"It is a disaster, which has yet to be fully grasped" Speaking to Vatican News in his home in Beirut, Maronite Archbishop Paul Abdel Sater does not mince his words: "Ordinary people are becoming poorer and poorer. Medicines are increasingly expensive and hospitals are unaffordable”, he says.
A humanitarian catastrophe
According to the Lebanese prelate, it is a humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding day after day with no apparent way out: "For a number of reasons the government is paralyzed, while in our society people are desperate".
Hope against all odds
However, although the future seems bleak, not all is lost: "As a Church, as Christians, we still have hope against all odds. We still confide in the goodness of human beings and of the Lebanese people", Bishop Sater says.
A growing chain of solidarity is helping the country cope with one of the worst crises in the country since the 1975-1990 war. Relief from international religious and not religious organizations is of great help to the population and to the Christian community in Lebanon. According to Archbishop Sater, this relief could help contain mass emigration, which is essential if the Middle Eastern country is to remain an example of "religious and cultural pluralism" in the region.
Preserving the Lebanese pluralistic fabric
Indeed, he says, Lebanon must continue to be a ‘message nation’ of coexistence of diversity, as advocated for by St. John Paul II. In times of difficulty, people tend to withdraw into themselves, but it is important to maintain dialogue between the various Christian and Muslim communities, Bishop Sater remarks.
Lebanon does not lack of examples of mutual help amongst neighbours of different religious communities: “Lebanese people continue to help each other and to love and support each other, because what is important to them is not the general framework, but rather the small things in day to day life", he says.
The need for international support
While highlighting the vital importance of support from the international community, Bishop Sater also reiterates the need for foreign countries to stop meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs “so that the Lebanese can breathe, feel independent and decide how they want to continue living together in their country".
Indeed, the prelate says he does not expect an external solution to Lebanon’s problems: “The real solution for the Lebanese people, must come from Lebanon, from the Lebanese people”, he says. “All the foreign solutions we have been presented with proved to be disastrous for the country and for its future”.
The Church's support
Referring to the Maronite Diocese of Beirut, Bishop Sater says its priority today is to be close to its faithful facing great financial difficulties, including the many pensioners who have seen their retirement savings dissolve and who have no other source of income as they can’t rely on a state's monthly pension.
He goes on to say that the local Church also supports Catholic educational institutions to provide education to children of families who can no longer afford to pay school fees. “The same applies to the distribution of medicines, the price of which has increased tenfold in a few months”.
According to local sources, the present cost of living in Lebanon amounts to 4 and 5 million Lebanese Liras (the equivalent of $ 2640-3300) while the average wage is 1.5 million Liras ($990).