Christian leaders of Lebanon gathered around Pope Francis in the Vatican on Thursday for a Day of Prayer and Reflection for Lebanon.

By Robin Gomes (Vatican news)

Some 10 senior leaders of the various Christian Churches and communities of Lebanon, along with their delegations, have arrived in the Vatican for a day of prayer and reflection with Pope Francis, on the current situation of the troubled Middle Eastern nation and its future, and to implore for the gift of peace and stability.   The initiative is not to seek a political solution but to pray and read the signs of the time and respond to the cry of their people and alleviate their suffering.

Lebanon’s woes

The country is going through one of the world’s most severe economic crises in modern times, which is having serious social repercussions.  The crisis, which began in late 2019, is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a post-civil war political class that has accumulated debt and done little to encourage local industries, forcing the country to rely on imports for almost everything.

A series of nationwide mass demonstrations in 2019 protested against a stagnant economy, unemployment, endemic corruption in the public sector, legislation that appeared to shield the ruling class from accountability and failures from the government to provide basic services such as electricity, water and sanitation.  The country was thrown into a political crisis, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigning following the protesters’ demand for a government of independent specialists.

To add to its woes, a massive explosion on August 4, 2020 at a fertilizer storage facility in Beirut port tore through the city and reopened the country’s old wounds. The blast killed at least 190 people, injured over 6,000, caused over US$10 billion in property damage, and left some 300,000 people homeless.

Hariri was designated as Prime Minister in October 2020 but he has been at loggerheads with President Michel Aoun over cabinet positions and has failed to form a government so far.

Meanwhile, Lebanon continues to sink. Today, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value against the US dollar since 2019 and inflation has skyrocketed, wiping out people’s wages and causing food prices to triple. With the Lebanese pound losing 95% of its purchase power, half of the population is believed to be living below the poverty line. Tight restrictions have also been placed on bank accounts, leaving people unable to withdraw their savings or transfer money abroad.

According to the latest World Bank report, Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis is likely to rank in the top 10, possibly top 3, most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century. In the face of colossal challenges, continuous policy inaction and the absence of a fully functioning government threaten the already dire socio-economic conditions and a fragile social peace with no clear turning point on the horizon.

To revive hope and peace

The July 1 Day of Prayer and Reflection for Lebanon, called by Pope Francis, is to help revive hope and peace in the country.

According to Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Oriental Churches, who has organized the initiative, the purpose of the day is to “walk together.”  The Church leaders will question themselves, reflect and pray together.  They have brought to Rome the cry of their people.  The theme of the day is, “The Lord God has plans for peace. Together for Lebanon.”

In St. Peter’s Basilica

Starting off the Day of Prayer and Reflection for Lebanon, the nation’s Christian Church leaders gathered in the morning at Casa Santa Marta inside Vatican City where the Pope resides.  The Holy Father greeted each one of them and members of their delegations, after which he walked to the nearby St. Peter’s Basilica with the Church leaders flanking him.

Inside, standing in front of the papal altar, which stands just above the tomb of St. Peter, the Pope intoned the Our Father prayer, which others joined in Arabic.  After a moment of silent prayer, the Pope went down the steps to the tomb of St. Peter in the crypt below the papal altar where he placed a lighted candle.  The others followed him placing their candles, with 10 candles in all.  After a moment of silent prayer, the Pope led them out of the basilica through the crypt.

Click here for brief video: Lebanon’s Christian leaders around the Pope in prayer for the nation – Vatican News

Currently, they are holding the first of their 3 closed-door meetings of the day in Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace.  The day will be brought to a close with a speech by Pope Francis at 6 pm.

Lebanon, a Mediterranean nation of 5 million, has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East and is the only Arab country with a Christian head of state, President Aoun. Christians make up a third of the population.

Pope Francis called on all men and women of goodwill to join the Day of Prayer and Reflection for Lebanon during his Sunday ‘Angelus” prayer on May 30, explaining the aim was to “pray together for the gift of peace and stability”. He urged for prayers so that Lebanon may have “a more serene future.”

Below is the list of members of the Ecumenical Council of Eastern Churches of Lebanon invited to participate in the Day of Prayer and Reflection:

  1. His Beatitude Cardinal Béchara Boutros, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
  2. His Beatitude Youhanna X, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antiochia
  3. His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
  4. His Beatitude Youssef Absi, Patriarch of Antiochia of the Greek-Melkites
  5. His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia of the Armenians (could not be present)
  6. His Beatitude Mor Ignatius Youssef III, Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch
  7. Reverend Joseph Kassab, President of the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon
  8. His Excellency Michel Kassarji, Bishop of Beirut of Chaldeans
  9. His Excellency César Essayan, Apostolic Vicar of Beirut of Latins
  10. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches
  11. Archbishop Joseph Spiteri, Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon

I left Honolulu Tuesday evening and, travelling via San Francisco and Washington, DC, arrived Rome this morning, safe, sound and luggage in tow! Because of the pilgrimage I made with guests of the Damien and Marianne Catholic Conference and Bishop Silva of Honolulu on Monday to Kalaupapa, some appointments on Tuesday as well as a lovely dinner party in my honor, and a full day of travel yesterday, I did not post a column on those days. I’ll bring you to Kalaupapa, photos and all, as soon as possible as I very much want to share with you a place I consider to be a shrine.

In the meantime, I share some papal tweets, the Holy Father’s talk with ISS astronauts and a terrific news story posted in the National Catholic Register – a Deo gratias kind of story!

Pope Francis tweeted:

October 25: Be courageous witnesses to Christ in the places where you live and work.

October 26: The culture of encounter means recognizing that we are all children of God, despite our differences.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis spoke via satellite link with the crew of the International Space Station on Thursday. Astronaut Randolph Bresnik of the U.S. commands the current 53rd ISS expedition, which has a complement of 5 mission specialists: Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli; Russian astronauts Sergey Ryanzansky and Alexander Misurkin; and U.S. astronauts Joe Acaba and Mark Vande Hei.

The video link-up lasted about 20 minutes, with the Holy Father speaking to the astronauts from the “auletta,” or small room, of the Paul VI Hall, in the presence of the president of the Italian Space Agency (ASA), Roberto Battiston, and the director of Earth Observation Programmes of the European Space Agency (ESA), Josef Aschbacher.

During the course of the virtual visit, Pope Francis asked questions of the astronauts on topics ranging from the place of humanity in the universe, to the difference in perspective that living on the ISS brings, to the role of “That Love which moves the sun and the other stars,” in their work of understanding, to their reasons for desiring to explore space. Watch the full video by clicking here:.(from Vatican Radio)


Vice President Mike Pence announced the US will work directly with faith-based groups to get genocide victims the help they need to rebuild their lives – by Peter Jesserer Smith

WASHINGTON — Advocates for persecuted Christians and minorities in the Middle East received an unexpected “bombshell” of good news straight from Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday evening, which may change the odds for the survival of Christianity in its historic cradle of Iraq.

Pence delivered the keynote address at the JW Marriott hotel for the annual In Defense of Christians conference’s Solidarity Dinner, and told the hundreds of attendees that President Donald Trump has ordered the U.S. State Department “from this day forward” to stop funding the United Nations’ ineffective relief efforts. Instead, he said USAID would also funnel support to the churches, agencies, and organizations working directly with persecuted communities victimized by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terror groups.

“Christians in the Middle East should not have to rely on multinational institutions when America can help them directly,” Pence stated.

“We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups,” he added. “The United States will work hand-in-hand with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith. This is the moment, now is the time, and America will support these people in their hour of need.”

The unexpected White House announcement thrilled advocates for Iraq’s Christian community, which along with the Yazidi and other indigenous religious communities, suffered genocide when ISIS, also known as Daesh, swept into Iraq in 2014, conquering Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Although ISIS is nearly defeated in Iraq, the failure to rebuild quickly Christians’ homes and community infrastructure in this ancestral homeland of northern Iraq raises the risk that ISIS’ project of genocide could still be completed after the extremist group’s political death, especially if other ethno-religious groups move in.

Andrew Doran, IDC vice-president and senior policy adviser, told the Register, Pence’s announcement is “a game-changer” for the survival of Christians and other minorities in Iraq.

“All organizations doing aid for the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity, who were working with religious institutions, Christians in particular, have to be feeling enormously encouraged following the vice-president’s speech tonight,” he said.

Throughout the past three years, Iraq’s displaced Christians, consisting mostly of Assyrians, Syriacs, and Chaldeans living in their ancestral homeland of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, were completely supported and sustained by the region’s churches and other forms of private support — not the United Nations. Christians considered U.N. camps too dangerous to enter, and consequently did not receive direct humanitarian aid through the UN’s agencies.