News Analysis

The Patriarch who is trying to hold his country together

In an age when Catholic leaders across the world are calling on governments to welcome migrants, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi stands out. The spiritual leader of the world’s three million Maronites has appealed to the Lebanese government to help refugees return to their home countries.

Speaking at a Mass earlier this month, the Patriarch argued that Syrian and Iraqi refugees would only be able to preserve their distinctive identities and cultural heritage if they returned home.

Lebanon, a country of six million, hosts an estimated 1.5 million refugees from Syria and around 50,000 from Iraq. And it is in the midst of a political and economic crisis.

The Patriarch fears that current tensions will destroy the so-called “National Pact” – the tenuous, unwritten agreement forged in 1943 that enables Lebanon’s diverse religious groups to somehow coexist.

“We in Lebanon have political conflicts that turn into sectarian ones and distort the culture of the National Pact, coexistence and the formula of balanced partnership in power and administration,” he said recently, according to AsiaNews.

“This political-sectarian spirit is interfering in the matters of administration, judiciary, the court’s rulings, the army, the internal security forces and other security agencies according to its interests, undermining confidence in them.”

But despite their precarious situation, Lebanese Christians are determined to live out their faith. On Pentecost Sunday, nearly 10,000 faithful took to the streets for a Eucharistic procession, strewing their path with red and white petals.

Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian who survived the civil war of 1975-1990, says that the community is still scarred by the conflict, which took place after an influx of Palestinian refugees. “When the Lebanese civil war started, Christians thought that because we had let them into our country – even fought for their rights and supported them – they wouldn’t target us. We were wrong,” she says.