Patriarch Raï urges Lebanese to vote en masse at elections
By Lisa Zengarini
Lebanon is slated to hold a long-awaited parliamentary election on 15 May, which many Lebanese, as well as the international community, hope will bring an overdue political change and provide concrete solutions to the country’s multiple crises, including its worst economic tumble in decades.
Ahead of the polls, Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros al-Raï has urged Lebanese citizens to come out to vote in great numbers, stressing that elections give them the opportunity to tell the world what kind of country they aspire to.
Citizens want a free and neutral Lebanon
Speaking at Mass on Sunday in the Shrine of Our Lady of Harissa, Cardinal al Raï remarked that the majority of Lebanese people want “a free, democratic and neutral Lebanon; a Lebanon with an historical identity, founded on justice and equality with one army and constitutional institutions”, and want to “live and prosper in a free economy”.
For this reason, he said, all Lebanese citizens should make use of their right to vote “to tell the world what Lebanon they want”, and that they reject any geopolitical design aimed at putting the country under foreign tutelage and reducing its full sovereignty.
In recent years, the head of the Maronite Church has insistently advocated for Lebanese neutrality so as to preserve its independence and pluralistic identity.
Need for peaceful electoral campaign
In his homily, Patriarch al Raï also called for a peaceful and orderly electoral campaign, expressing concern over the growing international and regional tensions.
He mentioned tensions along the southern border with Israel, which, added to some recent incidents in Lebanon, could affect its precarious social stability on the eve of this crucial ballot.
A crucial election for Lebanon
The election will be the first since hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in October 2019, protesting against the deteriorating economic conditions, endemic corruption, and the entire political leadership that has been governing the country since the end of the war Lebanon in 1990.
The results will be decisive also because the next Parliament will have to elect a new president to succeed Michel Aoun, whose six-year term ends in October this year.
The vote comes as Lebanon is struggling with a financial downturn caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement, and with a crashing currency that has lost more than 90 percent of its value in three years. This has caused prices of food and basic commodities to skyrocket and plunged 78 percent of Lebanese population into poverty.
The economic crisis has worsened dramatically after the COVID-19 outbreak and the massive explosion in Beirut’s port on 4 August 2020, which killed more than 200 people, injured thousands, left 300,000 people homeless, and caused billions in damage. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has also exacerbated the food crisis in the country.
Delegation of French bishops to visit Lebanon
In this dramatic context, a delegation of French Bishops is set to travel on 8 May to Lebanon for a five-day visit to convey the closeness and support of the Church in France to the Lebanese people and Churches.
The seven-member delegation, headed by Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, president of the French Bishop’s Conference (CEF), will meet the Lebanese patriarchs, local religious communities, and people in need.
The visit will offer an opportunity to confirm the close relations between the Church of France and the Lebanese Churches. It will also draw attention to the charity work carried out throughout the country by French Catholic organizations such as l'Œuvre d'Orient, CCFD Terre Solidaires, Fondation d'Auteuil, JRS France, alongside the Order of Malta, Caritas Lebanon and Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), amongst others, with the generous financial support of French Catholic donors.
The delegation will meet the Maronite, Melkite, Syriac, and Armenian patriarchs, as well as bishops representing the Chaldean and Latin Churches in Lebanon, along with the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, and the French Ambassador in the country.
French Bishops will also visit schools and facilities supported by Catholic charities, religious communities, as well as a Palestinian Christian refugee camp.