Archbishop Gallagher on hopes for Lebanon’s future
By Francesca Sabatinelli
The people of Lebanon entertain such a deep desire for Pope Francis to visit that a papal trip is conceivable as soon as conditions permit.
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher made that assertion to ambassadors accredited to the Holy See on Wednesday.
The Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States visited the Land of the Cedars from 31 January to 4 February, and told the diplomats that the Holy See is already “studying the possibility for a visit, perhaps even by the end of the year.”
Exploring Lebanon’s complex realities
The Archbishop said his visit to Lebanon offered a very “interesting experience due to the intensity of the meetings, and excellent from the political-diplomatic point of view.”
He was able to “touch the realities” of the Middle Eastern nation and experience first-hand the many people who sought to meet with him as a representative of the Holy See, noting that a “true consensus of problems and solutions” needs to be found.
During his visit, Archbishop Gallagher met with families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion on 4 August 2020.
“They live with a strong sense of frustration,” he pointed out, since they fear the “process is being hampered.”
Another daily struggle for most Lebanese, he said, is access to “liquidity and banks”, given the high rate of inflation and an ongoing cash crunch. At the same time, many are beginning to resent the large population of Syrian refugees as a threat to the country’s demographic and economic balance.
Archbishop Gallagher said a key issue in Lebanese politics is the ongoing implementation of the Taif Agreement, a treaty that ended the civil war of
Speaking to the ambassadors to the Holy See, the Archbishop reflected on alternative proposals to achieve a certain “neutrality” in Lebanon, among them one promoted by Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites.
“This seems to be an essential element for the future of Lebanon,” said Archbishop Gallagher, though he admits that talks about neutrality will be difficult in the region.
A next step will be taken, he hopes, during the upcoming elections in May. But he warns that the Lebanese diaspora could tip the vote on the basis of the budget, since many Lebanese living abroad send critical economic support for their families.
Young people and interreligious dialogue
The Secretary for Relations with States then spoke about the issue of the emigration of young Lebanese, saying many of them personally expressed to him their desire to leave.
At the same time, Archbishop Gallagher said he also witnessed several “projects of hope”, such as that of the Carlo Acutis Youth Center run by the Lazarist Fathers, which he visited.
He admitted that many young people expressed to him criticism of the Lebanese Church, which they view as “rich in the midst of so many poor young people,” an issue he says he brought up with the Maronite Synod.
Archbishop Gallagher wrapped up his speech noting the positive impact Pope Francis’ Day of Prayer for Lebanon, held on 1 July 2021, made on interreligious dialogue in the country.
The Pope’s visit to Iraq in March 2021, he added, also had a “great impact, especially the meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which became a source of encouragement for everyone.”