Gathered on January 8, 2020 at the patriarchal seat of Bkerké, the bishops of the Maronite Church issued a message after their monthly meeting. The Fides agency reports the anxiety of the bishops who have asked Lebanese politicians to do their utmost to strengthen the national cohesion of Lebanon and to keep the country safe from the new winds of war which are agitating the whole region.
Since mid-October 2019, the country has been plagued by a significant movement of anti-government protests. At that time Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) met with Msgr. Georges Bacouni, the Melkite Archbishop of Beirut, on the situation in Lebanon:
“We are living as if in an earthquake. We face enormous economic problems, including a banking system going bankrupt. Since the protests started, even more people have lost their jobs, and now some are earning only half their salary. This has a huge impact on families. NGOs around the world deal with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which is appreciated. But given the new situation, will they also consider helping the Lebanese people? Because of the economic crisis, Christians plan to emigrate in search of a better way of life. We fear losing the younger generation: young people do not want to stay in Lebanon... The Church supports those who demand an end to corruption and who want to have ministers who are experts in their field and who act to put an end to all forms of corruption.”
In his homily on Sunday, December 15, 2019, Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, Maronite patriarch of Antioch, strongly criticized the Lebanese ruling political class: “If politicians were truly inspired by the divine will and prayed, Lebanon would not find itself today in a desperate economic and financial situation, with paralyzed institutions. The people would not be reduced to hunger, humiliated, with more than a third of its citizens below the poverty line, while about half of the Lebanese are unemployed.... If the leaders had listened to the voice of God they would not have squandered public funds, the ministries would not have been divided among themselves and they would not have ignored the requests of the people who demonstrate and strike.”
After the appointment of Prime Minister Hassan Diab on December 19, the Maronite patriarch urged the formation of a government independent of leaders and political parties who care only for their own interests, reported the Italian agency AsiaNews.
The Maronite bishops’ statement called on officials to maintain “wages that allow people to live in dignity, and transactions that allow private companies to continue their import and export operations, especially in vital sectors” of the economy. Politicians are also asked to “stop procrastinating with maneuvers and playing games” in order to hasten the formation of a government, and to “commit to preserving internal harmony” in Lebanon.
The Assembly of Bishops condemned the “attempts to ignore and circumvent” the demands expressed in public demonstrations since October 17, as well as the will of the Lebanese people for a government of “independent personalities, made up of men of experience and integrity.” And to conclude: “Freedom has always been, through the centuries, at the heart of the existence of this small homeland, which is deviating from it more and more by moving towards choices that are harmful to man.”