try to offer to the people of Lebanon that courage that they need at this time, that willingness to overcome their problems.”

    “I think it will be an appeal to its political leaders,” he underscored, “to make progress: above all, that they should be able to form a government and to lead the people out of what is a very dark moment.”

    When La Croix asked whether the invitation eventually could also be extended to also non-Christian leaders, he responded: “I think he has made his invitation. I think it’s Christian leaders. I don’t think he is, at the moment, thinking of that.”

    “We do think stage by stage. But of course, when he eventually goes to Lebanon, I am sure he will be having interreligious meetings as well.”

    Trip by Year End Unlikely 

    Exaudi asked the Vatican’s foreign minister whether the highly anticipated trip to the Middle Eastern nation before the end of the year, or given everything, whether that would be too complicated.

    “Well, I think the end of the year is coming up very quickly, and he [Pope Francis] has maybe one or two other things planned. And then, September and October are always very full of meetings, and if we completely come out of the COVID, then I think things will just triplify and it will become more and more difficult.”

    “So I don’t know, but we’ll wait and see,” he noted. “I think we have to wait and see what the fruit is of this meeting will be on July 1st, and what the expectations are, and what encouragement they offer to the Pope with regard to the meeting. We’ll see then.”

    Combatting Against Hemorrhaging Christian Communities

    Agreeing this is a first step, Archbishop Gallagher noted: “Yes, that is the way we do things: step-by-step because you cannot foresee the future too easily, particularly in these complex political and social situations, but there is no doubt about it that the people of Lebanon need solidarity.

    “It’s an object of concern because it is a democratic country, it has a constitution that tries to bind the people together in its governance and also we have the problem that too many places in the Middle East have hemorrhaging Christian communities.”

    For this reason, he stresses, “we are trying to do something. That is not to say we are going to be successful, but there is no doubt about it: we are trying to secure a future for some people, for our Christian communities in Lebanon.”

    “It is not going to be easy,” he said, recognizing: “There are a lot of material things that are going to have to be faced as well: the running of the schools, the hospitals, the dire situation of ordinary life in Lebanon–it is very difficult. Also, on top of that, we have refugees and what they call the displaced Syrians.”

    “It’s a very difficult situation, but hopefully this meeting will help,” he said.

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