Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Rai of Lebanon 

By Vatican News staff writer

Jan 5 2021

Lebanon’s leading Catholic churchman is again urging the country’s political leaders to “overcome the logic of partisan interests” and form a government of “truly independent specialists with a national conscience” to rescue the nation from “a total collapse”.

Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Rai of Lebanon, made the appeal against the political deadlock that is preventing the formation of a new government. “Shirking responsibility for the failure of the government does not help. The solution is not without risks and all these risks represent nothing in the face of the hypothesis of a total collapse,” that the nation is facing, he said at a Mass on Sunday at the headquarters of the Maronite Church in Bkerke, some 22 km north-east of the capital, Beirut.  

Nation at ransom

According to the 80-year old head of the Maronite Church, an agreement is possible between President Michel Aoun and three-time Prime Minister Saad Hariri, if both are able to ignore “the pressure,” go beyond “the logic of the division of quotas and portfolios,” and act “in the interest of Lebanon.” He lamented that a “cautious optimism” of the possibility of the formation of the government that was in the air ahead of Christmas seems to have vanished and the country today is again “at the starting point.”

The tiny Mediterranean nation of 6 million population has been without a fully-functioning government since the resignation of the cabinet in the wake of the devastating Beirut port explosion on 4 August that killed nearly 200 people, injured some 5000 more, and destroyed large parts of the capital.

Financial crisis, poverty

Even before the pandemic, Lebanon had been facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis – the worst since the 1975-1990 civil war. The economic situation triggered by rampant corruption by politicians has pushed tens of thousands of people into poverty and triggered large anti-government protests. The Lebanese pound has lost more than two-thirds of its value against the dollar on the black market, leading prices to skyrocket.  

In mid-October, President Aoun tasked Hariri with putting together a new cabinet. But the parties remain at odds over portfolios as the World Bank warns that poverty will likely engulf more than half the population in 2021, and central bank reserves dwindle.

“Towards total collapse and bankruptcy”

Earlier, on New Year’s Day, Cardinal Rai severely criticized politicians saying it was a “shame” to start the year without a new head of the government. In his homily at a Mass at the Patriarchate, he described politicians as “pawns on the chessboard of the Middle East and of the great powers.” He said nobody “has the right to block the formation of the government to settle accounts or interests, immediate and future.” More than two months and ten days have passed since Harriri has been entrusted with the task of forming a new government. Meanwhile, Cardinal noted, Lebanon “is rapidly heading towards total collapse and bankruptcy.” – Vatican News