BEIRUT — Bringing a message of hope to Lebanon, a month after a double blast struck Beirut, Pope Francis’ closest collaborator assured the Lebanese: “You are not alone. The whole world supports you.”
Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s Sept. 3-4 visit to the suffering country on behalf of Pope Francis coincided with the papal call for believers around the world to observe “a universal day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon” Sept. 4.
Lebanon’s population, already exhausted by a collapsing economy that has plunged even the middle class into poverty, has been traumatized by the disaster, blamed on 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate stored for years in a port warehouse. At least 190 people died, more than 6,500 were injured and more than 300,000 people remain homeless.
“I come to your historic city to express the nearness of the Catholic Church throughout the world. His Holiness Pope Francis has asked me to come and meet you after he launched his appeal for prayer, fasting and solidarity with Beirut and with Lebanon. The response to the pope’s appeal has been immediate, arriving from so many different countries, from all the continents,” said Cardinal Parolin, who serves as the Vatican’s secretary of state. He spoke at an interfaith welcoming ceremony Sept. 3 at the Maronite Catholic Cathedral of St. George.
Religious leaders representing all the Church denominations in Beirut gathered with clerics representing the Sunni, Shiite Muslim and Druze communities. Representatives of the interfaith solidarity foundation Adyan and humanitarian organizations, including the Lebanese Red Cross and Caritas Lebanon, also attended.
“We pray that God may render us strong to care for every person who was affected and to accomplish the task of rebuilding Beirut,” the cardinal said.
The cardinal stressed that all religious leaders “have a primary mission to give hope to an afflicted population. Let us help each other to accomplish our mission.”
“The beautiful examples of solidarity that are being lived all over Beirut strengthen our hope and inspire our future actions,” he said.
Addressing the religious leaders and organizations present, the cardinal said: “I know that all of you are bearing the biggest part of the responsibility and deploying great efforts not to abandon anyone in these tragic circumstances. May you continue to offer an example of sincere solidarity, faithful to the Lebanese tradition of resilience, creativity and mutual support.
“I wish to repeat quite clearly the appeal of Pope Francis to the international community: Do not leave Lebanon alone! Lebanon needs the world, but the world also needs the unique ongoing experiment of pluralism, living together in solidarity and freedom that is Lebanon,” Cardinal Parolin said.
“Together, we will rebuild Beirut! God bless you!”
Maronite Archbishop Paul Abdel Sater of Beirut, who welcomed Cardinal Parolin to the cathedral, recognized the religious gathered from Beirut, noting that amid destruction in their churches, “they have been on the streets with their people, treating and comforting them, taking up shovels, hammers and saws to fix what can be repaired … carrying the cross with the wounded and accompanying the dead to their final resting place.”