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6th October 2016 - Divisions and personal interests endanger the uniqueness "of Lebanon’s experience ". inflation and the public debt are increasing. The Maronite patriarchate calls for a rediscovery of the Taif "historic compromise". Hariri’s support might prove decisive for an Aoun presidency.

Meeting in Bkerke, as it does every first Wednesday of the month, the Assembly of Maronite Bishops, exceptionally, issued a plea instead of a simple statement. At a time when former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is about to go along with the Michel Aoun option and the chances of the latter’s election as President of the Republic comes closer to reality, the bishops wanted to draw the attention of the country’s leaders to the seriousness of its political, economic, social, environmental and moral situation. The crisis is closely linked to the presidential vacancy, which requires a decisive vote after two years and five months of stalemate.

The assembly reiterated its support for the Maronite patriarch who recently criticised a proposed reform package related to the presidential election, making it a matter of "dignity". House Speaker Nabih Berry had laid down these preconditions, which include an agreement on a new electoral law.

The bishops’ assembly did not simply draw the attention of political leaders to the seriousness of the institutional crisis, but want them to analyse closely its economic consequences. Politically, the assembly called for "national reconciliation" to put Lebanon on the path of the "historic compromise" reached in Taif, which ended Lebanon’s civil war.

"It is imperative,” the bishops’ appeal says, “to start national reconciliation, turn the page, and move towards the historic compromise sanctioned by the Taif Accord.” “It is necessary,” the statement goes on to say, “to live together in an inclusive State, and not on the basis of conditions set by one section of the Lebanese people.” “Reconciliation should enable the Lebanese to go back to mutual friendship, far from factional politics, knowing that this model of coexistence is becoming increasingly important in a region where a wind of madness threatens everyone.”

“We must therefore emphasise the uniqueness of the Lebanese experience,” the bishops’ assembly notes, “both generally in terms of Christian-Muslim partnership in the management of the state, as well as in terms of the purely Islamic partnership between Sunnis and Shias in the management of the same State. This is Lebanon's contribution to dowsing the fire of sectarian strife and tearing down the wall between majorities and minorities on its territory." It is important to note that Shias are a minority (18%) compared to the Sunni majority.

In terms of the economy, the assembly warned, without mentioning the term, about the danger of inflation caused by the excessively ambitious spending proposed in 2017 budget and of the social impact of many planned new taxes by the finance minister, who is close to house speaker.

Planned expenditures include coverage of new public sector wages and salaries against the will of the entire business community and many economic experts, who warn against their inflationary effect.

"Political struggles,” the bishops add, “have caused a frightening economic decline in all sectors, especially industry and agriculture. On top of that, we must count the burden of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who, altogether, represent more than half of the Lebanese population, as well as the winds of change blowing through the region."

"The results are there for all to see: no economic growth, rising unemployment, closure of many commercial, industrial and tourist businesses, falling exports, declining state revenues, more expenditures and public servants, higher public debt, neglect of vital sectors, squandering government money in contracts and bribes, virtually no accountability, sanitation crisis with its health consequences, anarchy in manufacturing and plants that pollute and distort the environment, causing air, river and groundwater pollution."

Lastly, the prelates wonder on what principle, “political leaders insist on burdening the economy . . . despite the warnings of international financial institutions? How are we to ensure the funds to pay for wages and salaries as garbage piles up and the debt gets worse?” “Are political forces aware of the dangers of the new proposed budget, which calls for scores of new taxes and increases for old ones, both for companies and ordinary people, against all economic rules that, in times of crisis, call for stimuli for the private sector and lower production costs, to encourage new investments, growth and job creation?" (Asianews)

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5th August 2016 - A place to welcome, care for and accompany foreign women, who have often taken refuge in Lebanon and have been left alone or marginalized, with the risk of being victims of violence: this is the aim of the refuge "The Oak", a reception center reserved to women that Caritas Lubano has recently reopened, turning it into a comfortable, safe and welcoming place for women and their children. "Many of the women guests flee abuses such as domestic violence, human trafficking, or the more generalized and widespread violence against refugees", reports a note of Caritas Lebanon. Although the Centre accepts women of various nationalities, the majority of women at the moment are Syrian refugees.

Women receive protection, medical, legal and psychosocial support, they often stay several weeks and sometimes even months: women are accompanied to find sustainable living solution after staying at Centre. The Centre can accommodate up to 30 women with their children and, as Caritas says, it is always full, to the maximum of its capacity. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 05/08/2016)

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25th July 2016 - More than half the 500,000 school-age refugee children from Syria, registered in Lebanon cannot attend school because of limited availabilityof resources and strict Lebanese government residence policies. This was reported by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a recent survey. The same report also highlighted positive steps towards giving access to free schooling for Syrian children refugees. In a report sent to Fides, the NGO underlines that education is crucial for helping children overcome the trauma of war and homelessness besides having a positive role in the future rebuilding Syria.

Lebanon organised a series of evening classes in 238 schools to meet the needs growing numbers of school age children for the school year 2015-2016. Syrian schools are offering more places for Syrian refugees despite scarce economic resources . A reported 70% of Syrian families are unable to pay for school material and fees.

Besides the question of limited funds other elements which impede school attendance include abuse and maltreatment, little knowledge of the local language and norms for requesting places at school. Middle school-age children and those over 15 have difficulty regarding residence permits. Lebanon last year opened 200,000 spaces for Syrian refugees in public schools, but only 158,000 children enrolled, and 10,000 fewer actually attended. In Lebanon at present there are 1.1 million legally registered Syrians half of them minors, although the authorities claim the numbers are higher. (AP) (Fides)

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2nd July 2016 - The huge mass of Syrian refugees who have taken refuge in Lebanon, threatens to upset the balance and the identity of the Lebanese nation, partly because the multitudes of refugees who drag their lives in precarious conditions, and at times desperate, represent a potential recruitment pool for terrorist organizations. This is the alarming scenario of the situation in Lebanon and the entire Middle East described by Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai, Primate of the Maronite Church, in a speech he delivered on Tuesday, June 28 in New York, at the headquarters of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, during his pastoral visit in the USA.

According to Cardinal Rai, a permanent solution to the refugee crisis in the Middle East requires a lasting peace and their gradual repatriation to their home Countries, while their permanent settlement, in the lands where they have found refuge, is to be avoided in every possible way.

During his speech, Patriarch Rai also dedicated articulated considerations to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he considers "the origin of the problems of the Middle East". According to the Primate of the Maronite Church, this conflict can only be solved with "the creation of a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state, with the return of Palestinian refugees, and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the occupied territories of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon". The separation between religion and national policy, "both for Judaism and for Islam" - added Patriarch Rai - "is one of the fundamental conditions for a permanent political solution in the region", because "problems begin when one automatically discriminates against citizens who do not profess the religion of the State". (GV) (Agenzia Fides)

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6th May 2016 -  This the position taken by the Maronite Bishops.  The Arab world is threatened in its very existence by "murderous identities", and crises and wars which upset the whole region have their deep roots in "regional conflicts" and "international politics".

This is what the Maronite Bishops, gathered in the patriarchal headquarters of Bkerké for their monthly meeting, once again highlighted in their meeting with regards to the global dimension and the external factors that continue to fuel wars and humanitarian disasters throughout the Middle East.

In the meeting, held on Wednesday, May 4 under the presidency of Patriarch Boutros Bechara Rai, the Maronite Bishops reaffirmed that the election of the President of the Republic - vacant for almost two years, because of the vetoes of political forces - is "indispensable to preserve the Lebanese constitutional identity", and also warned of the danger of fragmentation along sectarian lines that inevitably will upset the current appearance of the Arab nations if one continues to give priority to the strategy "iron and fire" rather than the choice of dialogue.

In their meeting - reads the final statement, sent to Agenzia Fides – the Maronite Bishops also positively commented the recent measures which foreshadow the closing of "brothels", and asked for investigations opened recently on cases of corruption to be completed, also because scandals help to make Lebanon look like "a ship without a helm" (GV) (Agenzia Fides 06/05/2016).

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2nd March 2016 – In the heart of the Middle East region torn apart by bloody conflict, a new satellite TV channel of Information , proposing news “ from the Catholic point of view”, in order to “build bridges of peace”, and “work for the common good” , has declared “war on war”. This is the ambitious programme adopted by an All-News channel launched yesterday by TV network Noursat-Tele Lumiere, in Dora, a north eastern suburb of Beirut, during a ceremony with various guests including Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, apostolic Nuncio in Lebanon and Maronite Archbishop of Beirut, Boulos Matar.

During the ceremony – according to Lebanese press – Archbishop Caccia said that Noursat-Tele Lumiere is a “window for peace”. Archbishop Matar for his part praised the creation of the new satellite. television channel, describing it a noble mission. Lastly, Jacques Kallassi, Noursat-Tele Lumiere director general, explained that the purpose of the new network is "to broadcast the truth as it stands ”, adding that the channel’s radio operators intend to honour the decision to "show respect for spectators”, omitting scenes and images of violence which could traumatise audiences, minors in particular. (GV)(Agenzia Fides).

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23rd February 2016 - Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Rai expressed his full support to the recent statement with which the Lebanese government wanted to reaffirm that the Arab identity of Lebanon cannot be questioned. Responding to journalists who approached him at the airport of Beirut, the Primate of the Maronite Church said he was in favor of everything that recognizes and reaffirms the Arabness of Lebanon, also enshrined in the Constitution.

Behind the initiative of the Lebanese government one understands the game under way between the regional powers of Iran and Saudi Arabia to assert its strong position in the Middle East area. Saudi Arabia blocked two-thirds of the loan of two billion dollars promised to the army of Lebanon, after distancing itself from the Saudi leadership expressed by the Shiite party of Hezbollah and from the Lebanese Foreign Minister, Maronite Gebran Bassil .

The reaffirmation of the Arab identity of Lebanon has the aim to overcome the diplomatic problems with Riyadh, showing that Lebanon has no intention of appearing as a supporter of the increasingly apparent strengthening of Iran with regards to the regional and international scenarios. Yesterday Sunni Saad Hariri, leader of the "Future" party, called on all Lebanese to express their support to Saudi Arabia and to give thanks for the aid it promised to the Lebanese armed forces. "But in this scenario of pressure and power games" said Maronite priest Rouphael Zgheib, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Lebanon, "it should be noted that the Arab identity of Lebanon is recognized and affirmed in the Constitution. Lebanon is and will remain an Arab nation for culture and language. When Patriarch Rai repeats this, he does nothing but represent the conscience of the nation, and does not enter into the logic of political or geopolitical alignment". (GV) (Agenzia Fides 23/02/2016)

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Thursday, 04 February 2016 19:45

SYRIA “A stop to the war and arms trade”

4th February 2016 - Fr Paul Karam, Caritas Lebanon, is in London for the Syria donor conference. For him, the priority is to stop the conflict. So far, "personal interests" have prevailed with "the civilian population" paying the price. The Middle East is "a raging volcano" that can be stymied by following the path of peace outlined by Pope Francis.

"The most important thing, the starting point is to stop this war. We must silence weapons today, not tomorrow. The urgency increases each passing day. As long as there is war, we can never solve problems. Sadly, the conflict is bound to intensify,” said Fr Paul Karam, director of Caritas Lebanon.

For the past four years, the Catholic charity has led the way in helping Syrian and other refugees, streaming out of war-torn parts of the Middle East. The clergyman is currently in London for the Syria donor conference.

“As long as personal interests prevail and the flow of arms continues, the civilian population, the poor, and all those who work every day to earn a living to survive and educate their children will pay the price,” he told AsiaNews.

World leaders gathered in London this morning in an attempt to raise US$ 9 billion to meet the needs of the millions of Syrian refugees who fled the civil war.

Funds are also earmarked for resettlement in the Middle East, Europe and North America. However, only 43 per cent of the US$ 2.9 billion pledged to the UN's 2015 appeal were actually provided.

Observers hope that this donor conference, the fourth of its kind, meets the United Nations' demand for US$ 7.73 billion to help in Syria, plus US$ 1.23 billion aid for countries in the region affected by the crisis.

Some 70 international leaders will attend the summit, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A coalition of more than 90 humanitarian and human rights groups involved in aid and rescue operations are also in London.

Caritas Lebanon has never skirted its responsibility, providing not only food but also psychological support. It has also encouraged exchanges between Christians and Muslims, particularly among young people.

"It is important to intervene in the health care field, as well as ensure that children are educated to give them a future,” Fr Karam said. However, “the most important thing to do is to stop the war. The international community has a responsibility to find a solution”. It must also do something to “stop arms trafficking”.

For the director of Caritas Lebanon, things “cannot go on like this . . . There is always money for weapons, to destroy; nothing to end the violence and help people. We have to stop this tragedy."

The solution lies with Pope Francis who laid down a roadmap for peace in his appeals. Hence, the failure of the ongoing Geneva talks is a source of "great sadness" because the parties "must seek peace and look for the good of the people, not their self-interest."

"The Middle East is a raging volcano,” the clergyman added. “We hope that the international community wakes up, shows greater international solidarity and provides more aid to migrants."

The war in Syria, which broke out in March 2011 as popular unrest against President Bashar al-Assad, morphed into open warfare involving Islamic extremist and jihadist group that has caused so far more than 260,000 deaths.

Over this period, one of the worst humanitarian crisis in history has unfolded, with 4.6 million Syrians forced abroad, primarily in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Hundreds of thousands more have tried to reach Europe, sometimes losing their life paying the ultimate price for daring to cross the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean.

In recent days, those EU member states that had initially welcomed refugees, especially Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Germany, are now backtracking. (DS) (Asianews)

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2nd February 2016 - A miracle in Phoenix, Arizona, has been attributed to the intercession of the hermit of Annaya, Lebanon. The day after visiting a holy relic associated with the saint, Dafne Gutierrez woke up with very itchy eyes and feeling a lot of pressure on her head and eye sockets. In the glow of a nightlight, amazed, she cried out to her husband, "I can see you. I can see you".

 A blind woman has been healed in Phoenix, Arizona, thanks to the intercession of Saint Charbel (Sharbel) Makhlouf (8 May 1828-24 December 1898). Thus, the reputation of miracle worker of the hermit of Annaya (Lebanon) is spreading around the world, or at least, wherever fate has taken the Maronites, scattered by the winds of their turbulent history.

The city of Phoenix, capital of the US state of Arizona, has been the scene of one of those amazing miracles whose secret only Saint Charbel knows: the healing of a Hispanic American woman, 30-year-old Dafne Gutierrez, mother of three, who had lost her eyesight to Arnold-Chiari malformation.

Phoenix is a city with a large Lebanese community, mostly Maronite. The local Maronite church is dedicated to Saint Joseph and Masses are celebrated in three languages: Arabic, Spanish and English. Saint Joseph Maronite Catholic Church is the hub of one of the 36 Maronite parishes in the United States, divided between the two big dioceses of New York and Los Angeles.

The relic of Saint Charbel, who has toured the various parishes since early October 2015, consists of a bone sample kept in a cedar chest. This pilgrimage marks the 50th anniversary of the beatification of the great Lebanese. The pastor of Saint Joseph, Wissam Akiki, had publicised as much as he could the relatively short visit (15-17 January 2016) the relic had to make in his parish, which coincided with a retreat for priests in the presence of the Maronite Bishop of Los Angeles, Mgr Elias Abdallah Zeidane.

Diagnosed with Arnold–Chiari malformation at the age of 13, Dafne Gutierrez over the years developed papilledema (swelling of the optic disc swelling) at the end of the optic nerve. Surgery to correct the malformation had proved unhelpful. In the fall of 2014, she lost the use of her left eye, which had gradually weakened a year earlier. In November 2015, the right eye was also lost, which plunged her into total darkness that even sunlight failed to break when she looked at it directly. A medical report eventually concluded that her blindness was irreversible and that she required permanent medical assistance. Ms Gutierrez even envisaged moving to a residence for the blind, so as not to be a burden on her family.

Over the weekend of the 16th and 17th January, motivated by Fr Akiki’s posters, relatives encouraged Ms Gutierrez to ask for healing. One of them took her to the priest on Saturday, 16 January. "I put my hand on her head, then on both eyes, and I asked God to heal her through the intercession of St Charbel,” the clergyman said with much fuss. On Sunday, Dafne and her family attended Mass and then went home.

On the morning of the 18th, the inexplicable healing occurred. Around 5 am, Dafne woke up with severe itching in the eyes and the feeling of pressure on her skull and eye sockets. She awoke her husband, who detected a strong burning smell in the room. He switched on the light, but then switched it off very quickly, at his wife’s request because it bothered her. Then in the glow of a nightlight, she told him, amazed, that she could see. "I can see you. I can see you with my own eyes," she said. At the same time, she felt a strong pressure on the skull and eyes, like after an operation. She put her hand to her head, on the right side, as if there were an injury. One can imagine the rest. "I cannot believe it. I did not want to close my eyes,” she said. “My children were shouting: ‘Mom can see! God healed mom!’”

"Three days later, an ophthalmologic examination noted the miraculous healing. By then, five doctors had already examined Dafne Gutierrez, including one ophthalmologist of Lebanese origin, Dr Jimmy Saade. The healing defies scientific explanation.

According to her doctor, he had not seen such healing in his forty years of practice. "No way! No way!” he kept repeating, as he read the report in front of him. The optical disc, the report said, shows no sign of the Papilledema. To avoid any doubts, a complete medical check-up is underway to understand better the case and fully document the inexplicable nature of the healing. The goal is also to verify whether the miracle includes the correction of the malformation causing blindness, as suggested by the feeling of pressure Dafne Gutierrez feels on the skull "as if it were part of an operation."

Popular faith does not have such scruples. News of the healing of a blind woman in Phoenix spread like wildfire and made it on US and Mexican regional TV channels. As a result, thousands of visitors began arriving at Saint Joseph Church, whose pastor wisely set aside a special intercession day on the 22nd of each month, like in Annaya, since the amazing healing of Nohad El Shami (22 January 1993).

After touring the United States, the reliquary of St Charbel, was brought back to the Maronite Diocese of Our Lady of Lebanon in Los Angeles, following two final stops in Detroit, where the local Chaldean community honoured it, and Miami (Florida). (Asianews)

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22nd January 2016 - Yesterday, the two Patriarchs of the Syro-Antiochene Churches - Syrian Orthodox Patriarch Mar Ignatius Aphrem II and Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Youssif III - wanted to achieve together a round of consultations with the leaders of different national political forces, at a time when the political landscape of Lebanon appears moved by the surprising support offered by the Maronite Party of the Lebanese Forces with regards to the candidacy of former rival Michel Aoun to the office of President of the Republic.

During the talks, the two Primates of the Churches, accompanied by Bishops and collaborators showed concerns and suggestions regarding the crisis besetting the region - with particular reference to the suffering experienced by the Christian communities - and the institutional stalemate prevailing in the Country of the Cedars . The tour of patriarchal consultations began with Mohammad Raad, leader of the parliamentary representation of the Shiite party of Hezbollah, followed by meetings with former general Michel Aoun - leader of the Free Patriotic Movement -, with Samir Geagea (Lebanese Forces leader), with Fouad Siniora (representative of the Sunni party Future), with Sami Gemayel (leader of the Kataeb party) and President of the Lebanese Parliament, the Shiite Nabih Berri.

According to the delicate institutional system in Lebanon, the office of President of the Republbica is reserved to a Maronite Christian. In all the meetings, the joint delegation of the Syro Churches expressed hope that Lebanon will soon elect a president, in order to get out of the political vacuum and the institutional paralysis that has lasted for 18 months. The new President – hoped the two Primates and those present – will have to protect the rights of different religious denominations. In this regard - reports a statement issued by the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate - the two Patriarchs have asked all their political interlocutors that at least one seat in the Lebanese parliament is reserved for each of the two Syrian church communities. This request - said the statement, sent to Fides - also received the full support of Maronite Patriarch Boutros Bechara Rai. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 22/01/2016)

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