A Visiting Pope Will Find Lebanon Vastly Changed
By: Talal Salman Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
Pope Benedict XVI is expected to arrive to Lebanon on Friday [Sept. 14]. However, this small country has witnessed drastic changes since the visit of his predecessor Pope John Paul II in May 1997.
About This Article
Pope John Paul II, visiting Lebanon in 1997, called the region a "message" of religious coexistence, writes Talal Salman, but his successor, Benedict XVI, will find a troubled land where almost everything has changed.Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Between the Pope of “Lebanon the Message” and the Pope - the future of the Middle East
Author: Talal Salman
First Published: September 10, 2012
Posted on: September 11 2012
Translated by: Sahar Ghoussoub and Joelle El-Khoury
Events in Lebanon and in neighboring countries have taken a dramatic turn that does not bode well for the region. Civil wars with their subliminal sectarian slogans are brewing on the horizon. Perhaps the objectives of the pope’s visit to Lebanon are not limited to this small country. Rather, they will include the whole “New Middle East,” as the synod seeks to address the region’s escalating conditions starting from Beirut.
Is it necessary to mention that the Vatican has the largest device in the world for collecting and analyzing information? This is not to mention its many departments that specialize in following up on political, economic and social developments, as its influence over the international resolutions.
The pope is visiting Lebanon at the very moment that popular revolutions against established regimes are sweeping across the Levant and the entirety of the Arab world. And despite all the claims that this particular visit is a message from the pope that Lebanon is not forgotten — not left to the mercy of its leaders who are pushing it towards the abyss — there is no doubt that the objectives of his visit are not limited to the “Lebanese situation” alone.
It has been said that Pope Benedict XVI is seeking to reassure Christians in the Levant that they are not forsaken and that the Vatican is looking after their interests. This is not to mention that the “states” in the East and West are also keen to preserve Christians’ rights within the framework of addressing the current situation in the region amidst sweeping revolutions that aim for regime change. Nevertheless, the current reality of the Arab situation is in direct conflict with these revolutions’ slogans and aspirations.
However, one must also take into consideration the far-reaching implications of the pope’s visit, whose main objective is to discuss the changes in the “New Middle East,” starting from Beirut.
When Pope John Paul II visited Lebanon — which he considered to be both a country and a “message” [of religious coexistence] — he found that it was largely unified, following an internationally supervised political settlement in the aftermath of a Lebanese-Arab civil war. This war, or rather wars, were fought under the banner of religious, sectarian and confessional slogans, before the various players reached a settlement on a formula to share power. The settlement was covered by international security guarantees, including those from other Arab countries — mainly Syria and Saudi Arabia — as well as Western powers — including the United States, Europe and the Vatican.
However, the region today is totally different than it was fifteen years ago. Nearly all factors have changed since 1997.
At that time, Syria was a type of guardian [for Lebanon]. It had taken on a regional role that was not only hard to overcome, but could not be assumed by any other country. Syria’s people were united and its regime was one of the greatest actors in the region. Its role was recognized by the West, East, Arabs, Persians and Turks, and those who had some reservations regarding this role preferred to not mention them and to postpone raising them, in order to not damage the “genius settlement.”
The settlement to end the civil war, embodied in the Taif Agreement, was sponsored by other countries and formed a basis for direct Syrian supervision.
Today, Syria is in a situation similar to that of Lebanon during the civil war. All of its territories, including its historical cities and a capital that was once the capital of the world, are ravaged by bloody clashes, mass murder and displacement of families.
Refugees have scattered in all directions, fleeing to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. The army is fighting with all of its weapons — including the air force — in an open battle between the regime and opposition fragments. The opposition includes some national parties that are demanding reforms to protect the homeland and the state, as well as emerging groups that include extremists, Salafists, rebels and those who exploit the chaos. The latter group has looted and stolen antiquities from the crescent of civilization, under the guise of bringing down the regime, even if it requires a civil war.
In short, this country that was a role model of strength by virtue of its deep-rooted national unity, has almost been destroyed by a bloody and fatal conflict that is threatening to tear apart the unity of the people, the nation and the state. This conflict is threatening to place Syria’s fate — as happened in Lebanon in the past — into the hands of countries that will determine the destiny of Syria according to their own interests.
It is understandable that people have put “the fate of Christian minorities” on the margin of this conflict, especially given that Iraqi Christians were intentionally subjected to murder and torture by suspicious organizations and gangs. Western countries — headed by the Vatican — rushed to organize the evacuation of these Christians to Western European and American countries. These Christians fled their homelands, which they have been a vital part of — and vice versa — since the dawn of human history.
Here we stand, witnessing the beginning of an organized campaign involving “the Christians of Syria,” bearing in mind that Lebanese Christians were the first to get in line to apply for immigration [during the civil war]. It is as if Lebanese Muslims live in total safety in this small country that is passing its days in the eye of the storm.
Thus, the fate of Christians in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — who like their fellow citizens live in fear — is mixed in with an organized plan that has been adopted for decades by the Israeli enemy to displace the Palestinians from their homeland for which they have no substitute. The enemy succeeded big time, as the vast majority of Palestinian Christians left the land that has always been their territory, immigrating to European and American countries.
It is necessary to object to the irresponsible behavior of some top political leaders in Lebanon. These include officials in both the government and the opposition who have all contributed to fuelling extremism, which leads to strife, self-destruction and the destruction of the state and the nation.
If some of these officials have made an official institution out of a prayer house, then one day others will surely take official headquarters as a house of worship.
The entire political class is competing to use sectarian rhetoric for personal, electoral and private purposes. This comes at the request of some top external actors, who ignore the poisonous climate that prevails in the region. This climate serves Israel and accelerates the destruction of nations and homelands, which have no substitute in the foreseeable future.
It is a race toward self-destruction, and we hope that the Pope’s visit — including his speeches and recommendations — can stop it. No mistakes are allowed in any religion, let alone sins.
However, many political officials are committing deadly sins against their nations, states and peoples.
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