By Michele Raviart
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher is expected to visit Beirut from January 31 to February 4, to mark a number of celebrations and anniversaries relating to relations between Lebanon and the Holy See. The Secretary for Relations with States will convey Pope Francis’ concern and closeness to the Middle Eastern nation as it faces a grave social, economic and political crisis.
A year of anniversaries
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Lebanon and the 25th anniversary of the Apostolic Journey of Pope St. John Paul II to the country. That visit took place on the occasion of the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “A New Hope for Lebanon”, on May 10, 1997, following the Special Synod of Bishops for Lebanon which was held in Rome 1995. Also occurring this year, is the 10th anniversary of the Apostolic Journey of Pope Benedict XVI who signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “Ecclesia in the Middle East” in Beirut, after the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East in 2010.
The visit’s programme
During his stay, Archbishop Gallagher will meet the State Authorities, the Catholic and Orthodox Patriarchs and Bishops, as well as Muslim and Druze religious leaders and cultural and political personalities. He will also visit some significant places and communities and participate in the opening of the Symposium on “John Paul II and Lebanon,” organized by the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik.
Pope Francis’ closeness to Lebanon
The English prelate will bring the Pope’s affection and closeness to all the Lebanese people. Lebanon is constantly present in Pope Francis’ thoughts. In his recent annual address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, on January 10, the Pope renewed his prayer for “the beloved Lebanese people, who are working to find a solution to the economic and political crisis that has gripped the nation”, expressing hope that “necessary reforms and the support of the international community will help the country to persevere in its proper identity as a model of peaceful coexistence and brotherhood among the different religions”.
Receiving in audience Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the Vatican, on 25 November 2020, the Pope said that “Lebanon is a country, a message, and also a promise to fight for” and added this prayer: “Lord God, take Lebanon by the hand and say, ‘Arise!’”.
At the end of the General Audience, on August 4, 2021, on the first anniversary of the devastating explosion in the port of Beirut, he launched a new heartfelt appeal asking the international community “to help Lebanon to make a journey of resurrection with concrete gestures, not just words”.
Finally, on the Day of Prayer and Reflection for Lebanon, held in the Vatican on 1 July 2021, Pope Francis once again reiterated: “Let there be an end to the few profiting from the sufferings of many! No more letting half-truths continue to frustrate people’s aspirations! Stop using Lebanon and the Middle East for outside interests and profits! The Lebanese people must be given the opportunity to be the architects of a better future in their land, without undue interference”. He concluded: “Brothers and sisters, may the night of conflicts recede before a new dawn of hope. May hostilities cease, disagreements fade away, and Lebanon once more radiate the light of peace”.