On May 30th, Pope Francis announced that Lebanese Christian leaders would meet him in the Vatican on July 1st to address Lebanon’s economic and political crisis. During the summit, the Pope plans to reflect on the crisis and discuss potential action plans. Pope Francis expressed through Vatican News that the summit would aim to help create “a more serene future” for Lebanon. According to Joseph Spiteri, the Apostolic Nuncio to Lebanon, “[a]ll the heads of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches of Lebanon are invited” to the summit.
Through Spiteri’s statements to the press, the Pope expressed his concern regarding the current Lebanese political situation. In the light of the nation’s current domestic economic crisis, Spiteri claimed that some Lebanese politicians do not wish to fight corruption and that “external forces” have prevented a government from forming. Therefore, the Holy See attributes the current humanitarian threat facing Lebanon to corruption and poor domestic leadership. Further, Pope Francis warned in previous statements that Lebanon could “lose its identity” because of demographic and religious tensions.
As a result, the pope’s choice to meet with religious officials from Lebanon has excited local Christians. Father Michel Abboud, President of Caritas Lebanon, expressed that the “pope is always thinking about Lebanon, refusing to leave us alone, refusing to leave the fate of Lebanon in the hands of its politicians.” Consequently, Father Abboud expressed hope that the Pope’s leadership could help alleviate the current crisis in the wake of government inaction.
The pope’s call for a summit between prominent Christian community leaders marks a positive step forward. Critically, Pope Francis should not involve himself in Lebanese politics as this would most likely aggravate tensions between Lebanon’s predominant religious communities: Christians, Shia Muslims, and Sunni Muslims. Moreover, if the pope commented on Lebanese politics, it could delegitimize Christian humanitarian work on the ground in the eyes of non-Christians. Instead, the pope’s choice to advocate for communication between Christian leaders is a better step forward because it doesn’t meddle in Lebanon’s domestic politics. The papacy’s organizing efforts will probably aid humanitarian efforts by directing Lebanese leaders to find peaceful solutions rather than infighting, especially based on religious lines. In addition, the pope carries enormous sway over Catholics internationally because of his charismatic personality and status. Therefore, his call for peacemaking will carry inherent influence and sway over local religious officials. Thus, this summit will supplement the on-the-ground work of Christian humanitarian organizations like Aid to the Church in Need, a papal foundation that has funneled approximately $4.9 million into Lebanon.
Hopefully, Pope Francis’s summit will alleviate the current political and economic crisis facing Lebanon. Since 2019, Lebanese workers have lost 90% of the value of their wages due to inflation. Over more than half of Lebanese nationals live under the poverty line, and the pandemic has compounded the economic crisis. Historically, the government has failed to keep the peace between the predominant religious communities during the civil war from 1975 to 1990. The current constitution tries to mitigate religious conflict by requiring that the president be Christian, the prime minister be Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament be Shia Muslim. Moreover, after the Beirut explosion in 2020, the Lebanese government resigned, and current President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-Designate Saad al-Hariri have clashed over cabinet picks. Further, Lebanon faces massive government corruption; it scores a 25 out of 100 on the Corruption Perception Index. Because of these political issues, the current President and Prime Minister-Designate have been unable to form a government. In sum, Lebanon is facing a major social and economic crisis without coherent political leadership.
Due to this looming threat to the nation’s unity, the Pope’s summit symbolizes the potential for peace. Because of the country’s unique power-sharing agreement between religious communities, the country’s ability to form a government before the upcoming elections will represent the viability of this governmental model for years to come. Critically, the Pope’s summit may help this institution survive by alleviating underlying social and economic tensions. Nonetheless, the summit on July 1st can hopefully bolster support and coordination among humanitarian operations within Lebanon. The success of the papacy’s call for communication will hopefully reduce economic and social hardship during the current abdication of political leadership.