By Linda Bordoni
In a letter addressed to the head of the Church in Lebanon, Pope Francis makes an urgent appeal to political and religious leaders and to the international community to help the nation surmount the grave crisis in which it finds itself and resume a normal existence.
Writing on Christmas Eve to His Beatitude Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites and President of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon, the Pope says his words are for the “Lebanese people, without distinction of community or religion.”
They are words, he says, “of comfort and encouragement as we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.”
Sharing his concern and sorrow to see the suffering and anguish that has engulfed Lebanon undermining its resilience and resourcefulness, the Pope says, “It is even more painful to see you deprived of your precious aspirations to live in peace and to continue being, for our time and our world, a message of freedom and a witness to harmonious coexistence.”
In particular, Pope Francis expresses his sorrow for the many young people of Lebanon “robbed of any hope for a better future.”
Lebanon is mired in its worst political and economic crisis in decades, with its currency plummeting and massive layoffs, as well as soaring prices and rising poverty. It also hosts some 1.5 million Syrian refugees who are now living in poverty, including around one million registered as refugees with the United Nations. The economic downturn has been compounded by the Covid pandemic and the deadly explosion in Beirut’s port in August, all of which have raised serious concerns regarding the country’s capacity to recover.
‘Trust in the Lord and draw from your roots’
Pope Francis writes on the eve of Christmas, saying, “'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1): the light that lessens our fears and instils in each of us the sure hope that God’s Providence will never abandon Lebanon and will turn this time of sadness to good.”
He notes that “the land of the Cedars” is mentioned frequently in the Scriptures and that the cedar symbolizes “steadfastness, stability and protection.”
Describing the cedar also as a symbol of “the righteous who are deeply rooted in the Lord,” he urges the people to trust "in His presence and His faithfulness,” and, “like the cedar, draw deeply from the roots of their life in common, “so that you may once more be a people of fraternal solidarity,” and withstand every storm.
“Yours is the identity of a people which does not abandon its homes and its heritage, the identity of a people which refuses to renounce the dream of those who believed in the future of a beautiful and prosperous country,” he writes.
In this regard, Pope Francis launches an appeal to political and religious leaders, whom he says have the responsibility of acting on behalf of the people to “seek the best interest of the public.”
“Your time should not be dedicated to pursuing your own gain, your action is not for yourselves, but for the state and the nation you represent,” he tells them.
And reiterating his wish to visit Lebanon as soon as possible, the Pope also has an appeal for the international community: “Let us help Lebanon to stand apart from conflicts and regional tensions. Let us help Lebanon to surmount this grave crisis and resume a normal existence.”
“Beloved sons and daughters, in the darkness of the night, lift up your gaze. May the star of Bethlehem be your guide and a source of encouragement, so that you may come to understand more fully God’s plan, and so lose neither your way nor your hope,” Pope Francis concludes.