As the country re-emerges from lockdown this week, the Church in Lebanon has announced that it will make its land freely available to citizens struggling to provide for themselves during the coronavirus crisis.
Cardinal Beshara Raï, head of the Maronite Church, explained during Mass on Sunday that he was putting this property “at the disposal of society” in order to provide food security for the many people left destitute by rising unemployment and “unacceptable levels” of inflation. He raised particular concern that the country “imports 70 per cent of its food” and he hoped that, by providing wide access to the Church’s agricultural land, “we will bring the Lebanese back to their lands”.
Upon first announcing in early May that the Maronite Church was seeking to increase its aid efforts, the Cardinal noted that they were already assisting more than 33,000 people through their network of schools, hospitals, and charitable organisations. But he noted the increased responsibility now placed on the Church, as the numbers of the poor are “increasing due to the economic and financial crisis and suffocating living, the random and exploitative rise in the prices of goods, and the low purchasing value of the Lebanese pound and because of the paralysis that the coronavirus has inflicted on all of us.”
The Lebanese economy has long been struggling due to poor governance, corruption, piling debts and the financial toll of supporting the 1.5 million refugees who have fled nearby countries. Even before the pandemic, the World Bank predicted that the proportion of the population in poverty would rise from 30 per cent to 50 per cent. But now the shock of the pandemic has sent the country into free fall and protests have begun to erupt again across the country. During the lockdown, it has been reported that “most citizens are reporting getting no salaries from more than 5 weeks” and many of the food and aid supply chains have broken down completely. Human Rights Watch recently warned that millions of people in Lebanon were being left without adequate food provision during the crisis.
In recognition of the grave problems the country is facing during its centenary year, Pope Francis offered a pastoral message last week to the people of Lebanon, who he said are “experiencing a severe crisis that is causing suffering and poverty”. He also sent a papal gift of $200,000 to the Apostolic Nunciature of Lebanon as a “gesture of solidarity”, which complemented another recent contribution to the Emergency Fund of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.