ROME — Pope Francis has written a Christmas letter to the people of Lebanon, sending condolences for their sufferings while wishing them hope and peace.
Addressing the “beloved sons and daughters of Lebanon,” the pope said he is “deeply troubled to see the suffering and anguish that has sapped the native resilience and resourcefulness of the Land of the Cedars.”
“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,” he continues in his message, conveyed through Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, President of the Assembly of the Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon.
“Sharing as I do your joys as well as your sorrows, I feel deeply the gravity of your loss, especially when I think of the many young people robbed of any hope for a better future,” the pontiff states.
Lebanon has been rocked by a series of social, economic, and geopolitical ordeals.
Last February, Jan Kubis, the UN’s top official in Lebanon and Slovakia’s former foreign minister, warned that Europe will face a new migrant crisis if the situation in Lebanon is not resolved before it becomes a failed state.
Over the early months of 2020, the Lebanese pound lost some 80 percent of its value against the dollar, causing massive inflation and impoverishing much of its middle class. As a result, Lebanon has sought economic help from China, an approach that the ruling Shiite government strongly supports but one that has caused consternation in the West.
Adding to the nation’s already precarious state, the Lebanese capital of Beirut suffered a massive explosion on August 4, which shook buildings and sent an enormous cloud of smoke billowing over the middle of the city.
The causes of the blast are still not fully known, though blame was eventually placed on the 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate for years stored unsafely in a port warehouse. The explosion killed more than 190 people, injured another 6,500, and left some 300,000 homeless.
In an address to the 2020 U.N. General Assembly in September, Lebanese President Michel Aoun thanked the international community for assisting Lebanon while also insisted on his country’s sovereignty.
“This great solidarity made our people feel they are not alone, but rather have in this world brothers and sisters in humanity, who did not hesitate to support us,” President Aoun said. With this support, Beirut will rise from its ruins “as it has done over and over again, throughout history.”
In his message Thursday, Pope Francis said he wished to address all the Lebanese people “without distinction of community or religion,” to offer “a few words of comfort and encouragement as we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.”
Christmas reminds us that “God’s Providence will never abandon Lebanon and will turn this time of sadness to good,” the pontiff said.
“In these days, Emmanuel, God-with-us, becomes our neighbour, walking at our side,” Francis said. “Trust in his presence and his faithfulness.”
“Like the cedar that withstands every storm, may you make the most of present events in order to rediscover your identity, which is to bring to the whole world the sweet fragrance of mutual respect, coexistence and pluralism,” he added.
The pope also urged the nation’s political and religious leaders 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 said.
Francis reiterated his deep affection for the people of Lebanon, while insisting that he hopes to visit the troubled nation “as soon as possible.”
The pope intends to visit Iraq in March, 2021, the first visit of a bishop of Rome to that nation.