By Robin Gomes
The Lebanese people have welcomed the gesture of solidarity and nearness of Pope Francis with “great joy and the sense of gratitude”, Archbishop Joseph Spiteri said on Friday. Speaking to Sister Bernadette Reis on the phone, he said, “nobody doubted that Pope Francis is always close to Lebanon, like all his predecessors”.
Pope’s scholarships for young students
The Holy See Press Office on Thursday announced that the Holy Father has donated USD 200,000 to support 400 scholarships for young people in Lebanon, a nation in severe crisis.
The Press Office explained that the Pope’s gesture of solidarity, channelled through the Apostolic Nunciature, intended to involve all in the country in the search for the common good, overcoming every division and partisan interest.
Lebanon’s crisis, it said, is causing suffering and poverty, which risks robbing the hope especially of younger generations who are going through a difficult present and are staring at an uncertain future.
Lebanon's high standard of education
Archbishop Spiteri explained that the education of young people in Lebanon is fundamental and the country has always had a “fantastic educational system that inspired the whole Middle Eastern region”.
Unfortunately, Archbishop Spiteri noted, because of the political and social crises the educational establishment has been suffering a lot. Hence it is of utmost importance to maintain the “high standards of Lebanese education” because it is fundamental for the future of this country and the young people”.
The Apostolic Nuncio said that statistics and his personal experience with young people show that most of them want to study and advance in life, hence “we have to help them realize their dreams”.
Lebanese coexistence and fraternity
One of the world’s most religiously diverse countries, Lebanon’s some 6.8 million population is estimated to be 60 percent Muslim, 34 percent Christian and Druze, Judaism and others making up the rest.
In announcing the Pope’s donation, the Holy See Press Office said that in his fatherly concern, the Pope has been following the situation in Lebanon, which “has always been an example of the coexistence and fraternity that the Document on Human Fraternity wished to offer to the whole world”.
Archbishop Spiteri said that education has a lot to do with people of various religious backgrounds to live together in Lebanon.
As a very good example to this living together, he spoke about the May 14 event in the country. It was in response to the invitation of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity that called on believers of all religions across the world to unite spiritually on May 14 for a day of prayer, fasting, and works of charity, to implore God to help humanity overcome the coronavirus pandemic.
Made up of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, the Higher Committee is committed to reconciliation and peace in the world.
Archbishop Spiteri said that, at the event, many “movements, both Muslim and Christian, got together to organize prayers, fasting and, certainly, also acts of solidarity and charity”.
However, most of it was done online because of the Covid-19 restrictions.
The Maltese archbishop expressed admiration for the sense of solidarity, creativity and resilience of the people of Lebanon.
Solidarity and lockdown
After easing some restrictions, the government on Wednesday re-imposed a four-day nationwide lockdown on Wednesday, following a spike in reported coronavirus cases.
Speaking about the Covid-19 situation, Archbishop Spiteri said “it’s not too bad” from the “medical point of view” but “very bad from the economic point of view”. Factories, restaurants and the crucial tourism sector have been particularly hit by the lockdown. With the loss of jobs, many families have lost the possibility of earning a living.
In this situation, the Vatican diplomat said, “the only thing that can help them is solidarity”.
Caritas, parishes, nuns and priests as well as many Muslim and Christian welfare societies have been working hard to help all people in need.
World Bank statistics show that “50 per cent of the population has gone down and slipped down under the poverty line”. This, the archbishop said, is “really terrible”.
Sowing seeds of hope
Easing the lockdown and re-launching the economy, will take time in these difficult times, the Apostolic Nuncio pointed out.
“As a Church,” he said, they want to “keep sowing the seeds of hope” for “young people and families not to give up”.
“There is hope as long as there is this natural creativity and resilience of the Lebanese people,” he said, adding, “hope never dies”.
Archbishop Spiteri said the government that is trying to bring in reforms for better governance, transparency and more rigour in administration but that is not enough. They also need the help of the international community.
“We will continue to sow hope, and I’m sure the Lord will listen to our prayers,” he added.